Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Song of the Ean" by Emily Nordberg

I read the last two hundred pages of this yesterday.  That was partly because, now that my brain has rested from finishing the first draft of my own WIP, I'm hungry for fiction.  Ravenously hungry.  And it was partly because my kids were being really nice and playing together without much fighting.  And it was partly because I know Emily Nordberg, and I've felt so bad that it's taken me so long to finish reading her book.  I bought it a couple of months ago, when she first released it, but then had to keep setting it aside to finish reading challenges, quick read books that were due at the library, and so on.  But happily, yesterday I had the means, motive, and opportunity to inhale the rest of the book, so I did.

Song of the Ëan is the story of a bored, spoiled young prince who goes on what should be a routine trip to collect tribute from an island province, only to become embroiled in its people's fight against an oppressive governor.  Over the course of the story, we see him change from a shallow, self-centered youth to a mature, brave, and generous man.  It's a remarkably believable character arc, and by the end of the book, I had grown very fond of him, even though at the beginning, I didn't like him much at all.

The ëan are the rebel forces, named for the eagles that assist them occasionally.  Their leader, called Auria, is a fierce young woman with a keen understanding of strategy, a compassionate heart, and a peerless mastery of hand-to-hand combat.  She gets her own beautiful character arc, and of the two main characters, she was by far my favorite.

This is technically fantasy, in that many characters can communicate with animals, but there is no magic involved.  The people worship Aiael, also called El, the One True God, who is clearly meant to be the God of the Old Testament called by another name.  Their faith infuses all they do with love and courage, and this is definitely one of the best intertwinings of Christianity and fantasy writing I have read in a long while.

This is Emily Nordberg's debut novel, and while her pacing is not always strong, her world-building and character development richly rewarded me.  I'm going to let my 9-year-old son read this now that I've finished it -- it's absolutely clean, aside from one mention of a minor character's mother having had a "reputation," which is exactly how it is phrased.  As my son loves fantasy and anything with a strong female character, I think he's going to enjoy this -- possibly even more than I did!  In fact, he was cheering me on as I read yesterday, because I said he couldn't start reading this until I finished it, and he's been eager to get at it for a long time now.

Particularly Good Bits: 

Ignorance was not exactly bliss, but it was better than knowledge.  Both created fear, but one was a foolish fear while the other was wise.  He did not enjoy being wise (p. 82).

"In the beginning of our world, Aiael created us -- mankind, his children.  He created a people to fill the land and rule over it, to live at one with it.  He made us to display his glory in the world, each in his own unique way.  We were patterned after his nature, designed to be creative as Aiael is.  To this end, each child of Aiael is granted a gift -- which he or she may use to fulfill his calling" (p. 241).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Good, wholesome fun.

This is my first book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017, hosted by My Reader's Block.  She says if you're less than halfway through a book when the challenge started, you could count it, and I was only about 200 pages in, out of 500, on January first, so it counts!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Whimsical Gardens" Coloring Book by Alexandra Cowell

Yes, it's true:  I am an Adult Coloring Enthusiast (ACE).  And I've decided to start reviewing my adult coloring books, sharing what I do and don't like about them and so on.  Today, I'm going to review the very first adult coloring book I ever bought, Whimsical Gardens, artwork by Alexandra Cowell.

I bought this sometime in 2015.  I'd been intrigued by the adult coloring books I kept seeing in the bookstores, but never found one that really made me want to color it.  Finally, I found this one, and knew it would be fun.  I love gardening and flowers, and so many pictures in this one were cute without being tedious.  Here is the very first picture I colored in it:

I was using the colored pencils I've had since I was a teen, when I took art classes for several years, and I wasn't very happy with how faint they were -- I wanted my coloring to be bright and vibrant!  So I invested in a new set of 24 colored pencils.

I've been pretty happy with these Prismacolor pencils.  The next page I colored was more vibrant:

But I came to the conclusion that the paper in this book isn't going to give me really bright colors with colored pencils -- it doesn't take the color especially well.  So I tried using fine-tipped markers:

Vibrancy at last!  However... markers bleed through the paper, so it's a good thing that there's only one picture per sheet in this book.  I have to be sure to have a sheet of other paper between the one I'm markering and the next picture.

I've gone back to colored pencils for this book, now that I've gotten more new colors.  After trying out a smaller pack of the Sargent Art colored pencils, I splurged on a set of 50, and now have plenty of different shades to choose from!

I've colored a few more pages in this book, but still have lots of fun ones to come, like these:  

I'm not a huge fan of "mandalas" and the purely pattern-oriented sorts of coloring images.  I want to color pictures of people and things, not just patterns.  This does have a few pages like that, such a this garden:

For the most part, though, this book has pretty pictures of plants and birds and flowers and various garden settings.  The paper doesn't take all brands of colored pencils very well, but overall I really like this book.

That's it for today!  Are you an ACE too?  Do you have any favorite books you'd like to recommend?  I've got several, and will definitely review more soon.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What My Kids are Reading #8

Time to talk about the books my kids are reading and having read to them lately :-)  We've found some good stuff at the library lately, and also pulled some things off our own shelves to enjoy.

Sarah (6) and Eggnog (5)

Dewey:  There's a Cat in the Library by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James -- This is the true story of a kitten who was left in the book drop at the public library in Spencer, Iowa, adopted by the head librarian (Vicki Myron), and proceeded to live in the library!  There are several picture books about him, this being the first.  I've been to Spencer, Iowa -- the Spencer Fair was a big deal when I was a kid, and I got to go to it with my grandparents and a bunch of cousins one year when we were visiting family in Iowa.  So I love that connection :-)

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems -- We are all major Mo Willems fans here, but we hadn't read this one before!  It's a silly, sly retelling of the Goldilocks story, and now Cowboy and I keep teasing our little girls about filling them up with chocolate pudding so we can eat them :-9

When a Dad Says "I Love You" by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell -- This is a sweet, sweet book about how fathers often tell their kids they love them with actions, rather than words.  But sometimes they use words too.

Lost in the End by Winter Morgan -- A Minecraft chapter book!  My kids are obsessed with Minecraft right now, and Sarah picked this out and is determined to read it All By Herself.  She's doing such a great job of sticking to it, and will probably finish it off by the end of the week.  Her first chapter book read by herself!  I'm so proud :-D

Sam (9)

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, retold by Lucia Monfried -- Pretty sure he's read this before, but all of a sudden, he's grooving on this funny classic about a man from Twain's day who time-travels back to Arthurian times.  I think our recent viewing of Ivanhoe (1982) prompted him to dig this out again.

The Essential Captain America, Vol. 2 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, & Friends -- I picked this up at a library book sale a while back, and when Sam was looking for something "new and different" to read, I pulled this off my own shelf for him (it was nestled up next to my 5 volumes of The Essential Wolverine).  He's really loved it, so I've ordered a used copy of volume 1 for him as a surprise.  Sarah really loves Cap, so I suspect she'll be trying these out before long herself.

Jars of Hope:  How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Meg Owenson -- I got this for him for school, as we're studying WWII in history and I've been trying to find some non-scary ways to discuss the Holocaust with him.  Sam is very tenderhearted and has a vibrant imagination, and was upset by a tiny photo of General Eisenhower inspecting a death camp in a bio we read.  This is a picture book and below his reading level, but the way it focuses on the people who helped save others from the Nazi death camps is really positive and hopeful, and helps showcase the fact that even one person can fight against atrocity.  I think it also really helped him to process the idea of people killing other people just because of who or what they are.  I hope so, anyway!

Aloud to All of Them

I've blogged before about how I just don't really like The Phantom Tollbooth very much.  But Cowboy loves it, and Sam is just the right age to "get" and enjoy the wordplay, so Cowboy has been reading this aloud to all of them!  That's a big treat, as usually it's Mommy who does the reading aloud.  Sam's loving it, Sarah is kind of enjoying it, and Eggnog is barely tolerating it because she doesn't get why Sam is laughing.  So Cowboy will just have to read it aloud to her again in a few years, right?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

This week's prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books We've Read In The Past Year Or So."  I've decided to follow their lead and narrow this down by only including books I've read in the past year that have fewer than 500 ratings on Goodreads.  

I'm listing them alphabetically by title, and all but one of the titles is linked to my review of that book, if you want to know more about them.  And I've included my movie-style rating in parentheses for those who are interested.

Ain't We Got Fun by Emily Chapman and Emily Ann Putzke -- a fun, light-hearted collection of letters between two sisters during the Great Depression.  (G)

Greenwillow by B. J. Chute -- a quiet, gentle story of people living in the idyllic English countryside about a hundred years ago.  (PG-13)

I, Claudia by Charity Bishop -- a fictionalized account of how Pontious Pilate and his wife Claudia married, went to Jerusalem, and were involved in Jesus Christ's trial and death.  (PG-13)

Letters on an Elk Hunt by a Woman Homesteader by Eleanor Pruitt Stewart -- an enthralling collection of real-life letters from an intrepid woman in the last days of the Old West.  (PG)

And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field -- a rich, engrossing story about a deaf woman and the doctor who brings her hope of hearing once again.  (PG)

Once by Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J. Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Suzannah Rowntree, and Hayden Wand -- six fairy tale retellings with settings ranging from the Old West to steampunk to WWII to fairy tale kingdoms.  (PG-13)

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay -- a beautiful look at how love can both repair and damage people.  (PG-13)

Sixguns and Society:  A Structural Study of the Western by Will Wright -- an in-depth look at how western films changed as America's society changed during the 20th century.  (PG-13)

Song of the Ëan by Emily Nordberg -- a high-fantasy story about a pampered young noble who becomes mixed up with guerrilla fighters and sets about righting some grievous wrongs.  I'm not done reading this yet, but so far I'd rate it PG.

The World of Raymond Chandler (In His Own Words) edited by Barry Day -- Chandler is my favorite author, and this collection of his letters gave me lots of insight into his life and writing.  (PG-13)

That's all for this week, friends!  Have you read any of these?  Did you participate in TTT this week too?  Do you have some "hidden gems" you'd like to recommend to me?  Please share!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Fifty Favorite Novels

About four years ago, I posted a list of my 40 favorite novels right here. I have read roughly 40 novels a year since then, possibly more, which means I've read at least 150 since I made this list. I've found a lot of new favorites. I've reread more than a dozen on my original list of 40, and reconsidered others -- there's been a good deal of shifting within the list, in other words.

And so, today, I present you with My Fifty Favorite Novels (and a bunch of pictures from Pinterest). I love each of these dearly, have read most of them at least twice, and consider them all to basically be my friends.

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
3. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
4. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss
5. The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle
6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
8. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
9. The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
10. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

11. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
12. Persuasion by Jane Austen
13. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
14. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
15. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
16. Shane by Jack Schaefer
17. A Family Affair by Rex Stout
18. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
19. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
20. Dear Enemy by Jean Webster

21. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
22. A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
23. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
24. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
25. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
26. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
27. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
28. Greenwillow by B. J. Chute
29. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
30. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

31. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
32. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
33. Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson
34. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
35. Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery
36. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
37. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
38. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
39. Shadows Over Stonewycke by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella
40. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

41. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
42. An Antic Disposition by Alan Gordon
43. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
44. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
45. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
46. The Man in the Box by Mary Lois Dunn
47. Fear is the Key by Alistair MacLean
48. Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
49. I, Claudia by Charity Bishop
50. Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson

So there you have it! My list of the 50 books I love best. In another four or five years, I'll have to revise it again, I'm sure, but for right now, these are they. What do you think of the list, book friends? Do you love some/many/all of these too?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Announcing I Love Austen Week

Do you love Jane Austen?  Her books, the movies based on her stories, and so on?  If so, then please join me over on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, for I Love Austen Week!  I'm holding it February 11-18, and it will involve a giveaway, tag, games, and you can even sign up to contribute a post about Austen yourself.  All the details are right here, including lots more nifty buttons for your blog :-)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"Nimona" by Noelle Stevenson

This was simply too adorable, funny, poignant, and awesome.  I first heard of it on An Odd Blog, and her review here is way better than mine, so go read it!  I'm really glad my library had this, because I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Nimona is a shapeshifter who becomes the sidekick to archvillain Ballister Blackheart.  The two of them fight against a government organization and its champion, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin.  I'm having a terrible time figuring out how to explain the quirky charm of this graphic novel, which started out as a webcomic.  It's steampunky and off-beat, filled with questions about morality and duty and loyalty, but in a fun way.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and some hints that Blackheart and Goldenloin may have been in a relationship at one point.  It's very subtext, nothing overt, and should fly over the heads of most kids.