The Rook

The Rook

By: Daniel O’Malley
Published: 2012
Pages: 504
Series: The Checquy Files
Challenges: Alphabet Soup

Goodreads description:

Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, she must trust the instructions left by her former in order to survive. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization, and this person wants her dead.

Battling to save herself, Myfanwy will encounter a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and a terrifyingly vast conspiracy.

Suspenseful and hilarious, The Rook is an outrageously imaginative thriller for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.

Review:

A friend loaned me this book a few months ago and recently gave me the next book in the series so I figured I’d better get a move on and read the first one! I’m glad I did because this fantasy mystery was funny, fascinating, and fast paced. I’m not into spy novels or criminal thrillers, but the fantasy aspects made all the difference and made me really interested in the main character and her job in a government-like agency.

Myfanwy (pronounced Miffany, rhymes with Tiffany) only knows her name because it’s in a note she finds in her coat pocket one evening when she wakes up in a park surrounded by dead bodies. The note also gives her a choice – face the dangers that will inevitably follow her or flee the country to live in luxury somewhere else. That doesn’t seem like much of a choice, but Myfanwy takes the road less traveled. She merges right into the real Myfanwy’s life, but spices things up a little.

In the supernatural agency she finds herself working for, nothing really needs spicing up, but Myfanwy manages to do just that in the midst of superhero-like characters and situations like sentient fungus houses and evil flesh cubes.

Basically, this is the kind of book I normally wouldn’t enjoy except for the fact that it’s filled with fantasy elements. Government agencies, spies, espionage, politics aren’t normally something I want in a book, but The Rook has lots of fun extras plus it’s well-written and super funny in parts. I laughed out loud once, which is very rare for me!

Overall, it was a fun read and I’m looking forward to reading the second in the series, Stiletto. It looks like a third in the series will be published this year, according to Goodreads. I recommend this to adults who enjoy fantasy, especially when it’s mixed with the modern world.

Blanca & Roja

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Blanca & Roja

By: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published: 2018
# of pages: 375
Challenges: What’s in a Name? (ampersand), Book Bingo (reliving fairytale)
Quote: “There were ways to carve away from your heart everything that did not truly belong, and still come back to life.”

Goodreads description:

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Review:

I’m not going to lie, the cover and the title of this book are what made me put it on my TBR list. Then because it had an ampersand and had been on my list a good while, I decided to give it a go.

All in all, it was an interesting retelling of the fairytale Snow White. I loved the family myth aspect and the traditions and environment the sisters Blanca and Roja grow up amidst.

The problem (for me) was that this is a magical realism novel and it’s rare that I enjoy that genre. I have no clue why because I love fantasy and I think magical realism is such a cool concept, but for some reason I almost always don’t get into the plot or connect with the characters and this book was no exception, unfortunately.

Parts were also repetitive and others didn’t quite make sense. It was frustrating that so much hinged on miscommunication. And while this is true in real life and is a common theme in many novels, it came across as dense and stilted in this book.

What I did like are the many themes of relationships, the mythical aspects, and the original concept.

I’d recommend this to fans of magical realism, fairytale retellings, and anyone looking for a LGBT+ theme.

R.I.P. XV

It’s finally time for R.I.P. XV! Not much is motivating me to get on my blog these days, but this is the highlight of my year! I can’t believe we’re a week into September now.

This has been a very busy year so far, in spite of staying home more and having so many things canceled. But a foster parent’s life never really slows down, especially one with a baby. But my sister’s wedding was yesterday and I find myself with a little more time so I’m ready to set up my R.I.P. list.

I was a little disconcerted to find that R.I.P. XV doesn’t have a blog home this year. There’s also no levels, it’s just read scary books and post them to Instagram or Twitter! I don’t really use either of those platforms, but I do have an Instagram account so I’ll get on there some to see what’s up.

My list this year:

Mexican Gothic by: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Turn of the Screw by: Henry James

Home Before Dark by: Riley Sager

The Shadows by: Alex North

Ghost Story by: Peter Straub

An Unwanted Guest by: Shari Lapena

The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft

What’s in a Name 2020

The challenge extends from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.  You can sign up any time, but only count books that you read between those dates.

Read a book in any format (hard copy, ebook, audio) with a title that fits in each category.

Don’t use the same book for more than one category.

Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!

You can choose your books as you go or make a list ahead of time.


Here are my ideas for this year:

  • An ampersand – &: Blanca & Roja  by: Anna-Marie McLemore
  • An antonym: Wicked Saints
  • 4 letters or less: Vox
  • A given/first name: Malorie  by: Josh Malerman
  • Reference to children: Children of Blood and Bone
  • One of the 4 natural elements – water, air, fire, earth: Little Fires Everywhere  by: Celeste Ng

Finished with What’s in a Name?

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Have you completed the What’s in a Name challenge?  Please share your post with a list of all the books you’ve completed, whether it’s your updated original sign up post or a new post.  Also, please give suggestions for next year’s challenge and any thoughts on this year’s in the comments!

I’ll be sharing the 2020 sign up on December 1st unless someone else would like to take over hosting.  I’d love to host again and already have the categories lined up, but obviously I’m not the most interactive host, especially since my family started fostering back in May.  So if someone else would like to take over I’m perfectly willing to hand over the reigns and simply participate in 2020.

The Turn of the Key

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The Turn of the Key

By:  Ruth Ware
Published:  2019
# of pages:  384
Challenges:  R.I.P.

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Goodreads description:

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Review:  This is my favorite Ruth Ware book I’ve read so far.  I enjoyed her others just fine: The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Death of Mrs. Westaway, and The Lying Game.  However, I enjoyed The Turn of the Key the most.  I haven’t read the classic The Turn of the Screw yet, but I gather this is either a retelling or has a similar storyline.

In her letter to an attorney, Rowan states she is guilty…but not of the worst crime she’s been accused of committing.  She goes on to tell the story of how she was hired as a nanny at a large modern estate in the remote countryside of England.  She’s told right off the bat that the house may be haunted, at least that’s what overly superstitious people believe.  Rowan isn’t superstitious so she doesn’t give that claim a second thought.  Not, that is, until strange things begin to occur in the house.

I definitely enjoyed this Gothic suspense and was surprised at the plot twists.  I recommend this to those who enjoy the Gothic and/or physicological thriller genres.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting and suspenseful story, was able to relate to the character more than some of Ware’s other characters.

R.I.P. XIV

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The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

The goals are simple. 

1. Have fun reading.

2. Share that fun with others.

As we do each and every year, there are multiple levels of participation (Perils) that allow you to be a part of R.I.P. XIV without adding the burden of another commitment to your already busy lives.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!  R.I.P. Challenge time!!!

This year I’ll be participating in:

Peril the First: 

  1. The Turn of the Key  by: Ruth Ware
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  2. The Invited  by: Jennifer McMahon
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  3. Ararat  by: Christopher Golden
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  4. The Little Stranger  by: Sarah Waters
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Peril of the Short Story:

Through the Woods  by: Emily Carroll
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Peril on Screen:

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A Well-Behaved Woman

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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

By:  Therese Anne Fowler
Published:  
2018
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, What’s in a Name? (“woman”)

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Goodreads description:

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt’s Fifth Ave. costume ball–a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family’s good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva’s bestfriend and now-Duchess of Manchester, saved the Smiths–and elevated the Vanderbilts.

From outside, Alva seems to have it all and want more. She does have a knack for getting all she tries for: the costume ball–no mere amusement–wrests acceptance from doyenne Caroline Astor. Denied abox at the Academy of Music, Alva founds The Met. No obstacle puts her off for long.

But how much of ambition arises from insecurity? From despair? From refusal to play insipid games by absurd rules? –There are, however, consequences to breaking those rules. One must tread carefully.

And what of her maddening sister-in-law, Alice? Her husband William, who’s hiding a terrible betrayal? The not-entirely-unwelcome attentions of his friend Oliver Belmont, who is everything William is not? What of her own best friend, whose troubles cast a wide net?

Alva will build mansions, push boundaries, test friendships, and marry her daughter to England’s most eligible duke or die trying. She means to do right by all, but good behavior will only get a woman so far. What is the price of going further? What might be the rewards? There’s only one way to know for certain…

Review:  I checked this book out thinking it was a non-fiction biography.  However, I quickly discovered that it is actually a novel based on a real person and true events.  In the back of the book the author says why she decided to write a book about Alva Vanderbilt, where she found her references, and why she included certain elements in the book.

The story follows Alva Vanderbilt’s life from before she was a Vanderbilt to her extravagant life after marrying William K. Vanderbilt.  At the time, the Vanderbilts were new to New York City high society (basically the nation’s high society).  Alva was influential in the Vanderbilts’ acceptance.  The same energy, positivity, and tenacity that helped her accomplish that feat served her well in the years to come as she changed both NYC’s appearance and society.  As the years wore on, she also made a huge difference in women’s rights in the U.S. and Britain both intentionally and unintentionally.

Alva questioned norms and stood up for herself.  This novel allows the reader to see her point of view and question the information that has previously been published about this strong willed woman.  Of course it’s fiction and there’s no way to know exactly what Alva thought about or how she acted in private, but the author claims to have researched Alva’s life thoroughly and explains why she chose to portray Alva the way she did.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and biographies.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Interesting, well written, informative.

The Map of Salt and Stars

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The Map of Salt and Stars

By:  Jennifer Seynab Joukhadar
Published:  2018
# of pages:  361
Challenges:  What’s in a Name (both “of” AND “and”), A to Z, Monthly Motif (cover love), Book Bingo (chose because of cover)
Quote:  “People make such beautiful things, I think, even though they destroy so much.”

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Goodreads description:

The story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

Review:  I’ll be honest, I chose to read this book based on the cover and the title.  I’m a geographer (majored in geography with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  My dad is also a geographer as is my husband.  So needless to say, anything to do with maps catches my attention!

This book is hard to review.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking and enlightening, but I also felt it was a little over-the-top as far as cliches and being oversentimental.  For some reason it fell a little flat for me, but at the same time, I appreciated it and think it was an important read.  Something I haven’t figured out yet is that there’s a paragraph in the book where the mom talks about Straight Street in Damascus and how it’s mentioned in the Bible.  I didn’t have any recollection of this although it’s possible I’ve read that passage of the Bible.  The day after I finished this book I went to a church service and the sermon was about this same passage of the Bible.  Straight Street and all.  So I feel like it’s significant, but I don’t know how yet.

Sorry to get personal on my blog and mention religion, but I can’t get it out of my head.  This isn’t a religious book although Muslim traditions are mentioned here and there.  It’s also mentioned how the main character, Nour, was raised both Catholic and Muslim.  For the most part the religious aspects are just generally mentioned, but that’s one reason why I found this “coincidence” in my life even more profound.

The book is about a girl, Nour, who was born in New York. After her father’s death her mom, a mapmaker, moved her and her two sisters back to their original home in Syria.  Unfortunately their arrival takes place just before the violence in Syria erupts.  Nour and her family become refugees, just like the ones we’ve been hearing about on the news in the U.S. over the past few years.  As Nour’s family travels from place to place they meet new friends and encounter both dangers and wonders.

Nour’s story intertwines with the story of Rawiya, a young woman in the 1100s who is apprenticed to a mapmaker and goes on a journey to discover and record new places.  Not only does she discover new places, she makes friends and is forced to confront many dangers.

Overall, I recommend this book to both adults and mature young adults.  There is an intense part that may trigger victims of sexual assault.  I now want to learn more about the conflict in Syria.  This story is a great way to enable readers to “walk” in a refugee’s shoes.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Important story, beautifully written, seemed a little “empty” to me for some reason.

 

The Clan of the Cave Bear

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The Clan of the Cave Bear

By:  Jean M. Auel
Published:  1980
# of pages:  516
Series:  Earth’s Children (#1)
Challenges:  A to Z

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Goodreads description:

Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.

A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.

Review:  I searched a bit to see if there were any articles that mentioned how the animated movie “The Croods” was inspired by this book from the 80s, but I didn’t see anything about that being the case.  Basically, The Clan of the Cave Bear is an amazingly elaborate and detailed version of “The Croods.”  I mean, really, they’re incredibly similar.

After a cave in destroys their cave, a clan wanders to try to find a new cave.  On the way they meet Ayla (instead of Guy) who looks different and thinks differently than they look and think.  The clan takes her in, but over the years they are constantly challenged by her ideas and feelings.  Her mind works differently than theirs.  She is able to come up with new ideas (sound familiar?), something that hasn’t happened in the clan for thousands of years.  Their brains aren’t capable of thinking of new ways of doing things and the fact that Ayla’s brain is able to make new connections and that she challenges the clan’s traditions is both fascinating and frightening for the clan members.

The book is remarkably detailed.  I found myself amazed that it sounded so real and had to keep reminding myself that we don’t know that much about early people.  This is mostly fiction, but the author must have researched hunter/gatherer ways of life and what there is to know about early humans.

I became intensely wrapped up in Ayla’s story.  She kept showing her differences in dangerous way and I’d like be like, NOOOO. Not again, please get out of this danger.  Please, clan, don’t send her away.  I was a little emotionally caught up in the story!

Two people I know who have similar tastes in reading to my own said that they really enjoyed this first book of the series, but didn’t like the following books.  If you’ve read all the books what do you have to say to this opinion? Should I keep reading the series or leave it at the first book that I enjoyed?

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Amazing world building, interesting plot, and good characters.