Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mini Reviews: Gilded Cage, Lab Girl and The Chemist

"Gilded Cage" by Vic James
First published February 14, 2017
368 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In the alternate reality of "Gilded Cage," slavery is still alive and well, though it has nothing to do with race. Instead, commoners -- ordinary people -- are forced to give up a decade of their lives in unpaid, often miserable service to the ruling class. Those in power are known as Equals, and they have innate hereditary abilities to do things like heal themselves from injury, read minds, wipe memories, cause pain, and so much more. You can surely see where this is going: time for a revolution.

Luke and his family -- his mom, dad, older sister Abi and 10-year-old sister Daisy -- end up smack in the middle of the excitement when they decide to do their slavedays together as a group, and Abi has arranged for them to be house slaves at the estate of one of the most powerful Skilled families in Britain. They expect it to be a comparatively cushy 10 years, but things go awry when Luke is whisked away from them to a horrendous slave town filled with treacherous factories, malnourished "property," violent guards -- and faint stirrings of subversion.

I thought the author made the right choice in using multiple points of view to tell the story, giving us a commoner's look at life in a brutal slave town and at the estate, as well as Equal perspectives. As with any uprising story with a political bent, there are plenty of secrets, intrigue and people who are not what they seem, and while I was disappointed that there wasn't as much fantasy as I expected, there was enough excitement to hold my interest and I enjoyed getting to know the characters (especially a dark, inscrutable and terrifyingly powerful Equal named Silyen). I'll most likely read the next installment of this series, which feels to me like a somewhat less-impressive Hunger Games with a tinge of fantasy.

*I received a free advance copy of "Gilded Cage" from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Lab Girl" by Hope Jahren
First published in 2016
290 pages
4 out of 5 stars

Memoirs are my favorite kind of non-fiction -- especially when they're as intimate and open and raw as "Lab Girl" was. I enjoyed getting to know Hope Jahren, an absolutely brilliant scientist whose specialty is plants (though her work incorporates many other fields, like paleontology and chemistry) and I was fascinated by her journey a scientist and a woman.

Hope tells us of the path that took her to science, the struggle to gain respect as an outside-of-the-box-thinking woman in a man's field, finding a balance between work and life, and the very special (completely platonic) relationship she has with her best friend and longtime lab partner, Bill. There are moments of poignancy, wackiness, humor and frustration in Hope's story, and through it all is her creative, wonderful, curious, so-so-so smart mind. Science has never been my thing, but I really enjoyed reading about the interesting work Hope does.

Interspersed between the longer chapters about Hope's life -- from her childhood in icy Minnesota to her present as a tenured professor, wife and mother in Hawaii -- are snippets about the life cycle and personality of trees and plants. Hope's story roughly follows along as the tree matures from a seedling to a forest giant, and as much as I enjoyed reading about Hope's life these little sections were my favorites. Hope explains botany in interesting, conversational layman's terms, and I learned so much about plants! It made me look at the houseplant on my table and the tree in my backyard with more respect. "Lab Girl" is definitely a solid pick next time you're craving a memoir.

"The Chemist" by Stephenie Meyer
First published in 2016
518 pages
4 out of 5 stars

"The Chemist" is an action-packed thrill ride about a woman formerly employed as a specialized interrogator by a covert government agency -- and now that agency is hell-bent on killing her. After three years on the run (and multiple assassination attempts) she's tracked down by an old boss, and she realizes the time has come to get her life back or die trying. What she doesn't count on is her universe of one suddenly expanding by a few people -- one of whom might just be a liability in the best possible way.

I didn't go into "The Chemist" looking to make comparisons to Meyer's previous work, but I couldn't help thinking this book was like Twilight reversed. Juliana is Edward -- an extremely smart, extremely dangerous predator who never dared to hope she might have a significant other and who may very well get everyone around her killed. Clumsy, adorable, selfless Bella is played by the aforementioned liability, Daniel. There's even an annoyingly lovable brother in the mix, and a showdown with "the Volturi" at the end during which everyone could quite possibly wind up dead.

Even though it didn't feel entirely original, I did enjoy the novel, and with a few exceptions the fast pace kept me blowing through the chapters. Also, there were dogs! Lots and lots of very smart, wonderful dogs! Bonus points for that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

10 Recent Reads That Didn't Live Up To My Expectations

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is books we loved more or less than we thought we would. With the whole "too many books, too little time" problem, I try to only pick up books I'm pretty sure I'm going to enjoy so I don't have many books that I loved even more than I already hoped to. But once in a while there's a book that just doesn't live up to my expectations. The books below are all ones I felt sure I was going to love, but I ended up finding them somewhere between just-ok and terrible.

What books were you expecting to love but didn't?

disappointing books 2

1. The Mothers // 3 stars // Everyone loved this book, but it just rubbed me wrong right from the start. Being a military spouse I'm sensitive to inaccuracies about the military in fiction (point #1 -- you can't just take your service pistol home with you -- it stays locked up in the base armory!), and things went downhill from there; I didn't really like the plot and I never could connect with the characters.

2. The Couple Next Door // 2.5 stars // Another novel that almost everyone else seemed to love, but I didn't find much at all to love about this "thriller."

3. The Masked City // 3 stars // I really enjoyed the whimsical, bookish first novel in the Invisible Library series, but I had a hard time with book 2, so much so that I don't think I'll continue the series.

4. Today Will Be Different // 3 stars // I loved the quirky and fun "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" and I had such high hopes of Semple's 2016 release. Unfortunately, this quick little read was a disappointment.

5. American Housewife // 3 stars // Though I don't normally read short stories, this one kept catching my attention. After all, I'm basically an American housewife myself. The first story made me smile, but I didn't really enjoy any of the others.

6. The Magicians // 3.5 stars // I did like this one, just not nearly as much as I expected (I had foreseen 4.5 or 5 stars) and I didn't find the "Harry Potter for adults" comparison to be particularly accurate.

7. Redemption Road // 3 stars // This mystery/thriller got a lot of pre-pub hype but I thought it was overdone and too long.

8. Be Frank With Me // 2.5 stars // Ugh, this book had so much wasted potential! The author came up with an interesting starting plot and then squandered it.

9. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell // 3 stars // This was one of my first reads of 2016. It'd been on my bookshelf for years and I'd been saving it for the right time, fully anticipating a 5-star read. It's about magic and books and England and the Napoleonic Wars, after all! But, oh my GOD, was it a slog. The last chunk was better, but the rest... zzzzzz.

10. The Hike // 2 stars // If I were more accurate in my ratings, this would have been a 1 star read for me (i.e. I hated absolutely everything about it), which is a huge bummer because I won an advance copy in a Goodreads giveaway and I was thoroughly expecting to love it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Musings

alohi in the grass


My week: My week was basically spent working, napping, cleaning up accidents and entertaining a puppy!

Reading: I finished Hope Jahren's memoir, "Lab Girl," and then read the new YA release, "Gilded Cage" by Vic James. It was ok, not as heavy on the fantasy as I expected, but I was intrigued enough that I'll probably continue the series when the next book comes out. Now I'm reading Stephenie Meyer's new book, "The Chemist." I liked the first part but the middle is getting a little hokey and drag-y.

Knitting: Nothing at all! One of these days (like when the puppy turns 1 in 10 months) I'll get back to the Hufflepuff scarf.

Watching: We started watching "House of Cards" this week. I wasn't immediately hooked, but I'm intrigued enough to keep watching.

Listening to: "Dirt On My Boots" by Jon Pardi.

Eating: Chocolate chip banana bread. And out, several times more than normal, thanks to our new addition! Also, we tried out this recipe (grilled Hawaiian teriyaki chicken bowls) and thought it was a winner. I really liked the extra flavors from the coconut rice and toasted coconut.

Monday Musings
10 Favorite Fictional Couples
I Judge Books By Their Covers: Lab Girl

Looking forward to: Three more days off from work! With my part-time work schedule, three-day weekends become five-day weekends and it is completely fantastic.

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Judge Books By Their Covers: Lab Girl

Hi, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.

I just finished reading the fantastic memoir "Lab Girl" by Hope Jahren, about her journey as a woman and brilliant scientist (as well as fascinating tidbits about trees and plants). Perfect time, then, to compare covers!

U.K. cover

U.S. cover

The U.S. cover is perfectly fine, it fits with the book, and it would surely catch my eye at a library or bookstore. I definitely don't dislike it, but I loooove the U.K. cover! Maybe because I'm obsessed with looking at the patterns and shapes and colors of leaves myself, but I think it's just gorgeous. And it's also got a little illustrated Hope Jahren! And I think the inclusion of a subtitle is a good idea, too. I can see how some people might think the U.K. cover is too busy, but I have a thing for illustrated covers and pops of red, so there's no way the U.K. cover wasn't getting my vote!

Do tell: which cover do you prefer?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

10 Favorite Fictional Couples

Happy Valentine's Day, fellow booklovers! This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is about romance, naturally, and I decided to keep it simple with 10 of my favorite fictional couples. In no particular order:

favorite fictional couples 2

1. Alana and Marco // Saga series
2. Lou and Will // Me Before You
3. Claire and Jamie // Outlander series
4. Bex and Nick // The Royal We
5. Mustang and Darrow // Red Rising trilogy
6. Diana and Matthew // All Souls trilogy
7. Lila and Kell // Shades of Magic trilogy
8. Emily and Colin // Lady Emily series
9. Stella and Dan // Letters to the Lost
10. Agnieszka and the Dragon // Uprooted

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Musings


My week: What a week it's been! We got back from our trip to the Big Island Sunday night, worked all day Monday, ran errands and went to the beach Tuesday afternoon -- and then picked up our new little bundle of joy Tuesday night. Life has been just a little bit crazy since then!

Meet our adorable 8-week-old boxer puppy! She's so, so, so cute, and she's rambunctious and curious and playful and smart, and she adores snuggles and naps. We didn't intend to start this so soon, but she already sleeps curled up in between us at night. She was pretty much destined to be spoiled from the start! I haven't had a puppy since first grade when my family got our sheltie, Stoney, and I have to say puppies sure are exhausting. But we are completely in love with our furbaby -- it's just delightful to watch her discover the world.

You might notice I didn't mention a name -- she doesn't have one just yet. We're temporarily calling her Alohi when we need to use her name (it's the nickname her parents' family gave her and it means brilliant in Hawaiian). We might keep that, or we might go with one of our previous contenders (like Hanalei, Juniper or Daisy), or something else might just present itself as the perfect name for her. For now, she's "the puppy." 

Reading: I've hardly had any time for reading this week, but I did finish "Looking for Alaska" by John Green, this month's pick for the book club I facilitate at work. (Not my choice, and I thought the book was just-ok, though I did like it better than "The Fault in Our Stars." I'm really just not a YA fan.)

I made a some headway in "Lab Girl," a wonderful memoir by Hope Jahren. I absolutely love her conversational descriptions of the life cycle and science of trees and plants, which follow along with her own journey as a woman and a scientist. I'm about three-quarters of the way done and I would definitely recommend it!

Next up: an advance-read copy of the new YA fantasy (I know I just don't like YA, but I couldn't resist this one), "Gilded Cage" by Vic James. It comes out this Tuesday and I know I won't be able to read it before then, but I'm looking forward to it nonetheless.

Knitting: Not a stitch. Though I did talk to two patrons at the library about fiber arts this week!

Watching: We watched "Snowden" and "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" this week and enjoyed them both.

Making: Monday was a gray, rainy day and it seemed like the perfect time to make a Sherlock Holmes-themed display at work! If you're familiar with the show "Sherlock," you'll get the wallpaper, smiley face and "I am Sherlocked." There are SO many Sherlock-themed spin-offs (or "pastiches" if you're feeling literary); my library is pretty small, so it says a lot that we had this many in our collection!


Looking forward to: The upcoming three-day weekend!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I Judge Books By Their Covers: "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet"

Hi, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.

This sci-fi novel was on my list last week of books with gorgeous covers I've recently added to my to-read list, and it seemed like a great time to talk about it in a bit more detail.

U.S. // U.K.

"The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" is on my must-read-in-2016 list, but I have to admit that, while I had seen the book floating around, I never gave it a second thought until I saw the beautiful U.K. cover, upon which I instantly thought, "Oh my gosh, I have to look that book up and see what it's about right this minute," only then realizing that it was the very same book I had seen before. And here we have a great example of the problem with judging books by their covers (which I totally do and will probably never stop doing): by all accounts, this is a fantastic book, but I never would've picked it up based on the U.S. cover unless I had happened upon some very persuasive reviews.

It's funny: usually when I do these cover battles there are elements that carry over between all the various cover versions, but in this case there's really not a single thing that's the same. And that's what it boils down to for me: everything about the U.K. cover appeals to me, while pretty much nothing about the U.S. cover does.

Do you feel as strongly as I do about this one? Or maybe you've got the opposite stance and you prefer the U.S. cover? I'd love to know!
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