World Without End by Ken Follett actually does have an end!

I didn’t time the reading of my challenge books very well this year… I don’t have many books left for my various 2019 reading challenges, but I saved some serious chunksters for December.

Case in point: I was still listening to this 46+ hour audiobook less than a day before my library hold ended, and now I’m racing the Libby app to listen to Don Quixote (36+ hours) before that hold ends. I definitely prefer audio for really big books.

I loved Pillars of the Earth, and I really enjoyed returning to Kingsbridge 200 years later in World Without End. This epic saga takes us through the lives of some of the descendants of the Pillars characters, with a bit less cathedral building and architecture, continuing religious and political intrigue, and the addition of lots and lots of The Plague. 😬

What I love the most about this series is the richness of the characters. The heroes and heroines are not without flaws, and the villains are most villainous but not without traits that made me sympathize for them (just a little bit). I love Caris so much: she’s a woman way ahead of her times, smart and driven. Gwenda, Merthin, Phillipa, and Sir Thomas are great characters. Ralph, Godwyn, and Philemon are deliciously despicable characters that make me feel perfectly ok about rooting for their total demise.

Even among all the big events in these books (and there are plenty of those), Ken Follett is gifted at putting the reader right into day-to-day life for peasants, merchants, nobles, nuns and monks in medieval England. The historical research that he has clearly invested in writing these books makes for an immersive reading experience. This book is long, but it’s definitely not a slog. On the contrary, I found myself fascinated and invested throughout, and was sort of sad when I arrived at the end, much like I felt at the end of Pillars.

I’ve seen mixed reviews about the third book in this series, but I am sure I will at least give it a try. Someday… when I’m not hyper-focused on finishing four yearly challenges before the end of the month. 😂

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland kept me up half the night.

I try to be a responsible human and member of society. This involves not staying up reading way past my bedtime on a work night. This book was such a trip, it kept me up til 1 am last night finishing it. Work was sort of rough today, and I made pancakes for my kids for dinner tonight because I was too tired to mess with anything else, but I’m ok with that.

This was my ‘about nature’ book for the Reading Women Challenge, and it most definitely is about nature. It’s also a dystopian/post-apocalyptic story. Two teenage sisters are living alone far out in the woods in Northern California while society collapses across the US. It’s never really explained what has happened, but gradually the power and phone fail, people get sick and disappear, and general lawlessness and chaos ensues. Eva and Nell have been homeschooled and somewhat isolated their whole lives in the home of their parents 30 miles from the nearest town and many miles from their nearest neighbors, and since they don’t have a lot of info about what’s happening, we don’t either.

Gradually, we learn about how they came to be alone out there. Slowly, we watch them change and grow as things fall apart. Weird and unlikely things happen. Horrible stuff happens—this book needs pretty much all the trigger warnings. At one point, something seriously messed up and unexpected happens that caused me to make this face for a while: 😧. It’s graphic and violent and very, very well written. This book is dark and sort of all over the place, but it’s so good. And as I said, it kept me up half the night to get to the ending.

And then that ending left me just a little bit stunned. I absolutely didn’t see that coming, but I kind of liked it anyway. I see now that there is a movie based on this… I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared to watch it, but I’m intrigued.

Also! I have now finished all of the prompts for Reading Women, so this is my first challenge completed for 2019. Pretty pleased with that. 😎

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#ThankfullyReading weekend wrap-up, P&P binge start-up.

I’m a little bummed that my long weekend is nearly over already, but looking back at it, I got a lot done. Two big family dinners, multiple other meals cooked, holiday decorations up, house cleaned, laundry done, and five whole books finished. Not too shabby. 😏

I finished two books on Thursday that I had started earlier in the week (The Moonstone and White Fur, which I’ve already blogged about). I was able to start and finish three more books, all very different from each other and good:

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien was my #1001books selection for the weekend. I don’t think there is any praise I can give that hasn’t already been heaped on this book. Excellently written, powerfully evocative semi-autobiographical essays/stories about young men in the Vietnam war. Heartbreaking and honest and so very good. I read this is just a couple of settings, and I’m still thinking about it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I realize that We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is very popular, as is the movie based on it, but I went in knowing almost nothing about it. Despite being a very difficult, gritty, horrifying epistolary novel filled with extremely unlikable characters, it’s so well written and completely absorbing that I had to do book/audio combo. I suspected the ending all along, but still found myself in a mind-blown ‘holy shit’ state having finished it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My final completed book for the weekend was Vengeful by V.E. Schwab. This is the second book in the Villains series, which I started over the summer. I continue to be very impressed with this world and these characters. Book 2 adds lots of new EOs and lots more drama, but some of my favorite parts were still the backstories of Eli and Victor. Sort of like a cross between the tv show Heroes and a mob drama, with touches of Batman movies circa 1990… with the added bonus of awesomely strong, flawed female characters and a serious emotional punch. Darn near unputdownable, and I can’t wait for the next book.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the course of all of this reading, I managed a few bingos on the fun card set up by Deb at Readerbuzz. Hooray!

Back to the real world tomorrow… but first I’m going to watch an episode of Pride and Prejudice because it’s 12/1 and that means day one of #25DaysOfPrideAndPrejudice with Drunk Austen! 😍

I mean, he’s not my personal favorite Darcy, but he’s still dreamy. ❤️😂

#ThankfullyReading kickoff!

My #ThankfullyReading weekend started last night, but I didn’t get nearly enough time to read until today.

While cooking this morning for our gigantic, multigenerational, super-extended family annual dinner, I finished Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone on audio. This was my second book by this author, and I was again pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Considered the first detective novel, it’s a great mystery full of memorable characters. I read parts of this on my kindle, but it’s long and this audio version is really well done, so it was nice to be able to finish while audio-cooking.

My library’s audio version is narrated very well by Peter Jeffrey.

After the family circus festivities and the trek home, I was back in my happy place… pajamas, hot tea, a fuzzy blanket and my book. I finished White Fur by Jardine Libaire just in time to send it off for the latest round of Litsy Mark-up Postal Book Club. Not gonna lie—I had a little anxiety early on about sending this book on to three other readers. It’s very gritty and graphically sexy. Neither of these things bother me, but I’ve never sent something quite like this in a postal book club. After finishing, though, I’m excited to send it and can’t wait to hear what my group members think of it. It was definitely a pick for me.

Look at me, finishing a BOTM from only July 2017. 😂

I’ve got two new books going now that I will be working on tomorrow: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore on my Kindle for another Litsy reading group, and very gently dog-chewed paperback (see below) of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. The kids want to decorate for the holidays tomorrow, so I have the audio for Kevin lined up in case I can’t sit to read as much as I’d like. I’m all about the multi-tasking, as long as one of the tasks is a book. 😃

My current situation involves this book and this double-peppermint hot cocoa with a generous dollop of whipped cream. 😋

Happy reading!

Thankfully Reading Weekend!

I’m excited to be participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend hosted by Jenn’s Bookshelves again this year!

We have family lunches on Thursday and Sunday, but otherwise my plans for the long weekend involving reading, relaxing, and more reading. I have several books that I would like to finish for my various 2019 reading challenges this weekend, and I love any excuse to read in excess.

My Thankfully Reading Weekend starts after work tomorrow evening. 😃

All the stars for Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea

I have a new ‘best book I’ve read this year,’ and it’s this breathtakingly beautiful piece of literature. I believe this is also now one of my top ten books of all time. I need more stars to rate it.

I enjoyed The Night Circus, but wasn’t totally blown away by it. Still, I have been looking forward to Morgenstern’s second novel since it was announced last year, and I felt like I won the lottery when I got a library copy of the audio on the day after it was released. Dreams really do come true, people! I’d like to thank my library, Overdrive’s lovely ‘recommend’ feature, my friend and constant companion, the Libby app, my mom… 😉

The Starless Sea is a story about stories. It’s a fairytale, and a tribute to storytelling, fantasy, and imagination. Masterfully written in such a way that for the first third of the book, I thought it was just a collection of unrelated tales, interwoven with the experiences of Zachary Ezra Rawlins as he tries to learn more about them. I was just fine with that, because all of the stories were that good. Then, all of the stories started to connect and merge with Zachary’s life, and the really extraordinary magic began.

We experience the stories in small bits, alternating between characters, places, and times, and these tales just flow along effortlessly. But… it’s like a puzzle slowly coming together, and I really had to pay attention to every detail. Morgenstern did not waste words here—everything that happens has meaning and value to the story, right up to the stunning ending.

So many fantastic, whimsical elements: doors that open to a hidden world that seems to run on magic, a literary party in Manhattan full of strange storytelling and people dressed as their favorite characters mingling with famous authors, a pirate and a pirate ship, lost loves, the moon and sun, fate and time, and a whole lot of cats.

The audiobook is beautifully done with some of my favorite narrators. I had to force myself to return it to the library (after listening to many parts repeatedly) so that the nine people waiting can experience this book, too. I’m definitely getting a hard copy for my favorites shelf, and I know that I will reread The Starless Sea many times.

In summary: stories, love, magic, and cats. Someone needs to give this book some awards. It’s perfection, and you should probably read it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

I was so excited to get a copy of this book through NetGalley. I loved Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the premise of this new book sounded very Stephen King, which translates to very my-kind-of-book. I had just been approved when my 15-year-old daughter also picked it as her BOTM add-on for October, so clearly this was meant to be.

Single mom Kate Reese is running from an abusive man and a heartbreaking past with her seven-year-old son, Christopher. They are both drawn to a tiny, out of the way town in Pennsylvania, and Kate is determine to start fresh and provide her son with a good life. Both are haunted by the suicide of Christopher’s father, who was also the only good man Kate every knew. Just as they are settling in, Christopher vanishes for 6 days after being mysteriously led into the woods outside of town by unknown forces. When he comes out, he can’t remember his time there, but he has a voice in his head that only he can hear and a strange mission to complete to save his mom and the town.

First things first: this is a BIG book (720 pages), and I have seen some reviews that say it’s too long or slow. That was most definitely not my experience reading Imaginary Friend. I though the pacing was perfect, and the tension builds throughout in a slow, perfect burn. There is honestly nothing I would rather have been cut from the story, as everything seems very deliberate and purposeful. I was so drawn in to this story that I also downloaded the audiobook so that I didn’t have to stop reading when I couldn’t sit down, and I finished the story in less than 3 days.

The writing is really, really good. The characters are so well-developed and complete. At the beginning of the book, Christopher is clearly written like a young child who is possibly dyslexic, struggling with school, confused about the loss of his father, and worried about his mom; after his return from the woods, he is most definitely changed, which is evident from not only his ‘spontaneous genius’ but from his more mature character voice. Chbosky effortlessly slips between many different character narratives as the town slides into terrifying chaos.

For me, the mark of a truly great read is the books ability to take me through a range of feelings. I cared about Kate, Christopher, and his friends. I felt for many of the townspeople, and I giggled, smiled, cried, and was truly frightened. The comparisons to King are likely because of the horror elements, but I was very pleased with how this book delivered the total experience I treasure as a reader. Just like Stephen King does for me so often.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Stephen Chbosky for writing one of my new favorite books of the year.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

“Then I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones.”

Isn’t that a wonderfully creepy line? Every time it was repeated throughout this very entertaining book, I got chills.

I was expecting horror, and The Twisted Ones does deliver on that, with a pervasive, folksy-gothic atmosphere and some seriously unsettling moments. I was not expecting such a fresh, sarcastic narrator voice and so much humor weaved into the story, but both only added to my enjoyment.

The story starts with our narrator, a thirty something (maybe forty something?) single woman called Mouse and her adorably dumb dog, Bongo, heading into backwoods North Carolina on a mission. Mouse’s mean and nasty old grandmother has died, and Mouse is tasked with cleaning out her home. She discovers that grandma was a hoarder, and begins trying to sort through the mess. In the process, Mouse discovers the journal of her also-deceased step-grandfather, which contains the quote above, and soon strange things start to go bump in the night. And look in the windows in the middle of the night.

I’m not giving away any spoilers, but suffice it to say the things that Mouse and Bongo encounter in the woods outside are terrifying, and the book has more than a few scary moments. The pace is fast, the book is surprisingly modern, the writing is solid, and Mouse is a fantastic character. I loved her wit and realness, and maybe most of all her relationship with her dog.

Speaking of the dog, can I just say how refreshing to was to know early on that the dog was going to make it? Hooray for horror that doesn’t kill off the pet, and double hooray for an author who will tell us that upfront. 🙌🏻

I really liked this book… another perfect read for my October #screamathon. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox

I’m discovering that I have a thing for historical fiction with a dash of romance and a hint of paranormal/spookiness. I feel like this very specific genre needs a clever name, since there seem to be a lot of books that fit in it nicely.

The Widow of Pale Harbor is the second novel by Hester Fox. I read her first, The Witch of Willow Hall, earlier this month. The two books have similarities: a gothic feel, strong female characters trying to make their way in 19th century America, creepy central mysteries, a little bit of witchcraft, and a little bit of romance. Both are well written, engaging, and great reads for me.

The titular character of The Widow is Sophronia Carver, a wealthy recluse in 1846 whom the townspeople suspect of being a witch and the murderer of her husband. Sophie lives with her spinster maid friend, Helen (who is also a real witch) in Castle Carver, editing her deceased husbands magazine and generally being shunned by everyone in town. Gabriel Stone is a recent widower and the new minister in town, hoping to leave behind the ghosts of his own past.

Strange, unsettling things are happening around town, and Gabriel and Sophie quickly realize that all of them are related to stories by Edgar Allan Poe that have been published in Sophie’s magazine. As the mystery culprit escalates from creepy pranks and threatening notes to gruesome murder, our characters struggle with who to trust and their own developing feelings for each other.

This book was pretty much un-putdownable, and I read it in a day. The writing is atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful, the mystery kept me guessing for quite a while, and the romance was just perfect: not too much, but enough to get me invested. I loved Sophie and Gabriel, and it was nice to have the story from both of their points of view. The Poe elements were very cleverly done and ratcheted up the tension and creepiness. A perfect read for a chilly, fall day.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the free copy in exchange for an honest review. I’m looking forward to more books from Hester Fox.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Whispered Tales of Graves Grove: An Anthology

It took me longer to get through this than I had expected, but I sometimes struggle with short story collections if each story doesn’t keep me engaged. After a humdrum story, it’s awfully easy to just put the Kindle down and call it a day.

The Whispered Tales is a collection of 23 stories by 17 different authors, but all of the stories are focused on the town of Graves Grove, British Columbia and it’s unusual inhabitants. The town was founded by Samuel Graves, who is himself of mysterious origins, and a small band of followers in 1880. Throughout the years (the stories takes us past the year 2027), we get insight into the peculiar happenings in the town and the seemingly normal but actually rather disturbed residents. Over the years, many, many children have vanished without a trace, and the old sycamore tree that Graves planted on day one is somehow at the center of the disappearances.

The stories have a little bit of everything creepy: ghosts, witches, mysteries, murder, vampires, demons, shifters, you name it-—the short story format and multiple authors allows for this variety. Obviously, the writing styles vary, but all of the stories are decently written, and the book is well edited and fits together nicely as a whole. This is mainly horror, and at least one of the stories was genuinely disturbing, but there is a lot of dark comedy sprinkled throughout as well.

Each author sticks with the basic elements/themes of Graves Grove, including the daily-changing statue of Samuel Groves, the scary sycamore tree, the child disappearances, the local crazy lady, and the town stray dog, but from there the stories vary widely. A few of the stories have a very YA feel to them, a couple are almost pure comedy, and some are psychological thrillers.

As with any collection like this, some stories are going to be more successful than others for each reader. Personally, I thought the vampire story came out of nowhere and didn’t feel like it belonged, but I adored the funnier stories sandwiched in with the scarier ones.

My favorite story is ‘Magick’ by D.M. Kilgore, which is the hilarious tale of possibly the most unsuccessful witch I’ve ever read about. Magdala Agatha Mersy seems to be completely lacking in any kind of witchy skill, but gosh, does she try hard. Her struggles give us the background to one wacky element of the town, and I loved it.

This was an enjoyable read, despite the trouble I had sticking with it, and a perfect #screamthon read for me this October. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read and review this fun, spooky collection. 💀

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