Retail Therapy

Oh, hi.

You may have noticed, reader, that my best-sister-friend has been holding down the fort here at Gun In Act One lately. I’ve managed to stay on top of a few things, like the posts we wrote in May for Pink for All Seasons at the Bubble Bath Reader, but there has not been a lot of reading, writing, or even proofreading Amanda’s posts in my life recently. (Let’s hope that she hasn’t posted too many comma splices while I’ve been otherwise occupied!)

Anyway, my life has been a bit bananas, but that’s a story (or six) for another day. What I’m here today to talk about is finding myself in a bookstore (The Book Cellar) while in serious need of some self-soothing (a.k.a. retail therapy). I have previously professed my preference for e-books (or the library) over acquiring new books, but don’t worry, I am a good shopper. I came up with something(s) I had to have in print form.

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

hyperbole

This blog makes me laugh, and I needed to laugh. And this book cannot be read and enjoyed on my Kindle, so I had to buy it. See what I did there, with logic? #noregrets

We Should all be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Now, I had seen this book mentioned in other places, and you might think, from looking at the cover, that it’s a book. It’s really more like an edited transcript of a TED talk, consisting of 48 pages about half the size of a regular paperback. But, we should all be feminists, and I decided this would be a good addition to my bookshelf at work. And it is.

With my schedule on overdrive, picture-books and miniature books seem to be at just the right speed. What do you turn to for reading when your head has turned to mush?

Review: First Frost

First Frost, Sarah Addison Allen (Waverley Sisters #2)

Amanda

Hardcover, 304 pages

Expected publication: January 20th 2015 by St. Martin’s Press

Source: ARC from St. Martin’s Press

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From Goodreads…

It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

The Waverleys are back!  Having just finished rereading Garden Spells I jumped right into Sarah Addison Allen’s newest book First Frost.  Though First Frost is intended as a standalone novel it continues the story of the Waverley sisters met in Garden Spells.  I think you can certainly enjoy these books independently, but I found the story richer having just reread Garden Spells.  Sarah Addison Allen’s books are happy reads for me and I felt like I was catching up on old friends as I began reading about Claire, Sydney and Bay.

The apple tree at the Waverley home is part of their mystique in the town.  The rumor is that if  you eat an apple from the tree that you’ll see whatever the biggest event of your  life will be.  The Waverley’s don’t eat the apples as a rule and they try to keep anyone else from getting to them.  The tree doesn’t really appreciate the interfering and is still throwing its own apples to people.  The tree is also unusual as it blossoms at the First Frost every year and not in the fall.  As the Waverley’s wait for the frost they feel uncertain and edgy and are all more likely to make poor choices.

A mysterious stranger has come to town, but he always seems to disappear before Claire can see him. Claire has stopped her catering business and is spending nearly all of her waking hours on a new venture-Waverley’s Candies.  The Candies have taken off with an unprecedented popularity and Claire finds herself overwhelmed and once again questioning herself and her abilities.  Sydney is as in love with her husband as she has ever been, but longing to have another child.  Sydney’s daughter Bay is in high school now and still has the gift to be able to tell where things -or people belong.  Poor Bay knows she belongs in Bascom, but the one young man she knows belongs with her barely acknowledges her existence.  I was really glad that none of the romantic angst in this story came from Claire and Sydney – the sisters found their happy marriages and that didn’t need to change.  The sisters have matured beyond who they were in Garden Spells and are much closer.  Claire and Sydney are each other’s touchstones in times of distress which I loved after the distance between them originally in Garden Spells.

The effects of the magical stranger on the town and on Claire were kind of jarring in comparison to the rest of the story.  I liked the storyline in the end, but his whole presence was too harsh at first for me.  I enjoyed the book in spite of that plotline- not because of it.  He was the vehicle to get the story where it needed to go for Claire.  I did like that the questions the stranger forced on Claire made her look back at the Waverley women so that we learn more about their mother and grandmother.   I loved seeing Bay as a young woman determining her relationship with her mother and her own path in Bascom.

At the end I was just happy to be back with characters I loved, getting more of their story.  While this might not be my favorite of her books this is definitely a book I’ll recommend for Sarah Addison Allen fans and those who enjoy magical realism.

4 stars!

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

One Year Later

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Guess what, people? We started this blog exactly one year ago today. In honor of our birthday, we’ve decided to reveal the answers to life, the universe, and everything. Or, just share a few details about what we’ve been doing this year.

What on earth are you guys doing?

I think that it started something like this:

Amanda: You know, one of my friends has a book blog.

Holly: WTF is a book blog?

Amanda: You know, like a blog, about books. We could do that!

Holly: Yeah, I don’t really understand what that means. Let’s do it!

Amanda: Secretly plots how she will get access to all of the books.

Holly: Secretly plots how she will write about random things and vaguely connect them to books. Maybe no one will notice?

Why do you guys do this?

Reason 1: It’s fun, and we think we are hilarious.

Reason 2: We’ve started reading books together to write about, which are probably some of our best posts. If you want to see that for yourself, check out the books we’ve read together this year.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

Grave Mercy

Dorothy Must Die

Dark Triumph

The Silkworm

Reason 3: We have been validated by actual writers, so we feel justified in continuing to write in our own way about books. This post about reading about John Brown received a comment from author Tony Horwitz. That’s Pulitzer Prize winning Tony Horwitz, yo. And Amanda recently got an author comment on her review of a book by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg – a.k.a. superbestsellers.

So, we’ll just keep doing what we do. Maybe we’ll get better. Maybe we’ll update our now out-of-date ‘about us’ page soon.

Why should I read your blog?

a. Because we’re funny?

b. So you know what books to read? (Or not to read?)

c. Because sometimes we give things away. Come back on Saturday because we are giving away a book we love!

d. All of the above. Obviously

e. 42

Romantic Interlude

Holly here – I am totally hijacking the blog because Amanda is out of town for a few days.

– because she is at my house this weekend!

– because J & I are getting married tomorrow!

If I were a bit more together, I would put together a post about how spending evenings sitting in the family room while J (in his recliner) and I (on the couch, with a cup of tea) are both reading, is among my favorite things to do. However, I’m a little busy this week, so instead, I offer you photographic representation of our life in books: I am reading a book that Amanda demanded I read and Jeff is reading about the civil war. Typical evening (save the fancy dress and professional photographer).

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Review: We Are The Goldens

We Are the Goldens, Dana Reinhardt

Amanda

Published May 27th 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books

208 pages

Source: NetGalley

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From Goodreads…

Nell knows a secret about her perfect, beautiful sister Layla. If she tells, it could blow their world apart.

When Nell and Layla were little, Nell used to call them Nellaya. Because to Nell, there was no difference between where she started and her adored big sister ended. They’re a unit; divorce made them rely on each other early on, so when one pulls away, what is the other to do? But now, Nell’s a freshman in high school and Layla is changing, secretive. And then Nell discovers why. Layla is involved with one of their teachers. And even though Nell tries to support Layla, to understand that she’s happy and in love, Nell struggles with her true feelings: it’s wrong, and she must do something about it.

As the parent of a little girl this book scared the hell out of me!  As as sister this book went to my heart reading the story of Nell and Layla.  I really felt for Nell as she just wanted her sister’s happiness, but worried so much for her.

We Are The Goldens is written from Nell’s perspective, telling the story of Nell’s freshman year of high school and Layla’s junior year. To her sister Layla is nearly perfect and Nell is so happy to be the little Golden at school.  But when Nell learns of Layla’s secret relationship it begins to eat away at her and influences her own choices.

The reader is pulled into Nell’s inner struggle over Layla’s secret.  Does she tell her parents?  Does Nell confront Mr. B himself?  Does she tell her best friend Felix?  Oh I loved Felix! He was a great foil to Nell, and enriched the story by helping Nell keep living her own life and not just being wrapped up in Layla’s.

What some readers might not enjoy is the open ending to this book.  I liked having that left to my imagination personally.  I felt like I knew Nell enough in the end to decide for myself where the story led. I was not comfortable starting this book because I didn’t want to read about the student/teacher relationship, but because Nell is telling this story we don’t have to read about Layla and Mr. B directly. That definitely made the book better for me.

This was a short read, but totally compelling and I thought the writing was beautiful.  This was my first Dana Reinhardt book but I am definitely going to be looking for her other titles.

4 stars!

Thank you NetGalley and Wendy Lamb Books for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Half Off Ragnarok

Half-Off Ragnarok (InCryptid #3), Seanan McGuire

Reviewed by Amanda

Published by DAW, March 4, 2014

Paperback 368 pages

Source: Amazon

17667009From Goodreads…

When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn’t expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.

Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone…

The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.
Of course, so do the talking mice.

I think I would like to spend just a few hours in Seanan McGuire’s head while she’s writing or thinking about her writing projects.  She goes from the book series I still can’t shut up about, Newsflesh, to her new Parasite series, to the October Daye series, to Incryptid and still more I haven’t read yet.  She lists her writing projects on her blog and I just don’t know how she can keep it all straight!  So more than a few hours in her head would be way too exhausting for me-but I feel it would be amazing.

McGuire jumps you in with both feet to her InCryptid world, but she gives you a comfortable landing place.  She doesn’t infodump, but fills you in all along so you’re comfortable in the world of the Price family.   I don’t think you necessarily have to have read books 1 and 2 of this series to follow Half Off Ragnarok, but they are also really fun. The Price family are all pretty much nuts which is why the series is so enjoyable.  They take their work and family relationships seriously, but nothing else.  Again, the books are just fun, and while there’s action, thus far they haven’t broken my heart like October Daye (that pie still kills me) or the Newsflesh trilogy.   This series makes me laugh, but keeps me thinking too.

I like that McGuire writes kick ass female protagonists like Verity Price, but her male leads like Alex are great too.  I really enjoyed his science nerd outlook and I’m looking forward to his next book.  Half Off Ragnarok gives us some of the characters who were in Verity’s world which I really enjoyed, but also introduces some awesome new species as well.  And there’s actually a very helpful lexicon included in the books so you can keep track of all the Cryptids.

And really, how can you not love a series with talking, worshipful mice?  Though that could be my one complaint, they weren’t in this book enough!   I want my own colony of Aeslin mice very badly.  I wonder how they’d do with a labrador?

I’m thankful that Seanan McGuire writes so much of everything because she has a ton of Price family short stories on her blog.  I need to sit down and read all of these to get my fix before 2015 and the next InCryptid.  Though I admit-I’m already reading Half Off Ragnarok again.

5 stars!  Read all her books!
Holly I might have to put these on your assigned reading shelf!

Waiting on Wednesday — Bossy Sister Edition

Amanda

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause, Heath Hardage Lee

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From amazon.com:

Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis was born into a war-torn South in June of 1864, the youngest daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his second wife, Varina Howell Davis. Born only a month after the death of beloved Confederate hero General J.E.B. Stuart during a string of Confederate victories, Winnie’s birth was hailed as a blessing by war-weary Southerners. They felt her arrival was a good omen signifying future victory. But after the Confederacy’s ultimate defeat in the Civil War, Winnie would spend her early life as a genteel refugee and a European expatriate abroad.

After returning to the South from German boarding school, Winnie was christened the “Daughter of the Confederacy” in 1886. This role was bestowed upon her by a Southern culture trying to sublimate its war losses. Particularly idolized by Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Winnie became an icon of the Lost Cause, eclipsing even her father Jefferson in popularity.

Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause is the first published biography of this little-known woman who unwittingly became the symbolic female figure of the defeated South. Her controversial engagement in 1890 to a Northerner lawyer whose grandfather was a famous abolitionist, and her later move to work as a writer in New York City, shocked her friends, family, and the Southern groups who worshiped her. Faced with the pressures of a community who violently rejected the match, Winnie desperately attempted to reconcile her prominent Old South history with her personal desire for tolerance and acceptance of her personal choices.

Seriously, could there be a better book for my sister to request (unless its one of my other 45 library recommendations)?  You’re welcome Holly.

Review: The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton

The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton, Elizabeth Gill

Amanda

18595697From Goodreads…

A gritty, emotional saga about a tragic loss, a mysterious inheritance, and one woman’s determination to succeed in the male-dominated society of 1920s north England

1920, Durham. Since she was a child, Lucy Charlton has dreamed of working with her father in the family law firm. But a scandal shatters her dreams and, when her father disowns her, she finds herself on the streets, fighting for survival. Joe Hardy has returned to London after the Great War to find his life in tatters—his father is dead and his pregnant fiancée has disappeared. Then Joe learns he has unexpectedly inherited an old river house in Durham from a stranger called Margaret Lee. With nothing left for him in London, he makes arrangements to travel north and claim it. Lucy’s determination has finally secured her a job as a legal secretary, campaigning for the rights of the poorest in society. As Joe arrives in her office to collect the keys to his new home, she promises to help him uncover information about his mystery benefactor. But before long, the past comes back to haunt them both, with shocking consequences.

This story begins with Lucy being disowned by her family and cast out of her home, not the most cheery beginning.  We then meet Joe, who is returning from France to find out his father is dead and his fiancee has run off.  I was definitely a little worried this would be a very depressing book at this point.  I liked Lucy though and I liked her determination to survive despite her family.  I enjoyed reading about a young woman determined to push the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for a young woman of her station.  In the beginning I found Joe to be somewhat less likeable, yes, he did come home to find nothing of what he expected, but he was far too willing to be carried along by the tragedies at first.  Thankfully he did come around into a likeable character.  I also liked the various minor characters of the friends and neighbors that Lucy and Joe picked up along the way.

The description for this book made it sound as though Lucy was rallying on the streets for her cause for the poor in general and I found that to be misleading.   Lucy’s drive to become a solicitor is to help others and the results are rather vague.  You’re told she’s successful and beloved in the office, but the only people you personally see her helping are her neighbors in Durham, you don’t meet her clients.  I’m not downplaying the events with her friends and neighbors as they were central to the story, but I think this tries to sell the book as a bit more than it is.  I think I was expecting more of a strident social activist or feminist like Emmeline Pankhurst.

This book definitely did wrap up all details happily, but not in the way I expected at the beginning.  I enjoyed the story overall.

I will say as a warning/spoiler that there is some sexual violence.  I don’t think it was out of line for the story nor was it excessive, but it did surprise me and might have been part of my initial hesitation when I started this book.

3 Stars

Thank you NetGalley and Quercus Books for this advance read copy!

Review: The Poisonwood Bible

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Title: The Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Holly

I will admit that I read The Poisonwood Bible (for a second time) with a tinge of reluctance. Oh, not because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but because I had just gotten three books upon request from the library, including Froi of the Exiles, but I timed things poorly and was headed out of town before I could realistically finish any of my library books, so I chose to start something I had on my Kindle and not try to pack 600 pages of Froi in my suitcase.

And that, my friends, may be the most entitled, overinflated “problem” I have ever described – a fact that is not without irony, considering the circumstances of The Poisonwood Bible.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I had read this book years ago, and I knew I liked it. And then I read some others by Barbara Kingsolver, with mixed results (including The Bean Trees – loved! Prodigal Summer – not particularly memorable.) and somewhere in there I lost track of exactly what made The Poisonwood Bible so special. It jumped near the top of my list again recently, after I finished The Lady. Like I wrote in my review, my primary beef with that book (which I otherwise enjoyed) was that the parents, including Baptist preacher Dad, went to Africa as missionaries leaving their 16 year-old daughter at home. And, as I don’t know much about Baptist missionaries, specifically Baptist missionaries from the South in the late 1950s, I can’t fathom whether or not that is realistic. In The Lady, the Baptist parents from Georgia in 1956 leave their teenage daughter at home, which allows her story to unfold. In The Poisonwood Bible, the Baptist parents from Georgia in 1959 bring their teenage daughters along, 15 year-old Rachel and 14 year-old twins Leah and Adah, plus 5-year old Ruth May.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story that comes of that decision, told through the eyes of the daughters, with reflections from their mother in present day. I don’t love changing point-of-views as an end in themselves, but this book is by far my favorite example of a multiple POV story (at least, favorite that I can think of right now). The narrators are all very different – Leah is eager and earnest, Adah is dark and exceedingly frustrated to read as her chapters are doused in backwards sentences, Rachel is every bit a teenager and longing for an out – of her family and of the jungle, and Ruth May is just plain fun. At first, Leah seems the most reliable narrator of all the girls, though I’m not 100% sure what I think by the end.

While The Poisonwood Bible is not difficult reading, at times, it is difficult to read. The story is the story of the Price family is set against the story of the Congo – from Belgian colonialism to American neo-colonialism. It is hard to read about some of the choices that the Prices make, but it is harder to read about the country’s political and economic history.

But you should read it.

Parting words: “It is a dangerous thing, I now understand, to make mistakes with nommo in the Congo. If you assign the wrong names to things, you could make a chicken speak like a man. Make a machete rise up and dance.”

RATING: 5 Stars

Waiting on Wednesay: The Magicians’s Land

Waiting on Wednesdays: The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman The Magicians #3

Amanda

From Goodreads:

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In The Magician’s Land, the stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy—on-sale from Viking on August 5—Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story be­gan, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young under­graduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demi­monde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost for­ever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrific­ing everything.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemp­tion that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnifi­cent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole

I am definitely going to have to have a re-read of the Magicians and Magician King before August.  I can’t wait to go back to Brakebills!! Has Quentin grown up at all?  Lev Grossman’s email about the book says he thinks it may be the best he’s written-that definitely makes me want to get my paws on it!