Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Title:  Sleeping Giants
Author:  Sylvain Neuvel
Pages:  304
Publisher:  Del Rey
Genre:  Science Fiction
Format:  Hardcover
Source:  Book of the Month Club


A young girl named Rose is riding her bike in the woods.  She falls into the earth, waking up at the bottom of a large hole.  When firemen come to rescue her, they see a giant metal hand at the bottom of the hole, cradling Rose in its palm.

Fast-forward seventeen years.  This metal hand is still a mystery.  Carbon dating doesn't seem plausible.  Little Rose is now a physicist and she's on a team trying to figure out the purpose of this giant hand.  Why does it exist?  Who made it?  How did it get here?  As pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, decisions will have to be made about how this discovery will be used - an instrument of peace, or weapon of mass destruction?


I really enjoyed Sleeping Giants.  The entire story is told through interviews, reports, and journal entries.  I've spoken with a few people who didn't enjoy this format, but I really liked it.  It was a change from what I usually read, and it was refreshing for me.  The interviews are all conducted by the same person.  We don't learn his name, or any details about his involvement in the project - but we get to know him as a character.  I loved how Neuvel was able to make the reader get to know a character with such limited information and detail.  He's not directly involved in the action, but he's still very involved in the project.

Sleeping Giants is such an interesting premise.  Something is discovered, it's massive in scale, and it's pretty obvious that it wasn't created by human hands, or even on earth.  How do you figure out the purpose of such a thing when you have absolutely no information to go on?

In addition to being an intersting story, Sleeping Giants asks what would we, as human beings, do in this situation.  When stumbling across something so mysterious and massive, there are really two types of people - folks who will try to use the information to advance humanity, and those who will want to exploit the discovery for power and intimidation.  Seeing this moral dilema unfold was just as interesting as piecing together the project itself.

I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I really enjoyed this book.  Here's an indication of how good it is - I have been up at 2am nursing a newborn, this newborn falls asleep in my arms, and instead of rushing back to bed, I keep my eyes open to finish the chapter.  If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is!

Click here to purchase Sleeping Giants through my Amazon Affiliates link and support Kate's Library!  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Audiobook Associations

Anyone who opened my iTunes may think I'm insane.

For me, music has always been firmly attached to a certain time of year.  I have a fall playlist, a Christmas playlist, winter playlist, spring playlist, and summer playlist.  Also, each of these seasons has a corresponding "working playlist" that consists of instrumental songs that I associate with that particular season.  Songs get sorted with my own sorting hat - it has nothing to do with when the song was released, or when it got a ton of radio play.  It's all about where it "feels right" for me, or when I was listening to it at a certain time in my life.  

Here are some examples.

Carrie Underwood - Blown Away.  This is a Fall song.  I downloaded it shortly after Dominic was born in August, 2012 and listened to it a lot that fall when I was on maternity leave.  

Anything Stone Temple Pilots.  Fall songs.  They just remind me of high school in general, and naturally they belong on a playlist I'd be listening to while going back to school.  

Earth, Wind, & Fire - September.  By the title, you may think this is a Fall song but it's not.  It's a Spring song.  Because I did a unit on music of this genre while teaching my Spring semester Music Appreciation course and it got a lot of play for me in the spring.

My colleague and friend, Matt, likes to find a song on the radio and ask me what season it goes with.  And my answers are always very definitive.  

Anyway, hopefully you're still reading and didn't write me off as a complete nut.  

I was thinking this week about how audiobooks have similar connections in my head.  Not by season necessarily.  Since I'm listening to them mostly in the car, I can vividly remember where I was and what I was doing while listening to certain books.  Print books don't do this for me so much - I think it's because I read way more of them and because I'm not multitasking while reading.   

I wanted to share a few memorable audiobooks feels with you.  

Stephen King - The Tommyknockers.  This was one of the first audiobooks I really dug into after I finished with graduate school and didn't have a little baby anymore.  Dominic was older and I felt less stressed with his age and with the fact that every spare moment wasn't being crammed with school work.  I got hired to play in a string quartet for a wedding waaaay up in the white mountains of NH.  The ride took about 4 hours round trip.  As I said, my son was older and I felt so carefree going up to do this wedding gig.  I wasn't nursing anymore, so I didn't have to juggle anything besides getting there, playing, and going home.  It was a crisp fall afternoon and the foliage was gorgeous the further up in NH I drove.  The wedding was outside and the dark clouds parted shortly before the ceremony.  The time of year paired perfectly with a Stephen King novel.  I'll always remember feeling happy and fortunate to have some time to myself that wasn't being spent thinking about work/child rearing/homework. 

Craig M. Mullaney - The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education.  This is another wedding story.  I got hired to play at a different wedding in the white mountains.  This one was on a hot, summer day.  The wedding was at a camp (the guests all slept in cabins and they had activities planned like hiking and stuff) and the ceremony was on the shore of the lake.  I had recently finished re-watching Band of Brothers, so this book caught my eye.  I remember listening and being completely riveted.  It was one of my first nonfiction audiobooks.  I don't remember ever reading anything else about war or the military and I was surprised at myself that I was really enjoying what Mullaney had to say, and that it kept my interest so intently.    

Max Barry - Lexicon.  I travel to some houses to teach private violin/viola lessons.  I was listening to this fall and early winter.  I absolutely loved it and can vividly remember times when my students were tuning their instruments and I was still processing what was happening in the book.  In some cases, I only had a 10 minute drive between houses but I was consuming the audiobook in those small bits of time because I just didn't want to stop listening.  These nights of teaching (I only do it once a week and it makes for a really long day when you start your regular job at 7:19am) are usually super long and tiring.  I was also going through kind of a rough time personally.  I remember that this book was holding my interest and keeping my mind from wandering.  It took these long evenings and made them great because it was an excuse to spend time with this book!    

Nyomi Novik - Uprooted.  I just finished this one last week but I know it'll be in my memory.  This summer I spent three weeks, 8 months pregnant, working at summer music camp.  It was hot!  My four-year-old was either at daycare or with grandparents for most of the days so I had the commute to myself - 50 miles each way.  This book was long - almost 18 hours - so I started it at camp and finished the week following.  This was one of my favorite audiobooks ever.  Even on the rare days that the temperatures were not upper 90's and humid I chose air conditioning (I'd usually have the windows open) so I could hear the narrator better.  I vividly remember Dominic being at daycare, teaching some music lessons, and listening to this book on my drive home, on my phone speaker on the walk from the car to the house, and immediately putting it on a speaker while in the house.  I didn't want to lose any time on that 30 second walk into the house.  It was that good.  I will also remember being pregnant with our second kid and needing the amazing story to keep me from listening to music, zoning out, and stressing about adding another child to our lives!  

Tell me about yourselves!  Do you listen to music by season like me, or am I completely weird?  Do you have some vivid memories associated with audiobooks or print books?  Leave them in the comments!  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Dragon is not really a dragon.  He's a man.  More specifically, he's a wizard and he protects the villages in the valley against the Wood.  Agnieszka lives on the edge of the corrupted Wood, and for the people in her village it is a constant dark presence in their lives.  The Dragon is their protector - but in exchange, every 10 years he takes a girl from the village to serve him.  These girls return but aren't quite the same, and after being reacquainted with their families, they tend to leave the village permanently.

Agnieszka is amongst a group of girls who may potentially be chosen by the Dragon.  Everyone is certain that the Dragon will choose Kasia.  She is confident, beautiful, and brave - all things that Agnieszka is not.  Agnieszka and Kasia are the closest of friends, and Agnieszka is mourning the loss of Kasia for years before the choosing.  But her worry was misplaced - because it's not Kasia that gets chosen.

I feel completely incoherent when trying to talk about how much I loved this book.  Everything about it was great - I have no complaints at all.  The characters were fantastically written - even the more minor characters have depth.  It was a joy seeing how Agnieszka and the Dragon evolve over time.

Novik creates this beautiful and strange world.  There's so much backstory and lore and magic - and it's all woven seamlessly into the narrative.  I've read some fantasy novels and encountered either entire chapters or huge blocks of text that give an explanation of lore or backstory.  Not the case here.  Every moment was engaging.  And as a person who really "sees" the book as she's reading, I can tell you that the world Novik has created in Uprooted will stay with me.  It was so beautiful and mysterious.

I listened to Uprooted on audio.  It was phenomenal on audio!  The narrator did an amazing job.  There were so many unusual (to me) names and spells spoken aloud - it was great to have someone just say everything.  I didn't have to sound out the spells and try to figure out how they would be spoken - that's something that really breaks the flow of the story for me.  When shit's going down and someone is casting a spell it was great to hear the narrator just say the words confidently.  Completely immersive.  It was a long audiobook, but it didn't feel that way.  I was so excited to get back to it - I listened in the car, while I was cleaning up after dinner, in the shower, and while folding laundry.  Every chance I had!

Go get this book.  I can't recommend it enough!  It's the complete package - a hell of a story, fully drawn characters, immersive world.  NPR said to clear your schedule before picking it up - and I completely agree.  You won't want to stop reading!

Have you read Uprooted?  Do you agree with me that a narrator helps keep the flow going when there are unfamiliar names or invented language?  Are you interested in reading it?  Click here to grab a copy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

Madeleine has lived her whole life trying to live up to the expectations of her mother, husband, and the society into which she was raised.  Her relationship with her mother has always been strained.  Madeleine has always felt like a disappointment - her body, her passions, her interests, and her personality all stand in stark contrast to the expectations her mother has always had for her.  Madeleine has entered into a controlling marriage that offers a similarly critical environment and she finds herself trapped in a life she has never wanted, even if on the outside it appears as though she has it all.

Margie is Madeleine's grandmother.  Madeleine remembers her grandmother as being very similar to her mother - elegant, stuffy, and reserved.  While cleaning in her mother's attic, Madeleine finds Margie's diary and through it she follows her grandmother on a bold trip to Jazz Age Paris.  Margie as a young woman is completely different from the woman Madeleine remembers growing up.  Her grandmother was creative, a dreamer, and stood in defiance of her strict and critical family.  She, just like Madeleine, felt trapped in a world she didn't wish to be a part of - and she was able to spend a summer writing in cafes, making her own way, and falling in love.

Madeleine's marriage is threatened, and she finds unlikely refuge while visiting her mother and her hometown.  She reads about her grandmother's Parisian summer and finds herself reconnecting with parts of herself she thought she had lost.  

This was a beautiful book!  I'm a sucker for multiple narratives.  Especially when I like both characters equally.  Often, I find myself getting to a certain character's chapter and losing the momentum I had gained with my favorite character in the section prior.  Not the case here.  Both storylines were engaging and I loved how Brown made their lives intertwine even though they were living in different times and places.  

The biggest themes in The Light of Paris are expectations and control.  Despite the 75 year difference, both Madeleine and Margie were dealing with the same issues.
  • Pressure for marriage.  Madeleine feels the pressure to stay married.  Her husband and her mother fear how divorce will look to their social circles.  Margie's family sees marriage as a primary goal for her with no regard for the things she is passionate about.  
  • The relationship between mothers and daughters.  How can mothers best protect their daughters?  Is it more important to set up rigid expectations with the hope that safe pathways will be taken leading to a successful life?  Or should mothers step aside and allow their daughters to make mistakes and grow?  Which path really leads to happiness? 
  • Body image.  Do you make yourself happy or listen to what the world around you is saying and make yourself desirable for another?
I really loved this book - it was the perfect read to kick off my summer.  Eleanor Brown writes beautifully.  You'll be able to feel the cold, impersonal home that Madeleine lives in with her husband, and feel the sun on your skin as she has a stack of pancakes at an outdoor cafe.  You'll be able to smell the fresh Parisian bread, and the smoke-filled jazz clubs.  Beautiful language paired with big issues, all wrapped into a fantastic story.  

The Light of Paris came out yesterday, so click here to grab yourself a copy!  

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of The Light of Paris for free by the publisher.  The thoughts printed above are entirely my own!  

Friday, June 3, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was so fun!  The Bennet family, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy have been completely updated while maintaining essential elements of their personalities.  All the additions to the story are entertaining and fun to experience.

Liz is in her late thirties and works at a magazine.  Jane is a yoga instructor.  Both sisters reside in NYC.  Kitty and Lydia are way into CrossFit and Paleo (and as vain as they come).  Mary is working on her third online master's degree and is a bit of a recluse.  Mrs. Bennet just wants to marry off the daughters, especially as Jane's fortieth birthday looms on the horizon.  Darcy is a neurosurgeon at the same hospital where Chip Bingley works.  Bingley is a doctor who just finished filming a season of Eligible, this novel's version of The Bachelor.

Mr. Bennet has a health scare that sends Liz and Jane home for awhile, and during their stay they meet Bingley and Darcy.  Bingley is charming and takes an immediate interest in Jane.  Darcy is less charming and he and Liz get off on the wrong foot.

So I picked up Eligible through the Book of the Month Club.  I heard about this service on the Book Riot podcast (they were a sponsor).  I decided to give it a try and I'm loving it so far.  This was my pick for May, and I just selected Modern Lovers by Emma Straub for June.  I highly recommend checking out this service!  I went with Eligible because I'm in the midst of some stressful personal stuff and was craving something I could get lost in and just enjoy.  I picked a good one!

I loved this so much.  I've read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times and I really appreciated how Sittenfeld took the characters and updated them.  They still had their original qualities - the original Lydia is brash, beautiful, and spoiled.  So it makes sense that her modern version would be jobless and still living at home, crass and somewhat inappropriate, obsessed with her appearance, and coasting along on her good looks.  Darcy and Liz don't go for walks around the countryside estate.  They meet while taking a jog.  And the whole Eligible plot addition was super fun to read.  I'm not a TV person in general, but I have definitely seen my share of reality TV.  She nails it in the best way.

This is the first retelling of a classic novel that I've read.  I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  I'm a fan of the original version, so I was a little worried this would piss me off.  I wasn't sure how closely Sittenfeld would follow the original plot.  She really stuck to it for the most part.  I had a really good time trying to decide how she would organize key plot points.

Finally, Sittenfeld takes on some social issues in her writing.  She addresses gender, class, family dynamics, and relationships.  I felt like Austen really tackled these issues too, but Sittenfeld does it in a more direct way.

I loved this!  If you're looking for a fun read, this book is for you.  If you're a fan of Pride and Prejudice, this book is for you.  And if you're into retellings or want to give a retelling a try, this book is for you!  Click here to grab a copy!