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April 2018 Reads – Mini Book Reviews of Shadow of What Was Lost, Grey Sister, The Magicians, and More

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I’ve shared a couple of book-related posts in the past, but have never turned anything about books into a regular series. I’m currently toying with the idea of sharing a monthly, or maybe bi-monthly, post about books I’ve read. It feels important to me for a few reasons. For starters, The Artisan Life tagline is “crafting a naturally inspired life.” To me, this means not only literal crafting, but also a slower-paced, more ‘natural’ and mindful way of living. It means being more conscious about staring at screens, particularly now that my baby girl is watching. Additionally, I sometimes struggle with figuring out what to read next. Amazon’s suggestions are typically a list of books I’ve already read or listened to! I hope that by sharing some of my recently read books, I’ll be able to help folks with similar tastes figure out what to read next (and maybe I’ll attract some good suggestions, too!).

Since this is the first post of it’s kind, I feel like I should tell you a bit about what I do and don’t like to read. I enjoy: fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, actual history books (yes, I’m a nerd), social psychology, and what I guess could be described as self help (books on interpersonal relations, spirituality, behavioral sciences, health, etc.). I sometimes read thrillers (think Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton) and travel stories, and have been known to read the occasional goofy mystery (I think I’ve read every book in the Stephanie Plum series, for example). I also sometimes enjoy satire books (eg Carl Hiaasen). I don’t tend to enjoy romance, most modern/realistic fiction, or biographies/autobiographies unless I’m very interested in the person or they’re a historical figure. So-called doorstop Fantasy books are my favorite, followed by educational books filled with interesting facts and studies. As I said above, I’m a nerd.

I don’t like to give a big synopsis of books – you can easily click over to Amazon or some other site to read a plot summary. Instead, I’m offering a few of my thoughts on each book. The list is relatively short for a month of reading for me. I’ve been focusing on reading real, hard copy books lately to set a good example for LG. Since our local library in Hawaii rarely had books I wanted to read, I’ve had to buy most of the books I’ve read. Hard copies cost more than digital copies, so I’ve been trying to read slowly and only while nursing to stretch them out. I used the Navy digital library for all of April’s Kindle reads. {{I haven’t listened to any audio books recently – all of these books were physically read.}}

In the month of April, I read:

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

Quite honestly, this book was a disappointment. I don’t understand why it has such a high rating on Amazon. I think if I’d had different expectations (or if I were 14 years old again), I might have enjoyed it more. The entire books felt very juvenile to me. I have nothing against young adult or middle grades fiction, as you’ll see below, but it’s not what I was expecting. The characters felt flat to me and the writing mediocre. People in reviews got all excited about the plot twists, but many of the ‘big reveals’ weren’t that surprising. Additionally, male characters keep finding themselves next to ‘the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen’ or think that ‘she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.’ Thing?! Virtually the only description I can give of the book’s female characters is that they’re apparently gorgeous and all have flowing hair. I’ve read entire series of books I didn’t like all that much because I wanted to find out what happened next, but I’m still on the fence about continuing with this trilogy because I’m just not that captivated. It’s very difficult for me to get rid of books, but I actually donated this one when we were preparing to move.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (book 1) by Brandon Sanderson

I’d read almost everything else Sanderson has written, so I figured I’d go ahead and read this middle grades series. It is fantastic! It’s entertaining, contains Monty Python references, and has some worthwhile messages, too. Plus it has a lot of truth to it: “By now, it is probably very late at night, and you have stayed up to read this book when you should have gone to sleep.” I don’t even know how many times I’ve stayed up too late reading in my life. I look forward to re-reading the series out loud as family in a few years. I also look forward to when the second book becomes available through the Navy library so I can devour it. (I’ve been on the wait list for almost a month now. Grr.)

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Mitosis is a short story that fits into the Reckoners series (there’s a Reckoner’s reference in Alcatraz, too). I balk at buying things that are so short, but I borrowed this one for free on Kindle from the Navy library, in spite of trying to focus on reading more hard copy books. It made me miss the Reckoners and glad that Sanderson is planning to write more books about the same universe (with a different cast of characters). The story isn’t profound or vital to the series storyline, but David’s ridiculous metaphors never disappoint and it’s a fun story. I particularly enjoyed a metaphor about trying to get glitter out of your soup. Soup or not, glitter is impossible to eradicate! Mitosis truly is a short story, so I recommend finding it at a library or getting a digital copy (the Kindle and Audible versions are both under $2 at the time of writing).

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

I love this trilogy and already can’t wait for the final volume to come out next year! I read Lawrence’s second trilogy first then his first trilogy second. He’s become better and better with each book he writes and I really enjoy his world building. He also seems like a funny/interesting guy (or, at least he is in his FB posts). The Book of the Ancestor trilogy is great because it features strong female leads and a unique world where ice threatens to envelop the planet (but is held semi at bay by a reflective artificial moon). The main characters are roughly the same age as the characters in The Shadow of What Was Lost, but are infinitely more well-developed and interesting. I appreciate that Lawrence’s books start with a brief section of important things you need to remember. Because of this, you don’t spend the first couple of chapters reading characters reminding each other of things they already know for your benefit. But that’s all I’ll say because, as I mentioned, I’m not here to give plot summaries. If you enjoy books that are fantasy with a bit of a sci-fi twist, you’ll like Lawrence.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I found this book decidedly okay. Like 3 stars kind of okay. Not fantastic, not so painful I couldn’t keep reading or just wanted the book to end already. It’s a strange combination of very juvenile and decidedly not juvenile, and sometimes the pacing is odd. Big events may take a few pages, or even paragraphs, and huge chunks of time blur past in sentences, but then less ‘important’ feeling scenes will go on for a long time. Sometimes the non-magical parts feel unrealistic. The main characters are supposed to be the top of their classes overachiever types, but frequently their actions don’t mesh with what I remember about being that age and roughly in their position as a top of the class, competitor at the INTEL International Science Fair type of person. I believe that anything fanciful has to keep some basic details realistic in order to sell the bigger picture. I apply this idea to my creative photography and I appreciate it in novels, too. You’ll undoubtably ‘hear’ me mention this again in other posts because it’s a big deal to me! I did decide to read the second book, but mostly because it was also available for free from the Navy library. I probably wouldn’t have been super happy with it as a purchase.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

If The Magicians is okay, then The Magician King is probably an okay-. I had a lot more typed up, but somehow it didn’t get saved and after moving across the country I just don’t have the mental energy to write it all up again! In short, there are a couple of continuity errors that stood out at me because I read the two books back to back. The borrowing from Narnia seems even more pronounced in this book to me, but the author says he was inspired by Narnia so I guess that’s not super surprising. I borrowed the book from the Navy e-library and I probably will read the third volume in the series once it becomes available because I am interested enough in the story to read one more installment if I can get it from the library.

Equal is Unfair by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook

I wish I could get everyone I know to read this book. I’ve had a hard time deciding what to write about it because there really is just too much to say. The authors are Objectivists and approach the often-cited ‘vanishing American Dream’ from an Objectivist perspective. They argue that income inequality is not inherently problematic when all parties are free to make voluntary transactions. (For example, JK Rowling is among the richest people in the world. If you purchase a Harry Potter book, she gets ‘richer’ and your net worth drops a little, but you enjoy the book and consider it a fair trade.) The problem, they argue, is political inequality that has grown in the United States. Big corporations deemed “too big to fail” are rewarded for poor decisions with bailouts while regular people are increasingly restricted and regulated. Laws that require, for example, a high school diploma or GED to enroll in cosmetology school or work at a barber’s shop/hair salon prevent skilled people from legally practicing their chosen profession without spending time and money they don’t have. (A law like this was changed a few years ago in Mississippi, but still exist in other states. You can read a bit more about a man challenging Tennessee’s law in this news article.) The authors take a fairly even-handed approach to studies and evidence. They give drawbacks of studies that support their arguments, not just the downsides and shortcomings of opposing viewpoints. I’ve read avowedly “liberal” and dogmatically “conservative” books that have done a poor to nonexistent job of approaching topics in a calm, balanced manner and it was refreshing to read something outside the viewpoint of ‘either’ major party.

Drawing and Painting Beautiful Faces by Jane Davenport

This is an art book, but I’m counting it as a read since it has a lot of information about materials and I have worked through the front half of the ‘workshop’ portion. I love Jane Davenport’s whimsical art and enjoy this book, but it also helped me realize that you can like when someone else does something but not personally enjoy doing it that way. I think the way Jane draws eyes is captivating, I just don’t personally like when I copy her eye style! I’ve been working through the book drawing eyes differently (and mouths a bit differently, too). When you’re following along with an art workshop, it can be too easy to feel like you failed if your results aren’t just the same as what’s pictured. You really shouldn’t feel that way, at all – even if you’re learning from someone else and their style, it’s totally okay to bring in your own style, too.

There were several other books I wanted to read in April, and some that I’ve started but didn’t finish in April. It was a very busy month! May is shaping up to be pretty busy, too, so I may get even fewer books read. We’ll have to wait and see!

Did you read anything particularly enjoyable or especially disappointing last month?

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Carol May 10, 2018, 10:24

    Hello
    I enjoy reading a lot to
    Most recently Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Issacson
    really good and up to date on info.
    The private lives of impressionist by Sue Roe
    Really good her other book is In Montmartre really good as well.
    I am currently rereading Frida (bio of Frida Kahlo) by Hayden Herrera really fascinating

    I like your idea of sending out your reads,especially since you’re including the not so good ones
    Thanks carol

    • Natasha May 11, 2018, 09:44

      I just looked up the book about the Impressionists. It sounds interesting! I’ve read at least part of Isaacson’s book about Benjamin Franklin (it was a while ago and I can’t remember if I ever finished it!) Thank you for leaving your suggestions!

  • Marieken May 16, 2018, 13:29

    Yay for Stephanie Plum, definitely my favourites, Janet Evanovich always makes me laugh out loud 🙂

    I am currently reading Audrey Hepburns biography. Don’t know yet what I’ll be reading after, but after this book, I’m sure I’ll be reading more biographies.

    • Natasha May 17, 2018, 09:45

      The Plum books are silly, but sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed! I’m really looking forward to the book I plan to read next. Hopefully I’ll be able to start it today!

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