The Tottering TBR // Episode XIX

A weekly(ish) post wherein I pretend to lament the fact that I have so many books on my TBR… but in fact am secretly rubbing my hands together with delight that there are so many amazing books left to be discovered…

This week felt strangely ‘normal’ – nothing weird or exciting happened – and it was fabulous!  I went to work, I cleaned house and worked in the garden, we grilled out a few times, and I visited with my family most of the day on Thursday.  I’ve still been doing quite a lot of reading, but while I’ve kept up the volume of reading, I don’t really feel like I’ve read anything really good. There haven’t been any books in quite a long while that have given me a genuine thrill.  I really felt like that was emphasized by the July Rearview I published this week – it was difficult to choose which book I liked the least, because there were quite a few I didn’t like, but picking out a favorite was difficult because there weren’t really any books in July that I loved – and I reviewed twenty books!

The pattern is continuing into August.  I’ve already published a post of minireviews just from the last two days of July and the first week of this month, because it feels like everything I’m reading isn’t really bad or really awesome – just kind of meh.  Hopefully I’ll stumble into a read that mixes that up soon…

Added to the General TBR:

Only two additions this week (maybe triggered by my jaded attitude towards reading right now haha).  Stephanie said that even though she wasn’t sure at first about What To Say Next, she ended up really enjoying it.  Fictionophile reminisced about an old favorite during Throwback Thursday – she originally reviewed Three Graves Full back in 2012 and still remembers it as a 5* read.

Off the General TBR:

I didn’t actually read/review anything from the General TBR this week, but I did remove three titles while reserving my  next three books from the library – sometimes I add books and then, later, when I am rereading the synopsis and such, I change my mind about even bothering haha

Total for the General TBR:  791 (down one!)

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Added to the Personal TBR:

Free Kindle books continue to beguile me/ruin my life – I added five this week!

Off the Personal TBR:

Luckily, I did get a few titles checked off this week, too.  I read and reviewed A Dark Lurewhich was a pretty meh free Kindle book from a while back, and also a childhood favorite – The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan.  As an aside, rereading that book made me wonder if Adorjan had written anything else – and of course she had!  One of the books looked like it might be a sequel to The Cat Sitter Mystery, so I found a cheap secondhand copy on eBay, and it’s on its way!  I also read and reviewed a biography of Amelia Earhart that has been on the shelf for a while.

Total for the Personal TBR:  595 (up two)

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Total for the Series TBR:  No change this week – steady at 222.

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Total for the Mystery Series TBR:  No change this week – holding steady at 103.

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Added to the Nonfiction TBR:

Reading Amelia Earhart’s biography inspired me to find some of the books that she herself wrote.  I added her personal account of the flight across the Atlantic, 20 Hrs., 40 Min., to the list.

Off the Nonfiction TBR:  

Even though I did review a nonfiction book this week, it came off the Personal tab rather than this one, so none off.

Total for the Nonfiction TBR:  80 (up one).

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Grand Total for the Week:  Eight on and six off, so up a net of two – not bad!  :-D

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening // by Colin McCrate & Brad Halin

//published 2015//

I’ve mentioned in the past my love for Storey Publishers (I even have a page dedicated to their books that I’ve reviewed).  They publish tons of unique and interesting books on all kinds of homesteading/DIY topics.  Their books are colorful and well-organized and full of practical, accessible advice.

High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, subtitled “Grow More of What You Want in the Space You Have” was one of my birthday scores from last year.  I really enjoy gardening, and I LOVE reading about gardening.  I own literally dozens of different books on a variety of gardening subtopics.  I was attracted to this book because it’s a bit “next level” – it’s really designed for people who already  have grasped the basics of vegetable gardening and are ready to start growing beyond what you are planning to eat fresh.

While I’m not ready to start selling veggies at a roadside stand or a farmers’ market (yet), I am working on growing more produce to preserve for our personal consumption throughout the year.  And even if I wasn’t wanting to expand our garden, High-Yield has a lot of practical tips for simply making your vegetable garden a healthier place to raise plants more easily.

The book roughly follows the stages of a garden through the season – starting with “Planning and Planting What You Need” and ending with “Timely Harvesting and Storage.”  In between, the authors cover the basics of things like soil amendment, crop rotation, irrigation systems, setting up a home nursery, using crop tunnels and greenhouses, organic fertilizing, and transplanting methods.  A lot of time is spent on seeding and growing seedlings, as this is the most financially efficient way to grow a large number of plants.

There are loads of charts that make it easy to reference back to information that has been covered in more depth throughout the chapter.  There’s also a great list of references in the back that not only lists tons of books, but also supplies recommended by the authors, useful apps, online access to record keeping charts, and places that will do soil analysis.

All in all, High-Yield is a great addition to my ever-growing collection of gardening books (and Storey publications), and one I definitely recommend if you already have some gardening basics under your belt and are interested in taking it up a notch.

The Tottering TBR // Episode XV // The Saga Continues

So I haven’t posted a Tottering TBR Episode since all the way back in February!  But life seems to be somewhat under control again (ha!), and I am working my way back into my more regular blogging habits.

A couple of weeks ago I did a pretty massive overhaul of the TBR, sorting some titles into the categories where they belonged, deleting duplicate entries, and other things like that.  I’m sure there are still lots of things I missed, and it’s still not uncommon for me to choose a book and then either remove it from the list based on a reread of the synopsis, or DNF it within the first few chapters.  I’m a generous adder to the TBR because I don’t (usually) feel obligated to actually finish books.

Anyway, as most of you know, I keep the TBR divided into five basic categories:

  • The General TBR:  All standalones and duologies
  • The Personal TBR:  All books that I personally own, physical and ebooks, but any series are only counted as one entry; books that I’ve read since I started blogging are considered checked off the list
  • The Series TBR:  Any set of books with at least three books that are not mystery/thrillers – each series counts as one entry
  • The Mystery Series TBR:  For…  you guessed it!  Mystery series!  Each series counts as one entry
  • Nonfiction:  For nonfiction titles that I don’t actually own – all my own nonfiction are include in the Personal TBR

So, here are the current totals for each category:

  • General:  783
  • Personal:  629
  • Series:  220
  • Mystery Series:  103
  • Nonfiction:  77

In case you were wondering, that adds up to 1,918 entries, which would be bad enough… except a BUNCH of those actually represent multiple books.

Now, I found this convenient TBR calculator that tells you how long it will take you to read through all your books, given the number of books on the TBR and how many books you read per year.  I went conservative and multiplied my 1,918 by only four to reach 7,672, and estimated that I read about 100 books per year.  This means that as long as I do not add a SINGLE other book, I’ll finish these in March of 2094 at the ripe young age of 108.  Sounds doable, right??

In the meantime, I’ll keep you all updated on how many books I add and which ones.  If the rest of you could stop reading really good books and then writing enticing reviews about them, that would really help me out a lot…  ;-)

 

The New Way Things Work // by David Macauley

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//published 1998//

This is one of those books that I’ve been reading off and on for literal months.  It’s a huge, bulky, heavy book, so I only read it if I’m going to be sitting for a while.  Luckily, it isn’t necessary to read this book cover to cover – and actually, after doing just that, I don’t even particularly recommend it!

Macauley has done a fabulous job taking some complicated things and explaining them in layman’s terms.  With the aid of his brilliant illustrations, Macauley works his way through simple machines, showing how complicated machines are actually several different types of simple ones linked together.  Thus, his book is divided by the mechanics behind a machine’s abilities, rather than by types of machines.  For example, wheelbarrows, pliers, nail clippers, and pry bars all make use of levers and consequently are found together.

Throughout the book, Macauley presents himself as a scientist who is living among a tribe of people who use woolly mammoths in their every-day lives.  At the beginning of each section, Macauley aids these people in working with their mammoths by teaching them a new principle of machines.  The illustrations are delightful and educational, especially for a visual learner like myself.

In some ways, though, I found myself thinking that this book would probably be better as a reference than as something you just sit down and read, as I was.  Because Macauley doesn’t go into a great amount of detail on any one thing, reading more than a few pages at a time could be overwhelming, which is part of the reason that it took me so long to work through the book.

The book is slightly dated.  Obviously the sections on inclined planes and zippers are still completely relevant, but the final section on “The Digital Domain” is bound to be out of date almost before it is published.  The original book was published in 1988, and this edition appeared in 1998, and it could use another refresh.  While I don’t think of any of the digital information is wrong, some of it may be a bit incomplete.

Still, it is definitely a book worth checking out.  Macauley combines entertainment and education quite well, and I came away with a lot more knowledge than at the beginning!

Sorcery and Cecelia // by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

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//published 1988// I like this cover much better than my copy //

I was on vacation ten years or so ago and picked this book up in a random bookstore in Boulder, Colorado.  I was actually drawn to the subtitle of the book, and the fact that it was co-authored by Patricia Wrede, who wrote the Enchanted Forest series, which I love.  

But who can resist a book that states on the title page:

Sorcery & Cecelia OR The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: being the correspondence of two Young Ladies of Quality regarding various Magical Scandals in London and the Country

The authors say in the afterword that this book originally wasn’t supposed to be a book at all.  Instead, it was their own private edition of the “letters game,” where you write back and forth in character.  They had chosen an alternate reality version of England in the early 1800’s, where magic is an excepted part of society.  But when they were finished, they realized that what they had written was a book.  They said they didn’t change much about their letters before publishing them, and the entire book has a very natural feel to the correspondence.

Cecelia and Kate are cousins who have grown up together.  However, Kate has been spirited away to London by her aunt (Kate is an orphan, and Cecelia’s mother also passed away when Cecelia was little, although her father is still alive) for a Season – mainly, it turns out, so that Kate’s younger sister, Georgina – who is considered much the prettier sister – can have a Season as well.  Both girls have many lively adventures, which are, it turns out, not so disconnected as one might think at first.

I have reread this book on multiple occasions, and decided that it – plus its sequels – would be perfect fare for our recent vacation.  I love to take well-read books on holiday.  (Last year I took Indiscretion and The Blue Castle.)  It’s just so relaxing to have an old friend (in fiction format) to visit as time allows.

The point is, I enjoy this book every time.  While the other books in the series are good, this one just has the spark of originality.  The setting is perfect, the story is funny and engaging, the characters likable and interesting.  While there are always little things to complain about (I always wish there was more development of Cecelia’s relationship with her young man), on the whole this is wonderful holiday reading and highly recommended.

The Book of Lost Things // by John Connolly

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//published 2006//

I can’t remember where I first heard about The Book of Lost Things, but a story about a boy who is pulled into the land of his books is a great premise, so I was definitely interested to see where this book led.

Twelve-year-old David is our protagonist, and the story opens during the last few weeks of his mother’s life.  It is London on the brink of World War II.  David’s mother has cancer and is fading away.  David finds solace in his books, the ones that his mother read to him when he was little, and that he now reads to her while she is quietly dying.

David loves his mother, and throughout the story we are given a picture of a woman who is a perfect mother, the kind of woman who instinctively understands her child and his needs.  When David’s mother dies, David is devastated.  Things only get worse when, a less than six months later, David’s father introduces Rose, who becomes David’s stepmother.  David has already been struggling with grief and adjustments.  His books have started to speak to him, and he has strange dreams and times when he faints.

And then, after the birth of his new little brother, David finds himself in a different world, one similar to many of the stories he has read.  It is a world full of danger and evil, and David isn’t sure how he will find his way home again – or even if he wants to.

There were many things about this story that I really enjoyed.  David himself is a likable child, and my sympathies were entirely with him. We aren’t really given his father’s perspective at all, but he still comes off as a bit of a jerk, considering that he’s dated, impregnated, and married another woman all in less than a year since his wife’s death.  Throughout, David’s dad never seems to care about David’s grief or what is most important for David.  I’m not sure whether this was intentional on the part of Connolly, but I really disliked David’s dad, who seemed completely selfish to me, putting his own needs and desires above those of his child.

David’s mother had been dead for five months, three weeks, and four days.  A woman had joined them to eat at the Popular that day.  His father had introduced her to David as Rose.  Rose was very thing, with long, dark hair and bright red lips.  Her clothes looked expensive, and gold and diamonds glittered at her ears and throat.  She claimed to eat very little, although she finished most of her chicken that afternoon and had plenty of room for pudding afterward.  She looked familiar to David, and it emerged that she was the administrator of the not-quite-hospital in which his mother had died.  His father told David that Rose had looked after his mother really, really well, although not, David thought, well enough to keep her from dying.  ….  When they thought he wasn’t looking, David saw them kiss briefly.

So even though it’s only been five months, three weeks, and four days, it’s obvious that David’s dad has been in this relationship for some time, keeping it a secret from David.  What a jerk.

Throughout the first few chapters, the books whisper to David, but it turns out that that isn’t really relevant.  Actually, there are a lot of things in those first few chapters that aren’t really relevant.  David’s blackouts and the whispering books are never really explained.  Apparently that all stops when he returns from his fairyland journey, but why?  Why did they start?  How?  And how did his adventure there stop them?  If the Crooked Man was the one imitating David’s mother’s voice to lure David into fairyland, than why did David’s mother’s voice appear in the creepy castle where the Crooked Man didn’t want David to go?  No answers.

As David meanders through fairyland being chased by weird human-wolves that were created because Red Riding Hood had sex with a wolf (??!?!), there just isn’t enough story to keep things going.  There are lots of meet-ups with semi-familiar characters (basically, if it was a fairy tale that had a character you liked, they are probably creepy and gross and possibly perverted in this version), but the story has a strange, disjointed feel.  Throughout, David is supposedly being lured/chased by the Crooked Man, a vague and evil menace, who has apparently lived on the souls of children for centuries, but the Crooked Man’s character never made a heck of a lot of sense, and I couldn’t really tell if he was supposed to be a metaphor or if he was just really poorly written.

The story was overly graphic on the violence, with scenes of death and dismemberment described in harrowing and completely unnecessary detail.  There was a lot of gore in this book, and I have no idea why because it didn’t accomplish anything.  The whole book was just genuinely disturbing.

In the end, we get no answers.  The whole story is just this sort of random “journey to manhood” for David, but it seemed like a terrible lesson to teach about the passage to manhood.  It had all the cliches: stiff upper lip; don’t show your feelings; stand strong; be a man; don’t be weak; never cry.  To me, these concepts of “manhood” are just as outdated as telling girls that they should swoon at the sight of blood and should always sit at home sewing a sampler whilst waiting for the prince to arrive.  There is a difference between teaching children/boys that they should be strong and teaching them that to show emotion/tears is a weakness.

Basically, we are told that David was the unreasonable one in the whole situation of recovering from the death of his mother.  Although Connolly doesn’t say it in so many words, the epilogue shows that David’s father was right to “move on” and start a new life, while David was selfish and immature because he didn’t immediately accept Rose and the changes in his life (despite the fact that the changes were huge and sudden and David was TWELVE) –

Rose and his father, when they were alone in their bed at night, remark[ed] upon how much the incident had changed David, making him both quieter and more thoughtful of others; more affectionate towards Rose, and more understanding of her own difficulties in trying to find a place for herself in the lives of these two men, David and his father; more responsive to sudden noises and potential dangers, yet also more protective of those who were weaker than he, and of Georgie, his half brother, in particular.

Setting aside that this is, you know, the end of the book, so we freaking know who Georgie is already (a prime example of Connolly’s condescending tone throughout), this whole paragraph just bothered me to no end.  David’s dad and Rose were right; David was wrong.  David is a MAN now because he knows how to set all his own feelings aside and be strong, and being strong with no feelings is what makes you a MAN.  It just kind of blows my mind that a story can be written with such terrible lessons for a boy, but if it was flipped and the story was about a girl learning that the way to truly be a woman is to be quiet and humble and attend instantly to the needs of the men in her life, everyone would be freaking out.

The epilogue was absolutely dreadful, leaving us with David’s father and Rose divorced at the end of it all (I mean, seriously?  We just spent an entire book with David literally having to go into another world to learn how to deal with this relationship and then Connolly decides it isn’t even real enough to make it last?), David getting married and then having his wife die, and basically everyone getting super lame endings, which was really aggravating.

To top it off, the last 150-200 pages aren’t even part of the story – it’s all Connolly condescending again, explaining to the reader about how clever he was to incorporate all these old fairy tales in such new and exciting ways (yes, thank you, it was great that you made Sleeping Beauty a vampire and Snow White basically the grossest person you could imagine, not to mention the whole Red Riding Hood/wolf sex thing, wow you are super clever, congratulations), and then actually reprinting the fairy tales in case you couldn’t remember how the story of Snow White actually goes.

I think that part of my extreme dissatisfaction with this book comes from reading it close after completing A String in the Harpwhich also deals with a family’s grief over the death of a mother, except in that book, the family comes to realize that being a family is more important than anything, and they all actually deal with their grief in a healthy way, by learning to lean on one another, and it’s beautiful.  A Monster Callswhich I read last year, was also an incredibly poignant book about grief.

But The Book of Lost Things is, at the end of the day, about becoming a MAN, which means no feelings allowed!  Even if you’re twelve and your mother just died and your dad callously got remarried right away without even talking to you about it because basically apparently David’s dad couldn’t handle not having sex so.  Way to be a man.  Good job.

1/5 for The Book of Lost Things, and at least I don’t have to worry about trying to find any more books by John Connolly.

Dragon’s Fire by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

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//published 2006//

So my most recent reads in Pern have been a bit up and down.  I really enjoyed Dragon’s Kinand was very disappointed in Dragonsblood.  I have read two more books in the series since then – Dragon’s Fire and Dragon Harper – and I think part of the problem is Todd McCaffrey’s timeline.  I understand why Anne McCaffrey’s books jump around in Pernese time a bit.  She wrote a trilogy, it was well-taken, and then she kept adding to the series at both ends, progressing the story/characters she had originally started with, while also filling in background and history from earlier periods of Pernese history.

However, I don’t think that Todd McCaffrey has that excuse.  He chose a point in Pernese history to write about – just before and during the Third Pass – yet instead of writing in a linear fashion, these four books he has authored/co-authored jump around all over the place, covering and recovering the same years, making the whole story choppy and confusing, as we keep reading about the same characters at different points in their lives.  It’s hard to remember whether or not certain things have already happened to a character, especially when we add in that Todd is obsessed with the dragons’ ability to jump through time.  Time travel was a rarely-used gimmick in Anne’s books, but a very standard one in Todd’s.

The other thing that happens with Todd’s constant going over of the same time periods is that the whole thing feels extra lazy, like he couldn’t think of a new plot, so he just literally reuses an old one.  So far:

Published Order:

  • Dragon’s Kin
  • Dragonsblood
  • Dragon’s Fire
  • Dragon Harper
  • Dragonheart (I just started this one today)

Chronological Order:

  • Dragon’s Kin and Dragon’s Fire – same exact time
  • Dragon Harper (a lot of which was covered as backstory in Dragonsblood and is then recycled into its “own” story)
  • Dragonheart (looks like it will be the exact same time as Dragonsblood)
  • Dragonsblood

So, fair warning, my reviews for the next couple of Pern books may get a bit whiny…

Here’s the thing: Dragon’s Fire is an alright book.  However, it is just the exact same story as Dragon’s Kin except with a different perspective.  These two books should have been one book.  As alternating chapters to Dragon’s Kin, Dragon’s Fire would have been interesting and engaging.  As the same exact story with another book in between them, Dragon’s Fire was boring and pointless.

Added to that, large parts of this book made no sense.  Supposedly, there was all this stuff going on with the “holdless” (people who have basically been shunned due to committing a crime), but it all jumps around, and there isn’t a lot of motive given.  We start with Harper Zist and his wife setting out to find some holdless people and basically hang out with them, but it’s all really random and confusing, because we don’t really know why??  Or what is going on??  Or why??

There is this whole thing with Pellar – who, by the way, is a really good character whom I quite liked – except he’s like this secret spy who is kind of an apprentice??  Maybe??  I don’t know, it was just weird.

The whole story with the actual holdless is confusing, too.  Like why is Cristov hanging out with Jamal?  We’re introduced as though the two boys are old friends, but then later find out that Jamal was holdless the whole time and he and his sister were actually just hanging out scamming people out of money??  Or something??

I could go on.  The whole book was full of weak plotting, unexplained motives, and underdeveloped characters.

I was especially appalled by the fact that Pellar, who is only 13, has sex.  Throughout the series, it’s always been this weird thing that characters bonded to dragons and relations of the dragons (watch-whers and fire lizards) are overcome with the same lust as the animals when one of the animals rises to mate.  However, while weird, it somewhat made sense within the context of Weyr – the senior Queen rises to mate, and the strongest Bronze will capture her: the rider of the strongest Bronze thus becomes the Weyrleader.

But in this book – and, I’ll venture to add, the next few books – Todd takes this whole thing to a different level.  We’ve never been given the impression that the people of Pern marry at extremely young ages, yet suddenly we have children barely past puberty having sex…????

In this particular instance, Pellar has been staying with a small, isolated camp that supposedly is home to the last Queen watch-wher (which is a whole different sent of contradictions, as in Dragon’s Kin a character travels about Pern helping people learn how to care for and understand their watch-whers, but suddenly in Dragon’s Fire they are super rare and on the point of extinction…???), and the Queen is ready for a mating flight.

Pellar nodded and ran back to the cave … he was surprised to see some of the younger women eyeing him consideringly.

“It’d only be for the flight,” the woman said when she caught his gaze.  “Nothing more than that.”

Pellar nodded, not sure of his own feelings …

“How many turns are you, anyway?” Polla asked, regarding Pellar carefully.

Pellar hastily pulled out his slate [Pellar is mute] and wrote 13.

Polla read it and laughed, nodding toward the younger woman.  “Arella’s nearer your age, she’s only three Turns older.”

Pellar found it hard to believe that the other woman had only sixteen Turns; he would have guessed nearer to thirty.  Life with the watch-whers was clearly very demanding.

“Come sit by me, then,” Arella called, patting a spot near her.

Pellar crossed around the fire and had just sat, nervously, when the watch-whers mated.

Much later, Arella whispered in his ear, “Now you are one of us.”

Where do I even start with this?  The fact that Todd is apparently incapable of writing a paragraph that is longer than a sentence in length (I edited out two sentences)?  The fact that a 13-year-old basically gets raped by a woman older than him, one he thought was old enough to be his mother (even though she is apparently only three years older…)?!?!?  This whole thing was just way too bizarre for words.

I will stop complaining now.  Suffice to say that there were a lot of gaps in this book.  I haven’t even begun to cover the whole mining/firestone aspect of the story, which was just as complicated and nonsensical.  So much of this book felt like padding, an attempt to fill the story out to the length of a full book.  It was so frustrating because a lot of the boring, pointless bits could have been cut out and the entire story could have been added to Dragon’s Kin for one interesting book (minus the child-rape, of course).  Instead, we’re stuck with a pointlessly annoying book full of contradictions, back-tracking, coincidences, and actions without motive.

1/5 and an incredibly weak addition to the series.