Deerskin – Robin McKinley

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As Princess Lissla Lissar reaches womanhood, it is clear to all the kingdom that in her beauty she is the image of her dead mother, the queen. But this likeness forces her to flee from her father’s lust and madness; and in the pain and horror of that flight she forgets who she is and what it is she flees from: forgets almost everything but the love and loyalty of her dog, Ash, who accompanies her. But a chance encounter on the road leads to a job in another king’s kennels, where the prince finds himself falling in love with the new kennel maid . . . and one day he tells her of a princess named Lissla Lissar, who had a dog named Ash.

MY RATING: 4 STARS

I’m unfamiliar with the story of “Donkeyskin,” but I’ve been a fan of Robin McKinley for half my life, so I wasn’t about to pass this one by. I saw three-quarters of the reviews on Goodreads warn to approach this with caution, and at least that number call this a beautiful retelling, and thus armed, I began.

First of all, they weren’t kidding. This book deals with horrific abuse and its consequences, and Ms. McKinley gives no quarter describing either. Part One is filled with such dread and a sense of doom that I felt physically sick waiting for the inevitable to happen, and when it did I had to stop reading and come back when I could go on without crying. The rest details the pain and struggle to carry on after such a blow, and it was heart wrenching and emotional to say the least. I don’t think anyone who has experienced something similar could read this and not relate.

After an opening chapter that had an old-school fairy tale vibe, the rest was classic McKinley, with a poetic feel for language and imagery that stays with you. It was hard to connect with Lissar right away, she was kept so vague and overshadowed by her parents, but the neglect she endured through her childhood made the turnaround following her mother’s death hit even harder. Suddenly, she was her father’s obsession, and her struggle to avoid the manipulations of his court got me on her side in a hurry. The connection with her solidified as the story moved on, and I became genuinely invested in her, cared about her suffering, and wanted her to overcome it.

The supporting cast is quite limited and not nearly as dimensional; the human characters are overshadowed by dogs most of the time. I would have liked a little more depth in Ossin and to have seen a little more of Lilac, Ammy, and Barley. Ossin in particular deserved a little more attention, as he wasn’t the standard Prince Charming. He wasn’t handsome, he preferred dogs over people, and he wasn’t always rushing off to save damsels in distress. The friendship, compassion and love he showed Lissar was enough to get my attention, and it would have been nice if he had a greater part in the story.

It’s a trend with Robin McKinley novels to wander a bit at first and end with finales that make you scratch your head and wonder what just happened (Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Pegasus, Chalice, you get the picture) but this one made me reread every paragraph of the climax at least three times just to be sure of what was going on, and I still can’t be sure I got the whole thing. Not to say it wasn’t good, just that I didn’t see it coming and the execution was a little…iffy, perhaps? Given that I’m familiar with the author, I expected something of the sort, so no big deal, but it’s mainly why I gave this four stars instead of five.

I’ll close with some of my favorite quotes:

What remained was a sense of the Lady, of her voice, the touch of her fingers, the calm of knowing the Lady had intervened on Lissar’s behalf. The peacefulness was part of the intervention; Lissar knew she was grateful, beyond grateful, for having been plucked up from her old fate and set down again, facing some new direction, leading to some new fate; but the memory of why she had needed the intervention was an empty, battered box or trunk or cupboard. No, Lissar thought very quietly. It is not empty; but I can close it for now, and put it away. I will draw it down later, and open it again; the Lady has given me time and healing, time for healing. I will be strong again when I open that box, strong enough to open it. My strength now is to set it aside.

I was no child, for you and my mother gave me no childhood; and my maidenhood you tore from me, that I might never become a woman; and a woman I have not become, for I have been too afraid. But I return to you now all that you did give to me: all the rage and the terror, the pain and the hatred that should have been love. The nightmares, and the waking dreams that are worse than nightmares because they are memories. These I return to you, for I want them no more, and I will not bear them one whit of my time on this earth more.

I am hurt…in ways you cannot see, and that I cannot explain, even to myself, but only know that they are there, and a part of me, as much as my hands and eyes and breath are a part of me.

With the knowledge of her aloneness came the rush of self-declaration: I will not be nothing.

A beautiful and moving

story, and if you can survive the heartbreak and sorrow, it’s well worth it.

 

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson

Millennium, book three

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The stunning third and final novel in Stieg Larsson’s internationally best-selling trilogy.

Lisbeth Salander – the heart of Larsson’s two previous novels – lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head, in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.

Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now Salander is fighting back.

MY RATING: 5 STARS

Oh. My. God. This is one of those rare occasions when a strong series concludes with a brilliant installment, and one of those not-so-rare ones when I’m so floored by a book that I don’t know what to say. Considering I’ve been waiting years to finally read this, I’m so glad I found it as incredible as I did.

As always, nitpicks first. Again, I feel like things are lost in translation, and the background information about Swedish politics, media scandals, espionage and civil rights all feels like filler for the foreign audience. It’s useful, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in a pinkie factory.

Now for the good stuff. Picking up immediately where Fire left off, Hornet’s Nest was intense from the start and carried on to the end. There were necessary slow points, but for the most part it was unnerving and unrelenting. I binge-read about two thirds of the book over a single weekend, I just couldn’t leave it alone. There were multiple story lines, but each related to the other in a way that was significant to the plot and the finale. Mikael Blomkvist leads the ragtag group dedicated to exposing the conspirators responsible for violating Lisbeth Salander’s civil rights in the most outrageous way possible; Salander herself conducts her own particular kind of investigation from a guarded hospital room; the government agents determined to lock her up for good begin taking extreme counter measures; Erika Berger faces opposition at one of the biggest newspapers in Sweden.

Salander has carried me through this series for the most part, but when it mattered most, the rest of the cast won me over. I find that pretty interesting, since the landscape has expanded with each book and the cast has grown to include more characters. All of that is just a longer way of saying, I finally liked Blomkvist. It took three long, complex books to get it done, but it happened! And I’m so glad sister Annika finally got more page time, because I had always been interested in her and my curiosity was amply rewarded. Her work with Salander was rocky (surprise, surprise) but she was another strong female in a series built on one strong female in particular. And honestly, what more can I say about Salander that I haven’t already? She’s difficult and different, but she’s a fighter. Annika’s argument at trial says it all: “Let me tell you something. I admire Lisbeth Salander. She’s tougher than I am…she fought back with the only weapon she had available…” Nothing and no one can break her. She survived one injustice after another through sheer force of will, and despite her unusual temperament she earned the loyalty and respect of those who helped her take her life back. I still wouldn’t consider her a good role model, but I wouldn’t discount her merit, either.

This was such a clean, orderly finish to the series, with no loose ends to speak of. That’s a pretty difficult feat to accomplish in any series, let alone one of this complexity. For all the nitpicks I had with it, I feel comfortable saying I’ll revisit it in the future and would call it a “must-read” for suspense, crime drama and thriller readers. It gained momentum with every installment and grew more taut and intense, and Lisbeth Salander is definitely a character to remember. I for one am not likely to forget her anytime soon!

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A Time To Kill – John Grisham

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Clanton, Mississippi. The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes justice into his own outraged hands.

For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread throughout the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life… and then his own….

MY RATING: 2 STARS

The movie was better. That’s the short version. The long version is that I’ve finally decided that I don’t particularly care for John Grisham’s work, and if you give me a minute I’ll tell you why.

For starters, there is a whole lot of could-have-been going on with this book. It could have been a taut, intense legal thriller. The characters could have been lovable, or even likable. The social commentary could have been insightful. Here’s the problem, though. The legal aspect sprawls with boring details and leaves little room for action. Most of the characters are too focused on the publicity surrounding Carl Lee Hailey’s trial than the trial itself, or the crime that made it necessary to put Hailey on trial in the first place. The social commentary is delivered on a soap box about corporate lawyers versus street lawyers, blacks versus whites, fathers seeking revenge versus the law delivering justice…some of the time. The strongest message I got was of jury manipulation and intimidation. If you put enough pressure on them, you’ll get whatever verdict you want, thus completely undermining the entire concept of justice.

I could have let all of this slide, if it wasn’t for Grisham’s style, or in this case, lack thereof. It was bland and did absolutely nothing to engage my emotions. I had nothing vested in the story but the time I was willing to spend reading it. I just had no reason to care, which has been the case with every John Grisham novel I’ve read. He doesn’t push my buttons or do anything to get me involved, and by the time I’m finished I’m just glad it’s all over, for my own sake. I couldn’t care less about the characters and their struggles. I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I think I’ll stick with the movie from now on.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire – Stieg Larsson


Millenium, book two (and OMG, there’s a FOURTH book now?!)

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Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazineMillennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

MY RATING: 5 STARS

After rereading Dragon Tattoo, I decided I wasn’t so crazy about it. After rereading Fire, I’m crazier than ever about it. I picked up on details I missed the first time, I was able to pay more attention to the intricacies of the plot and have greater appreciation for them, and with greater focus on Salander, I was even happier.

Not to say I don’t have the same beefs with this installment as I did the last one. Some things still feel lost in translation. Larsson’s terse, almost emotionless narrative runs into some stale patches. The theme of sex trafficking and exploitation of women is nauseating and disturbing as ever–but not nearly as bad as Dragon Tattoo. This time around it’s addressed as a serious issue that must be combated against in whatever manner is best. The main conflict is Salander and the corruption she is caught up in.

If it’s hard to discuss Dragon Tattoo without giving anything away, then it’s nearly impossible to discuss Fire. The book is massive, yet everything is linked somehow, with little to no deadweight. As with the first book, this one takes awhile to get warmed up but once it does, it just doesn’t stop. Mikael Blomkvist, cutting edge journalist, is a bit more likeable here. My problem with him the last go-round was how diffident he seemed and how he didn’t seem to have any clear principles. With Millennium’s huge expose on the sex trade in Sweden slated for publication, he finally looks like he’s taking a definite stance, and when Salander is accused of murder, he’s in her corner from the word go. All in all, he’s pretty frigging cool.

And then there’s Lisbeth Salander. She makes this series awesome. I loved learning more about her past, and the more you learn the more incredible she becomes. It’s so hard to rant and rave about her the way I want to because it’s all spoilers! I think the best I can do is give my favorite quotes:

“There are no innocents. There are, however, different degrees of responsibility.”

“I’ve had a fucking miserable week and I’m in a fucking bad mood. You know what the worst thing is? Every time I turn around there’s some fucking pile of shit with a beer belly in my way acting tough. Now I’d like to leave. So move your ass.”

Corruption at the highest government levels. Hard core investigations. Hidden scandals. Collateral damage. Secrets and exposures. And all four feet eleven inches of the greatest heroine in modern literature. Not to mention one hell of a cliff hanger! You can take my word for it, this is a freaking awesome book. But it’s worth your time to find out just how awesome for yourself.

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Watership Down: The Movie

I’ve got a review for The Girl Who Played With Fire in the works, but I thought I’d give you something to munch on while you’re waiting. So…how about this? Betcha didn’t know it was a movie! Some dear, generous soul uploaded it to YouTube! In case you haven’t yet, you might want to read my review of Watership Down to know my thoughts on the book. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so don’t spoil it!

Watership Down (1978)

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Writing Encouragement

Another reblog from Lynette Noni…because where would the readers be without the writers?

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Watership Down – Richard Adams

This ranks somewhere on my TBR Tackle, but I’ve forgotten how far into the challenge I am at this point…oops!

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Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.

MY RATING: 5 STARS

This had been sitting on my shelf for well over a year after I bought it (shocking, I know), and it wasn’t until seeing it mentioned in another book that I finally decided to pick it up. And once I did, I couldn’t put it down. Trust me, I get the hype now. Why didn’t I read this SOONER?!

There was so much to love about this, and it’s definitely earned to be called a classic. The rabbits of Watership Down, considered a ragtag bunch to outsiders, are impossible not to love. Their courage and loyalty get you in their corner right away; I was cheering them on from the get-go and hoping they succeeded in building a new home for themselves. Their journey to the down and their fight to protect their warren and each other, a basic premise, made for a straightforward but profound story, and when I finally finished reading I had to stop and collect myself before I could move on. I almost couldn’t resist the temptation to turn around and read it again right away, I enjoyed it that much.

It’s not hard to understand why this is still considered a classic, forty years after publication. There is a timelessness to its core themes of family and survival that relates to any day and age. Mr. Adams’s language is alternately direct and poetic (there is a certain passage about moonlight I felt compelled to stop and make note of). It’s heartening, heart-wrenching, and heart-warming. It was completely entertaining from page one. In short, it was a prime example of good storytelling.

I say this quite often about books I enjoy, but I’ll be recommending this one for quite some time. If you haven’t read this yet, do it! I urge you!

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Fire Bringer – David Clement-Davies

Because I’ve got to sneak in at least one re-read…

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Young buck Rannoch was born on the night his father was murdered and into a herd of deer where hunger for power has gradually whittled away at all that is true and good. He knows he must escape to survive. Chased by stags, with their fearsome antlers sharpened for the kill, he begins a treacherous journey into the unknown, and ahead of him lies a shocking and formidable search for truth and goodwill in the shadow of the Great Mountain.

One day he will have to return to his home and face his destiny among the deer to fulfill the prophecy that has persistently given them hope: that one day a fawn will be born with the mark of an oak leaf on his forehead and that fawn’s courage will lead all the deer to freedom. Filled with passion and a darkness that gradually, through Rannoch’s courage in the face of adversity, lifts to reveal an overwhelming feeling of light, Fire Bringer is a tremendous, spirited story that takes the reader deep into the hearts and minds of its characters as they fight for their right to live in peace.

Well-written and brimming with a gutsy excitement that leaps off the page and straight into the imagination, David Clement-Davies’s debut novel for young readers is an exceptional, dynamic, complex, and utterly absorbing piece of work that anyone with a true love of animals and adventure will find impossible to put down.

MY RATING: 4 STARS

I first read this when I was twelve years old, and x-amount of years later, it still resonates with me. There’s the old nostalgia of returning to a childhood favorite, of course, and the deeper appreciation of a more seasoned reader.

Before this, his debut novel, David Clement-Davies was a travel writer, something that shows in his style. It’s vivid and descriptive, and it’s safe to say it paints entire pictures with words, the attention to setting and scenery is so acute. Yet it lacks the flow of a practiced fiction writer, a fact most obvious in choppy sentences and stiff dialogue. The characters are often one-dimensional, the plot predictable, and the themes well-worn and familiar.

None of this is to say the author isn’t a good storyteller, as it’s really quite the contrary. It’s standard epic fantasy with all the classic tropes and clichés, but its execution is gripping and exciting. The climax is suitably stirring, and the final scene always haunts and lingers, even after all these years. It’s the book that introduced me to one of my favorite fantasy authors, and the fact that I can still appreciate it beyond childhood nostalgia says a lot for it. I would readily recommend it to any fantasy reader, and advise them to bring tissues. They might come in handy later.

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Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life – Larry Winget

Book five of the TBR Tackle. One third of the way there!

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This is not your typical self-help book. You won’t find any motivational platitudes or cute business parables here. This is more of a “get off your butt and get to work” approach that can help you achieve more success, make more money, improve your business, and have more fun. Larry Winget doesn’t pull any punches here. He believes that business gets better when businesspeople get better through personal growth. And it works the same way in your personal life-husbands and wives improve each other when they improve themselves, and kids improve when their parents do. In other words, everything in life gets better when you get better, and nothing gets better until you get better. This book can make you better, but it will probably tick you off. Winget is direct, caustic, and controversial. You won’t like or agree with everything he has to say. Yet his advice is full of wisdom and truth that can’t easily be argued with. Words from Shut Up, Stop Whining & Get a Life that prove that this book is anything but typical: “If you don’t have much going wrong in your life, then you don’t have much going on in your life.” “When you work, work! When you play, play! Don’t mix the two.” “What you think about, talk about, and do something about is what comes about.” “When it quits being fun-quit.” “Time management is a joke.” And that’s just the beginning!

MY RATING: 4 STARS

Oh, how I hate reviewing nonfiction…but this one is going to be easy. Larry Winget holds no one’s hand. He doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings. And if you ask him why you’re unhappy and unsuccessful, he’ll tell you it’s your own fault. The ugly truth of it is, he’s probably right.

This isn’t self-help as much as Winget calling the reader out, but the real shocker is that everything in this book is so obvious! Most of us know this stuff already and yet we don’t put it into practice, and he makes his annoyance at such behavior known. A lot. He goes out of his way to put the responsibility for our poor decisions back on us and doesn’t leave any room for comfy excuses. The only negative point I can make is that his manner is so abrasive and so confrontational that it starts to feel forced about halfway through the book. That’s a minor point, though. I enjoyed Winget’s views on failure, success, motivation, and the major aspects of life, and I took a lot away…that should have been obvious all along.

This was surprisingly fun to read and something of an eye-opener. I really think everyone ought to read this book and at least try to learn something from it–no, let me rephrase that. Everyone can learn something from this book. Whether they’ll actually make the effort to do so is entirely up to them. Which is exactly Winget’s point.

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What Kind Of Reader Are You?

Saw this over on Lynette Noni’s blog (so, so, SO much fun!) and decided to pass it on! 🙂

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