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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

The Music Shop: A Novel
Rachel Joyce
The Vintage Bradbury: The greatest stories by America's most distinguished practioner of speculative fiction
Ray Bradbury
Peanuts Classics
Charles M. Schulz
Progress: 66 %
The Bungalow Mystery
Carolyn Keene
Progress: 192/192 pages
The Bungalow Mystery #3
Carolyn Keene
Progress: 192/192 pages
The Bungalow Mystery
P.M. Carlson, Russell H. Tandy, Carolyn Keene
Progress: 204/204 pages

Evil Eye ★★★★★

Evil Eye - Madhuri Shekar

Hilarious & terrifying. The style is more performance than simply a read audiobook and the quality of the voice actors and the production is top notch. Highly recommend.


Audiobook via Audible

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry ★★★☆☆

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry: A Novel - Fredrik Backman, Joan Hustace Walker

It's a good story with interesting characters and a little mystery to solve. It's sweet and funny and sad by turns. Overall, I enjoyed it very much. But I couldn't quite suspend disbelief, because the main character just wasn't at all believable as a little girl of only 7 years, no matter how special or different. It's a good book for people who like a sweet, sad story that wraps up neatly in the end, with everyone getting just as they deserve.


I took off half a star for the story including that tired old trope of the mean hospital nurse whose only function is to fuss at patients and to keep them from having any visitors. I f***ing HATE that.


Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Joan Walker's narration was very good.

Rescuing Sprite ★★☆☆☆

Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover's Story of Joy and Anguish - Mark R. Levin

I wanted to like this book, because it was a gift from my sister, and because it was about a rescue pup and the family who loved him. Despite all this, I found it dull and badly written. The language has been simplified to literally a 5th grade reading level, per Flesch Kincaid. Thus we are treated to such descriptive and emotional delights as:


"Her injury was fatal, and we were all devastated, especially my mother and grandfather."


"I looked at them with disgust and stormed out the door."


"She was very proud of her dad. The truth is that I did what every other dog lover would have done."


"I felt horrible for her. I whispered to the technician, 'She had to put the cat to sleep, didn't she?' She gave me a sad look and said they did."

"He was upset but very strong. I could see his eyes well up, but he held his emotions back."


The story itself is fairly mundane - the dogs do common doggie things and the author and his family experience the usual joys that our pets bring to our lives. I think the book can be useful to some for its description of the struggle most of us will have to face sooner or later: the end-of-life decisions we must make for a beloved pet who is suffering from an incurable illness or progressively poor health, and the guilt and spiritual questions that sometimes come with those decisions. It only amazes me that a middle aged man who has been a dog lover all his life had never before gone through it.


But even here, the clumsy prose and simplified language robs the story of emotional impact.


I'll keep this book on my shelves and treasure it, but only because it was a gift from my sister and for the thoughtful, loving inscription she wrote on the flyleaf, which moved me far more than anything else contained in it.

Provenance ★★★★☆

Provenance - Ann Leckie

This was more of a light and quick read than I expected. Diving into a new sci-fi author, I always worry that the story will get bogged down in explanations of technology and inter-worlds/inter-species politics, but that's not the case with this book. Leckie provides a good story and interesting characters that carried me along atop the politics, allowing me to understand just what I needed to for the story and not worry too deeply about the rest. Thankfully, there is very little detail on the technology, so I didn't need to apply any of my very rusty (and rudimentary) science/physics/etc. skills here.


I picked this one up on recommendation of a friend, particularly for the narrator, but didn't realize until the end that this is the 4th book in a series, although supposedly it works as a standalone, as only the universe, rather than any major characters, carries over from the prior 3 books. I think this story might have been easier to follow, if I had read the others in the series, but I picked up enough to still enjoy it very much. I've put the first book of the series on hold at the library.


Audiobook, with an excellent performance by Adjoa Andoh, so the unfamilar names and pronouns made this story a little difficult to follow, but the excellent audio performance helped make it a smooth journey.

Untamed ★★★☆☆

Untamed - Elizabeth Lowell

This started out well, but by page 100 had descended into silliness, full of spitefully jealous women and hypermasculine, brutish men. I really don't find murderous jealousy and controlling possessiveness very sexy. But I do love the idea of the Glendruid witch/clan/curse. That was really a lot of fun.


I'm giving it 3 stars mostly out of nostalgia, and in homage to my younger self that enjoyed this book at a time when I was just discovering the Romance genre had a subcategory of supernatural/magical romance, and was not very particular about healthy relationships.


Paperback, very tattered, bought at a secondhand shop.

Fragile Things ★★☆☆☆

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman

This took forever to finish over multiple tries, which pretty much sums up how engaged I was with this book. I love Neil Gaiman's stories, but nearly every story in this collection left me thinking either, "okay that was different" or "wtf did I just read?". They mostly felt like the kind of flash fiction where you are exposed to some vignette disconnected from a larger story, with no sense of what that larger story might be. I really dislike flash fiction.


Paperback, now removed from my bookshelf and added to the box of books to be donated to the library.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles ★★★★★

The Travelling Cat Chronicles - Hiro Arikawa

This is the story of a cat whose human is trying to find him a new home, for reasons that are not immediately clear. What *is* clear is that the human loves his cat, and will only leave him with someone he trusts and who will make his cat happy. So they go visiting various old friends to see if the cat and potential new owner are compatible, but the cat knows what his human is up to and makes sure none of the potential new homes work out.


And each visit is a mini-character study, and through each friend we find out a little more about the cat and his human. So this is a road trip story, and cat and human are taking more than one kind of journey together. 


Did I mention that the story is told from the cat's point of view? And his voice is exactly the sort of smug, superior, know-it-all voice that I would expect a cat to have. But he is also wise and loving, and he knows what is best for the both of them, and he will not be parted from the man who rescued and cared for him. 


This story is sweet and sad and comforting, and I highly recommend it. 


Audiobook, borrowed from my public library.  George Blagden strikes just the right note in reading the story. 

The Bad Seed ★★★★☆

The Bad Seed: A Vintage Movie Classic - William March

OK, I'm going to review this book in a minute, but first I need to tell y'all about the shop I found this book in. 


Last month, my mother and sisters and I got together and made a day trip into Brenham, home of The Best Little Creamery in Texas. They have a cute little downtown full of antique and junk shops and a great sandwich/pie shop called Must Be Heaven. Well, lo and behold, what did I spy across the street but a used book shop called The Book Nook. So, stuffed with sawdust pie and coffee, I toddled over to the book shop to check it out.


And had to be dragged out by my mother, eventually, but not before I spent some serious money. I could live in a bookshop like this. They even have a romantic little reading nook to settle in on. 

The pictures I took don't do it justice, though. Check it out, especially their Fantasy/Sci-Fi room with the Millennium Falcon rug!


Now, about the book: 


I had, of course, seen the 1956 movie, but had never realized that it was an adaptation of a novel published two years earlier. It's not unusual for horror movies to have been adapted from some fairly bad books, but I couldn't resist picking this up despite my low expectations. 


I suppose the idea of an evil sociopath hiding under the veneer of a polite, neat, well-mannered little girl might have been shockingly novel in 1954, but it's been worn so threadbare in 2019 that I found myself paying more attention to the characters around little Rhoda than the child herself.


Not that Rhoda is uninteresting - she's entirely self-aware and surprisingly upfront about her true nature. She wants what she wants and does not tolerate anyone standing in her way. Her imitations of normal childish behavior are so stilted that it's incredible that hardly anyone sees through her. At least, people who are exposed to her long enough eventually conclude that she's a bully and a liar, but none seem willing or able to take the next logical step in connection with the injuries and death that seem to trail in her wake. 


The story features a number of characters, all of whom are flawed and unlikeable in some way. Even the most sympathetic character, Rhoda's mother, is weak, whining, and ineffectual,

even when she finally tries to do something about her daughter.

(show spoiler)


I don't want to spoil the story beyond what would be impossible to not know about it for anyone who hasn't been living under a rock, so I'll say no more about the characters or plot. But the book is overall well written and interesting, if a bit dragging in places, and well worth the read.


Paperback version, with a short foreword by Anna Holmes, reflecting on the story from a modern feminist perspective. 


Wishes and Wellingtons ★★☆☆☆

Wishes and Wellingtons - Julie Berry

This is not the kind of children's book that adults love. Or at least, not this adult. The premise is interesting, and I think little girls may very well love it. But it seems like a fairly standard one-dimensional story of a misfit girl, rejected by her conventional family, battling mean girls and mean teachers. Only this story has a genie.


Audiobook via Audible monthly freebie. DNF at 10% after about an hour and a half of audio. The performance by Jayne Entwistle is very good, but not as inspired as her delightful readings for the Flavia de Luce series.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles - 37%

The Travelling Cat Chronicles - Hiro Arikawa

Words cannot express how much I'm enjoying this story so far. And I am not really a cat person. 

A Study in Scarlet ★★★☆☆

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry

This is my first real dive into the world of Sherlock Holmes, aside from a couple of short stories, so I'm not sure how A Study in Scarlet ranks in comparison. But I have a few thoughts, from my SH newbie status:


The origin story of Dr. Watson meeting and understanding SH's work was fascinating and really a lot of fun. Although I suspect I might get sick of Dr. Watson's sycophantic fawnings over SH in time, I was super-amused by his somewhat deliberate strokings of SH's ego. Flattery, it seems, really will get you anywhere, and Dr. W may not be as clever as SH, but he appears to be a good study of character. 


The Part II left turn into Utah really had me scratching my head, wondering if the Audible editors had accidentally inserted a completely different book into my download file, so thank you to all my fellow BL'ers who warned me that this is a common story construction with ACD, so I will now expect it and not be wondering wtf happened to the story I was listening to. 


As a mystery presented and solved, well I certainly couldn't have solved it myself from the clues given, but it was still a lot of fun. 


Last thought: Am I supposed to feel any compassion for

Jefferson Hope and his grand passion? I really wanted to give him an extra kick, instead. He supposedly loved Lucy, but once he found out she had been forcibly married, did he make any attempt to rescue her? Nope. Apparently, once she'd been contaminated by another man's peen, then he had no use for her, and he took off to the mountains to mope and stew over the injustice done to HIM (!!!), while Lucy is left to her miserable life of rape and (eventual) death. His whole revenge plot was even explicitly about the insult to himself, and the theft of his property/future wife.

(show spoiler)

Be damned to them all. 


Audiobook, via Audible. This is part of a compilation of the complete Sherlock Holmes collection, all read by Stephen Fry, who is a god among men when it comes to voice work. 

The Miniaturist - DNF (NR)

The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton

It's almost always better to read the book before watching the movie, so I was determined to read this one before watching the PBS miniseries that I DVR'd back in September. But after several attempts, starting and stopping and starting over, where my attention kept wandering, I've decided to put this back on the shelf and watch the show before coming back to the book. 

Audiobook, via Audible. Davina Porter is one of my favorite narrators, so it's not her performance that's giving me trouble.

Evil Has a Name ★★★★★

Evil Has a Name - Peter McDonnell, Paul Holes, Jim Clemente

I picked up this true crime story after finishing "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" and found that the two books complement each other well. This one has a nontraditional audiobook format, seeming more like a long-form radio or podcast with fantastic production quality. It combines the traditional narrative format with actual interviews with the investigators, victims, and families, along with audio clips from news programs of the day related to the Golden State Killer's crimes. Even the soundtrack and sound effects, normally annoyingly intrusive in an audiobook, are subtle and only enhance and support the storytelling.


Audiobook from Audible. Highly recommend.

Joplin's Ghost ★★★★☆

Joplin's Ghost - Tananarive Due

I had a wildly uneven experience with this book. It has some of the same problems that I have with most novels that try to tell two interconnected stories, one historical, one contemporary. The historical story was easy to fall into, but I kept losing interest during the contemporary timeline. That might be all me, rather than the book, as I have very little interest in 1990's pop music or the lives of fictional 90's pop stars. I was also a little uncomfortable with (the mercifully few) explicit sex scenes and some dubious consent issues. The payoff toward the end was worth persevering for, though, and the prose lifted the story a little.


I think it was the audio performance by Lizan Mitchell that really made this book for me - her pace, her voices, her emotion, even the way she changed the whole persona of the narrator based on who's POV is being revealed - were all outstanding.

Sugar Daddy ★☆☆☆☆

Sugar Daddy (Travis's, #1) - Lisa Kleypas

I'm not really much of a Romance reader anymore, but I did really enjoy several Kleypas' historical romances. This book did not have the charm of those, nor did I find any of the characters especially compelling enough to keep on after I met my minimum 20 minutes of audio.

Audiobook on CD, borrowed from my public library. The performance (and Texan accent) by Jeannie Stith was uneven, and the audio quality was poor, although tbf that might reflect the age of the recording and the quality of the CDs.


DNF after 20 minutes.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake ★★★★☆

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender

I first heard about this book while listening to the now-defunct Books on the Nightstand podcast. It was Ann Kingman's recommendation, and I've found her recs to be hit/miss for me, but she was so enthusiastic about it that I put it on my TBR, then promptly put off reading it for almost a decade. I wish now that I hadn't, because this was a wonderfully immersive read. It's full of despair and sadness, though, unrelieved by

an ending that offers no hope or happiness, just a resigned sort of learning to manage whatever life deals you,

(show spoiler)

 so I wouldn't recommend this for anyone looking for a fluffy read. 

Still, it's been a while since I read anything that pulled me in and jerked my emotions so well, and it seems to have broken me out of a reading slump. I'll be looking out for other works by this author. 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. It's read by the author, who is clearly not a professional voice actor, but she does a fine job and provides authenticity to the narration.