Reading, Good Company and Reflection

 

Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him. John Locke

 

We live in a house full of books.  Stacks and shelves of printed pages line our walls, our phones and Kindles have digital titles for break time and the cars usually have an audio book ready to play.  Interestingly enough while we are all readers our preferences rarely cross and I’m pretty sure that someone who didn’t know us could tell after a quick walk around that three quite different people live here.

I prefer fiction, John enjoys design, art and architecture while Ryan has always been drawn to natural science.  He’s grown up with access to plenty of books and from the earliest days it’s been clear where his interest was.  He’ll happily listen to a great story and enjoys fiction and poetry at school but when he sits down with free time and a book of his choice it’s usually non-fiction.

His first picture books were all about animals and his early readers were filled with sea monsters, dragons and mythical beasts.  Soon books about astronomy, bones, archeology and medicine joined the stacks.

Each of these photos are from Ryan’s collection and many of them are books he’s chosen for himself at book stores and second-hand sales.  I’ve had to give up pretending I know all the answers to his constant questions about life, the universe and everything.  Now I just sit back and enjoy the discussions that come from each new chapter.

Posted as part of the Weekly Photo Challenge:  Reflecting

 

 

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To Live Forever by Andra Watkins

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted a new entry in my Favorite First Lines series but today I am thrilled to share a fantastic first novel by one of my favorite bloggers, Andra Watkins (The Accidental Cootchie Mamma).

March 1st is the official release of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis and the kickoff of a truly unique adventure as Andra joins her characters and begins a 444 mile walk along the Natchez Trace from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. Andra will be chronicling her adventures through words, images and video and all the details are posted on her blog at AndraWatkins.com.

To Live Forever

The story unfolds through the points of view of three main characters flowing through time from the months before Meriwether’s death in 1809 and into the spring of 1977.  The publishers summary below gives you a taste of what’s to come.

Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is a genre-bending novel that usually falls through the cracks as agents and publishers struggle to figure out ‘what shelf does it go on?‘ At Word Hermit Press, our answer is every shelf! A rich palimpsest of history, suspense, paranormal and biography, we think To Live Forever creates its own category, which we call “fantastic fiction.” We believe you will agree.

Introduction

Explorer Meriwether Lewis Dead At 35

The Natchez Trace, south of Nashville, Tennessee.

Meriwether Lewis, renowned co-captain of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific and territorial governor of Upper Louisiana, died Wednesday, October 11, 1809.  He was thirty-five.

Chapter 1

A New Orleans Courtroom

Thursday

March 24, 1977

A drop of sweat hung from the end of my nose.  I watched it build, cross-eyed, before I shook my head and made it fall.  It left wet circles on the front of my dress.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading To Live Forever before its official release and plan post my full review soon but didn’t want my slow writing to keep me from sharing Andra’s work with you today.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

#toliveforeverbook

Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski

Point & Shoot

The tagline says it all… Accidents will happen.
If you are looking for a fun, over the top summer read full of dark humor, sarcastic lines and movie quotes I think you will like my July choice for a great first line.

A twenty-three-year-old hung-over intern with a broken heart saved the day.

This is the third Charlie Hardie novel following Fun & Games and Hell & Gone and each one is more improbable, yet more fun than the rest.  Duane Swierczynski is an award-winning novelist, the Hardie series is being developed by Sony Pictures Television, and he also writes the monthly comic series Judge Dredd and Bloodshot.

A brief summary is next to impossible without spoilers but I have a few great reviews to share that give a sense of the storyline and non stop pacing of this book.

Charlie’s internal voice is fun to follow and the action sequences are killer.  I could easily see these books as a major summer block-buster.  The book goes from action to action, rarely stopping to catch a breath, and I stayed up late one night turning the pages to the end.  If non-stop, cool action sequences with fun characters are you thing, you need to read some Swierczynski stories.  Corrina Lawson, Wired.com

Frenetic and breathless.  Those waiting for the payoff promised…will feel amply rewarded by the end.  Publishers Weekly (starred)

Duane Swierczynski puts the rest of the crime-writing world on notice.  So learn to spell the last name.  He’s going to be around for awhile.  Laura Lippman

So bloody satisfying. Booklist

I recently finished this series and had a lot of fun along the way, if any of you have read these books, let me know!  I would love to talk about them in the comments below along with any other books you have enjoyed this summer.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

It’s been a while since I posted a new book in my Favorite First Lines series but but I have a great one for you this month.

The Rook

Dear You,

The body you are wearing used to be mine.

So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies – all wearing latex gloves. With no memory of who she is or how she got there, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.  Inside cover of The Rook

Editorial Reviews

“Utterly convincing and engrossing—totally thought-through and frequently
hilarious. The writing is confident and fully fledged. Even this aging, jaded,
attention-deficit-disordered critic was blown away.” (TIME
Lev Grossman)

“The pace never lets up in this entertaining
high-action read….A near-perfect supernatural thriller….Something unexpected
happens on almost every page. Don’t start this book unless you’ve got lots of
time, because you won’t want to put it down. It’s that good.” (Library
Journal
David Keymer)

“Adroitly straddles the thin
line between fantasy, thriller, and spoof….O’Malley is a nimble writer,
effortlessly leaping back and forth between comedy and action. There’s plenty of
room here for a sequel that readers will no doubt begin clamoring for before
they’ve even finished this book.” (Booklist David
Pitt
)

“Impressive….Dry wit, surprising reversals of fortune,
and a clever if offbeat plot make this a winner.” (Publishers
Weekly
)

“O’Malley’s narrative is peppered with sly humor,
referential social commentary, and the ironic, double-layered self-awareness
that will have genre fans believing Buffy the Vampire Slayer has joined
Ghostbusters.” (Kirkus) –This text refers to the Hardcover
edition.

I had a lot of fun with Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook and really enjoyed my time spent in this highly imaginative world.  If any of you have read it I would love to talk about your impressions. If this post leads you to add it to your “to be read” pile please let me know!

This is the sixth book featured in my Favorite First Lines series.  Previous months include The Secret History, The Magicians, The Shadow of the Wind, The Iron Hunt, The Night Circus and The Name of the Wind.  If you would like to see the full posts please follow this link.

Bookworms and Words

Tell us about the last book you read (Why did you choose it? Would you recommend it?). To go further, write a post based on its subject matter.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us WORDS.  By Michelle W. on June 16, 2013

BOOKWORMS

Every month I like to feature a book that opens with a great first line.  I quote the line, share a few of my memories about reading the book and include recommendations from past reviewers; my past choices are posted here.  For May I decided to take a slightly different approach and instead of selecting a book based on the authors opening sentences I chose one based on how those words made me feel.  I have read Terry Kay’s To Dance With The White Dog countless times and it always makes me cry but I thought my emotional reaction to the story would make a good beginning for a new post.

Well, June is half way through and I have yet to post my re-read review of To Dance With the White Dog as this time around the story hit too close to home.  It is still a wonderful novel but my life experiences have changed since my last read and the connections I feel with the characters and story line are not something I want to write about now.  I still recommend it though and will likely pick it up to read again in a few years if my old, well read copy holds together.

Bookworm

Sam Peek’s children are worried. Since that “saddest day” when Cora, his beloved wife of fifty-seven good years, died, no one knows how he will survive. How can this elderly man live alone on his farm? How can he keep driving his dilapidated truck down to the fields to care for his few rows of pecan trees? And when Sam begins telling his children about a dog as white as the pure driven snow — that seems invisible to everyone but him — his children think that grief and old age have finally taken their toll.

But whether the dog is real or not, Sam Peek — “one of the smartest men in the South when it comes to trees” — outsmarts them all. Sam and the White Dog will dance from the pages of this bittersweet novel and into your heart, as they share the mystery of life, and begin together a warm and moving final rite of passage.  From the back cover.

“Terry Kay is a perfect writer for those who love to read. His prose contains
music and passion and fire. His work is tender and heartbreaking and memorable.”
(New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy)

“This short book moves
like poetry….A loving eulogy to old age….A tender celebration of life, made
poignant by death being so close at hand.” (Los Angeles
Times)

“To Dance with the White Dog is what literature
is — or should be — all about….Kay is simply a miraculous writer….This
book…burns with life.” (Anne Rivers Siddons)

“A hauntingly beautiful
story about love, family, and relationships” (The Most Reverend Desmond M.
Tutu)

“A master storyteller.” (The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution)

WORDS

My photograph for “Words” is an image of the box Ryan gave me for my birthday last week.  I love the simple yet heartfelt message and will use it to store the small gifts he has given me for birthdays and Mother’s Day.

Words
My birthday gift from Ryan.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret HistoryLooking through our bookshelves in search of old favorites with great first lines has been a fun trip through my reading history.   I have a large stack of books waiting for future posts but today I want to feature the opening sentences of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature?  I used to think it didn’t.  Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

The Secret History tells the story of a young man who found himself living in the middle of a terrible secret.  The theme of conflict between his quest for artistic beauty at all costs and facing the consequences of truth continues throughout the novel as Richard is repeatedly confronted with choices between continuing to embellish his background and acknowledging a reality that is not so beautiful or picturesque.  Goodreads posts a summary of the basic outline of the story without spoilers:

Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning….

Chapter one begins with Richard, a few years after his graduation, reflecting on the sequence of events that led to murder and tragedy within his group of friends.  Because this story is told as a murder mystery in reverse, a whydunit instead of a whodunit, some of the more bizarre and melodramatic moments seem almost believable and many reviews have noted the parallels between this story and classical Greek tragedies with fate dictating the circumstances set into motion by previous choices and emotions.   I think I am going to keep this book “off the shelf” for a re-read, 21 years later, and am curious to find if I enjoy the drama the same way now as it did then.  Will my older perspective and distance from college life lead me to a different view of students and young adults?  I would love to hear your reactions to this story and if anyone has comments to share from a re-read please let me know.

A few reviews:

“The Secret History succeeds magnificently. . . . A remarkably powerful
novel [and] a ferociously well-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral,
and impeccably controlled.” –The New York Times

“An accomplished
psychological thriller. . . . Absolutely chilling. . . . Tartt has a stunning
command of the lyrical.” –The Village Voice

“A haunting,
compelling, and brilliant piece of fiction. . . . Packed with literary allusion
and told with a sophistication and texture that owes much more to the nineteenth
century than to the twentieth.” –The Times (London)

“Her writing
bewitches us. . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a
journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when
all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any
sin.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enthralling. . . . A remarkably
powerful novel [and] a ferociously well-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful,
cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” –The New York Times Book
Review

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians

Today my choice for a great first line comes from The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Mr. Grossman begins his Magician series with a simple little sentence that leads into an increasingly complex story.

Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.

You may be familiar with Mr. Grossman’s work as a book and technology writer for Time Magazine. If you are a newspaper fan The New York Times says he is among “this country’s smartest and most reliable critics.”

The Magicians is his third novel and it starts slowly, but as the story builds I found myself wishing I was reading with a group so I could share some of the amazing lines and his dry sense of humor.  After my first read I successfully convinced my sister and mother-in-law to read both book one and book two The Magician King  giving me two new people to read aloud too.  Mr. Grossman is working on the third book in this series, The Magician’s Land and I can’t wait to step back into the story.

The Magicians was published in 2009 earning favorable reviews around the world.  Some critics chose to describe the story as an adult Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia and while I agree that on the surface there are similarities I also think this novel has more to offer. George R. R. Martin’s review sums up my impressions perfectly.

“The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of
weak tea. Solidly rooted in the traditions of both fantasy and mainstream
literary fiction, the novel tips its hat to Oz and Narnia as well to Harry, but
don’t mistake this for a children’s book. Grossman’s sensibilities are
thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. 
Hogwart’s was never like this.”
—George R. R. Martin, bestselling author
of
A Game of Thrones

If you still aren’t convinced to pick up the series I have two more reviews to share:

“The novel manages a literary magic trick: it’s both an enchantingly written
fantasy and a moving deconstruction of enchantingly realized
fantasies.”
—Los Angeles Times

“This gripping novel draws on the conventions of contemporary and classic
fantasy novels in order to upend them, and tell a darkly cunning story about the
power of imagination itself. [The Magicians is] an unexpectedly moving
coming-of-age story.”
—The New Yorker

 I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with these characters and am happy to report I think the second book is even better than the first.  If you have read The Magicians or The Magician King please share your comments below!

The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind

Today my choice for a great first line comes from The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.

The beginning of the story is revealed in the prologue but the first sentence of Chapter one sets the tone for what is to come.

A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.

I love it when a good book takes me out of my daily life and offers a chance to travel in someone elses footsteps.  For me this book was a beautiful trip to Barcelona combined with a fascinating mystery, led by an author who truly loves his city.  The back of the book contains a guided walking tour of Barcelona and the author’s website features a soundtrack of music produced, composed, arranged and performed by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to accompany your journey.

If I haven’t convinced you to pick up a copy take a look at some of these reviews:

‘If you thought the gothic novel died with the 19th century, this will change your mind. In Zafón’s hands, every scene seems to come from an early Orson Wells movie. One gorgeous read.’ STEPHEN KING 

‘For the first time in 20 years or so as a book reviewer, I am tempted to dust off the old superlatives and even to employ some particularly vulgar clichés from the repertoire of publishers’ blurbs. My colleagues may be shocked, but I don’t care, I can’t help myself, here goes. THE SHADOW OF THE WIND is a triumph of the storyteller’s art. I couldn’t put it down. Enchanting, hilarious and heartbreaking, this book will change your life.’   DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘If you love AS Byatt’s ‘Possession’, Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’… Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’… or Paul Auster’s ‘New York Trilogy’… then you will love THE SHADOW OF THE WIND… Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up ‘The Shadow of the Wind.’THE WASHINGTON POST

There are two more novels in the series sitting in my “to be read” stack and I can’t wait to return to Daniel’s story and spend my evenings in Barcelona.

The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

The Iron Hunt

This week my choice for a great first line is from The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu.

When I was eight, my mother lost me to zombies in a one card draw.

The Iron Hunt is the first book in Marjorie’s Hunter Kiss series and introduces us to Maxine Kiss and her very unusual family.

Booklist
The boundlessness of Liu’s imagination never ceases to amaze; her ability to translate that imagination into a lyrical work of art never ceases to impress. (Starred review)

Marjorie has lived in many regions of the US and Asia and, as a long time reader of her blog I was happy to discover she said her formative years were spent here in the Seattle area.  This post about her love of libraries was particularly fun for me to read as she mentions one of her favorite libraries is a branch of my local Library system.

Does this first line convince you to pick up The Iron Hunt? Are you a Dirk and Steele fan or do you follow one of her Comics with Marvel? Let me know what you think!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

This week my choice for a great first line is from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

“The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.”

My mother-in-law and I always found common ground when talking about books.  My husband, son and I looked forward to our monthly visits with the in-laws and a special part of this time together was sharing our latest bookstore finds. Early last year I happily brought my copy of The Night Circus and after dinner Lennie and I had a great conversation about Erin Morgenstern’s artfully crafted sentences and her ability to create fantastic visual pictures with words.

No one thought this would be last book Lennie finished before her passing in February 2012.

Her book collection came to me and I am always ready to share her favorites with anyone who will listen.  In contrast to his mother’s love of fantasy, spy and adventure novels my husband’s reading tastes usually lean toward online articles and stacks of magazine.  While he has a few favorite fiction authors he generally prefers to spend his reading time with something shorter than a full length book. This summer, his need to feel a connection to his mother led him to begin The Night Circus. He read it cover to cover in record time and this story now holds a special place in his heart.

I hope someone new decides to pick it up today.

I would love to hear your thoughts and first impressions.  Does this opening line from The Night Circus catch your attention?  Does it make you want to read more or set it down. What are some of your favorite first lines?