Reading Challenge update part 2: from #bookstagram find to Out of My Comfort Zone

These 5 books could not be more different. A testament to both my eclectic reading style and to the variety of book prompts brought to you by the Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid’s Challenge, co-hosted by The Redolent Mermaid and yours truly. Whether you identify with historical reads, epic adventures or risque Victorian ghost tales, I hope you find a noteworthy read below.

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding | Jennifer Robson (#bookstagram discovery) ★★☆☆☆

A book cover which stopped me scrolling in my tracks last February fit the prompt for our challenge’s #bookstagram find. Drawing me in with a dreamy black and white overhead shot of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s Westminster wedding; evoking history, glamour, elegance and exquisite craftsmanship in a knock-out dress. Post-war England, facing the economic equivalent of Dunkirk at the time, was the perfect backdrop for a story about rebuilding; a country, a life, and a dream. Meeting practical Ann and industrious but melancholy Miriam, two seamstresses tasked with embroidering the lace for the royal bride-to-be’s gown, was a promising start. I eat up character driven stories like these, especially those forging female friendships through hardship, so why the below average rating?

As a historical fiction fan, I must accept the tired trope of a young ingenue inheriting a mysterious artifact (in this case a beautiful bit of lace) from her grandmother sending her on a crusade for answers. However, in the third ‘heroine’s’ role, Heather appeared aimless, predictable, and a little undeserving of her Nan’s sacrifice. Perhaps that’s true of every descendant of the greatest generation, but I could have done without her story altogether. As much as I appreciate the glimpse into the workrooms of the renowned dress houses of England, I found this tale depressing and misleading. “A Novel of the Royal Wedding” contained barely any royals nor much wedding. A stronger story could have been spun from Miriam’s life and charming romance, instead it felt like an inexpensive knock-off in the recycled historical fiction genre.

TW: rape

A Man Called Ove | Fredrik Backman (Scandinavian setting) ★★★★★ 

audio version narrated by author, Fredrik Backman ★★★★★ 

You know the type of book you want everyone to read so that you can ask, “How bout that part when…? “Oh, but what about…? “And then when the damn cat…”? A Man Called Ove is that book.

The epitome of a curmudgeon, Ove adheres to routines, rules and regimentation and cannot understand those who don’t. He demands things be done the right way, he demands loyalty (do NOT get him started on Saab), he demands justice and fairness in his interactions, even though Ove knows more than anyone that life is far from fair. We learn his heartache and his joys through incredible flashbacks. We learn that he’s accepted this disparity begrudgingly, because he is a good man and he’s held the love of a good woman. But once the love of his life is gone, what does he have left to live for? The rest of the story is finding that out. A Man Called Ove is funny but not over-the-top, moving without reaching maudlin, and brimming with wisdom, yet is never preachy.

The man behind the plexiglass wonders if Ove has cash instead. Ove replies this is none of his bloody business. A tense silence settles.

p. 138

What moved me most was that deep recognition I felt under all his cantankerous bluster. Even if I didn’t know it until I read it, I recognized Ove’s systems of justice, his strength, his desire for inherent goodness and fulfillment. Each person in his life is a link in a chain, each link comes with problems and pain, but the links are stronger together. The chain is humanity. Ove’s soul-stirring story struck my heart like a lightning bolt, filling me with an exuberance for life and all of it’s trials. Not bad for a book about a grumpy old man and a stray cat.

But we are always optimists when it comes to time; we think there will be TIME to do things with other PEOPLE and time to say things to them. Time to APPEAL.

p. 287

Warning: If you know someone who’s read it but doesn’t like it–run away– they probably have no soul.

The Darkwater Bride (Audible original) | Marty Ross (Out of my comfort zone read) ★★★☆☆

Full-cast narration ★★★★☆

A darkly funny and grim little drama tracing the determined but foolhardy Catriona’s discoveries as she navigates Victorian London; first to identify her father’s body and then to uncover the secrets of his death. The guts of the city’s seedy underbelly reveal law-and-disorder, misogyny, savagery and a deadly spectral sea nymph with one hell of an origin story.

Veering far from my regular reads, however, I have to say I loved listening to this go-dark-or-go-home tale. The ludicrous plot is rescued by a fast paced narrative, a foreboding atmosphere of creepy tension, surprising twists, and a scrap of romance. If expecting literary merit, you’ll be disappointed. But the key to my enjoyment was the stellar narration of the full-cast audio drama. It read like a radio play with sound effects, credible accents, shocking rewind-worthy dialogue (wait, did that police captain just ask him to do what I think he did? @_@) and new-to-me slang terms, such as, skivving. It kept me absorbed all week at work and my co-workers clamoring for hilarious plot updates.

My little asp slithers in my grass…

Burlesque singer performing as Cleopatra-ch. 4

*We used the free Audible trial and I made the most of it. I’ll miss the monthly book credits and Audible originals but can’t justify the platform costs with access to mulitpe resources from the library.

TW: vulgarity, brutality and just about any depravity imaginable

Thunderhead | Neal Shusterman (free space) ★★★★☆

In the sequel to the hugely popular series starter, Scythe, Shusterman does what he does best; raises big moral questions in a future world which nearly resembles ours, barring one significant exception. What I admire most about his writing is that he offers no easy answers. In Thunderhead, the beloved bringers of death have gone extreme, each Scythe playing his or her rigid part. To simplify in D & D role-playing alignment form: Thunderhead, the sentient cloud that operates all of society = lawful neutral, Rowan, the vigilante = chaotic good, Citra, determined to change the system from within = lawful good, and newcomer, Greyson, a pawn unsure who to trust = chaotic neutral. Attempting to ferret out enemies, they set in motion events leading to a battle royale the likes of which would gratify any worst case scenario disaster movie fan. (And those may be the geekiest two sentences I’ve ever written;)

Scythe Constantine laughed. Marie, if we were judged by the things we most regret, no human being would be worthy to sweep the floor.

p. 340

The momentum from the first novel was palpable, carrying the story arc without a hiccup. Greyson added a fresh sympathetic dimension. Alone in a way that Scythes couldn’t be, his dilemma lent insight into the Thunderhead and a humorous peek into the underground resistance. Although this installment held more action (a repeated criticism of Scythe), I thought it lacked the tension, seriousness and weight of the first book. Also, there was not enough Faraday for me, my personal favorite series character. Shusterman still thrilled and surprised, the plot zigzagging deftly ahead of the reader. However, in Thunderhead, I think he lost half a step.

The Two Towers | J.R.R. Tolkien (numeric title) ★★★★☆

My second venture into Middle Earth wasn’t as thrilling as the first. I suppose that’s to be expected from the bridge between the trilogy’s intro and conclusion. There was much map consulting, song lyric deciphering and generally wishing they would get on with it already. As members of the Company broke up at the end of the Fellowship, their story threads were understandably scattered. Each splinter group had to face it’s own peril, be it orcs, treacherous wizards, tribal politics or carnivorous spiders. However, the battle for Helm’s Deep felt entirely too long, even if they were fighting so all that was fair and wonderful should not pass forever from Middle Earth. My attention span can only suffer so much warring, no matter how gallant Legolas and Gimli appear. King Theoden’s maneuvering and the stand at Isengard proved more stimulating but I grew increasingly impatient the longer it took to catch up to Frodo and Sam (a full two-thirds into the book!).

To them, you are but the passing tale.

Gandalf referring to treefolk- Book Three- p. 536

Once reunited with the faithful Hobbits and their shifty guide, Gollum, the tale swiftly took up the hair-raising experience from the first novel. Upon reading, I finally understood the fan base’s allegiance to Gollum, a character I loathed in the movies. His conflicted inner dialogue and humorous sparring with Sam exhibited more depth than that of other beloved characters. Book four of this second novel (it can get confusing) is largely Smeagol’s story, not Frodo’s, and it is surprisingly nuanced. The best parts: Sam and Gollum’s mistaking Frodo’s kindness for blindness and Sauron’s underestimation of the threat those small in size with great courage can be; both highly satisfying themes to explore. I look forward to what thoughtful adventures The Return of the King will bring.

Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?- Eomer

A man may do both, for not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time.- Aragorn

Book Three- p. 424

I want to briefly but warmly welcome all of my new bookish followers. It feels good to read more, share variety, and challenge myself in writing reviews. I thank you for joining me in this supportive community. Tell me your interesting reads below and check back soon for the next installment of Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid Challenge highlights.

5 thoughts on “Reading Challenge update part 2: from #bookstagram find to Out of My Comfort Zone

  1. Great reviews. Backman has become an auto buy author for me. I’m trying very hard to broaden my reading range this year and overall I’m happy that I’ve tried other genres but it is so hard when so many titles, that I know I will love, are calling out to me! LOL


    1. Thank you! I’m looking forward to reading more of Backman’s work, I just picked up two of his books. Now I need to fit in the time to get to them.
      My range is relatively broad I think. But the reading challenge has led me in a few interesting directions. I enjoy your reading selections and always note them, I believe we’re kindred reading spirits😊


  2. YES!!! You did update it!! I should have known it was Ove! LOL! I agree. It was a truly moving, hilarious, heart wrenching story. My sister and I loved it. And him. Good to know we have souls. Goes along with our long held belief. 🙂 Love seeing more LotR on here. I feel like Name the Wind (or something like that) is going to be my next epic read but I need to wrap up a few others first. Hoping to be reading that one by my birthday.


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