Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Legends & Lattes (Travis Baldree)

A nice escapist read

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE: 8.07

Title: Legends & Lattes
Author: Travis Baldree
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Cozy Fantasy
First published: 2022
Edition:  Kindle e-book

After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time. The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success — not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

***

I gave into the hype and picked this up when it was cheap on Kindle Daily Deal. Did I like it? Yes. Do I think it lived up to the hype? Maybe not quite.

Curiosity is a funny thing. When you see a book doing the rounds enough time, you do end up being seduced by it at some point. So it is that I ended up trying out this cozy fantasy novel that I have been seeing all over the place. Advertised as high fantasy, low stakes, it pretty much does what it says on the tin and it was kind of nice to read something relatively calm and warm.

Overall I liked the characters and the tone of the novel. I especially enjoyed reading about the new friendships that Viv struck up. The coffee shop aspect was neither here nor there for me. It was a good vehicle for the characters to connect, but I think the way the author incorporated modern world aspects was just a tad too cheesy for me, which surprised me really, as I am very much a coffee person and I do enjoy a nice café hang with good company. Maybe the combination of fantasy with contemporary culture simply does not work for me.

I did find myself getting a bit bored halfway through and though it did pick up again, I did not end up loving this as much as everyone else seems to.

It was enjoyable and it made a nice change. I would be happy to pick up the next book at some point when I am in the mood for it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to. This was a solid escapist read, but for me it did not do anything extraordinary

4 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 8.07

  • Characters: 8.5
  • Ambience: 9
  • Language: 8
  • Story: 7.5
  • Pacing: 7.5
  • Interest: 8
  • Enjoyment: 8
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Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Dragonet Prophecy (Tui T Sutherland)

A far from childish middle grade fantasy about dragons

★★★★☆ 1/4 – CALSPIE 8.57

Title: The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire #1)
Author: Tui T Sutherland
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Middle Grade
First published: 2012
Edition:  Paperback, published by Gale/Thorndike Press in 2020

BLURB: The seven dragon tribes have been at war for generations, locked in an endless battle over an ancient, lost treasure. A secret movement called the Talons of Peace is determined to bring an end to the fighting, with the help of a prophecy — a foretelling that calls for great sacrifice.Five dragonets are collected to fulfill the prophecy, raised in a hidden cave and enlisted, against their will, to end the terrible war.But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when the select five escape their underground captors to look for their original homes, what has been unleashed on the dragon world may be far more than the revolutionary planners intended . . .

***

Going into this middle grade fantasy book I was not quite sure what to expect, apart from the fact that it was from the perspective of dragons of course. I had read snippets with my daughter when she first started to read this series, but not enough to form an opinion or have a proper idea what the story was about. My daughter fell in love with the series and went on to read all the books. It was her that urged me to read it. I finally gave in.

I am glad I did, because this is a strong start to a series that I may well end up enjoying quite a bit. It is middle grade, but not childish in any way. In fact, I was shocked how much death and killing there was in this book. Not in a way that makes it unsuitable for children my daughter’s age (she was nine or ten when she read this first book), but definitely enough to make it not for the squeamish. Needless to say, my daughter clearly did not mind, because this is her favourite series.

The death and blood is countered by the fact that this is a book about wonderful friendships between the young dragons the story revolves around. The connection between them is heart warming and a joy to read about.

I can easily see why children would love these books and I will definitely read the next book at some point.

4.25 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 8.57

  • Characters: 9
  • Ambience: 8.5
  • Language: 8.5
  • Story: 8.5
  • Pacing: 9
  • Interest: 8
  • Enjoyment: 8.5
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Go Ahead in the Rain (Hanif Abdurraqib)

This is indeed a love letter to a group, a sound, and an era

★★★★★ – CALSPIE 9.71

Title: Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest
Author: Hanif Abdurraqib
Narrator:
 Ron Butler
Genre:
 Non-Fiction / Cultural / Music / Biography
First published: 2019
Edition: Audio book & paperback, published by University of Texas Press

BLURB: How does one pay homage to A Tribe Called Quest? The seminal rap group brought jazz into the genre, resurrecting timeless rhythms to create masterpieces such as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Seventeen years after their last album, they resurrected themselves with an intense, socially conscious record, We Got It from Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service, which arrived when fans needed it most, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib digs into the group’s history and draws from his own experience to reflect on how its distinctive sound resonated among fans like himself. The result is as ambitious and genre-bending as the rap group itself.

***

Let’s start off by saying I would read anything this author writes. He has a way of writing that just connects to me, maybe especially as a music fan. And as a music fan, it does not matter what music he is talking about, because the love and the passion is the same.

Going into this one, I was familiar with A Tribe Called Quest of course; the height of their fame was in the 90s, when I was a teenager. I soon found out that the touch points the author uses are way more familiar to me than I had expected. I had forgotten that in the early 90s I listened to a lot of hip-hop. It was the age that hip-hop acts felt new and interesting, refreshing, just before the rise of boybands and even grunge.

Listening to Hanif talk intimately not only about A Tribe Called Quest themselves and its individual members, but also about the mood and circumstances they rose and fell in, was a joy. He articulates his passion and inner fanboy so well. I easily connected to him, even when he is talking about a completely different type of culture than I grew up in. That is where the magic in his writing lies, in the connection – through passion, through love of a medium, through humanity.

This book is an ode, or a love letter as he calls it, to a different time, but one that is still relevant. I really hope that the guys from Tribe have given him a big hug for writing this, because they should. Besides enjoying revisiting A Tribe Called Quest for the first time in many years and remembering how much I enjoyed De La Soul back in the day, it is never a bad thing to feel an understanding and a connection to a culture other than the one you are most familiar with.

Cultural diversity is a beautiful thing and I will never understand people who think it isn’t. And that is why I love books like this – in the end music is music and if you are a fan of one type of music it is easy to relate to someone else’s love for a different genre. The biggest bonus is if you can spread the love and share your passion.

So, don’t mind this middle aged woman in the countryside as she goes and listens to some old school beats to get her through her cleaning chores,

And to Hanif Abdurraqib – thank you for the passion, the rhythm and the teenage memories I had forgotten.

5 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE*: 9.71

  • Characters: 9.5
  • Ambience: 10
  • Language: 10
  • Story: 9.5
  • Pacing: 9.5
  • Interest: 9.5
  • Enjoyment: 10

*CALSPIE is designed for fiction, but I can roughly apply it to non-fiction books. I think of characters as subject. Ambience as the tone of the book. Story as the explanation. Pacing as the length and depth to which it goes into the subjects.

Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Black Foam (Haji Jabir)

A solid book by an Eritrean author

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 7.79

Title: Black Foam (رغوة سوداء)
Author: Haji Jabir
Tanslator: Sawad Hussain & Maria Lynx Qualey (from Arabic)
Genre: Fiction / Literary
First published: 2018
Edition:  Kindle e-book

BLURB: Dawoud is on the run from his murky past, aiming to discover where he belongs. He tries to assimilate into different groups along his journey through North Africa and Israel, changing his clothes, his religious affiliations, and even his name to fit in, but the safety and peace he seeks remain elusive. It seems prejudice is everywhere, holding him back, when all he really wants is to create a simple life he can call his own. A chameleon, Dawoud—or David, Adal, or Dawit, depending on where and when you meet him—is not lost in this whirl of identities. In fact, he is defined by it.

***

Going into this I was not entirely sure what to expect. I have to admit I know very little about Eritrea besides where it is on the map. I guess that is exactly why I chose to read this book. Literature is often great way to learn.

This was a thought provoking read without being too hard to read. In fact, from the various refugee stories I have read, this one has the least amount of hardship. Not that life for the main character is easy. Far from it, he is always pretending to be anything other than himself. So much so that in the end I wondered whether he ever actually knew who he was as a person. In a way, I thought that was the saddest part. Maybe that was the point? He is a unreliable narrator, so you kind of end up having to read between the lines to discover his actual story, and his story appears so much more heart breaking than what is on the actual page.

It took me a bit of time to get into. The story is non-linear for the most part and in the beginning I found myself a little confused by what was happening. This got easier as the novel went on and it actually read away quite easily in the end.

Overall, I liked most of the writing, though I did not quite understand how the author handled Aisha’s character and her impact on our main character Dawoud/David/Dawit. I wish the author had spent a bit more time on her.

The ending was both terrible and perfect, especially when you then read where the author took his inspiration from. I realised how needed it is to tell (and read) these kind of stories.

Overall, although I enjoyed this novel, would I recommend it? It depends whether you have an interest in these type of stories. It’s a relatively quiet story – it’s not written in a heart wrenching manner or sensationalist, but I think that’s what I like about it.

I would definitely read more by this author.

4 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 7.79

  • Characters: 8.5
  • Ambience: 7.5
  • Language: 8
  • Story: 7.5
  • Pacing: 8
  • Interest: 7.5
  • Enjoyment: 7.5
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Heather Fawcett)

Not for me, but would still recommend

★★★☆☆ 1/4 – CALSPIE 6.71

Title: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 2023
Edition:  Kindle e-book

BLURB: Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

***

I was attracted to the cover of this one, maybe knowing that stories about the fae tend not to be my favourite. I figured there were always exceptions and I hoped this one would be one. In fact, I almost bought a physical copy. I am glad I did not, because this was not an exception. The story just did not keep me engaged and my attention drifted too easily.

There is something about these type of stories – the glamour, the trickery, the standard fae stuff – it’s just not something that gets me invested. I had hoped this one would be a little bit different, but unfortunately it was just more of the same. To be fair I quite liked main character Emily and Wendell was kind of interesting, but everything else just was not for me. I still decided to read on, hoping I would end up liking it and it was not a very long book. It certainly was not a bad book writing-wise and at no point did I want to DNF it.

Something that is rare for a fae book, and which I actually really appreciated, is that this is not a romance-focused book. It is more about a bit of a mystery and a discovery of the fae world rather than anything else. There is kind a romance sub plot, but it is not really the focus of the story, and I actually kind of appreciated the relationship.

That I did not end up loving this book is purely on me and I probably should have known better than to pick up this book. However, if you do love all the standard fae stuff, you will probably enjoy this. It’s an easy read that you can get through in a weekend.

So, I would still recommend it – just maybe not if you don’t like fae stories… like me.

3.25 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 6.71

  • Characters: 7.5
  • Ambience: 6.5
  • Language: 7.5
  • Story: 6.5
  • Pacing: 7.5
  • Interest: 5.5
  • Enjoyment: 6
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Ship of Destiny (Robin Hobb)

A solid last book in a fantastic trilogy!

★★★★☆ 1/2 – CALSPIE 8.86

Title: Ship of Destiny (The Liveship Traders #3)
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 2000
Edition:  Paperback, published by Harper Voyager in 2015

BLURB: The dragon, Tintaglia, released from her wizardwood coffin, flies high over the Rain Wild River. Below her, Reyn and Selden have been left to drown, while Malta and the Satrap attempt to navigate the acid flow of the river in a decomposing boat.

***

This was the final book The Liveship Traders trilogy and I am kind of sad that this adventure has come to an end. It has been quite a ride!

The previous book was one of my favourite fantasy books I have ever read. This one did not quite reach those heights, but it was a solid closer to what is definitely up there with regard to favourite fantasy series. I much preferred it to the Farseer trilogy. It was pacier and just more interesting to me. I really enjoyed the settings, especially the Rain Wilds.

What I liked about this book was that everything ended up tying together. Not quite in a neat bow, but neat enough. I liked where some of the story arches ended up, especially for Malta, who had been on quite the journey. I think Althea’s story was the only thing that kind of irked me in this book. I think that certain aspects of her story were not handled the best and that did bother me to a degree. On the flipside… Dragons…

On the whole, this was a fantastic series and one I will hope to re-read in the future. In the meantime I can’t wait to continue with the next trilogy, which will take me back to the Farseer characters. After that… Dragons again. I can’t wait!

4.5 out of 5 stars

CALSPIE: 8.86

  • Characters: 9.5
  • Ambience: 9
  • Language: 9
  • Story: 8.5
  • Pacing: 8.5
  • Interest: 9
  • Enjoyment: 8.5
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: His Bloody Project (Graeme Macrae Burnet)

An historical novel for True Crime fans

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 8.36

Title: His Bloody Project
Author: Graeme Macrae Burnet
Narrator: Crawford Logan / Cameron Mowat
Genre: Fiction / Historical
First published: 2015
Edition: Audio / e-book

BLURB: The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

***

This was an interesting read. Although I don’t read the true crime genre, I can imagine this would be the perfect novel for people who do love that genre. The reason being that this is a historical novel about a triple murder that occurred in a Highland village presented as fact.

The book consists of the murderer’s memoir, doctors’ notes and finally a report of the trial. It is very well done and I did find myself checking whether it was, in fact, fiction, which it is!

I did enjoy the listen. The narrators do an amazing job with the Roderick’s memoir being narrated by a Scotsman and the doctors’ notes and the trial report with an English accent. It definitely made it come alive in a way that just reading the book may not have done.

Now, is this my kind of book? No, not really. True Crime is not a genre I like to dabble in and therefore maybe I am not the intended audience for this novel. However, I thought it was very well constructed and I enjoyed the voice it was written in. And just maybe, because I am not that used to crime stories, it made a nice change from the usual historical novels I do tend to read. The story speaks of a different time and a particular way of life that really was not so long ago and I thought that aspect of the story was very interesting. So, I ended up intrigued enough and I did enjoy it.

I would mainly recommend this to fans of True Crime, but maybe even if you are not, like me, there is enough here to enjoy the experience, and I would especially recommend this for audio book listeners.

4.25 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 8.36

  • Characters: 9
  • Ambience: 9
  • Language: 8.5
  • Story: 8.5
  • Pacing: 8
  • Interest: 8
  • Enjoyment: 8

Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)

A novel about propriety in young New York society!

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 7.93

Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Narrator: David Horovitch
Genre: Fiction / Classic
First published: 1920
Edition: Audio & paperback, published by Oxford World’s Classics in 2008

FROM THE BLURP: Newland Archer, charming, tactful, enlightened, is a thorough product of this society; he accepts its standards and abides by its rules but he also recognizes its limitations. His engagement to the impeccable May Welland assures him of a safe and conventional future, until the arrival of May’s cousin Ellen Olenska. Independent, free-thinking, scandalously separated from her husband, Ellen forces Archer to question the values and assumptions of his narrow world. As their love for each other grows, Archer has to decide where his ultimate loyalty lies.

***

I have not read many American classics and it was nice to actually dive into one. This was a really decent read and I was more engaged in the end than I expected I would be after the first couple of chapters.

A lot of this story is about ‘propriety in society’. Newland Archer as a main character really works, as he is clearly a good man, who wants to do the right thing, but his conflicting feelings cause a dilemma within him. It took me a little while to warm to him, but I ended up liking him. I guess this story had to be told from the male perspective, but a part of me wished we got a bit from the women’s perspective.

I think May was a very interesting character in the novel, who clearly knew more than she let on. I think in the end she came across as a strong woman, who loves her husband and understands the world they are living in. As for Ellen… I was never quite sure what to make of her. Did she ever know what she wanted?

The last chapters, which use the children as a plot device to show how the world has changed since the days Archer was courting felt oddly nostalgic.

Although this is not a favourite classic, I did quite enjoy it in the end and I would recommend it. I definitely want to read more by this author.

On a side note: David Horovitch is a great narrator and I would happily listen to any book he narrates.

4 out of 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 7.93

  • Characters: 8.5
  • Ambience: 8
  • Language: 8
  • Story: 8
  • Pacing: 7.5
  • Interest: 7.5
  • Enjoyment: 8
Books · Read in 2023 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Small Worlds (Caleb Azumah Nelson)

This novel = vibes, tears and sunshine

★★★★★ – CALSPIE 9.86

Title: Small Worlds
Author: Caleb Azumah Nelson
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
First published: 11 May 2023
Edition:  e-ARC, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher

FROM THE BLURB: Set over the course of three summers, Small Worlds follows Stephen, a first-generation Londoner born to Ghanian immigrant parents, brother to Ray, and best friend to Adeline. On the cusp of big life changes, Stephen feels pressured to follow a certain path—a university degree, a move out of home—but when he decides instead to follow his first love, music, his world and family fractures in ways he didn’t foresee. Now Stephen must find a path and peace for himself: a space he can feel beautiful, a space he can feel free.

***

Though having had the author’s debut novel Open Water on my radar for the longest time, I have not gotten round to reading it yet. When there was the chance to read this early, I jumped at the chance, with the gut feeling I was going to love it. I was right, I did absolutely love it.

At the heart of this novel is the relationship between Stephen and his father, but this is not only a story about a father and a son, it’s a story of growth and love in many forms. And maybe above all, it’s a story of first and second generation British Ghanaians, the hope, the reality, the smells and the sounds. It was absolutely beautiful!

The writing is exquisite. The author uses repetition of phrases to perfection and every time certain sentences were repeated they buried themselves deeper into my heart and feels. He manages to get across the vibes perfectly; the heady feeling of summer, when everything feels possible, the frustration and love you can only have with family, the grief of loss. There was poetry in the words and he managed to created imagery in my head seemingly effortlessly.

This book made me smile and made me cry. It made me bathe in the summer sun and crushed my heart, only to make it whole again.

I will absolutely buy a copy of this book, as well as his debut novel.

5 out 5 stars

***

CALSPIE: 9.86

  • Characters: 10
  • Ambience: 10
  • Language: 10
  • Story: 10
  • Pacing: 9.5
  • Interest: 9.5
  • Enjoyment: 10

Books · Poetry · Read in 2023 · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (Pablo Neruda)

A Chilean poet who knew how to paint pictures with words

★★★★☆ – CALSPIE 8.14

Title: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
Original Title: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada
Author: Pablo Neruda
Narrator: W S Merwin (from Spanish)
Genre: Poetry
First published: 1924
Edition: Paperback, published in 2004 by Penguin Classics

FROM THE BLURB: Drawn from the most intimate and personal of associations, Pablo Neruda’s most beloved collection of poetry juxtaposes the exuberance of youthful passion with the desolation of grief, the sensuality of the body with the metaphorical nuances of nature.

***

This is a little book of poetry that is well worth reading. I went into it expecting to love it a lot as I had loved a larger selection of poetry that I read a while back. And I did like it, but I did not fall in love with this, his most famous work.

Reading back my review on his other work that I read, I think I understand why. I write that it took me a while to get into his work, that his work is very visual for me and that I need to let those images tell the story, rather than the words. I think this collection was a little too short for me to properly get into the vibe of his poetry, or maybe it was not quite the right moment, eventhough I did enjoy it quite a bit. I think at another moment, it may hit more of the right snares.

Still, Neruda wrote poetry with a clear passion and a love for words and imagery that I appreciate. I think this small collection has a clear purpose, to celebrate love and longing. I like that, but it also made the poems themselves not really stand out from one another. They tell a story, or rather an emotion, a vibe, as a whole.

So yes, I liked it, even loved parts, but it did not quite make my heart sing. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it will do so on another day at another time.

On a side note, the added images by Pablo Picasso were a nice touch, as well as the fact that this is a dual language edition, which is always my preference with translated works.

4 out of 5 stars