Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Dance for Emilia

I've been wanting to read more books by Peter S. Beagle ever since finishing (and falling in love with) The Last Unicorn.  So the other day, I went looking for what my local library had.  A Dance for Emilia was short (being novella length), so I decided to read it first.

A Dance for Emilia is about losing friends and loved ones.  Jacob and Sam were best friends from forever ago.  Their planned escapades in old age are cut short when Sam passes away unexpectedly.  Sam's girlfriend, Emilia, is also left behind.  She quickly bonds with Jacob as they share their memories of Sam over the course of two years.  But unbeknownst to them, their sharing has been calling Sam back from the dead.  He inhabits the body of Millamant, his old Abyssinian cat.  While they are happy to have him back (even in this strange form), Sam isn't able to stay.  And so he performs one last beautiful dance for Emilia before leaving her and Jacob forever.

A Dance for Emilia is based off of Beagle's real life struggle to cope with losing a friend.  I didn't know that at the time I started reading it, but it was the perfect thing for me to read right now.  As I mentioned in my last post, my cat recently passed away; I found myself feeling like Emilia does in the book, wanting Sam to come back (and not wanting to let him go once he does come back).  While I didn't think it was as good as The Last Unicorn, I really enjoyed reading A Dance for Emilia and am looking forward to reading more of Beagle's work.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chinese Whiskers

I spied Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers last year at work when it was on the new book shelf.  I marked it as something I wanted to read, but then forgot about it in my rush of reading other books.  But after my cat passed away last week, I was in the mood for a cute cat story. And luckily Chinese Whiskers didn't disappoint!

Chinese Whiskers is the story of two cats, Tofu and Soyabean.  They come from very different backgrounds: Tofu was a dustbin cat, the middle of five kittens; Soyabean was the spoiled only child of a rich cat.  But both are adopted by a foreign couple and end up the best of friends, growing from kittens to adulthood in one of Beijing's hutongs.  Soyabean and Tofu couldn't be more different: the male Soyabean is a friendly cat who loves to eat; Tofu is a small female who takes a long time to trust anyone and anything. 

A chance remark lands Soyabean as the star of a cat food commercial.  But his stardom comes at a bad time: this is when the SARS outbreak was being blamed on cats.  And then Tofu gets locked out of the house and kidnapped by someone who has been murdering pets.  Luckily her older brother, a tough alley cat from the Ghost Street Gang, saw and tells her to escape; he tells her he'll find her no matter what happens!

Meanwhile, Soyabean blames himself for Tofu's disappearance.  If he hadn't been watching his commercial instead of watching out for her, perhaps none of this would have happened!  But while he is moping around the house, he discovers that the people he is modelling for have been poisoning the cat food he's been helping to sell.  Unfortunately he finds himself at a loss when he is unable to communicate this to his owner.  But once Tofu makes it back home, the two hatch a plan to reveal that the food is poisoned to the humans.  It'll take all of Soyabean's talents at acting and more than a little bit of luck to pull off.

Chinese Whiskers was a really cute story.  These two cats reminded me of my two (except that Soyabean and Tofu actually got along).  My one complaint is that the book seemed to wrap itself up about a chapter before it actually ended.  If not for that, I would have given it five stars on Goodreads, instead of the four I ended up giving.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Pineville Heist

I first heard that a local author, Lee Chambers, had written a book that hit the Amazon bestseller list a few years ago.  I bought the book and intended to read it, but never really got around to it.  But a few weeks ago, a friend from work asked me to read it.  So I grudgingly did; The Pineville Heist was by no means high on my list and I really wanted to read something else.

So I started the book on Wednesday.  I went to Grand Marais with my brother for the day, and started reading it while we were hanging out on the beach.  When I started it, I thought it was going to be an absolutely terrible read.  The writing seemed awkward (for example, one character "waltzed" into the room, then got snippy, turned around and stomped out.  It was a very jarring scene).

But then something happened. I started getting sucked more and more into the story.  Things that I thought were predictable weren't (although I admit, I thought the main character was someone else, so it helped that I kept waiting for a character that never arrived).  And even if the writing remained a bit awkward at times, I stopped noticing it as I got drawn into the story that is The Pineville Heist.

The Pineville Heist is about Aaron.  Aaron is the rich kid in town, unpopular because everyone thinks his father is just getting richer from everyone else's money.  His father is a single parent, too busy to give Aaron much attention.  They get into a fight and Aaron is forced to walk to school.  He cuts through the woods, inadvertently spying the bank robbers who stole his father's money.  After overhearing the local cops talking about the robbery, he brings his two best friends to go recover the money.  Unfortunately they're around when the robbers are murdered in cold blood.  Grabbing one of the bags of money, Aaron makes it back to the school.  Unsure if his friends are alive or not, he ends up running for his life from the cold-blooded killer is after him and the money.

The Pineville Heist ended up a really enjoyable read.  I'm also now really excited for the movie to come out (it was filmed locally back in June).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Under the Empyrean Sky

I started Chuck Wendig's Under the Empyrean Sky about a month ago. I got it from the library at the time, thinking that as a YA book it would be an easy read. But I couldn't get into it at all. So back to the library it went.

I wanted to try again a few days ago. So I bought it on my Kindle and started reading. To my amazement, I was now into the story and didn't want to put it down!

Under the Empyrean Sky is the tale of Cael McAvoy. Cael is the captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, the second best scavenging crew of Boxelder. Cael's crew flies over the corn fields of the Heartland, looking for anything useful that they can sell to support their families. Cael's tired of being bested in the scavenging game by the mayor's son, the captain of the best scavenging crew in town. But when he spends the crew's ace notes on new panels from his ship just before his ship gets trashed, he's not sure what to do. To make matters worse, he's worried about losing his first mate (and love of his life) when the Empyreans announce their arranged marriages (Obligations) in a few days. And with his mother sick, his sister running off again and his father barely able to scrape by, Cael isn't sure how he'll keep his family afloat. But that's life in the Heartland.

Under the Empyrean Sky was a really interesting book. The world reminded me of The Hunger Games, with the Heartlanders being like the districts, and the Empyrean controlling the world and making the rules from above (quite literally - the Empyrean live on flotillas, flying around above the earth, closing schools and generally making life miserable for the "unenlightened" Heartlanders below them). The Empyrean have outlawed all crops except the corn, which ravages the earth, spreading and killing all other plant life. Their one consolation to the Heartlanders is the Lottery; once a year, a Heartland family is selected to live on the flotillas with the Empyrean.

Cael's crew was pretty great. There's Lane, Cael's helmsman, who lost his family and now lives alone. Lane isn't looking forward to the arranged marriages because he doesn't want to marry any of the girls. The third mate, Rigo, has an abusive father who has sucked the boy's confidence from him. But even though he's afraid, he still manages to find his courage when he really needs to. And Gwennie, the first mate, is the brains of the entire organization. Unfortunately we don't get to see a whole lot of her (spoiler: she's Obligated to the mayor's son; Cael spends a lot of time pining for her or fighting over her, but we don't get to see a whole lot from her perspective). And Cael's dad, Pop, is pretty awesome (another spoiler: he's growing an illegal garden with the help of hobos!)

I guess I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I started reading Under the Empyrean Sky the first time. But I'm super glad I gave it a second chance. And now I can't wait for the second book, Blightborn, which comes out later this month!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Scotti and 'Fairies Don't Exist'

Here we are with The Scotti and 'Fairies Don't Exist,' the third Fairly Stillwart Chronicle from Scott Butcher. The Scotti picks up just after A Pixie Pilgrimage left off: Stillwart and company are still trying to make their way to the Northern Fairies in Ireland. They've managed to go from Vancouver to Montreal, but here they've been stopped by customs because they don't have the proper paperwork. Rather than wait around for weeks, they decide to bust out of the airport and find another way to Europe. Luckily the two daughters of their human friend, Phoebe and Lucy, live in the city; with a bit of convincing that fairies really are real, the gang is on their way to Newfoundland to catch a chartered flight to Dublin.

But along the way, Fairies Don't Exist, the feral fairy Stillwart and company picked up in Vancouver, tells them that a Thorn Tree is calling to her. Following her directions, the company finds a group of fairies named the Scotti. The Scotti's Thorn Tree was damaged by human hands long ago; with its magic blocked, the Scotti have been slowly dying. It's up to Stillwart and company to save the day!

Like the other Fairly Stillwart Chronicles, The Scotti and 'Fairies Don't Exist" is another quick and enjoyable read. Just be warned: this book ends on even more of a cliffhanger than A Pixie Pilgrimage did.  I can't wait for book 4 to read more of Stillwart's adventure!