First Line Fridays: The Library at Mount Char

firstlinefridays

What’s the first line of the closest book to you? Leave me a comment, then head over to Hoarding Books for more great lines from great authors!

“Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78,”

~Scott Hawkins, The Library at Mount Char

My first line is from The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. From the blurb on Amazon/Goodreads, this book appears to be wholly unique. It’s about a woman, who once was an ordinary American, but then her parents died and she was taken in by a man known simply as Father. She and the other inhabitants of his home spend their time in a great library studying its secrets. They speculate that Father is actually God and the library holds the truth about creation–but then Father disappears leaving the library unguarded…

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I cannot wait to dig into this one.

 

Would you dabble in dark magic?

oathboundWhat is Oath Bound by Amanda Booloodian About?

Panic overtakes the supernatural community when two of its members are found brutally murdered. To track down the killer, they must enlist help from experienced investigators–human investigators–without exposing the secret of their existence.  Mira Owens, a talented witch with a background in dark power, risks karmic retribution by binding Detective Ian Burke to their cause. Mira; Ian; his partner, Gabe Flint; and mysterious Emmit Harker join forces to stop the killer and resist forces of destruction from another plane.

My Thoughts

I am a sucker for urban fantasies. Those of us who plod through our daily lives with our heads down (dozing on a bus to work, preparing TPS reports in a cubical, gossiping over water coolers, doing endless loads of laundry, and feeding our whining kids another bowl of mac-n-cheese…) cannot help but be seduced by the idea that there’s more happening beneath the surface than we realize. There’s magic, people with strange and dangerous abilities, and drama on a cosmic scale.

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It’s a concept that can shake us out of our stupor, make us look around for signs of something wonderful, and help us stave off the notion–at least for one more day–that this dreary reality is all there is. It reminds us that there is still room to make something new happen and that adventures may be just around the bend.

Or, is that just me? Gawd. I sound like a cheerful person, don’t I? Thank goodness I have some escapist literature to keep me from being a miserable lump!

The world revealed in Oathbound is full of every fantasy creature you can imagine: witches, vampires, werewolves, angels and muses. This is a world that challenges our notion of what makes a monster. Sure, the guy living in the mansion may have fangs and drink blood, but he helps organize community events and provides you with a place to stay when you’re homeless. Moreover, he’s not feral. He won’t bite you…probably.  Compare him with the human landlord who harasses his tenants and threatens legal action because he wants to “bleed” people for every last cent to their name.

Who’s really the monster?

Clifford or Cujo?
My son scares me sometimes…

I like it when books make me re-evaluate concepts like this.

Oath Bound starts off slow, introducing characters, hinting at their backgrounds, providing a glimpse into a gathering of supernaturals, and describing the murders. The narrative has a detached air to it, which subdues the heightened emotions the characters must be feeling when faced with moral quandaries, possible romantic connections, and someone preying on their community . I’m perplexed why the beginning focuses on a family history instead of discovering the body of the latest murder victim, which would establish Mira’s grief and fear over the loss. Instead of hooking us with a shocking scene and strong emotions, we’re fed rather dry information.

The lack of emotional intensity and proper focus hamstring this book. As an example, Mira’s attention wavers between three extremely attractive men. Then, just as if someone snapped their fingers, she decides she’s romantically interested in one. Nothing happens to draw them together and their chemistry feels flat.  Mira’s interactions with the male lead are transactional rather than emotional: he asks her to work some magic on his behalf and he provides her with a a concierge service. I don’t know about you, but I want a lot more from my lover than a business deal.

Secondly, Mira was supposedly close to one of the murder victims, but little is done to explore the contours of their relationship and the nature of her grief. Many times in the story, it’s easy to forget that Mira has lost anyone. Her friend seems like a hazy memory rather than a loved person lost recently.

Finally, it was unclear whether this book most wanted to be romance with a quest to save the world from occult forces or a mystery/thriller with supernatural characters. This lack of focus also sapped the book of some of its potential power. Personally, I think the most promise lies with Mira’s dealings with the detectives. They are an interesting duo who each resist Mira’s efforts in their own way. That being said, all of the characters have interesting backstories and if they were given a little more room to breathe and act out, they could all be easy to root for.

Oath Bound gains momentum at around the 70% mark, when Mira and Gabe are thrust into an alternate reality and must fight like hell to return to their own world. The frightening situation, revelations about each other’s abilities, and the tension between them bursts forth and makes this novel come to life. Up to this point, I felt lukewarm about Oath Bound. It hit many of the notes that I expected of an urban fantasy, but it didn’t excite me. The climax was different. It got my heart beating and gave me a taste of what powerful writing Amanda Booloodian was capable of. I hope the rest of her series dazzles us as much as this portion of the book.


Thank you to Amanda Booloodian for providing me with an ARC of her forthcoming novel. It was a pleasure to read.

For its release on August 7th, Oath Bound will be in a box set titled The Shadow Files. There will be 22 books in this set. My review is for Oath Bound only, not the entire set.

Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

When contemplating ten popular books that lived up to the hype, it dawned on me that this could be a really easy list to create. There are, after all, seven Harry Potter books. I’d only have to come up with three more.

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I loved all of the Harry Potter books. I’ve read them all multiple times. I’ve read them along with my kids. My daughter and I are currently re-watching all the movies. It’s safe to say that I believe these books totally earned the hype–and they’re holding up remarkably well to the passage of time.

I’m not going to take the easy way out here. Here are ten OTHER books that earned the hype:

hunger gamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her little sister’s place as a tribute to the annual games hosted in the capitol, where representatives from each district battle to the death. Other competitors are bigger, stronger, faster and better trained. Can Katniss survive? Can she stand up to the oppressive regime forcing this barbaric ritual on the disenfranchised?

Katniss is everything you want in a hero. She’s honorable. She’s wily. She’s determined. This series had me on tenterhooks wanting to know how the heck Katniss was going to get herself out of increasingly dangerous situations. It’s not just a series of action scenes and suspenseful moments. There’s plenty of romance, too.

timetravelerThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Henry, a librarian with a taste for adventure, is the first person to be diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. Whenever his genetic clock resets he is pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. This condition complicates the already complicated scenario of falling in love with Clare, a beautiful art student, and maintaining a relationship with her.

Not only is this novel wonderfully imaginative in its construction, it’s beautifully told and a real tear-jerker. I recommend having a box of Kleenex handy.

kite runnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. As the Afghan monarchy was crumbling, the friendship of two boys was put to the test–and broke. While they were constant companions during peaceful times, their differences in caste put a wedge between them. Amir belongs to the ruling Pashtun caste and enjoys the privileges of being the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant. Hassan, his servant, is a Hazara, a poor and despised caste. As the years pass by, Amir never ceases to regret abandoning his childhood friend. Eventually, he sets out to discover what had become of him and to make amends.

This tale is epic in scope, passionately written, and provides keen observations about human nature, love and redemption.

waterforelephantsWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Jacob is an Ivy league drop out who ran way to join a traveling circus, which was struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Because of his training in veterinary medicine, he is put in charge of caring for the menagerie, chief of which is a seemingly intractable elephant named Rosie. In this colorful setting, Jacob falls for the beautiful star of an equestrian act. Unfortunately, she is shackled to August, a cruel animal-trainer.

This is a beautifully written book. The narrative voice is distinct and the setting is uniquely captivating. I will be honest though: the romance wasn’t as important to me as the welfare of Rosie, an incredible creature given an unfair lot in life.

dragonThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Michael Blomkvist, a journalist with a raging drive to uncover the truth, and Lisbeth Salander, a young woman with deep-seated anger against the world and an unparalleled ability to hack into computer systems, join forces to solve the 40 year-old mystery of the disappearance of a young woman from one of Sweden’s wealthiest families. During the course of the investigation, they grapple with their own demons.

This book is remarkable not only for unraveling such a complicated and tragic mystery, but also for the powerful character studies, and keen observations of social and family dynamics. This is one book where I’d be hard-pressed to say whether it was more character driven or plot driven. I believe it’s an incredible example of both types of narrative and one of the key reasons this book appeals to a large audience.

guernseyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Shortly after the second world war, writer Juliet Ashton strikes up a correspondence with the residents of the isolated island of Guernsey. She learns about the ordeals of this eccentric group of characters as they coped with the German occupation of their home. Through the letters, these people reveal bare their hearts and express a deep love of the written word.

It’s a deeply moving portrait of a small community of resilient people in the toughest of times. I’m sure I cried over this one and have a longing to re-read it.

naemofthewindThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the tale of the making of the greatest wizard the world has ever known. Kvothe had humble beginnings as a player in a traveling troupe of actors and then as a homeless orphan in a crime-ridden city, but through a daring bid to enter a famous school of magic, his career begins to take shape. His ambition and hard work bring him a great deal of fame until he commits a crime that forces him to flee as a fugitive.

Not since I first read Tolkien’s book about the hairy-footed hobbit did a fantasy world enthrall me as much as this one did. It’s fully realized with a fascinating society peopled a marvelous array of characters. It’s gritty and shies away from sentimental. It’s downright poetic. I’ve read it twice and expect I’ll read it again.

persepolisPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi. In this graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi recounds her coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. Regular growing pains are tough enough, but they become charged with greater meaning and greater risk when set amidst political upheaval. In her brave voice, tinged with both humor and sorrow, she explores notions of individual and social freedoms, homecoming and alienation.

I am not generally a reader of graphic novels, but I loved this. The narrator’s tone is so candid and so human that I felt a bond with her even though our lived experiences and homelands are so different.

oveA Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. Ove is a curmudgeon. He is committed to his long-standing principles, impatient with his neighbors, and blunt in his criticisms. He’s also deeply lonely. When a boisterous family moves in next door, we expect him to explode, but they weasel their way into his heart and he into theirs.

I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but it’s one of my favorites and I had to include it here. I adore the old grouch. Behind his confrontational and unpleasant exterior beats a tender heart. His old friends are described in a tender fashion and the new neighbors are so lively, warm and wonderful. I cried my eyes out over this one.

Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green. When attending a support group for cancer kids, Hazel feels a mixture of impatience with the project and pity for her fellow patients. But then something unexpected happens: Augustus enters the room, and with a few incisive words, shakes everything up. Hazel had believed she was good and ready for the end of her story, but this twist recharges her zest for life and love for the people around her.

It was inevitable that I was going to cry my eyes out over The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. There is so much wit and charm oozing out of these characters that you can’t help but become attached. And when the inevitable happens, well, you just have to cry, regretting the loss but cherishing the pleasure of having witnessed something beautiful.


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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week.

This week’s topic is popular books that lived up to the hype.