Mini Reviews and a Photo Journey

Summer is always a short affair in the Pacific Northwest and this year it seemed even shorter than most.  A Reader's Respite took the past week to have, well, a respite.  We escaped to The Mountain for a few days, holed ourselves up inside a cozy little cabin and read, hiked, then read some more when the mood struck Big Kid and Little Kid weren't beating each other over the head with giant sticks.

Mt. Rainier (aka The Mountain)

We thought we'd share some photographs and a handful of the books we've read the past month or so that didn't warrant a big official review.

the historical church in Elbe, Washington (population 21), at the base of Mt. Rainier

With fall comes an entirely new reading mood.  We love this.  A Reader's Respite isn't an organized reader.  By this we mean we read where the mood takes us.  Frequently one book will make reference to another which then leads us down a completely new path.  We're the flower child of bibliophiles, wandering aimlessly here and there.  (Unless it's a series.  Then our obscene OCD about reading a series in order comes into play.)

Narada Falls

Fall usually leads us to what we like to call our curl-up-next-to-the-fireplace books.  We ease our way into it, this year wanting to start off with Scott Turrow's Innocent, a sequel to his masterful courtroom thriller, Presumed Innocent.  Because the original novel was published twenty years ago (who waits twenty years to write a sequel, for the love of Pete?), it was clear a re-read was in order.

 Stone bridges rock.  Yes, it's a great pun, too...but really, we think they rock.  This one is over Box Canyon.

So to shake things up, we listened to the original and it's new sequel on audiobook.  What did we learn?  That the original is still the best courtroom novel ever written (sorry Grisham) and the sequel was a sequel.  Some novels are just best left alone.

 Little Kid pretending to be sweet and cute.  In her hand she is holding a giant stick she uses to smash into an unsuspecting Big Kid every time our head is turned the other direction.

Harry Potter nostalgia always sets in this time of year, especially when the temperatures drop at night and the leaves start changing color. And we've promised ourselves no more re-reads.  It's over and we just have to accept that.   So despite the ridiculous back-cover comparisons to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, we took a chance and bought a copy of Lev Grossman's The Magicians.  It was the best magical-fantasy we've read in quite some time.  All of the great fantasy elements were there: a school for magic, a group of friends, a mystery to solve.  Sounds like it's been done before, you say?  Yes, but not when the school is a university and the protagonist is coming of age facing what every college freshman, alcohol, drugs, relationships and finding your place and identity in this world.  It's hard enough us non-magical folk to get through that phase in life.  Can you imagine how dangerous we would have been with magic at our disposal?  If you like losing yourself in a world of magic, we'd recommend this one.

Big Kid pretending to be sweet and cute.  In his hand he is holding a giant stick he uses to smash into an unsuspecting Little Kid every time our head is turned the other direction.

Moving away from magic, we turned to a National Book Award finalist.  Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon was on so many "best of the year" lists in 2009 that it demanded to be read.  A literary thriller, the novel fairly teems with overt themes of identity as three apparent strangers find their lives intersecting in the oddest manner.  Who we are, how we see ourselves versus how other see us, and the flimsiness of identity prevail here.  It was a page-turner, no doubt about that, but in the end felt contrived as if the author was writing merely to enforce his themes.

 the Nisqually Glacier

A Reader's Respite was a big fan of Tatiana de Rosnay's novel, Sarah's Key last year.  So when we saw a copy of her new book, A Secret Kept, being offered for review via the Amazon Vine program, we jumped on it.  The theme of family secrets is revisited here as adult siblings Antoine and Melanie are forced to sort through their dysfunctional childhood memories in search of who their long-dead mother really was.  Great premise (we love dark-family-secret novels, but that's a subject for another day), but it fell short by taking just a few concepts and reiterating them over and over until it became tiresome.  Still, if you enjoyed Sarah's Key you likely won't be able to pass this one up.  Just don't expect the same impact.

1000+ year old Douglas Firs.  These trees were here while the Normans were busy conquering England.

Hope everyone out there is sliding into fall as well as we are.  May your reading grow cozier, your fireplace burn warm and your hot cocoa be topped with whipped cream.  Happy reading.