Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Beautiful Blue Death - Charles Finch

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free, time-limited, electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via in exchange for my honest review, which is provided below. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

What an enjoyable mystery! I really liked Charles Lenox, amateur sleuth, and I'm a sucker for stories set in 1860s London. This was a charming series debut novel, with a mystery that kept me guessing and cast of characters that I am eager to learn more about. Great cozy-style mystery for those so inclined. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September - This Month in Reading

September turned out to be a much better reading month for me - I read a total of 14 books, most of which were for challenges. As always I was hoping to read a few more, but after a summer of not as much reading as I wanted, this is a great result.

Speaking of challenges, since September marks the end of the 3rd quarter of the year, I'd like to do a quick check-in on all of my challenges:

Back to the Classics Challenge - 7/12 books, and I have plans to finish the rest ASAP, so this one's looking good.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - 30/60 books, so far; I would like to be farther along, of course, but I am confident I can summit again this year. Or make it all the way back down from the summit, which I reached last year.

Read It Again, Sam - 9/12 rereads completed, one per month as planned, this one is looking great.

TBR Pile Challenge - 9/12 TBR Pile books and 1/2 alternates completed so far. I am confident that I can complete this challenge again this year.

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge - My goal was the category that allowed for 7 - 12 books and so far I have listed 15, with more to come, so this one's good.

Color Coded Reading Challenge - 7/9 books read, and a plan for the last 2, so I'm confident about this one too.

Books in Translation Reading Challenge - I've posted 10 books and I had planned for 10 - 12, so this one is basically finished, with more on the way too.

Banned Books Challenge - I've posted 6 books and had planned for 3 - 5, so this one is basically finished, but I suspect there will be a few more to come.

French Bingo 2015 - I still haven't gotten Bingo but I have more books on the way, so who knows. I may or may not actually get Bingo, but in any case it's fun to read the books, so I'm happy just to play this one.

LGBT Reading Challenge 2015 - I had planned for 3 - 10 books and I have 8 plus a short story, so this one's basically finished, although there may be more to come.

Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge - For this challenge, I had planned for 6 - 10 books and so far I only have 4. I'm not worried, I have time to complete this challenge, and I look forward to doing so.

So there you have it... Coming in to the 4th and final quarter of 2015, things are looking OK for a strong finish to all of my reading challenges in 2015. How's your fall reading looking?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Le Petit Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ce très petit livre, un des livres les plus célébrés au monde, défie toute description. C'est comme un conte des fées, mais c'est beaucoup plus - c'est aussi un chef d’œuvre. C'est une histoire qui semble très simple, mais on peux la relire beaucoup de fois et chaque fois trouver quelque chose de nouveau là-dessus.

J'étais très contente de trouver ce livre, en français, à vendre dans la petite << boîte bouquiniste >> dans ma bibliothèque. C'était un vrai plaisir de le lire en français. Je crois que le petit prince est plus sympa en français, et la rose est plus vaine.

Je l'ai lu pour le première fois il y a plusieurs années. Maintenant, je suis une adulte, mais j'espère que j'ai gardé un peu l'esprit du prince.

September Reread - The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This tiny book, one of the world's most famous, defies a review. What can I say about it that hasn't been said a million times already? It's one of those deceptively simple books that one can read again and again and see something new each time.

I was inspired to use this for my September reread book because last year around this time I found a copy in the original French on the Library Sale shelves (that will be the next review, en français). I had, of course, read this book in the English translation years and years (and years) ago. In fact, I somehow managed to hold on to my original copy, which it was my pleasure to remove from its dusty spot on my bookshelves and rediscover along with reading the French version in a quick readalong.

As I've noted in the past, having a bad memory can sometimes be a good thing. In this case, it allowed me to come back to this book in a "fresh" state, since it had been so long since I originally read it I basically remembered nothing about it. The story was probably even more moving and affecting for me now, well into adulthood. And I feel obligated to quote the famous lines:

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." 

Highly recommended. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The City & The City - China Miéville

I have been wanting to read a book by this author for a while, but I got the impression that his books are sort of mind-bending and baffling and difficult, so that put me off a bit. I did get this book from the Library Sale shelves, but I still avoided it a bit until I decided to make it a priority with the TBR Pile Challenge and just take the plunge already. 

As usual, I feel like a ninny for waiting this long to read this book. I will say that the story is definitely one part detective story and one part mind-freak, but the writing is great and the stranger parts of the story are well done. I also grew to love the protagonist, and his narrative voice. In fact, I had trouble putting this down once I took in the central premise. And what a premise it is. I'd love to see the setting in the way the author sees it in his mind's eye. In the hands of the right director, this could be an amazing-looking film; in fact, I heard that someone is filming a version for the BBC, but I didn't see any details on when we might expect to be able to see that. I hope it's soon, and well done. 

If you're a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, and/or detective stories, you will probably enjoy this book as much as I did. Recommended. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

O Pioneers! - Willa Cather

Willa Cather is quickly becoming a favorite author for me. Once I started reading this book I found it impossible to put down and I read it all in one sitting. As with My Ántonia, the characters fairly leap off the page they seem so real. That isn't to say I like them all, just that they seem very alive to me. The writing is beautiful, and I feel like it influenced John Steinbeck's descriptive writing, although that's based on sort of a gut feeling more than any hard evidence. There's some wonderful foreshadowing that I'd love to have written a paper about; maybe someday I'll win the lottery and become the nerdy, studious version of Van Wilder and do just that. And once again the author has captivated me with descriptions of the wild Nebraska prairie that make me truly understand why some of the characters are so attached to their land. I can't wait for next year's Back to the Classics Challenge so I can read another one of Cather's books. Highly recommended.

Fluent Forever - Gabriel Wyner

As a perpetual language learner and a sort of failed polyglot, and someone with a lousy memory, I'm always looking for ways to improve my language abilities. So when a cool coworker and fellow language learner recommended this book to me, I was intrigued enough to squeeze it in to my reading as soon as I could, instead of putting it on my recommended books list for future reading if/when my TBR pile ever gets small enough, etc.

The book's subtitle is "How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It" and the book outlines tools and techniques that I think would be super helpful to anyone who is learning a language from scratch. It does have helpful info for those of us who are more intermediate in a language, but who are not fluent and would like to improve, but overall it's a bit more written for beginners.

Many of the suggested tools are free, which is great; language learning can get expensive, so I appreciate that he didn't fall back on only recommending "pay expensive tutors!" and "drop everything and get into a lengthy and expensive immersion program!" although both of these things are indeed mentioned among a lot of options. I personally would love to attend a good immersion program, but it's hard to get a large chunk of time off of work, etc. - so if you're a person younger than I am and you're an aspiring polyglot, don't make my mistakes - take advantage of any and every opportunity you can before your life gets too settled! </soapbox>  :)

But back to the book. One thing the book talks about a lot is using spaced repetition and creating flashcards to set up your brain for remembering words and grammar. After reading about this method in detail, I am definitely going to try it out. I do already use flashcards (little paper ones with no frills), but I haven't been consistently using them, so I think trying something new might be helpful. I'll let you all know how it goes.

So all in all, if you're looking for a new way to approach language learning, give this book a try. And if you do, let me know how it's going!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress - Beryl Bainbridge

One of the reasons I love the Color-Coded Reading Challenge is that I am forced to look for books that fit certain categories, and in the process, I often stumble on great books and/or authors that I may not have otherwise encountered. This book is one such find, discovered as I was searching the library catalog for a book for the most difficult challenge category (well, maybe in a tie with "brown"):

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

Having read this book, I would like to read more by the same author. I found all of the characters repellent and fascinating in equal measure, and I liked how the writing showed us that the past can ripple into the present. Much of this book struck me as baffling but at the same time totally understandable. I know that makes little sense but this book was disorienting in a way, and not in a bad way. Another book that has a lot of scope for introspection. Recommended.

I did some quick research and discovered that this book was actually unfinished - the author died while she was working on this novel. Frankly, I kind of like how it ended, although I do wonder what else might have happened to the characters. If you've read this, or other books by this author, let me know, I'd love to hear other opinions!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly

This was yet another Library Sales shelf find, which has been waiting to be read, and yet again I wish I had read it sooner. It's the first book of a series featuring Benjamin January, the titular free man of color, and the story is set in New Orleans in 1833. I know next to nothing about New Orleans, and even less about this era in that city's history, but I definitely know a lot more than I used to. A lot of what I now know is rather sad and depressing; if someone ever invents a usable time machine, I'm not sure I'd ever travel back to this place and time, for many reasons.

However, the main character is wonderful, and the central mystery kept me guessing throughout. I would very much like to read the rest of this series, so I will have to add that to my ever-growing list of book series to take up if I can ever get my TBR pile under control. Recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Pain in the Tuchis - Mark Reutlinger

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free, time-limited, electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via in exchange for my honest review, which is provided below. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

Last year around this time, I discovered the wonderful Mrs. Kaplan through NetGalley, and was thoroughly charmed by her. At the time, I fervently hoped that a series was afoot. So imagine how overjoyed I was to receive an email telling me a second book featuring my new favorite mystery-solving duo was available for requesting on NetGalley. Hooray!! I immediately sent in my request.

This sequel didn't disappoint. It's another thoroughly charming mystery featuring Mrs. Kaplan, and her Watson, Mrs. Berkowitz, who narrates the stories in an uncomplicated but colorful way. The story itself is deceptively simple, but there is actually a lot of things going on, which makes the story richer. The mystery kept me guessing until the end too.

This book arrives just in time for holiday gift-giving, and along with the previous one too, of course, would be wonderful gift for someone who likes cozy mysteries. Preferably enjoyed with a nice cup of tea and some mandelbrot. Highly recommended!

What a great addition to my Fall reading. I really hope to see a third book at this time next year too.