Friday, May 20, 2016

The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells

This is another one of my lucky vintage book finds from the local library's perpetual used book sale shelves. It was immediately obvious to me that it was a vintage book, but I didn't realize it was the 1960s edition with illustrations by Edward Gorey until I examined it more closely. I seriously almost did a happy dance right there in the library when I saw that, especially since the book cost me $1. It would be a bargain at 10 times that price, so I happily snapped this up and added it to my TBR pile... and now I've finally read it!

The story itself is sort of underwhelming, if I'm being 100% honest. Maybe I'm just a cynical modern reader, but the story lacked a real sense of horror and urgency for me. I think it was mainly hampered by the first-person narration; we're too constrained by the narrator's narrow point of view. The illustrations are very Gorey-like, but also more impressionistic and less detailed than one might like. However, lest I give you the wrong impression, I didn't dislike this book, it was just a little too low key for me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

White Leopard - Laurent Guillaume

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.

If you're a crime/detective novel fan, this is a book you will probably love as much as I did. The story hits all the typical crime novel beats: cop/PI with tragic past, drugs, smuggling, violence, femmes fatales, dead witnesses, corrupt cops, etc., but the fresh setting in Mali and the winning main character makes everything new and entertaining. Apparently, this is the first of this author's books to be translated into English, and I hope it's not the last, as I'd like to read more in this series - maybe I'll track them down in French and give that a go! The publisher, Le French Book, translates French authors and it looks like they may have some other interesting books I should look into. But back to this one in particular: I really enjoyed it. It's the perfect summer page-turner. Recommended.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain (Spoilers?)

Another classic book that I knew next to nothing about before reading it. Thanks to the title, I knew it had a sort of time-travel element to it, but that was it. I expected it to be about the titular Yankee adapting to sixth century life, and instead Twain inverts that, having him establish all sorts of late 19th century things like electricity, schools, the telegraph, and etc. This is puzzling but also kind of amusing.

I can honestly say that I didn't expect the story to be such a satire - and a very pointed satire at times. Twain really roasts some of his subjects, and it is glorious as far as I'm concerned - they all deserve it. I especially liked how he satirized the gullibility of the people in general, and how they took a speaker's word for anything without ever examining a statement critically - far too many people today are this way in my opinion, and frankly it's scary. So I guess nothing much has changed, ha ha.

All in all this was classic Twain at his most entertaining and his most cranky. Recommended.

In other news, I am claiming this book for the brown category of the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, since the cover is tan and brown, as shown below.

I'm tan and brown - I'm a twofer for this challenge! 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

Before I found a vintage copy of this book on the Library Sale shelves, all I knew about it was the title - I had heard of the book but I had no idea what it was actually about. When I started reading, for the first few pages I felt confused, until I was able to understand that this is more of an extended character study than a traditional novel. And after a few pages something clicked for me and I unexpectedly fell in love with this book.

I still can't believe how engrossed I got in this story. It was soooooo hard to put the book down, because I found the characters so fascinating. The pace is relatively slow, which is actually a good thing, as it gives the reader a luxurious amount of time with these people. As someone who finds the ear in which this book is set fascinating, I greedily drank in all the details. I really felt like I was in Brooklyn, and that I knew the main characters.

To be honest, the ending did seem a little rushed to me - almost like the author ran out of time and had to quickly wrap things up. But I could have read a lot more, so I just wish there were 400 more pages to read. I'm so happy I spent a dollar to bring this new favorite classic book into my life. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Tumbling Turner Sisters - Juliette Fay

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.

Longtime readers may know that I am fascinated by early 20th century entertainment, particularly vaudeville, so when I read the description of this book on NetGalley I leapt at the chance to read a fictional account of a vaudeville act.

This book was highly enjoyable. The author obviously did a lot of research so it's a decent introduction to vaudeville in general as well as the story of how a family works up an act and takes it on the road, and the adventures they have as a result. The spirited Turner sisters are sympathetic characters, and their encounters with the denizens of vaudeville, including some real performers who make fictional cameos, make for entertaining reading.

The writing is breezy and easy to read, but at the same time, it doesn't tiptoe around the casual racism and animal cruelty that were sadly commonplace at this era of history, which was a nice touch - it's always good to keep in mind not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to go. Two of the main characters take turns telling the story, and to be honest I found this confusing from time to time, but it didn't detract from the story that much.

As it happens, the author's great grandfather was actually a dancer who performed in vaudeville shows - how cool is that? This is a fun summer read. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte

A quick relevant story before I review.

So as you may remember, back in September 2011 I had an uncontrolled Borders Last Days Sale book grab, bringing home more than 75 books over 2 days. The second shopping day alone had to be close to 50 books.

As I was checking out on the second (and last) day, the guy ringing up my purchases looked at me and said, "Are you really going to read all these books?"

My reply: "Eventually." At the time, even I thought it was kind of unlikely, but here I am almost 5 years later and in fact out of all those books only 8 are left on the TBR pile - I just counted. So that's pretty good, all things considered!

As you may have guessed, this book was one of the 75+ books I brought home from that spree. Of course, I was thrilled because it had "yellow" in the title, so I could use it for the always-fun Color Coded Reading Challenge... or so I thought. As it happens, it's the 5th book in a series, and yes, it took me 5 years to get those previous books read so I could finally read this one and stop scrambling to find a substitute for the "yellow" category. So I took my time, but I have finally accomplished this goal - hooray!

This book was a return to form as far as I'm concerned - it was much more enjoyable for me, as it centers around intrigue and not war/battles. To be sure, there are fisticuffs and swordplay and etc., but also palace intrigue and schemers and plotters and jilted lovers and double-crossers. It would make a fun movie, and I think it could stand alone if necessary. In fact, I could probably have read this book without reading the first 4 and not missed much - but I'd still rather stick to my sticklerish ways and just read the whole thing, rather than possibly miss some crucial information, etc. (it's just how my brain works). So all in all, this book was worth the wait.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

April - This Month in Reading

April got away from me - between some out of town company, work, classes, volunteering, and general life stuff, I only managed to read 7 books, or about half of my goal of 12. On the other hand, 6 of the books I did read were from the TBR pile, and not from the library, etc., so I'm happy with that. I also managed to make a better dent in a couple of my reading challenges, so I'm also happy with that. I didn't manage to do a reread this month, but I'm sure I can work in at least one if not 2 for May, so I'll work on that.

Speaking of May, I plan to continue the library ban and keep concentrating on the books I have on hand. I have a couple NetGalley books in the queue, but in general I plan to keep working on the challenge books as much as I can.

How was your April reading?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Little Joe Otter - Thornton W. Burgess

After The Silent Cry, I needed a book that was light as a feather, and this one neatly fit the bill. Once again, this is a vintage children's book I found on the Library Sale shelves. Sadly, I only found 2 books in this series of four "Smiling Pool" books, but maybe I'll be able to pick up the others somewhere else.

In any case, these are charming books. I love how the author  calls the animals "little people" because I think of animals as people too. Unlike many authors of this era (the 1920s), Burgess' animals have agency, and are smart and resourceful and are not just there to be imprisoned or blown away by humans. The story moves along nicely and is engaging for the reader. There are even some nice illustrations by Harrison Cady, including the one on the cover shown below.

As you can see, the cover is green, so I am claiming this book 
for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge - hooray! 

All in all, these are nice books and if you like vintage children's books, you will most likely enjoy these as much as I did. Highly recommended. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe

Readers, I apologize upfront if this review sounds really strange, it's that this book left me in a kind of book daze, with my mind immersed in the story, unable to entirely shake it off. I wasn't even sure I liked this book when I first started reading it, and in fact, I'm still not 100% sure if I "liked" it, but I can tell you that I was drawn in to the story and it has been living in my mind for a while now. Much of the book is somewhat unpleasant, and it's about as far as one can get from a comedy or from "light reading," and yet it has burrowed into my mind and won't let go.

In my mind, this book was reminiscent of Robert Frost's classic poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening; literally, because some of the story takes place in or near the woods, and figuratively, because of the unspoken depth - and possibly menace - the reader feels while reading. This book has so many layers that one could write a 40+ page thesis paper on it - and then write another, and another, and another, without ever considering the same element. I feel like I will have to read this book again in the future to satisfy a need to plumb the depths a bit. Recommended - if you're looking for something to think about.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale

This nonfiction book has been patiently waiting to be read for years, and I have no idea why I never picked it up before now. It works as a classic whodunit, as the reader follows the investigation into the shocking murder of a young child in the 1860s. Detectives were just coming into their own as part of the police force at this time, so we also get some of that history as well as the emergence of detectives in fiction in this well written book. The titular Mr. Whicher was one of Scotland Yard's best detectives, and was well known in his time - he met Dickens, who probably based at least one character on him. Whicher's investigation was partially hampered by the Victorian mores of the time but all in all it seems that he was very wise. I won't say any more so as to avoid any spoilers, but it's a great read for mystery fans or history buffs, or anyone who enjoys good writing and a good story. Recommended.