Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sula - Toni Morrison (Spoilers?)

This was a really lovely little book. You'd think by the title that it's mainly about Sula, but really it's more about the effect Sula has on both her best friend Nel and the town in which they both live, and in that way the book is more a portrait of the town of Medallion than anything else. This may sound bizarre, but something about this book reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Part of that is the beautiful writing and I think another part of it is that both books are (at least in part) about being separated from the "American Dream" and about how the past is always closer than you think. I definitely need to read more Toni Morrison. Recommended.

Since this book's cover is mostly green, I'm claiming it as my "green" book for the Color Coded Reading Challenge too.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Stiff - Mary Roach

The subtitle of this book, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, pretty much says it all. The author's breezy, conversational tone takes the subject matter from disturbing to fascinating. It's a well researched book that is a quick read but provides a lot of information and food for thought. I will say that one probably shouldn't read this while eating, or if one has a weak stomach, but the information is provided in such a matter of fact and well written way that I don't think this would be an issue for most people. The same day I found this on the Library Sale shelves I also scored 2 other books by the same author, and I'm looking forward to getting to them sooner rather than later. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu

What a great book to kick off my February reading. Yet another lucky Library Sales shelves find, this book, originally published in 2007, seems very timely 10 years later. The story manages to pack a lot of elements - immigration and the immigrant experience; gentrification; racism; owning your own business; poverty; and the persistence of hope. The writing is beautiful and flowing, and the story unfolds in chapters that move through time. I found this book to be a deceptively quick read - it's a story that is at once timeless and immediate, with a narrator who is immensely sympathetic. Yes, there are heavy elements, but the author's skill is such that the reader is more conscious of the good than the bad, if that makes any sense. This book will live in my mind for a long time. Quick research shows the author has written two other books, so I will add them to my definitely-need-to-read-these-ASAP list. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January - This Month in Reading

January got off to a slower start than I might have liked - I read 7 books, which is OK but of course I would have liked to read more. At the end of December I planned to read 10, so I at least read more than half that number, and most of the books were for challenges, so I'm OK with it.

For February, I will try to read 10 books, with all of them being challenge books.

How's your 2017 going so far?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley

Readers, this is a the beginning of a new favorite series for sure. This is yet another lucky Library Sales shelf find. I love the film noir atmosphere, and the just-post-WWII Los Angeles setting is refreshing. Easy Rawlins is a great narrator; I really like his narrative voice. He's a character that is easy (no pun intended) to root for, and to become fascinated by. The story is skillfully told, and I had no idea how the central mystery was going to turn out, so it kept me guessing. I will definitely have to read the rest of the series, and as a bonus, many of the subsequent books have a color in the title, making them work well with the Color Coded Reading Challenge. I will have to make some strides in my pile reading to clear some room on the schedule for these books. Recommended.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Fault in our Stars - John Green (Spoilers)

After plowing through some 18th century erotica, I needed something lighter. So naturally I chose a book about two teenagers dying of cancer LOL What can I say, it grabbed my attention from the TBR pile. And frankly, sometimes after I have read a book written more than 100 years ago, I really want to read something written in the common vernacular.

No pun intended, this was just what the doctor ordered. There were lines in this book that made me laugh really hard, which is rare. The story was unexpected - I could never have predicted the Amsterdam trip and how that went, for example. Parts of the story were of course touching. The author did a nice job of depicting the way people respond to something like a serious illness.

All in all this was a fast reading, enjoyable YA book.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure - John Cleland

Once again, I have underestimated the potential smuttiness of a classic book. To be honest, I knew nothing about this book going in, although the title and the cover tipped me off. But much as with Lady Chatterly's Lover, I assumed the book would be tame by modern standards. I couldn't have been more wrong - this book is very frank, particularly for something written in the early to mid 1700s. In fact, its raciness got extremely tiresome after a while, because it's so pervasive - the entire book is one encounter after the other. There's some bonus homophobia to boot, which is rather hypocritical and irritating. On the other hand, the writing itself is emblematic of its epoch, and isn't bad, overall. I can see why people consider this a classic, even if it's not something I would normally read. So if you're looking for a racy 18th century novel, this is your book!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag (Spoilers?)

This book was one of my numerous Library Sale shelves finds. Set in Tuva, which is located in southern Siberia and shares a border with Mongolia, this book appears to be an autobographical novel about a Tuvan boy's early life. The writing is so clear I felt like I could see the landscape, the people, and the surroundings very clearly. The effect is cinematic, and I'm surprised no one has made a film of this book yet. It would be really beautiful at the same time as it showed the difficult way of life the main character and his family face as a nomadic people in the mid 20th century - the landscape is breathtaking and harsh at the same time. One thing I really liked is that the book doesn't follow some kind of western ideal for a "happy ending" nor does it sugarcoat things. Americans are known as people who demand a happy ending to our fictional stories; we cannot stand the idea that not everything turns out OK. It's refreshing to read a story that is not driven by a "breakneck plot + happy ending = $$$$" model - this one is content to tell a true, real story and to tell it well.

Evidently there are 2 sequels to this book, so if I can get my hands on them, I'll happily read them. Recommended.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (Spoilers)

So with all my challenge reading set up for 2017, you may be wondering why I am already reading books that aren't really for challenges. To be honest, I had wanted to read this book for the 2016 Mount TBR challenge, but it didn't happen - I ran out of time. Instead of relegating it to the TBR pile until who-knows-when, I decided to just read it already. So I did!

This book surprised me. I knew it was old, but didn't quite realize that it was almost 200 years old, and that it's often considered the first English novel. The bulk of it is really taken up with how the titular character sets up housekeeping after the shipwreck, and I really enjoyed this part of it. I like hearing how people survive in unlikely places. I could have done without the religious sermonizing that occasionally crops up, but I realize that that's sort of a feature of writing of this era. I couldn't believe Friday didn't appear until about page 160 - I thought he had more of a role in the book.

Another surprise was that soon after Friday shows up, so do a ton of other people. Crusoe lives almost 30 years alone on this island, and it's suddenly Grand Central Station. There is another shipwreck with no survivors, and then another cannibal incursion that includes Friday's father and a Spanish sailor, and then a bunch of mutineers comes ashore. This was not what I had pictured in my mind for how this story would go.

Something amusing to me was how colonial Crusoe is. He's a slaver who gets rich, and despite seeming to have some live-and-let-live thoughts about the "cannibal savages" who occasionally visit his island, as soon as Friday shows up Crusoe takes him for a servant and basically tries to make him over as a European. Why couldn't Crusoe learn Friday's language? What's Friday's actual name? What was his daily life like before he had a brush with cannibals who wanted to eat him? Defoe even describes how the Spanish sailor speaks the language of Friday and his father fairly well. Why can't Crusoe? I guess that's just the language nerd in me.

But these are early 21st century ideas being imposed on a book written in the early 18th century, and I'll stop now, before I get into the cheekiness of Crusoe slagging off the Spanish for deplorable colonial behavior while never holding his own English fellows to the same standard. Evidently the bible he read voraciously was missing the page with the whole "why are you worried about the speck in your neighbor's eye when you've got a freaking LOG in your eye" thing. Ha ha!

All in all though, I did enjoy the bulk of this book, believe it or not. It made me want to read more Defoe, although I will probably skip the little-known sequels to this book, and it will have to wait.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Liberace Extravaganza! - Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett

This was a fun gift from Mr. K. It's a beautiful coffee table type book written by two costume design professionals who wished to document the amazing costumes commissioned and worn by "Mr. Showmanship" himself, Liberace. The book is stuffed with gorgeous photos of the costumes, with many close-ups, and written descriptions of the materials and construction. Liberace was a force of nature and continues to be a tremendous influence on pop culture; he was also a talented musician and a genius at relating to his audiences and fans and keeping himself in the spotlight. Here's a video, which features the cape on pages 74-77; I believe the suit is on page 87, but it's also discussed elsewhere in the book.




I was lucky enough to see Liberace live in concert in the early 80s. Although my lousy memory has taken the details of this concert with it, I do remember a general sense of awe and I have always had a special place in my heart for this man. I am not a Las Vegas person, but I do regret missing out on seeing his museum there, which is closed - it would have really been something to see these costumes in person. I'm so happy the authors of this book were able to make it happen, to preserve these works of art in book form.

I am partial to jewelry so I am also secretly hoping for a second book featuring his jewelry as a companion to this book. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the art of showmanship and costuming.