Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August - This Month in Reading

At the end of July, I set a goal for August to try to read at least one book for each of the remaining challenges I signed up for, including catching up on the War and Peace Challenge, and I banned myself from the library. I did manage to stay away from the library, so that was good, but on the other hand I took a few trips to Borders and came home with discounted books, so.... I still have a growing TBR pile - ouch! I think I am an incurable bookaholic! 

I did manage to catch up on the following challenges: the TBR Pile, Forgotten Treasures, Buck Stops Here, GLBT Reading, and Haruki Murakami Challenges. Hooray! I did not manage to read a book for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone or Color Coded Reading Challenges, nor did I get caught up with War and Peace. All in all I only read 13 books this month, which was much lower than I wanted. 

So for September, I would like to again read at least one book for each challenge (and maybe 2 for the challenges I missed this month), and get caught up with War and Peace. I'd also like to stay away from the library; I have SO MANY books now waiting to be read I really need to read them instead of bringing even more books into the house. It's getting really crazy here - books are invading every room, which is not a bad thing, but they all want to be read and I only have so much time. I will also keep track in this post again, that worked really well last month. 

Before I go, 2 exciting things are happening tomorrow:

1) AUTUMN OFFICIALLY BEGINS (in my mind; I consider September 1 the first day of autumn/fall), so my favorite season is finally here, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.

2) Those Across the River is officially available in less than 5 days (Sept. 6)! I can hardly wait to get my hands on a real copy of this book. 

How was your reading this summer? 

READING CHALLENGES FOR 2011 - 1 book for each (except where noted)

The Forgotten Treasures Challenge - 1 book read as of 9/9/2011
The Buck Stops Here Challenge - 1 book read as of 9/9/2011
War and Peace One Chapter a Day (catch up)
Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge (2 books) - 1 book read as of 9/9/2011
The Color Coded Reading Challenge (2 books) - 1 book read as of 9/23/2011
GLBT Reading Challenge - 1 book read as of 9/7/2011
Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge
The TBR Pile Challenge (2 books) - 1 book read as of 9/23/2011 - 2 books read as of 9/25/2011

The Secret of Platform 13 - Eva Ibbotson

I enjoyed this book aimed at kids. I figured out something important early on, but it didn't dampen my enjoyment. I think I would have loved this book if I had read it for the first time as a kid myself.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami's writing is surreal in general, a skillful mix of the ordinary and the fantastical. His characters can be doing quite ordinary things, such as making spaghetti (a frequent activity) or reading the newspaper and then an element of the surreal intrudes. This is sometimes more of a feeling that you get from the story rather than something surreal that happens in the story, but there is always something there under the surface that stays in your mind and that you want to keep thinking about. 

This is one of the first books by Murakami I ever read, and some of the stories have stayed with me for years now (I won't say how many years). In fact, I originally got this collection of short stories, a genre I don't usually like, at the library, but I liked it so much I bought myself a copy, and then a few years ago gave it away to an acquaintance from another country who teaches English, who has a hard time getting good books in English. Since then I've been without my own copy until one of the stories, "Sleep," kept coming to mind and I really wanted to reread it. It didn't disappoint. It's funny about the stories - some have really stayed with me and others didn't, so it was as if I'd never read them. Since I was younger when I first read the entire collection, it will be interesting to see which stories stay closer to my mind now that I am older. 

One thing I would love to discuss with others is the repetition of a character name between a few of the stories. I feel like it is intentional, and yet I don't necessarily feel like it matches up with some of the other details, so maybe it doesn't mean anything. 

I know that I said I wanted to read previously unread Murakami books for the challenge, but since I had read several stories in this book already I figured I'd finish it up. I'll still try to read three that I haven't already read - I snagged a copy of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman at Borders too, so that'll be coming up on the queue! 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare

I found this book on the Library Sale shelves and it seemed familiar - I felt like I'd either read it a long time ago and didn't really remember it, or that I'd heard of it from some award list somewhere (it actually won the Newberry Medal in 1959) and I should read it, etc. In any case, for 50 cents, how bad could it be? In addition, I am a sucker for certain types of period cover art, and this particular paperback was published in 1971 and I liked the cover (an example of my cover is shown below in a blog first - assuming I can make this work).

Woo hoo, it works! Cool!

Overall this was an entertaining book, but I found the 1971-era description of the story printed on the back cover to be a little more melodramatic and overdone compared to the contents. However, this is typical of that time period and did not dampen my enjoyment of the story or of the book. It was a perfect read for this morning while waiting for the electricity to come back on after Hurricane Irene passed by here last night and blew it off, apparently. The book did, however, add another nail into the coffin of my opinion of the Puritans, whom I think are some of the most humorless and pitiable people ever to exist on this planet. It must have been truly awful to have encountered some of these people back then, when any small misfortune, no matter how petty, was blamed on "witchcraft," no one was allowed to have anything reasonably nice, or to have any fun - what a sad way to live. It did make the main character very sympathetic, however, and it's an entertaining story. Recommended.

Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is a writer I've been meaning to read for ages, and now that I have finally read one of his books I am glad it's not too late to read more. I knew nothing about this book before I read it, and it was absolutely not what I expected at all. I found the story fascinating and the writing style perfectly suited to the story being told. I would love to be able to talk about this book with a good book club or in a college level class, as I suspect if I read it again after some time has passed I'd pick up on things I had previously missed each time I reread the book. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

I very much enjoyed this book, it was well written and plotted and of course, any book that has at its core reading/writing/books is something to appreciate in this day and age when it seems so many "best sellers" are junk. I was happy that I was able to catch some of the literary allusions in the story, even though I'm sure there were many I missed, as I'm still on a quest to fill in the (embarrassing) gaps I have with some classic literature. Recommended.

The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart

What a delightful children's book! I came across this book on the 50 cent Library Sale shelves and it seemed intriguing, and I'm really glad to have read it. It's nice to have such a well-written story about appealing (which isn't necessarily to say pleasant), intelligent children as characters and with an interesting plot loaded with puzzles that need solving. Apparently it's a series, and I'd definitely read the next book(s). Recommended.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Girl Who Invented Romance - Caroline B. Cooney

Got this at the Library Sale on a lark. I'm not usually a fan of romances and teen romances seem especially silly, but for some reason this one appealed to me. It was a light, fast read with a light story and good writing and it was enjoyable on its own terms. And it made me appreciate being an adult and not being a teenager any more. :)

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde

As someone who is always rambling on about what a huge fan I am of Jasper Fforde, I'm ashamed that it took me this long to read this book. It's OK though, it was worth the wait - a totally new, fresh story with classic Ffordian touches. Although I of course wanted to rush through the book, I took my time reading it, savoring it and really living in the universe of the book while I read. Like his other books, this one will be fun to reread and experience over and over. So highly recommended I can't even say how high.

I'm also behind on the Thursday Next series but I have my copy of the latest book standing by. I was tempted to reread the entire series first, but I'm not sure I'm patient enough to do that. I also have some NetGalley ebooks that I need to finish so they might have to be read first.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Malled - Caitlin Kelly

This book is a great example of how something can look great on paper but be a huge disappointment in reality. Having done a couple stints in retail as a college-educated adult, the book's subtitle, My Unintentional Career in Retail, and the NetGalley description made this book seem like a perfect match for me and I very much looked forward to reading it.

Despite being written by a seasoned journalist, the book felt like a disjointed stream of consciousness conversation over drinks with an acquaintance who keeps repeating the same few complaints. The first half of the book was so repetitive and lacking any kind of point that it felt like a series of rough drafts for a single magazine article that had all been accidentally compiled and put into book form. In fact, the first half of the book wasn't much more than a 75+-page repetition of the author's qualifications and accomplishments as a journalist and as a human being, which were repeated so often I can list some of them here off the top of my head without having to consult the book: 

-she came from a wealthy family, which included a grandmother who went everywhere by limousine
-she attended boarding schools and summerlong camps
-she has been to 37 countries (mentioned at least 5 times)
-she is an accomplished journalist who has interviewed CEOs, celebrities, and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth (who is mentioned at least 3 times) and has written for countless prestigious publications, mentioned endlessly
-she is fluent in French and can speak Spanish (although her competency goes from passable to fluent and back to workable throughout the book)

In addition, her complaints about her workplace are rather petty and typical of a spoiled Baby Boomer, and are things she could have inferred without ever having worked retail, or could have found out in a 15-minute discussion with anyone who has ever worked retail:

-it's hard to stand on your feet for 8 hours
-customers can be mean, rude, and demanding
-the wages are low
-there's no privacy in the store
-the stockroom is too crowded and poorly lit
-she has nothing in common with her coworkers
-the managers/the corporate office don't specifically thank the workers for doing their jobs

On top if it all, the title and the publisher's description make it sound as if this book is about someone who lost her well paying full time job and ended up in retail as a full time career - but in reality, the author only worked one shift per week and continued to write and edit as a freelancer as a full time job. As someone who has had no choice but to work 40 hours a week in retail jobs in the past I cannot possibly take seriously any complaints coming from someone who was clearly doing the retail job specifically for a book the entire time, as opposed to someone who would have had no choice but to work full time to bring home any paycheck just to make ends meet. Someone whose fiance surprises her with a trip to Paris, who describes buying clothing/items at places like Saks (although she's quick to add that it's a splurge, but it happens a few times during the book so that seems contradictory), and who couldn't possibly be making enough money working one shift per week to make the retail job worthwhile, is not someone who is hurting for money and working retail for survival in a bad economy.

One thing I did learn from this book was the true definition of the "show, don't tell" writing maxim. As an example, the author endlessly repeats the fact that she was one of the top salespeople in the store, but never shows us an example of how she met this goal so easily. Were there instances where she was able to persuade someone to buy things they otherwise might not have purchased? Did she gain an ability to size up customers who seemed ready to buy and those who needed a push, and if so, how did she get them to buy? Did she develop specific techniques that helped her to sell? We don't know, we weren't shown, only told. As a college student I briefly had a telemarketing job selling orchestra tickets, and although that was many years ago, I can recall several instances where I was able to sell people tickets when they might otherwise have hung up on me. If I were writing a book, I'd be sure to include details like that to illustrate my points.

All in all a very disappointing book. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Domestic Violets - Matthew Norman

Overall this was an enjoyable novel. The narrator was sympathetic and very funny, and reminded me of a Nick Hornby character (a compliment, I quite like Nick Hornby). Sometimes the plot seemed almost overloaded with drama, but that didn't bother me terribly because I enjoyed the narrator's voice and the interactions of the characters. Another good book from NetGalley.

Anasazi - Emma Michaels

I believe the author of this book is young, and this is her second book. My advice to her would be to get a really good, really honest editor to smooth out the writing, as it's full of errors and poorly worded sentences. I think the author has decent ideas, and it's great that she is writing novels and getting them published, but it's obvious that she hasn't done much reading of good writing, and taking her writing to the next level will make her books even more popular.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/TGIF

Another Friday means fun book blogger networking and visiting and following and etc. so let's get to it!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's hop question:

Let’s talk crazy book titles! Highlight one or two (or as many as you like!) titles in your personal collection that have the most interesting titles! If you can’t find any, feel free to find one on the internet!

I have to say that Haruki Murakami has some great crazy book titles, such as:

A Wild Sheep Chase
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

And of course sci-fi type books often have interesting/crazy titles, such as:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

That's it for my personal collection, I know there are more out there!

This week's question:

How have your reading habits changed since you were a teen? or if you are still a teen what new genres are you in love with currently?

I am not still a teen (and haven't been one for a while, yikes!), but my reading habits have changed quite a bit over the years. When I was a teen I was more into fantasy and sci-fi books, and loved any kind of story with dragons, and now for some reason I can't handle books with dragons and I'm not much drawn to fantasy or sci-fi, although I guess that Jasper Fforde and sometimes Haruki Murakami, among other authors I like, fit into the fantasy category. I was also more forgiving of clunky writing - or maybe there was much less of it in years past?

So I guess in reality my tastes have gotten more "literary" and  I have lost patience with what I think is poor writing. I'm not a book snob or anything, and I will always read anything that seems interesting to me, but I just prefer good writing in general and try to stick with books that fit that description regardless of genre.

Here's a new blog follow I've been meaning to try - I can't find the code for the follow button but here is the blog button so you can find it. It's the TGIF Book Follow Friday at GReads.

This week's question: 

Author Block Party: If you could gather a handful of authors to hang out with, who would you choose? 

I love these questions! There are so many authors I'd love to hang out with. I'm going to go for it and also include authors who are dead, since this is a fantasy anyhow:

Christopher Buehlman
Haruki Murakami
Jasper Fforde
Kazuo Ishiguro
Graham Greene
William Shakespeare
M.T. Anderson
Bill Bryson
James Thurber
Mark Twain
Anne Frank
Nat M. Wills

Who's on your guest list? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To Hell and Back: The Damned Busters - Matthew Hughes

I came across this book by chance at a bookstore. I was initially attracted by the cover, which looks like it could be the cover for a graphic novel, and I thought the premise seemed funny and unusual, so I bought it for a friend for her birthday. Of course, I couldn't stop thinking about it and I ended up buying myself a copy. I'm glad I did, I liked this book. I really enjoyed the main character and I thought the ideas the author had were indeed funny and unusual. It pains me to say that I saw a few typos (missing words, misplaced quote marks or punctuation) but no more than usual. There is going to be another couple of books at least in this series, and I very much look forward to reading them. Recommended.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Calli - Jessica Lee Anderson

This is another NetGalley read, and although I enjoyed it on its own terms, I have to say it didn't seem to fully match the description on the site. Maybe I am just a horrible person, but the description makes it sound like something really terrible happens and I kept waiting for that to happen. There are definitely sad moments, but I guess I just didn't think anything that horrible occurred, so that made me feel slightly confused. But again, that could just be me. Maybe I am too removed from the teen years, and couldn't fully connect with the inner struggles of the main character (whom I liked). Otherwise, though, aside from a typo here and there (missing word, spelling error) this is a well-written YA book that was a fast read.