Thursday, March 31, 2011

March - This Month in Reading

Last month I neglected to specify a certain number of books that I should read in March, but I did ban myself from the library and restrict my reading to books I had previously purchased from their book sale shelves. I am happy to say that I managed to make that goal. I read 16 books this month, all of which were Library Sale books, representing a total of US $9.00 spent for all of those books (2 hardcovers at $1 each and 14 paperbacks for 50 cents each - I love book bargains!). Two of these books were from the official TBR Pile Challenge List, and I was able to add some books to my other challenges as well. I also joined another challenge in March, the Color Coded Reading Challenge, and was able to use a book I read this month in that challenge as well.

For April, I would like to read at least 10 books on top of rereading as many of the Harry Potter books as I can to make points for the Hogwarts Challenge. I wasn't able to read any HP books in March because of some home improvement activities that have had my bookshelves covered with plastic but I should be able to access all of my books now (and I have missed them so!). I would also like to read at least one book for each of my other challenges to keep that on track.

I get to go back to the library tomorrow - hooray! I have a list of specific books to look for, a bag of books to redonate to their sale shelves, and a couple bucks to spend on some new (to me) books if there are good ones on the sale shelves. I can't wait!

Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake

Dear reader(s), I have a confession to make. If you recall, at the end of January I mentioned that I had no more partially read books that had been started before 2011. Well, I got an ugly surprise today when I located my copy of Gormenghast, which is actually part of a single volume that includes all three Gormenghast novels that I got for free from my office's book exchange shelves (a big thank you to whomever left this book there!) and saw that I had not, as previously supposed, completed reading Titus Groan but had mysteriously neglected to finish the last 30 pages. I have now rectified that and can move on to Gormenghast, which is on my official TBR Pile Challenge list. I can't believe I did this, but at least it is finished now! Obviously, this does not count toward any challenges, as it was mostly read in 2009 - ! Has this happened to anyone else?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder

I had read Tracy Kidder's Among Schoolchildren many years ago and found it fascinating. This book was equally fascinating, if also disturbing on an existential level. The full title of this book is Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. It's inspiring and frustrating at the same time, as the subject is the substandard or nonexistent medical care available to poor people in many places in the world, and the work Dr. Farmer is doing, tirelessly, on their behalf. I'm glad there are people like Dr. Farmer and his staff out there and wish there were more, and that there was more that I could do.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The March - E.L. Doctorow

I got Homer & Langley as a gift in 2009, as I am fascinated by hoarding and had read a little about the Collyer brothers. I enjoyed that book and was happy to find this one on the Library Sale shelves, even though it is set during the American Civil War and I usually avoid that as a topic in my reading, TV watching, etc. I found this  to be well done, and I was able to enjoy it despite the brutality of the war setting. There were some interesting characters that I wanted to know more about when the book ended. I think I need to read Ragtime soon, I'll have to get it at the library when my self-imposed ban ends on April 1.

As a side note, for the first three weeks of March I didn't miss going to the library at all, but for this past week I have been dying to get back there, so I am planning a trip on April 1 with a big tote bag to hold all the books :D

The Book of Lies - Brad Meltzer

I attended a local appearance of Brad Meltzer a few months back as a favor for a friend that couldn't attend but wanted a signed book. I felt like a total poseur while I was there, as I had never read any of his books, and the rest of the audience was obviously fans of his. So when I found this book on the Library Sale shelves for $1 shortly after the appearance, I figured I would give it a try.

Well, no offense to Mr. Meltzer, who seems like a really nice person and all, but I was not bowled over. The book was what I would call a serviceable thriller, but it was written in the clunky style that seems de rigeur for bestselling books (i.e., Dan Brown, John Grisham, etc.). Clunky language choices, an overuse of exclamation points, weird inconsistencies (like a character that is apparently supposed to be Hispanic, and speaks only Spanish for a page, and then never utters another word in Spanish even when startled/upset; a Jewish family that has a family Bible in Russia in 1900).... It wasn't the worst book I have ever read, and the story was interesting enough to keep me reading along and all, but I don't think I would go out of my way to read any others.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bastard out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison

This was a bleak and puzzling book. I feel like the first and last quarters of the book were obviously related and the middle was unrelated to the rest, although maybe I just wasn't able to fully put it all together. The writing was good and it drew me in, but the content was frustrating and disturbing. I don't honestly know what to think of it but I don't think I would recommend it overall.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Brighton Rock - Graham Greene

I confess that after the first couple of pages I wasn't sure I would be able to get into this book. I could not have been more wrong if I had tried. What an amazing story. I fell for the character of Ida in a big way. While reading I was also thinking about what a great movie it would make if made by the right people, and it turns out that it's been filmed twice, once in 1947 and also very recently starring one of my favorite actors, Helen Mirren. I will definitely have to see both films ASAP, as well as read more Greene novels ASAP. He's another author I have been meaning to read for years and now I can't believe I have waited so long to discover how great he is.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin

This is another book I have been meaning to read for ages and finally managed to read. I felt that I enjoyed 75% of the book, and the remaining 25% annoyed me. I think I will depart from my usual style and make a list for this "review."

Things I did not like about this book:
1. Many of the characters are Baby Boomers and I just can't relate to that generation.
2. The book was originally published in 1978 and is therefore a little dated, although from what I remember of those times it seems accurate.
3. I really wanted to like the first character we meet in the book but found this character irritating instead.
4. Some of the events that take place toward the end of the book seemed a little far fetched and crazy.

Things I liked about this book:
1. The writing itself is well done.
2. I liked most of the characters, particularly Michael.
3. It was fun to read about places in San Francisco that are familiar to me.
4. The author mentions my favorite soda, Tab, which was popular at the time and is still my very favorite. I start every day with a can of Tab, and it's always good to see it get some recognition!

All this being said, there are at least two sequels that I am aware of and I would definitely read them, as I do want to find out more about most of the characters.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan

I wanted to read Atonement before I saw the movie, but that didn't happen. Ever since I've been meaning to read his books and this was a happy 50 cent book find. I found it to be more like a character study, or an extended short story, than a novel, but I enjoyed it. It was refreshing to read something that is about characters and their interior lives rather than about advancing a plot. I look forward to reading more by this author.

The Color Coded Reading Challenge

Because I can't resist a good reading challenge, I decided to sign up for The Color Coded Reading Challenge too.

Here are the rules:

*Read nine books in the following categories.
1. A book with "Blue" in the title. - Hoopskirts, Union Blues, and Confederate Grays - Kate Havelin
2. A book with "Red" in the title. - The Red Tree - Caitlin R. Kiernan
3. A book with "Yellow" in the title. - The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
4. A book with "Green" in the title. - On Green Dolphin Street - Sebastian Faulks
5. A book with "Brown" in the title. - The Man in the Brown Suit - Agatha Christie
6. A book with "Black" in the title - Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - Rhoda Janzen
7. A book with "White" in the title. - The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Turquoise, Pink, Magneta, etc.). Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). Pretty in Plaid - Jen Lancaster

I had one book that I could use as a crossover and I have The Woman in White on my official TBR Pile Challenge list, but the others will have to be new, which is fun. Any excuse to read! :)

CHALLENGE COMPLETED DEC. 6, 2011

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters - Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

I hope someone saw this coming. I was so thrilled to find this book as a 50 cent Library Sale book since I knew I had the "original" and figured this was the perfect follow up. It follows the story of S&S but inserts the titular sea monsters. I found this to be amusing enough and a decent read. So now I will have to read Pride and Prejudice so I can then read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies... and I feel like there is another book in this series as well - is it Jane Slayer? For the record, I would read other Jane Austen books without having a "chaser" with supernatural creatures, I did enjoy S&S all on its own, much to my own surprise.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

I saw this on a blog I follow and thought it might be fun to participate. I hope my "reviews" (or lack thereof) don't bother people! If you're reading this because of the Hop, I don't review books in depth or describe the plots much because as a reader I don't like having too much of a book given away before I start to read. I like to discover the book for myself and not anticipate something happening that I read about in a review. In fact, in the last several books that I read, there were many little surprises that I was very glad I discovered on my own and didn't know them before I started reading. So my apologies if you prefer more in-depth reviews than what I provide here!

This is the cool logo for the Book Blogger Hop - thanks Listener for helping me make this appear! :)
Book Blogger Hop

This week's question is:  "Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?"

My answer: Actually, if you read the post just previous to this one, in a happy coincidence I answered this - I am in a terrible habit of having more than one book in progress at one time! I always mean to stop and concentrate on a single book but there are just so many interesting books in the world it's hard. The main reason I think I do this is because I'm lazy, so I tend to have an "upstairs book" that I read before I go to sleep, and a "downstairs book" that I read in the living room or at the table in the dining room. I usually forget to carry around the book I'm reading so I get another one that's nearby if I'm on a certain floor of the house, etc. Or I keep bringing home the 50 cent Library Sale paperbacks and there is usually at least one that I don't want to wait to read so I might just start because I can't wait and then before I know it there are a few books. Lately I've been concentrating on finishing as many of these 50 cent books as possible so I am trying to read one at a time, but I suspect I'll never entirely break this habit!

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

Well, now I understand why people like Jane Austen! As an English (literature) major, it's always been kind of an embarrassment to me that I've never really read any of the British literature from the 19th century. In my defense, I specialized in American literature from approximately 1850 to 1940, so I have read a lot of American classics and of course some Shakespeare, etc., but for years I have avoided authors like Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, etc. as I feared they would be too stuffy. Also, I have been tainted by several attempts to read Charles Dickens, all of which ended in abject frustration and annoyance, as in my opinion he rambles on and on without reaching any kind of point and I just don't have the patience for it.

I made a little progress in this a few years ago when I read Jane Eyre, but I have to confess that I really only did that because I am a huge Jasper Fforde fan, and I felt the need to read the book referred to in his book The Eyre Affair. I liked Jane Eyre more than I thought I would, but it didn't inspire me to read any other classic authors at the time. 

So now in the spirit of the ROYCZ Challenge, I picked up this book from my 50 cent book pile and braced myself. To my delight, I found this book to be very enjoyable. There were some very funny descriptions that I enjoyed and I found myself involved in the story. I happened to be reading this at the same time I was reading Life of Pi (a bad habit of reading more than one book at a time that I've developed that I am trying to stop) and it was actually refreshing to go between them and I looked forward to continuing my reading (in both books, actually). I now think I will add Jane Austen's other books to my unofficial "to be read" list so I can stop being someone who has seen the movies based on her books (Bride and Prejudice has to be my favorite) and actually someone who has read the books. And enjoyed them! :) So thanks are due to to Danya for hosting the challenge and giving me another author to enjoy!

Note: I am also going to include this book as one for the Forgotten Treasures challenge, not because Jane Austen is obscure (I don't think she is), but I would be willing to bet that this book is not as well remembered as Pride and Prejudice.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

This book was harrowing but I am glad I read it. I had put it off for a long time (hence its inclusion on my TBR Pile Challenge list) but it was more absorbing than I expected, and I really liked the narrator. This book will stay with me for a long time, unlike most books that I read. My instinct is not to redonate it, although I am not sure I would ever read it again... but I don't want to get rid of it either. Another astonishing book.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Aké: The Years of Childhood - Wole Soyinka

A memoir of a childhood in Nigeria, something else I knew nothing about before reading. The story takes place during the time of WWII. Since most WWII books I read are either set in Europe or are mainly about the Holocaust, it was interesting to read about how the war affected other places in the world, even if those places were not in the direct "line of fire" so to speak.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Gum Thief - Douglas Coupland

This book was far more intimate and emotional than JPod. It felt much more contemplative. I enjoyed this book.

JPod - Douglas Coupland

My friend D.B. likes Douglas Coupland, and I believe D. had me read Miscroserfs (or was it Generation X?) a few years back, but I don't really remember it (I have a terrible memory, and it gets worse every day). When I found this book and another by the same author on the Library Sale shelf, I immediately thought of D. and had to get them both. JPod was enjoyable and entertaining, had some very funny moments, and was both exactly what I expected and not at all what I expected, if that makes any sense.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff

Dear reader(s), this is what happens when you have too many Library Sale books - you forget what you actually have! I completely forgot that I had gotten this book, so I had 2 books about polygamous cults, this one fiction, and another, non-Library Sale book that's nonfiction. So my religion-based book trifecta is complete!

This book was recommended to me right before the Lifetime Movie Channel aired their movie adaptation of it, so in this case I saw the movie before I read the book. Wow, what a difference - the movie differs significantly from the book to a crazy degree. Characters that were minor at best in the book are given a more prominent role in the movie, many characters are missing entirely, etc. I understand why some of the changes were made but I liked the book better. I zoomed through this book, I really enjoyed it. I loved the character of Jordan. I also want to check out the author's other books.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Leah's Choice - Marta Perry

I survived my first ROYCZC book! And this was a double-whammy, being a religious-themed romance novel. It was set in an Amish community, however, so that made it vastly more interesting, and it wasn't so overly religious that it bothered me. It was a quick read and was interesting enough, and I liked the characters. Evidently it's book one of a series set in the community, so while I might not run out to get the next book, I probably wouldn't pass it up if I run across it either.

Since I read a book about Mennonites and then Amish, I'd love to follow it up with a book I have about growing up in a polygamous sect, but it wasn't from the 50 cent book pile, so it will have to wait - darn!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - Rhoda Janzen

This is a memoir about growing up Mennonite in mainstream America, as well as a chronicle of the author's more recent, mainstream life. It was enjoyable and interesting, although it didn't follow the typical memoir pattern I assumed it would.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Recommendations

It occurred to me that if I created a post where I could list book recommendations people have given me, that would help me remember them when I am at the library or bookstore! So here goes. If you have one for me, please let me know so I can add it!

1. Dealing with Dragons (series) - Patricia Wrede
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot 
5. South of Superior - Ellen Airgood 
6. The Danish Girl and Pasadena - David Ebershoff
7. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
9. Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story - Ann Kirschner
10. Wither - Lauren DeStefano
11. Glimpse and Miles from Ordinary - Carol Lynch Williams
12. A Man in Uniform - Kate Taylor
13. Camera Obscura - Lavie Tidhar
14. The Clothes They Stood Up In - Alan Bennett
15. Sixpence House - Paul Collins
16. Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth - Irving Litvag
17. No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf - Carolyn Burke
18. The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side - Katharine Greider
20. The Great Typo Hunt:  Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time - Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
23. Necropolis: London and Its Dead - Catharine Arnold
24. No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 - Graham Bowley
25. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II - Mitchell Zuckoff
28. There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby - Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
30. Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls - Jane Linskold
31. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 - Tim Brooks
33. James Morrow
36. Anno Dracula - Kim Newman
37. City of Thieves - David Benioff
39. Nicola Griffith
40. Finding Nouf and City of Veils - also Kingdom of Strangers (summer 2012) - Zoe Ferraris
41. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
42. The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart - Mathias Malzieu
43. The Children's Blizzard - David Laskin
44. Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov
45. Nothing Lasts Forever - Roderick Thorp
46. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris - Graham Robb
48. The Opposite of Chocolate - Julia Bertagna
49. Rogue Warrior - Richard Marcinko
50. The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R. Carey
51. Rainbow Rowley