Friday, August 31, 2012

August - This Month in Reading

August was not as good of a month for reading as July was, but I still made some progress on my challenges, so I am satisfied overall, although of course I wish I could have read more. I also got very very close to reading all of the library books I had to take out to make serious headway on many of my challenges, which is a good thing. I exceeded my goal of five books and read at least one book for 3 out of my 4 challenges, but did not make my goal of reading at least one (and possibly two) for the TBR Pile Challenge.

All in all, here's how my challenges stand as of today:

1. The Color-Coded Reading Challenge - 8/9 books read; 9th book is about halfway done
2. The Around the World Challenge - 9/12 books read, plus 2/2 alternate books read; 10th book is about halfway finished, and 11th book is here from the library and needs to be read
3. The Mixing It Up Challenge - 13/16 books read; 3 other books are on hand and 2 of them are crossovers for the TBR Pile Challenge so that will be good
4. The TBR Pile Challenge - 6/12 books read; 0/2 alternate books; I need to get going on this one!

One exciting thing I did this month was to start reading Moby-Dick one chapter at a time. That method worked great for me for reading War and Peace last year, so I decided to apply it to this TBR Pile book  and I think it's going to work really well.

For September my goal will be to read a total of four books - one for each challenge, no exceptions. I'd really like to complete as many of these challenges as I can in September and then get really serious about the TBR Pile Challenge. My non-reading goal is to celebrate the official coming of my favorite season, Fall (Autumn), which in my mind starts on September 1. Summer is my least favorite season so I am always happy to bid it au revoir. I'd rather bid it adieu but, alas, I know it will be back next year. :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sangoma - James Hall

The subtitle of this book is My Odyssey into the Spirit World of Africa and it's just that - an American man's experiences training to become a sangoma, a spiritual healer, in Africa. An unusual story to be sure, and I enjoyed hearing about this aspect of Swazi culture, which I admit I know nothing about. Having never been to Africa it seems like a fascinating place.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Black Opera - Mary Gentle

Found this book in the library, was intrigued by the description, and needed a book for "black" for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge so I took the plunge. I liked the main character a lot, the premise is fascinating, the setting colorful, the operatic talk was a good insight into what makes a good story/opera, and yet... there was something missing. One of my favorite movies is Amadeus, and while reading this book I kept having flashes to the scene in which the emperor tells Mozart his latest opera has "too many notes." This book had "too many notes" - too many words; a page of description when a good paragraph would have sufficed.

I have noticed a trend recently to ensure that each and every book is more than 300 pages, and mostly more than 400 pages, maybe to justify the insanely expensive prices of paperback books. I think this book, although enjoyable and fascinating, was just slightly inflated and would have been better served by being somewhat shorter. This also goes for Beautiful Disaster, which could have (and should have) been reduced by at least half, as well as other books I've read recently. I think the overall story of this book, which was complex and fascinating, would have been better served by a slightly tighter edit to remove some of the needless repetition. All in all though I did enjoy this book and I'd read other stories by the same author.

Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire

Saw this book mentioned in a NetGalley email and thought the description sounded intriguing, and  I needed a book for the "romance" category for the Mixing It Up Challenge so I thought I'd take a chance. I must preface this review with the disclaimer that I am absolutely not the target market for books of this kind. Having said that, this book was OK, but fell prey to the fatal flaw of most Hollywood romantic comedies: the premise seems interesting and funny and full of possibility but the reality is a standard silly romance that should have been a 100 page Harlequin book aimed at precocious 10 year olds. It even has the cliche of what film critic Roger Ebert calls the "Idiot Plot Misunderstanding" - a stupid misunderstanding that could be cleared up in a 2-minute conversation but to create "drama" the minor misunderstanding is not cleared up promptly (as opposed to something that would actually be dramatic and interesting). So to recap, this book is absolutely not aimed at me, and it was OK for what it was.

Seychelles - Sarah Carpin

This book was a travel guide, but was more of a cross between a book of the history of the islands and a tourism guide than a straight travel guidebook. It was also full of beautiful color photographs that made me want to book a trip immediately... after I've saved some money, as the government of the Seychelles has wisely ensured that travel there is a bit expensive, so as to deter the casual tourism that can overrun a popular destination and ruin fragile natural beauty like coral reefs.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In The Woods - Tana French

When I started this book, I immediately fell in love with the narrator, the writing was great, and I was excited to have found a book I could fall in love with. Sadly that did not entirely come to pass - although I enjoyed the book overall, the middle sagged a bit. The ending didn't necessarily live up to my expectations, but on the other hand, maybe this was more true to life in a murder investigation than the neat and tidy wrap up most fictional mysteries provide (and I'm not someone who needs everything to be wrapped up in a mystery, or needs a happy ending, etc.). There was a character that I think I figured out sooner in the game than I was supposed to, although again I'm not sure if that was deliberate on the part of the author in order to make the narrator an unreliable narrator, or if it just happened. All this said, I would read the author's other books. I thought the writing was beautiful and I look forward to reading more of it.

Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner

The author was able to bring the horror of the Hiroshima bombing, and the feelings of survivors, to life for me as a reader, and reading this book made me want to read some nonfiction about that experience to learn more about this subject. Recommended.

Story Time - Edward Bloor

What a charming story! I really enjoyed this YA novel, and its well-written characters. Like The Mysterious Benedict Society, it was nice to read a story about intelligent young people and an adventure they have. I'd definitely read the author's other books. Highly recommended.