Friday, October 31, 2014

October - This Month in Reading

October might be my favorite month of any year, being deep into Fall and containing Halloween, which I love. This October turned out to be a decent reading month too, as a fun Fall bonus.

Things that went well:

In September,  I wrote that I wanted to read 6 (or more) books, including finishing off some reviewing commitments and at least 1 more challenge. I actually read 13.5 books (the .5 is a children's book that was mainly pictures, so it took about 5 minutes to read, so I am not counting it as a full "book" even though I thought it was great :) ). I read all of my reviewing commitments so I cleared that slate. I even technically finished the TBR Pile Challenge by reading 3 books I had on that list; right now I have read 11/12 of the official list books and 2/2 alternates. However, I would very much like to read all of the books this year, so I am still calling this challenge open for now.

Things that could have been better:

Confession time again! I kind of went nuts on NetGalley in October, and I now have a bunch of books in the queue that have to be read and reviewed - which will take time away from chipping away at my physical TBR Pile and etc. Sigh. What on earth is wrong with me??!! I am seriously an incurable bookworm or something. I just can't resist interesting books, and particularly if they are free.

So for November, I would like to read about 12 books. I have a list I have made up that I will be trying my best to follow to keep on track. If I manage, I will clear up the NetGalley binge as well as close out 2 challenges (and chip away at the final challenge that has a 31 Dec. 2014 deadline). Wish me luck!

How has your Fall reading been?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum

Another book from the office book exchange shelves that has been collecting dust on my TBR shelves for far too long. This was a serviceable thriller that was a blast from the past due to its 1980 publication date. I love the espionage conducted over pay telephones! The relatively recent movie was obviously updated in this technology as well as the overall plot, which follows the book in a broad sense only.

In doing some research about this book, I discovered that the awesome Golden Earring song "Twilight Zone" was based on this book - I suppose I could have figured that out had I read the book back in the day when it was first published.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Times Anthology of Ghost Stories

Found this collection of short stories a couple years ago on my office's book exchange shelves, and thought it would be a perfect October read. I finally managed to make that happen!

Apparently The Times (presumably of London; this book is a UK edition) held a contest for the best previously unpublished ghost story in 1974. The impressive judging panel consisted of Kingsley Amis, Patricia Highsmith, and Christopher Lee - well known names even now. The winning story, as well as many others that were highly regarded, were then published in this collection in 1975.

By the standards of our times, most of these stories were more on the "creepy" side than what passes for horror, e.g., gore and violence, these days. The winning story, "A Doll Named Silvio," was in fact incredibly creepy, while some of the other stories were almost more sad than scary. All in all this book was a perfect read for the days leading up to Halloween.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Walled City - Ryan Graudin

This is a harrowing, relentless story that is expertly paced - at times I wasn't sure I could stand the tension, and I was compelled to keep reading so I could find out what happened next. I think this book would make an amazing graphic novel - or a film. A real page turner. Recommended.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

Dear Readers,

I have the distinct pleasure of recommending to one and all this uproarious, yet touching, novel. It is sure to cause much mirth and amusement among its (deservedly large, I fervently hope) reading audience. I myself am still laughing audibly when I recall various witty turns of phrase. As a fellow devotee of literature, languages, and all things now all too often considered superfluous in the face of the single-minded pursuit of filthy lucre, I daresay I was able to see aspects of myself in the plight of our intrepid narrator. In the modern vernacular, I felt his pain, and I must say I very much share his opinion of economics and business.

Despite the effusive praise for this novel's comedic elements, which are ample and entertaining, do not be deceived: there is much depth to this book as well. The reader will empathize with many of the narrator's sentiments, and the humor deftly conceals poignance. In this way, much reward awaits the careful reader.

I hereby urge you to obtain a copy of this book at your soonest convenience and assure you that it will make a splendid addition to any bookshelf.

Best regards,

Anja K, Book Reviewer
Reading 2011 (and Beyond)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Reluctant Vampire - Eric Morecambe

Stumbled on this book on NetGalley and it seemed like a fitting book for pre-Halloween October. It's a light-hearted book for young readers that I think would appeal to them very much - I know if I had read it when I was a kid, I would have enjoyed it. The book includes illustrations that were charming and added to the atmosphere.

I did some quick research, and discovered that the author was a beloved British comedian who died in 1984. This book was originally published in 1982 and there is also a sequel - I may have to search that out so I can see what happened next. A fun little read that took me back to Halloweens and favorite books from my childhood.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Almost Flood - Simon Whitaker, Dante S. Prado

This book had me cackling with laughter the whole time I was reading it. Totally hilarious.

The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox

Readers, I loved this book. All 700 pages of it.

This is yet another of the many (way too many, actually) books I got at Borders' Last Days sales. I was immediately taken by the cover, and was able to get the other book by Cox too, for a pittance. And then both books sat on my TBR pile until I finally added this one to my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge list (have I recently mentioned how much I love this challenge?). And now it has finally interfered with me getting a good night's sleep, as I couldn't put it down at a reasonable hour.

I found it to be instantly engrossing and I felt compelled to read it. I was taken in with the narrator right away; for some reason I desperately wanted to understand him and be on his side, even though I suspected he was actually something of an unreliable narrator. Another book I can't believe I didn't read sooner, but that I'm glad I got to read now. Luckily, I have the sequel, so I can remain immersed in the world of this book a little longer. Recommended.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies - Gail Carriger

This is the second book in the Finishing School series, and it's another ripping yarn. It's rare to find a series that is as much fun to read as this one. This book continues the ongoing adventures of Sophronia and her friends (and enemies), while also beginning to explore the ramifications of the clandestine trade being taught at the school - how actions have consequences, sometimes fatal, and how people can seem both good and bad. There are so many fascinating details that I want more information about! I believe there is another book in this series due soon, and I can't wait.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Leaving Cold Sassy - Olive Ann Burns

This book is the unfinished sequel to Cold Sassy Tree. It consists of 15 chapters that the author was working on while she was also battling cancer and congestive heart failure, as well as a wonderful recounting of working with the author written by her longtime editor. It's a shame that the author wasn't able to finish the second book; I would have liked to hear more about some of the characters from the previous book as well as become better acquainted with some of the new characters. The biographical material includes photos of the author's family, which served as inspiration for much of Cold Sassy's residents, and is a wonderful look inside her writing process and how she handled sudden fame in her 60s.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mount TBR: Checkpoint #3

In true Anja K style, I managed to miss the previous 2 checkpoints, and I even managed to miss the deadline for linking up for this one - LOL! I swear, if someone designed one of those medieval family crest things for me, the motto would be "a day late and a dollar short." (Side note: according to Google translate, in Latin this would be "et denique a pupa a die nuper" - seems much nicer when you can't understand the words, ha ha!)

Even though I am late, I would love to participate in this, so I'm going to claim "Potius mori quam foedari" (better late than never) and go for it.

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. 

As of today, October 9, I have read 31/60 books, and 60 books translates to each book being the equivalent of 322.35 feet / 98.25 meters of Mt. Kilimanjaro. So far, then, that means I have climbed  9992.85 feet / 3045.75 meters. Not too bad, but I am only slightly past the halfway mark - better get to reading those TBR books!

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

I love answering questions, I'm going to do them all, why not?

A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

This is a good question. As I look over my list for this challenge, I see a lot of books with characters I didn't necessarily even particularly like, even if I liked the book overall. In fact, maybe that's what made me like the book - the characters were like real people in that way.

I will probably have to say that I still think about the Joads from The Grapes of Wrath a lot - especially Ma Joad. I like that she tries so hard to keep the family afloat during such a difficult time. She has a lot of heart.

B. Pair up two of your reads using whatever connection you want to make. Written by the same author? Same genre? Same color cover? Both have a main character named Clarissa? Tell us the books and what makes them a pair.

This is so interesting! I am going to pair up 1Q84 and Catch-22 because they both have numerals in the title. They are also both ostensibly set in the real world but it's not quite realistic. Other than that I don't think they have a lot in common!

C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

That would be the Russian-language children's book I read, Сорока-белобока / The Magpie. I bought it in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then it languished until I regained custody of it last year and read it this summer (with the help of a dictionary and Google Translate - my woefully rusty Russian wasn't up to the task, unfortunately). It was enjoyable for what it was, and I do wish I had read it when my language skills were a bit more up to par :S

Since that was a children's book, it didn't have the same impression on me as a novel would have, so as an alternate response I'll say that I had been meaning to read The Tin Drum since the 80s, when I saw the film version, although I didn't have a physical copy of the book in my possession until 2011. It was worth the wait in that I feel like I have a better appreciation for some of the themes and ideas presented in the book, although my younger self would have thought she appreciated them just fine, thankyouverymuch ;) 

D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

Oh how fun! I used's number generator, and here are my results:

12. The Dark Side of Camelot:

Gustave Doré’s depiction of Arthur's mythical castle. I love Doré, this is so cool and spooky looking.

15. The Kingdom of Ohio:

We have a theme on our hands - this is Cinderella's castle from Disney World. I love the cloudy background!

1. The Man in the Iron Mask:

The results for "iron" were images of irons - a bit too literal, so I Googled "mask" and this was the first result - a Guy Fawkes mask. That's pretty literal too, but a more interesting image, I think.

31. Sugar Street:

More literal-ness - some sugar! I like the cool scoop/spoon though.

Sugar Street - Naguib Mahfouz

After finishing the previous volume of this trilogy, I found I wanted to spend more time in Cairo so I decided to read the last book right away to see what became of the family.

Something I meant to mention in my last review is the titles of these books relate to the locations of where family members live, and also then show the reader where the book’s focus is. For example, the first book refers to Palace Walk, the location of the father's house; Palace of Desire is the location of his children's (adult) homes; and Sugar Street follows the lives of the grandchildren's generation more closely. These books obviously show a lapse in time, and the associated societal changes that any society experiences over time.

All in all this was a rewarding trilogy of books and I am happy to have read them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Palace of Desire - Naguib Mahfouz

This is the second book in the Cairo Trilogy. After I read the first book in 2011, I planned to read the next books in 2012 - obviously that didn't happen, but I prioritized this book and finally cleared it from my shelf.

This volume is set about 8 years after the end of the first book, and shows the slow movement of social change in Cairo in the early 20th century. Where the first book was more about intrafamily relationships, this book was more about the same family's external relationships, including the romantic relationships of the male members of the family, and how these relationships effect the family itself.

One thing I found interesting was that the sons of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad seemed doomed to repeat his patterns, as if they were compelled to do so, even though they didn't necessarily know much about his life outside their family home. However, the women of the sons' generation seemed to be trying to make small efforts to break out of the established societal strictures, behavioral norms, and patterns. Ultimately this was a personal book that is also about larger subjects. I am hoping to get to the final book soon.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger

This is a really fun book, what I think could sincerely be called a rollicking adventure. It ticks all the classic steampunk boxes: airships, goggles, clockwork mechanicals, etc. The story was funny and highly entertaining, and I loved the conceit of the finishing school being a cover for a covert agent training operation. Oh, to keep London hours and have a mechanimal! I am very much looking forward to seeing how all the different facets of the story turn out in the subsequent books of this inventive new series. Recommended.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cold Sassy Tree - Olive Ann Burns

This book, which is set in small-town Georgia, is one I feel like I have heard of for years and years, but I am not sure exactly why. I found it several years ago on the Library Sale shelves and picked it up for 50 cents, and then for some reason I let it sit until I finally added it as an alternate to the TBR Pile Challenge this year.

Sometimes stories about small-minded small-town people annoy me so much I am afraid I will actually sprain my eyes from rolling them while I'm reading. Being a U.S. Northerner I am also often baffled by Southern customs, etc., as they are not the way I was raised. Toss in the fact that this book is set in 1906, when customs all over the U.S. (and the world!) were vastly different than they are today in many ways, and you have a perfect storm for a real eye-rolling festival.

I wanted to be my usual cranky Northern self while I read this book, and to be sure there were many, many things that gave my optic muscles a good work out from sheer exasperated eye rolling, but I was only able to be cranky about half the time I was reading. The crankier part of me was constantly bothered by the tiresome old fashioned nonsense, including classism and racism and the dreaded "what will people say/think!!!!" etc., which was common for the time period, while the other, more reasonable  half grasped that this book is about how such things change over time, and was interested to see how it all turned out.

Something I found realistic about this book is that all the characters were multi-dimensional; each and every one did things that surprised me during the book, and each and every one had good points and sides that I liked, and bad points and sides I disliked, just like people in real life. There were no one-note characters here - everyone had realistic and complex reasons for their behavior. That was a real asset to the book.

All in all this was an enjoyable look at a year or so in the life of a town from a time and place I can't hope to truly understand, but I didn't mind visiting.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Atonement - Ian McEwan

Even though I prefer to read a book before I see its movie version, I happened to see the film version of Atonement when it was released. For ages afterward I wanted to read the book but couldn't make it happen until I found a copy for 50 cents at the Library Sale and even then it sat on my shelves until I decided to finally get to it the other day, when I needed a smaller book I could carry in my purse for reading on the subway.

Maybe it was because I had seen the movie, so I knew the overall story before I started reading, but I couldn't love this book like I thought I might. I feel like this same story could have been told, without losing any of the emotion, in a book half the length. I kept thinking of this past review while I was reading - "too many notes." Normally I prefer the book to its film version, but in this case the film, with its necessarily confined length (not many movies cross the three hour mark, after all) is probably a better adaptation.