Saturday, May 31, 2014

May - This Month in Reading

At the end of April, I wrote that I wanted to read 12 books, mainly focusing on my reading challenges. I actually read 9 "regular" books, 2 children's books, and a short story, of which 7 of the books and 1 of the children's books were for challenges, so I'm satisfied with that. I also read the first book for the Language Freak Summer Challenge and I reviewed a film on this blog for the first time as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge, which was a blog first. So it was a varied and fun month in reading!

Since we're going into summer now (as I've written before, in my mind summer starts on June 1 and ends on August 31), I'd like to take stock of my challenges here:

TBR Pile Challenge: 9/12 books + 1/2 alternates read. I will be reading a lot for my other challenges in June, but I'll try to finish this challenge in July.

Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge: 0/1 book read. I had to hit the library for this challenge, so I put it off for the first part of 2014 so I could work on my other challenges. However, I'm ready with amazing library books to read for this challenge in June.

Color-Coded Reading Challenge: 3/9 books read. I had to hit the library/NetGalley for some of the books for this challenge, but they are standing by for June reading.

Books on France Reading Challenge: 3/3 books read. Hooray! Even though I have technically completed this challenge, I will be adding more books this summer thanks to the Language Freak Summer Challenge.

Back to the Classics Challenge: 4/6 Required Category books read + 4/4 Optional Category books read + 1/1 optional film review. Another challenge that is temporarily on hold for June but will be resumed in July. I'm glad I found this challenge this year, I've really enjoyed it.

Planet Earth Challenge: I think I have only added a single book this year so far, but since this is my personal, ongoing challenge I'm fine with that. I have another book that I can add this month, and I'll continue to work on this.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge: 18/60 books read. Wow, that's it for my TBR books?? Yikes! After June I need to get busy climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I did calculate that each book read is 98.25 meters / 322.35 feet, so I've made it about 1768.50 meters / 5802.3 feet up the mountain so far. Not bad, but obviously I need to keep at the TBR pile after I take care of some other challenge reading this month that doesn't count for this challenge. I'm sure I'll summit by the end of 2014.

Language Freak Summer Challenge: Technically I have fulfilled this challenge, as I read 1 book, and I only committed to reading 1 book. However, that book was a very small children's book so I'm thinking of it more as a nice warmup to reading other, "regular" books. I have other foreign-language books on hand that I plan to read this summer so I will be reading at least 2 other books for this challenge.

Hmm, that's a lot of challenges I signed up for - but most of them involve my on-hand TBR mountain, so it's working out OK in terms of getting those books read.

For June, I will be reading from the library and NetGalley a bit for some challenge reading, but once that's taken care of it's straight back to the TBR shelves. My goal in June is to finish the Harlem Renaissance and Color-Coded Reading Challenges and read 2 books for the Language Freak Summer Challenge. I think this is super-doable and I'm looking forward to some reading from new-to-me library and NetGalley books. Anything that makes the dreaded summer months pass by more quickly is a good thing! :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Savior - Eric Laster

An inventive, fun book that is like a YA combination of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Men In Black, and a dash of Star Wars for good measure. The title character is likable, and I would have liked to know more about a couple of the other characters as well - maybe in a sequel. As I read, I was bit concerned about how the orphan/foster care angle would play out, but I was ultimately satisfied with the way the author portrayed this subject. A fast, appealing read.

The Time-Sweepers - Ursula Wills-Jones

This is actually a short story, but it's entertaining and I enjoyed reading it. I found it by chance on a blog I like reading, and now I have a new place to go and find more things to read: Between that and NetGalley, who needs the library or bookstore? I kid, I kid, I'm WAY too addicted to reading to have only 1 source for reading materials :^)

The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton

This was another book I came across on the Library Sale shelves and couldn't resist. I had heard of the author but hadn't read any of his work, and the description on the back of the book sounded intriguing. And it didn't lie - this book was a compulsively readable thriller. I do suspect some of the finer philosophical/theological points were lost on me as a modern/American reader, but it didn't have an effect on my enjoyment of the book.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères - Marie Letourneau

What a sweet book! This is a great children's book if you'd like your child to learn some French, or to practice it - and it works well for adult French language students too. I liked the story and the illustrations were clever. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Сорока-белобока / The Magpie

While doing some household organization, I found 2 Russian-language children's books I purchased during my trip to what was then the Soviet Union (ugh, I'm totally dating myself!). These were a very pleasant surprise, as I had thought them long lost, and they're very nice books with lovely illustrations. Best of all, I can use them for the Language Freak Summer Challenge - hooray!

This book was a good start for a Russian book for the challenge because it's a board book with few words. Unfortunately I still had to look up most of them :-/ I have forgotten so much! I tried to do some preliminary research and as best I can tell this is based on a Russian story, "Magpie Beloboka," that is something like the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "This Little Piggy..." stories in the U.S. - a story for small children that has hand motions that go with it. However, unless I'm reading this book wrong, this particular retelling has a slightly different ending. I'm glad I finally read the first book I'm claiming for this challenge, even if it was a very small book. Plus, now I know that I need to work on my Russian if I want to keep the little bit I have left!

Я нашела две детские книги на русском языке, что я думала, что потеряла. Я купила их, когда я посетила Советский Союз. О нет, я так стара! Книги имеют красивое искусство. Эта книга для маленьких детей. Он имеет несколько слов, но я должна много использовала словарь. :-/ Я слишком много забыла. :-( Мне нужно изучать русский язык чаще! Я рада, что прочитала эту небольшую книгу.

Скажите, пожалуйста, мои ошибки. :^)

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver

Have you ever had a book that you've started reading and just couldn't get into, so you set it aside for what ends up being a long time? This book was like that for me. I started it at least 2 previous times and for whatever reason I couldn't get into it, so I would end up abandoning it and moving on to a different book. But as one of my way-too-many Borders Last Days Sales Madness books, I knew I'd have to buckle down and finish it at some point - and I guess now is this point!

I'm not sure why I wasn't able to get into this book the first few times I tried; this time I managed quite nicely, and all in all I'd say this book is ok. It isn't a new favorite or anything, but I did come to really love the narration. The anti-Communist witch hunts in the U.S. after World War II are not my favorite period in history (because they disgust and anger me so deeply) but this worked in the context of the story. I'm not sorry I read this book, but I admit I'm glad I have finally finished it after all this time.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bel Ami - Guy de Maupassant

Like Rebecca, this was a compulsively readable novel. I very much appreciated the naturalistic writing style that kept the story moving at a good clip - I think a lesser writer would have produced a more bloated book. The tone was also rather neutral; I felt like it was left up to me as a reader to judge the main character's actions, although I do think it's clear which side the reader is meant to come down on. I found the description of the main character's thought process fascinating. I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading more of the author's books when I am free of my TBR pile. Highly recommended.

Rebecca - the 1940 film (spoilers!)

**NOTE: as I mention frequently on this blog, I usually do all I can to avoid any kind of spoilers on my blog. However, in order to review the movie in some kind of meaningful way, I would like to make comparisons to the book, which will involve giving away key plot points and etc. If you are planning to read the book or see the film and wish to avoid spoilers, please avoid this post.**

Oh, and my review of the book in the previous post to this one is spoiler-free. 

And now on to the review!

This review of a film is a departure for my blog, and also a first. I probably won't be branching out into film reviews generally, but this is a fun opportunity that is part of the Back to the Classics Challenge. I hadn't previously seen this film nor had I read the book, so it was a great opportunity to compare a film adaptation of a classic novel to the novel.

Overall I enjoyed the film, and I thought Alfred Hitchcock and the screenwriters did a nice job of capturing the tone of the book while moving the story along. An example of this is moving the shipwreck to directly after the new Mrs. de Winter's unwittingly disastrous appearance in Mrs. Danvers' costume suggestion. In the book this span of time occupies a lot more time and it makes sense in the limits of movie length to move these events closer together.

One thing that stuck out to me was the appearance of both Mrs. Danvers and of Favell. While reading the book, I pictured Mrs. Danvers as being old, with gray hair and a very gaunt face. In the movie, she seems much younger, and dare I say, rather attractive. In the book Favell is described in a way that makes him seem seedy and unattractive, while in the film he seems almost dashing and not so loutish/tacky as I pictured him in the book.

I also wondered about the ending - while in the book Maxim actually kills Rebecca, in the movie it's an accident. A quick jaunt over to Wikipedia tells me this was because of the Hollywood Production Code, so it makes sense, even if it's an annoying departure - I preferred the more "morally ambiguous" events in the book. Still and all, it was a pleasure to see two great actors, Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, work together - and wow do they look good together. Recommended.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

This was a compulsively readable thriller that I had a hard time putting down. I must say that I expected one of the characters to appear more often in the book, but this is more an expectation on my part than an actual "critique" of the book. I will say that I wanted to give each character a good shake at some point during the book, but maybe I was just over-involved in the story. All in all this was an enjoyable read and kept me on my toes guessing. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hubert's Freaks - Gregory Gibson

The subtitle of this book is The Rare Book Dealer, The Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus, which sums it up succinctly. As I think I have mentioned before, I have a real love for early 20th century entertainment, including things like dime museums, freak shows, sideshows, and of course vaudeville. The titular Hubert's was an established freak show in Times Square that was a bit more of a mid-century institution, but would have been something I would have loved to have visited had I been born a generation earlier. Although this book is more about the discovery of a treasure trove of materials relating to Hubert's and the people who performed there, it reads almost like a novel. I would have liked to have learned more about Hubert's and the performers, but that is research I can do on my own. A fast read and an interesting story.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Kingdom of Ohio - Matthew Flaming

Another Borders Last Days book that has looked intriguing from its spot on the shelf and yet I hadn't read it until now. This was a very fast read, and I enjoyed it for what it was, but from time to time the "evocative prose" got on my nerves. That being said, I enjoyed the main elements of the story while wishing they had been a bit more fleshed out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lady Chatterly's Lover - D.H. Lawrence

Having heard for years about how racy this novel is but knowing it was written in the 1920s, I assumed it would actually be tame, and not particularly racy by today's standards - boy, was I wrong about that! But the real draw of this book is the story, of which raciness is a part because the author is making a point and drawing a distinction between human feelings and emotions and the mechanized, industrial world of the early 20th century. From time to time I got a whiff of the Tolstoy back and forth - "Character A loves Character B! Or does s/he? S/he does not! But no, s/he does!" - but not enough that it bothered me. All in all I think one could write some very interesting papers in a college level class about this book. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Generation Atheist - Dan Riley

I enjoyed this collection of first-person narratives written by young atheists. Each person's story was unique, but all shared a similar hunt for the truth, learning, education, and true knowledge. The world is slowly evolving (see what I did there?), but of course there is still room for growth and progress; it's nice to know there are young people willing to lead as we continue to grow and progress.