Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September - This Month in Reading

Well, I have had a fantastic September. I have had a ball finding acorns everywhere, making plans to hit the pumpkin patch, enjoying pumpkin spice lattes, and wishing the local trees would get just a BIT more colorful. (Seriously, trees, get it in gear - it's almost October!) I even managed to read this month!

In August, I set a September goal of 6 books, which included some I had committed to reviewing and a couple challenge books. My plan was to wrap up some challenges this month if at all possible. On the plus side: I read 10 books total, including 2 challenge books, and in so doing I finished the fun Back to the Classics Challenge - hooray!

Speaking of, since 2014 is now 9/12 over, let's do a quick challenge recap just for fun:

Active challenges:
TBR Pile Challenge: 9/12 regular and 1/2 alternates read
Color-Coded Reading Challenge: 8/9 read
Planet Earth Challenge: 27/257 - this has no real deadline, but evidently I need to work on it
Mount TBR Challenge: 27/60 books - or 2653 km / 8703 ft up Mt. Kilimanjaro so far - still quite a bit left to climb!

Completed challenges:
Harlem Renaissance Challenge
Back to the Classics Challenge
Language Freak Summer Challenge
Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge

Not too shabby.

For October, I would like to read another 6 (or more of course) books. I have a couple more reviewing commitments to read, and I'd like to finish off at least 1 more challenge while I continue to revel in all things fall.

How is your autumn/fall?

Frontier Resistance - Leonie Rogers

What a fantastic book! Rather than falling in to the sequel trap of simply rehashing the first book, this second installment in the Frontier series takes that story from the first book and brings it to another level. The author has obviously thought out this imaginative world very thoroughly and carefully, and worldbuilds* very well. We learn more about Frontier as well as the Garsal, Starlyne, and other aspects of the setting and the overall story and find out important information about some of the characters that helps us understand their motivations and actions. At all times I felt like I was reading about a real place the author happens to have first-hand knowledge of.

Picking up exactly where we left off with Frontier Incursion, this book was virtually impossible for me to put down once I got started. I liked how the story built suspense - the first book did this well too, with multiple story threads that you know are going to converge, but it's a nice build up toward that inevitable conflict. The pace is relentless but in a good way - the plotting is well done, with no "bloat" that just bulks up the story with no real purpose.

Once again, my only complaint is that I will have to wait for the next book to see what happens next. On the plus side, while I wait I'll have plenty of time to catch up on all the little chores I recently put off so I could keep reading - ha ha! Fantasy fans, snatch this series up, you won't be sorry.

*I don't think this is a real word, but I'm using it anyway, since it conveys what I am trying to say very well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

This is a classic book that I feel like I have always known about, but never managed to actually read until now. A couple years ago I found a cool paperback copy from the mid-60s at my local library's perpetual book sale, and then it sat on the shelf until I signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge and made it something of a priority.

Having never even seen a filmed adaptation of this book, I knew next to nothing about it before I read it, although I assumed it was something of a love story and that it would be like a Jane Austen book in setting. I can honestly say that this book was not at all what I was expecting. I assumed it would be more of a standard love story, but there is nothing particularly standard about this book. It truly confounded all my expectations. I am not even sure I liked any of the characters at all - most behave at least somewhat badly, but maybe that's very realistic. Instead of a love story, this was more a story about how one person's actions can alter the lives of all of the people around him/her, and how deeply those actions can hurt others. In some ways I do sympathize with a couple of the main characters, even if I don't like them particularly, and yet in other ways I find them to be too annoying to deserve my sympathy. I guess that this book had an effect on me, if it's causing me to think about it this much after I've finished it. I'd love to discuss it with others, so feel free to comment if you'd like to weigh in! :)

Finishing this book brings me to the end of the Back to the Classics Challenge. I really enjoyed this challenge a lot! It helped me not only clear out more TBR books, but delve in to some books I have been meaning to read for far too long. I have definitely furthered my ongoing quest to fill in the gaps I have in my classics reading. Big thanks to Karen K. for hosting this challenge, I look forward to participating again next year!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Missing - Jane Casey

This is Jane Casey's first novel, and it doesn't feature DC Maeve Kerrigan, one of my new favorite fictional cops. Instead, this is a standalone murder mystery book that was no less a page turner that kept me guessing all the way to the end. Another creepily fitting read for the beginning of Fall.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Last Temptation - Neil Gaiman, Alice Cooper, Michael Zulli

This book is a collaboration between one of the best known names in fantasy fiction, Neil Gaiman, and one of the best known names in rock, Alice Cooper. Throw in some highly talented artists and other comic/graphic novel talent, and you have a perfect Fall book to set the mood for the Halloween season.

This edition of this graphic novel (or is this actually a comic?) is the "20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" and it's certainly that - it's chock full of extra material including correspondence from Neil Gaiman, early scripts and art, etc. This provides an interesting look at a collaborative process - I wish more books had this kind of background information available.

I can see how this would have scared its target audience when it first came out, and it's no less scary now. The art and the story seemed true to the persona of Alice Cooper. I know this book is based on Cooper's record of the same name; I'm sure the record would make a good soundtrack for reading. This is a great addition to a graphic novel/comic collection.

One note: I had the same problem with this book that I had with Displaced Persons - namely, the lettering was blurry. Once again I solved the problem by enlarging the pages as much as I could, but it was still less than optimal. I'm not sure if the issue is that I'm reading on Adobe Digital Editions and not an actual Kindle, but it was mildly annoying and made me wonder if I were missing out on crispness and clarity in the artwork as well as the lettering.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cities of the Red Night - William S. Burroughs

This author is infamous, but I hadn't read any of his books until I stumbled on this one on the Library Sale shelves and decided it was a good way to meet part of the Color-Coded Reading Challenge.

What can I say about this book - it was like a 332 page sexual fever dream heavily influenced by drugs. I can imagine it would appeal to the Baby Boomer generation for that reason. I'm sure at the time it was first published (1981) it seemed very radical and shocking, but reading this in 2014, it just seems like so much effort to shock, and no effort to actually tell any kind of story or make any kind of point. Maybe I'm just jaded, spoiled by the societal changes that have happened since 1981, or too stupid to fully appreciate this book. I must say I got rather tired of the word "ejaculated" halfway through. Naked Lunch or Junky might have been better choices for a first Burroughs book; maybe someday I'll read one or the other. Not sure what to say to sum things up; I guess this is a book you'd have to read for yourself, I can't honestly recommend it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shuck - R.T. Knickerbocker

A friend recommended this book to me, and they were correct! This was a compulsively readable book - I had a really hard time putting it down. The main characters are highly likable and sympathetic. I don't read a lot of horror or paranormal type books, since so many are poorly written (in my opinion), but this one was well done. If you like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Sanford, and other authors like that, you will enjoy this book. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death - Mark Reutlinger

Oy vey iz mir, what a charming book! It's a highly entertaining combination of Sherlock Holmes and Murder She Wrote seasoned with a healthy dose of Yiddishe culture and language. I wish I could spend the day with these fantastic ladies; I suspect I'd have a hard time keeping up with Mrs. Kaplan's quick mind. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a series, because I am already wishing for more spirited adventures with this fresh new dynamic duo of sleuthing. Highly recommended.

Displaced Persons - Derek McCulloch and Anthony Peruzzo

This was an inventive graphic novel that tells the tale of several generations of a family in San Francisco. It's also a puzzle that I am still thinking about; I'm still putting together in my mind how some of the pieces fit together. I really liked the concept, and I definitely wanted to spend more time with some of the characters. I think the author did a nice job of showing some of the characters' inner motivations for us, within the constraints of a graphic novel. I suspect you could reread this several times and pick up on more details/pieces of the story each time.

One issue I had is that my digital version was blurry on all the pages that were traditional "comic/graphic novel" pages. The title pages and etc. were fine. I don't have a Kindle, so I read ebooks on Adobe Digital Editions, and I have never had that happen to me before - the images are usually very clear. Obviously, this made it harder for me to read the book, as I had to really decipher some words, and I'm sure the illustrations would have looked better if they had been clear. The only thing that helped somewhat was using the "fit to width" option, as that enlarged the writing, making it a bit easier to read, but it was still blurry. I hope this is just a fluke and that others didn't have this problem, as it detracted from an otherwise enjoyable reading experience.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nest - Ester Ehrlich

I loved this book.

It's an instant classic. This is a book that kids of this generation will remember as a favorite when they are adults. They'll reread it as adults and still love it.

The main character, Chirp, is a wonderful, fully realized person that reminded me of the kind of characters I used to love in my favorite books as a child (a couple of which are mentioned in this book!). I also felt such a strong sense of empathy for Joey; I so want to just give them both a big hug. As someone who was around as a child in the time period in which the book is set (ahem), it felt very true to that setting, down to the mention of my perennial favorite soda, Tab. I cannot wait to read more from Ester Ehrlich. Highly recommended.

Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch - Eric Orchard

What a fun way to kick off my Fall reading! This was a lovely middle grade/YA graphic novel. The story and the characters are charming - they had me at "family owns a bookstore" and the addition of  talking animals cemented my enjoyment. Maddy Kettle is a fun character, and once again I must say it's so nice to see intelligent children, particularly girls, depicted in books. I can see that this has endless potential for expansion as a series, and I look forward to as many books in this series as the author releases. Recommended.

Oh, and now, in addition to a starcat, I would love to add a floating spadefoot toad to my imaginary animals menagerie! :-)