Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - This Year In Reading

2015 turned out to be a decent reading year - I read 122 books, of which 60 were from the finally shrinking TBR pile, so that's great. I still haven't beaten my all time high from 2011, but reading more than 100 books in one year works for me, and I'm happy with it, especially considering that I have made the TBR pile a priority and it's definitely shrinking noticeably. For the first time in a long time, I think it might be possible to clear it once and for all, and that is a good feeling. Of course there will always be books that I want to read, but having an actual pile of dust-gathering books has been so intimidating. I'll be glad when there are just a small amount of actual books, or even when the TBR list is electronic only or something.

I'm not going to do a challenge summary here this year. It's enough for me to say that I completed all the challenges I joined in 2015 and enjoyed them all. I also found a lot of good books as usual. I have joined a bunch of challenges for 2016 since they really helped me clear my TBR pile last year and in 2014. I love categorizing and sorting things so it's been a lot of fun, and I look forward to 2016's challenges, which you can see a summary of, with links, in a January 1 post.

My main goal for 2016 is to read more - I'd like to hit 200 books. I'd also really like to clear the physical TBR pile, which is kind of the same goal. One twist to this is that a lot of the books that have been lingering on the TBR pile have been there for a while because they are part of a series, and I will have to read a bunch of other books that are not technically part of the TBR pile in order to catch up and read the books I own. For example, during the Borders last days sale, I got a copy of The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, which is the 5th book in a series. So I would have to read the 4 previous books in this series, which I don't currently own, in order to be able to clear this book from my TBR pile. Yes, this is because of my own hangup about reading a series in order, but I can't help that that's how my mind works. I hope that makes sense.

My secondary goal is to complete all the challenges I have joined. This has never yet been a problem for me, luckily, so I am not worried about it, but I do need to keep at it so I don't end up scrambling at the end of the year like I did in 2014. -_- It all worked out, but it was a LOT of last minute reading which should have happened in the other 11 months of the year.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the people who read my blog. I know someone reads it (aside from me!) and I am grateful for anyone and everyone who does. So thank you! :)

And with that, dear readers, I wish you all the best for a wonderfully bookish 2016.

December - This Month in Reading

I managed to read a very respectable 14 books in December, finishing up all of my challenges, including summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro for the Mount TBR Challenge again, and getting a surprise last minute Bingo in the French Bingo 2015 Challenge. I'm very happy with that!

For January 2016, I'd like to keep up this momentum. I got some great books (at least I think they will be great!) for Yuletide gifts, and of course I have the TBR pile, so I would like to read at least 10 books in January. I think that should be very doable.

I'll be posting my usual year-end wrapup post later on, so for now I'll just sign off here and ask you how your December reading went. :)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Rhetoric of Death - Judith Rock

Remember a few days ago when I said I didn't get bingo in French Bingo for 2015? I jumped the gun, because I completely forgot that this TBR pile book was a mystery set in France. So as it happens - I did get bingo! Hooray! I have updated the challenge post to reflect this.

But on to my review of the book! This is one of my crazy Borders last days sales books; I grabbed so many books on that last day, not really looking too closely at what kind of books I was getting, just caught up in the bargain shopping. Luckily I think I have liked most of the books, and this one was no exception. Set in 1680s Paris, the author has obviously done a lot of research, and I enjoyed picturing one of my favorite cities in this time period. I liked the main character quite a bit, so I was pleased to see that this is now a book series (I think it's up to 4 books) - I will have to check the other books out. The mystery kept me guessing until the end, which was fun. All in all this was an enjoyable book for mystery fans, or historical fiction fans, or both.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

So  my literary crush on John Steinbeck grew with this book, which is more a series of sketches than an actual novel, although there is something of a plot here and there. Regardless of the format, it's 100% entertaining. All the characters in this book felt like living, breathing people to me. I can't lie, I could have done without the "accent transcription" of Mr. Lee ("we go see flog" etc.), but that's an unfortunate sign of the times in which the book was written (1945), and there's not a lot of it.

Some of the chapters left me scratching my head; but in a good way, in a way that makes me ponder Steinbeck's craft in placing some of the sketches exactly where he did. I'd LOVE to write a paper on this book for a class, or at least discuss it in a class or with a good book group. I feel like this book is a living, breathing entity. Apparently there's a sequel - I will have to read that as soon as I can manage it (I have one last book for 2015 in line first). Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fathers and Sons - Ivan Turgenev

Here's another author who is new to me - and who I think may become a new favorite. This was like a sliver of Tolstoy - with a nicely focused story, no tiresome repetition, etc. etc. I'm sure a lot of the subtext in this book is lost on me as a modern reader, but I can see how it would have been a sensation in its time. I think it's evident that the author was a playwright, as the story seems almost broken up into acts. It all works well together, even if I'm not entirely sure what the message I should take away from the book is. I'll have to read more books by Turgenev in the near future. Recommended.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene

Not sure what to think of this book. I had heard about it, obviously, and I had heard it was really funny. Since starting this blog, and starting to read Greene, I assumed I would like it. I also managed to see the 1972 movie version over the summer, so I kind of knew what to expect in terms of the overall plot, etc., but I was looking forward to experiencing the book for myself.

I have to say I was disappointed. Maybe it's just too much holiday revelry or something, but this book fell flat for me. I didn't find it particularly funny, and the storyline didn't draw me in as much as it raised questions in my mind that have no answer that I could find. I'm not really sure what to make of it. I'm sure part of it is that it's supposed to be "shocking" to the reader in some ways, but the "shocking" elements are not particularly shocking to 2015 readers.

The movie and the book differ significantly. I have to say I prefer the movie - it makes a lot more sense and tells a coherent story, which the book does not. Oh well, luckily there are many more Greene novels to discover, and I am going to assume that I will enjoy most of them.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge



I stumbled on this challenge and initially resisted it, thinking I should really cut down on reading challenges in 2016. But then I kept thinking about it and it sounded like so much fun I just couldn't resist. It's hosted by the Escape with Dollycas Into A Good Book blog, and you can read the rules and sign up here.

Here's a brief description:

The challenge is to read one book that has a title starting with every letter of the alphabet. You can drop the A’s and The’s from the book titles. The first main word needs to be the letter you are counting - except for Q, X and Z titles, the word that starts with the challenge letter can be anywhere in the title for those. So for example, using the books I just read, I could count The Pearl for letter P and Lord of the Flies for letter L for this challenge.

You can either make a list of books for each letter right away, or fill them in as you go - I am going to do that 2nd option. I love fitting books into categories, this will be a lot of fun as I read - especially finding books that start with X and Z! Can't wait.

I will keep track in this post as I read throughout the year.

Feel free to leave any book suggestions in the comments!

A - Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne; The Adventures of Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi; Always - Nicola Griffith; Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
B - The Bat - Jo Nesbø; Bad Boy: A Memoir - Walter Dean Myers; The Blacker the Berry... - Wallace Thurman; Before the Fall - Noah Hawley; The Book Thief - Markus Zusak; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Díaz; Being Jazz - Jazz Jennings; Becoming Nicole - Amy Ellis Nutt
C - Cockroaches - Jo Nesbø; A Case of Two Cities - Qiu Xiaolong; The Conversation - Jean d'Ormesson; The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte; Chain of Fools - Trav S.D.; Complete Tales and Poems - Edgar Allan Poe; The Chicago Way - Michael Harvey; The Celestial Globe - Marie Rutkoski; The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt
D - Death of a Red Heroine - Qiu Xiaolong; The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbø; Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov
E - The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde; Escape from Camp 14 - Blaine Harden; Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton
F - For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf - Ntozake Shange; Finn Family Moomintroll - Tove Jansson; Five Children and It - E. Nesbit; The Fifth Floor - Michael Harvey; Frontier Defiant - Leonie Rogers; Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston; The Fire Engine that Disappeared - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
G - The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins; The Glass of Time - Michael Cox; Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee
H - The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros; Hector & the Search for Happiness - François Lelord; Hector and the Secrets of Love - François Lelord; The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson; Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
I - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot; I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle
J - The Jolly Coroner - Quentin Canterel
K - Kindred - Octavia Butler; The King's Gold - Arturo Pérez-Reverte
L - A Loyal Character Dancer - Qiu Xiaolong; Little Joe Otter - Thornton W. Burgess; Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde; Luna - Julie Anne Peters; The Laughing Policeman - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö; The Long Secret - Louise Fitzhugh; The Lesser Dead - Christopher Buehlman
M - Manners & Mutiny - Gail Carriger; My Mother's Secret - J.L. Witterick; The Martian - Andy Weir; A Man Lay Dead - Ngaio Marsh; The Man on the Balcony - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
N - Not on Fire, but Burning - Greg Hrbek; Nemesis - Jo Nesbø; The Neon Bible - John Kennedy Toole; Nothing Lasts Forever - Roderick Thorp; No Exit - Jean-Paul Sartre
O - Orange Is the New Black - Piper Kerman; Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck; One of Our Thursdays Is Missing - Jasper Fforde; One Fat Englishman - Kingsley Amis; The Only Street in Paris - Elaine Sciolino
P - The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky; Purity of Blood - Arturo Pérez-Reverte; Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren; The Petticoat Affair - John F. Marszalek; The Phoenix and the Carpet - E. Nesbit
Q - Quiet As They Come - Angie Chau; The Queen Jade - Yxta Maya Murray
R - The Redbreast - Jo Nesbø; The Redeemer - Jo Nesbø; Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus - Brian Thacker; The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion; Rethinking Normal - Katie Rain Hill
S - Sweet Thursday - John Steinbeck; Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel; The Sun over Breda - Arturo Pérez-Reverte; The Snowman - Jo Nesbø; The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale; The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe; The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne; Some Assembly Required - Arin Andrews; Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh; Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde; See Now Then - Jamaica Kincaid
T - Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe; The Tumbling Turner Sisters - Juliette Fay; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith; Trixie Belden and the Gatehouse Mystery - Julie Campbell; Time Heals No Wounds - Hendrik Falkenberg; The Tree House Mystery - Carol Beach York; Thursday Next: First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde; To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
U - The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist; The Unbearable Lightness of Scones - Alexander McCall Smith
V - V for Vendetta - Alan Moore, David Lloyd
W - When Red is Black - Qiu Xiaolong; Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple; White Leopard - Laurent Guillaume; The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells; Winemaker Detective Mysteries - An Omnibus - Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen; The World According to Bertie - Alexander McCall Smith; The Well of Lost Plots - Jasper Fforde; The Woman Who Died A Lot - Jasper Fforde; Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher
X - X: A Novel - Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Y - You Were Here - Cori McCarthy
Z - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Therese Anne Fowler

Literary Loners Reading Challenge 2016

This challenge is too intriguing to pass up! It's hosted by Jamie at Whatever I Think Of! and you can read all about it, including helpful suggestions, and sign up here.

Here's a quick synopsis:

There will be two options for this challenge and you may choose one or both.  The first option is to read books featuring a character identified as a loner, outcast, recluse, wallflower, or introvert. This can be the main character (such as Bella from Twilight or Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower) or a secondary one (such as Miss Havisham from Great Expectations or Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird).

The second option will be to read works written by writers known to have been loners or recluses. The great poet Emily Dickinson was very much a loner as was author J.D. Salinger,  and this link says the ancient Greek playwright Euripides was something of a loner.  A biography of such writers may be read as well.

Cool, eh? I think this one will be fun. Leave any recommendations you have in the comments!

1. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins (Main character seems to be a loner; doesn't have a lot of friends/acquaintances; spends a lot of time alone)
2. The Bat - Jo Nesbø (Main character described as a loner; doesn't seem to have a lot of friends/acquaintances)
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (Main character self-describes as someone who has few/no friends)
4. Cockroaches - Jo Nesbø (Main character is a loner)
5. The Redbreast - Jo Nesbø (Main character is a loner)
6. Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne (Main character is a loner who self-describes as having no friends, only acquaintances)
7. Nemesis - Jo Nesbø (Main character is a loner)
8. The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbø (Main character is a loner)
9. The Blacker the Berry... - Wallace Thurman (main character cannot make friends)
10. The Redeemer - Jo Nesbø (Main character is a loner)
11. Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple (titular character is a loner who has trouble getting along with others)
12. The Snowman - Jo Nesbø (Main character is a loner)
13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith (main character is a loner)
14. The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (main character has 2 friends and is mainly a loner)
15. The Neon Bible - John Kennedy Toole (main character is a loner)
16. V for Vendetta - Alan Moore, David Lloyd (main character is a loner)

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

Somehow I made it to adulthood never having read this book, which is widely assigned in schools - and is also #8 on the ALA's list of frequently banned and challenged classic books. So for that reason alone I am glad to have read this book, which is a frightening treatise on the true, undiluted state of humanity. It made a good companion to The Pearl, in that its also a study of the reality of human nature - and it's not a pretty picture. The author is good at building the story and taking the reader along with it; it felt very immersive to me. It's definitely a striking work of fiction.

The Pearl - John Steinbeck

Do you ever start to have a literary crush on an author whose writing you admire? I think I am getting just such a crush on John Steinbeck. This novella was a powerful parable about a core aspect of humanity - wanting more than what you have. This can be a good thing, if it motivates you to do better, or to improve your life; but all too often it just means greed for the sake of greed. There is not a lot I can say without divulging spoilers, but I did find this book to be masterful. Recommended.

French Bingo 2016

I didn't get bingo with the challenge in 2015, but that's OK - I'm still really happy with my reading for this challenge, so it's all good. CORRECTION: I did in fact get Bingo for the 2015 challenge at the last minute - hooray! I'm looking forward to doing this again in 2016. It's hosted by Emma at Words and Peace, and you can find out all the information and sign up here.

Here's the 2016 card:




Some of the bingo squares have changed so that will be interesting. I have 4 books in French that I can think of off the top of my head that might work, and I'm sure I will come across other books that will work for this challenge as I check my TBR pile for possibilities.

Leave any recommendations in the comments, et bonne chance!

C3 - French Book Made Into a Movie - Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne (apparently this has been made into a movie many times, starting in 1919)
E1 - Historical Novel Set in France - The Conversation - Jean d'Ormesson (not sure which other category to put this one in, and I don't want to omit it!)
C5 - With a Plot Involving French Wine - Winemaker Detective Mysteries - An Omnibus - Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen
A4 - Play by a French Author - No Exit - Jean-Paul Sartre
B2 - Part of a French Series - Hector & the Search for Happiness - François Lelord
E2 - Translated from the French - Hector and the Secrets of Love - François Lelord
C2 - Romance Set in France - The Outer Edge of Society - Alexandre Dumas
B3 - With "Paris" in the Title - The Only Street in Paris - Elaine Sciolino

Update, Dec 31: well, I didn't get Bingo this year, and I ran out of time - but that's OK, I read some interesting books and it was fun. Maybe I'll get bingo in 2017! :)

Books in Translation Reading Challenge

Books in Translation Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader 

Very excited that I can sign up for this challenge again in 2016! As you can see by the button, it's hosted by the Introverted Reader. Since I am blog-challenged, I will add that you can sign up for this challenge, and read the rules, etc., here just in case I did something wrong and the button isn't showing.

I'm going to sign up for the Linguist level of 10-12 books since I know I have at least that many lying around, etc. I'll keep track of the books I read as I go in this post.

If you have any recommendations, please feel free to leave a comment!

1. The Bat - Jo Nesbø (translated from the original Norwegian)
2. Purity of Blood - Arturo Pérez-Reverte (translated from the original Spanish)
3. Cockroaches - Jo Nesbø (translated from the original Norwegian)
4. The Redbreast - Jo Nesbø (translated from the original Norwegian)
5. Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne (translated from the original French)
6. The Sun over Breda - Arturo Pérez-Reverte (translated from the original Spanish)
7. The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbø (translated from the original Norwegian)
8. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren (translated from the original Swedish)
9. The Redeemer - Jo Nesbø (translated from the original Norwegian)
10. Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov (translated from the original Russian)
11. The King's Gold - Arturo Pérez-Reverte (translated from the original Spanish)
12. The Snowman - Jo Nesbø (translated from the original Norwegian)
13. Finn Family Moomintroll - Tove Jansson (translated from the original Finnish)
14. The Conversation - Jean d'Ormesson (translated from the original French)
15. The Adventures of Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi (translated from the original Italian)
16. The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe (translated from the original Japanese)
17. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte (translated from the original Spanish)
18. White Leopard - Laurent Guillaume (translated from the original French)
19. Winemaker Detective Mysteries - An Omnibus - Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen (translated from the original French)
20. Time Heals No Wounds - Hendrik Falkenberg (translated from the original German)
21. The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist (translated from the original Swedish)
22. The Man on the Balcony - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (translated from the original Swedish)
23. No Exit - Jean-Paul Sartre (translated from the original French)
24. Hector & the Search for Happiness - François Lelord (translated from the original French)
25. The Laughing Policeman - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (translated from the original Swedish)
26. The Fire Engine that Disappeared - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (translated from the original Swedish)
27. Hector and the Secrets of Love - François Lelord (translated from the original French)
28. The Outer Edge of Society - Alexandre Dumas (translated from the original French)

Banned Books Challenge 2016

Looking forward to this eye-opening challenge again in 2016! It's hosted by Christine at Buckling Bookshelves, and you can get all the info and sign up here. Once again it works well with my other reading plans. I managed to exceed my goal for the 2015 challenge, but I'm still going to aim for the Trouble-Maker level of 3-5 books in 2016 to ensure success, in case this isn't a great reading year or something. I already know I have one book that fits this challenge, and no doubt I will discover many more.

As usual, I'll keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post as I go along.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (#8 on the ALA list of frequently challenged books, for [partial list] "drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.")
2. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (#12 on the ALA list of frequently banned and challenged classics; I list some of the reasons and discuss them in my review)
3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (this book is on the ALA's list [found here] of "Books written for YA audiences, those featuring a YA main character, and classics that regularly appear on high school required reading lists.")
4. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (appears on the ALA's list of "Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century" found here; main reasons are language/profanity/racial slurs including the N word and racism).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Read It Again, Sam 2016

Bev at My Reader's Block is my kind of challenge junkie - and as you have seen, she hosts challenges too! I did this one last year and it was a wonderful excuse to reread books that I have purchased expressly to reread and then let sit because I felt guilty rereading a book when I could be reading a book I haven't read already that's also gathering dust on the TBR pile.

Last year I had planned to reread 1 book per month (for 12 total) as a personal challenge, and then I found out about this challenge so I joined it instead. This year I am going to commit to the Living in the Past level of 16+ books, because I want to do more rereading: I want to reread Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series in entirety so that I can read the most recent volume which is on the TBR pile, for one example.

You can read the rules and sign up here. As always, I will post the books I read for this challenge here throughout the year.

Which books are you looking forward to rereading in 2016?

1. The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
2. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren
3. Finn Family Moomintroll - Tove Jansson
4. Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde
5. Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus - Brian Thacker
6. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
7. The Well of Lost Plots - Jasper Fforde
8. Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde
9. Thursday Next: First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde
10. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing - Jasper Fforde
11. Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton
12. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
13. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
14. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
15. The Long Secret - Louise Fitzhugh
16. Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher

Color-Coded Reading Challenge 2016

Bev at My Reader's Block is once again hosting this creative challenge that I really like. You can read the rules and sign up here. Here are the categories:

*Read nine books in the following categories.

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover. The Queen Jade - Yxta Maya Murray (title refers to blue jade, see example in linked post)

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover. Death of a Red Heroine - Qiu Xiaolong

3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover. Little Joe Otter - Thornton W. Burgess (cover is green, see photo in linked post)

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain (book cover is tan and brown, see photo in linked post)

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover. The Blacker the Berry... - Wallace Thurman

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover. White Leopard - Laurent Guillaume

8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.). Orange Is the New Black - Piper Kerman

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf - Ntozake Shange

As usual, I will keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post as I go along. Since I am never 100% sure of the books I will choose for this challenge ahead of time (I try my best to pull from the TBR pile but sometimes I have to punt) I am always looking for suggestions, so please feel free to comment with any that you may have! 


Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2016

Bev at My Reader's Block is hosting this amazing challenge again this year. Sign up and read all the rules and etc. here! I have really made a significant dent in my insane TBR pile thanks to this challenge, and I am looking forward to doing it again in 2016. Once again, I am going to commit to the Mt. Kilimanjaro level of 60 books, and I'll keep track of the books I read as I go along in this post.

In all reality, if I can complete this challenge again in 2016, my TBR pile will basically be taken care of (of course, this doesn't account for the books that I will drag home during the year of 2016 that won't count for this challenge - so there's no danger of not being able to participate in the 2017 challenge, ha ha ha).

1. Not on Fire, but Burning - Greg Hrbek
2. The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
3. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
4. Orange Is the New Black - Piper Kerman
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
6. Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
7. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
8. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling
9. Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne
10. The Blacker the Berry... - Wallace Thurman
11. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
12. Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple
13. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
14. The Snowman - Jo Nesbø
15. A Case of Two Cities - Qiu Xiaolong
16. The Conversation - Jean d'Ormesson
17. The Adventures of Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi
18. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale
19. The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe
20. Little Joe Otter - Thornton W. Burgess
21. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte
22. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
23. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain
24. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
25. Trixie Belden and the Gatehouse Mystery - Julie Campbell
26. The Tree House Mystery - Carol Beach York
27. My Mother's Secret - J.L. Witterick
28. Chain of Fools - Trav S.D.
29. The Martian - Andy Weir
30. The Neon Bible - John Kennedy Toole
31. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
32. Complete Tales and Poems - Edgar Allan Poe
33. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Díaz
34. The Story of the Amulet - E. Nesbit
35. The Fifth Floor - Michael Harvey
36. The Celestial Globe - Marie Rutkoski
37. The Glass of Time - Michael Cox
38. The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt
39. V for Vendetta - Alan Moore, David Lloyd
40. Always - Nicola Griffith
41. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
42. The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist
43. I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle
44. Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston
45. No Exit - Jean-Paul Sartre
46. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones - Alexander McCall Smith
47. The Fire Engine that Disappeared - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
48. Escape from Camp 14 - Blaine Harden
49. Hector and the Secrets of Love - François Lelord
50. The Woman Who Died A Lot - Jasper Fforde
51. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
52. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
53. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
54. Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee
55. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
56. The Long Secret - Louise Fitzhugh
57. See Now Then - Jamaica Kincaid
58. One Fat Englishman - Kingsley Amis
59. The Outer Edge of Society - Alexandre Dumas
60. The Lesser Dead - Christopher Buehlman

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016

Karen K. of Books and Chocolate is hosting this amazing challenge again in 2016 - I can't wait! I always clear off a good portion of my TBR pile and discover some wonderful books as a result of participating in this challenge. Read the rules and sign up here!

This year's categories are a lot of fun:

1.  A 19th Century classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain (1889)

2.  A 20th Century classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe (1958)

3.  A classic by a woman author. The Story of the Amulet - E. Nesbit (1906)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. The Adventures of Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi (originally published in Italian as a serial in 1881 and 1882; published in Italian in the form of a book in 1883; first translated into English in 1892).

5.  A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc. The Blacker the Berry... - Wallace Thurman

6. An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction. Around the World in 80 Days - Jules Verne (1873)

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells (1898)

8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. A Man Lay Dead - Ngaio Marsh (1932)

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith (1943)

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (1937). This book is #12 on the ALA's list of frequently banned and challenged classics. This page has reasons, and I discuss some of them in my review, linked above

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it's a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it's a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around? The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850). (Spoiler alert, I still like it! :) )

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children's stories are acceptable in this category only. Complete Tales and Poems - Edgar Allan Poe (1830s - 1849)

So there you have it - I am really looking forward to this challenge. It was hard to choose books because there are so many I want to read, but I tried to stick with my TBR pile so that helped me narrow it down. Many books could fit in multiple categories so it's fun to figure out exactly what will go where. I can't wait for January 1 so I can get started. Which books are you planning to read for this challenge in 2016?


The Last of Chéri - Colette (Spoilers)

It's impossible for me to discuss this book without getting into what I would consider to be spoilers.

Remember when I called Chéri a "lovely book?" This sequel is the antidote to that. If the previous book was all about the ending of a romance between the titular character and Léa, his older lover that he is having difficulties letting go of, this book shows once and for all the aftermath of a love affair in general, and in particular one that society brings to a close.

But I don't think it's that simple at all... in fact, I think Chéri stands for an entire generation. In the first book he is spoiled, an idle rich brat who gets his way because of his money and his striking good looks. This book shows a young man who has been through a war, and is now faced with what is going to become an end to his idle-rich way of life, thanks to post-war economics, better opportunities for the "lower classes" than having to be servants, etc. Everything is changing, even his beloved Léa. Chéri becomes lost in trying to hold on to the past, but everything slips away from him - his wife, his mother, his memories. It's a sad book, honestly. But it's also frank in that it examines this malaise that probably infected an entire nation at this time. I think it has a logical end; but the logical part of it doesn't make it any less sad.

I will have to prioritize some more Colette soon.

The Arabian Nights - (translated by) Sir Richard F. Burton

This book was kind of a trial for me. I dove into it with high expectations, partly due to the reputation of the stories that make up what is commonly referred to as The Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights, and partly due to my devotion to the translator. This particular volume is made up of 29 stories, including the most well known: Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Sinbad the Sailor's adventures. I enjoyed those stories, as well as some others: The Ebony Horse, The Lady and Her Five Suitors, and Abu Kir the Dyer and Abu Sir the Barber. One of the stories is even a fart joke - ! I'm not a fan of bodily function-related humor, so I could have done without that one.

Many of the other stories were marred for me by the alarming misogyny on display therein. The first several stories all featured some variation on a wife who was cuckolding her husband by sleeping with anything that moved behind his back, and his subsequent revenge on her. The stories also either seemed to say outright or imply that all women are insatiable harlots and that men should be on their guard of getting mixed up with them. And this isn't even touching on the lack of agency most women had; if the woman's father wanted her to marry someone, she was married to him, end of story. These things bothered me not only because they're not something we like to see in early 21st century western culture, but because it seems like this attitude is still a part of everyday life in so many parts of the world today - and yes, I am including the western world here. I don't have to look too hard to see this nonsense and garbage attitude used against women on a daily basis. Seeing it reinforced in a work of classic literature is not a pleasant experience.

Don't get me started on the rampant slavery, either... that's another rant for another time!

To be fair, though, not all of the stories were steeped with these faults. Some actually featured women who displayed skill and cunning, and some were just straight up adventures. I can see why people like them (well, some of them): it's fun to think of being able to command a genie (a Jinn) and thereby becoming rich, etc., or of sailing around the world and having adventures. And I have to say that I enjoyed the translation. Evidently Burton tried to recreate for the English-language reader a sort of Middle Ages style of speaking that works well in that it reinforces the ancient origins of these stories; however, it got tiring for this modern English-language reader to read in large doses.

All in all, I am glad I read this book, but at the same time I didn't love it like I was hoping I might. I think I'll prioritize some more Burton writings next year as a palate cleanser.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Billy Mink - Thornton W. Burgess

This book was yet another cool addition to my small (but ever-growing) collection of random vintage children's books that I have found for a really low price on the Library Sale shelves. This book is marked copyright 1924; I'm not 100% sure that this copy is actually that old, but it is definitely vintage, and in really good shape. I did some quick research on the author, and discovered he was an environmentalist and prolific writer with more than 170 books to his credit. This book is the first in what I think is a four-volume series called the "Smiling Pool" series, about various animals that live near the referenced pool. The story is relatively short and simple but it's entertaining, and there are some charming illustrations by Harrison Cady. All in all it's a nice addition to my collection.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Year in the Merde - Stephen Clarke

Not sure what to think of this book. On the one hand, it had some funny turns of phrase that really made me laugh; on the other it seemed kind of disjointed. I felt like the story developed in fits and starts and that a lot of events just kind of happened and then... ? Maybe it's just that I wasn't following it as well as I could have. On the plus side it was a fast and amusing read. So mixed feelings about this one.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On - Jon Puckridge

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free, time-limited, electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.com in exchange for my honest review, which is provided below. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

Sci-fi and fantasy fans will undoubtedly enjoy this mind-bending thriller, another winning book from Hague Publishing. The plot gave me a lot of food for thought, to be honest - at the risk of posting spoilers, the corporate ownership of everything, including time itself, seems like a harbinger of things to come for our society the way things are currently going. I really liked the main characters, Zann and Youren, one human, and one not - or is he? This is yet another area where the author is extrapolating on some current trains of thought, about what it means to be sentient, and how that intersects with a person's or being's rights. Now I'm getting rambly, sorry. Sufficient to say that I am still thinking about this book and that it made a real impression. If you liked movies like Minority Report and The Running Man, and recent TV shows like Almost Human (which I really enjoyed, and not just because it starred Karl Urban) and the BBC's Humans, you will enjoy this fast-paced sci-fi book.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chéri - Colette

Colette is an author I've been meaning to read for ages, and I finally got around to reading this book for French Bingo. I really enjoyed it! It's a deceptively simple story but it has a real emotional impact.  I think it's a very "French" story, in that it's about love and pragmatism and the realities of human relationships. For the time in which it was written (1920), it is very frank, although it conforms to some modern norms about romantic relationships. I can see that this book was probably really popular back in its day, and that it would have been considered quite a bit more "scandalous" in the US than in its native land. I like to imagine a young woman with freshly bobbed hair reading this racy new book from France on a beautiful college campus in Fall in New England. Maybe she's even (gasp!) smoking! Ha ha. But joking aside, this was a lovely book and I look forward to reading more from Colette.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

December Reread - Sleeping in Flame - Jonathan Carroll

A former coworker and fellow reading enthusiast recommended this author's books to me ages and ages ago, and I read the ones I could get ahold of at the library and liked them quite a bit. So when I came across this book on the office's book exchange shelf a few years ago I happily brought it home to see if things were as good as I remembered. I didn't remember any details about the books, to be honest, just that I had enjoyed them.

I am happy to report that I did in fact enjoy this book, even if I now see it as the obvious product of a Baby Boomer in the 1980s. And not just because of the lack of modern conveniences like cell phones; it's the way the characters are preoccupied with things that people today just aren't, or at least aren't in the same way as they may have been then. Does that make any sense? Probably not, sorry.

In any case, the writing is solid and the story is nicely done and keeps the reader turning pages. The magical realism is cool; this book is sort of like an Americanized/Europeanized Murakami story in that it starts out as any other fictional novel and then takes a turn for the strange that's interesting. If you're a fan of books with magical realism, you'll probably enjoy this one too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

This book made a contradictory impression on me, if that makes any sense at all - on the one hand, I liked it, and on the other hand, it kind of drove me crazy. It reminded me a bit of Sophie's World with all of its philosophizing. I liked the main characters and I well understand that there are a lot of stupid, spoiled people in the world, etc., but I felt like this novel could have made the same points in a bit less time. Mixed feelings. 

Pre-order This Is Where It Ends and win!

Hi everyone, and Happy December!

Sourcebooks, the publisher of Marieke Nijkamp's gripping This Is Where it Ends, is having a giveaway and a contest for those who pre-order this great YA novel (as well as anyone else who would like to enter).





Here are the details:



Between now and the book’s on-sale date of January 5, 2016, they're giving away custom "TIME WAS OURS" lanyards, and the chance for one lucky person to win a Polaroid Digital Instant Print Camera!

There are two ways to enter the giveaway:

1 - If you pre-order a copy of This Is Where It Ends, submit your name, mailing address, email address, and order confirmation number via Rafflecopter (see the link below):

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2 - If you have not pre-ordered a copy of This Is Where It Ends, you may enter the giveaway by printing your name, mailing address, email address and the phrase "This Is Where It Ends" on a standard-size postcard and send to: Publicity, c/o Sourcebooks, Inc., 1935 Brookdale Rd., #139, Naperville, IL 60563.

This book would make a great gift for that YA reader in your life this holiday season - even if that is you, yourself! :)

Good luck to all who enter!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November - This Month in Reading

My usual end-of-year "hurry and finish up all the outstanding challenges" scramble is in full effect: I managed to read 18 books this month, most of which were for challenges. Not bad! 

Obviously December is the last month to clear up any outstanding challenges. As of now, I have to read 13 books in order to complete all of my challenges (some challenges are already complete, and the others are mainly double-duty books). I also have a fun review lined up so stay tuned for that. So all in all December is looking like a manageable reading month. 

How's your last month of 2015 reading looking?



The Cid - Pierre Corneille (Spoilers?)

This play was first performed in 1637 in Paris. Isn't it amazing that we can read a good translation today? I'm too cynical to enjoy most love stories, but this one was pretty good all in all. I thought it was kind of daring that there was a sort of mother-daughter love triangle. My favorite part was the passage when Rodrigue describes his battle with the Moors - the writing in this monologue was particularly fetching to me for some reason. All in all this was an enjoyable 17th century play.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Bookseller of Kabul - Åsne Seierstad

This book has been put off a lot, because I was afraid that it would make me really angry. And it did; I was initially really, really angry about the rampant misogyny on display here. However, as I read further, I just got really sad instead. It's sad that these people have been through so much - war, occupation, violent control by religious zealots. It's sad that there are so many people struggling to survive. And it's sad that so many of the people in the book are prevented from doing what they want in life (like go to school or choose their own spouse) by a system that ensures they're at the mercy of the whims of one person. My heart breaks for the people caught in this system. This book is more than 10 years old now, I'd like to know how much things have changed (or haven't) since it was first published. Some quick research shows that the family in this book took exception to it, but I wasn't able to find out a lot. Evidently he wrote his own book, which I'd love to read, but it doesn't seem to have been translated into English at this time.

One thing I feel compelled to mention is that the cultural misogyny and religious zealotry on display in this book is alive and well in the supposedly enlightened Western world. We ignore it at our increasing peril.

As a complete coincidence, I'm also reading The Arabian Nights a little at a time, and I'm struck by how similar the Medieval world in the book is to the culture described in this book.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Necromancer's House - Christopher Buehlman

One of these days I'm going to just resign my fangirl reader membership and get it over with. Why, you might ask? Because despite being a big fan of many writers, I have a bad habit of not getting ahold of and devouring their latest books ASAP. Part of it is that I am trying not to accumulate new books at too fast of a pace, since I am always staring into the unforgiving jaws of a physical TBR pile (which is slowly but surely shrinking!). Another dumb thing I started doing was trying to "save" highly anticipated books as rewards for getting through other books that I had thought I wanted to read but then ended up balking at reading (maybe I "wasn't [ever] in the mood" for reading that particular book, or it was something that I thought I should read but was afraid it might be dull, etc.). Another reason is that I am out of the loop and don't always hear about new releases; I guess I need to work on that. Recommendations welcome!

This book was one of those "save it as a reward" books - I've had it for what seems like ages, but I kept waiting to read it, thinking I needed to read more of the other books that have been on the pile longer, or whatever. And while I still have a pile to whittle down, I am going to do my best to prioritize future reading using my fangirl tendencies, because readers, Christopher Buehlman is dope (in the "synonym for amazing, awesome, cool, fantastic, wonderful, etc." sense). He is the only horror author worth reading, in my opinion, and he's the only one I will willingly read. There is no tiresome fluff here, no clunky writing, just well written page turning story. While reading, I couldn't imagine how the story would end and couldn't wait to find out. My only criticism, such as it is, is that I would have loved to hear more of the backstory; maybe we'll get a prequel someday? A sequel? A series? What can I say, loving a book makes me greedy for more.

TL/DR: Highly recommended. :)

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Eighth Day of the Week - Marek Hłasko

As I have said before a number of times, one of the things I like best about the Library Sale shelves is the element of surprise - you never know what might turn up there for a pittance. So it was with this book, which originally caught my eye because it looked vintage. In fact, it's a 1958 English-language first edition of a book originally published in Poland in 1957. How cool is that? It's been cooling its proverbial heels on my TBR shelf for a while now and it's finally had its turn to be reviewed.

This book was a rather poignant and bleak look at what it was like to be young in Poland in the late 50s. You definitely feel the weight of World War II, the communist regime, the Russian occupation, and the general hopelessness that was in the air. At the same time, the young people in the book are struggling to maintain hope - mainly through love relationships, and/or drinking, as they might be the only things in their lives they can exercise some control over. Everyone is waiting for something to happen, but they seem powerless to do anything but wait. I can't get more into detail without spoiling the entire book, so I'll just end here by recommending this philosophical novel.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Infants of the Spring - Wallace Thurman

I had originally planned to read The Blacker the Berry by the same author for this year's Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge, but ultimately decided to read this book first. Now I really have to prioritize that book, most likely for next year's challenge, as this one was amazing, and I hear that book is even better.

What can I say about this book? It's a roman à clef, and I could guess at some of the characters' identities, but I could use a lot more education about the people involved to figure out some of the others. But all that aside, it's a great novel, dissecting the sometimes competing notions of the times and touching on race, class, what actually constitutes "talent," and so much more. I truly wish this book were twice as long, as I think there is so much more that could have been said, but maybe that's just greedy of me.

The author tragically died at the age of 32; what a shame that the world was not able to receive more of his work. Does anyone know of a good biography of him? After a quick trip to Wikipedia I really want to find out more about him as a person.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In the Company of Wolves: Follow the Raven - James Michael Larranaga

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free, time-limited, electronic review copy of this book from the author via NetGalley.com in exchange for my honest review, which is provided below. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

The writing in this book is a return to the well done writing level on display in Blood Orange Soda. We follow the main character from the first book, Quin, on an entirely new adventure with some of the same cast of characters. I really liked how the author developed the relationships between Quin and some of the ancillary characters from the first book, as well as creating connections with previously unrelated characters. Also welcome was his writing about Native American history and culture, which is all too often unjustly overlooked. The dash of the paranormal was cool too - just enough to be an interesting aspect of the story, but not enough to make the story seem implausible. This is another fast-paced thriller in a series that I hope continues. If you are a fan of the X-Files, Fringe, or other paranormal type shows like that, you would most likely really enjoy this series and this book in particular. The first book would make a great holiday read while you wait for this book to come out in March of 2016. :)


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In the Company of Wolves: Thinning the Herd - James Michael Larranaga

Exciting November doings here - I got an author request to review a book. How cool! I had read another book by this author, Blood Orange Soda, last year and enjoyed it, so this was a neat request. However, I realized that the book he asked me to review is actually the second in a series, and as you all know, I don't read book series out of order. A quick trip to Amazon solved that issue, and now I've read this, the first book in the series.

To be honest, the writing in this book wasn't as good as the writing in Blood Orange Soda. However, I liked the main character and the Minnesota (in January!) setting. The premise is unusual for a thriller, so that was refreshing too, and it's a fast-paced story that does keep you turning pages. If you are into what I call the "usual suspects" of suspense/thriller writing, you will probably like this book too.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Souls of Black Folk - W.E.B. Du Bois

This is a collection of essays that are heartbreaking and thought provoking and uplifting in turn. The author's optimism comes through at times, as does his frustration at the state of American society at the turn of the 20th Century. As I have written so many times on this blog, it's unbelievable to me that  Du Bois' description of what he calls "the Veil" (i.e., segregation, as a simplification) is not as different in the year 2015 as he clearly hoped it would be. This is profoundly depressing, to be honest.

As a change of mood, I have to concentrate on the sociological value of this collection, which is wonderful. Du Bois is a fantastic writer who can really paint a picture. He can also elicit emotions in the reader, which was particularly noticeable in Chapter XI: Of the Passing of the First-Born, which is a poignant essay about his son. All in all this is a valuable portrait of life and well worth reading. Recommended.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tartuffe - Molière (Spoilers?)

This play is deceptively short but packs a nice satirical wallop. In fact, it was considered offensive by many groups, including the church, the aristocracy, etc. when it was first produced in 1664. I can see why; Molière makes Orgon seem like an incredible buffoon and a dupe, and he is definitely striking out at hypocrites and phonies and those that are all too easily taken in by them. 

A quick trip to Wikipedia shows that the play was rewritten multiple times, and in fact it's a later version that is the most commonly read/performed today; this makes me wonder about the original version - I wonder if there are any existing versions that are relatively easy to access? 

As a reader who is a product of my time, I wouldn't have minded a bit more explanation of why Orgon and his mother are so easily taken in by a hypocritical con artist, but it's not a big deal in the context of the play. I will say that my favorite scene is the one in which Valère and Mariane are trying to come to terms with the news that Orgon is going to marry Mariane to Tartuffe; I thought this scene was very funny. I definitely need to read more Molière! 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Finally got around to reading this book, that had a lot of buzz when it first came out. This is a serviceable thriller, and a definite page turner, which is not to say it doesn't have issues. I can't say a lot about it without venturing in to heavy spoiler territory, but I will say I disliked the ending, even though it makes a sort of sense in the universe of the book itself.

Here are some random words and phrases that sum up my feelings about this book:
  • Unreliable narrator
  • Clever
  • Too  long
  • Mixed feelings
  • Twisted
  • Loose ends
  • Diabolical
  • Plot twists
  • Ultimately unsatisfying
I managed to avoid the movie but I think I'll watch it now out of curiosity. Mixed feelings. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Yok - Tim Davys

This book pulls out all the stops. It's different than the first three in that it tells multiple stories, rather than focusing on one larger story; however, these stories seem to share a theme that touches on the meaning of life (or lack thereof?). I can't get into it further without getting into serious spoiler territory. All I can say is that I loved this series and I wish that the author would put forth another one. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Torquai - Tim Davys

This book is more like Amberville, but it's a locked-room mystery and police procedural. I have to say I really like the characters in these books. Yes, they are sentient stuffed animals, but there's something amazing about picturing a stuffed zebra with red and green stripes wearing a suit (as an example). As a note, you don't need to have read the previous books to enjoy each book in the series. 

Each of these books has an underlying theme that is just sort of an undercurrent; I wouldn't mind hearing more about these themes to be honest. I am about to start the fourth and final book in this series, and I am already simultaneously looking forward to another book and dreading finishing it, as there won't be another one to look forward to. Highly recommended series. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lanceheim - Tim Davys

Another knockout book in the Mollisan Town series. While Amberville was more of a straight-up film noir style mystery/thriller, this book was more of a drama with a lot of metaphysical undertones (or not so under tones). There is a lot to think about here, starting with the cover. I have so many thoughts about this book that they are all colliding with each other. I will be mulling it over for days and days. Now I can't wait to read the next two books.

Have you read this series? I would love to discuss it with fellow fans, so please leave a comment if you'd like to discuss it too!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Day in Heaven with My Lil' Sister - Quest Delaney

Mr. K met the author and bought his book, as we both like to support writers and artists who are not part of the mainstream best seller factories. Although I can't say this book is something I would normally read, I found it to be a heartfelt memoir and a tribute to the author's sister, who passed away.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Black No More - George Schuyler

Readers, this book was a revelation. It's a new favorite that I can't believe I had never heard of until I was researching books for this year's Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge. I am not someone who laughs audibly while reading; I usually just smile when something is funny, but this book had me literally laughing out loud at times.

The drawback to this book (such as it is) is that so much of the types of thinking the author deftly skewers with his satirical wit is still on display in the year 2015. It's seriously dismaying to realize how little some things have changed since this book was first published in 1931. Some of the political hijinx could be ripped from today's headlines and no one could tell any difference between the fictionalized world of this book and the words and deeds of many people today. Which should scare you to your core and motivate you to be the change you seek and for Pete's sake, to vote in every election. (I'll get off my soapbox now!)

This book should be read by everybody. It's equally thought-provoking and entertaining. The writing is great. The message needs to be heard. Highly recommended!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Les Misérables - Victor Hugo

Readers, I have a quick confession to make!

So I have had 2 electronic copies of this book for a while, one in the original French, one in English. I had been too intimidated to even try to read the French version until last year, so I decided to try reading both versions at the same time as a chapter-a-day read for 2015. I officially chose the English version for the Back to the Classics Challenge's over 500 pages category, since the electronic version was more than 950 pages, but I was smart enough to not make the French version official, just in case.

Turns out I had the right idea. Sadly, my plan to read a chapter a day did not work out. I was unable to keep up and in fact both versions sat untouched for months. It hit me that in reality, I just don't like reading books on the computer. I don't enjoy anything about it. The computer is in the way and hard to deal with; I can either sit uncomfortably at a table to read or the computer overheats if I try to read more comfortably on the sofa; my eyes get tired from the screen light. I really prefer to read a book the old-fashioned way. But I needed to complete the challenge and read this book. How to make that happen? I decided to grab a "real" copy from the library and I did what I could to clear time from my schedule and got down to business. The "real" copy ended up being 1200 pages too, so in fact I somehow read even more pages than I otherwise would have.

I must say that I was captivated all through the first three parts. I found it easy to overlook the rambling that was common during this period in history (mid-1800s), which normally drives me insane, as well as the amazing coincidences (hey, they make a great story!), and focus on the characters and wondering what would happen next. But somewhere during the 4th part my interest flagged a bit. This part just went on far too long. The characters pontificate and bloviate and speak in pages and pages of monologues and then the narrator joins in with more rambling. I completely understand that this is a feature of literature of this period, and not a "bug;" that the author is making (and making and making and making) a point; that attention spans were longer than three seconds back when this book was originally published (ooh shiny / squirrel!); but overall it became a bit more of a slog for me.

In addition, in the last 2 parts, there were some things that occurred that seemed out of character to me. I get that this is most likely meant by the author as a show that these characters have changed in some way, but for some reason I felt unsure of that as a reader. It's as if Hugo decided that telling (and telling and telling) the point he is making was more important than showing us as readers those points through the actions of the characters. I hope that makes sense.

All this being said, I still enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I read it. In fact, I would like to read more of Hugo's books in the future.

tl/dr: worth reading, but one that takes time and patience!

ETA: I read the Norman Denny translation and I highly recommend it - it was wonderful reading.



Friday, November 6, 2015

November Reread - Amberville - Tim Davys

When I originally thought up the monthly reread, I intended to read books I hadn't already covered on this blog - books I may have read years ago that I wanted to revisit. I first read this book back in 2012 (that review can be found here), so in normal circumstances it wouldn't have made the cut for this challenge. However, this book happens to be the first in a series of 4 books, and the other 3 books have been on my TBR pile for a while now; plus, I have a terrible memory and although I remembered loving this book I couldn't recall any details. For these reasons I decided to go ahead and reread this so I can read the next 3 books ASAP with the first book more freshly in my mind.

The second reading only made me love the book more. It's really just a fun, fantastic experience that has enough meat to make you think (if you so desire). I highly recommend this book and I can't wait to dive in to the rest of the series. Still highly recommended.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence

Readers, I have very mixed feelings about this book, which turned out to be a sequel to The Rainbow, which I happened to read last year. I have to say that the things I pointed out as annoying in that book were just as present, and just as annoying in this book - in fact, maybe even more so. This book is almost more of a long philosophical conversation than a "novel" in which things happen. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but in the end I felt like this book could have been half the length and not lost any of the messages that I felt the author was trying to convey. Perhaps I am not as much of a Lawrence fan as I thought I might become! In any case, I am not sorry to have read this book or the other 2 I have read since I began this blog, but I think I am safe to move on to other classic authors and other classic works for now.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October - This Month in Reading

October wasn't a bad month for reading, all things considered. I read 7 books, one of which was unplanned, and one of which was the completion of a book in Dutch, which I read very slowly. I'm almost done with the next book but due to other circumstances I'm not going to finish it tonight. Naturally I would have liked to read more, but in general I think I am on track - most of my reading challenges are very close to being completed (if they're not already finished) and I have a plan to finish up the rest in the next 2 months. So all in all, I'm OK with this month's reading. How was your October reading? 

Happy Halloween! 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Steppenwolf - Herman Hesse

Readers, I can honestly see why this book became popular in the 1960s - I can imagine that it spoke to many people at that time of societal change and upheaval, which in its own way was much like the time period that produced this book (the 1920s). This book is frank and it's evident that the relatively new field of psychology influenced it quite a bit. It's also obviously a sharp critique of "bourgeois" values, which was again a popular thing to do again in the 60s. In some ways I am not sure what to make of it.

I suspect this book would be a very interesting text to read as part of a college-level class that studied the history of Germany from the time leading up to World War I and then the aftermath of that, culminating in World War II. To discuss the societal norms and how Hesse skewers many of them, as well as exploring the meaning of the last part of the book, which takes place in a theater unlike any other. That portion of the book alone would provide quite a bit of fodder for a lively discussion. I think if you are a fan of classic literature, this is a very readable book that also provides a lot of food for thought.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Het Achterhuis - Anne Frank

Toen ik was een meisje, ik las het boek voor de eerste keer (in het engels natuurlijk). Het raakte mij. Het werd een van mijn favoriete boeken. Anne was als een vriend voor mij. Omdat ik jong was begreep ik haar problemen met haar moeder en dergelijke. Nadat ik dit boek had gelezen, las ik meer boeken over de Holocaust en de tweede wereld oorlog. Ik wilde meer over Anne te weten komen maar het was moeilijk in de tijd voor het internet. Een grote wens voor mij werd Annes boek in het Nederlands, de taal waarin ze het dagboek schreef, te lezen. Ik wilde de Nederlandse taal leren.

Het is raar om een boek dat je zo goed kent in een andere versie te lezen. Er zijn zo veel nieuwe verhalen en details in deze versie. Ik denk dat sommige hadden moeten worden weggelaten. Het waren te persoonlijke gedachten. Maar in het algemeen was ik erg blij om nieuwe informatie over Anne en de andere schuilers/onderduikers. Omdat ik een volwassene ben, begrijp ik de volwassenen in het verhaal meer. De gedachten en gevoelens van een "bakvis" zijn nu vreemder, maar ze helpen me herinneren hoe het was om die leeftijd te zijn.

Vandaag heb ik mijn doel ongeveer bereikt. Ik las het boek, maar mijn Nederlands is niet zo goed. Ik denk dat ik het boek een andere keer moet lezen nadat ik meer Nederlands heb gesturdeerd. Ik las het boek op hetzelfde moment als de Engels versie, en dat was voor mij een goede methode. Op deze manier kon ik het verhaal beter begrijpen, maar nog niet niet elk woord.

October Reread - The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank

As someone who grew up reading (and rereading) the previous version of this book, I was really excited to read this newer version when it was first released in the 1990s. This was mainly because it contained a lot of new material that had been omitted for various reasons from the version I grew up with. That seemed incredible to me - to have thought for so long that the diary was a finite document, and to find out that in fact, there was a lot more to be discovered - it was a wonderful gift.

To be honest, though, I have mixed feelings about some of the "new" material. In some cases, the passages are completely innocuous and just add depth to the reader's experience of Anne's life in her own words. In other cases, though, I sort of wish some of the passages that are obviously of a more personal and private nature had been left out. Part of this feeling is that I feel sure that Anne didn't intend these passages to be read by others, and might be horrified to think that other people are reading things she would never have intended for publication. The addition of these passages has also opened up the book to criticism from the book banners, who can now point to these passages as a good excuse to keep younger people from reading the book. I'm sure this was unintended, and it shouldn't factor in to a decision about editing any book, but it's the reality of today's political climate here in the US, unfortunately. But all in all, the new translation and the new material deepen my love for this book, one of my favorites.

Obviously, I had originally intended to reread this book over the summer, since it was part of my summer reading theme, but that didn't quite happen. I originally intended to read all 4 versions of the diary together, but soon discovered that this wasn't easily done. As it happened, the previous edition and the French edition I have corresponded exactly, but the Dutch version I have corresponds to this version exactly - so I chose to read the books in pairs instead. I'm very slow at reading in Dutch so it took me a lot longer to read that version, which is why I wasn't able to finish it in the summer. Obviously I would have rather finished it sooner, but still, reading this book is the achievement of a life goal I set for myself as a child, so I'm still happy I managed to make it happen.