Sunday, May 31, 2015

May - This Month in Reading

An unfortunate illness in May had the silver lining of giving me more time to read books this month, so overall I managed to read 13 books, which was a good solid number and much better than April's total of 4.25. Another benefit was that with 2 exceptions, the books I read were physical books from my pile - so that was another win. I even read some challenge books, so I got some momentum going for that. And I cleared the last 2 NetGalley books and managed to avoid requesting any new books, so that is a positive thing too. I think I can definitely summit Mount TBR this year!

For June, I have a special reading theme planned, and some books that have been set aside for this theme. I may read some additional, non-theme books, but it will depend on how much time I end up having, since a couple of the planned books are not in English, so they will take a lot longer to read than if they were in English. So my plan is to read the 8 books I have set aside for this theme in June, and more if I have the opportunity. For July I will be back to reading off the TBR pile with no theme in mind, just avoiding the summer heat and humidity and counting down until fall.

How is your summer reading looking? Do you have any themes or challenges planned?

Love Over Scotland - Alexander McCall Smith

Yet another book in the 44 Scotland Street series. This volume showed more of the "writing in serial form" seams in my opinion - there were more red-herring dead end plot elements that seemed to be there on purpose to spin out the plot and elongate the story, that sort of thing. That said, I enjoyed this book, even if I did prove to me beyond any reasonable doubt that Charles Dickens was indeed paid by the word.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Espresso Tales - Alexander McCall Smith

The second book in the 44 Scotland Street series is very much like the first, with further developments happening in the lives of the characters. I think my favorite characters are Cyril and Bertie. This book had a few dead-end plot elements that probably stuck out less when reading the story over time in a serial format, but were more obvious in a book form. Another enjoyable light read.

Friday, May 29, 2015

44 Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith

Picked up several of the books in this series on the Library Sale shelves over the past couple years, and I was in the mood for something light and enjoyable to read, so I picked up the first book. Evidently this book is really like Tales of the City for straight Edinburghians (Edinburgers?) - it was originally published in serial form in a newspaper, and evidently still is, until the overall story gets compiled in book form. I have probably read almost all of the Precious Ramotswe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and enjoyed it, and this book is very much in that vein - it's light and fluffy and filled with mostly kind, good natured characters making their way in the world. I say "mostly kind" because there are definitely a few characters I want to give a good shake or a smart rap on the skull - but all good stories need them, I suppose! If you are a fan of the author's other books you should enjoy this one too.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh

This was a wickedly funny satire of the British upper classes circa the late 1920s (I seem to have a little mini-theme of that time period going here). I'm sure as an American product of the late 20th century I missed plenty of the humor that would have been more obvious to a reader when it was first published, and/or who had life experience that was more similar to events in the book, but I still found much to laugh at. The darkly dry, humorous tone was very enjoyable. Recommended.

Cold Faith - Shaune Lafferty Webb

This sci fi/fantasy book engaged my interest right away, with some sympathetic characters to root for, as well as some antagonistic characters to wonder about, and a well thought out setting. The author has set up some mysteries that keep the reader turning pages, wanting to know the answers. I think there may be a forthcoming series, and I hope there will be more books, as there are definitely things that could be explored and expanded on in this setting, and I'd love to read more. Another winning book for fans of well done sci fi/fantasy novels.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Through the Language Glass - Guy Deutscher

Yet another random book find on the Library Sale shelves. I picked this book up thinking I should read it as a prelude to the Language Freak Summer Challenge, which I think might not be on this year. In any case as a language junkie the topic, summarized in the subtitle "Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages," jumped out at me. I had no idea just how little I actually knew about linguistics (to be fair to myself, I have never formally studied linguistics, just random languages). My mind was blown right away, when the author described languages that have no separate words for "green" and "blue" - speakers of such languages consider these colors to be different shades of the same color. I hadn't come across this idea before! There were many interesting revelations about the relationship between language and thought which I won't spoil here. I'd like to read the author's other book after reading this one. Interesting book for readers interested in linguistics and foreign languages.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Magnificent Obsession - Lloyd C. Douglas (Spoilers?)

This was yet another random Library Sale book that seemed interesting at the time, but then took up residence on Mount TBR until I made it a part of this year's Back to the Classics Challenge. I knew nothing at all about it, and was surprised to discover that not only was this book hugely popular in its day, it inspired at least 2 filmed versions (that I have obviously never seen).

I have to say that this book can best be described in modern parlance as a cross between "The Secret" and "Pay It Forward," combined with a conventional fictional love story, which naturally includes plenty of silly misunderstandings that contrive to keep the would-be lovers apart so as to further the story along, topped by a pinch of religion for good measure. To be fair the religious parts were somewhat interesting, as they didn't dwell on particulars but seemed to convey the message that people should do good works anonymously/without expectation of reward, and if they truly do that, a higher power will reward them. This idea, straight out of 1929, is a bit refreshing in this day and age of screamers who thump holy books and seem to not only go out of their way to avoid doing anything that could remotely be considered a good work, but to actively do bad things and gloat about them.

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy - Elizabeth R. Varon

This well researched book's subtitle tells it all: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy. I picked this book up at a Civil War historical site's gift shop, as I love stories about spying, particularly how people did it in bygone eras when there was no "technology" that we take for granted today. I grew up in the North of the U.S., where the Civil War is just something you hear about in school a couple times over 12 years (as opposed to something discussed daily as if it were still an ongoing occurrence, as it apparently is in some places in the South), so I was not familiar with Civil War-era spy craft in general or Ms. Van Lew in particular. I'm glad that I have learned about her now, as her story encompasses a lot of the issues that continue to appear today: civil rights, racism, women's rights, politics becoming too personal. Elizabeth Van Lew was a truly brave person, who risked her life and livelihood because she felt so strongly about her loyalty to the Union. I'm surprised she is so little known today - but maybe that's my Yankee bias showing, she may (ironically) be more well known in the South. In any case, her story deserves a much wider audience, and I recommend this well done book as a good source.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear

Yet another impulsive buy from the Library Sale shelves, mainly because it's set in the early 20th century and I love that era. I enjoyed the book but I wanted to like it more than I did. It has some "woo" elements that didn't actually bother me, as those types of things were becoming more popular in this time period. I was more bothered by the main story line, which sort of meanders and doesn't have a strong conclusion. However, with that said, I would check out the next book in what is evidently a series with at least 11 books, as I did like the "plucky" main character. So this was a mixed feelings book for me.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

This book is so universally lauded that I knew I would have to read it, especially after reading The Toughest Indian in the World a couple years ago. The Library Sale shelves provided me with a copy, which has now left my TBR Pile and become an instant favorite.

What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? I laughed, I cried, I felt every possible emotion in reading this story, which is surprisingly and wonderfully frank (seems like the theme of this week's reading). And lo and behold, it is perched atop the ALA's list of frequently banned and challenged books. Check out this laundry list of "reasons:"

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

Bwahahahahahahahhahahahahahaha. So in other words, it depicts reality and not some stupid, sanitized version of life that doesn't exist outside of certain expensive theme parks. Some people need to grow up and get a life. Anti family???? This book shows a realistic family, warts and all, but a family that is full of love (which is more than many people can say they have). "Sex education" - yes, heaven forbid anyone learn that! "Gambling??" Who wrote that complaint, a time-traveling Puritan straight out of 1664? "Violence" - good thing there is no violence on TV, in movies, in video games, or anywhere else! UGH.

Just read this book. It deserves all of its accolades. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nobody's Family Is Going to Change - Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy was one of my favorite books when I was a kid, and of course I read the sequel, The Long Secret. I remember this book, which is about an African-American family, being around too, but in all honesty I can't remember if I read it as a kid or not, even after reading it now as an adult - usually my memory would have kicked in at some point if it seemed at all familiar. (I always talk about my bad memory, and it is terrible, but it works with associations really well, so I might not remember reading a book if it was a long time ago, but once I start reading things might seem familiar after a while if I have indeed read the book before.)

I bring this up because frankly I wish I had read this book a million times when I was a kid. The message in the book is one that I might have benefitted greatly from hearing at the time (and still resonates now). The story was really frank; it surprised me in that way, although it shouldn't - books for kids/young adults in the 1970s were probably much more frank and realistic than the overly sanitized and watered-down stories we started seeing more of in the 1980s. As an adult in the early 21st century I appreciated it very much. I also liked the main character, even if she wasn't the most likable person. YA fans should really enjoy this book - recommended.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Eeny Meeny - M.J. Arlidge

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

This was a page-turning thriller that was like a cross between the Saw movies and the excellent Prime Suspect TV show. It's unbelievably creepy - I seriously think I might have nightmares tonight! This is a perfect beach read - make sure to apply lots of sunscreen because you won't be able to put this book down once you start reading.

Friday, May 8, 2015

May Reread - 1984 - George Orwell

I was craving more dystopian fiction after rereading The Handmaid's Tale in April, so I went straight to the (arguable) mother of all such novels for May. I seem to remember reading this book in high school, but I didn't remember much of anything about it, which was a good thing - I could experience it anew.

This book is another terrifying look into totalitarianism and how it destroys the essence of what makes human beings human. Winston Smith's job in particular is horrifying to me - as much as I know it's difficult to get to much of the time, I value the concept of "truth" and being falsely accused is something that instantly makes me incredibly angry. I cannot imagine being in a situation where total lies were considered the norm - and yet it happens all the time with alarming regularity. I am not sure if I'm making sense so I'm going to stop here. Everyone should read this book.

On another note, this book is #9 on the ALA's Banned and Challenged Classics list. Once again I have to imagine that this is mainly the work of those who would use this book as a how-to manual.