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 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.