Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September - This Month in Reading

September turned out to be a much better reading month for me - I read a total of 14 books, most of which were for challenges. As always I was hoping to read a few more, but after a summer of not as much reading as I wanted, this is a great result.

Speaking of challenges, since September marks the end of the 3rd quarter of the year, I'd like to do a quick check-in on all of my challenges:

Back to the Classics Challenge - 7/12 books, and I have plans to finish the rest ASAP, so this one's looking good.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - 30/60 books, so far; I would like to be farther along, of course, but I am confident I can summit again this year. Or make it all the way back down from the summit, which I reached last year.

Read It Again, Sam - 9/12 rereads completed, one per month as planned, this one is looking great.

TBR Pile Challenge - 9/12 TBR Pile books and 1/2 alternates completed so far. I am confident that I can complete this challenge again this year.

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge - My goal was the category that allowed for 7 - 12 books and so far I have listed 15, with more to come, so this one's good.

Color Coded Reading Challenge - 7/9 books read, and a plan for the last 2, so I'm confident about this one too.

Books in Translation Reading Challenge - I've posted 10 books and I had planned for 10 - 12, so this one is basically finished, with more on the way too.

Banned Books Challenge - I've posted 6 books and had planned for 3 - 5, so this one is basically finished, but I suspect there will be a few more to come.

French Bingo 2015 - I still haven't gotten Bingo but I have more books on the way, so who knows. I may or may not actually get Bingo, but in any case it's fun to read the books, so I'm happy just to play this one.

LGBT Reading Challenge 2015 - I had planned for 3 - 10 books and I have 8 plus a short story, so this one's basically finished, although there may be more to come.

Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge - For this challenge, I had planned for 6 - 10 books and so far I only have 4. I'm not worried, I have time to complete this challenge, and I look forward to doing so.

So there you have it... Coming in to the 4th and final quarter of 2015, things are looking OK for a strong finish to all of my reading challenges in 2015. How's your fall reading looking?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Le Petit Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ce très petit livre, un des livres les plus célébrés au monde, défie toute description. C'est comme un conte des fées, mais c'est beaucoup plus - c'est aussi un chef d’œuvre. C'est une histoire qui semble très simple, mais on peux la relire beaucoup de fois et chaque fois trouver quelque chose de nouveau là-dessus.

J'étais très contente de trouver ce livre, en français, à vendre dans la petite << boîte bouquiniste >> dans ma bibliothèque. C'était un vrai plaisir de le lire en français. Je crois que le petit prince est plus sympa en français, et la rose est plus vaine.

Je l'ai lu pour le première fois il y a plusieurs années. Maintenant, je suis une adulte, mais j'espère que j'ai gardé un peu l'esprit du prince.

September Reread - The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This tiny book, one of the world's most famous, defies a review. What can I say about it that hasn't been said a million times already? It's one of those deceptively simple books that one can read again and again and see something new each time.

I was inspired to use this for my September reread book because last year around this time I found a copy in the original French on the Library Sale shelves (that will be the next review, en français). I had, of course, read this book in the English translation years and years (and years) ago. In fact, I somehow managed to hold on to my original copy, which it was my pleasure to remove from its dusty spot on my bookshelves and rediscover along with reading the French version in a quick readalong.

As I've noted in the past, having a bad memory can sometimes be a good thing. In this case, it allowed me to come back to this book in a "fresh" state, since it had been so long since I originally read it I basically remembered nothing about it. The story was probably even more moving and affecting for me now, well into adulthood. And I feel obligated to quote the famous lines:

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." 

Highly recommended. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The City & The City - China Miéville

I have been wanting to read a book by this author for a while, but I got the impression that his books are sort of mind-bending and baffling and difficult, so that put me off a bit. I did get this book from the Library Sale shelves, but I still avoided it a bit until I decided to make it a priority with the TBR Pile Challenge and just take the plunge already. 

As usual, I feel like a ninny for waiting this long to read this book. I will say that the story is definitely one part detective story and one part mind-freak, but the writing is great and the stranger parts of the story are well done. I also grew to love the protagonist, and his narrative voice. In fact, I had trouble putting this down once I took in the central premise. And what a premise it is. I'd love to see the setting in the way the author sees it in his mind's eye. In the hands of the right director, this could be an amazing-looking film; in fact, I heard that someone is filming a version for the BBC, but I didn't see any details on when we might expect to be able to see that. I hope it's soon, and well done. 

If you're a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, and/or detective stories, you will probably enjoy this book as much as I did. Recommended. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

O Pioneers! - Willa Cather

Willa Cather is quickly becoming a favorite author for me. Once I started reading this book I found it impossible to put down and I read it all in one sitting. As with My Ántonia, the characters fairly leap off the page they seem so real. That isn't to say I like them all, just that they seem very alive to me. The writing is beautiful, and I feel like it influenced John Steinbeck's descriptive writing, although that's based on sort of a gut feeling more than any hard evidence. There's some wonderful foreshadowing that I'd love to have written a paper about; maybe someday I'll win the lottery and become the nerdy, studious version of Van Wilder and do just that. And once again the author has captivated me with descriptions of the wild Nebraska prairie that make me truly understand why some of the characters are so attached to their land. I can't wait for next year's Back to the Classics Challenge so I can read another one of Cather's books. Highly recommended.

Fluent Forever - Gabriel Wyner

As a perpetual language learner and a sort of failed polyglot, and someone with a lousy memory, I'm always looking for ways to improve my language abilities. So when a cool coworker and fellow language learner recommended this book to me, I was intrigued enough to squeeze it in to my reading as soon as I could, instead of putting it on my recommended books list for future reading if/when my TBR pile ever gets small enough, etc.

The book's subtitle is "How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It" and the book outlines tools and techniques that I think would be super helpful to anyone who is learning a language from scratch. It does have helpful info for those of us who are more intermediate in a language, but who are not fluent and would like to improve, but overall it's a bit more written for beginners.

Many of the suggested tools are free, which is great; language learning can get expensive, so I appreciate that he didn't fall back on only recommending "pay expensive tutors!" and "drop everything and get into a lengthy and expensive immersion program!" although both of these things are indeed mentioned among a lot of options. I personally would love to attend a good immersion program, but it's hard to get a large chunk of time off of work, etc. - so if you're a person younger than I am and you're an aspiring polyglot, don't make my mistakes - take advantage of any and every opportunity you can before your life gets too settled! </soapbox>  :)

But back to the book. One thing the book talks about a lot is using spaced repetition and creating flashcards to set up your brain for remembering words and grammar. After reading about this method in detail, I am definitely going to try it out. I do already use flashcards (little paper ones with no frills), but I haven't been consistently using them, so I think trying something new might be helpful. I'll let you all know how it goes.

So all in all, if you're looking for a new way to approach language learning, give this book a try. And if you do, let me know how it's going!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress - Beryl Bainbridge

One of the reasons I love the Color-Coded Reading Challenge is that I am forced to look for books that fit certain categories, and in the process, I often stumble on great books and/or authors that I may not have otherwise encountered. This book is one such find, discovered as I was searching the library catalog for a book for the most difficult challenge category (well, maybe in a tie with "brown"):

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

Having read this book, I would like to read more by the same author. I found all of the characters repellent and fascinating in equal measure, and I liked how the writing showed us that the past can ripple into the present. Much of this book struck me as baffling but at the same time totally understandable. I know that makes little sense but this book was disorienting in a way, and not in a bad way. Another book that has a lot of scope for introspection. Recommended.

I did some quick research and discovered that this book was actually unfinished - the author died while she was working on this novel. Frankly, I kind of like how it ended, although I do wonder what else might have happened to the characters. If you've read this, or other books by this author, let me know, I'd love to hear other opinions!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly

This was yet another Library Sales shelf find, which has been waiting to be read, and yet again I wish I had read it sooner. It's the first book of a series featuring Benjamin January, the titular free man of color, and the story is set in New Orleans in 1833. I know next to nothing about New Orleans, and even less about this era in that city's history, but I definitely know a lot more than I used to. A lot of what I now know is rather sad and depressing; if someone ever invents a usable time machine, I'm not sure I'd ever travel back to this place and time, for many reasons.

However, the main character is wonderful, and the central mystery kept me guessing throughout. I would very much like to read the rest of this series, so I will have to add that to my ever-growing list of book series to take up if I can ever get my TBR pile under control. Recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Pain in the Tuchis - Mark Reutlinger

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 otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

Last year around this time, I discovered the wonderful Mrs. Kaplan through NetGalley, and was thoroughly charmed by her. At the time, I fervently hoped that a series was afoot. So imagine how overjoyed I was to receive an email telling me a second book featuring my new favorite mystery-solving duo was available for requesting on NetGalley. Hooray!! I immediately sent in my request.

This sequel didn't disappoint. It's another thoroughly charming mystery featuring Mrs. Kaplan, and her Watson, Mrs. Berkowitz, who narrates the stories in an uncomplicated but colorful way. The story itself is deceptively simple, but there is actually a lot of things going on, which makes the story richer. The mystery kept me guessing until the end too.

This book arrives just in time for holiday gift-giving, and along with the previous one too, of course, would be wonderful gift for someone who likes cozy mysteries. Preferably enjoyed with a nice cup of tea and some mandelbrot. Highly recommended!

What a great addition to my Fall reading. I really hope to see a third book at this time next year too.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe

Reader, this is one of those books that comes along and leaves you reeling. It's a deceptively short book, but I suspect that someone could reread the book every year for years and years and never hit the limit on the possibilities for symbolism, or get tired of pondering the main character's actions. This is one of those stories that leaves me incoherent and babbling, and wanting to write a long paper for a college-level class. There is just so much here to think about and discuss.

After some quick research, I learned that the events in the book are actually somewhat based on the author's life, which adds yet another dimension to it. I want to say this grounds the story, but it also provides a canvas on which we can extend the events into a character study of the main character. The strangest thing is that most of what occurs in the book is actually rather unpleasant; but the main character's actions, while often unpleasant, deserve scrutiny for how they relate to his inner turmoil.

OK, now I know I am making no sense; I apologize, I am having a hard time articulating my thoughts. I suspect I'll be thinking about this one for a long time. Recommended.

Friday, September 18, 2015

As If! The Oral History of Clueless, as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew - Jen Chaney

Like, you probably wouldn't guess this about me, but I'm like a major fan of the movie Clueless. It's such a clever comedy, full of witty lines, and it's just so... bright and happy and fun. I think it's right up there with some of my favorite classic comedies, like Some Like It Hot, His Girl Friday, the Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Topper, and Duck Soup. So when I somehow stumbled on this book while searching for something completely unrelated in the library catalog, I had to read it immediately.

Virtually everyone who was involved with the film is represented in this book, and it's great to hear the stories about creating and making the movie in first-person narratives. The book also dives into this movie's influence on popular culture, and how it boosted the careers of many of the people involved with it. It's a fun, fast read and it made me want to rewatch my DVD so I could spend a little more time in Cher Horowitz's world. This would be a great gift for that Clueless fan in your life (especially if that fan is you! :) ) this holiday season! Recommended.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Berlin Noir - Philip Kerr

This book is actually 3 books in a single volume, evidently the first books in the Bernie Gunther series. This 800+ page paperback book has sat on my shelves for far too long, and as usual, I am sorry that I didn't start reading it sooner, as once I started I couldn't put it down. These 3 books really were each like a film noir translated onto the page, complete with a hard-boiled detective, twisty plots, and cagey dames. The 1930s Berlin setting helps the first two books; the feeling of dread that is taking over Germany and Europe is palpable and adds to the noir feeling. The last of the three takes place after World War II, and the destruction that war wrought on lives as well as the landscape play a part as well.

I will say that the first book, March Violets, takes a turn at the end that I did not see coming and that is not really referred to again; maybe it shouldn't be, but it seemed strange that it wasn't. And although we hear summaries of some of the events that occur between the second book, The Pale Criminal, and the third book, A German Requiem, I would love to hear more about these things. With all that said, there are evidently more books about Herr Gunther, and I will definitely read them if I can get my existing TBR pile under control.

I am claiming this book for the "green" category of the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, as despite the title, the fantastic cover is tinted green, as shown below.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight - Will Clower, PhD

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 otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

I originally requested this book on NetGalley at least a year ago. I was hoping to use it for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, as "brown" has always been a difficult category for me to find books for, and the topic seemed interesting. Shortly after my request, the book got archived, and I would see it from time to time in my "pending requests" list; I assumed that I had requested it too late, and I would never actually get the book, and so I put it out of my mind (and found another book for the "brown" category that year). So imagine my surprise when more than a year later, out of the blue I got an email stating that my request had been approved. It was a shock, but a good one, as I need a "brown" book for this year's challenge.

This book, which is subtitled "The Science-Based Diet for Chocolate Lovers," is written in an entertaining, easy to read and understand style. It has stories of people who have worked with the author, which I enjoyed, as I learn best through examples like this. I won't go into the details of the book here, but I will tell you that despite the title, you can't subsist entirely on Snickers and Kit Kat candy bars - but that you can in fact consume a satisfying amount of real chocolate (read the book to get the specifics!) as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. This book has a lot of research to back it up, and also has a lot of delicious sounding recipes and even a journal that you can keep while you make the lifestyle changes the books describes. I think it's a really common-sensical diet plan, which emphasizes good nutrition all around, so I would definitely try it out. Great book for someone looking to make some positive life changes! 

Monday, September 7, 2015

This Is Where It Ends - Marieke Nijkamp

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 otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

This book is a gripping page-turner that I could not stop reading once I started. The changing points of view really added to the immediacy of the story, and allowed the reader to find out a lot of back story that filled in the characters. There were some elements of the story that were left a bit up in the air, and I liked that - it's much more true to life than some kind of phony closure, or some pat conclusion. This is a well done YA novel. Recommended.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Hero's Walk - Anita Rau Badami

I really enjoyed this engrossing novel about a multigenerational family in India. This book sort of reminded me of Naguib Mahfouz' Cairo Trilogy, in that it entwines multiple character studies from a single family with an overall plot. The story was compulsively readable and the characters seemed alive; the author did a nice job of being able to show us the inner motivations as well as the prevailing cultural norms that informed their actions (or lack thereof). An interesting look at a (fictional) smaller town in India.