Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - This Year in Reading

This wasn't a bad reading year - I managed to read a total of 121 books, which is a respectable number all things considered. Without any further ado, here are some of the things that went well this year:

- I finished all my challenges
- I did well with working on my challenges earlier in the year, so there wasn't as much of a sprint to the finish line as there has been in the past
- I found some great new series that I like, that I look forward to continuing to read next year

And here are some things that need improvement:

- Although I did well with finishing some of my challenges earlier in the year, rather than waiting until the last minute, I did have to do the usual last minute catching up, and I'd rather not do that again
- My reading pace varied too wildly; I'd like to keep up a more steady stream of reading rather than having a "feast or famine" approach
- Summer reading was slow - not sure why; I'd like to keep up on this in the coming summer
- Lack of proper planning meant that I didn't get bingo in French Bingo
- I stopped grabbing books from the Library Sale shelves as often as in the past, but I still dragged home a few too many, meaning that even though I cleared 60 books from this pile again thanks to the Mount TBR Challenge, the overall amount didn't go down as much as I might have liked
- Although I joined a lot of challenges and completed them, and enjoyed doing so, I didn't interact with the challenge hosts and the other participants. I'm not good about that and I'd like to work on getting better at that in the coming year

So here are some goals for 2017:

- Rethink some challenges, and focus on my favorites and those that help me with the TBR pile
- Keep up my reading momentum
- Work on completing challenges early in the year again
- Interact more with the challenges I do take on
- Read more than 121 books

So there you have it! While I'm looking forward to reading as usual, to be honest, I am not feeling very optimistic about the future these days, readers. But in any case, I wish all of you all the best in 2017.

December - This Month in Reading

This month was the usual mad scramble to complete all my challenges, and I managed to do so, with the exception of running out of time to get bingo in French Bingo, but that's OK. I read a total of 28 books, which is a nice big number; too bad I wasn't reading at that level all year!

For January 2017 (!) I hope to keep up this momentum and read at least 10 books - a slightly more realistic goal than 28, ha ha.

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs - Elaine Sciolino

I think I liked the idea of this book more than I liked the execution. On the one hand, I liked hearing about the street and the residents and shop keepers of the street. On the other hand, I feel like there was ... I don't know, more history that could have been added? In some cases, I felt like the author was trying too hard to add herself into the story too often. I dunno, this wasn't an unlikeable book of anecdotes, and I love to read about Paris, so all in all I guess it was OK.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Lesser Dead - Christopher Buehlman

Is it possible that I could love this author any more? No, seriously, I crack open one of his books and it's like - siiiiiiiiiigh, I'm home. OMG. This narrator is the best yet - and I love that he says right up front, I'm not a reliable narrator, etc. The vampire genre is a tad boring these days, but this author revives it handily and gives it a vitality and grace I couldn't have invented if I'd been paid to do so. This author has such a gift for description, I can't even describe it. I rarely get such a reliable interface between what I'm reading and vivid imagery, and only Christopher Buehlman delivers that. The pacing, the plot, it's all masterfully done. I can't recommend this book enough. If you read horror type books, and you're not already a fan of my fave, please, do yourself a favor and check him out.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Outer Edge of Society - Alexandre Dumas

This play was kind of an account of potential social climbing, with a couple of love stories (or potential love stories) involved as part of the main plot. All I can say is I'm glad that I am not part of this world of scheming and manipulating - and at the risk of spoilers, I will say that there is a (partial?) happy ending. It's an interesting take on how the "upper classes" were expanding, with or without the consent of those who had been part of them for a long time.

One Fat Englishman - Kingsley Amis

Like the last review, this is my first encounter with this author, whose reputation precedes him. I've read at least one book by his son, Martin, but this was my first foray into this paragon of British literature. After some research, I realize that this isn't one of his most highly regarded works, and in fact it seems to be at least a little autobiographical; apparently it was. Did these people really drink and carouse this much? I find it hard to believe, but I guess when this much booze is involved, anything can happen. All in all there were some amazing turns of phrase and things that made me laugh out loud in this book; if this is one of his weaker works, I am in for a real treat when I read the classics.

See Now Then - Jamaica Kincaid

This is my first book by the author, and it makes me wonder what her other books are like. I did like the way she portrayed the way people in a longterm relationship can hold simultaneously good and bad feelings about those they love - that strikes me as very true! On the other hand, this slim volume is written in a stream of consciousness style that isn't my thing, if I'm being honest. The repetitious pages-long paragraphs got old. So while I am not completely on board with the writing style, this book was enough to make me curious enough to read other books by this author, so I think I will do so.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December Reread 9 - Wishful Drinking - Carrie Fisher

I am utterly heartbroken that Carrie Fisher died yesterday. I can't even tell you what the original Star Wars meant to me. I thought Princess Leia was so beautiful, and she was such a refreshing change from the usual screaming meemie damsels in distress. I wanted to be that sassy and brave and savvy and smart! Still do, as a matter of fact, ha ha.

As my last official reread in 2016, I wanted to honor the author, who happened to be very sassy and brave and savvy and smart in real life, and a talented writer to boot. This book is a written format of a stage show of the same name, and is a sort of Cliffs Notes version of the author's life, including her Hollywood royalty family, her own acting career, her writing career, and her struggles with addiction and with mental illness. It's a fresh, funny, breezy read that is also frank and not sugar coated. I can't believe we have lost such a talent. At least we will always have her works to call on.

ETA: I just heard her mother, Debbie Reynolds, has died today - I am in shock.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December Reread 8 - The Long Secret - Louise Fitzhugh

This book is a fitting sequel to Harriet the Spy; it retains some of the same characters and adds fantastic new ones, and we get to see some more depth from some of the side characters, if not so much from Harriet herself. I like how the author develops the titular "secret" and how she just drops us into the action and lets us observe how things unfold. I also like that not everything is neatly resolved; while we do discover the secret and etc., there are a lot of things that we don't find out about, which is realistic.

I feel like there could be a lot more stories that take place with this crew, but sadly there aren't. There is a book that is supposed to be about Sport, but I read it years ago and it had none of the magic of this book and the predecessor; I think it was published posthumously so it might have been a rough draft or have been partially written by someone else or something. Like Shirley Jackson, Fitzhugh died young and it makes me sad to think of all the great books she might have produced. Another childhood fave that I can hold close to my heart.

Monday, December 26, 2016

December Reread 7 - Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

I was in dire need of a palette cleanser, so I grabbed this childhood favorite for an attitude adjustment. I loved this book to pieces when I was a kid, and I was happy to find a decent older version that preserves the original illustrations by the author.

This book is kind of a mystery to me. It draws me in and is engrossing, and yet there are some very odd things that happen during the story and make little sense even now. On the other hand, I love the author's way of just breezily taking us along with her, and her character descriptions are so well done I can see the characters in my mind very vividly as I read. Harriet is kind of annoying, but that is totally realistic and it never bothered me, and still doesn't. The sequel is also on my pile, so I think I will read that too to complete this reading. A fun revisiting of a perennial favorite. Recommended.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee (Spoilers)

Hoo boy, readers, where do I start with this book.

This book reads like some kind of half-baked first draft of a sequel. There are passages that are lifted directly, word for word, from To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM). There are also many things that seem to contradict TKAM, such as:

-At one point, Jean Louise says, "no one in my family had ever used [the N word]." However, she herself used it several times and was specifically told not to use it during TKAM. To be fair, she wasn't hurling it at people as an insult, she was simply using it to describe black people, but she was still using it.

-In this book, Francis is described as Aunt Alexandra's son, but in TKAM he is her grandson.

-In this book, the Finch Landing house hasn't been lived in, but Aunt Alexandra was living there in TKAM.

This of course doesn't even touch the meat of the book, which is supposedly this: Jean Louise (Scout) has to grow up and realize her daddy is actually a human being and not a perfect paragon of virtue. Um, OK - but was it necessary to devote the bulk of the book to making Atticus Finch a racist and segregationist screeching about "state's rights" after spending so much of TKAM assuring the readers he is a fair minded man? Was it necessary to make nasty remark after nasty remark about the NAACP? In today's world, do we need one more lengthy diatribe about how "the wicked northerners are invading the south and imposing their icky nonsense like 'integration' when it should be up to the states and not the nasty overreaching federal government, because, after all, the black people [insert your own nasty epithet here] just can't help being inferior" (to paraphrase many many many speeches in the book)???? Strangely enough, I can turn on my TV and hear pretty much an identical speech on any day, and it's no less disgusting!!

But the most disturbing part of the book has to be when Scout has a talk with Uncle Jack, who was a seriously cool guy in TKAM, and decides that her thinking that her father is a racist is actually worse than racism itself. SIGH.

All in all, I feel like I read some kind of tired and poorly written "alt-r1ght" parody of TKAM and not a sequel to a Pulitzer Prize winning book. Don't waste your time unless this sounds like something you might be interested in.

Sorry all, I have just about had it with racism these days. I'm fed up with it and I'm tired of being told I have to respect racism and bigotry in all its forms. I am for inclusion and education, so that is what I will continue to try to do with this blog - to read so as to learn and open my mind as well as to be entertained. I will "set a watchman" here and do my best to uphold what I think is right and fair and just. Sadly, this book does not make the grade. NOT recommended.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

December Reread 6 - To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

I was lucky enough (I guess that remains to be seen, actually) to find a barely used copy of the 2015 "sequel" to this book on the Library Sale shelves for $1, but I wanted to reread this book, which I think of as a favorite, before the sequel, so I'd have it fresh in my mind.

It's funny how perspectives change as we age/mature, and as society changes. When I first read this book as a kid, I didn't really pick up on the infantilizing tone the author can use when black characters are involved in the story, but it's more apparent to me now. One thing I thought was well done was the description of the poorer, or as some characters describe them, "trashier" elements of the town and its surroundings; I like how she draws a distinction between people who work hard and maintain a level of courtesy and personal dignity despite being poor, and those who refuse to do so; despite being set in the 1930s I feel like there are people who live this way today - in thought, if not in deed. Atticus Finch is a very dignified character and is someone to look up to.

I have heard some, well, interesting things about the sequel, so I look forward to seeing what it's all about.

Friday, December 23, 2016

December Reread 5 - Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

I read this book ages and ages ago, although strangely enough, not as a child - I was a young adult. Then I found this copy on the Library Sale shelves and I've been intending to reread it ever since. And of course, as usual, time is running out for me to complete 2 of my reading challenges, so no time like the present! :)

What can I say about this book - it's charming. Anne is at times annoying, to be honest, but her heart is pure and she is a sympathetic character. Even when she is at her most exasperating she is also lovable, and you so want her to be happy and to realize her dreams.

For its age (100+ years) there are parts of the book that are not too dated, which is refreshing. Something I found to be strange was that "children" of 12 were seen as children, but 16 year olds were old enough to teach school. Nowadays, it seems like 12 year olds are all going on 21, but teaching school at 16 is unheard of, outside of the rare genius who might teach a college level class in physics or something.

In summary, this is a charming classic book with an unforgettable main character.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

Someday I'll have my act together enough to actually read classic horror during the month of October. Until then, let me just rave a bit about Shirley Jackson. Her writing is so clear, and her descriptions are so vivid that they really give you the creeps while you're reading. At the same time, the way the story develops, I feel unsure of some of it - is it real? Is it imagined? It's hard to say. It's a shame the author died so young, she was obviously enormously talented. I will really have to read her other books sooner rather than later. Recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2016

December Reread 4 - Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton

Do you ever feel certain that you read a book a long time ago, most likely in school, but you can't conclusively remember if you read it or not? No? It's just me? Sigh. Having a bad memory can be a real trial sometimes.

So it is with this book. I would swear up and down that I read this book in school - high school or college - but even as I was reading nothing came back to me. Ah well, I am going to assume that I did read it all those years ago and go from there.

This book is really short, and it's a deceptively easy and quick read, but it is a really well done story. In fact it reminds me of Anna Karenina in the foreshadowing, and the repetition of events. I feel like the protagonist makes the same mistake over and over. It also feels very "Russian" to me in that events seem to be inevitable, and seem to close in on the main characters.

This is definitely a good read for December, as much of it takes place in a New England winter, back when one could count on lots of snow and ice and cold temperatures. None of that is evident where I happen to be, but the written descriptions painted vivid images in my mind and that helped.

All in all this is a classic book that deserves this title. Recommended.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Woman Who Died a Lot - Jasper Fforde (Spoilers)

So I have finally caught up with the Thursday Next series! Despite being published in 2012, this book is new to me in that I've had it on my TBR Pile for quite a while, because I wanted to reread the entire series before I read it. I felt guilty about rereading a large number of books with such a big TBR pile waiting to be read, but I got around that by joining the Read It Again, Sam Challenge, so that I had to reread books. And voilà!

After the last installment, which was basically all set in the Book World, this one was a let down in that it all takes place in the "real world" within the series. I did like the way the story developed, though, and how the author has brought several past story threads together, resolving a couple that were a big relief to me, while leaving others open for more books. In fact, at the end of this book, another is promised, so we'll see. All in all I can still say I am a fan and that this series is a real favorite.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

December Reread 3 - One of Our Thursdays Is Missing - Jasper Fforde (Spoilers)

This was the last book in the series that I had to read so that I could catch up and read the last actual book in the series for the TBR Pile Challenge. I had forgotten how much I really like this particular book. I am a big fan of the Book World, so of course I am predisposed to liking a story that mainly takes place there. I also really liked reading the story from the fictional Thursday's point of view - I loved hearing about how the in-book versions of the Thursday Next books work, and finding out a lot more about Fiction Island and how the Book World works. This series is such fun, I am so happy I stumbled on a review of it ages ago and took the plunge. And now I have a brand new (to me!) volume to dig into - can't wait!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Hector and the Secrets of Love - François Lelord

Found this book during the Borders Last Days Sale frenzy and it joined the zillion (well, it seemed like a zillion at the time!) other books on my TBR shelves, where it's been sadly gathering dust until I finally got it read. Hooray!

Like its predecessor, this book is a light take on the nature of love and how humans process it. From time to time it strayed a little too far into the whole silly "Mars/Venus" thing in my opinion. And I found it interesting that the overall take on romantic love seemed to be what we think of as sort of "Continental" if not specifically "French" - namely that people maybe aren't necessarily meant to be 100000% monogamous, and that feelings can wax and wane at various points in one's life, etc. All in all this is a fast read but it wasn't as thought-provoking as I think it's meant to be. I know there is a third book, so I might get around to reading that sometime just for the sake of completing the series.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Escape from Camp 14 - Blaine Harden

This book chronicles the life of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who was born in a North Korean political prison camp and endured unimaginable things until he managed to escape the camp. The words "harrowing" and "heartbreaking" don't even begin to cover this true story. I truly feel lucky that my "problems" are nothing like his, and this book has really changed the way I view the "bad" things that happen to me - they can't hold a candle to even the smallest of the bad things this man has endured. In fact, reading his life story in my climate-controlled home wearing clean clothing, with a full stomach and pretty much any creature comfort one could want, made me feel profoundly guilty. It's a real mind trip for those of us who have never had to worry about where our next meal was coming from. I know there's no pain Olympics, and that I am allowed to feel bad about truly bad things that happen to me, but I hope I can use the mental images from this book to keep things in perspective.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Fire Engine that Disappeared - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Finding this book, which appears to be from the late 1960s, was my introduction to this pair of authors and to Martin Beck. This poor book has been languishing on my TBR pile, ever since I figured out that I would need to read several books in the series in order to read this one, due to my weird hangup about reading a series out of order. I was finally able to make that happen, and I am happy to say that I am really enjoying the series overall.

This particular volume was diabolically plotted and spends little time with Beck relative to some of the other cops. I know we are supposed to find Gunvald Larsson irritating, and he is, but at the same time he makes me laugh with some of his antics. Something I really like about this series is how the authors show the reality of police work - it's not all excitement; cases are most often solved by hard work and attention to detail. I happen to have the last book in this series on my TBR pile, and I look forward to reading the rest of the books.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Laughing Policeman - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Book 4 in the Martin Beck series does not disappoint. I know it's considered the Beck series, but we do learn a lot about the other cops he works with, so it's more of an ensemble cast than one might suppose. I will call out some dated Freudian style psychology that I don't think holds water, but other than that, this is a well plotted police procedural and I really enjoy these books.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

December Reread 2 - Thursday Next: First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde (Spoilers?)

What can I say about this installment of the wonderful Thursday Next series except that I liked it? Once again the author bends my brain with his alternate universe plus Book World shenanigans. I like how we find out about the written version of Thursday in this volume - talk about meta, it's a series of books within a series of books, but the series in the books, while sharing titles with the actual books, are apparently very different. If that seems muddled, trust me, if you read the series you'd understand. I so want to visit the Book World, although I think I prefer the non-fictional fictional Thursday Next.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hector & the Search for Happiness - François Lelord

The second book in this apparent trilogy was yet another of my Borders Last Days Sale finds, so I had to read this one to clear that one off my TBR pile. This little book is something of a philosophical parable type story about happiness, and an exploration of why so many people these days seem to be unhappy, even though many people live comfortable lives. The titular Hector, a psychiatrist, travels around and has adventures, all the while musing on happiness. At times I thought this book overly simplified things, but all in all it was a usually lighthearted take on modern life with some satirical jabs here and there.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones - Alexander McCall Smith (Spoilers)

So I thought maybe in this book we had a glimmer of hope that Bertie would get some things that he wanted - and I suppose he kind of did - but for the most part, I think the author is deliberately toying with the readers now, by pulling the rug out from under. SIGH. There were a lot of strangely dropped plot elements in this book - Cyril's puppies get sold, and there seems to be some weirdness about that, but then it's just kind of dropped. Matthew gets saved from drowning by dolphins and no one believes him and then that gets dropped - I mean, he tells Big Lou, and she believes him, but other than that it's dropped. Bruce has some kind of change of heart and appears to become a better person overnight - will it last? Pat is absent, will she be back? I guess I will have to read the next book to see what's what!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

No Exit - Jean-Paul Sartre

There is probably nothing I can say about this play that hasn't already been said, and much better. So I'll just say that I can see why this would have been a sensation when it was first produced. I feel like I have seen a stage production of this - maybe it was in college or something - ? I'm not sure. But it definitely makes me think about both other people in general, and also how we try so hard to curate how other people see us, which may or may not be successful. Sorry if this is too rambly or incoherent, it's hard to put down thoughts.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston

Another timely read. We have public figures using the internment of Americans of Japanese descent/ancestry (I'm including those people who came to the US and wished to become citizens but were denied that ability because of racist laws) as a possible precedent for doing the same thing to other groups... I honestly feel like I have stepped through the looking glass recently.

I'm sure it would be wasted on them, but these public figures and their supporters should read this book. The author writes honestly about her time in the internment camps, and the impact that the combination of entrenched racism and being forced to live like a bunch of criminals because of racism had on her life long after she left. It's heartbreaking to think of a child having to bear that burden because of people's close-mindedness and tribalism. And this wasn't even 100 years ago!! As human beings, we really should be doing a lot better than this. Hearing these stories from the people who lived them is one way thoughtful people can learn and can maybe help prevent awful things like this from recurring.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle

Not sure what to make of this book. It's something of a pastiche of teen comedies from recent years, although the movie it seems closest to in spirit is probably Superbad. It was a fast read and etc., but some of the stuff kind of grossed me out, to be honest - are there really high school girls that will, well, um, you know with any and every guy that is halfways good looking and a few who aren't? Maybe it's just my inner prude or something - ? Anyhow, if you like stuff like American Pie and etc., you'll like this.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December Reread - Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde (Spoilers)

This book is strangely timely, considering that many people in leadership positions these days seem to behave like Yorrick Kaine and so many people seem to be under the influence of his Ovinator; lurking behind it all is a sinister global corporation increasingly taking over people's lives. Ripped from the headlines indeed! The ending was very touching and brought tears to my eyes. Some of the goings-on are hysterical and really made me laugh - I am not sure I could love the Emperor Zhark character more. I'll be reading a couple more of these this month, so as to FINALLY catch up with the series, and as I said in the previous review, it's a welcome distraction.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Man on the Balcony - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

These Martin Beck books are really enjoyable - they move right along, and they aren't bloated or weighed down with unnecessary nonsense to add 200+ pages. There's a lovely economy of story. We're introduced to the crime and over the course of the book it's solved. What can be better than that? The ending did seem just a little abrupt, to be honest - almost like there should have been one more chapter or something, but that's not a big deal. I do like how the details of the cops' lives are provided without having to have pages of extraneous details. All in all this is an enjoyable series.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist (Spoilers?)

So the "elevator pitch" for this book would be "Logan's Run meets Never Let Me Go with a Scandinavian twist." The "twist" I refer to is the sense of calm that pervades this book - this story could certainly be told in a much different way, but I like that there is that feeling of tranquility throughout. I think it makes the story sink in more deeply that if it had been written in a more overtly emotional fashion. Don't get me wrong - there is a lot of emotion here, and a lot of emotional scenes, it's just that they are presented in a way that's ... reflective, I guess.

In some ways, I am not 100% of the message the author expects readers to take away from this book. As someone who is rather close (coughcoughcough) in age to the protagonist of this book, and who is married but childfree, I can identify with a relate the sense of procreation being considered more important than quality of life for single people, older people, etc. - and the idea that there are no adult spaces left, that "families" (ONLY including people who have children, and NEVER referring to a married couple) are taking over every conceivable space and place, literally and figuratively pushing out people who dare to veer off what I see called on the Internet the LifeScriptTM (birth, school, graduate high school, graduate college, get a job with decent pay/benefits, "settle down" by getting married and immediately having kids... you get the idea). This book is definitely food for much thought, and it will stay with me for a long time. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November - This Month in Reading

Readers, this has been a memorable month in many ways, not all of them good. One good thing is that I finally read my review book - and it was great! I also met my goals of completing my Back to the Classics Challenge reading, which is good. I am very close to reading the minimal required number of books for the TBR Pile Challenge, which I was hoping to finish in November, but I kind of gave myself a bad start by having too many of the books as series books, which required extra reading that doesn't count for the challenge itself, etc. As of right now, the challenges I need to finish are Alphabet Soup (just need 1 last book!), TBR Pile, Read It Again, Sam, Banned Books, 
Mount TBR, and French Bingo - I think the rest are completed. Hooray! 

My total book count for November was 18 books, which is a nice big number that I am happy with. Because I'm a bit behind on the aforementioned challenges, I will have to read at least that many books in December, but I think I am up to the challenge. Note to self: let's figure out a way to avoid doing this mad dash to the finish line next December! 

How is your reading shaping up for this last month of 2016?

November Reread - The Well of Lost Plots - Jasper Fforde (Spoilers?)

Rereading this wonderful series has been a real antidote to some pre-holiday (mid-holiday?) malaise. This is probably my favorite book of the series so far, because it takes place almost entirely within the book world. I love the author's endlessly imaginative explanations for how books are really created, and how they really work. I actually feel guilty now when I have to stop reading right in the middle of a scene and etc., because I can't help thinking about how annoying that would be to the characters acting out the story. I also love the amusing takes on classic book characters like the Wuthering Heights cast - it's so fun to read. It's funny that I first read this series before I had actually read many of the books Fforde references, such as Jane Eyre and Heights, and now I feel like I get even more references that I probably missed before. All in all I would love to visit the WOLP myself, and book jump into this series. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh

Readers, it's not often that I am truly bowled over by a book. I mean, I enjoy a lot of books, but it's rare that I am really over the moon about a book like I was about this one. All I can say is - WOW. I was immediately drawn in and could not put this book down. The story was completely engrossing, and the writing was so clear and well done that I truly felt like I was on board the Ibis. The author skillfully weaves the story and brings all the story threads together. The last 20 pages or so are a marvel of tension and suspense. All in all I can't say enough good things about this book - the best part is that there are two more volumes in this trilogy. I cannot wait to get my hands on those next books! Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Always - Nicola Griffith

Finally prioritized this book, the third book about one of my favorite characters, Aud Torvingen. I really liked how the books is structured, with two stories woven together. I also appreciate that Aud is on the one hand a clear-thinking self determined person, who on the other hand is human just like the rest of us and sometimes does inexplicable things, or does things with good intentions that don't work out the way she might have planned. It's good to know that even people who are highly competent are not always in control. As the greedy sort, I'm hoping for more stories about Aud, although I think she deserves a nice respite from intrigue for a while. This is a well written, enjoyable series - recommended.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Luna - Julie Anne Peters

Seeing as how this book was published in 2004, I can't believe I hadn't heard about this book ages ago - apparently, I am way out of the loop with good YA fiction! This author has a real ear for dialogue; everything rings true and the characters sounded like real people talking. Speaking of the characters, I found them to be nicely multi-dimensional, and the author does a great job of helping us with their motivations and feelings. The family dynamics on display here rang true to me too; I know all families are different, but the story unfolds in a very realistic way. All in all, this was a great book, and I will definitely have to check out more by the same author. Recommended.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

V for Vendetta - Alan Moore, David Lloyd

I've been meaning to read this for ages, but it has never seemed more timely so I decided to stop putting it off. What can I say; this is a really powerful book. I think I have mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of graphic novels, just because I like reading and graphic novels don't require a lot of reading, but in this case, I don't think there was a better way to tell this story. The images really set up the creepy dystopian dictatorship and give it an immediacy that might not be as strong in writing. If you've seen the movie, I can tell you that the film adheres to the book as far as I can remember. As the world begins the 21st century with unrest and upheaval and lots and lots of angry people, books like this one seem eerily prescient. Remember the 5th of November indeed. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Becoming Nicole - Amy Ellis Nutt

Another book summed up by its subtitle: "The Transformation of an American Family." As a slight change from the other books I have recently read about trans people, which were all written in the first person, this book is written in the third person, so it provides information from multiple people's points of view, and also adds some interesting scientific information. It's well written and is a fast read, and would be a great resource for anyone who wants to know more about being trans.

I must say, that although I did appreciate Nicole's parents eventually coming around, it took them long enough! Parents, please, listen to your children and open your hearts sooner rather than later. <3

As a side note, Nicole herself is going to be on an HBO documentary called "The Trans List" in December - I have already set my DVR!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt (Spoilers)

I am not sure how I came by my copy of this book - I'm guessing it was a long-ago library book sale - ? In any case, it's been gathering dust on my TBR pile for many years now, even though I have enjoyed a couple of the author's other books, so I have no idea why I didn't immediately read this book.

As it happens, now that I have read it, I don't know what to think. The word that kept coming to my mind while I was reading was "self-indulgent." My heavy paperback copy is 675 pages and I just feel that the same story could have been told in less than half the pages. Page-long paragraphs ramble endlessly, but amount to nothing more than lists and overly wordy descriptions we don't need. There are so many characters it's hard to keep track of them all, especially once we find out that two of the men in the book are basically the fathers of more than half the characters, since their chief pastime seems to be seducing anything female that walks within 3 feet of their trousers. This book had more extramarital pregnancies and childbirth scenes than the last several hundred books I've read combined.

Most of the characters are enigmatic and seem to do things for no particular reason, as we are never allowed to find out what makes them tick. Characters are surly and unlikeable and then they walk into the sea and their dead bodies wash up on shore a bit later. There is no character development, no relation to the plot, it just happens and then we are on to the next inconvenient pregnancy.

The most frustrating part of the book is that I have a great interest in the time period (late 1800s - World War I). So much happened in those years, including women's suffrage, but the author seems to simultaneously ramble on about and gloss over these events in favor of yet another scene of someone confessing to being pregnant yet again. It's clear that the author did research, but I feel like it wasn't really put into play as much as it could have been. For example, one of the characters does go to prison for being a suffragette who is halfheartedly attempting to sabotage a museum to gain attention for the cause. We hear about how she tries to resist eating, and is force fed, and spends hours walking around her jail cell, but to be honest these are all things I read about in books when I was a kid - no deep research was needed to produce these scenes, I could have written them. We've now seen so many WW I scenes in movies and in other books that it wouldn't take ages of research to produce a few scenes set in that conflict either. It seems like such a wasted opportunity.

To be fair, some parts of the book were interesting. The puppets and the plays were intriguing, and the stories Olive writes for the children were obviously tied in to their lives (even if that was heavy handed and obvious). I feel like there was a cool story buried in here somewhere but it never materialized. I can't recommend this one I'm afraid.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Some Assembly Required - Arin Andrews

This book stands alone and works as a complement to Katie Rain Hill's book, which I reviewed yesterday. This was yet another well written memoir, this time about growing up as a trans man. Arin's story has many obvious similarities to Katie's, which makes sense; they're from the same state and are the same age, etc. Of course everyone's story is different, so it's nice to read about his inner thoughts and feelings from a first person perspective after having been introduced to him in Katie's book. I'm so happy we have courageous young people like Arin who are willing to put themselves out there as activists and as role models, and to help educate people. Arin also won hearts and minds by being himself and I think that's admirable and shows how strong of a person he is.

One thing I really took away from this book was that parents should really listen to their kids, and try to let their kids be who they really are, rather than trying to force their kids into being what the parent wants. I am not trans, but I had a domineering, pushy, intrusive parent who squashed my real self and ignored my natural skills/abilities at every opportunity, and pushed me to be something I'm not, so in a very small way I can understand a bit of what that's like. If only more parents would truly let their children be who they are, there would be so much less depression and self-hatred. I'm so glad Arin had a supportive family that was able to see who he really was and to ultimately embrace him wholeheartedly. I wish that all trans kids could find that, even if it's through a chosen family.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rethinking Normal - Katie Rain Hill (Spoilers?)

Note: as this is an autobiography, it doesn't necessary have what people would consider "spoilers," but as someone who likes to read books knowing as little as possible about them before I open the cover, I'm mentioning some incidents from the book in this review that I might consider spoiler-y, etc. 

The subtitle of this book is "A Memoir in Transition," and as you might guess, this is another well-written memoir of a trans woman's childhood and life up until the present day.  Can I just take a minute to marvel at the author's unbelievable courage? She faced down an entire high school full of bullies, and just by being herself changed hearts and minds to the point where she became friends with at least one of them later on. WHOA! I can honestly say she is a far better person than I could ever hope to be, because I could never be even half that forgiving. I want to be Katie Rain Hill if I grow up!

On a slightly more serious note, I am so happy that Katie's mom was loving and accepting and helpful, since not every parent is. It seems inconceivable to me that in 2016 there are still people so dedicated to spewing hatred that they'd disown their own children for trying to be their true selves. Katie and her family are a beacon of hope and love in the world, and I think their message is timely and more necessary than ever.

One thing about this book I really liked was that it was frank. It frankly described Katie's depression as a child living in the wrong body, and her subsequent coming out and transition. I think this could be very helpful and reassuring to other trans teens, to see that they are not alone, and to help anyone who is interested gain an understanding of what it means to be trans. I really liked the list of resources and the helpful and supportive hints for talking to a trans person - that could be very helpful to a parent or someone who has just learned that a loved one is trans and is trying to learn all they can.

A large part of this book is dedicated to Katie's relationship with Arin, a trans man who wrote a similar memoir - 3 guesses as to which book is next up for a review on my blog! :) It's not often one can hear a story told by two sides, so that's really cool. All in all, this is another enjoyable read I can recommend.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Glass of Time - Michael Cox

I read and reviewed the first book in this 2-book series - if you can call 2 books a series - back in 2014, and immediately fell in love with it. So for no good reason, I put off reading this book until now. The problem with this procrastination is that my notoriously poor memory prevents me from retaining details from the first book that would probably have been helpful to have in mind while reading this sequel. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book just as much as the first. It was similarly engrossing and the suspense was paced well, with clues and new information and etc. doled out right on time. I enjoyed this narrator's voice as well; and I liked how there were nuances to each character, so that everyone had both good and bad motivations for their actions. What a shame that the author has sadly passed away and can provide no more books in this fictional world. Recommended.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Frontier Defiant - Leonie Rogers

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free electronic review copy of this book from the publisher 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. 

Readers, what can I say. This book, which wraps up the Frontier trilogy, is an expertly paced, action packed, suspenseful page turner that I couldn't put down once I started reading. There are so many things going on, and so many things that could - and do - go wrong, leaving the reader to wonder how they can ever turn out OK. There are defintitely setbacks for our heroes, and some real problems they have to try to solve. But the overall message of friendship and hope in the face of adversity couldn't be more timely. To be honest, I don't often cry while reading books, but this one got very emotional for me at the end. It's definitely a fitting conclusion to a great series. If you are looking for a great fantasy series for holiday gift-giving, look no further than this wonderful trilogy. Assuming you can't find a local starcat breeder :)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Being Jazz - Jazz Jennings

The subtitle of this book sums it up: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen. This book is written in a really engaging style - Jazz is a really good writer for being so young! She is also very confident, and comes across as very self-assured and ambitious. Her upbeat message was infectious and made me feel a lot more optimistic and hopeful for the future than I have been the last few days. I think this book is a great resource for anyone who wants to know more about what it's like to be trans, and especially young people, who either might be trans and wish to connect with another person who has had the same experience, or who are just curious about it in general. Recommended.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Celestial Globe - Marie Rutkoski (Spoilers)

I can't write a meaningful review without discussing some high-level things about this book, which I consider to be kind of spoiler-y, so I'm just warning readers up front, in case you'd rather not read them before you read the book.

In the first book, our protagonist, Petra, is very spirited, while in this book she is sort of a full-blown brat, to be honest. After a while I got tired of her being so oppositional all the time. Even when I could somewhat understand why she was being less than compliant, to be honest, it got old for me.

On the other hand, I really liked the Tomik/Neel story, especially, of course, the parts related to language. And naturally Agatha's ability is one I wish I could take advantage of!

I thought the overall story was really compelling, and I liked the premise and how things ended up (with the exception of what may or may not have happened to Petra's father, of course). The bonus of encountering real people from this time period was a lot of fun.

One note, my emotions are all over the place these last few days, so when it seemed like Astrophil was lost, I almost started bawling - luckily that was resolved quickly. I would love to have an Astrophil of my own! He's a real favorite for me.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the books' neat covers, by David Frankland. They are full of cool detail and really draw the reader in to the story.

All in all I'm really looking forward to reading the third book in this series. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Fifth Floor - Michael Harvey

This second book in the series featuring Michael Kelly, Private Detective, was even more likeable than the first one. The story was more complex and interesting than just a simple "whodunnit," and I really liked the way the author incorporated history and politics into it all. This was another fast-paced read that was highly enjoyable - I"m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Recommended.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Story of the Amulet - E. Nesbit

This is the third, and I believe final, book in this series, and I probably liked this one the most. It seemed to be the least mired in the nonsense of its time - or maybe that's just me, who knows. As always, the narrator's voice is generally charming, and the settings were interesting. All in all this was an eye-opening introduction to a classic author.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Chicago Way - Michael Harvey

This book is the first in a series, and I have the second book on my TBR pile, so here I am. It was a fast-paced crime novel that would be the perfect airplane book, because it's a total page turner. The author is one of the co-creators of the Cold Case Files TV show, which I really like (although it's a close second to Forensic Files in my book), and I'm guessing that his years of working on that show provided a wealth of criminology related info that will continue to pay off in this series. At first I found the writing to be trying too hard to sound hard-boiled, but I got used to it. After the events of this book, I'm interested to see where the second book goes, and I hope to find out soon.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Man Lay Dead - Ngaio Marsh

So remember my last review? Where I was irritated by a certain attitude? This book seemed like it would be free of that attitude, and it was written in 1934, so I hoped that would be the case. And for 90% of the book or more, it was, until page 184, on which is written: "A n----- minstrel...." WTF???????????

OK, everyone, I apologize. I know it's just me, and I do try to take into account that these books were written in a time when that word was used a lot and wasn't considered a particularly bad thing to say, even among people one would hope would know better. I truly understand that. However, it's still upsetting to see it in print in a context in which it has no relevance. It's not even being used as a racist epithet against anyone, it's merely a descriptor of a white character with a very dirty face. Sigh.

Overall this book was OK; it's a kind of locked-room mystery with a couple subplots that I found weakly related to the main murder and etc. I did like the character of Chief Inspector-Detective Alleyn. The book had a decent pace and was a fast read. The mystery's solution did make sense. I might read more books by this author, but I think I'll prioritize other books.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Phoenix and the Carpet - E. Nesbit

This book is the second in the series, and I had to read it in order to be able to read a book I have on my TBR pile and which is part of the Back to the Classics Challenge. This book is also a product of its time, with the attitude of "anyone who isn't white is a savage and probably a cannibal who is also totally stupid and speaks a kind of gibberish and will worship any white person they come into contact with as obviously superior blah blah blah." Luckily (?) this is just a small portion of the book. I really don't mean to rip on these books, as I enjoy the writing and the narrator's tone, and I think they are well done in general, but I guess with the heightened tension in the US in these days leading up to our election I am just hyper-aware of attitudes like the one I described above. It really isn't something that predominates, it's just that when it's there, it bothers me. But in general, as long as you can overlook those small parts of the book, the story is enjoyable.

Monday, October 31, 2016

October - This Month in Reading

At the beginning of October, I was hoping to complete the Back to the Classics Challenge. I didn't, but I did read 2 out of the 4 books left, and one of them was more than 1,000 pages, so it took some time to read! I also read a few more random books for the Alphabet Soup Challenge. I still haven't finished my review book, but it's in progress (and it's great!), and I think I can easily finish the Classics Challenge in early November, and then move on to finishing up the TBR Pile Challenge. I'd like to finish that up in November, which would give me all of December to read from my general TBR pile and also fill in other books I need in order to complete the rest of my challenges.

How's your end of the year reading shaping up?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Díaz

This is another book that I feel like I heard a lot about in the book blogosphere and that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the characters felt kind of real; on the other, it seems like the author is daring us to like them. The shared Dominican Republic/New Jersey setting is refreshing - I don't read a lot of books (OK, any books) about the DR or people from there, so it was good to get some history and cultural knowledge. On the other hand I feel like the tone of the book is supposed to hit us somewhere between realistic and magical realism and I'm not sure where it lands. So while I found this book easy to read (the footnotes and the intermingled Spanish terms, which seem to have bothered a lot of Amazon reviewers, were fine with me) and I didn't dislike it, I also wasn't sure what to make of it generally.

Have you read this book? I'd love to discuss it, leave a comment!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Complete Tales and Poems - Edgar Allan Poe

What better way to celebrate all things autumnal and Octobral (I think I just made that word up) than the works of one of the best American writers of the macabre to have ever lived? This wonderful book was a lucky Borders Last Days Sale find - I think I paid half price, which was a great bargain. It's a huge doorstop of a book, with more than 1,000 pages of this master writer's works. I had read some of them before - The Raven, of course, and Annabel Lee, and The Fall of the House of Usher and some of the other well known short stories, but had never read all of these works, so this was a fantastic immersion.

Some random thoughts: I had never read The Pit and the Pendulum, so that was a treat - it painted word pictures so vivid they will live in my mind for a while. The Cask of Amontillado was also a wondrously creepy story. Poe truly had a talent for translating the dark side of human thoughts and behavior into prose, and was able to bring the reader along on a journey into the minds of his characters. It's amazing that all the detective stories we take for granted, including Sherlock Holmes, were influenced by The Murders in the Rue Morgue and that the story Ligeia influenced what we now call science fiction. He was truly a writer ahead of his time.

And he was a really good poet - in my opinion The Raven stands as one of the best American poems, but I had actually forgotten about The Bells, which I really like, as well as An Enigma, To My Mother, The Haunted Place - too many to just list here.

If this enormous book had a "flaw," it was the inclusion of some literary criticism and essays that I could have done without - I was more in the mood for the stories and poems. The publishers also included some "poems written in youth" that were not bad but didn't have the impact of some of the later poems, but you can see the talent developing.

Bottom line, Poe stands the test of time as a master. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Therese Anne Fowler

Found this book while I was searching the library catalog for books that started with "Z" for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge. Like many people, I enjoy reading and learning about the Jazz Age, or the Roaring Twenties, or however you want to call it. Although I can't claim to have read any of Zelda's writing, or any of her husband's beyond The Great Gatsby, which I love (note to self - let's make this a priority next year!), I find myself interested in their lives, so this book seemed like a perfect find.

All in all, I can definitely recommend this book. I will say I found it a little slow to start, but it was always engrossing, and it held my interest completely. It also made me want to seek out biographies and learn more about Zelda's life. So if you're looking for a book about the 20s, about Zelda in particular, or if you need a book that starts with Z for a challenge, definitely give this one a try!

Friday, October 21, 2016

October Reread - The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

I chose to reread this classic as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge, under this category:

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?

This book was part of a high school English class, about a million years ago. I remember liking it a lot, at the time and I wrote a short paper on it and got a good grade. Of course, with my barely working memory, I only remembered a couple things from the book, so in a way it was like discovering it anew - or reading a book you've heard about so you know the name of the main character, but not much else.

My recollection definitely stood the test of time, and in fact, I think as an adult I can appreciate the book a lot more, even if my brain isn't as attuned to picking up on imagery and etc. as it was when I was a lot younger (and also still in school, where these things were pointed out, to be fair). I found the writing clear (even if Hawthorne overused the words "ignominy" and "ignominious") and the story straightforwardly told. The pacing was good too - the story didn't lag or get bogged down, it moved along at a good pace. The last few chapters in particular had me turning pages, wanting to see how everything turned out. All in all, I can highly recommend this classic book (again).

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The World According to Bertie - Alexander McCall Smith

Where to start with this book? I'm debating whether or not I want to jump on a soapbox and ramble.

OK, I'll spare the 2 people that maybe read this blog my rant, but sufficient to say, I loathe and despise a nasty, disgusting, and abusive (yes, abusive!) character in this book with all my being. But I reserve even more vitriol for the person that stands by while the titular Bertie gets abused.

The rest of the book was an interesting update on the lives of those in and around 44 Scotland Street.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Five Children and It - E. Nesbit

This book had to be read so that I could read a book in the Back to the Classics Challenge. It's the first book in a series, of which I have the third and final book. For the most part, this book was charming, although its original publication date (1902) means that we couldn't avoid some racism, as well as classism (sigh). However, in general it was a fast read chock full of lessons about being careful for what you wish for.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nothing Lasts Forever - Roderick Thorp

So readers, remember back in March when I confessed to this NetGalley mistake? This book is another one of those mistakes.

If you've seen the movie Die Hard, you've more or less read this book, as the movie faithfully adapted it, with some probably-all-for-the-best changes. The story zips along at a good pace, and the reader is left turning pages to see how things will turn out. This is an enjoyable thriller that keeps the reader in suspense.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

X: A Novel - Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

If you guessed that I got this book specifically for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, you'd be correct! And I am pleased to report that it was a wonderful choice. I devoured this book in a single day. It was a very immersive experience, and I think the author, Malcolm X's daughter, and her co-author did a a fantastic job of making this reader feel like she was there watching the story unfold in front of my eyes. I saw the Spike Lee film Malcolm X when it was originally released in theaters, but I didn't remember a lot of details of his early life. This book fills in his background and tells the story from a first-person point of view, so the reader is privy to thoughts and feelings. This book is a YA novel, but it's based on reality, and it was interesting to see how Malcolm X's early life shaped his later years. Recommended.

Friday, September 30, 2016

September - This Month in Reading

September's reading turned out a bit better than I had feared, but I didn't meet my goal of reading my review book - my computer is acting up and it's difficult to read an eBook that way, which one of many excuses I have for not meeting that goal. On the other hand, I managed 6 books, which wasn't a terrible number all things considered.

So for the last quarter of the year, I need to really buckle down. In fact, let's do a quick 3rd-quarter challenge status report to see what's what:

Back to the Classics Challenge - 8/12 read, not bad. I do need to finish up this last 4 though.

Mount TBR Challenge - 31/60 read. I'm only halfway, when I should have read more like 45 out of 60 books, so I need to keep this one moving along.

Color-Coded Reading Challenge - DONE, 9/9 books read. Hooray!

Read It Again, Sam - 5/16 rereads completed - OUCH. Need to get on this one pronto.

2016 Banned Books Challenge - 2 out of 3-5 books read; hmm, I need to see if I have maybe missed counting a book for this one - or dig up one I can count!

Books in Translation - DONE, 20 out of 10-12 books read. Series reading really helped this one. I might see about transferring up into a higher level, but for now, I'm happy with this.

French Bingo 2016 - I've only read 3 books that count for this one so far, and I don't think they are close to a bingo; this one might require some thinking about.

Literary Loners Reading Challenge 2016 - I don't actually see a number of books that I signed up for in my challenge post, but I've read 15 books, so I assume I am done - ?

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge - Almost done with this one; I"m just missing U, V, X, and Z, and I have books for X and Z coming, so I'm feeling good about this one.

TBR Pile Challenge - 5/12 and 0/12 alternate books read. OUCH again! This challenge needs some attention. Part of the problem is series books, so I will have to prioritize this so as to make progress.

LGBTQIA Reading Challenge - 1/5 books read - SIGH. This one needs attention too!

Planet Earth Challenge - this is my own ongoing challenge to read a book set in each country on Earth; it may never be complete, but I'm adding it here for the sake of keeping this list complete.

So for the last 3 months of 2016, I need to finish my review book, do my rereads and series book reads, and finish up some of the challenges, especially those I'm sort of behind on.

How's your 2016 reading coming along?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Cabinet of Wonders - Marie Rutkoski

During the book-grabbing frenzy of the Borders Last Days sales, I picked up many books that were part of a series, which led to me putting off reading them because I would have to read other books, etc. This book is one such book - I have the second book in the series on the TBR pile, but I had to start at the beginning by reading this book.

I enjoyed this bright and interesting tale that is partly grounded in the middle ages but also features magic and cool inventions and sentient tin animals (I SO want one!) and etc. The main character is plucky and smart and inventive, the story clips along at a good pace, and I was definitely turning pages to see what would happen next.

So now I am clear to read the second book, and I am really looking forward to seeing how all the cool things the author set up in this book play out! If you like Game of Thrones but would enjoy less of the gore and adult content, or enjoyed The Golden Compass, you would probably like this book too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Aaaaaaaand we're back to a book that I thought was OK, but felt was WAY too long - about twice as long as it should have been, in my opinion. I think there are two reasons for this trend: 1) a longer book just feels more important and serious to many people and 2) publishing companies can justify higher book prices. In any case, though, it gives me reading fatigue and makes me start questioning the point of the book in general, and the point of the details in particular. It seemed like so much of this book was repetitive, and there were so many details that didn't matter.

It all reminded me of this quote from Chekhov:

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

This book was like an enormous armory filled with minutely described armaments, none of which go off at any point.

Overall assessment: there are a lot of far better books if you're looking for books about World War II.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Neon Bible - John Kennedy Toole

Let's just cut to the chase - I really loved this book. It was a good story, well told, without the ridiculous "figurative language" that contemporary "literary fiction" is crammed full of. And what do you know, it wasn't overlong, either! What a shame it is that this author didn't live to see the fame and fortune he so richly deserved. I suspect that if he had been around in our era, he would be considered a genius. But then again, who knows; his writing is good and not pretentious, so maybe he would be overlooked by the "critics." 

I really need to stop overusing the "ironic quotes" thing. 

If you'd like to read my glowing review of the author's only published book, that can be found here. Maybe I'll get myself a copy of that book as a holiday gift this year (I had read it from a used Library Sale copy that I donated back because it wasn't in perfect condition). It would provide a wonderful antidote to what passes for prize-worthy writing in this day and age. 

Highly recommended. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Martian - Andy Weir

This book was enjoyable overall but at times it got a wee bit too scientific for my literature/languages brain. I liked how the author wove the overall story together. On the down side, I feel like it was just a little too long. I have no idea what could have been cut or shortened, but after a while I really just wanted to get to the end. So this is yet another mixed-feelings book. And if you're keeping score, this is yet another example of why I avoid things that are popular.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

Quick explanation time: You may have noticed that I am not a person who keeps their eye on and follows the latest, greatest, most popular things (whether they are books, clothes, music, accessories, etc.). I think I am reasonably aware of pop culture and etc., but I don't go out of my way to consume it. This is for many reasons: fads are short-lived, I'm too old to have crushes on 19 year old singers, etc. Another reason is that I just don't often like things that happen to be popular. Having said all that, I will say that there are times when things in pop culture seem to come around so often I finally get tired of hearing about them and I cave in and partake out of curiosity or whatever (this is true mainly of books).

This book falls under this category. For a while there, it was all over the book blogosphere and it seemed to get good reviews. I resisted it and resisted it and then finally decided I should just check it out and see what all the fuss was about.

I am happy to say I'm glad I did - this book was a charming, funny, and fast read that I enjoyed in a matter of hours. The narrator's voice worked well for me and I liked "seeing" the events through his eyes. Nice and light and a perfect weekday read.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers

Honestly, I don't know where to start with this book.

Would it help to write the review interview-style? 

Actually, maybe it would. Let's try it.

OK. So how did you come by this book? 

This is one of those books I feel like I have seen mentioned around a lot, but I knew nothing about it. So normally I shy away from these books; I mean, who, who, should, like, read all these so-called "popular" books, like, should I read it ironically? If I read it, does that make me a poseur? Am I just another sheep-like book blogger, tap-tap-tapping out my little words about the same half-dozen "buzz books," which I buy because, you know, they're so famous and talked about? Does it matter? When I was in third grade I had this teacher, we'll call her Mrs. Smith, although of course (of course!) her real name was different, and Mrs. Smith was one of those old battle-ax teachers who was like somewhere between 85 and like 10,000 years old, and she hated me, HATED me, and would have me leave the classroom and stand in the hall as punishment for any perceived infraction.

That sounds like it was hard, but what does it have to do with--

What does it have to do with this book? I don't know, what does anything have to do with this book? I always talk about the Library Sale shelves, and how much I love to find 50 cent paperbacks there, but then sometimes I get so wrapped up in wondering how these cast-off books, these castaways, these unwanted items, how they ended up on those shelves, and how their value has been lost --

-- lost --

how in the act of being given away (note to self: buy a thesaurus) they lose all value, all sense of self. So this book, this paperback, this culmination of the apex of the concatenation of the phalanges of one person, one soul, one singularity, and the synergy of the synthesis of the keyboard, and the act of...

Are you alright? You seem kind of all over the place.

I lost my train of thought, what was I saying? Oh yeah, so I knew nothing about this book but after reading it once again I am struck by an author's unreal privilege. I realize that this book was written in the past, the not-so-distant but distant-enough past, so it's hazy and all but not too far behind us, and now, as a reader in this post-post-modern, post-Tumblr world, we perceive privilege and racism differently. So like the whole unbelievably racist scene on the beach, is, like, not mentioned anywhere in any reviews I can see, but it knocked me back, made me wonder, is this what passes for Pulitzer Prize-worthy writing? There are these trees near my house that produce these beautiful blossoms each spring, and sometimes the blossoms don't necessarily change to leaves or fall off or whatever they're supposed to do, so come August you have these trees that have some kind of stubborn blossoms on them next to the leaves, and I wonder, is that a problem? Someone should call a botanist or something.

So you got this book for 50 cents and part of it was racist. Anything else? 

Am I allowed to think part of this book was horribly racist as long as it was a small part? Should I overlook it? Chalk it up to grief? What is a reader to do? Is it OK that there were a few parts that made me laugh? (Not the racist part) Does that make me a bad person? Is it wrong that I think Prince Charles Nelson Reilly is a great name for a band? Now am I a poseur? I'm so tired.

Sounds like you need a rest. 

I do. I really do.


TL/DR: it's neither


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August - This Month in Reading

At the end of July, my goals were:

-Clear up the NetGalley books I need to read/review
-Do 1 foreign language book
-Do 1 reread

Did I manage this? If you consider 1.5 out of 3 a success, I did - but I am not happy with my progress. I still have 1 review book that needs reading, and I never managed the foreign language book (sigh). On the plus side, I managed a re-read and a review book and got some other books from the TBR pile read.

OK, playtime is over. For September, I need to clear up my review book ASAP. So that's my goal. I will also try to work on challenge reading but the review book must get read. I should do an end-of-summer challenge recap but frankly I am feeling tired and lazy right now so I'll do a quarterly wrap-up at the end of September instead.

What are your goals for Fall/Autumn reading?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to YouTube - Trav. S.D.

Finally managed to read this wonderful book, a history of silent comedy perfectly described in its subtitle. I was always interested in silent movies, since they were made during the late 19th/early 20th century and I love the entertainment of that era, but to be honest, they are difficult to appreciate fully on a smaller (TV) screen at times. In the last few years have I been able to experience silent films on local "big screens" with live musical accompaniment, which is fabulous. The artistry of the best of these silent comedians is timeless and I have found myself captivated by such greats as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle, etc. etc. If you are at all a fan of slapstick/silent comedy in general and these comedians in particular, this book is a wonderful resource as a history of their filmmaking and a history of slapstick comedy. Having seen many Keaton, Lloyd, and Chaplin films relatively recently, I was able to picture many of the specific scenes the author describes and that really added to my enjoyment.

Trav S.D. also wrote the terrific vaudeville overview No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book that Made Vaudeville Famous (which I thought I had reread and reviewed on this blog, but I haven't [yet]; to sum up, it's a great book and you should read it immediately). He knows his stuff and is a great researcher, as well as an engaging writer. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets - Luke Dittrich

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 non-fiction book reminded me of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, in that both books examine the life of a person who became a source of medical knowledge in a way that may or may not have happened with their consent. Both books also explore what it means to be someone who can give consent, and the role of medical personnel who want to advance science and how that affects the way they approach patient care. One big difference is that the author of this book has a personal connection to the titular patient - his grandfather was a pioneer in surgical lobotomies, which were fairly commonly done at the beginning of the 20th century, mainly to people who had been committed to a mental hospital. 

I won't get into the more disturbing aspects of how many people were committed and subsequently lobotomized for things we generally consider to be normal today. I will say that the author does a nice job of discussing the history of neuroscience/neurology/psychiatry and detailing how these operations helped us to understand the workings of the brain in general. Much of our current knowledge of how memory works comes from the author's grandfather's work in general and the subsequent studies of Patient H.M. in particular. 

Ultimately though, like most stories about humans, many problems were created due to childish infighting and territorial behavior on the part of scientists. What a shame. Imagine how much we could learn and advance if we weren't always operating on an "Animal Farm" level. All in all, however, this was a fascinating book. If you liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or the books of Oliver Sacks, this should be right up your street as well. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August Reread - Rule No. 5: No Sex on the Bus - Brian Thacker

Rediscovered this book on my shelves when I was doing the minor shelf maintenance I mentioned in an earlier post. It's a Library Sale find of a paperback from Australia describing the misadventures of the author, who used to be a tour guide in Europe. I haven't been in the mood to read anything too "heavy" or "weighty" this summer for some reason, so I figured I'd have this as my latest reread.

The book is amusing and the writing is good. The stories are funny and I suspect the writer would be fun to have a nice cold adult beverage or three with. All in all this is a fun, fast, lighthearted read and I'm glad it made its way to me from the other side of the globe.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Mother's Secret - J.L. Witterick

As this book's subtitle helpfully explains, this book is A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story, the story of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, who were able to save 15 Jewish people (and a defecting German soldier) by hiding them in and around their home in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. The writing is clear and easy to read, and the story is told Rashomon-style, so we see the events from differing points of view. This was a deceptively simple read that told an amazing story. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Tree House Mystery - Carol Beach York

The bookshelves I use for the books I have read and want to keep had become sort of unruly, so I did some maintenance - removing books I realized I'm unlikely to ever read again and finding places for newer books. One of my shelves is mainly children's books that I like, including this one that I found on the library sale shelves. However, I realized that I had simply put the book on the shelf without reading it, so I decided to fix that.

Sexism - yikes. Why would a little girl tear a dress playing in the woods - shouldn't she be wearing jeans or other play clothes and not dresses? The mother is sooooo happy to have time to herself - to get her kitchen in order. Sigh. It's amazing how ingrained these things are in children's books, even from the early 1970s.

I shouldn't complain too much though, overall the book is a light, quick read. I do think I will redonate it to the library sale however.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July - This Month in Reading

Well, July didn't exactly turn out to be a big reading month for me yet again. This summer has been one of my worst overall so far. At the end of June, my goals were: 

-Clear up the NetGalley books I need to read/review
-Do 1 foreign language book
-Do 1 reread

I did manage to clear up most of my NetGalley/review books, and do a reread, but still didn't manage a foreign language book, which is disappointing. I'm not sure why either - but in general my reading motivation has been low for some reason. Maybe it's the heat and humidity, maybe it's some other things that are taking away my focus, but I do hope it changes and I get some momentum back. 

Since things are not shaping up as I hoped, I will keep the same goals for August. Thank goodness fall is coming up soon, maybe I can get some momentum back! 

How is your summer reading shaping up? 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July Reread - Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde

Finally got back to re-reading this series, which is a favorite of mine. Fforde's writing is so literate and witty and it's such a pleasure to read. As a bookworm, I love that this alternate universe is so reverent of reading and classic literature. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Time Heals No Wounds - Hendrik Falkenberg

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.

As an avid reader, it's hard to pass up an interesting-looking mystery novel, and I couldn't resist the description of this book, which turned out to be quite the page turner! The plot kept me guessing and the main character was likable; I would love to read more of his adventures. This is a great summer/beach read. Recommended.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Winemaker Detective Mysteries - An Omnibus - Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen

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. 

As longtime readers may know,  I love a good series, but I am fanatical about reading a series in order. So this collection, which includes the first 3 books in the Winemaker Detective Series, looked like the perfect way to start something new. And it was - I have a new favorite series to look forward to devouring!

The stories in this collection were quick reads with enjoyable mysteries and of course, the French wine country settings. You can learn quite a bit about wine, as it's an integral part of the story. The characters are nicely drawn and I look forward to reading more about them in the next books in the series. The translation is very well done and is a pleasure to read. The only "drawback" to these books was that they made me long for a wonderful French meal with a wonderful French wine to accompany it - does anyone live as well as the French? All in all this is a great series. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Jolly Coroner - Quentin Canterel

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. 

Could not resist the description of this book when I saw it in a NetGalley email. I have some disjointed thoughts that I will present as my review:

If you'll forgive me for bragging for a moment, I like to think I have a pretty good vocabulary, but this book sometimes read as if it had been written with liberal use of the Oxford English Dictionary and a thick thesaurus, with a plethora of words too big to be called 25 cent words - maybe 75 cent words? It was like reading something by Martin Amis. I used context clues a lot because I was too lazy to use a dictionary myself.

The titular character reminded me of Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces - I wonder if that is deliberate? I liked some of the funnier elements of this character.

The author did a nice job of tying together some disparate story elements, and I would have liked to know a bit more about a couple of them. One in particular needed a better resolution because I feel really sorry for the character!

I found the love story in the book a little puzzling; I can see why the male character is interested in the female character, but not the reverse - so I wouldn't have minded a bit more about why she became enamored of him.

All in all this was a much quicker read than I anticipated and it's definitely a very unpredictable and surprising tale.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

June - This Month in Reading

UGH, yet another month when the title of this post may as well have been "this month in NOT reading."

Somehow June got away from me. I didn't much feel like reading again (or at least I didn't feel much like reading the books I happen to have on hand), and I had some other things come up that took up mental time and energy that I might have otherwise used on reading. I also fell prey to NetGalley and I now have a few books in the queue that I have to review for them - it wasn't part of my plan, but what can I say, I sometimes do things that make no sense. On the plus side, I didn't go to the library once, so at least I didn't go grabbing a bunch of books there, or adding more Library Sale books to the TBR pile, so that's good.

With these dismal results in mind, I'm going to plan on a couple things for July:

-Clear up the NetGalley books I need to read/review
-Do 1 foreign language book
-Do 1 reread

It's so much more than I accomplished last month it seems like a lot but I think I can buckle down and make it happen. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Trixie Belden and the Gatehouse Mystery - Julie Campbell

So after all my big talk about reading foreign language books this summer, this is the first book I review in June? I'm even shaking my head at myself over this one.

Evidently summer 2016 is going to be a bit more tiresome than usual for some reason known only to the heat and humidity. I found myself needing a quicker, easier read, and this book has been on my TBR pile for a while now, so I decided to just read it. It's a vintage copy I found on my beloved Library Sale shelves, in perfect condition, as if it had been preserved especially for me to add to my small vintage children's book collection.

As usual, the story is simple and straightforward, the "mystery" is just enough to keep one guessing a little, and the setting is an idealized smaller city/town with idealized families and etc. It fit the bill for me when I needed something light. I'm hoping I can now turn to other books and recharge my summer reading.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May - This Month in Reading

The end of May ended up being a slow time for me for reading. To be honest, for these past 2 weeks or so, I just wasn't into reading much at all. For some reason, none of the books I picked up retained my interest, and I got distracted with work and some other pastimes instead. So all in all, I only read 6 books, when I was hoping for a good 12. I also didn't manage to get in a reread, which is annoying, but what can I do? On the plus side, I finished the Color-Coded Reading Challenge and I am close to finishing the Back to the Classics Challenge, so that's good.

As you might know, I consider September 1 the beginning of Fall/Autumn. You might not know that I also consider June 1 to be the beginning of my least favorite season, summer. Over the years, I have done things like have a certain theme to my summer reading, and joined the Language Freak Summer Challenge (LFSC), to make summer seem more enjoyable. I don't think Ekaterina is hosting the LFSC again this year, but I am going to go it alone and concentrate on some foreign-language books I have on the TBR pile. I happen to have a book in French and the same book in English on my pile ready to go for a readalong, as well as several other books in 3 different languages, and I think this will help me recharge my reading and get excited about it again.

I'm also going to relax my library restriction - I was good about avoiding the library for the past couple of months but I will most likely have to get English-language books to do readalongs for some of my foreign-language books this summer (that won't be possible for some of them). I am going to try to otherwise avoid picking up random books just because they look interesting though. I also have a few NetGalley books that I will be reading in June, so my reading should be pretty varied.

What are your summer reading plans?

Friday, May 20, 2016

The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells

This is another one of my lucky vintage book finds from the local library's perpetual used book sale shelves. It was immediately obvious to me that it was a vintage book, but I didn't realize it was the 1960s edition with illustrations by Edward Gorey until I examined it more closely. I seriously almost did a happy dance right there in the library when I saw that, especially since the book cost me $1. It would be a bargain at 10 times that price, so I happily snapped this up and added it to my TBR pile... and now I've finally read it!

The story itself is sort of underwhelming, if I'm being 100% honest. Maybe I'm just a cynical modern reader, but the story lacked a real sense of horror and urgency for me. I think it was mainly hampered by the first-person narration; we're too constrained by the narrator's narrow point of view. The illustrations are very Gorey-like, but also more impressionistic and less detailed than one might like. However, lest I give you the wrong impression, I didn't dislike this book, it was just a little too low key for me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

White Leopard - Laurent Guillaume

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.

If you're a crime/detective novel fan, this is a book you will probably love as much as I did. The story hits all the typical crime novel beats: cop/PI with tragic past, drugs, smuggling, violence, femmes fatales, dead witnesses, corrupt cops, etc., but the fresh setting in Mali and the winning main character makes everything new and entertaining. Apparently, this is the first of this author's books to be translated into English, and I hope it's not the last, as I'd like to read more in this series - maybe I'll track them down in French and give that a go! The publisher, Le French Book, translates French authors and it looks like they may have some other interesting books I should look into. But back to this one in particular: I really enjoyed it. It's the perfect summer page-turner. Recommended.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain (Spoilers?)

Another classic book that I knew next to nothing about before reading it. Thanks to the title, I knew it had a sort of time-travel element to it, but that was it. I expected it to be about the titular Yankee adapting to sixth century life, and instead Twain inverts that, having him establish all sorts of late 19th century things like electricity, schools, the telegraph, and etc. This is puzzling but also kind of amusing.

I can honestly say that I didn't expect the story to be such a satire - and a very pointed satire at times. Twain really roasts some of his subjects, and it is glorious as far as I'm concerned - they all deserve it. I especially liked how he satirized the gullibility of the people in general, and how they took a speaker's word for anything without ever examining a statement critically - far too many people today are this way in my opinion, and frankly it's scary. So I guess nothing much has changed, ha ha.

All in all this was classic Twain at his most entertaining and his most cranky. Recommended.

In other news, I am claiming this book for the brown category of the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, since the cover is tan and brown, as shown below.

I'm tan and brown - I'm a twofer for this challenge! 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

Before I found a vintage copy of this book on the Library Sale shelves, all I knew about it was the title - I had heard of the book but I had no idea what it was actually about. When I started reading, for the first few pages I felt confused, until I was able to understand that this is more of an extended character study than a traditional novel. And after a few pages something clicked for me and I unexpectedly fell in love with this book.

I still can't believe how engrossed I got in this story. It was soooooo hard to put the book down, because I found the characters so fascinating. The pace is relatively slow, which is actually a good thing, as it gives the reader a luxurious amount of time with these people. As someone who finds the ear in which this book is set fascinating, I greedily drank in all the details. I really felt like I was in Brooklyn, and that I knew the main characters.

To be honest, the ending did seem a little rushed to me - almost like the author ran out of time and had to quickly wrap things up. But I could have read a lot more, so I just wish there were 400 more pages to read. I'm so happy I spent a dollar to bring this new favorite classic book into my life. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Tumbling Turner Sisters - Juliette Fay

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.

Longtime readers may know that I am fascinated by early 20th century entertainment, particularly vaudeville, so when I read the description of this book on NetGalley I leapt at the chance to read a fictional account of a vaudeville act.

This book was highly enjoyable. The author obviously did a lot of research so it's a decent introduction to vaudeville in general as well as the story of how a family works up an act and takes it on the road, and the adventures they have as a result. The spirited Turner sisters are sympathetic characters, and their encounters with the denizens of vaudeville, including some real performers who make fictional cameos, make for entertaining reading.

The writing is breezy and easy to read, but at the same time, it doesn't tiptoe around the casual racism and animal cruelty that were sadly commonplace at this era of history, which was a nice touch - it's always good to keep in mind not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to go. Two of the main characters take turns telling the story, and to be honest I found this confusing from time to time, but it didn't detract from the story that much.

As it happens, the author's great grandfather was actually a dancer who performed in vaudeville shows - how cool is that? This is a fun summer read. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte

A quick relevant story before I review.

So as you may remember, back in September 2011 I had an uncontrolled Borders Last Days Sale book grab, bringing home more than 75 books over 2 days. The second shopping day alone had to be close to 50 books.

As I was checking out on the second (and last) day, the guy ringing up my purchases looked at me and said, "Are you really going to read all these books?"

My reply: "Eventually." At the time, even I thought it was kind of unlikely, but here I am almost 5 years later and in fact out of all those books only 8 are left on the TBR pile - I just counted. So that's pretty good, all things considered!

As you may have guessed, this book was one of the 75+ books I brought home from that spree. Of course, I was thrilled because it had "yellow" in the title, so I could use it for the always-fun Color Coded Reading Challenge... or so I thought. As it happens, it's the 5th book in a series, and yes, it took me 5 years to get those previous books read so I could finally read this one and stop scrambling to find a substitute for the "yellow" category. So I took my time, but I have finally accomplished this goal - hooray!

This book was a return to form as far as I'm concerned - it was much more enjoyable for me, as it centers around intrigue and not war/battles. To be sure, there are fisticuffs and swordplay and etc., but also palace intrigue and schemers and plotters and jilted lovers and double-crossers. It would make a fun movie, and I think it could stand alone if necessary. In fact, I could probably have read this book without reading the first 4 and not missed much - but I'd still rather stick to my sticklerish ways and just read the whole thing, rather than possibly miss some crucial information, etc. (it's just how my brain works). So all in all, this book was worth the wait.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

April - This Month in Reading

April got away from me - between some out of town company, work, classes, volunteering, and general life stuff, I only managed to read 7 books, or about half of my goal of 12. On the other hand, 6 of the books I did read were from the TBR pile, and not from the library, etc., so I'm happy with that. I also managed to make a better dent in a couple of my reading challenges, so I'm also happy with that. I didn't manage to do a reread this month, but I'm sure I can work in at least one if not 2 for May, so I'll work on that.

Speaking of May, I plan to continue the library ban and keep concentrating on the books I have on hand. I have a couple NetGalley books in the queue, but in general I plan to keep working on the challenge books as much as I can.

How was your April reading?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Little Joe Otter - Thornton W. Burgess

After The Silent Cry, I needed a book that was light as a feather, and this one neatly fit the bill. Once again, this is a vintage children's book I found on the Library Sale shelves. Sadly, I only found 2 books in this series of four "Smiling Pool" books, but maybe I'll be able to pick up the others somewhere else.

In any case, these are charming books. I love how the author  calls the animals "little people" because I think of animals as people too. Unlike many authors of this era (the 1920s), Burgess' animals have agency, and are smart and resourceful and are not just there to be imprisoned or blown away by humans. The story moves along nicely and is engaging for the reader. There are even some nice illustrations by Harrison Cady, including the one on the cover shown below.

As you can see, the cover is green, so I am claiming this book 
for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge - hooray! 

All in all, these are nice books and if you like vintage children's books, you will most likely enjoy these as much as I did. Highly recommended. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe

Readers, I apologize upfront if this review sounds really strange, it's that this book left me in a kind of book daze, with my mind immersed in the story, unable to entirely shake it off. I wasn't even sure I liked this book when I first started reading it, and in fact, I'm still not 100% sure if I "liked" it, but I can tell you that I was drawn in to the story and it has been living in my mind for a while now. Much of the book is somewhat unpleasant, and it's about as far as one can get from a comedy or from "light reading," and yet it has burrowed into my mind and won't let go.

In my mind, this book was reminiscent of Robert Frost's classic poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening; literally, because some of the story takes place in or near the woods, and figuratively, because of the unspoken depth - and possibly menace - the reader feels while reading. This book has so many layers that one could write a 40+ page thesis paper on it - and then write another, and another, and another, without ever considering the same element. I feel like I will have to read this book again in the future to satisfy a need to plumb the depths a bit. Recommended - if you're looking for something to think about.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale

This nonfiction book has been patiently waiting to be read for years, and I have no idea why I never picked it up before now. It works as a classic whodunit, as the reader follows the investigation into the shocking murder of a young child in the 1860s. Detectives were just coming into their own as part of the police force at this time, so we also get some of that history as well as the emergence of detectives in fiction in this well written book. The titular Mr. Whicher was one of Scotland Yard's best detectives, and was well known in his time - he met Dickens, who probably based at least one character on him. Whicher's investigation was partially hampered by the Victorian mores of the time but all in all it seems that he was very wise. I won't say any more so as to avoid any spoilers, but it's a great read for mystery fans or history buffs, or anyone who enjoys good writing and a good story. Recommended.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Before the Fall - Noah Hawley

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.

When I saw this book on NetGalley, I immediately recognized the author's name as the creator of the amazing and wonderful Fargo TV show and as a big fan I jumped at the chance to request this book. Holy moly readers, can Noah Hawley tell a story. The pacing is phenomenal, and each character is a fully realized person. The way the story is structured gives the reader context and background that adds depth. This book is the ultimate beach read - it's a page turner that you don't want to put down, but it's also well written and has depth. Highly recommended.