Sunday, January 31, 2016

January - This Month in Reading

January was a productive reading month for me - I read 16 books, and managed to almost read at least 1 book for each challenge that I've signed up for. I made a lot of headway with some of the series that I have to read in order to get to a couple books on my TBR pile, and I am really enjoying these - it's fun to get to know the characters in this compressed timeframe.

For February, I'd like to keep up this momentum and read another 16 books at least. I have a bunch of books coming to me from the library (the recent snowstorm messed up their system of bringing books from one branch to another, so a lot of the books I had on hold have been delayed). And of course I have my faithful TBR pile to draw on, so I should have plenty of books to read.

How did your January reading shape up?

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Reread - The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

I have been meaning to reread this series for ages now, but with my looming TBR pile I felt guilty about rereads when there were so many other books I should be reading instead. However, the combination of the Read It Again, Sam Challenge and the need to read the latest book in this series for my TBR Pile Challenge now allows me to reread this guilt-free - hooray!

Having reread this book now, I'm really glad I insisted on doing this, as I didn't have strong memories of the details. In fact, I would have been hard pressed to come up with the significant events in my mind, and as fun as this series is (and it is!), it's also full of important story points that one needs to keep in mind. All in all though, I was happy to revisit this favorite series, and I'm really looking forward to going along for the ride again.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Around the World in Eighty Days - Jules Verne (Spoilers?)

In my challenge post I predicted this book would be a ripping yarn, and I was right! This was indeed a fun adventure story. It's funny now, knowing that I could go around the entire planet in just over 2 days using airplanes, to realize that at this time it would have taken at least 80 days to make the same journey. On the other hand, assuming one was more interested in the local surroundings than Mr. Fogg, I would rather travel the same route in 190 days in order to have some fun experiences (that preferably didn't involve an overeager cop) along the way. I liked the character of Passepartout and although I kind of came to an understanding of Phileas Fogg he was sort of unknowable throughout the book - it wasn't a problem but at the same time a part of the ending made less sense without any character development. I think Verne did a good job of creating suspenseful situations that left us wondering how the characters could get out of them - and then resolving them in a fairly logical way. All in all, I see why this is a classic, and I look forward to reading more Verne.

As a note, I happened to read Penguin's Michael Glencross translation, and it was excellent, complete with interesting notes, as well as an introduction and other good info - if you're looking for a well-done edition of this book.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Redbreast - Jo Nesbø (Spoilers?)

The third book in the Harry Hole series is a corker - it was very entertaining. There were 2 parallel stories that intersected - one in the past and one in the present - and I liked the way the stories came together in the end. It was fitting that during a huge snowstorm, I was reading a book where Inspector* Hole (mostly) stays put in Oslo for once. I haven't been to Oslo (yet) but it was helpful to imagine it while snow was falling, especially since there were a lot of winter scenes in the book. I will say that Part Five was very touching and well done, and I liked the way it was handled overall, giving us exposition while also giving us an emotional wallop.

I still like Hole; sometimes he is hard to like and sometimes it's just circumstances that happen to cause others around him to have bad things happen to them that reflect poorly on him in a way and make me feel bad for the people close to him on his behalf. Does that make any sense?? I doubt it, sorry. Just assume I've had a long evening at Schrøders, ha ha ha. 

In any case, if you like suspense novels, murder mysteries, and etc., you should like this series.

*I think I inadvertently gave Hole a promotion in my last review - in any case it's all good now

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) - Mindy Kaling

This was a fast and enjoyable read. It skipped around a lot, so it was sort of like hanging out with a fun and funny friend and just chatting about things. This book was published in 2011, so it covers her career up to The Office, as well as talking about her childhood and college days and etc., as well as general musings on life. Great beach or vacation reading.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cockroaches - Jo Nesbø

Book 2 of the Harry Hole series. I like the gloomy character of Inspector Hole, and the setting in Thailand was enjoyable. From time to time I found the plot slightly hard to follow but in the end it all worked out. The next book will be coming up soon!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

Having read this book, it's easy to see why it's held in high regard and is considered a classic - it's a very specific story and yet the story of the main character is also a highly universal one in some ways. The writing is clear and elegant and it allows the reader to experience the events in the book emotionally while reading. The author does a wonderful job of helping the reader understand the motivations that drive the main character's actions, so that we can understand even if we don't necessarily sympathize with some of them. This was a deceptively fast and easy read that will stay in my mind. Evidently there is a sequel; I will have to read that, as I would love to hear more. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel (Spoilers?)

The writing in this book reminded me a bit too much of this book - it seems like it should be better than it actually is. I think I can better express my thoughts about this book in list form:

Good things:
1. This was a really fast read - it kept me turning pages and it read really quickly.
2. I like post-apocalyptic settings and/or stories about people surviving in a place without easy access to food, water, technology, etc. so the premise was interesting to me.
3. I didn't mind the shifting back and forth in time in the storytelling - but it was a bit dragged out here and there. I did like seeing the characters making connections and making connections in my mind as I read.
4. For some reason I had a very easy time mentally casting a few of the characters - not sure why but it enhanced my reading.

Not-so-good things:
1. Parts of the ending were anticlimactic. Things were built up but then didn't come to much. On the other hand, it might have been too cliche if they had.
2. Things are brought up and dropped too easily. Much is made of the prophet's symbol but it comes to nothing. I can guess at the meaning but it would have been nice to flesh it out.
3. Speaking of the prophet, I would have liked to know more about this character... or maybe I can just guess at this too, since I watch the Walking Dead  and Game of Thrones TV shows and they have had similar characters... ?
4. I wish the author had worldbuilt a little more. So the flu didn't affect animals? Wouldn't there be packs of wild dogs and etc. then? What happened to the prophet's mother? Where did all the weapons come from - did people make crossbows or find them someplace or what?

I'll stop here but in general this was another mixed feelings book. I didn't hate it or anything, but I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sweet Thursday - John Steinbeck

Couldn't resist this book after falling in love with Cannery Row last month. Why on earth didn't I get into John Steinbeck long before now? He has rapidly become a serious literary crush. Parts of this book really made me laugh. It was great to catch up with the characters from Cannery Row and see how they have changed (or haven't, as the case may be). In some ways the love story was silly and farfetched, but that didn't bother me much, since the book as a whole is so entertaining. I even like the characters I don't like, if that makes any sense. Hasn't everyone known a person like Mack, who tries to do the right thing and is all too often thwarted by fate or life or whatever? The only drawback to this book is that there are no others to continue this story. Recommended.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Purity of Blood - Arturo Pérez-Reverte

This book, the second in a series*, had a slightly different tone than the first book, and I really enjoyed that. While the first book was a more straightforward swashbuckling tale, this book, while still featuring a decent amount of action, intrigue, mystery, and etc., seemed to have more of a message. There were some things that happened that I would have liked to hear more about, but that isn't a big deal, and who knows, maybe they will come up in later books. Once again, this was a fast read, and a great choice for readers who like historical fiction.
*My review of the first book can be found here

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

This book was an enjoyable take on adolescence. I think the author was trying to create a kinder, gentler Holden Caufield, sort of updating The Catcher in the Rye (which is referenced in the book) for a late 20th century audience. Initially the letter format sort of annoyed me, but I soon got used to it and ended up enjoying it, as opposed to reading a more conventionally structured book; I think it works well for conveying a first-person narrative of adolescence when one is an "outsider" in some way. Although I'm not in the YA target audience, I can see how this book would be valuable to young people, and I'm sure I would have loved it had I been able to read it when I was younger.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Bat - Jo Nesbø

This is the first Harry Hole novel, and I am happy to say I enjoyed it. The mystery kept me reading, and the Australian setting was unexpected but worked well. I liked Inspector Hole as a character, although I wouldn't mind reading about him on his home turf.

One thing that bothered me a little was that many of the characters talked in riddles from time to time. To be fair, this is called out in the text itself, so it's not a flaw, it's a deliberate choice, and in the context of the story it works. I am a fan of clear communication, however, so I didn't like it, and it would have driven me nuts if I were Inspector Hole.

I have the next book in this series ready to go so I will be reading that one this month also. I think I will enjoy this series - definitely a winner if you're a fan of mysteries, police procedurals, and/or Scandinavian crime books!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Quiet As They Come - Angie Chau

Found this book in the library and couldn't resist, seeing as how I need a book with a title starting with the letter Q for the Alphabet Soup challenge this year. And I was not disappointed! Although it's short stories, not my favorite book format, the stories follow the same characters, so this is actually refreshing - we get to hear things from different perspectives and the end result is more like a novel. Recommended.

LGBTQIA Books Reading Challenge

Hooray, I found another Quiltbag challenge for 2016! This one is hosted by Alexia at Pretty Deadly Reviews, and you can read all the details and sign up here.

I'm going to go for the lowest level, Red, which is 5 books, because with all the series reading I have to do this year I am not sure if I will be reading books with a main character that will count for this challenge, so I'm going to play it safe. I know I have one book that will definitely count, and I'm sure there will be at least four more - or four more that I can discover.

I'll keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post as I read.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (one of the main characters is a gay teenager; story deals in part with his struggle to have a relationship with another closeted gay teen)
2. Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen - Jazz Jennings (author is transgender; book is autobiography about growing up as a transgender girl, becoming an activist, etc.)
3. Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition - Katie Rain Hill (author is transgender; book is autobiography about growing up as a transgender girl, becoming an activist, etc.)
4. Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen - Arin Andrews (author is transgender; book is autobiography about growing up as a transgender boy, becoming an activist, etc.)
5. Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family - Amy Ellis Nutt (nonfiction book about trans woman)
6. Luna - Julie Anne Peters (LGBT author; book is about a trans woman)
7. Always - Nicola Griffith (LGBT author; main character is a lesbian)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Orange Is the New Black - Piper Kerman

Another mixed-feelings book. Something in the author's tone reminded me too much of this book and also this book; the author's insane level of privilege was just layered on too thick for me. She tells us over and over and over again about her many many visitors, and how much her family loves her and supports her no matter what, and that perfect strangers (friends of friends of her wonderful friends) sent her heartwarming letters and boxes bulging with books, and how NO ONE thinks she (an expensively educated blonde white girl) looks like she belongs in prison, etc. Prison sounds awful, no doubt about it, and it's clear that drug-related sentencing desperately needs reform in the US. However, in my opinion this message gets lost because all we really hear about is how successful the author is at prison life. Everyone wants to be her best bud! No one ever rips her off or gets one over on her! She even loses so much weight (because she spends a lot of time running on the prison's track, doing yoga, etc.) that her tons of visitors rave about how nice and skinny she is! 

The last straw for me was when she went on about how angry she was at the woman who got her into the prison predicament. That would be fine, if this woman had hoodwinked her or something - but she willingly participated in drug smuggling and money laundering. So what is there to be angry about? You knew what you were doing was illegal, and didn't care until it caught up with you.

You know what - I confess that this type of thing makes me irrationally angry because I was raised in the kind of "family" where the smallest mistake resulted in all h3ll breaking loose. For example, I frequently received an hours-long screaming fit followed by days or weeks of the "silent treatment" because I did something "horrendous" like loaning a school friend less than $1 for a snack. I would NEVER have received ANY support from these people had I been busted for shoplifting a 50 cent item, let alone being indicted by the Feds for drug-related charges. So yes, I bring a lifetime of bitterness to books where people have what I never will. 

Sorry, readers, I apologize for this outburst. 

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Got this book in a Yuletide gift exchange, and I had wanted to read it so that was fab. In the end, I enjoyed it; it was a fast read and a mind trip, and was skillfully done. Will it stick in my mind? No; but there's a place for quick and enjoyable and a place for lingering mind-changing classics, and I can enjoy all of the above. I will happily pass it on to some other bookish friends who also want to read it.  If you liked Gone Girl you should like this too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

I've been wanting to read this collection of vignettes for a while, and finally made it happen. The very short stories are impressionistic; they give the reader data points that form a larger picture when the reader considers them later. It's a deceptively fast and easy read that creates a vibrant story.

Not on Fire, but Burning - Greg Hrbek

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of this author's writing - see my review of a previous book here. It was nice to read a longer format story so I could really revel in the writing. This story is a speculative fiction mind trip and it will keep me thinking for a long time. Hrbek neatly captures adolescent voices, including their inner voices, and it's easy as a reader to place oneself in the minds of the characters, even when they are doing things you don't like. This was a great way to start my 2016 reading - highly recommended.

2016 Reading Challenges

This post is just a list of all the challenges I am participating in for 2016, with links to the posts I made for each one to help me keep track of the books I read and etc. Click the links for more info about each challenge; my posts have links to the challenge sign-up posts on the hosts' blogs, etc.

Back to the Classics Challenge - read 12 classic books in specific categories

Mount TBR Challenge - read at least 60 books from the TBR pile

Color-Coded Reading Challenge - read 9 books in color categories

Read It Again, Sam - reread 16+ books

2016 Banned Books Challenge - read 3 - 5 banned or challenged books

Books in Translation - read 10 - 12 books translated from their original language of publication

French Bingo 2016 - get bingo by reading at least 5 books in various categories on the bingo card

Literary Loners Reading Challenge 2016 - read books about loners, introverts, etc.

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge - read 26 books, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet

TBR Pile Challenge - read 12 books (and possibly 2 bonus books) that have been lingering on the TBR pile for far too long

LGBTQIA Reading Challenge - read 5 books with a LGBTQIA main character

Planet Earth Challenge - my ongoing challenge to read a book set in each country on Earth

If I join more challenges during the year, I'll update this post.

TBR Pile Challenge 2016

So I just found out the sad (for me!) news that Adam at Roofbeam Reader is not going to be hosting this challenge in 2016. I started this blog back in January of 2011 for the express purpose of participating in Adam's challenge. As I have related many times before, I am not a person who has awesome powers of stick-to-it-iveness in general, so in the back of my mind I suspected I'd lose interest in blogging and maybe read the 12 books I had chosen for the challenge during 2011 and that would be about it; I assumed I wouldn't blog any longer than a couple months or so. Although I was correct about completing the challenge, I am still blogging (mostly) regularly 5 years (!) later - in fact, I have written more than 700 posts. I have cleared at least 60 books from my TBR pile thanks to Adam's challenge over the past 5 years. Along the way I have really felt a sense of accomplishment from keeping my commitment to finishing the books I signed up for. I've also found some amazing books that were just waiting on my pile to be read. So I want to thank Adam for starting me down the path to book blogging and reading the books I actually own. I wish him all the best!

Before I discovered the challenge wouldn't happen in 2016, I had thought about which books to include and made a tentative list. It just seems really weird to not have this as a challenge, so I decided to make a list as a personal challenge just for fun. So without further ado, here are the 12 books I will be reading in 2016 as part of my unofficial TBR Pile Challenge, in no particular order.

1. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte - read May 2016

2. A Case of Two Cities - Qiu Xiaolong - read Apr. 2016

3. The Glass of Time - Michael Cox - read Nov. 2016

4. The Snowman - Jo Nesbø - read Mar. 2016

5. The Fire Engine that Disappeared - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö - read Dec. 2016

6. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh - read Nov. 2016

7. The Woman Who Died a Lot - Jasper Fforde - read Dec. 2016

8. The Fifth Floor - Michael Harvey - read Nov. 2016

9. The Celestial Globe - Marie Rutkowski - read Nov. 2016

10. Always - Nicola Griffith - read Nov. 2016

11. The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe - read Apr. 2016

12. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale - read Apr. 2016


Adam's challenge always called for 2 alternates, but I'm going to call these books "bonuses" because I hope to read them anyway.

1. The Children's Hour - A.S. Byatt - read Nov. 2016

2. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Dee Brown. It's no mystery why this book has remained unread: I'm terrified that it will make me really angry. But that's a poor excuse to leave a book unread, so I need to get over myself and make it happen.

So there you have it - wow, I have a lot of book series to read in 2016 - should be fun!