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.