Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Blood of Flowers - Anita Amirrezvani

Yet another serendipitous Library Sale shelves find, I can't believe I waited as long as I did to read this super-engrossing novel. Set in 17th century Iran (Persia?), this story centers around carpet makers, and in particular, a young woman who wants to become a carpet designer in a world that is resistant to women's involvement in trades. The writing is great and the story really flows; once you start reading this it's very hard to put it down. I enjoyed the level of detail the author provided about life in this time and place, and now I'll have to add it to my "possible time machine visits" list. Recommended.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

White Tears - Hari Kunzru (Spoilers?)

Came across this book by chance in a library catalog search, since I was lacking a book for the "white" category of the Color Coded Reading Challenge. As it happens, this turned out to be a good choice for October reading, as it's kind of a mind-freak ghost story. It reminded me of Memento or Fight Club, where there is a main character that we follow but whom we are not sure we can trust, or not sure of our motives - I guess it's the classic unreliable narrator. To be honest, I am not sure if some parts of the story actually happened or if they were some kind of hallucination. The subject matter was interesting too - the author has explored a bit about how early 20th century racism affected the ability of talented musicians to be heard. It also tweaks hardcore collectors, which I liked. All in all this was a nice addition to my reading, and I will definitely check out the author's other books. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Plainsong - Kent Haruf

I can see why this book was a National Book Award finalist - the writing is simple but affecting, and gently brings the reader along into the story and the lives of the characters. The characters are well drawn, and I liked the way the author entwined them. Originally published in 1999, this book is definitely of its time - for some reason, it mentally takes me back very easily, and seems very much of that era. Apparently there was a movie made of this book; I'd like to see it, to see how closely my mental images of the scenery and the town and the people match up. Recommended.

I'm claiming this book for the "other color" category of the Color Coded Reading Challenge, as the cover is mainly gray, as shown below.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

The House on the Borderland - William Hope Hodgson

This book was a fitting beginning to my October reading, as it's a classic horror novel. Compared to modern horror, which is often very gory, this book was more of an existential horror piece. It's definitely wonderfully creepy, in tone and in content, and left me with a sense of dread. Recommended.

I'm going to claim this book for the "yellow" category in the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, based on its cover, as shown below.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

September - This Month in Reading

Wow, I think I might have gotten my reading mojo back! At the end of August, I said I wanted to read 4 books to match August, and in reality I read 9 - hooray! I was able to focus somewhat on my reading challenges so that was good.

Now that we are about to be in the best month of the year, I have to turn my attention to challenge reading. In fact, let's do a quick check-in:

Back to the Classics Challenge: 3/12 books read (yikes!!)
Color Coded Challenge: 4/9 books read
TBR Pile Challenge: 9/12 books read
LGBTQIA Challenge: 2/5 books read
Mount TBR Challenge: 21/60 books read

As you can see, my lack of reading earlier this year really puts me in a bind for these. I should have 45/60 books for the Mount TBR Challenge for one thing - 39 books will now have to be crammed in to my reading for the next 3 months for that challenge alone - luckily most of the books I have identified for my challenges work for that one. I think I will have to have a more organized approach to these challenges, so I will try to complete the Color Coded Challenge first, then move on to the Back to the Classics Challenge. I'm hoping I can cram all that reading (or at least most of it) into October - wish me luck!

How is your final quarter of 2017 reading shaping up?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane

This book is a classic Library Sale find: it looked interesting on the shelf, I happily paid 50 cents, and then... it got set on the physical TBR pile and got dusty. After reading it, I kind of get why - the time period in which the book is set (early 20th Century) is interesting to me, and the back cover description seemed interesting but also possibly depressing, and the book itself is just over 700 pages (!) so it's not a casual, quick read.

Now that I have finished it, I can say that although I liked some of the characters I think the same story could have been told in far fewer pages. Some of the subplots just seemed unnecessary, and many scenes in the book just ran long when I didn't think they needed to. So although I enjoyed it for what it was, on the other hand, I have mixed feelings in general.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rainbow Boys - Alex Sánchez

So this book is the polar opposite of a 2,000+ year old treatise on waging wars, ha ha. It's a well done YA novel about three high school age young men who are all grappling with their sexuality. I discovered this book in a fortuitous library catalog search and I am go glad I did! I found the characters engaging and the writing style was compelling - this was a fast read that covered a lot of ground. I really liked the characters, and I liked how the author was able to have three situations that young people can really relate to and show how many individuals react to challenges. Apparently there are two sequels, so maybe next year I can use them for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge :) Recommended.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Art of War - Sun Tzu

This book really is what the title states - it's the author's method of waging war. I remember when it was a fad to read this book in the 1980s, when "big business" was really getting out of hand and corporate takeovers, etc., were a norm - I think all those MBAs and finance majors got a kick out of thinking that they were some kind of "warriors" with briefcases and contracts instead of actual weapons (although I suppose people do, or can, use things like contracts as weapons quite a bit....). In any case, although of course it's mainly geared toward actual warfare, there are some things I suppose one could apply to daily life, such as this:

During the early morning spirits are keen, during the day they flag, and in the evening thoughts turn toward home. 
And therefore those skilled in war avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick. 

Here's another 2 that are very relevant:

One anxious to defend his reputation pays no regard to anything else. 

and

If he is of a compassionate nature you can harass him. 

I feel like I see these things in action all around me these days.

To be honest, based on the topic, this book wasn't something that I was super interested in, but all in all, with the introduction, notes, and other info that was included, I ultimately found it interesting from a historical perspective.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Main Street - Sinclair Lewis

Oh my, what a wicked satire this is. To tell the truth, I have known people, more than I like to admit, that are EXACTLY like the people described in this book. EXACTLY. The strange insistence that their town is the BEST.TOWN.EVER!!!1!!!11!!!!, the constant comparisons of the town to the nearest big city (with the town always coming out on top, of course), the automatic assumption that if you are from said big city you're some kind of silly know-nothing full of dumb/useless ideas force fed to you from eggheads in ivory towers, the lack of interest in anything beyond a few safe topics (cars, sports, town gossip) - and of course, an insistence that anyone who isn't as prosperous as the town's people think they should be is just lazy - or, of course, a foreigner.

The best and yet scariest part is when the characters talk politics. This book was originally published in 1920, but in all honesty it's the same nonsense being spewed today. Help the poor?!?! Why, that would be SOSHULIZM!!!!!!!!!!!1!!11!!! Unions?!?!?! SOSHULIZM!!1!!!11 Sound familiar?

To get more specific about the book itself, I liked the main character and felt a lot of sympathy for her. It's hard to start over anywhere, but it's infinitely harder to come from a larger place and start over in a smaller place, in my opinion and in my experience. The book did seem to run a bit long for my taste; I felt like the author made his point and the story could have been a bit shorter. But all in all this was illuminating and I would like to read his other books.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

WOW, readers - just WOW. I am now a Willa Cather superfan. She has once again bewitched me with her ability to create living, breathing characters out of paper and ink, and place them in settings I had no real prior interest in that I now wish I could see for myself.

It's funny, because on paper this book has little to interest me. It's basically a novel-length character study of the titular Archbishop, covering the many years he presides over New Mexico, when it was still a new territory for the US. However, once I started reading it I could barely cope with having to put it down. Something about her writing creates a direct link to images in my brain, and I feel instantly immersed in the story. I cannot wait to read more of her books. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Oracle of Stamboul - Michael David Lukas

This is one of the last of the Borders Last Day Sales books, and after reading I kind of see why it has been gathering dust on the TBR pile. I really wanted to love this book - the premise and setting seemed so interesting, but....

You know the expression, "there's no 'there' there?"Apparently it was originally a Gertrude Stein quotation, that has, over the years, taken on the meaning of "something that has nothing at its core." This book has no "there" there. The book has a cool cover, the jacket copy sounds interesting, the main character(s) seem interesting, the setting is interesting, but ultimately, nothing comes of any of it. Things are made a big deal of and then dropped. Characters disappear when it's convenient, and for no good reason. And to top it all off, the ending is ambiguous. Sigh.

Unfortunately I can't recommend this one.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis (Spoilers?)

As a big fan of the film Mame, starring Rosalind Russell, who even enjoys the Lucille Ball musical version, I can't believe it has taken me this long to read this book. Yet another lucky Library Sale find, this was just what the doctor ordered. The semi-subtitle printed on the cover, "An Irreverent Escapade," sums it up neatly - it is definitely irreverent. It's also sort of a joyous escapade, one I'd dearly love to visit, Jasper Fforde Book World style.

As a film fan, I will say that the second half of the book diverges significantly from the film versions, but that is not a bad thing. I kind of like that the book is its own entity. And to be honest, the films' changes make way more sense from a narrative point of view, unifying the story and providing a more obvious narrative arc. I will let you know that one of the signature film lines is conspicuously missing from the book, so kudos to the stage or screen adaptor who coined it, it fits beautifully, and is one of my favorite quotes.

Apparently there is a sequel to this book; I might have to check that out. In any case, this is a fun little romp and I recommend it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife - Mary Roach

Another lucky Library Sale shelf find, this book is apparently the UK edition - I guess the US title is Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Regardless of the title, the subject matter was fascinating. The author looks into how people have described and believed in an afterlife, and how in the last couple of centuries scientists have been trying to ascertain if there is any such thing, and if we can somehow prove it. The most entertaining part of this book was the part related to the fad for "mediums" and "seances" in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and how some skeptics tried (and succeeded!) to debunk them and their (literal) parlor tricks. I have rapidly become a big fan of this author and I am happy that there are more of her books out there for me to discover. Recommended.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

I've really become a fan of Mary Roach after reading this book - she has a way of breaking down complicated scientific topics into entertaining and easily understood portions. And yes, some of this information is gross, but the writing makes up for it. I have another book by this author on my TBR pile too, so looks like that one might have to be next up!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August - This Month in Reading

Reading seems to have picked up around here - I managed 4 books in August, which is twice as many books as I read for July. Apparently I neglected to ever post a wrap-up for July, but no matter - I'll just say that I am hoping this momentum sticks around. For September, after I finish celebrating what to me is the beginning of Fall, I hope to read at least 4 books, to at least match August's reading.

How was your summer reading? How's your reading for the last quarter of 2017 looking?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Tender Is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Another book I was supposed to read months ago for the Classic Book A Month Challenge - to be fair, I started this back in April with good intentions but had a hard time getting into it, so I've been reading it off and on since then and finally finished.

So, as you can see by my review of The Great Gatsby, I love that book, and I expected I'd love this one too. Sadly, that wasn't the case. I realize this book is in some ways autobiographical, but it was the writing that just didn't send me, as they say. Just wasn't my cup of tea.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Raisin in the Sun - Lorraine Hansberry

I was supposed to read this book back in May for the Classic Book A Month Challenge, but better late than never, right? I seem to remember reading this book in school but I had forgotten everything about it, so it was like a new book. The play is a classic story of a 20th Century African-American family trying to make their way in a world that can be relentlessly hostile to them because of their skin color. The characters are so well drawn that I could picture them easily in my mind as I read, and I still can as I write this review. All in all a worthy classic that I am glad I got the opportunity to read again.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Truth Will Set You Free - Alice Miller

I've been meaning to read Alice Miller for ages, specifically her book The Drama of the Gifted Child, so when I stumbled on this book at the library I decided impulsively to grab it and see what I might find.

Miller is a psychologist who specializes in child abuse and the effects it has throughout a person's life. This particular book is geared toward what the subtitle spells out: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self. The book describes learned patterns of child abuse that are then perpetrated on one's own children, because of "that's the way I was raised and I turned out fine!" and other similar excuses. In this regard, it would be helpful for someone who might be wondering if they really did, in fact, turn out OK, and if their parents' way of parenting was actually abusive.

At the end of the day, the book is an interesting treatise that more people should read, but I do wish it had had more practical information for people trying to recover from childhood abuse, and how to ensure abuse isn't just mindlessly perpetrated generation after generation. But definitely a good book if you're just trying to grapple with why (some) abuse still occurs as often as it does.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Zap - Paul Fleischman

Where was this book when I was reading for the Alphabet Challenge? If you need a book that starts with Z, this play is a quick read!

I stumbled upon this play at the library and was intrigued by the jacket copy. It's a play that is meant as a kind of pastiche/satire of other types of plays (the English murder mystery, the Neil Simon/New York kind of play, a classic Russian play, and of course Shakespeare, etc.) and it's designed to appeal to high school drama departments. Overall I thought it was OK and the idea was interesting, but it seemed kind of confusing, and there were a couple of instances of dialogue that might have seemed OK in 2005, when the play was written, but strike me as somewhat racist and unnecessary here in 2017.

As a semi-related aside, I recently watched the first season of Lisa Kudrow's 2005 HBO show, The Comeback, and found a similar issue. In one of the episodes, Kudrow's character, who is an actress making a comeback in a sitcom, is given a line that is racist. The character doesn't want to say the line, (and it's ultimately changed) but no one ever identifies that it's a racist thing to say, and at no point does anyone just say, "this line is racist and we shouldn't say something like this on a mainstream sitcom." Were people just this oblivious to stuff like this in 2005? I dunno.

So back to the play at hand, it was a fast read and it wasn't awful, I just think it was sort of jumbled. It might make more sense as a stage production than as a "book" to read.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tranny - Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

The subtitle of this book is as arresting as the title and cover: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. It's the autobiography of Laura Jane Grace, the founder of the band Against Me! It's a well written, fast read that chronicles the author's life, including childhood, the formation of the band, all that's comprised in having a band these days, starting out in the punk scene and risking the label "sellout" if one is successful, and of course the gender dysphoria that the author experienced through all of this.

Random rambly thoughts:

The cool cover looks kind of like a 'zine, which after reading the book I can only assume is intentional. Like I said, the writing is solid and I couldn't put the book down - I read it in the course of several hours after getting it from the library. I am not super familiar with the band Against Me! or their music, but reading about how they came to exist and the general trials and tribulations of being a punk band in the late 20th/early 21st century was interesting to me, someone who is older than the author and who once had ambitions to be in just such a band, but much closer to when punk got its start. Frankly, after reading this book, I am fairly glad that my lack of talent prevented this from ever happening - the tightrope walk of being constantly called a sellout if you experience any success would suck. Do people really buy tickets to shows just to flip off the band as some sort of protest statement?? Yeesh.

In any case, I enjoyed this book and hope there are more from the author, as she's obviously a talented person and writer.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Humans - Matt Haig (Spoilers)

Hi Readers! I managed to read a book! Hooray! :) If you're still reading my blog, thank you! please stick around :)

So this book was a recommendation, and to be honest, I was looking for something written in what I like to call the "common vernacular" - as opposed to, say, Jane Austen, and I took a chance on this book, hoping it would spur more reading.

The good news is, I do feel more like reading these days, so that's good!

The bad news is, this book wasn't a new fave.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad book or anything; and it truly fit the bill of being a fast read that was indeed written in the common vernacular.

However, it was a letdown in many other ways. It reminded me way too much of "The Time-Travellers Wife," a book that advertised a really interesting premise and then quickly became a book that was really about infertility. The supernatural elements didn't need to ever exist; the author could have just written a book about someone struggling with infertility, as the time traveling parts of the book were actually silly in the overall context of the book. And so it is with this book, which is supposedly a book about an alien coming to Earth but in reality is a cliched ode to a specific woman and their teenage son. I have no problem with a writer doing this - Judd Apatow, for one, has made a huge career while mainly writing movies that are nothing but love letters to his wife and kids - but I was honestly looking for a book about aliens, not a family drama. I feel like there are 10000000000 books that are family dramas and not even a fraction as many books that might be about aliens, so it was disappointing when the "alien" aspect is quickly overtaken by the other stuff. So it wasn't an awful book or anything, it just wasn't what I was hoping for when I read the description and assumed a book that was supposed to be about an alien coming to Earth and trying to fit in as a human, and instead I got a book about a dysfunctional Earth family, and how much the father figure suddenly decides that he LOOOOOOOVES his dysfunctional family and needs to try harder, like so many other books. Sigh.

I don't mean to be a downer, but I was hoping for more from my first read in a while. Luckily I have an enormous TBR pile to draw books from, now that I am more inclined to read. Let's hope I can get some momentum!

Friday, June 30, 2017

June - This Month in (Not) Reading, the Sequel

Not much to elaborate on - I didn't get any reading done in June! Sigh. I'm obviously getting really behind in my challenges, so let's hope I can get out of this slump soon.

I hope y'all did more reading in June!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May - This Month in (Not) Reading

Ugh, no reading this month. In my defense, I had some "finals" for some classes I was taking and that took up a lot of brain time, so that didn't help. And now it's almost summer, sigh. I'm hoping the awful heat and humidity will keep me indoors and lead to some serious reading!

Are you ready for summer??

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April - This Month in Reading

Well, I managed to meet my goal this month - too bad it was super paltry! I'm hoping May will be a better month for reading.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri

This was a good Library Sale shelves find, although to be honest if I had realized that it was short stories instead of a novel, I might have passed. As it happens, there was some overlap in at least 2 stories so that was more enjoyable for me, and in fact, it was good to read different sides of the same story, so maybe I"m warming up to short stories after all this time, ha ha.

In general, I enjoy this author's writing, and it's always an easy and fast read, even if it does conform to that Atlantic article I link too far too often to do so in this post. Definitely great beachy reads for the upcoming season.

Friday, March 31, 2017

March - This Month in Reading

March was not the best reading month I have ever had - I read a total of 3 books. I guess it's better than 0 books, so I'll let it go. For April, I hope to read more books but at this rate I will just shoot for one.

How is your spring reading going?

Monday, March 20, 2017

The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton

The story of Lily Bart, the main character of this novel, is one that is particular to her time, but also strangely specific. Many of the events in the novel are based around outdated social customs and mores that we don't follow or adhere to today - nor should we. On the other hand, at its heart the book is about wanting to live above or beyond your means, and how you can thereby make poor decisions that ultimately ruin you. And it's a rather wicked satire on the so-called "upper classes," who buy things just for the sake of buying things, but who are hypocrites without consciences who are actually very uninteresting, and have no interest in the world around them, despite being able to afford to see that world.

Something about this book reminded me a lot of one of my favorite novels, Frank Norris' McTeague. Both books seem to be about people wanting to escape the class their family was in, but in the end becoming trapped at the level to which they were born, incapable of escape. One main difference is that Lily Bart is portrayed as someone who refuses to surrender her principles, while some of Norris' characters are willing to toss theirs aside if it means they will get what they want (or what they think they want).

What struck me most about the book was that the real tragedy of the story is that so many people were constrained by the silly "rules" and were unable to be who they wanted to be. More than once  while reading I thought to myself, why don't these characters just run off and live someplace else? Why are they so attached to this setting and these other people? Maybe I'm too much a product of my times and don't understand things as well as I should, but I feel like I'd rather be myself than have to put up with a lot of nonsense in order to have something different.

All in all I see why this book is a classic. Recommended.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dangerous Animals Club - Steven Tobolowsky

This is yet another of my interesting Library Sale shelves finds, which I grabbed because I like the author, arguably America's most recognizable character actor. Possibly most famous for his role as insurance salesman Ned Ryerson in the wonderful comedy Groundhog Day, he pops up in virtually every movie and TV show. I wanted to read something light today, so I grabbed this from the pile and settled in.

Several hours later, I confess I have mixed feelings. The writing in this book came off as sort of pretentious. Before I started reading, I didn't quite realize that he was a Baby Boomer, but it made the writing make more sense once I figured that out. There was also what I can't help but view as bragging by said Baby Boomer that in his day one could move to a big expensive city like Los Angeles and find a reasonable, decent, affordable apartment as an out of work actor. For Pete's sake, we get it, in YOUR day, these things were possible, but strangely enough, they aren't any more. Go figure! Sigh. I also got tired of hearing about his ex, Beth. It's evident that he is working through his feelings about this long term relationship, but it's unclear to me why they were together for so long. Honestly, she just sounded exhausting, and I would love to hear her side of it.

In any case, this was a relatively fast read that kind of went all over the place. It wasn't a bad read, but wasn't great. So this is a mixed review, I guess.

On the plus side, I am claiming it for my "brown" book for the Color Coded Reading Challenge, based on the cover (see photo):


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Gypsy: A Memoir - Gypsy Rose Lee

Yet another fortuitous Library Sales shelves find. I had heard of Gypsy Rose Lee, and of course the award-winning Broadway musical based on this book, although I've never seen it. After reading this book I am not sure how much I actually know, and how much of it is made up, or at least embroidered.

All the same, it's a very entertaining book. It chronicles the early lives of the author and her sister (who ultimately became actress June Havoc). The sisters shared a stage mother that couldn't have been more on the nose if she had been sent over from central casting. Equal parts con artist and ambitious show biz wannabe, the mother looms large in this book, and her presence even sort of overshadows Gypsy Rose Lee as the star of her own book.

The tales are amusing and well told, and the author paints a picture of life in show business as vaudeville was succumbing to the "talkies" and then the Depression, and performers often had to switch to burlesque and similar specialities to keep performing. I feel like I can picture with great clarity what this life was like, and can also understand the allure of the transient life of "show folk" - and also be grateful that I am not dealing with people trying to cheat me, sleeping in fleabag hotels (if you're lucky), getting lice, and other perils of life on the road.

The book has less detail in the later parts, and in fact we gloss over such events as the birth of her only child, son Erik - we don't even learn who Erik's father was. The book ends sort of abruptly; maybe the author was adhering to the show biz mantra of "always leave 'em wanting more." If you do, it turns out Gypsy Rose Lee wrote a couple fiction books and many short stories before penning this memoir; she's a good writer so I would like to check those out. All in all this was a memorable read that paints a picture of a bygone era of show business. Recommended.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February - This Month in Reading

February got away from me more than it should have. I was hoping to read 10 books, but only managed 6. On the plus side, most were for challenges, so at least I'm keeping up with those reasonably well.

For March, I'd like to actually read at least 10 books, obviously concentrating on challenge books as I have been.

How was your February reading?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Three Theban Plays - Sophocles (Spoilers)

This is my first book read for the Classic Book A Month Challenge, and also the first time I have read Sophocles. One thing that surprised me was the intensity of the emotion I felt while I was reading. I read the books in a strange order, following how they were grouped in this edition:




I'm not sure why the plays were put in this order; logically Oedipus the King would be first, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and lastly Antigone - this would take the reader through the reveal in King, which places the next 2 plays in context. But having said that, reading it in this order still had an emotional impact, so not much was lost. 

The root situation that causes drama in all three plays is the relationship between Jocasta and Oedipus, which is revealed in Oedipus the King. The reader begins to understand that what happens to them both is the result of a prophecy taking a long, circuitous route to being filled. This is a narrative device that is used fairly frequently these days, but it still resonates and horrifies. I think it gets at the "I did everything right, how could my life have gone so wrong?" line of thought. Colonus is the fallout of King, and shows that despite everything, Oedipus was a powerful and strong person, and that he has developed from his suffering. Antigone builds on the strong female character we see in Colonus, showing that she is willing to defy authority to do what she feels is right. All in all I found this translation to be wonderful, and I really enjoyed reading the plays. Recommended. 

One other note: for some reason, I had thought the the Chorus didn't interact with the other characters, and that it functioned more as a narrator, supplying the audience with observations and etc., but not really a part of the on-stage action. I was pleasantly surprised that that was not the case. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Out - Natsuo Kirino

Wow, this book is intense. It's absolutely not for the faint of heart. With that said, I loved it. It's a gritty "noir" kind of mystery/suspense thriller that is impossible to put down once you've started it. It kind of reminded me of Breaking Bad, in that it's about an ordinary person who decides to get embroiled in a criminal act, and it chronicles the fallout of that act. The characters' motivations are both murky and clear; I liked how they all seemed like real people, and reacted in logical ways to the events in the book. This book would make an amazing movie.

All in all, highly recommended, but fair warning that there is a lot of violence and etc. if that bothers you.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

God Grew Tired of Us - John Bul Dau with Michael S. Sweeney

Stumbled on this book at the library when I was looking for something else, and it looked interesting so I checked it out. It's a harrowing and heartbreaking story, that is also inspirational. The author was born in the Sudan, and due to a civil war, was separated from his family and ended up being one of the "Lost Boys" - children, mainly boys, who lost their families and ended up in refugee camps. Against all odds, the author has survived hardship unimaginable to me. I live in a country where people think having to wait 3 extra minutes for their $6 cup of coffee is some kind of unendurable horror, and there are camps filled with young people who have literally nothing, who would give anything to have 1/1,000 th of the opportunities I have. This planet is truly a mystery to me.

The author went through a lengthy process to immigrate to the US as a student, and is now married with children here. I am so happy he was able to have the opportunity to escape life in refugee camps, get an education, and become an American. He worked hard to get here, and has worked hard ever since, studying difficult subjects in a foreign language, working many different jobs to pay rent, etc. He is truly an inspiration.

And I will definitely think of him the next time I see some spoiled person melting down in public over something trivial.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sula - Toni Morrison (Spoilers?)

This was a really lovely little book. You'd think by the title that it's mainly about Sula, but really it's more about the effect Sula has on both her best friend Nel and the town in which they both live, and in that way the book is more a portrait of the town of Medallion than anything else. This may sound bizarre, but something about this book reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Part of that is the beautiful writing and I think another part of it is that both books are (at least in part) about being separated from the "American Dream" and about how the past is always closer than you think. I definitely need to read more Toni Morrison. Recommended.

Since this book's cover is mostly green, I'm claiming it as my "green" book for the Color Coded Reading Challenge too.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Stiff - Mary Roach

The subtitle of this book, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, pretty much says it all. The author's breezy, conversational tone takes the subject matter from disturbing to fascinating. It's a well researched book that is a quick read but provides a lot of information and food for thought. I will say that one probably shouldn't read this while eating, or if one has a weak stomach, but the information is provided in such a matter of fact and well written way that I don't think this would be an issue for most people. The same day I found this on the Library Sale shelves I also scored 2 other books by the same author, and I'm looking forward to getting to them sooner rather than later. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu

What a great book to kick off my February reading. Yet another lucky Library Sales shelves find, this book, originally published in 2007, seems very timely 10 years later. The story manages to pack a lot of elements - immigration and the immigrant experience; gentrification; racism; owning your own business; poverty; and the persistence of hope. The writing is beautiful and flowing, and the story unfolds in chapters that move through time. I found this book to be a deceptively quick read - it's a story that is at once timeless and immediate, with a narrator who is immensely sympathetic. Yes, there are heavy elements, but the author's skill is such that the reader is more conscious of the good than the bad, if that makes any sense. This book will live in my mind for a long time. Quick research shows the author has written two other books, so I will add them to my definitely-need-to-read-these-ASAP list. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January - This Month in Reading

January got off to a slower start than I might have liked - I read 7 books, which is OK but of course I would have liked to read more. At the end of December I planned to read 10, so I at least read more than half that number, and most of the books were for challenges, so I'm OK with it.

For February, I will try to read 10 books, with all of them being challenge books.

How's your 2017 going so far?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley

Readers, this is a the beginning of a new favorite series for sure. This is yet another lucky Library Sales shelf find. I love the film noir atmosphere, and the just-post-WWII Los Angeles setting is refreshing. Easy Rawlins is a great narrator; I really like his narrative voice. He's a character that is easy (no pun intended) to root for, and to become fascinated by. The story is skillfully told, and I had no idea how the central mystery was going to turn out, so it kept me guessing. I will definitely have to read the rest of the series, and as a bonus, many of the subsequent books have a color in the title, making them work well with the Color Coded Reading Challenge. I will have to make some strides in my pile reading to clear some room on the schedule for these books. Recommended.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Fault in our Stars - John Green (Spoilers)

After plowing through some 18th century erotica, I needed something lighter. So naturally I chose a book about two teenagers dying of cancer LOL What can I say, it grabbed my attention from the TBR pile. And frankly, sometimes after I have read a book written more than 100 years ago, I really want to read something written in the common vernacular.

No pun intended, this was just what the doctor ordered. There were lines in this book that made me laugh really hard, which is rare. The story was unexpected - I could never have predicted the Amsterdam trip and how that went, for example. Parts of the story were of course touching. The author did a nice job of depicting the way people respond to something like a serious illness.

All in all this was a fast reading, enjoyable YA book.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure - John Cleland

Once again, I have underestimated the potential smuttiness of a classic book. To be honest, I knew nothing about this book going in, although the title and the cover tipped me off. But much as with Lady Chatterly's Lover, I assumed the book would be tame by modern standards. I couldn't have been more wrong - this book is very frank, particularly for something written in the early to mid 1700s. In fact, its raciness got extremely tiresome after a while, because it's so pervasive - the entire book is one encounter after the other. There's some bonus homophobia to boot, which is rather hypocritical and irritating. On the other hand, the writing itself is emblematic of its epoch, and isn't bad, overall. I can see why people consider this a classic, even if it's not something I would normally read. So if you're looking for a racy 18th century novel, this is your book!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag (Spoilers?)

This book was one of my numerous Library Sale shelves finds. Set in Tuva, which is located in southern Siberia and shares a border with Mongolia, this book appears to be an autobographical novel about a Tuvan boy's early life. The writing is so clear I felt like I could see the landscape, the people, and the surroundings very clearly. The effect is cinematic, and I'm surprised no one has made a film of this book yet. It would be really beautiful at the same time as it showed the difficult way of life the main character and his family face as a nomadic people in the mid 20th century - the landscape is breathtaking and harsh at the same time. One thing I really liked is that the book doesn't follow some kind of western ideal for a "happy ending" nor does it sugarcoat things. Americans are known as people who demand a happy ending to our fictional stories; we cannot stand the idea that not everything turns out OK. It's refreshing to read a story that is not driven by a "breakneck plot + happy ending = $$$$" model - this one is content to tell a true, real story and to tell it well.

Evidently there are 2 sequels to this book, so if I can get my hands on them, I'll happily read them. Recommended.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (Spoilers)

So with all my challenge reading set up for 2017, you may be wondering why I am already reading books that aren't really for challenges. To be honest, I had wanted to read this book for the 2016 Mount TBR challenge, but it didn't happen - I ran out of time. Instead of relegating it to the TBR pile until who-knows-when, I decided to just read it already. So I did!

This book surprised me. I knew it was old, but didn't quite realize that it was almost 200 years old, and that it's often considered the first English novel. The bulk of it is really taken up with how the titular character sets up housekeeping after the shipwreck, and I really enjoyed this part of it. I like hearing how people survive in unlikely places. I could have done without the religious sermonizing that occasionally crops up, but I realize that that's sort of a feature of writing of this era. I couldn't believe Friday didn't appear until about page 160 - I thought he had more of a role in the book.

Another surprise was that soon after Friday shows up, so do a ton of other people. Crusoe lives almost 30 years alone on this island, and it's suddenly Grand Central Station. There is another shipwreck with no survivors, and then another cannibal incursion that includes Friday's father and a Spanish sailor, and then a bunch of mutineers comes ashore. This was not what I had pictured in my mind for how this story would go.

Something amusing to me was how colonial Crusoe is. He's a slaver who gets rich, and despite seeming to have some live-and-let-live thoughts about the "cannibal savages" who occasionally visit his island, as soon as Friday shows up Crusoe takes him for a servant and basically tries to make him over as a European. Why couldn't Crusoe learn Friday's language? What's Friday's actual name? What was his daily life like before he had a brush with cannibals who wanted to eat him? Defoe even describes how the Spanish sailor speaks the language of Friday and his father fairly well. Why can't Crusoe? I guess that's just the language nerd in me.

But these are early 21st century ideas being imposed on a book written in the early 18th century, and I'll stop now, before I get into the cheekiness of Crusoe slagging off the Spanish for deplorable colonial behavior while never holding his own English fellows to the same standard. Evidently the bible he read voraciously was missing the page with the whole "why are you worried about the speck in your neighbor's eye when you've got a freaking LOG in your eye" thing. Ha ha!

All in all though, I did enjoy the bulk of this book, believe it or not. It made me want to read more Defoe, although I will probably skip the little-known sequels to this book, and it will have to wait.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Liberace Extravaganza! - Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett

This was a fun gift from Mr. K. It's a beautiful coffee table type book written by two costume design professionals who wished to document the amazing costumes commissioned and worn by "Mr. Showmanship" himself, Liberace. The book is stuffed with gorgeous photos of the costumes, with many close-ups, and written descriptions of the materials and construction. Liberace was a force of nature and continues to be a tremendous influence on pop culture; he was also a talented musician and a genius at relating to his audiences and fans and keeping himself in the spotlight. Here's a video, which features the cape on pages 74-77; I believe the suit is on page 87, but it's also discussed elsewhere in the book.




I was lucky enough to see Liberace live in concert in the early 80s. Although my lousy memory has taken the details of this concert with it, I do remember a general sense of awe and I have always had a special place in my heart for this man. I am not a Las Vegas person, but I do regret missing out on seeing his museum there, which is closed - it would have really been something to see these costumes in person. I'm so happy the authors of this book were able to make it happen, to preserve these works of art in book form.

I am partial to jewelry so I am also secretly hoping for a second book featuring his jewelry as a companion to this book. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the art of showmanship and costuming.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

The most likely reason it's taken me 20 years to read this book is that I stopped enjoying "fantasy" books in general. The silly, made-up names; the quasi-Medieval settings; the insistence on using British English as it's spoken in the UK regardless of the books' actual settings - it all just got on my nerves at some point, and I stopped being interested. So to be fair, this book series escaped my notice entirely until HBO made a TV series about it. At the same time, I discovered Hague Publishing, and reading their well done fantasy/sci-fi books made me think I might be able to dip my toes back into that lake once more.

Strangely enough, while I am not a huge reader of fantasy, I don't mind watching filmed versions of it too much, and I really like the show. It's brutal, to be sure, and binge-watching a lot of episodes at the end of December/beginning of January did give me nightmares a couple times; but it's also nicely complex and I enjoy all the scheming and occasionally seeing a villainous character get their comeuppance. Of course, knowing the show was based on a series of books made me think I should read the books, but I put that off until I just couldn't stand it anymore, and now here I am, trying desperately to talk myself out of reading the rest of the books ASAP.

If you watch the show or if you've read the books (or at least this one book), there isn't much I can really add. The show follows the book pretty closely from what I can remember. I liked how the point of view changes in each chapter, so we get something of a deep dive into a select group of characters' motivations and thoughts. And two of my four favorite characters (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark) are among these featured characters, which is great (the other two haven't shown up yet). The writing has a bit of clunk here and there (for some reason I irrationally hate the word "nibble" and for some reason Daenerys Targaryen is always "nibbling" something or other; this author also shouldn't try to describe, well, adult things) but it's generally smooth and leads to page turning.

So what say you, readers - do I blow off all my challenge reading and dive into this series now? Or get my challenges under control and then take the plunge? Let me know what you think!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

LGBTQIA Challenge 2017

I was hoping this challenge would take place again in 2017, and it is - hooray!! It's hosted by Pretty Deadly Reviews, and you can get all the info and sign up here. I'm going to commit to the Red level, which is 5 books. I'm hoping I'll exceed that, of course, but this way I'll be sure to meet the challenge. I'll keep track of the books I read in this post as I read them. Please feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments!

1. Liberace Extravaganza! - Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett (Liberace was gay, although he was closeted/not fully out for much of his life)
2. Rainbow Boys - Alex Sánchez (LGBT author, characters, themes, etc.)


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Classic Book a Month Challenge 2017

Adam at Roofbeam Reader is hosting this fun challenge this year - get the details and sign up here. Here are the books to read:

January: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (didn't read)
February: The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles
March: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
April: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
May: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
June: The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville (didn't read)
July: Paradise Lost by John Milton (didn't read)
August: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (didn't read)
September: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
October: Angels in America by Tony Kushner
November: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
December: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The challenge is flexible, and you don't have to read all of the books. I had planned to read a couple of these books already, and others seem interesting, while there are a few that I don't want to reread, so I'll probably end up doing about 8 of the books. Should be a lot of fun!

TBR Pile Challenge 2017

Once again, I am just going to do my own TBR Pile Challenge this year, which will work in conjunction with the Mount TBR Challenge. Here are the 12 books (and 2 bonus books) that I plan to read this year, in no particular order:

1. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis

2. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu

3. Sula - Toni Morrison

4. Les Précieuses Ridicules - Moilère. This is a vintage copy (there's a name and the year 1912 written on the inside cover) of this play in French, and I need all the practice I can get, so now's the time.

5. The Given Day - Dennis Lehane

6. The Oracle of Stamboul - Michael David Lukas

7. Out - Natsuo Kirino

8. Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley

9. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee - Dee Brown. I had this as a bonus book last year, and managed to avoid it, because I think it will be really upsetting, and that is a stupid reason not to read a book. So this year I will make it happen.

10. The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag

11. Black Boy - Richard Wright. Really looking forward to this one.

12. Gypsy: A Memoir - Gypsy Rose Lee

Bonus books:

1. Fatherland - Robert Harris. This book has been on my pile for ages and ages. It's an alternative history style mystery set in a world where the Nazis won World War II, and it was made into a HBO movie ages and ages ago, starring Rutger Hauer, who I think is dreamy. It's time to clear out this book!

2. Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness - Kenzaburo Oe. Chances are I'll read this but just in case I run out of time or something.

Color Coded Challenge 2017

Another irresistible challenge that I always love to do. Sign up here. Here are the categories:

*Read nine books in the following categories.
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover. The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover. The Blood of Flowers - Anita Amirrezvani

3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover. The House on the Borderland - William Hope Hodgson (books cover has a mainly yellow motif - photo provided at linked review)

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover. Sula - Toni Morrison (book's cover is green with gold printing - photo provided at linked review)

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover. The Dangerous Animals Club - Stephen Tobolowsky (book's cover is brown - photo provided in linked review)

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover.

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover. White Tears - Hari Kunzru

8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.). Plainsong - Kent Haruf (cover is mainly gray - photo is provided in linked review)

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

The hardest category is always the "rainbow" one - suggestions are welcome for that one in particular and any other colors in general!

Mount TBR Challenge 2017

Can't resist this favorite challenge! You can get the info and sign up for it here.  Once again, I am committing to the Mt. Kilimanjaro level of 60 books, although I hope to keep up a MUCH steadier pace this year, roughly 5 books per month from the TBR pile. I can do it!

As always, I'll track the books I read in this post as I go along.

1. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
2. The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag
3. Fanny Hill - John Cleland
4. The Fault in our Stars - John Green
5. Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley
6. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu
7. Stiff - Mary Roach
8. Sula - Toni Morrison
9. Out - Natsuo Kirino
10. Gypsy: A Memoir - Gypsy Rose Lee
11. The Dangerous Animals Club - Stephen Tobolowsky
12. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
13. Tender Is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald
14. Gulp - Mary Roach
15. Six Feet Over - Mary Roach
16. Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis
17. The Oracle of Stamboul - Michael David Lukas
18. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
19. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis
20. The Art of War - Sun Tzu
21. The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
22. The House on the Borderland - William Hope Hodgson
23. Plainsong - Kent Haruf
24. The Blood of Flowers - Anita Amirrezvani

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

Karen K. at the Books and Chocolate blog is hosting this great challenge again, and I love the categories this year! You can get all the info and sign up here. Here are the categories and my choices:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins (1868). I've been meaning to read this book ever since I fell in love with The Woman in White, so may as well do it in 2017!

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications. Tender Is the Night  - F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)

3.  A classic by a woman author. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather (1927)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories). The Charterhouse of Parma - Stendahl (1839). I have been meaning to read Stendahl for ages, and this book is yet another TBR pile dust catcher, so it's time to check it out. It's translated from the original French.

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also. The Art of War  - Sun Tzu (5th Century BCE)

6.  A romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot. A Room with a View - E.M. Forster (1908). Who doesn't love the 1985 movie version with Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, and Julian Sands? I've never read the book so I think this is a good choice for this category.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads. The House on the Borderland -William Hope Hodgson (1908)

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome (1889). I know nothing about this book, so I should definitely check it out.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.   The Metamorphosis  - Franz Kafka (1915). I happen to have a copy on the TBR pile, and although I read this ages and ages ago, it seems like now is a good time for a reread.

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo (1831). This one is kind of cheating - I love Paris, and I happen to have been to Notre Dame before, but who could resist another trip? Plus, being able to travel back in time and see it at the time period in which the book takes place would be so cool - although I think I'd want to make it a short visit, I am a big fan of the modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing!

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton (won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921). I remember reading Ethan Frome in school and enjoying it, so I'd like to branch out a bit and read more Wharton.

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1880). This book was my first thought when I saw this category, and I really liked Crime and Punishment, so I'll take this one on!

So there you have it! I'm looking forward to this challenge this year, I always enjoy this one, I'm pleased to participate again!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

This is a post to consolidate my reading challenges for 2017. The links go to my challenge pages. Links to the actual challenges are located on my challenge pages. If you know of any other cool challenges I should consider signing up for, let me know!

Back to the Classics Challenge

Mount TBR Challenge

Color Coded Challenge

TBR Pile Challenge

Planet Earth Challenge

Classic Book of the Month

LGBTQIA Challenge