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.)
3. Angels in America - Tony Kushner (LGBT author, characters, themes, etc.)
4. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli (LGBT characters, themes, etc.)
5. Not Otherwise Specified - Hannah Moskowitz (LGBT 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 (didn't read)

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

10. The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag

11. Black Boy - Richard Wright

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

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. Black Boy - Richard Wright

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
25. Black Boy - Richard Wright
26. The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka
27. A Room with a View - E.M. Forster
28. The Charterhouse of Parma - Stendahl
29. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
30. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
31. Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness - Kenzaburo Oe
32. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
33. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee - Dee Brown
34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
35. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

EDIT on Dec. 31, 2017: I'm adding some info to use this post as a checkpoint/wrap-up post for the challenge.

1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you've planted your flag on the peak, then tell us, take a selfie, and celebrate (and wave!).  Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us how quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting book adventures you've had along the way. 

Like Bev, our awesome challenge host, for the first time since I've participated in this challenge, I didn't make my goal either. I was really hoping to read all 60 books (and then some!) but only managed the 35 books listed above. I do still plan to participate in the 2018 challenge, in fact, I think I will just stick to the same level in the hope that I can do better than this year.

2. The Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, see how many of the familiar proverbs and sayings below you can complete with a book read on your journey up the Mountain. Feel free to add/subtract a word or two to help them make sense. 

These were fun to do, a lot of my responses are tongue in cheek :)

A stitch in time...[saves] The Blood of Flowers
Don't count your chickens...[before] The Metamorphosis
A penny saved is.... A Room with a View
All good things must come... (to) The Charterhouse of Parma
When in Rome... Tender Is the Night
All that glitters is not... The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
A picture is worth a... Devil in a Blue Dress
When the going gets tough, the tough get... Stiff
Two wrongs don't make... The Blue Sky
The pen is mightier than.... The Fault in our Stars
The squeaky wheel gets... The Moonstone
Hope for the best, but prepare for... Main Street
Birds of a feather flock... [at] The Dangerous Animals Club

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)

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) - 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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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