Showing posts with label 30 before 35. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 30 before 35. Show all posts

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Reading Updates!

Hey there, readers!  As you can probably tell, I've felt rather uninspired on the blogging front lately.  Not many (or any?) reviews churning out these days.  However, rest assured that I have been reading vigorously!  And I'll be honest, it's been rather refreshing to read without the need for reviewing afterwards.

Even though I'm not blogging about my books as much, I still have big plans for reading in 2017!
First and foremost, I am working my way through the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 challenge.   If you haven't heard of the challenge, there are 24 different types of books that you're supposed to try to read throughout the year.  The categories are meant to push you outside of your usual reading comfort zone. I was fortunate to connect with Sarah over at Sarah Says Read, who is also a book blogger from Rochester (Western NY represent!).  She and some other local readers have created a Rochester-based book-club-type-group (it's all rather fluid right now) based around the challenge. Sarah & co have split the 24 categories into 2 per month, and we are getting together monthly to discuss.  Our first meetup was a lovely 2-hour brunch in January, and we had a bookish good time.  :)  Looking forward to more of this throughout the year!

Second, I am really hoping to read off my shelves...again.  You know, because I say that every single year, and somehow it never happens?  I'm off to a rollicking start, as I've already read 3 library books this year, and have another 3 books out from the library as we speak.  SUPER.  This resolution is full of good intentions but sure to fail, let's just be honest.

Third, I want to attack some of the books on my 30 Before 35 list--no, I haven't forgotten about it!  How is it that I am only like 1.5 years from the deadline for this?  TIME FREAKIN' FLIES.

Fourth, I am making an attempt to read more books about social justice and the political process.  For obvious reasons that we will not discuss in this sunshine-and-rainbows space.  So please, send me all the recommendations you have.  I most recently enjoyed The Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I am on the waiting list for Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit.  Must arm my brain with knowledge in order to do battle for the next 4 years.  RAWR.
Oh, and fifth: more running books.  YES!  This will be the year of my first marathon (it will not escape me this time), and I am reading books to match it.  I already devoured How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald, which totally amped me up for marathon training.  I can't wait to delve into more reads like that one.

Wow, 5 very big reading goals makes 365 days feel like no time at all.  Ah well...if you're gonna do it, overdo it.  Right?

What are you reading so far this year??  Get me up to date, reader friends!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It's Time to Talk About OUTLANDER!

Hello, reader friends!!  I know, I fell off the face of the Earth, AGAIN.  Lots going on in our household lately--all good things, no worries, but it's left very little time for blogging.  (Even this post was pre-written, as I am running the Flower City Half Marathon today--WOOHOO!!)  That said, I've been chomping at the bit to talk with you all about Outlander by Diana Gabaldon!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I finally decided to tackle this much-talked-about tome.  I've had a copy on my shelf longer than I've been married (9 years this year, woop!).  I think there were two things that kept me from picking it up right away: the length (800+ pages, in a series of books that are ALL 800+ pages, feels like a huge commitment) and the genre (historical fiction is OK by me, but romance is not my forte).  However, the time had come.  I had to see for myself if the hype was warranted.

(A quick synopsis for those unfamiliar with the novel, from GoodreadsThe year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.)

As the novel opened, I was off to a slow start.  Getting to know Claire and her husband Frank was interesting, but not particularly captivating.  Then the time travel thing happened, and I was kind of ehhhhhhhhh about that whole piece of it.  Don't get me wrong, time travel done well is a cool plot element (The Time Traveler's Wife is still one my favorite novels), but I didn't know if I really loved how Gabaldon worked it into the story here.  Plus, I felt like Claire acclimated to her new environment (200ish years in the past) WAY faster than I'd think is normal.  (But what do I know, right?  When was the last time I traveled to 1700's Highland Scotland?)

ANYWAY.  I tried to let all this slide.  I was in for the long haul here, and I had to believe there was more in store.

(Okay, there was definitely more in store, there were still 600 pages left.)

After Claire time traveled and settled into her new home at Castle Leoch, that's when things turned over for me.  Gabaldon's period details, plus Claire's sassy attitude, AND the ever-so-delightful introduction of Jamie Fraser, turned this into a totally different novel for me.  I was totally on board.  And, I'm happy to say, completely taken with Claire and Jamie's romance.  I love how it has this constant undercurrent of "but what about Frank?!" as you wonder about the husband that Claire left behind.  Can't wait to see more of that in the rest of the series.
The Jamie Fraser memes out there are just hilarious.
I don't want to give any spoilers for others who haven't read it, but by the end of the book, I was completely taken.  100% on board the Outlander train.  I did have a lot of hesitations, both before I started reading and within the first several chapters, but I was happy to see all of those hangups dashed by the time I reached the final page.  That said, while I think readers who don't often read romance could still enjoy this book, it would be awfully hard to like it if you don't have a thing for historical fiction.  That's definitely the dominant genre here, and the details that drive it make up many of the 800+ pages.

I have a few other books I'm hoping to tackle in the coming weeks, but Dragonfly in Amber (part 2 of this series) is already sitting on my night stand...so the series will continue!  :)  Much thanks to all of my friends that pushed me to read this one.  Now to decide if I want to make time for the TV series as well...

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Minis: From Antarctica to London

Mini-reviews!  They're back!  And both of them are on my 30 Before 35 list, which is pretty exciting.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Little, Brown and Company, 2012
borrowed from the library

This was the book EVERYONE was talking about a couple years ago, which is why I put it on the 30 Before 35 list.  I finally got around to it, and I definitely liked it, though for a lot of unexpected reasons.  This is a unique story, both in subject and perspective.  Short synopsis: Bernadette Fox is mom to middle schooler Bee and wife to a Microsoft exec.  Bernadette was a famous architect back in the day, but is now a bit of a recluse (albeit a spunky one) in their Seattle home.  Bee convinces her parents to take her on a cruise to Antarctica, and shortly before the trip, Bernadette disappears.  Now Bee is trying to track down her Mom, using all the resources she can dream up.

This book is a lot of things.  It's hilarious, for starters.  Bernadette can be off-putting at times, but mostly she had me in stitches.  She's surrounded by snotty, wealthy soccer moms, and she can't stand a bit of their crap.  Bee is equally entertaining, as she's wise beyond her years and has picked up many of her mother's tendencies to swim against the current.  However, the novel also touches on many more serious themes of mental illness, work-family balance, and marital issues...even as it keeps its sense of humor.

The conclusion is fitting without being explosive, and I was left enamored with Bee and Bernadette as a mother-daughter team.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette is nothing that I expected, while still somehow being everything that I wanted...that is probably the corniest thing I've ever written, but that makes it no less true.

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Knopf, 2005
personal purchase

Fact: Chris Cleave is one of my favorite authors.  Most people know him from Little Bee, but I honestly loved his 2012 release Gold even more.  I bought Incendiary, his debut novel, quite a while ago and finally jumped into it this month.  I am so glad that I did!

Synopsis: the story is told via a series of letters written from an unnamed woman (our protagonist) to Osama bin Laden, after her husband and son are killed in a (fictional) terrorist attack in London.  Yes, an odd premise.  But this almost stream-of-consciousness style is perfect for readers as you move through the story.  After I finished the book, I read that Cleave wrote it in just six weeks, and I find that completely believable.  The writing is furtive, with a sense of urgency that heightens as the book goes on.  The narrator has many psychological issues that make her telling of the story a bit shaky, but we also get a sense that Cleave's fictional London has taken a rather Orwellian turn after the terror attack--leading to a lot of interesting questions about government control, social structure, and morality (especially in the wake of terror threats).  And despite that heavy fare, the book is still peppered with a dark humor that will, at the very least, keep a wry smile on your face.

This is a short novel with an awful lot to say.  Cleave's novel was originally released on what, sadly, was also the same day as the London tube attacks in 2005, making this book especially relevant at the time.  However, as we continue to face terror threats around the globe, I think this makes for fascinating reading.  Incendiary forces you to think more deeply about these problems, beyond threat levels and travel advisories and removing your shoes at the airport.  It's quite a bit different from Little Bee, but I think will give you just as much to discuss when you're done.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last 2 Books of 2015!

My last 2 mini-reviews of the year!  I was able to squeeze these in right under the wire, bringing me up to 49 for the year.  Not bad!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown and Company, 2005
personal purchase

I put this book on my 30 Before 35 list because I've heard raves about it for the last 10 years, and have had a copy on my bookshelf for almost as long, but I kept pushing it off due to the fact that it's a pretty sizeable chunker (676 pages).  I finally picked it up on a whim, not even knowing what it was about, and was pleased to find that it's a historical fiction novel about the legend behind Dracula.  How fortuitous that I read Stoker's famous book just a few months ago!  However, reading Dracula before The Historian is certainly not a requirement, as this book provides more than enough background to keep you on top of things.

Quick synopsis: the narrator is a teenager in the 1970's, living with her father (a diplomat) in Amsterdam.  One day, she stumbles upon some old letters in her father's study, which turn out to be the beginnings of a rather epic mystery surrounding the legend of Lord Dracula.  When, in the midst of learning about this mystery, the narrator's father disappears, she begins her own journey to figure out where he went, what sort of discoveries he made in the past, and what really happened to her mother.

I only gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads, which feels underwhelming, but unless you are a serious fangirl/fanboy of medieval history, this book is surely going to drag in parts.  And I feel bad saying that, because this book is positively overflowing with lavish detail--a more elaborate story would be hard to find.  But that doesn't erase the fact that it's terribly drawn out, the frequent flashbacks making an already-detailed story even tougher to follow at times.  Even so, the mystery at the heart of the story is intriguing, and I enjoyed the little twist in the epilogue.  Thus, 3 stars is accurate for this middle-of-the-road novel.

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon
Rodale Books, 2011 edition
received as a Christmas gift :)

What a surprise, right?  Haha.  Now that I am fairly certain I will be running my first marathon in late 2016, I figured it's time to start doing some reading.  I'm a huge fan of Higdon's race training plans (they have worked for me at both the 15K and half marathon distances), and I plan to use one of his novice marathon plans in the fall.  However, I also have a lot of questions about proper nutrition during training, hydration needs, tricks for staying in the game mentally, etc. and I thought this would be a good place to start.

I was correct in my thinking!  Higdon speaks equally to novice and more advanced runners in this book.  Some of the information was familiar to me after following his programs in the past, but some of it was new as well, and a LOT of it is going to be re-read as I dive into marathon training in the late spring.  In particular, I was very interested in the parts about the different varieties of speedwork (seriously, I still have a hard time telling a fartlek from a stride from intervals...), proper long run pacing, and pre-race nutrition.  Plus, I found this book to be a great motivator in general.  Reading about Higdon's formulas for success has left me feeling excited for the marathon journey ahead.

If you're a newbie marathoner looking for some solid advice starting out, or a more advanced marathoner who wants to shave time off of a PR, Hal Higdon's Marathon is an excellent read to help you get going in the right direction.

What's your last book of 2015?  Runners, any other good marathon training books I should look for?

Friday, October 30, 2015

October Minis: Dracula, Meg Wolitzer, & more!

Hellooooo, readers!  And HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVE!  I will be celebrating this weekend by trick-or-treating with a small monkey and a Ninja Turtle.  Let's honor the holiday with my first round of mini book reviews for the month of October.  Three books to discuss with you today...

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Harper, 2011
personal purchase

Here we have a psychological thriller with a unique premise: Christine has suffered a brain injury that erases her memory almost completely every evening when she goes to sleep.  So each morning, she wakes up unaware of where she is, or who is sleeping next to her (poor, forgotten husband).  She has to re-learn her entire life.  Unfortunately, this also means that Christine is easy to manipulate--who can she really trust if she never remembers anyone from day to day?  She finds a journal that she's begun keeping with the help of her doctor, and realizes that her life may be very different than what is being presented to her.

While the suspense and twists in this book are intense (as expected), for me, they were slowed down quite a bit by Christine's journaling style (which is how much of the book is narrated).  For someone who has to furtively write in her journal each night before her husband catches her doing it, she writes in such flowy, painstaking detail.  This felt disingenuous and made it hard for me to find her believable as a character.  However, the story itself is delightfully convoluted and will get your heart rate up (even though I did figure out the "bad guy" a good bit before he/she was actually revealed).

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Grosset & Dunlap, 1897
personal purchase

The most famous vampire story!  I'd been saving this book as a spooky October read for years, and finally got around to it.  It was well-worth the wait, as this was a perfect novel for this time of year.  If you're unfamiliar, Dracula is the tale of how Jonathan & Mina Harker discover, and attempt to take down, the wily vampire Count Dracula, along with their mentor, Van Helsing, and a few brave friends.  There's garlic and wooden stakes and bats and a castle in Transylvania!  How can you go wrong?!?!  The story is told through letters, diary entries, telegrams, and journals written by the main characters.  I loved this format, as it gave the narrative a more modern, fast-paced feel than its publication date would have you expect.  I was a little annoyed by how Mina Harker is treated as a female character (Stoker alternately builds her up as a smart, independent woman, then breaks her down as the male characters keep her out of the loop in order to protect her delicate lady-brain), but otherwise this book was fantastic.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on your Halloween reading list!
(Has anyone seen the film adaptation of this from the early 90s?  From what I can see, it looks like Coppola kind of massacred the plot.  Also, Keanu Reeves?  Srsly?)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Scribner, 2003
personal purchase

This story is told by Joan Castleman, in her mid-60s and wife of the (fictional) famous novelist, Joe Castleman.  It's immediately clear that Joan is a tad bitter about her life these days.  As she flies to Finland with Joe to a ceremony in his honor, she flashes us back to their early days of courtship and marriage.  By the end of this quick 200-ish page read, you have a REALLY good understanding of why Joan is disgruntled.

This was my first Meg Wolitzer novel, and I was beyond pleased.  The writing is fantastic: snappy, beautiful, intelligent, and humorous, all at once.  While the title left me thinking that the purpose of the novel was a character study of Joan-as-wife, I soon realized that Wolitzer was also making some interesting statements about the "wife" role in general: what it symbolizes, its value within a family, and how much some women give of themselves when they take on the title.  There was even a surprising twist at the end.  I'm impressed with everything that Wolitzer was able to pack into such a short book, and I can't wait to read more of her work.

What was your best read of October?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: December 12, 1932
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his 
distress...

Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.


My Review:

Brave New World has been on my TBR list for a long time, because it seemed like one of those books that everyone was assigned to read in high school/college, except me.  Beyond that, I had no idea what the book entailed, and it was nice going into it without any preconceived notions.  Huxley has created quite an interesting version of the future--not so much post-apocalyptic as it is post-war.

After many battles the world over, society has settled upon a structure focused upon our base nature (defined here as the pursuit of pleasure, and tangent to that, consumerism).  People no longer procreate through sex--all humans are "hatched" in labs, then brought up in massive nurseries, where they can be taught only the lessons that the new society deems correct.  Social structure dictates that there are different classes of people (Alpha, Beta, etc), with the Alphas doing complicated, thought-focused tasks, down to lowly Epsilons who happily do the menial work (as they were conditioned to do all their lives).

I didn't expect this book to be so philosophical (not usually my forte), but Huxley presents his arguments about human nature and social control in a fairly uncomplicated way.  Certainly the thing that made my wheels turn the most was the clash between the idea of simple (but socially-controlled) happiness, versus allowing people to have free will (which will certainly lead to unhappiness, in some instances).  Take, for example, the lower-class (Epsilon) group.  These people are genetically engineered to be physically and mentally lacking from birth.  They are then conditioned to want to do menial jobs, and to be glad they don't have to do the hard work reserved for Alphas.  In the end, they are happy, because they are doing exactly what they've always "wanted" to do.  But does their lifelong happiness mean anything if it has been socially/governmentally enforced?  Even if they don't realize it's been forced upon them, and that they're "missing out" on anything?  Is it worth it to sacrifice free will (and all the things that go along with it: disappointment, heart break, passion, etc) if it means contentment for life?

There is a lot more to the novel than that, but much of the plot is based around those central questions, so get ready to have your thinking cap on.  As far as how the story flows, the first part of the book is easy to fall into, because as with any dystopian world, you spend a lot of time learning the ins-and-outs of Huxley's imagined future.  After the first 25% or so, I did start to think it was a little overdone (he really goes to some extremes with certain aspects of the society), but once the plot twisted a bit (after a non-socially-controlled "savage" is introduced to the story) things evened out, and I got more involved in the philsophical questions being raised.

Overall, Brave New World is a quick read, but one that is worth your time if you're into a book that will challenge your critical thinking.

What books do you feel like everyone else had to read for assignments in high school/college, but you missed out on?

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Monday, What Are YOU Reading?


Happy August, reader friends!  Part of me is sad that it's August, because it means summer is going to be over in a few short weeks.  And the other part of me is not sad at all, because this has been an AWESOME-SAUCE SUMMER.  We have had maximum fun since the weather warmed up, and I'm not sad at all for the coming autumn, because I know we have taken advantage of every minute.  Our boys are at such fun ages, and able to do so much more than last year.  When I think of last summer, it is a psychotic blur of trying to chase a 3-year-old while bottle feeding/diapering/lugging a 7-month-old baby that hated touching grass (seriously?).  This summer, much improved.

For example: this past weekend, we did our first family hiking day at Letchworth State Park in Castile, NY ("The Grand Canyon of the East"!  As all my west-coast friends roll their eyes.)  It was gorgeous, and the boys had a fantastic time.  My husband and I were big hikers before Small Fry was born, but we eased it back once babies arrived, as small infant + mountain climbing did not sound like fun.  However, we are now SUPER excited to share our love of the outdoors with the kiddos as they get older.


Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying these last weeks of summer as much as we are!  Let's talk books!  I'm reading:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I grabbed this one at random.  It's been on my TBR for ages, and landed on my 30 before 35 list as well.  I'm about 60% finished.  At first, I was intrigued, couldn't put it down...then I started to feel weirded out by the entire thing...and now I'm hitting a little bit of a bored lull.  It's quite a ride.  My review should be interesting!

Upcoming reads:

I've got my first book tour in quite a long time coming up, The Invisibles by Cecelia Galante.  Looking forward to this one!  Afterwards, I'm hoping to jump into Katie's Nonfiction Book Club with Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Other-But-Equally-Awesome Katie's Fellowship of the Worms readalong of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

How has your summer been so far?  What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Commencement by J.Courtney Sullivan


Title: Commencement
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: June 16, 2009
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Assigned to the same dorm their first year at Smith College, Celia, Bree, Sally, and April couldn’t have less in common. Celia, a lapsed Catholic, arrives with her grandmother’s rosary beads in hand and a bottle of vodka in her suitcase; beautiful Bree pines for the fiancĂ© she left behind in Savannah; Sally, pristinely dressed in Lilly Pulitzer, is reeling from the loss of her mother; and April, a radical, redheaded feminist wearing a “Riot: Don’t Diet” T-shirt, wants a room transfer immediately.

Together they experience the ecstatic highs and painful lows of early adulthood: Celia’s trust in men is demolished in one terrible evening, Bree falls in love with someone she could never bring home to her traditional family, Sally seeks solace in her English professor, and April realizes that, for the first time in her life, she has friends she can actually confide in.

When they reunite for Sally’s wedding four years after graduation, their friendships have changed, but they remain fiercely devoted to one another. Schooled in the ideals of feminism, they have to figure out how it applies to their real lives in matters of love, work, family, and sex. For Celia, Bree, and Sally, this means grappling with one-night stands, maiden names, and parental disapproval—along with occasional loneliness and heartbreak. But for April, whose activism has become her life’s work, it means something far more dangerous.


My Review:

You may have noticed that this novel landed a spot on my 30 Before 35 list.  Perhaps it seems like an odd choice, nestled in there with the likes of Ulysses and The Color Purple.  However, I added Commencement because it's been on my TBR list for several years...and it's on my TBR because it tackles one of my favorite time periods: the college and post-college years.

Shortly after I graduated from UConn, I read I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe.  It really resonated with me, and still holds a spot on my favorites list.  However, I soon realized that the number of books that focus on college/post-college life (without a primary focus on New-Adult-style, almost-erotica romance) is not high.  Commencement is one of them, and I was happy to finally get around to it!   (And what better time to read it, just after cap-and-gown season??)

This novel will certainly appeal more to a female audience, though I hesitate to attach the "chick lit" label.  The book has its fair share of hookups, girly fights, etc., but they are worked into the plot with a higher level of seriousness than "chick lit"implies (at least by my definition).  For example, the broad subject of "dating" is discussed in a whole host of contexts: how to balance your love life with your career after graduation; how to reconcile the fact that the love of your life happens to be a woman, which is a situation that your conservative family will never approve; and how to cope when what starts as a wonderful first date, ends in rape.

Yes, one of the best things about this book is that it takes primarily-female issues, and gives them the weight that they deserve, without the frills you may have come to expect from other women's fiction novels.  I suppose this appeals to me because college was a significant time in my life.  Not to sound like a nerd (never mind, I am a nerd), but it truly was the best of times AND the worst of times in many ways.  I made a lot (A LOT) of mistakes, and had a lot of successes (thankfully more than the mistakes).  Plus, I worked in higher education for 8 years afterwards, and saw other students going through a whole slew of social and emotional changes through that work.  I know this is not the case for every college grad, but it gives you some idea why novels in this genre, written without a sense of frivolity, click so well with me.

The novel is broken into two parts, with the first part covering most of Sally, Bree, April, and Celia's 4 years at Smith College, as well as their reunion at Sally's wedding.  The second half focuses on what happens to the women after they go their separate ways post-wedding.  The first half was definitely stronger for me than the second.  I feel like the plot took a rather far-fetched direction in the later chapters, and the ending is incredibly abrupt, given how well-developed the rest of the book is.  That said, I suppose the second half is where most of the "action" happens, so I can't knock it too much, given that I never felt like I hit a slow point as I was reading.

Overall, Commencement is the perfect blend of head vs. heart.  Sullivan confronts some important issues in the novel, and does so with passion and humor.  If you have a recent female college grad in your life, this would be an excellent book to pass on!

Is there a certain time period that you love to read about in novels?  Childhood?  High school?  College?  Parenthood?  What makes that stand out for you?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'M FINALLY DONE! Moby-Dick by Herman Melville


Title: Moby-Dick
Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: 1851
Source: received as a gift many moons ago!

Summary from Goodreads

In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author's lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

My Review:

Time to be corny!

Moby-Dick was my white whale.  (Ba-dum-ching!)

Seriously though.  FOUR months to finish it?  Oy vey.  But it is done.

Why did I feel such a compulsion to read this classic novel?  I'll chalk up a lot of it to the fact that I grew up in Connecticut.  Because of course, every Connecticuter (Connecticutian?) born before the early 90's has a deep, soulful connection to the HARTFORD WHALERS!
THE WHAAAALE!
What can I say.  My little state does not get much in the way of professional sports teams, and then they TAKETH IT AWAY.  So sad.

Anyway, the other thing is that I'm specifically from southeastern Connecticut, very near Mystic, which is home to the Mystic Seaport, a "living history" museum that chronicles a lot of the whaling history of the region.  Any kid who grew up in southeastern Connecticut went on AT LEAST one field trip to Mystic Seaport while they were in school.  Which means you toured a whaling ship and learned a lot about...whaling stuff.  All very relevant to Moby-Dick, RIGHT?!?!?

So I'm sure these are all important reasons why I made myself hang with this book for the first third of 2015.

Honestly, as time-consuming as this book was, it really was not a bad read.  Yes, there are some boring parts.  There are entire chapters devoted to whale anatomy and the proper dismantling of a dead whale and other such valuable whale-type knowledge.  There is also a lot of soliloquizing.  These sailors really like to listen to themselves talk!

But beyond that, there is also an interesting story.  Captain Ahab--you've all heard of him, but the guy is truly bonkers.  His journey to find Moby Dick is crazy and arrogant and foolhardy, which makes for excellent reading.  If you've ever heard anyone talk about this book over the years (and you likely have), you pretty much know what's coming from page 1.  But to watch it unfold is entertaining.  Figuring out Ahab, his fellow sailors, and the twists and turns of the journey itself, is certainly enough to keep you engaged.

There's also a lot of deeper meaning re: the arrogance of man, duty/honor, etc. but I'll let you hit up SparkNotes for that.  :)

I'm not going to try to go any deeper in my review about a book that's already been reviewed (and essayed, and analyzed) a billion times.  The question is, is Moby-Dick a book that you should pick up right now?  As always, it depends on what you're looking for.  If you want a classic with lots of subtle meaning, something that moves a bit slowly but still has an engaging story behind it...and you can stand all of the long-winded sections about whale biology, then I say, go for it.  I'm happy that I was able to experience this novel, despite the time it took to complete.

Have you read Moby-Dick?  For an assignment, or for fun?  Like or dislike?

This book is part of my 30 Before 35 list...woohoo!  It was also a pick from my TBR Book Baggie, so I took this opportunity to choose the next book from my bag.  The next one will be...

The Interrogator by Glenn Carle!

Stay tuned, hopefully I will get to it soon!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: 1776 by David McCullough


Title: 1776
Author: David McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 24, 2005
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

America's most acclaimed historian presents the intricate story of the year of the birth of the United States of America. 1776 tells two gripping stories: how a group of squabbling, disparate colonies became the United States, and how the British Empire tried to stop them. A story with a cast of amazing characters from George III to George Washington, to soldiers and their families, this exhilarating book is one of the great pieces of historical narrative. 

My Review:

When I was in high school, history was not my favorite subject.  I was more of a science girl, actually.  (A close second: English.  Because READ ALL THE THINGS!)  I got high grades in history, but more because I was very good at memorizing things than because I had any actual interest in it.  I scored a 2 (out of 5) on the AP US History exam, if that gives you any frame of reference.

However, part of me always felt like I should have more interest in history...I mean, it gives us a better understanding of ourselves, doesn't it?  It's important to know from whence we came, yes?  But it was so DRY.  How could I care more about a subject that put me straight to sleep?  Where could I find a history book that would change my tune?

I heard about David McCullough several years ago, and thought that maybe his work could be the ticket.  As a historian, his books are well-researched and extremely detailed, but he also adds more of a human element to his analysis.  This sounded like it would work better for me, but I was still nervous--hence the five-ish years that this book has been on my shelf, untouched.

Thanks to Nonfiction November, I decided that it was time to dive in, and as you may have expected, my initial inclinations were correct.  Despite its high level of detail and dense text, I was engaged with this book from beginning to end.

This book is not, as I had previously thought, a history of the entire American Revolution.  It is, as I should have maybe guessed from the title, specifically focused on the events that took place in 1776 (and a little bit of 1775, for background purposes).  Once I figured that out, I thought, cool, I will get to read about how the Americans won the Revolutionary War!  And then I realized, nope, the war didn't actually end until 1783.  (Reminder: score of 2 on the AP US History test.)

In fact, 1776, despite the whole Declaration of Independence thing, was not a real banner year for Team America.  We lost a lot of battles.  Like, A LOT.  George Washington made a whole slew of bad decisions for the army.  Yet, by the end of the year, things had started to take a little swing--just enough to bring the tide back in our direction.  McCullough describes all this at great length, but rather than just a dull list of dates and places, he provides insight into the hows and whys of each event.  What was Washington thinking in the days before the Battle of Brooklyn?  Who were his most trusted allies?  What were the British expecting of the Americans before each battle--and how were they getting that intelligence?  Who was a raging drunkard, or a traitor, or a dirty coward?  These are all the intriguing little details that may have made history class more fun for me back in the day.  Plus, he tells it from both sides (British and American), so you get a fuller view of the tense situation as it continued to develop.

That's not to say that this book will be for everyone.  You do have to have some interest in the finer particulars of US history if you want to enjoy this book, otherwise you will get bogged down in the density of the text.  But if you're looking for a piece of historical nonfiction that will both educate and entertain you, 1776 is a wonderful start.  I will absolutely be checking out McCullough's backlist for more brain food!

Have you read any of McCullough's work?  Are there any other historian authors out there whose books you've enjoyed?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Giveaway and BANNED! Book Review: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous


Title: Go Ask Alice
Author: Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: September 14, 1971
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life. 

Read her diary. 

Enter her world.

You will never forget her. 


For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.


My Review:

That's right, it's one of my favorite literary weeks--BANNED BOOK WEEK!  During this event each year, Sheila at Book Journey hosts a little celebration on her blog, and this is the third year that I am participating.  It's a great excuse to explore the world of banned books and read some good ol' blacklisted literature.  You can check out my Banned Books Week reviews from the last two years here: Flowers for Algernon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  READ ALL THE BOOKS!


Alrighty, let's pipe down and review Go Ask Alice.  This book has been on my TBR for years--so many years that I finally added it to my "30 Before 35" list last year, in an effort to make sure I finally read it.  I thought the premise sounded interesting, especially because the diary was reportedly written by an actual anonymous teenager who suffered through a drug addiction.  This reminded me a lot of Crank by Ellen Hopkins (a fiction novel based on her daughter's real-life drug problems), and I was eager to get a different perspective on this issue.

However, pretty early in the book, I started to feel like something was a bit off.  Alice (the protagonist) was awfully preachy and introspective for someone with such a serious addiction.  On the days when she was sober, she was quick to reprimand herself for her behavior, and to explore the many moral ramifications of her actions.  This seemed unusual, given the tone of other addiction memoirs I have read.  At first, I chalked it up to the influences of a different era (this book is from 40 years ago, after all).  But then I was also a bit bothered because Alice's drug encounters always escalated so fast.  It was never just her getting high with her friends.  It was "I got high, and then I also got raped, and then suddenly I was selling LSD to 9-year-olds." 

I don't doubt that these types of things can happen when people truly sink into addiction, but for Alice, it was pretty constant to the point of feeling farfetched.

Finally, some Googling put this in a clearer perspective.  Apparently the author of Go Ask Alice isn't very anonymous at all--the author is Beatrice Sparks, who at the time of the book's release was a social worker and member of the Mormon faith (she has since passed away).  She was originally credited as just an "editor" of the book, but after some questions arose regarding the true identity of "Alice", it became clear that much of the book was written by Sparks herself.  Hence, preachy tone and conveniently trumped-up circumstances, meant to warn impressionable teens of the dangers of drugs.  (You can read more about the Sparks allegations here,)

After delving into that information, the often-banned status of Go Ask Alice became even more interesting to me.  Because first: why would parents and teachers want this book banned, if it's entire purpose is to warn teens away from drugs?  I suppose they're taking the abstinence approach--if we don't talk about drugs or sex or alcohol, then they'll just never do them!  (Yeah, let me know how that works out for you.)  And second: isn't it intriguing that this book was banned for drug/sex/etc references, when the REAL crime here is the authenticity of the writing?  It seems rather criminal to me that this is sold to teens as a real girl's diary, when in fact it is the work of a 40-something youth counselor.  Teens today are pretty savvy, and I'm guessing that many of them could see right through this writing.

Despite the crime against literary humanity that Sparks committed here, of course I (as always) feel that this book should not be banned.  There are other tales of drug addiction, written with more authenticity, that would be more likely to get through to modern-day teenagers.  However, the basic intent of this book (to show kids a "worst case scenario" for such behavior) is admirable, and if it keeps even a few teens away from these poor choices, then who can argue?

Have you read a banned book lately?  Check out the top 100 most banned books HERE.

Without further ado, it's GIVEAWAY TIME!  Let's celebrate banned books together!  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the banned book of your choice (from this list, limit of $15).  Giveaway is international, as I will be shipping through Book Depository.  Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Title: Gone With The Wind
Author: Margaret Mitchell
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 1, 1936
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell's epic love story is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and its people forever changed. At the heart of all this chaos is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O'Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

My Review:

HOW to review a novel as vast, as famous, as this one??

This book has been on my TBR pile for a long, long time.  I operate on the principle that if there is a well-known movie based on a book, I must try to read the book first.  Such is the case with Gone With The Wind.  Somehow, I successfully avoided the movie for the last 30.5 years of my life (minus endless clips of Rhett Butler's famous "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"...which was actually mildly spoilery for the book, by the way), and I was able to first enjoy this story in written form.  And enjoy it I did!  For over two months, in fact.  I spent most of the summer finishing this book, and I have zero regrets about savoring those 1024 pages for so long.

I knew that GWTW was a romance, but it is so much more than that.  Because first of all, how fantastic of a character is Scarlett O'Hara?  She is such a force to be reckoned with, especially for a woman in the Civil War era.  At the same time, she is outrageously self-centered and naive, very much to a fault.  I alternated frequently between cheering for her to get on with her bad self, and shaking my fist at her stupidity.  The complexities of her character are endless, though in the end I really did love her, despite her many faults.  (Okay, except maybe her role as a mother.  She was a positively horrid mother.)

Beyond the romance, beyond Scarlett, we have a novel set quite dramatically against the backdrop of the Civil War.  Scarlett and Rhett's story is inseparable from the tragedies of wartime in 1860's Atlanta.  Not only is their relationship perfectly woven into this turbulent time period, but the novel does a pretty excellent job of detailing Civil War history.  I was raised in Connecticut, where I imagine the Civil War is taught in schools with a bit of a different tone than it is in Georgia, or any of the southern states.  This was probably the first account of the Civil War that I've read from a southern perspective (albeit a fictional one), and it was extremely eye-opening.  The historical detail in this novel is every bit as compelling as Scarlett and Rhett's dramatic romance.

One of the most important messages in GWTW is this: be happy with what you have, when you have it.  The grass is not always greener.  Love the one you're with.  I won't tell you if Scarlett learns these lessons or not, but it's quite a ride watching her try to get there.

I am so glad that I finally got around to tackling this classic.  It is absolutely an epic novel that's worth your time!  Now I need to get to the movie...although I must admit, the few clips I watched on YouTube already have me feeling like it won't do the book justice.  (That famous Rhett quote isn't delivered in anywhere near the same tone it was written in the book...#readerproblems.)

This was my third pick from the TBR Book Baggie! My next pick from the baggie is:

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen!

YA up in the hizzy!  And another main character named Scarlett?  Weird.  Stay tuned for a review...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Source: won in a giveaway hosted by Jessica @ The Firefly Book Loft

Summary from Goodreads

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

My Review:

Hear ye, hear ye!  I bring you the 3,209,577th book review of The Fault in Our Stars!  I know, I know, let's try not to get too excited.

I put this book off for SO LONG.  Just so much hype, you know?  Although at this point, I have no idea why I put off hyped-up books.  Am I really afraid they won't live up to it?  Because that has not been my experience, like AT ALL.  I didn't get into Harry Potter until the third or fourth book was out...and then I became a total groupie.  I felt like the last person ever to read Gone Girl, and it was AMAZING.  The list goes on.  And I'm happy to add The Fault in Our Stars to it.

A lot has already been said about this novel, so I'll try to keep this short.

Honestly, I was afraid that people were mostly in this one for the romance.  I kept hearing about Hazel and Augustus, and how amazing they were, and *eyeroll eyeroll eyeroll* (because that's what I do with literary romances).  But for me, it wasn't about their romance per se (though I can see how that would make the teen set swoon).  It was their relationship as a whole, romantic or no.  Hazel and Augustus play off of each other so well.  Their dialogue is whip-smart and funny without feeling contrived, and they just have this chemistry that comes alive for you on the page.

Secondly, the writing.  I know that's a really generic thing to talk about, but John Green wrote this book so well, it made me a little depressed.  I know, you're like, what the?  Why are you upset about this?  BECAUSE.  Like so many avid readers, I have toyed with the idea of writing a book myself one day.  But then you read a book that's written as well as TFIOS, and it makes you say, "WELL CRAP.  I can never, ever, ever write anything with even half the mastery of the English language that John Green has used here, so goodbye, sweet writing dreams."  Seriously, John Green, way to just ruin it for all of us.  I would insert a really excellent quote from the book here to illustrate my point, but there are JUST SO MANY that you might as well read the thing rather than listening to me quote all of it.

I could get really lengthy here, but I'm going to try to put the brakes on.  A few more quick things: the ending was not predictable.  You WILL get emotionally involved with the characters.  There is an amazing balance between humor and sadness that John Green manages with impressive skill.  Pretty sure I've never laughed so much during a book about cancer before, and yet this is still one of the heaviest novels (emotion-wise...it's only 300ish pages, not that kind of heavy) that I've read in a while.

The obvious conclusion here is that The Fault in Our Stars lives up to the hype.  Every last bit of it.

Readers: what's the last super-hyped book you read that was worth the publicity it received?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch


Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: February 12, 2013 (English edition)
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.


My Review:

If I had to name the book that was recommended to me the most times in the last year, it would be The Dinner.  I think I have the Wall Street Journal to thank for that, since it billed the novel as "the European Gone Girl" several months back.  (Must I remind you for the eleventy billionth time how I feel about Gone Girl?)

Okay, I knew I had to give this one a try.  I put it on my 30 Before 35 list to make sure it happened relatively soon, and here we are.

First of all, even though the two novels are vastly different in subject, I can see why the WSJ made the comparison with Gillian Flynn's novel.  It's more a comparison of themes rather than actual plot points.  The most basic way to put it is that there is a complete lack of moral compass in both novels.  In The Dinner, Paul (our protagonist) introduces us to his three fellow diners, as well as the terrible actions of their children that prompted this meeting in a hoity-toity Amsterdam restaurant.  These specifics are unveiled very slowly--so slowly, in fact, that after a while I started to get bored.  I didn't see where the hook was, the "thing" that was going to make this novel grip me and stick around in my brain for a while, because I felt like I had all the details and could see where they would eventually take me.

However, the catch is that none of the characters are quite as they originally seem.  Yes, you get a lot of the details about the 4 diners in the first half of the novel--enough detail to make assumptions about how they will later act.  But you're going to assume these things thinking that they are capable of rational action...when in fact, they often are not.  Nope, I'd say these four are quite psychologically effed up, for lack of a better phrase (two of them in particular).  And that leads to a whole series of events that I didn't see coming.  That's the hook.

By the time I reached the end, I had mixed feelings.  I like how Koch took the four diners, introduced them quite slowly and methodically in the beginning, and then suddenly started revealing details that changed my entire perception of them by the end.  That's not easy to do, especially in a novel that is relatively short in length--and especially when one of the four characters in question is narrating the story.  Character development = A++.

However, the downside for me was that by the end, I felt like the choices made by these characters were almost too unbelievable.  I know a lot of Gone Girl critics that panned Flynn's novel for that reason, though I disagreed with that assessment in that case.  However, in The Dinner, that was precisely my issue.  I understand what Koch was trying to illustrate--the idea that we will go to great (maybe borderline insane) lengths to protect our families--but it was a little too out there for me at times.  Not to mention that some of the specifics were a bit far-fetched (ex: there's an important detail that's based around an "amniotic fluid test" for mental disabilities that I'm fairly sure does not exist). I left Gone Girl feeling like it was a situation that could actually happen--I didn't leave The Dinner feeling the same way.

My final assessment: as literary fiction, The Dinner is an intriguing piece of work.  The pacing and character development is spot-on, and for that reason I'd say it's definitely worth the read.  However, on the "psychological thriller" side of things, it didn't completely grab me.  And for this, I blame the Wall Street Journal--because is it really fair to compare two authors' work so directly?

Have you read The Dinner?  Do you think it's fair to compare it to Gone Girl?  And if you haven't read it yet, how do you feel when a novel is closely compared to another well-known one...do you think it creates good hype, or leaves too much room for overly high expectations?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books
Publication Date: September 26, 2006
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart 
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg 
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle 
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

My Review:

My first "30 before 35" book already!  I knew that giving myself a reading challenge would push me to finally get to a few of those novels...

Remember how hard I crushed on Gone Girl last year?  If I love something enough to describe it with an atomic bomb GIF, it must be pretty okay.  And it made me want to read everything Flynn had written prior.  But, as per usual, I got distracted and never managed to pick up one of her other novels...until now.

Sharp Objects is Flynn's first book, and I went into it with high expectations.  How could I not, after loving Gone Girl so much?  This would normally be a recipe for disaster (my high reading expectations are rarely met), but in this case, Flynn delivered yet again.

The description of this novel made me feel like this was going to be your average "whodunit".  Camille isn't a cop, but as a roving reporter and native to the town where these murders of young girls are occurring, she's in a unique position to uncover the truth.  However, I quickly realized that this was more than an average mystery.  In the first quarter of the book, I found myself feeling...generally unsettled.  You are nagged by the constant sense that there is something "off" about the entire scenario.  Something's not right with the town...with Camille's family...and with Camille herself.  Flynn has a way of weaving in tiny details and snippets of conversation to give you this foreboding sensation, even as the action of the plot seems to be  moving along otherwise normally.  This is one of the things I absolutely adore about her writing.  She has a way of creating feelings of shock, dread, and horror in a very subtle way, something that I think a lot of thriller writers fail to do.  They go for the gusto with big plot reveals and grotesque murder scenes, whereas Flynn's pull comes from the mounting sense of unease that unfolds in the narrative.

After reading Gone Girl, I went into Sharp Objects expecting a killer ending.  I was not disappointed!  Just when I thought the final loose end had been tied up, Flynn turned the conclusion on its head and left me with an awful lot to process.  I ended up re-reading the last 5% of the book just to make sure I caught up with everything that happened.  I was happy for this, because up until that last part, I felt like the ending had come together a little too...clinically, for lack of a better word.  But the final twist gave it a macabre finale that fit the rest of the novel perfectly.

You guys, I almost don't want to read Gillian Flynn's other novel, Dark Places.  Because that will mean I read all of her stuff and I have to wait around for her to write something else.  GAH.  I loved this book.  LOVED.

Have you read Flynn's two lesser-known novels?  What did you think?
 
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