Review: As If!

Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found out about this book from one of the lovely people I follow on Twitter. I a9781476799087_custom-d38365a3d37179dc23f4b552ee7e1c02f02de262-s300-c15dore Clueless. It made me want to read Emma by Jane Austen, although I gave up on that several months ago. And this book mostly delivered some great stories about the creation, filming, and general pop culture relevance of Clueless. My only issue with it is that this book was only available as an audiobook from my library and it really did not translate well to this medium, which is unfortunate. It could have been great if they had used the actual voices of the people interviewed, but it was all read by one person, who tried valiantly to distinguish each person slightly in order to make it more understandable, but it was really a hard job.

The format of the book was somewhat chronological according to script-writing, the Jane Austen connection, casting, and then all the way through the filming process to the popular reception and current pop culture relevance, including a video tribute by Iggy Azalea that I had never heard of. Each section is a bunch of interview segments from the cast and crew, and other related people, and it is sewn together in a narrative.

There really isn’t much more to say about this book other than that. I really liked hearing all kinds of background information about certain scenes, locations, actors, and other things. It definitely made me want to watch the movie again!

3 stars.

This book fulfilled no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Wonder

Book-cover-Wonder-by-RJ-PalacioThis book was for my other book club. I only knew the blurb from it, but I quickly realized it was YA. YA fiction has a certain feel about it that distinguishes it from novels meant for adults. There’s a rhythm to the words, the phrasing, and some other je ne sais quoi that just makes it different, aside from just the main characters being younger.

Wonder is mostly about the first year that August, a 10 year old boy that suffers from a very rare facial abnormality, attends middle school after being home-schooled his entire life. The book changes perspectives from him a couple of times, letting us see things through his sister Via’s eyes, Justin (Via’s boyfriend), two of August’s new school friends, and a friend of Via’s that has somewhat drifted away in the past several months. The book tries to distinguish between the voices of the characters but since there are so many, it doesn’t succeed all that well. The most unique voice is Justin, since he barely uses punctuation.

The subject matter itself was interesting. Unfortunately, not a lot happens in the book. It isn’t really coming to a climax. It just details the trials over the year and peters out to a somewhat happy conclusion. The primary antagonist, Julian, pretty much disappears about halfway through the novel. He is conveniently whisked away and will not be attending that same school anymore. There is apparently a chapter from Julian’s viewpoint and I will probably read that one because when we discussed it in the book club, apparently that was the best chapter!

I feel like this book is great for YA, but kind of meh for adults. I hope that lots of kids read it and glean something from it.

4 stars

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Reading Challenge November Wrap Up

This post is a little later than normal, mostly because I completely forgot about it! Things have been so busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up that even though I’ve still been reading, I have completely forgotten about this blog.

First this month, I completed Penelope, which started off terrible, got a little better, and then ended with a whimper. I honestly didn’t really get the humor. Maybe it was supposed to be satire. I’m not sure, either way – it wasn’t successful in its attempts at whatever it was. The bright pink cover caught my eye when I was following Ruby through Barnes & Noble. I’m also always somewhat drawn to things about Harvard for some reason (maybe due to Legally Blonde?) so the Harvard crest on the front was also eye-catching. I think I was expecting some light romantic comedy type stuff, and the book didn’t really deliver. Ok, let’s be real. I was expecting some form of Legally Blonde and got something completely different.

My next book was the November book club selection for my newest book club that I am not running. We read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I hadn’t read any of her books before, but now I think I will run out and read a bunch of them. It was really, really good. And as a bonus, it took place in Paris! I decided at the very beginning of the year that Paris would be my “place I’ve always wanted to visit” box, in order to avoid just reading a book with a lovely setting and thinking, oh I’ve always wanted to visit here, since five minutes ago. And Paris is kind of my thing – I’ve always wanted to go there. I’ve made it as far as Nice. Someday!!

For the play on the challenge list, I started with a play that I love – Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I used WhatShouldIReadNext to figure out similar plays to that one. It spit out a whole bunch of them and a lot of them seemed really interesting, but I didn’t want to buy anything and the only one of the list that was at the library was Equus. Which I’d heard of, since Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was in a recent staging of it. It was a short read, so I guess it had that going for it.

The last book I read in November was The Girl on The Train for my upcoming book club. I really enjoyed this book. I tried really hard to give nothing away in my review because I think that it’s most effective if you know nothing. One of the many podcasts that I enjoy, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, recommended this book a few months ago and so I thought I would suggest it to the book club. I think the reactions were mixed, but I definitely feel positive about the book. Of course, it’s being made into a movie.

2 more boxes left!

Review: The Girl on the Train

I the-girl-on-the-train-coverwent into this book not knowing a thing about it, and I think that played in its favor. I wasn’t expecting any of the twists and turns, and so I was just along for the ride.

This book is from the perspective of 3 women whose lives become intertwined. Rachel is the alcoholic woman scorned, who is still hanging on to the hope that she will be reunited with her ex-husband. Megan is the neighbor that Rachel watches on her daily commute on the train, imagining the rich life that she is leading and the husband that dotes on her. Anna is the other woman, trying to pursue her own happily ever after while being pulled between the narratives surrounding each of the first two.

Without giving much away, the story builds through the variety of viewpoints and time periods to build a really interesting mystery. I did find the ebook format to be not conducive to being able to follow the timeline though. In a print book, it would be easy to flip back and see where we left off time wise with each narrator, and even to the beginning of the story. After awhile, I tried to ignore the time stamps, but there are pretty important to the way that the story is constructed. I think this would be even worse on audio. Particularly confusing is when the story jumps from the present to the past and back to the present, and I was confused about how much time had passed between the two present day chapters. Each chapter is broken into days, and those days are broken into morning and evening, or sometimes morning and afternoon, or some combination. There was a lot of going back and forth that disrupts the flow of the reading experience, as I was trying to place where I was in the timeline.

This book uses the red herring device a lot. I can see how some readers would be put off by this, but I thought it added a lot of layers to the story and they weren’t too disruptive. It was good to see the viewpoints of the same events from three sides, also.

This is a layered, complicated story that I really enjoyed. This review is purposely vague because most of the enjoyment that I got from it was the experience of peeling away those layers and building upon the story in order to get to the final reveal. The ending itself was just okay. Sometimes I can imagine a better way for the story to end, but in this instance it may be the best that it could be. The way that I thought it was going to go would have been really melodramatic and cringe-worthy, and I’m glad it didn’t go that way.

5 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Equus

6a00d8341c730253ef00e54f7ebb488834-640wiPerhaps I’m a little jaded, but this play didn’t shock me like I thought it was trying to. The description of the book references a truly horrific act, but all he did was blind some horses with a hoof pick. Not that it’s just normal to do that, but I was expecting something more than that. There’s also some masturbation alluded to while riding horses, but it’s never explicit.

It was written 40 years ago, so I’m sure at the time it was incredibly shocking, but in a post-South Park world, it takes a lot more to make me think – wow, that’s too much. This play just didn’t elicit much of a reaction at all from me other than – well, that was weird. Maybe I would feel differently if I had seen it performed, but I really don’t know. I felt like I could picture it well enough. The central problem of the plot wasn’t very well defined to me. There’s a lot of man pain and religious imagery that seems like the ghost of a story but not quite it exactly.

The only time that the story feels real to me is when the psychiatrist, Dysart, reveals that even though his wife is boring and passionless and their marriage is pretty much just a case of roommate syndrome, he concedes that maybe it’s just as much his fault as hers. But Alan’s plot, about whether or not his mental instability is caused by religion or one of his parents, or just the “devil”, is pretty boring. Maybe because it’s really trope-y, or maybe because I just don’t care about Alan and his family life. Part of it can also be because I don’t relate to the religious fervor and how Alan twists the things that his mom tells him about it. It doesn’t seem believable that Alan would hear some Bible verses and get it in his head that he needs to bow down to a horse god and chant to it in his bedroom at night.

The twist at the end (if you can even call it that) was just some more “meh” to me. I find it hard to summon any kind of passion one way or the other toward this play.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the play requirement for the challenge.

Review: The Nightingale

NightingaleThis book is a long, sweeping historical drama about love, family, and war. It takes place in France during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The story goes back and forth between two estranged sisters, Isabelle and Vianne, who are dealing with feeling abandoned by their father and each other along with the increasing desolation and hopelessness of war.

Vianne watches her husband and all the men in her small village leave to fight for France. She continues to try and keep her daughter safe despite soldiers moving in and food and supplies becoming scarce. Isabelle can’t stand to watch by and do nothing, so she begins to work for underground networks and aid the resistance. The narrative jumps forward to the present day (well, 1995) life of one of the women a couple of times, although it isn’t clear which sister it is until the very end.

I wasn’t really aware of how much France had been affected by WWII and the Nazis, so this was a new angle on the war for me. I read The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult last year, which had a lot of the same historical events happening with it, although Picoult’s book has more of the Gestapo’s point of view than this book does (though still not a lot). This book deals mostly with the two sisters and how their relationship to each other changes throughout the war. There are some side plots, but family is the prominent theme in the book. Also the risks we take to protect those we love and also to believe in love at all. Isabelle falls in love with another member of the resistance, but he pretends he doesn’t feel the same in order to make it easier if one of them perishes, for example. A mother’s love for her children and the risks that she takes (or, doesn’t take) in order to ensure their safety is a recurring plot thread.

The book is depressing, and the behavior from the Nazi soldiers made me feel stabby. There’s a lot of sadness in this book, as people die, are killed, or are otherwise abused at the hands of the soldiers. It feels bleak at times. But throughout it all, there is a glimmer of hope in humanity. There are a lot of low lows in this book, but it ends on an uplifting and sweet tone. I highly recommend this book if you want to be swept up in a story about loss and love.

5 stars.

This book fulfills the book set in a place you’ve always wanted to visit requirement for the challenge.

Review: Penelope

13490638This book includes an absurdist play (Caligula) with a demented director, and it seems like perhaps the author was going for some sort of absurdist story to go with it. Penelope is a story about a freshman’s first year at Harvard University, except it doesn’t really follow most people’s idea of what that would entail. Honestly, her experience somewhat resembles mine. Not in the details, but in the broader sense.

Penelope is cautiously optimistic when she arrives at Harvard, but since she isn’t a legacy student, she really doesn’t know what is going on. It appears that most of the orientations and things are much more important than she is lead to believe by the information packages she receives. She quickly feels like she is missing out on forging new friendships. She is reluctantly embraced by some guys in her dorm, one of which is obviously attracted to her. She begins to navigate classes and dining hall experiences with unwanted advances from her TF (teaching fellow, like a grad assistant) and her neighbor. She has a chaste affair with a European gentleman. Her roommates are not into her at all.

Aside from several men trying to aggressively court her, I can understand her loneliness and anguish at not having had the college experience that I hoped for. The part that I can’t really relate to is how she reacts to it. She seems fairly oblivious until the end when she “realizes” that she is not making any inroads in these various relationships. She barely has any sort of character arc at all. The whole thing is somewhat depressing but none of the people that she meets are nice at all, and most of them are downright awful. The academic portion is pretty unrealistic too, as are the course titles, but I feel like that was an intentional choice meant to show that Harvard academics are pretentious and not really worth anything in the real world. It’s part of why I think that the absurdist play is supposed to be a reflection of the world of this book.

There really isn’t much more to say about the  book. Apparently there is a book group discussion guide and I’m really curious to look at it and see what there is even to discuss about this book. It was not what I was expecting based on the cover art – which goes to show that you really shouldn’t base a book on its cover.

3 stars.

This book fulfills the book based entirely on its cover requirement for the challenge.

Reading Challenge October Wrap Up

This month was one of my best months for reading out of the whole year! I managed to finish 5 books, and I’m well into two others.

File Oct 30, 3 31 22 PMFirst, I had Betrayed, which I mentioned in my September update that I finished just after the cut off, on October 1st. I really rushed through finishing it because I thought it was due back to the library on the 1st, but it was actually due on the 13th, so I rushed for no reason. It was a paperback, and so those sometimes are harder for me to read than ebooks, since I need to be able to hold it in two hands and there needs to be light in order to see the words. But I did finish it, and I feel bad that I didn’t like it, since it was the book that my mom loves for the challenge. But more on that in a minute.

Then I read The Heart Goes Last. My expectations were higher for this book since I’ve read several things by her before and really enjoyed them. I didn’t realize that this was the compilation of a serialized book that had been coming out in installments over the last several years until I started reading it. I recognized a few of the chapter names while reading. I worried that this might not count as a book published in 2015, but then it turns out that the final part of the book was new to this publication, so I say that it counts.

Now, here is where Betrayed comes back in. Both of the books have a heroine that is in peril (in Betrayed there is only the heroine, and in The Heart Goes Last, the action is divided between a male and a female protagonist), but the treatment of both really displays where there is writing talent and where there is not. Vicki Andrews (in Betrayed) makes a series of really bad choices that are implausible and just plain stupid. It is even more infuriating when at the beginning rails against her impulsive sister for being rash and not thinking things through. Charmaine has similar situations, but her entire character is different, so that it seems fairly reasonable that she would make the choices that she makes. She is characterized as naive and optimistic, and almost annoyingly cheerful. But after a few events, she begins to doubt her trust in her environment and the people around her. And even better, the “bad” guys in Atwood’s novel aren’t just potty-mouthed, greedy, evil monsters with no reasons. Some of the bad guys even start out with good intentions and get swept away by greed or some twisted sense of idealism. That isn’t to say that The Heart Goes Last is perfect and without problems. But none of the problems were with the mechanics of the novel.

I sped through Throw Out Fifty Things, although it was too long for its actual worth. It was about 250-300 pages, but there were a lot of “journalling” spaces, blank pages between chapters, and the font was fairly large. So it had that going for it. I need to start reading reviews before I buy or borrow any more self-help type books.

In other books that were a slog, Lady Chatterley’s Lover took me a long time, and I only kept going because I have high standards for things meeting the requirements for my challenge. Not many people know this, but few books are actually “banned”. Although, now that I think about it, I think Eleanor & Park actually was banned. And now I feel foolish for not counting that one, especially since at the time I decided it didn’t meet any requirements. Anyways, back to my point. Many, many books are “challenged”, but that is not equal at all to being banned. Whenever you see those “banned books week” displays at places where they have books, very few of them have actually been banned, and even less of them were banned by an establishment anywhere close to where you are viewing the display. I knew for sure that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned, because I learned about the postal obscenity laws in one of my college courses. However, if any of the people in charge of banning had actually read it, they may have fallen asleep before getting to any of the more racy sections.

Lastly, was my book club selection for next month: Spook. This one I really enjoyed, partly because I like nonfiction type books like this, and second because Mary Roach has a very engaging writing style that I enjoyed. I definitely think I will be picking up more of her books. I highly recommend an interview she did with Adam Savage from Mythbusters about her work. It was highly entertaining.

It turns out that I didn’t realize that one of the books I read at the very beginning of the year actually checked off a box on the challenge – for an antonym! The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. I didn’t write a review for this book at the time, and I can hardly remember it, but it counts!

As for what’s up next, I’m currently reading Penelope – my book based off the cover. So far it’s a little meh, but I’m hoping that it picks up. I’m also reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for a different book club that I’ve joined. I’m almost halfway through both of them, and then after that I have to find a book set during Christmas, a book with a color in the title, and a play. And then I will be DONE. How amazing! I haven’t decided if I’m going to try find a 2016 challenge, or take the year off of crazy reading. It is pretty fun to do these challenges. It opens you up to new books and ideas, although I’ve read a lot of crappy books in the name of this challenge too. It’s really a mixed bag. We’ll see, I suppose, how burned out I feel by the New Year.

So far I have read 33 books. I have 5 more boxes left to go, but 2 of them are well on their way to being checked.

100 Picture Books: 65-61

This is the first batch that Sweetpea is legitimately interested in the books. None of the ones in this batch are particularly geared toward her age range, but she did express an interest in a couple of the ones that were shorter in length. We also got a ton of books about being a flower girl and about death (nice mix, right?) for some timely concerns, and those have usurped requests for this batch. I guess none of them were super interesting for either girl, but we always have the next batch.

the-arrival65. The Arrival by Shaun Tan

So this book was bizarre. It had no words or context, just a variety of pictures. It was sort of like a graphic novel in sepia tones and with aliens or something. I had to describe what was happening in each picture to Peanut and it got to be a little tedious. Also, neither of us really understood what was happening. There was a family, with a father-type figure leaving for a new place, and the little cute monster depicted on the cover. Some kind of alien-takeover situation was happening. I really just didn’t know what was going on. I did my best at explaining it, but it was a blind leading the blind type of thing.

This book was written in order to hopefully eke out sympathy from his fellow Australians towards refugees. The author said he was also inspired by the 1978 book The Snowman.

King-Bidgood-cover (1)64.  King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood

Peanut enjoyed this book because it was silly. The premise is that the King is in the bathtub, and a variety of subjects try to encourage him to come out by suggesting a fun activity, but the King decides that those activities can just as easily be done in the tub! This means that his bathtub is huge, and he also bathes with his subjects. Pretty weird. Of course, kids don’t think a bunch of adults bathing together is weird, so it definitely works for this age group. In the end, the clever page just pulls the plug (glub glub glub!) and so the bath time shenanigans are over.

On the author’s website, she has a couple of photos of people that posed as characters for them to draw for the book, so that is pretty cool. There are three Wood authors, the husband and wife along with their son, and together they have created many popular children’s books, including The Napping House. Audrey Wood had a pretty interesting childhood spent among circuses, which probably has inspired her whimsical style of art.

91f9f3a8241804a93a682beac9d3f28263. The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

Our first Seuss! This book had a bunch of stories in it, but the longest one was The Sneetches. To an adult, it is obviously a story about racism and class differences, and how we have prejudices that aren’t fair and use them to oppress and exclude others. I’m not sure that the point of it got across to Peanut (and Sweetpea could barely sit still through the whole thing), but we were able to get across that the behavior of the Sneetches was “not nice”. What else can you hope for?

One thing that I appreciated about the stories was that it wasn’t just pointing out and demonstrating poor behavior, it was actively saying it was bad behavior. I find some stories for children aren’t explicit enough in this, and then children are confused over what type of behavior is appropriate to emulate. It’s not enough for the bad characters to not be the heroes, or maybe not “win”, but the particular bad behavior needs to be labeled as such for the kids to get it.

Theodor Geisel (aka, Dr Seuss) said that the Sneetches story was satire based on how he felt about antisemitism. The Sneetches have also inspired a lot of musicians, as they have appeared in song lyrics by artists like Bikini Kill, Dead Kennedys, and Ben Cooper, among others.

GoAwayBigGreenMonster62. Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley

This was a regular picture book printed on regular pages, but I felt that it was a little too flimsy for the cut out style of it. The book starts with eyes, and as pages are turned, more features of the Big Green Monster are revealed. Midway through the book is the entire monster. Then, the book’s narrator (which seems to be a child from the voice, but is never clarified) starts telling each specific feature to go away, until the monster is gone. “And don’t come back until I say so!” The library copy that we had obviously had some wear, because there were a few rips on the pages. A cardboard page design would have been much better for this book. Both girls liked it; Peanut liked the story and the idea of telling the monster to go away, and Sweetpea liked looking at the disappearing and reappearing pictures.

Despite Emberley’s rather long bibliography, he mostly appears to make books that are instructional rather than for reading. He has several dozen books about drawing. I personally find it ironic that he has so many drawing instruction books when the art in Big Green Monster is very rudimentary.

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover61. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

We’ve had this book awhile (and have enjoyed the classic animation many times). It was one of the first picture books that we bought and it took awhile for Peanut to be able to sit through the entire thing. It is pretty long. Peanut likes to recite Cindy Lou Who’s lines when she finds Grinchy Claus taking away the Who Christmas tree. Sweetpea is still too young to enjoy this, but I’m hoping she will grow to love it as well.

This book was apparently simultaneously published on its own and in an issue of Redbook magazine in 1957. I find it interesting that Geisel wrote the book in a matter of weeks except for the ending, which stumped him for several months! His wife was ill during the time that he wrote it, but she was able to help with the editing. The Grinch is such an integral part of our culture now that we refer to just as many Christmas curmudgeons as Grinches that we do Scrooges. (There is a semantic difference though – Scrooges generally imply some kind of greed or lack of generosity, while Grinchiness seems to be just general grumpiness. I feel like there may be a thesis paper in there somewhere.) I found it surprising to learn that Geisel considered the Grinch to be modeled on himself. Hopefully, his own heart grew three sizes after completing it.


Next time, we have more holiday books, which is timely, since the holidays are around the corner!

Review: Spook

Spook-cover2I read a lot of these layman’s academic non-fiction type books, and usually by the time I get to the end I feel somewhat disappointed. In this case, it might be because the author never really shores up enough evidence to persuade the reader either way. However, I think that feeling in this case is more because I so enjoyed the book that I wish there were more of it!

Mary Roach takes us on a journey about finding more about what science (and pseudo-science) says about the soul and life after death. We start with reincarnation and end with near death experiences, and along the way we talk to a variety of scientists, researchers, and people who are using “science” (applied loosely) to communicate with the dead. I found Roach’s writing style to be witty and inclusive, and just like a friend telling you interesting stories over coffee. (By inclusive, I mean that when the book gets jargon-y, she realizes this and tells you how it goes over her head too. There is lots of care to guide the reader along when things start to get complex, and I really appreciate this as a non-scientist.)

One omission in the book is about the amount of Biblical scholars that write and teach about the existence of heaven. They may not be scientists, but are academics in their own right. Several years ago, I read a really really long book by Randy Alcorn titled Heaven, and I know he interviews a bunch of researchers. While he has a vested interest in biasing his book towards the probability of Heaven existing, there was a lot of good stuff in there that I found convincing when I read it. This book only has a brief side bar about Catholic priests and the papacy. The Hindu religion actually has more prominence in this book.

Otherwise, I found this book very engaging and enjoyable, and I much enjoyed her writing style. I will probably be checking out more of her books in the future.

4 stars.