Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

December News

As wonderful as the holiday season is, I'm always a little reveled to see it in the rearview mirror. I so much about it, but it's nice to be writing this back in my own house on my own schedule, not worried about wrapping gifts or packing. We just got back from spending 10 days in the Midwest. We loved spending that much time with our families, but we were really ready to be home, too. Sleeping in our own bed and having a quiet house is practically euphoric. Tonight, to celebrate the New Year, we're keeping it simple. Staying home together, eating a gargantuan amount of fresh seafood (our favorite treat!), and talking about our dreams for 2015. It should be a great night! I'm really looking forward to it!

I have done so much reading in the last two months of 2014. A big part of that was because of my Adolescent Literature class, for which I had to read 7 books. Still, I made it through plenty of my own picks as well. Being home has allowed me to pick up Movie Monday again, too, and I reviewed both Mockingjay (loved!) and Bloom (hated!) this month. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Books of 2014

Over the next week, I have a variety of end-of-the-year wrap up posts planned. Call me crazy, but I love this time of year. Charts and statistics of my accomplishments make me weirdly happy. I'll have loads of that stuff for you on Friday, but, for today, I'm awarding some fun superlatives to books I read this year.

If you are a long-time reader, you know I have done a post like this the past two years. You can find the 2012 and 2013 versions in the archives (or by following the links). I really recommend going back and reading those as well. It's so fun to look back and remember the books that have impacted me the most since I started writing this blog three years ago.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
You all know it has been slow going for me this year in regard to the 100 Best Novels list. Having required reading for grad school left me with little energy or desire for heavy literary reading. 

In light of that, I have made a conscious effort lately to pick up the short books from the list. The longer ones (ahem...I'm looking at you Parade's End) have just been too much and made me feel unmotivated and stalled. The short ones, like this one, make me feel like I'm making progress. Plus, it always helps if I can knock a book out in a day or two. That feels quite satisfying when working toward a goal.

Surprisingly, I am holding steady at the pace of two books per month, should I want to finish by my 30th birthday (which I do). Next year, I am hoping that my new open, flexible schedule allows me more time to dive into those thick volumes that await me on the list.

On to the topic at hand...

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder definitely qualifies as one of the shortest books on the Modern Library list. In fact, at the time of its publication, the publisher was angry with Wilder for not writing something longer that they could reasonably sell for more money. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

After the warmest December I have ever experienced, it hardly seems time to be wishing you a Merry Christmas, and, yet, here we are. 

I hope that you are blessed with a relaxing day with family and friends. May the season truly be merry and bright for you.

I hope you find some great books under the tree with your name on them. I had a bunch on my list this year, including The Night Circus, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Blood, Bones, and Butter.

I hope not only Christmas, but 2015 as a whole finds you warm, well-fed, healthy, and safe this Christmas. So many people around the world cannot claim those adjectives as their own. Take time to remember them this year and to help if you can. 

Most of all, I hope that this Christmas will be full of love for you. Not only the love of those around you, but also the love of God. After all, His love is what the celebration is all about. God loved us so much that He sent the most precious gift we could ever dream of: redemption through His Son. If you want to know more about that gift, please let me know! I would love to share with you about what Christmas means to me. 

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rainbow Valley - L. M. Montgomery

Rainbow Valley
I have so enjoyed reading through the Anne of Green Gables series over the past few years. As I have mentioned previously, I do not think I ever actually read through the whole series in my childhood. If my memory serves, I always got stalled around Anne of Ingleside. This may be the first time I ever actually made it to Rainbow Valley.

By this point in the series, Anne is barely mentioned. After all, her name is not even in the title. Surprisingly, much of the book is not even about her family. Instead, a good portion of the book revolves around the Meredith family. 

The Merediths are a new addition to Glen St. Mary. A widower minister and his four children, they also bring along a maiden aunt who's a bit, well, batty. The Meredith clan become quick friends with the Blythe children and the group spend many hours together in the cherished Rainbow Valley. 

Yet, even with the Blythe children floating in and out of the story, the Meredith kids are the real center of the book. Their hijinks keep the whole town either up in arms or highly entertained over the course of the book. They sing songs in the Methodist graveyard, they secretly take in an orphan girl named Mary Vance, they confuse days of the week and skip church to deep clean the manse, they even make apologetic speeches in church, and write in to the local newspaper to explain their actions. It's all very reminiscent of the lovable, nearly unexplainable situations that Anne herself was getting into in those first few books. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie Monday: Bloom

When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

You all may remember last fall when I reviewed Ulysses by James Joyce. The book ranks #1 on the Modern Library list and I had quite a time with it. Long story short - I didn't like it. I recognize now that I should have taken the time to seek out some supplemental materials that would have helped me understand the book better. Maybe next time, if that day ever comes.

In the mean time, I thought perhaps a film adaptation would help me understand some of what I missed in the written format. There are at least two film adaptations and this one, Bloom, was made in 2003. It doesn't follow the story precisely. It centers more around Leopold Bloom than Stephen Dedalus. In addition to both men, it also spends some time on Molly Bloom, a character barely explored in the novel.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Story - Elizabeth Smart

My Story
I remember when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. And when she was found. The story captured media attention, but it resonated particularly with me. I am, after all, only a few months older than Elizabeth. What happened to her could have happened to me. 

Over the years, I have followed her story with interest. It seems she has turned into a beautiful, competent, compassionate woman - something that should hardly be taken for granted considering the trauma she was subjected to as a young teenager.

This memoir is her own recollection of the events surrounding and during her kidnapping. She sticks pretty exclusively to the nine months she spent with her abductors and only briefly touches on the trial at the end. Though I, along with many readers, I'm sure, would like to know more about her life since the kidnapping, Smart is very private and clearly wants most details of her life to remain undisclosed. 

You have to give her credit, though. She's feeding the media monster just enough to keep it satiated (this book, her wedding photos in People magazine), but no more. I give her props for that. After all, it's not like she chose to be a public figure. She seems to be using the influence she does have for good, raising awareness and such for other victims.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Astronaut Wives Club - Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club
I don't know what it was about moving, but something about organizing and purging our stuff must have inspired me. I have been slowly working my way through my On Reserve list this fall. I've made to books I've owned for years but never read, finally read the 2014 Pulitzer winner, read and books that have been on my list since I started it. My 100 Best Novels pursuit may be going slowly, but I'm burning through other stuff, and that makes me feel good. 

Someday, when this whole grad school, working remotely, juggling too much thing ends, that's what I plan to do all the time. Just devour books for like a month. I know I can't do it forever, but a few weeks at least. Books and a massage. Anyone looking to send me a graduation gift around the start of May, that's my list. 

For now, though, let's talk about this book. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (no relation to Ted - I checked). It's a nonfiction look at a group of women who were at the center of American attention not that long ago. These women were the wives of the first American men in space. 

Anyone who received their education in the United States has gotten bits and pieces of the NASA story. Space race, moon landing, the whole deal. What I never realized or even though about, however, was the personal story behind it all. These men, most specially chosen from the armed forces, and their families were a media sensation during the height of the space race. Life magazine even cut a special deal with NASA to do cover stories and get special access to the astro-families. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
I love that my Adolescent Literature course this term has exposed me to a few hidden gems that I somehow had not come across before. Of course, most of what we are reading is super depressing because they are books dealing with heavy issues: gang violence, rape, suicide. 

Suicide. That's the heavy topic of the book today, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why

I have to admit; I never thought a book about suicide could be so riveting. I was completely glued to this one. Asher somehow turned a very sad story about a high school girl who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of explanatory tapes into a thriller of sorts.

Though Clay Jensen is the character with whom we spend the most time, Hannah Baker is the real main character. When the book opens, Hannah has recently taken her own life. She left behind a secret set of tapes and instructions to send them around to thirteen different people like the worst chain letter in history. On the tapes, Hannah explains how each of the selected thirteen people contributed to her decision to end her life. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Feed - M. T. Anderson

I have had Feed by M. T. Anderson On Reserve for nearly as long as I have had this blog. Yet, somehow, it never pulled me in quite enough to actually read it. Instead, it languished on the list until my Adolescent Literature course professor assigned it. So, here it is. I finally read it - and for class, too!

The book falls solidly into the popular dystopian genre. A group of teenagers head to the moon for a vacation (yeah, you read that correctly). Protagonist Titus and crew meet Violet, a girl extraordinarily different than any of them. For one thing, she has not had a feed her whole life.

The feed, as the title suggests, is a central part of this futuristic society. The feed, certainly derived in name from the real-life news feed of social media, has now become a brain implant. It is implanted at birth and becomes part of each person's biological system. It registers everything a person says, does, sees...everything. Then, it fills the subject's mind with related advertisements, news, messages, etc. 

The book itself interjects these messages into the plot, making it understandable to the reader how the feed is a constant interruption to thought and critical thinking, not that these characters are doing much critical thinking. They aren't. They are consumers to the extreme. Violet and her father are the exceptions. Her unique outlook on the world is what intrigues Titus from the start. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Z - Therese Anne Fowler

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
This is a book I have had On Reserve for ages. I mean, years, I think. Pretty much ever since it was published in early 2013. 

The premise is this: the life of Zelda Fitzgerald is fictionalized and presented as historical fiction with Zelda herself as narrator. 

If you are anything like me, most of what you know of Zelda Fitzgerald comes from the periphery of your F. Scott knowledge. After all, her husband remains one of the most iconic American novelists ever to have lived. Most of us think of her as Nicole Driver in Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night - hardly an unbiased portrayal. Or we know her from the vivacious portrayal in Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris

Interestingly, almost all of the images we are given of Zelda are offered up by men. I don't find this to be unimportant or insignificant in an attempt to get to the truth of her life. Was she really as crazy and unstable as Fitzgerald makes her out to be in his work? Was she all fun and games, the model Jazz Age flapper? 

The truth, as always, lies in the middle, I am certain. Therese Anne Fowler takes that tack with her novel, offering Zelda more complexity and more grace than she receives most other places. Fowler certainly does not portray Zelda as flawless or innocent in all matters. But, she also gives her a good deal more wiggle room when it comes to her mental state. Granted, in Fowler's approach, Zelda herself is our narrator. She'd hardly self-identify as crazy. Few do. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Movie Monday: Mockingjay - Part 1

Mockingjay - Part 1
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Like everyone else, I have been anxiously awaiting this movie, well, basically since Catching Fire came out last year at this time. I know that Mockingjay is largely considered to be the weakest novel of the trilogy (more on that in a moment) and I was excited to see how the adaptation was handled.

I was not disappointed. I thought it was a beautiful adaptation of a difficult book.

Now, I know a lot of people out there have said the movie is just average and does not have the same strength as the previous ones. Almost everyone I have talked to about it, including Kevin, complained that it felt drawn out. I have so many thoughts on all this. Bear with me as I flesh them out.

Also, as an aside, I am going to try and stay spoiler-free for those who may have seen this movie, but not read the book. No promises, but I'll do my best!

Before I can get into the movie, I have to revise my public opinion on Mockingjay. I still feel the book is hurried and that Collins skims over details. Peeta's transformation still tears me apart. But, I no longer think it's a rocky conclusion to the story of Panem and Katniss Everdeen. I think it's the appropriate ending, one for which Collins is not given enough credit.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader
Two of my favorite things come together: reading and British royalty. Alan Bennett must have written this book for me.

It's a fun concept: Queen Elizabeth II finds herself in a traveling library outside of Buckingham Palace when her corgis run inside. In an attempt to avoid rudeness, she checks out a book. And, thus begins the monarch's obsession with reading and literature.

Of course, the story isn't true. We don't know what, if anything, QEII likes to read. Bennett has her all over the spectrum, diving ever deeper into more challenging works as her obsession grows.

As the novella progresses, she loses sight of running the country or, really, much of anything beyond books. Her advisors scramble to keep her on track and her family doesn't quite understand. She just keeps reading.

Ultimately, she moves from a love of reading to a desire to write and to share her own story and experiences. 

The story is fun and light heartened. Respectful to the monarch, but still a bit cheeky at points. As really only a novella, it's a short read and easy to accomplish in one day, as I did. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a short, playful adventure over the holidays, especially if you enjoy behind-the-scenes looks at royalty (imagined or not) as I do. 

Pages: 120
Date Completed: November 14, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson


Grad school is back in session for Holiday Term. That month break really revitalized me and got me excited to finish strong. Of course, how can you not be excited when the two classes you are taking over H Term are TV Sitcoms and Adolescent Literature. Yeah...I'm getting credit for reading books and watching TV over the holidays. School is awesome.

No, actually, both classes have already proven themselves to be fascinating in depth looks into entertainment forms that speak volumes. And, speaking of speaking, the first book we read for my Adolescent Lit course (we're doing one per week!) was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

I know this will probably be shocking to some of you Speak fans out there, but I had never read this book before. Actually, I'm pretty sure I hadn't even heard of it. I knew nothing about it and went in completely blind. This is so rare for me, seeing as most books I read I pick up because I've heard something about them. Reading Speak this way was a great reminder of the value of just opening a book and starting, not knowing anything or having any preconceived notions or expectations to taint your experience.

For those of you who, like me, may also be unfamiliar with the book, I'll do a quick run down. Melinda is a high school freshman who had a traumatic experience at a party just before school started. It changed her and she now lives with the burden of her secret every day. She is afraid to tell anyone what happened to her. "Speak" is such an appropriate title because, as the book progresses, it becomes clear that speaking up is the most important and the most frightening thing she could do. In the mean time, she speaks through her hands in art class. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

November 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

November News

It's officially the holiday season. I love this time of year. Thanksgiving, the greatest holiday ever, has just passed and Christmas is in full swing. I hope this year holds much cheer for you.

After a 7-hour trip surpassed 9 yesterday, we sure are glad to be home and getting into Christmas mode. Before we plunge straight in, though, here's a recap of November-ish things. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch
Happy Thanksgiving! Today is my very, very favorite holiday! Food, family, relaxation, and reflection. It simply doesn't get better. I hope you are enjoying the day as much as I plan to.

I have had this book On Reserve for what feels like forever. Pretty much ever since it got all that buzz and won a little award called the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. No big deal.

By the time it got a shout out on The Good Wife, one of my favorite shows, I knew it was time to finally give it a go. That month long break from grad school I just finished, proved the perfect time to tackle this nearly 800-page tome. 

So what were my thoughts about this lauded novel? 

Well, I have some mixed feelings. There were parts I absolutely loved. The whole first part, in fact, was marvelous. It was captivating and intense and a bit magical, in the most heartbreaking way possible. 

Theo Decker, a thirteen year old boy, loses his mother in a terrorist attack on a NYC art museum. In the chaos following the attack, he takes a famous painting, The Goldfinch by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. By the time he realizes what he comes to his senses and realize what he did in his injured haze, Theo is engulfed in a world of Child Services and uncertainty. It seems to scary to admit his mistake. So, he holds on to the priceless work of art, now assumed destroyed by the explosion in the museum. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Movie Monday: The Hours

The Hours
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

It's not often that  I watch a film adaptation so directly after finishing a novel. However, The Hours proved an exception. Thanks to instant streaming via Netflix and the irresistible cast, Kevin and I curled up to watch this one only two days after I completed the book.

And what a cast. The big names on the poster are just the surface. I don't mean to brush over Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman. They are two of my absolute favorite actors and positively brilliant - in this and everything they are in. Kidman won the Oscar for this role, after all! But, they are supplemented by an extraordinary supporting cast, including Claire Danes (or, in Kevin's words, "Hey! It's that crazy lady from the spy show!") and Allison Janney (forever CJ Cregg in my heart).

The movie stayed fairly true to the book, with a few small-ish changes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I understand the criticism of some that little actually happens. It reflects the book - a day in the life of three different women. The days are meant to be fairly ordinary, that's part of the importance, in my mind. It shows the struggle each of these women live with on a daily basis, their inner turmoil and emotional storms.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dealing with Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Dealing with Dragons
I feel as though I am giving you all a sneak peek into my childhood today. This was one of my absolutely favorite books as a kid. I believe I got it for Christmas (from my awesome Aunt Iris) the year of second or third grade. I distinctly remember reading it in fourth grade (more on that in a minute), but I am fairly certain that time was a rereading. So, that puts me at somewhere between eight and ten when I received it. Perfect age, although I was categorized as an advanced reader at that point. 

Ok, back to that fourth grade story. I'm telling you - I loved this book. Still do. I read it over and over and over. Yet, I am a very firm believer that books should be treated like friends. I've always been careful not to do too much spine bending or page folding. I would never ever dog ear a book to mark my place. Bookmarks all the way. When Kevin set a wet towel on our copy of Insurgent on the way home from the pool a few summers ago, I about had a heart attack. I might be a bit overeager in this particular area of my life. I just like things to be well taken care of. 

All that to say, I get nervous about lending books out. So, when my fourth grade teacher, a woman with whom I already had a tumultuous relationship, asked if she could borrow the book to read it aloud to the class, I was torn. Ultimately, I said yes. To my dismay, she ended up reading the book aloud to the class during the time some other students and I went to a special enriched learning class. I didn't even get to hear her read one of my favorite books to the rest of the kids AND she returned it completely bent up and wrinkled. She obviously was the type of reader who, to my horror, bent the first part of the book back over the spine when she held it. Tragedy.

This story is a bit ridiculous, I realize. I had a lot of other reasons for disliking that woman, so it seems pretty likely that I've latched onto this story as one of the more tangible ones. If you're out there, fourth grade teacher, I want you to know that I fully blame you for the wretched state this beloved book is now in. How am I supposed to teach my kids about keeping books nice when one of the ones I can't wait to read them is practically destroyed?

*Steps off soap box*

Ahem, I'm ready to talk about the actual book now. Just needed to get that off my chest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Hours - Michael Cunningham

The Hours
During the summer, some of our friends came to stay with us. The husband, who is well qualified to be making such comments, saw the copy of The Hours I bought at a second hand store a few years back and asked if I had read it. When I said, no, I've been meaning to get to it for ages, he admonished me to bump it to the front of the line.

Then, we moved. And life was a bit crazy there for a few minutes. But, finally, once I got all my books unpacked and was feeling more settled, I knew it was time for this Pulitzer Prize winner. How I resisted a book that not only won such a prestigious award but also had two of my favorite actresses on the cover (Streep & Kidman) for so long, I will never know. 

Michael Cunningham's novel explores a day in the life of three women: Virginia Woolf, who is beginning work on her famous novel Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown, a post-WWII housewife feeling trapped by her suburban life; and Clarissa Vaughn, a turn-of-the-century lesbian who is throwing a party for an AIDS-striken, award-winning poet friend. 

At first glance, these stories have nothing to do with each other. However, Cunningham weaves them together in perhaps the most masterful work of connecting separate stories I have ever seen. So many authors who attempt this feat end up either with stories that are really almost entirely disconnected, hanging only by one thin thread of relativity, or they overemphasize their connections to the point of infantilizing the reader's ability to recognize reciprocity among characters. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gorgeous - Paul Rudnick

I really do not know where to start with this book. My feelings about it are so conflicted.

The side of me that is reading the 100 Best Novels list and loves deep character exploration knows this book is crap. It's shallow and pure almost pure fluff.

The side of me that picked up a childhood favorite about princesses and dragons yesterday and that devours celebrity news and that deep down still dreams like a six year old girl completely loved it. 

One of the best ways for me to categorize this book for you is to point out that the quote on the cover praising the book is from Meg Cabot. She wrote The Princess Diaries series. You know, the one that spawned the movie sensation starring Anne Hathaway back when we were all impressionable pre-teens. Or, was it just a sensation at my house? My sister and her best friend saw that movie in theatres 11 times. 11. That is not a joke. Anyway, all that to say, when I saw Meg Cabot praising Gorgeous, it made sense to me. She and Paul Rudnick are authors have contributed to the same genre: ugly girls who have something miraculous happen to them, making them beautiful, but ultimately realize inner beauty is best.

We've all seen one hundred movies with this basic plotline. Ugly girl gets makeover, achieves popularity and accomplishments she never could have as ugly duckling, meets man, goes through some trial, realizes she was good enough before the makeover, man loves her for who she is, regardless of appearance. It's pretty standard.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Monday: The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Thus far, The Magnificent Ambersons is one of my favorite books that I have discovered through the Modern Library list. The Pulitzer winner captures the story of the Amberson family downfall, centered around the spoiled heir George Amberson Minafer. 

I did a post about the original Orson Welles adaptation about this time last year. Actually, in a weird and unintentional turn of events, I reviewed that movie one year again tomorrow. Total coincidence and probably of no interest to anyone except me. Haha.  

This TV movie adaptation from 2002 was based on the original screenplay Welles had wanted to use but was cut down by the studio. All of my complaints with the original were assuaged by this rendition. The story is told pretty much in full and captures the essence of the book much better.

From the very first scene, the casting is impeccable. Each part lead seems perfectly cast with semi-recognizable faces. Best of all, Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays George. He captures the attitude of the lead character so well. Of course, the same can be said for all of the leads. Their acting, along with this script, explores the relationships so much more effectively than Welles' original work. In this movie, the subtleties and complexities of each relationship were much more evident. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Eating - Jason Epstein

"I am a serviceable cook. Friends like what I serve them and come back for more. This gives me pleasure."

This line from Jason Epstein's memoir, Eating, hit precisely on the type of cook I consider myself to be. Yes, I love the creativity the kitchen offers and the way cooking relives my stress. But, if my end result is unsatisfactory to its consumers, I'm disappointed with myself. 

Kind of like how if, at the end of a book, I find myself not satiated by its content, I'm dissatisfied. Case in point: this one.

You know how I usually completely gush over food memoirs. I adore the things. Quality writing plus quality food - perhaps even recipes! - I'm nearly always hooked from the first chapter. This one, not so much.

There's nothing wrong with Epstein's writing. As witnessed by the quote below, it's lovely. His introduction is particularly nice, as he describes what it is that drew him into the combined world of publishing and food in the first place, what led him to write the book. 
"Cooking is like poetry, where one's unique voice is everything: words and their placement are essential ingredients, too, but the poet's own voice makes them sing, which is why when you paraphrase a poem you end up with nothing but words."
So, what then, led to my distaste for this book?

Monday, November 3, 2014

October 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

October News

So, I'm partway into this month off from grad school and I can't seem to find that copious free time of which I was dreaming. There never is as much as you hope, is there? Work continues to be so busy and now there's talk of me staying on remotely a bit longer. I keep reminding myself that I'll reach a point and all of these things (work, grad school, etc.) will be done and I'll have all that time I want. Maybe that's true, and maybe we'll have bought a house by then and I'll be mired in one hundred other projects. Or, hopefully, I'll get another teaching job quickly after graduation and I won't have that much time to myself anyway. Who knows.

In spite of it all, I still managed to keep a steady reading pace this month. I'm a little slow moving right now on the 100 Best Novels list, but that's one of those things I tell myself I'll devote more time to once I don't have a job. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Night Film - Marisha Pessl

Night Film
I am not usually much of a seasonal reader. I read what I want, when I want. The only real exception is sometimes throwing in a few beach reads for vacation. Even that, though, is more about when I choose to go on vacation, not necessarily the season. I certainly have never read a thriller purposefully around Halloween. 

Yet, as I was looking over my On Reserve list earlier this month, I saw Night Film available. I had been seeing this one come up now and again and I knew there would be no better time. A few of the other book blogs I read had mentioned what they were reading for the Halloween season, so I thought I would jump on board.

My determination: seasonal reading is fun! I want to do more of it!

Night Film by Marisha Pessl really proved to be the best Halloween book. It kept me on the edge of my seat and offer a good deal more darkness than I am used to in my fiction choices. 

The book centers around fictional film director, Stanislas Cordova. He's a mysterious enigma of a man, not seen in public for decades and having conducted only one partial interview over the course of his career. He lives on a huge estate in upstate New York, acres and acres surrounded by military grade fencing. On that property, he has constructed his own studio after being admonished for going to far by the mainstream media. His films are dark, evil even. They deal with the deepest faults in human nature: our hatred, violence, betrayal. Cordova is not scared of facing demons. 

The protagonist is reporter Scott McGrath. He had a run-in with Cordova several years back when he got an anonymous tip and pursued a unflattering story about the mystery man. His career has since been wiped out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Martian - Andy Weir

The Martian
The marketing for this books calls it a cross between Castaway and Apollo 13. I mean, that's pretty accurate.

Andy Weir's debut novel tells the story of an astronaut accidentally left on Mars when presumed dead by his colleagues. His fight for survival and rescue ensues and the reader is sucked into a surprisingly engaging scientific world. 

Guys - I stayed up past midnight two nights in a row to finish this book. I read the whole thing in those two nights. I could not put it down

Call me crazy. Usually science fiction, which we have to admit is technically where this book falls, is not necessarily my thing. When I think science fiction I think aliens and intergalactic battles. This book felt so real. Everything felt so possible. Weir explains each step of the way in such detail, it makes you wonder we aren't really on Mars if we have it all figured out (Kevin's exact question while reading this book). Something about the story felt far more accessible than any other science fiction I have ever read. 

I do not want to give away much about the plot itself since much of what makes the book engaging is the day-to-day survival of Mark Watney, the left-behind astronaut. Watney is extremely easy to relate to. His quirky personality and corny jokes probably remind us all a bit of what we would be like if we were trapped with no human contact for extended periods of time. Of course, the man is a freaking genius (duh. They don't let stupid people be astronauts) and his mad survival skills are a bit of a stretch sometimes. Still, Weir keeps everything so logical and believable that you really feel Watney's life is due to half luck and half brilliance. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Us - David Nicholls

Once upon a time, back before this blog existed, I read David Nicholls's bestselling book One Day. Perhaps you've read it or seen the movie adaptation with Anne Hathaway. Since it was pre-blog days, the only notes I have in regards to it are as follows:

"Great book. Kevin and I watched the movie and it was also fantastic. Unique concept. Excellent execution."

I have to reiterate much of the same sentiments for Nicholls's newest novel, Us.

I had the pleasure of reviewing this book for TLC Book Tours. When I saw this novel on the list for fall book tours, I immediately knew I wanted a chance to read it. I had seen a bit of advertising or reporting on the fact that Nicholls had a new novel coming out, but I knew very little about it. Other than, of course, the fact that I had liked his previous book. Since that is more than enough to convince me to read another book by an author, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on this one.

Rather than give you a plot summary of the book, I'll let David Nicholls do that himself. TLC sent me this great little video by Nicholls giving a brief explanation of the book. It's always fun to see an author's own take on their work and who can describe it better than him? Take 90 seconds, unless you're at work, of course, and hear about the book straight from Nicholls himself.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Iron King - Maurice Druon

The Iron King
When George R. R. Martin calls another book series 'the original Game of Thrones', you take note. 

The difference between Martin's best-selling series and Maurice Druon's series, first published in the 1950s...well, for one thing, Druon wrote his in French. (Unfortunately, my French is not nearly good enough yet to read anything but the translation.) The biggest difference, though, is that Druon's is based in reality and doesn't include dragons.

I know. Sad day.

The series begins under the reign of the Iron King, Philip the Fair of France, also know as Philip IV. He reigned at the turn of the fourteenth century. This first book in the series takes place near the end of his reign, as he is waging war on the Knights Templar, presumably to get his hands on their cash.

Also thrown into the mix - three deceptive daughters-in-law and one wily daughter who happens to be married to the King of England. 

Druon is very clear in his writing that all the events are leading up to something catastrophic (The Hundred Years Was, I assume). Something which he does not get to in this book, giving it the feel of a prequel. I am interested to see how quickly he moves in the remaining books in the series. This one only covered about the span of a year or two, not very much in the grand scheme of history. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sons and Lovers - D. H. Lawrence

Sons and Lovers
Slowly but surely I am making my way through this 100 Best Novels list. Sometimes I can't believe I am a year and a half into this challenge and only a third of the way through. Other times, I can't believe I am this far in and have made so much progress. I definitely do not think I realized the magnitude of this challenge when I took it on. Probably for the best. I may not have attempted it otherwise.

And I have gained so much from it already. 

Sons and Lovers, my latest finished work from the list, is the first D.H. Lawrence book I had ever read. Lawrence is one of those authors I had never heard of before this challenge and now find myself surprised at that fact. After all, this book landed itself at #9 on the list and Lawrence has two others included as well.

This book shares the story of the Morel family. Gertrude Morel, the matriarch who married below her class when she chose Walter Morel, a coal miner. Their tumultuous marriage produces four children and she devotes herself to them, particularly her two eldest sons, William and Paul. The bulk of the novel deals with the relational complications that transpire as the boys age and begin love affairs of their own.

I won't go into particulars - the book is long and there would be a lot to cover. Suffice it to say that Lawrence portrays such truth in his depiction of each relationship. The relationship between mother and sons is a delicate balance of love, devotion, and a yearning to be free. William and Paul find it difficult to please their mother with their choice of lovers and, consequentially, the relationships between Gertrude and these young women are tense and uncomfortable.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Main Street - Sinclair Lewis

Main Street
Here we have yet another book from the Modern Library list I simply cannot believe I have not read before now. How did this one escape my education? 

Sinclair Lewis's satirical approach to the small town Midwest American life should surely have made an appearance in my life before now. After all, I spent the last eight years of my life in a small Midwestern village. Now, only after I've left, do I pick up this book.

I saw quite a bit of that little town in this book, too. Small town life is similar everywhere and Lewis nails it. I've read some reviews of the book that say it moves too slowly or not enough happens. Clearly, these people have never lived in a small town. The brilliance of Lewis is in even those details. 

Reading about the small Minnesota town Lewis portrayed also reminded me of my dear River City, Iowa (I played Marian in The Music Man in high school, so that little fictional town has quite a place in my heart.)

The book tells the story of young Carol. She marries a small down doctor and is swept away from her city life to a town of only a few thousand. At first, she aspires to beautify the town and improve the lives of its citizens. She quickly realizes, however, that the townsfolk are perfectly happy with things remaining status quo. They see her efforts to improve the town as snobbery, not the naive, well-intentioned efforts they are. From there, Carol becomes more and more disillusioned and dissatisfied with her small town life. 

I enjoyed Lewis's take on small town America. I know the book is a satire, but it's so true to life, even one hundred years after it was written. Without my time in a small town, I doubt I would have enjoyed this nearly as much. Of course, we all know my weakness for books set in this era, so maybe I would have anyway. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

GI Brides - Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

GI Brides:
The Wartime Girls Who
Crossed the Atlantic for Love
As always, I love picking up suggestions from TLC Book Tours. They've brought such an eclectic mix into my reading life, almost all assuredly books I would not have read otherwise.

Today's selection is no exception.

Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi spent a long time researching the stories of European (specifically British) women who married American soldiers during or just after WWII and consequentially moved to the States. Talk about giving it all up for love.

GI Brides focuses specifically on four of those women and their stories. The authors cover everything from courtship to marriage to move to babies to divorce or happily ever after or whatever the case may be. Their look into each relationship and each woman's story is fascinating.

While each story starts out a bit like a fairy tale (remember what those enchanting days of dating are like? So much hope. So much excitement.), they quickly become anchored in reality. No marriage is easy - especially not one entered into by two people with such different backgrounds and who have had little time to truly get to know each other. The women do not all get a happily ever after. Some stories are quite sad. Others are beautiful, despite their hardships. Mostly, they are just real life. Real life is hard and happy and horrible and hopeful. I felt the authors did a wonderful job portraying the reality of the situations in their retelling.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pilgrim's Wilderness - Tom Kizzia

Pilgrim's Wilderness:
A True Story of Faith and Madness
on the Alaska Frontier
I like to break out of my own box every once in a while. This definitely qualifies as one of those books.

This narrative nonfiction book tells the story of the Hale family - or the Pilgrim family, depending on who you ask. The unique clan of nearly two dozen moved onto National Park land in Alaska in the early 2000s. They lived an abnormally conservative life, citing religious reasons. 

When the family moved to the secluded Alaskan wilderness, their few neighbors initially were impressed with the family. As the author, Tom Kizzia, writes, "The absence of teenaged restlessness among these bright and earnest offspring would strike many, on first meeting, as a healthy sign of what it must have been like to grow up within an oral tradition."

Things began to change when the family squared off with the government over park regulations. Father Pilgrim clearly didn't care about any rules set up by the government and became hostile quickly.

The story continues from there and, while you can do a quick online search to find out the ending of this true story, I don't want to give anything away for those of you who may be interested in reading the book. Part of the enjoyment for me was being completely unfamiliar with the story and genuinely not knowing how it was going to end. While the story seems to have been big news in Alaska, I'm not surprised it did not trickle down to the midwest. This is a story that those who love the the great outdoors and its clash with the modern world will love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hollow City - Ransom Riggs

Hollow City
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children sat on my On Reserve list for a long time. When I finally read it this summer, I couldn't believe I had waited so long. The silver lining, though, was that my delay gave Ransom Riggs time to write a sequel. I picked it up almost immediately.

Hollow City picks up exactly where the first novel leaves off. Jacob and the other peculiar children are fleeing the island in the midst of an air raid and are being chased by wights. 

The book proceeds as the children run around England with little more than the clothes on their backs. They meet a menagerie of peculiar animals and visit the headquarters of the peculiar world, all guided by a book of peculiar fairy tales that turn out to have more meaning than expected.

The book has the same whimsy as its predecessor, but I felt some of the same magic of originality had dissipated. Now that the reader is more familiar with the world of peculiars, you are less surprised by the appearance of strange talents in new characters. I felt this took away some of that initial charm, but not to a point that made the book unenjoyable.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Death Cure - James Dashner

The Death Cure
I hope you've enjoyed this little series of posts. It's not very often I review a whole series in the space of a few weeks. Granted, I held out of you all for months. I mean, I finished this book in May. 

Still, at that point, I had barely heard of The Maze Runner. I knew you would all be more interested if I released these posts in conjunction with the movie release. Hopefully I was right! I will say, the movie has gotten a lot less press than I was anticipating. I suppose it's been overshadowed by the much-anticipated Mockingjay: Part 1.

Kevin is reading this, book three in the series, right now. He claimed the other night that it was better than Suzanne Collins's third installation and I about kicked him out of bed. I certainly think James Dashner did a better job with his trilogy conclusion than Veronica Roth did with hers, but still. I have plans to reread Mockingjay before the movie comes out and do a revision post. My opinion of the book has grown a lot since I last read it in the early days of the blog.

Ok, getting off topic. Back to the horrible world where Thomas and friends are being chased around by both Cranks and the morally mysterious WICKED.

To start off, let me say that I enjoyed this third book more than I did The Scorch Trials. Kevin respectfully disagrees with me, but that's because he's all about action. I'm all about good plot and good characters. Book two got a little murky and, as you read last week, I felt it lacked character development. Book three clears up some of the unnecessary complexity (some, not all) and quickly eliminates some superfluous characters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 2014 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

September News

We're finally feeling settled down in North Carolina. The weather is beautiful, the people are lovely, and we are quite enjoying our little adventure. Plus, working from home continues to be one of my favorite things ever. Even though I'm still crazy busy trying to balance things, someone the task is easier in sweatpants.

Starting in a week and a half, I have a month off from grad school. I'm really looking forward to that, as I hope to blaze through some books just for pleasure. I'm thinking that month off will be my guilty pleasure read month. It's going to be great! Then, once I pick back up mid-November, I only have three terms left until I finish. Seems insane to think about, but it's true. I hope to be completely finished - thesis and all - at the start of May 2015.

While I dream about the near future of over-abundant free time and lots of books, you can read the recap of what happened around here this month (including a Movie Monday review of Divergent)...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie
It's been over a month since my last review of a 100 Best Novels book. I have felt terribly delinquent. This summer has not exactly been my shining moment of progress on this goal. Still, I edge a little forward with each book, so I should focus on that.

In my first few weeks working from home, I actually discovered I had less time for working on this list of classics. A lot of my time spent on them in the past has been listening to audio versions while getting ready in the morning and on my way to and from work. That commute now only takes me about ten seconds and I rarely get dressed and do my hair and makeup first thing in the morning.

I think I've found a solution, though. I listen while exercising. Yeah, I realize the very idea of me exercising is practically laughable, but I've started. Having more time at home has opened up time to fit regular workouts into my schedule. So, while I work my way around our neighborhood and into a sweat, I listen to the classic. Not sure what I'll do once I start going to the university pool to do laps, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

All that to say, I finally finished Sister Carrie. Theodore Dreiser's novel tells the story of a small town girl who makes her way to Chicago and, eventually, New York City. Her story and that of the men she associates with captures the ups and down of life in turn of the twentieth century American cities. She makes some morally ambiguous choices, but ultimately becomes (spoiler) a stage sensation. On the other hand, the man who tricked her into running away with him, George Hurtstwood, falls slowly into the despairs of poverty. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Scorch Trials - James Dashner

The Scorch Trials
I have been holding out on you. Not only did I keep my post on The Maze Runner from you for months while I waited for the movie to come out, I withheld posts about the sequels, too.

Most additions to the dystopian genre surge right now are a series. Can no one just write a good stand alone novel? Are the additional royalties really that appealing? 

Ok, ok. I'll avoid the soapbox today. In general, I like series. They give you something to get excited about and you learn more about the characters you've become invested in. Once in a while, there is a dud or two and you have zero interest in reading the sequel. Most of the time, though, you immediately put your name on the library's waiting list for book two.

Thankfully, that was the case for me after reading The Maze Runner. I stuck my name right on that waiting list and, about a month later, was reading book two: The Scorch Trials.

After reading the first book, I definitely had a bit of a Hunger Games flashback. After all, how was Dashner going to get those kids back in the arena maze? Rather than taking a cue from Suzanne Collins, Dashner did not even bother with getting his characters back to their original challenge. Instead, he made up a whole new environment and challenge for them to overcome.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Daring - Gail Sheehy

Daring: My Passages
I have to start this post with a confession.

Before reading this book, I had never heard of Gail Sheehy or even her best-selling book Passages. Now that I've read her memoir and know more about her life and advances in journalism, I'm more than a little ashamed that I had no knowledge of this pioneer woman.

Gail Sheehy has lived a remarkable life as a journalist, covering everything from Bloody Sunday (she was there!) to prostitution to political leaders around the globe (including Gorbachev and Hillary Clinton) to serious studies of adult development. Her investigative reporting relies on the narrative non-fiction structure that became popular in the second half of the twentieth century, in part due to her late husband and New York magazine founder, Clay Felker. 

Whether we realize it or not, women of my generation have a lot to thank Sheehy for. She has played a big role in women's equality in the workplace, specifically in the world of journalism. I'm sure if I was in that field, I would have known who she was long before now.

I enjoyed reading Sheehy's life story. She certainly has had opportunities to meet people and be in places that were inaccessible to so many. I very much respected that Sheehy lived a live of action. She didn't stop at reporting what she saw. It became part of her life. The best example of this is the Cambodian teenager, Mohm, she adopted after reporting on the refugees in that country. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie Monday: Divergent

When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize that few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

I've put off writing this post. We watched this movie over a month ago, but I haven't been able to bring myself to write about it.

You all know about my rocky relationship with the Divergent series. I read the first one and loved it. Raved about it to all kinds of people. Read the second one, felt mildly disappointed, began to notice the cracks in the writing, but held out hope for the finish. Read the third one. Ugh. Regretted ever pushing people onto this series. Felt my recommendation credibility had been shot. Couldn't believe I loved the first one so much. 

And now, here we are back at the beginning. I was really hoping that the movie would rejuvenate some of that love I had for the story back when I had only read the first book. I was hoping the bad writing would be smoothed over by talented screenwriters.

I was wrong.

I know I'm going against the grain here, but I did not like this movie. At all.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Maze Runner - James Dashner

The Maze Runner
If you have not already heard of The Maze Runner, it will not take long. The movie comes out tomorrow and, though it hasn't been as widely promoted as I expected, I would be surprised if you make it through the next few weeks without hearing of it at all.

Think of it as the next in line for the Hunger Games and Divergent audience. 

This time, however, instead of a feisty female lead, the main character is a boy named Thomas. Never fear Katniss fans, there is one girl in this opening novel, Teresa. In fact, it's her arrival that kicks everything off.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Thomas finds himself in a strange world with no memory of his previous life. His new home is a large, square farm called the Glade surrounding by four enormous stone walls. Each wall has one door, which closes automatically at nightfall and reopens the next morning. Outside the doors lies a huge maze where the walls move every night.

The maze is inhabited by slimy, deadly monsters the boys call Grievers. No one has ever survived a night in the Maze with them.

All of the inhabitants of the Glade, well, the human ones, are teenage boys. A new one arrives like clockwork once a month from the mysterious elevator in the ground. Thomas is the latest such arrival. Supplies come once a week.

The day after Thomas's arrival, the boys are all shocked when the elevator delivers another new tenant: the first girl ever to arrive. She is unconscious and carries a note which reads, "She's the last one. Ever." Needless to say, pandemonium ensues.