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)...