Friday, August 29, 2014

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Good Omens:
The Nice and Accurate Prophecies
of Agnes Nutter, Witch
A few months back, I read my first ever Neil Gaiman novel. Loved it. The man can certainly be named as one of the most popular modern writers, even though his works tend to fly under some sort of radar. I didn't know about him at all until I started blogging and reading other blogs. Clearly, I was missing out. 

Perhaps it's the depth of his work. It's not necessarily blockbuster, general consumption stuff. There seems to be more to it. At least, in the two selections I've now read. 

This particularly book, Good Omens, was co-written with Terry Pratchett. Apparently, it's become a bit of a cult classic, a fact of which I was not aware until I read the forward and felt a bit stupid for never having heard of it before. I guess that's how cult classics work.

The book is hilariously sacrilegious. It's premise centers around the apocalypse. Readers are given the "behind the scenes" view into the planning, execution, and spiritual bureaucracy surrounding the event. Angels and demons banter back and forth and there is a wild misunderstanding when the child meant to be the anti-Christ is accidentally placed with a perfectly normal British family of no consequence instead of the intended American diplomat.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends - Courtney Robertson

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends:
Confessions of a Reality Show Villain
I have a confession.

Sometimes I watch trashy tv.

Not often and not a lot, but I have a weakness for the Bachelor franchise. I'm pretty sure my husband considered it one of my greatest flaws and my parents consider it one of their greatest failings every time my sister and I launch into a detailed discussion about the show. The thing I honestly enjoy most about it is getting to have those conversations with all sorts of people. My sister, my best friend, even a male vendor at work called me the morning after the latest finale because he watches it with his wife and daughter and wanted to chat about it. Like it or not, it's a connecting point for people. We all like fairy tales...and drama. Reality tv thrives on drama.

Speaking of drama, the woman who wrote the book on Bachelor drama, well, literally wrote a book.

Courtney Robertson was both the winner and the "villain" of Ben Flajnik's season. I did not actually watch that season (I go on and off depending on who the lead is), but I remember seeing plenty about her in the entertainment headlines. Her sarcastic, biting sense of humor did not go over well with the other girls and, eventually, her engagement to Flajnik crashed and burned. The whole thing played out quite dramatically in the press.

Robertson released this tell-all a few months ago, to much anticipate in Bachelor loving circles. I did not plan on reading it since I did not watch Ben's season, but when my best friend offered me her copy after she finished, I could not resist.

Monday, August 25, 2014

From Here to Eternity - James Jones

From Here to Eternity
The thing with doing a challenge like the Modern Library list is this: some books are winners you immediately fall in love with. Some...not so much.

This particular work falls in the latter category for me.

I really cannot express how happy I am to be finished with this one. I did not enjoy it at all. I started it months and months ago, but have struggled to get through. I finally set benchmarks for myself so I could get motivated enough to finish the last third of the book. Yeah, I thought it was that bad.

The book follows the lives of American servicemen in Hawaii just before the US enters WWII. There is a tiny glimpse of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the end, but barely enough to be noticeable. 

Instead, the book focuses on the activities the men use to fill their time as peace-time servicemen. This translates into a lot of sex and a lot of fighting.

Perhaps it I had served in the military myself I would understand better. However, as it is, I have basically nothing to which I can relate in this book. Instead, I found the characters self-indulgent and focused on the entirely wrong things in life. The first part of the book spends an inordinate amount of time with the main character, Prewitt, trying to scrap up enough money to go to the brothel. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lighthouse Island - Paulette Jiles

Lighthouse Island
You know me. I love book tours and I love dystopian novels. When TLC Book Tours offered me the chance to combine those interests, I couldn't resist...even though we're right in the midst of a major move. I just can't say no to books that intrigue me!

Lighthouse Island definitely did that. It's been marketed as a literary dystopian novel. I think that's a very apt way to describe it. 

It doesn't follow the standard formulaic approach of most dystopian novels. You know the one...unique teenager in a love triangle faces off against and evil totalitarian government and, after some moments of self-doubt, conquers all and realizes true love.

Don't get me wrong. Some of those elements are in Lighthouse Island, but they are presented in a much more unique, thoughtful way. 

Paulette Jiles gives us the story of our heroine, Nadia, from the moment she was abandoned by her parents at age four. The majority of the story, though, has her as an adult, searching for a place called Lighthouse Island.  The world is one massive city with serious fresh water shortages and she is a fugitive on the run. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On the Road - Jack Kerouac

On the Road
Another American hits the 100 Best Novels list! For a list saturated with imperialist Brits, American books are always a breath of fresh air. 

Jack Kerouac published this classic novel in 1957, although he formed the idea in the late 40s and wrote most of it out in the early 50s. It chronicles the Beat generation, a unique subculture in American history. The book is largely autobiographical and several key figures of the time appear under pseudonyms.  

I loved the start of this book. At the beginning, narrator Sal Paradise had not yet reconnected with Dean Moriarty and he kept eating pie. Seriously. I don't know if the pie thing was intentional on Keroauc's part, but I noticed an abnormal number of slices in front of Sal in those early pages. Any character who loves pie, or really food in general, starts out well with me. 

The book certainly kept my attention. Sal and his gang of friends were continually getting themselves into some sort of scrap. As Sal traveled around the country and even into Mexico, we see a lifestyle of drugs, sex, and freedom. Keroauc portrays it as a desirable life, at least at first. The manifestation of this existance is his friend Dean Moriarty. 

I hate Dean Moriarty.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler

The Way of All Flesh
Oh, 100 Best Novels list, how you love Victorian-era British literature. Particularly that written by men. 

At least Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh is satirical, rather than an ode to the stiff society. 

The book chronicles the life and times of the Pontifex family. It is suspected to be largely autobiographical, which makes the whole thing that much more interesting in my mind. 

The book begins with a brief history of Ernest Pontifex's grandfather before spending a good chunk of time on the upbringing, courtship, and marriage of his parents. At first, before I realized Ernest would be the main protagonist of the book, I could not believe Butler was flying through the lives of his characters so quickly. Once I realized, however, that their son would be the subject, I greatly appreciated the time he took to set the scene. Doing so offered much more insight into the minds of the parents and why they acted as they did. 

The whole book goes at a quick pace, which I enjoy. Sometimes these classics can get bogged down in the details and lose my interest for pages at a time. Not so here. Butler kept me engaged and even laughing a bit at the absurdity of some of the Victorian ways. He accomplished his task then, I suppose.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Season of the Dragonflies - Sarah Creech

Season of the Dragonflies
Back in February, TLC Book Tours offered me the chance to read and review The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro. It was a book I had been wanting to read for a long time and I jumped at the chance. I loved it. 

So, when the opportunity arose to read another book about perfumers for TLC, I was intrigued. 

Sarah Creech's debut novel centers around a family perfume business. Their involvement in the field began several generations back when Great-Grandmother Serena discovered a magical flower in the tropics. She brought it back to the Blue Ridge Mountains and started making perfume from its intoxicating scent. The company has passed down from mother to daughter since that time.

The perfume has a special quality and those who use it have their talents greatly enhanced. Its properties are a closely guarded secret and the Lenore family only sells it to women they select. Needless to say, those women excel in their fields and pay millions to continue using the perfume.

Creech's story picks up as Willow Lenore is aging and needs to pass the company on to one of her two daughters. Mya, the eldest, has been involved in the business her whole life and has a passion for perfumery. Lucia, however, spent a decade pursuing acting and a life away from the family trade. The plot kicks off as she leaves her cheating husband in New York and returns to the mountains to recover and heal. Her timing, of course, is fortuitous.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Princesses Behaving Badly - Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly:
Real Stories from History -
Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
I have wanted to read this collection of royal stories since last September. Just the title draws you in, doesn't it?

McRobbie writes a wonderful introduction, introducing the book and why she wrote it. As she points out, our "current culture 'is turning little girls into budding narcissists.'" As a product of the princess generation, I do not know that I can agree with her entirely, but I certainly do believe that we are teaching children narcissistic tendencies in a variety of ways. 

McRobbie has taken it upon herself to reveal some royal history that is not nearly as glitzy as the Disney ideals. She writes, "these women were human, but the word princess, along with its myriad connotations, often glosses over that humanity." To remedy that, McRobbie collected stories of princesses, well, behaving badly. Madness, loose morals, rebellion, fighting - it's all there and it's all (pretty much) history. 

A grain of salt is offered at the start to remind readers that "history is only as accurate as those who record it, and that goes double when the subject is a woman." With some of these women, it's simply impossible to know their real story because history has tainted it or hidden it or ignored it. McRobbie does her best to uncover the truth, the good and the bad. 

This was a great book to read in segments before bed each night. Each princess story only lasted a few pages and proved independently interesting. 

I just realized that I admitted to reading fairy tales before bed. Yep, I'm nearly 30, folks. No shame.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five Days at Memorial - Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial
Fiction is awesome. I love it. Most of what I read is fiction. The idea of transporting yourself to another time and place captures me. I love investing in characters, learning their personalities and motivations, and, ultimately, understanding their actions. I am a big, big fan of fiction.

Good nonfiction, though, can do those things, too. Narrative nonfiction relates real life events in much the same way a fiction story would. It's a great middle ground, particularly if you want to read about real issues, but still have the story time pleasure of fiction.

I picked up Five Days at Memorial back in June. I originally thought it covered what happened at the Superdome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Not sure why the title didn't tip me off. Not a shining moment of intelligence for me. The book, in fact, relates the events that took place at one of New Orleans' private hospitals in those days.

Sheri Fink won a Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reporting of the events at Memorial Hospital. This book collects all that information and puts it in one place, as well as covering the official investigation that took place afterward.

Fink starts by giving a brief overview of Memorial's history, including its interactions with previous hurricanes. New Orleans' has long been susceptible to these storms and Katrina was not the first storm to flood the city. Since its opening about a century ago, however, Memorial had stood strong against the elements and provided shelter for thousands within its walls. Fink includes all this to mention that the hospital did have vulnerabilities and had faced tests before. She wanted to make sure "'the "hand of God" will not be blamed as often for what the hand of man has neglected to do.'"

After a short history, Fink spends the first half of the book relating what happened inside the hospital - or, at least, a conglomeration of varied accounts molded into a coherent story. Since the events, there has been controversy over exact conversations and timelines, as there would be after any stressful situation. This is the part of the book I easily found most interesting. I could not stop thinking how incredible it was for something like this to be happening in America. We think ourselves immune from these third world-like situations, but one blow from Mother Nature can put us on an even playing field with the poorest in the world if unprepared.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book
"Of course, a book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artifact of the human mind and hand."

This sentence encapsulates the feeling of Geraldine Brooks's novel, People of the Book. The novel traces the life of a valuable Jewish haggadah backward in time, slowly revealing its secrets and the history that shaped it.

You may remember earlier this year when I read and reviewed another Brooks novel, Year of Wonders. That one, I read for grad school. This one, however, has been On Reserve since I read Will Schwalbe's memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club. He mentioned the book and spoke well enough of it then to grab my attention. 

The novel, which focuses around Australian rare book expert Hanna Heath, begins when the Sarajevo Haggadah needs restored in order to be returned to the Sarajevo museum after the destructive war of the 1990s. Heath is called in to do the job. 

In the course of her work, she finds a few interesting qualities about the ancient text. A small white hair, indentations which indicate missing clasps, a deep red stain, a salt water stain, and a mysterious picture which shows an African woman sitting with a wealthy Jewish family around the ceremonial table. Each represents a mystery in the book's past and Heath embarks on a journey to uncover the forgotten history. Along the way she meets a variety of book experts and learns about her own history, as well. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness
I have to admit. This is one of those books I was assigned to read in high school and hated. Sorry, Mr. Miller. You were a phenomenal teacher, but I despised this book. 

When I saw it on the 100 Best Novels list, I admit, my heart sank a bit. Even though, over the past five years or so, I have made a concerted effort to go back and reread the books I disliked in high school, this is one I did not really have much of a desire to read again. 

I've proven myself, right? I reread Les Miserables (spoiler alert: it's still insanely long and I still choose the musical over the book any day). I reread Remains of the Day (How did I not see Isiguro's genius back then?). I even reread The Great Gatsby (a true classic which becomes increasingly lovely with every visit). 

And yet, here I am, facing Joseph Conrad again, despite my best efforts.

The classic novel clocks in at only 72 pages - hardly anything to complain about. Though the technical narrator is an Englishman setting sail down the Thames with an assorted crew, the real storyteller is Charles Marlow, a sailor who recounts his time as a captain on the Congo River.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, Conrad's novella is largely autobiographical, at least in the sense that he, also, served as a steamer captain on that river. Conrad's disdain for Imperialism stems from that time and his writings reflect clearly his disillusionment with European ideals of empire. Many of Conrad's characters in Heart of Darkness are thought to be based on actual figures he interacted with during his African journey. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

July 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.  

July News

So, I have some big news to share. Well, big for us. Kevin and I are moving to North Carolina! After almost three decades, I'm finally getting out of Ohio. We move at the end of August, so this month is going to be a bit insane. Everything happened really quickly, but we are beyond thrilled about this opportunity. I am going to transition to working remotely, at least for a little while, but, eventually, will be a full-time grad student who actually devotes full time to her studies. Once I finish my program, we hope I can pick up some online teaching jobs to supplement our income.

As for the blog, nothing should change here. Thankfully, I've been able to write posts a few weeks in advance this summer, so I'm hoping the move doesn't even slow down my posting. Reading will probably have to take a back seat in August, but I'm looking forward to having more time for it this fall!

Looking back on July, it seems crazy that at the start of the month, we didn't even have a move in our immediate sites and, now, we're totally overwhelmed with all the details. I guess that's how it works.

I was thrilled to jump back up to three posts per week this month. After slower months this spring, I was definitely ready to kick things back into gear. I hope you've been enjoyed having more frequent posts.

I even brought back Movie Monday this month! The Book Thief and The Monuments Men were both movies we had on our Netflix queue for a while, so it was fun to finally get to watch them.

For you detail lovers like me, here's the rundown of July happenings...