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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking - Anya Von Bremzen

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking:
A Memoir of Food and Longing
It's no secret that I love books about food. 

I feel like in the past few years, I have also developed a love for memoirs. Granted, most of the memoirs I read center around food, but still. I am coming to appreciate them in a way I never did before. Perhaps it's growing older and having a stronger appreciation for the stories of those who have gone before me. I'm not sure. I just know I've been loving non-fiction narrative lately, particularly when told by the person who actually lived those events.

Russian history is another thing, though. For all my love of European history, and it's a bit obsessive at times, I have never latched onto the Russian story. My AP European History teacher in high school loved all things Russian and even tried to teach us the Cyclic alphabet on one slow day in class. And, yet, the only bits of their story I've really gravitated toward are their female royals (Catherine the Great, the Romanov daughters); and that has nothing to do with them being Russian and everything to do with the fact that I love royal history

All that to say, I came across this food memoir on a list of them a while back. Initially, I would have passed over it. Russian history and Russian food - neither appeals to me much. Yet, something stopped me. Perhaps it was Anya Von Bremzen's clever title, an obvious ode to the great Julia Child. 

I went in a little blind. I did not know what to expect. I've come to familiar terms with Provencal French stories of food: cozy countrysides, local ingredients, decadent yet homey flavors. Russian food? I knew nothing. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Circle - Dave Eggers

The Circle
Once in a while, you read a book and you know it has something important to say. Those books don't seem to often come wrapped in a fiction package, but this is an exception.

The Circle by Dave Eggers could not have been more well-timed of a post for today. I swear, guys, I did not plan this to come days after Apple's latest release. It just happened and it's perfect.

The book centers around a company called the Circle. It's a tech conglomerate most easily compared to Apple or Google in our world. It seems to be taking place not all that far in the future. Everything presented is easily imaginable and most of it is probably already being discussed in research and development labs at real-life tech innovation companies.

The story is about a woman named Mae Holland. She gets a job at the Circle thanks to her longtime friend Annie, who is now a high-level employee herself. The company is a dream to work for and their campus is practically utopian. In fact, when I saw this article about Google's campus today, I almost laughed out loud because it reminded me of the book...sort of. From there, Mae gets more and more wrapped up in the company, eventually becoming their spokesperson for "transparency," a new way of living where you wear a camera around your neck and broadcast everything about your day to anyone online who is interested. 

Sound a little crazy? That's the thing. Eggers does such a great job of leading Mae and culture itself down a road of small steps to show how such an idea isn't so far off base and unrealistic as you may think. He also does a good job having his characters, Mae and the Circle founders in particular, argue in favor of the technology and other things in the same vein. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home
for Peculiar Children
This is one of those books I seemed to hear about everywhere for a while there. Books like that always seem to end up On Reserve, though it often takes months or years before they actually end up in my hands.

I think I first added this book to my Goodreads list last summer, making it about a year until the point I actually read it. To be honest, that's about average for me. Something I really need to get better at....

The novel is probably best classified as fantasy, perhaps a bit science fiction. The best way to describe it is with a reference to X-Men. It's different enough from the comic book world to set it apart, but, for the average person, X-Men is going to be the best comparison to which it can relate.

Basically, a Florida boy has his adventures set off when his peculiar grandfather is killed. And, I don't use the word peculiar accidentally. It turns out, Jacob's grandfather is one of a unique breed of people, called peculiars. Going back to the X-Men analogy, they are the mutants of this fictional world. 

Mix in some international travel, time travel, and a host of quite unique children and you have the book. The plot is nothing overly clever or unique, but its execution is fun and entertaining. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The journey continues.

As many of you know, this year, Kevin and I have been working our way through the Harry Potter series courtesy of Jim Dale's masterful audiobook recordings and a lot of hours in the car.

We have been working on book four since May but finally finished it up in early August while on our way to North Carolina to go house hunting. It's crazy to me that we finished the book on the 8th, I'm writing this post on the 15th, and, by the time it posts, we will have been living in our new town for a week. This process has been so crazy and so hard and so good.

Kind of like Harry Potter's years at Hogwarts (ok, ok, that was a weak transition).

Book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is the first of the series that I really truly love. To me, it's the first of the books that no longer feels like a children's story. By this point, Rowling has settled into her loquacious style (Goblet of Fire is over 700 pages) and the characters are begin to grow and mature and face bigger issues. Though in the book, Harry and co. are technically only 14, they start feeling like the young adults we cherish by the end of their journey.

We learn a lot more about the Ministry of Magic and some of its key figures in this book. And Lord Voldemort returns. All key elements as Rowling sets us up for the end.

Monday, September 1, 2014

August 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.  

August News

It seems insane that this time one month ago, I was announcing our move. Now, I'm writing this post from my half-decorated office in our new home. We have been here nearly a week and things are slowly coming together. One thing I can say confidently already is that I love working from home. I am so much more productive and find it so much easier to focus. Proof that not all personalities belong in a traditional office setting.

I got very little reading done in August, thanks to the craziness of the move, saying goodbye to people, etc. Thank goodness I read so much in June and July to carry the blog through August. I'm excited to amp things back up in September.

In the mean time, here is a recap of what I actually did get around to this month...