Posts Categorized: Books

Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 4 – Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

April 30, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 2

We’re not in Kansas California anymore, Toto Eureka….

Book 4 – Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

During a California earthquake Dorothy falls into the underground Land of the Mangaboos where she again meets the Wizard of Oz.

My Thoughts:

Perhaps I’m just being a bit too curmudgeonly, but I thought this was the most disjointed and unsettling book of the Oz series so far.

Don’t get me wrong, Baum’s talent for inventing absolutely bonkers places and people is still evident. For example: How the heck did he come up with a land of sentient vegetables who live in glass houses? But that’s where the charm begins and ends for me.

The last part of the book, where Dorothy et al. end up in Oz and the horse characters decide to run an inexplicable race and a talking cat is charged with murder, seems weirdly disjointed. It’s as though Baum had a grand old time sending the kids and the Wizard on yet another whimsical adventure, but then felt obligated to provide a kind of “fanservice” with all the old gang making an appearance.

I’m also not quite sure what to think of the Wizard at this point. Did he send Ozma to Mombi as a power grab, or was the whole thing actually orchestrated by the witch(es), or what? Does the Wizard have amnesia or something? Is he villainous or just plain stupid?

I’m honestly not looking forward to finishing the series at this point. What started out as charming and imaginative seems to be devolving into something kind of half-baked and formulaic (if the formula was smashed to bits and glued back together in not quite the right way). But maybe I’m being too grouchy. Tell me what you think!

Questions:
  • What do you think the deal is with the Wizard at this point? Bad guy, complete idiot, or just plain annoying, or something else?
  • We’ve met several new characters over the last few books — are you enjoying this expanding cast, or do you wish the originals would get more of the spotlight?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Backlist Love | Flower Power

April 20, 2017 Backlist Love, Books 1

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

The Meaning of Flowers: Myth, Language, and Lore by Gretchen Scoble, ill. by Ann Field (Chronicle Books, 1998)

100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells, ill. by Ippy Patterson (Algonquin, 1997)

The Meaning of Flowers

From ancient days, long before words complicated what we say to each other, flowers have been our messengers, invested with our most cherished feelings. The Meaning of Flowers celebrates over sixty blossoms with gorgeous collages and thoughtful histories of what each flower has meant through the ages and around the world. Anyone who loves giving and receiving flowers will find much to intrigue in this enchanting look at one of humanity’s most prolific sources of symbolism.

100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names

From Baby Blue Eyes to Silver Bells, from Abelia to Zinnia, every flower tells a story. Gardening writer Diana Wells knows them all. Here she presents one hundred well-known garden favorites and the not-so-well-known stories behind their names. Not for gardeners only, this is a book for anyone interested not just in the blossoms, but in the roots, too.

Why I liked them

Well, let’s be honest — these books are just so pretty. I’m no gardener, but I do enjoy the beauty (and sometimes weirdness) of blooms. Also, I think that various human cultures’ use of flowers is incredibly interesting. We as a species like to assign meaning/significance, and sometimes very odd names, to the showiest reproductive parts of plants.

Who I’d recommend them to

Neither of these books are particularly scholarly or in-depth at all. In fact, I’d say the real focus of The Meaning of Flowers in particular is its charming collage-style illustrations. 100 Flowers has a bit more of a narrative structure to it, and the writing is decent — actually, it turns out that the author of this one used to write for a magazine called GreenPrints (linked below), which I haven’t read but must mention because of its delightful tagline: “The Weeder’s Digest”….

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that these might not be engrossing novels, BUT they could be nice gift books for the gardeners in your life, or even for people with a tangential interest in Colonial/Victorian-era botany and social customs.

Links

backlistlove_redux

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde

April 19, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 5

★ ★ ★ ★

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde | July 1890 | Lippincott’s Monthly | Paperback w/ complete works $24.99

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence.

Confession: I’d never read anything by Oscar Wilde before this.

SHAME. I know, I know. Shun the nonbeliever and so forth. But I just didn’t know! You don’t know what you don’t know, y’know?

I was a bit trepidatious about starting it because, to my everlasting frustration, I haven’t particularly enjoyed a lot of Victorian literature in the past. This whole Classics Club lark as done much to cure me of this folly, of course, but I’ll forever be a little wary of 19th c. novels.

I was surprised at just how subversive this story was, even for modern readers. It isn’t hard to imagine the Victorian outrage it provoked upon publication. It also isn’t hard to understand why Dorian Gray (the book) and Dorian Gray (the character) were both reflective of Wilde’s renegade soul yet tied to his downfall, along with his other provoking writings.

Though the story itself was engaging, I think my favorite part of the whole thing was the short preface where Wilde goes on a brief, rather poetic and extremely quotable rant as to the nature of art and beauty and morality.

“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.”
— Oscar Wilde


Links:


Publication information: Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008. Print
Source: Purchased for personal use
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

April 18, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 1

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly | September 2016 | William Morrow | Paperback $15.99

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, this is the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program — and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.

Whew, where to start with this one?

Also: What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

In that spirit, I’ll just say a little about why I read Hidden Figures, and why I think you ought to, too.

This book was gifted to me this past Christmas, but I didn’t end up reading it until just last month — and I “read” most of it via audiobook on my drives to/from work, at that. (Shout out to the public library for the freebie!)

I’m so, so glad that I chose to read this work for the Women in Science History event. I never did get around to my second selection for it, but it doesn’t matter too much because this one was so incredibly good.

It’s so hard to imagine what these women had to overcome to do the incredible work that they rarely even get credit for. To be a woman AND African-American in the sciences in early-mid 2oth century was no picnic in the park, that’s for dang sure.

I haven’t seen the associated movie, but whether you have or haven’t I’d say this book is worth reading in and of itself. Shetterly covers a lot of historical/cultural context that I don’t think could even be translated onto film very well. That’s not to say that this is a particularly “academic” text — it’s got a quite engaging narrative style — but I don’t think the movie could really serve as a replacement for it on the whole.

Have you read this book? And/or do you have any recommendations for me on similar topics?


Links:


Publication information: Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. New York: William Morrow, 2016. Print.
Source: Public library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

 

This book was read for the 2017 Women in Science History event, hosted at Doing Dewey.


Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising

April 17, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 6

Welcome back to our little 15-book re-read-along!

Book 4 – The Shadow Rising

The seals of Shayol Ghul are weak now, and the Dark One reaches out. The Shadow is rising to cover humankind.

In Tar Valon, Min sees portents of hideous doom. Will the White Tower itself be broken? In the Two Rivers, the Whitecloaks ride in pursuit of a man with golden eyes, and in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn. In Cantorin, among the Sea Folk, High Lady Suroth plans the return of the Seanchan armies to the mainland.

In the Stone of Tear, the Lord Dragon considers his next move. It will be something no one expects, not the Black Ajah, not Tairen nobles, not Aes Sedai, not Egwene or Elayne or Nynaeve.

Against the Shadow rising stands the Dragon Reborn….

My Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite books in the entire series.

It’s also arguably the last mostly-awesome installment in the series up until the last few (and the prequel, though that’s a little controversial in and of itself).

That’s not to say that this is the last book in the series worth reading — this is just a fair warning that things get a little… rougher… as the story goes along from this point.

SO MUCH happens in this book (which I think is one of the longest, if not THE longest), it’s hard to parse through it all after finishing the book and sitting down in front of a keyboard to whip up this discussion post. I think for future books I’ll need to work on the discussion post draft as I go along.

Anyway, one of the main reasons that The Shadow Rising is a favorite of mine is the Aiel. This isn’t the first we’ve seen of them, but they do finally have major roles to play, and Rand & Co.’s little jaunt to the Aiel Waste and all the cool stuff that happens there is just a big world building, character developing, decently violent, “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow” bundle of fun.

The Three Rivers characters in particular are all growing up nicely by now. They’re evolving from slightly bratty farmboys/girls into intensely motivated and courageous (accidentally or on purpose) grown-ups with goals. Makes a reader proud, it does. *sniff*

Questions:
  • What are your thoughts on the Aiel at this point? Does their culture strike you as interesting, savage, too cultural appropriation-y, or… ?
  • Do you think that the younger main characters we started out with are really maturing/developing, or do you still find yourself wishing they’d just grow up already?
  • There are a lot of surprises and twists in this book; did any of them in particular really shock you?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 3 – Ozma of Oz

April 16, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 4

First and most importantly: If you’re reading this series along with me, thank you for your patience. I’ll try to do a better job of sticking to our schedule in the future!

Book 3 – Ozma of Oz

Blown overboard while sailing with her uncle, Dorothy finds herself in the fairy realm of Ev. She sets out with her friends to rescue the Queen of Ev and her ten children, who have been imprisoned by the cruel Nome King. But even Ozma, the wise Ruler of Oz, is no match for the clever king, and it’s up to Dorothy to save everyone from terrible danger. But will the Nome King’s enchantments be too much even for the plucky little girl from Kansas?

My Thoughts:

Basically the entire book (entire series?) might be summed up like so:

Sensible reader: Dorothy, no
Dorothy: DOROTHY YES

I mean, take the very first scene of this particular book:

Captain: Storm’s a-comin’
Storm: *happens*
Captain: OK, everyone stay off the deck and you’ll be fine
Captain: Idiot says what
Dorothy: What???
Storm: *intensifies*
Dorothy: LEEERRROOOYYY JEEENKIIINNNSSS

But I will confess that it’s kinda endearing how hilariously optimistic our little heroine is throughout her adventures and the way she just takes weird things in stride.

She laughs and then takes a dang nap after getting washed overboard on a chicken coop, acts like it is perfectly normal when a similarly marooned chicken starts up a conversation (and renames said chicken because it has an inappropriately masculine name and that can’t be allowed), happily eats a mysteriously “ripe” packed lunch off of a packed-lunch tree, and… well you, get the idea.

One funny, sort of creepy thing about reading this is that it triggered some very vague, unsettling memories. First it was the Wheelers, then Tik-Tok… these characters seemed so familiar and it was easy to picture them in my mind. I read Maguire’s Wicked (upon which the popular musical show is based) and at least one of its sequels several years ago, so I assumed that’s where I was getting my ideas of these characters.

It wasn’t until Langwidere and her exchangeable heads that I realized where I’d actually encountered these characters before: the 1985 movie Return to Oz, a much darker work than the 1939 musical despite being produced by Disney.

The movie isn’t precisely faithful to the source material, although it does include several of the most recognizable characters/scenes. Frankly, the movie is creepy beyond belief and it both fascinated me and gave me nightmares as a kid, which is probably why I remembered-yet-suppressed it until now.

Questions:
  • Have you seen the Return to Oz movie — and how did you feel about it?
  • Do you find Dorothy charming, idiotic, something in between, something altoghter different?
  • Any other particularly awesome/terrible characters from this book in your opinion?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn

March 19, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 4

Oops! I apologize for posting this later in the month than usual — “real life” has distracted me a bit from reading/blogging as much as I’d like. Anyway, onwards and upwards!

Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn

The Dragon Reborn – the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him – is on the run from his destiny.

Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how – for no man has done it in three thousand years — Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?

My Thoughts:

I have to admit that Rand REALLY got on my nerves in this book. I mean, on the one hand, I kind of understand why he went haring off alone… the poor guy was dealing with some really rough personal issues (to put it mildly) and he didn’t want to accidentally hurt someone else. BUT. Dude. The entire rest of the cast is either trying to find him or trying to help him in some way… maybe disappearing like a crazy person is not the best way to convince other people you aren’t crazy (yet), yeah?

Anyway, I actually quite liked getting POV chapters from not-Rand characters more than Rand’s POV. Perhaps my favorite scene in this book is Mat’s unexpected yet well-done defeat of the princes during their Warder fighting practice at Tar Valon. Oh Mat, that scamp — he’s starting to grow on me now that his annoying little thieved-treasure problem has been more or less resolved.

I hadn’t thought about it on previous reads through the series, but I noticed this time around that repentance/redemption seems to be a bit of a theme. Ingtar did his bit in the last book during the battle at Falme, and in this book it was the thief-catcher Juilin’s turn, and I vaguely remember a couple of other instances… don’t worry, no spoilers. I just think that these remorseful “sinners” are an interesting contrast to the Forsaken and the Black Ajah — some of the “bad guys” turn out to be good guys at heart, though of course some of the good guys might not be as good as we think they are!

Questions:
  • Did anyone else pick up on that whole repentance/remorse thing, or am I reaching for some kind of meaning that isn’t really there?
  • Have your opinions of any of these characters started to change now that we’re a few books in?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Women in Science History Event 2017

March 3, 2017 Books 2

I’m excited to sign up for Doing Dewey’s Women in Science History reading event this month!

Here are the details; head over to Doing Dewey (link above) for more info or to sign up:

All you have to do to join in, is link-up one review of a book about a female scientist. You can read nonfiction or historical fiction for the challenge as long as the book you pick features a non-fictional female scientist. I’ll post a link-up for your reviews every Friday and my goal is to also post a book review each week as well. If you want to join in, check out my suggested reads[…]

I just borrowed the audiobook of Hidden Figures from the library to listen to during my commute, and I also got a copy of Lab Girl for this past Christmas so maybe I’ll be able to squeeze that one is as well. (No promises — this is going to be a busy month.)

Last year I read Jane Goodall’s book In the Shadow of Man for this event; check out my review here.

Will you be participating — and if so, what do you plan to read?


Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 2 – The Marvelous Land of Oz

February 27, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 7

Welcome back to Oz!

Book 2 – The Marvelous Land of Oz

Young Tip runs away from his guardian, the witch Mombi, taking with him Jack Pumpkinhead and the wooden Saw-Horse, and flees to the Emerald City where he learns the incredible secret of his past.

My Thoughts:

Uh… what just happened? That was a wild ride!

OK, I admit that I was a little annoyed by Tip at first. I know Mombi is supposed to be a Bad Guy, but for some reason I found her much more interesting and slightly more sympathetic than the Wicked Witch of the West in the previous book.

I also have to say that I was a little confused by the whole coup thing with the Scarecrow… but that scene between him and Jack Pumpkinhead and their “translator” was adorably funny. Cheesy, sure, but cute. I like a little cheese every once in a while.

Actually, several scenes were a little confusing. Or maybe not so much “confusing” as “WTF just happened” or “was there a point to this”? Don’t get me wrong, this was a good fun romp of a story, but… are ALL the Oz books going to be as random/manic as this?

I quite enjoyed the addition of all the wacky new characters/creatures, like The Gump in particular — I hope it shows up again in future books. And the Woggle-Bug’s terrible puns were DELIGHTFUL.

I do wonder if Baum was trying to get political with all the Girl Power / Evil Feminazi stuff. The book seemed to be simultaneously poking fun at feminists while praising other leading ladies — even so far as turning a boy into a girl. I’ve tried not to read too much into all this, though — after all, the book was written while the 20th century still had the shiny on it and the 19th Amendment was still nearly 2 decades off.

So… tell me what you thought of this one!

Questions:
  • Did you particularly like any of the new characters/creatures? Or were you hoping for more old favorites from the first book?
  • Do you ever feel a little twinge of sympathy or unwarranted fondness for “bad guy” characters?
  • What did you think of all the gender politics stuff in this book? Do you think Baum was making an eloquent point about the feminism of his day, or is that maybe reading too much into a wacky little kids’ book?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 2 – The Great Hunt

February 18, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 4

Welcome to The Adventures of Rand & Friends, Part 2.

Book 2 – The Great Hunt

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. For centuries, gleemen have told of The Great Hunt of the Horn. Now the Horn itself is found: the Horn of Valere long thought only legend, the Horn which will raise the dead heroes of the ages.

And it is stolen.

My Thoughts:

Dude, SO MUCH happens in this book. It’s hard to kind of wrap my mind around all of it at once.

One of the worst/most surprising series of scenes in WoT World happens in this book. In an attempt to avoid spoiling anyone who hasn’t read it yet (WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, GO READ IT), I’ll just say it starts with the scene involving the four “Too Big For Their Britches” girls meeting the scary invaders who like to keep people as pets. I couldn’t stop cringing over it for days after I read it the first time.

On a lighter note, one of my favorite characters in the series — maybe my absolute favorite character? — shows up in this book: Verin, of the Brown Ajah. The way she just casually tells the Amyrlin and Moiraine that she knows what shenanigans they’re up to and she wants in on it is pretty funny. And… not to be too spoilery, but a revelation that we get about Verin several books from now is actually hinted at here, and I have to brag that I caught it the first time I read the series — although, at the time I thought it was some kind of continuity mistake, so I can’t take too much credit.

There are a few scenes that really captured my imagination. The first is the scene where Rand is introduced to/interrogated by the Amyrlin and only manages not to make a complete fool of himself thanks to Lan, Moiraine’s Warder. Just… something about this battle-hardened, Aes Sedai-beholden man doing what he can to help out Idiot “The Chosen One” Farmboy, despite everything… it’s nice, you know? I also thought Nynaeve’s test to become Accepted was interesting, and Loial’s little flirtation at the stedding was cute.

Finally, I just really enjoyed the addition of all these unique characters to the cast. Verin, of course, and Siuan and Leane, Hurin, etc. I guess I like stories with lots of interweaving plots and varied character perspectives — although, if I remember correctly, this series starts to get a bit overcrowded and the addition of new characters won’t be quite as exciting after the first few books.

Questions:
  • Was there a particular scene (or more than one) that you really enjoyed, maybe even made you laugh?
  • Conversely, were there any scenes that you totally did NOT enjoy, either because something Really Bad happened or because the characters were just being buttheads/idiots?
  • Were you actually surprised by the behavior or revelations of any of the characters? (The first time you read it, if this is a re-read for you.) Or did you see all the little “twists” coming a mile away?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.