Posts Categorized: Books

Backlist Love | Slightly Depressing SFF

October 1, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 4

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.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Anchor Books, 1998)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Delacorte, 1969)

The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Why I liked them

Don’t let the title of this post fool you — even though these books aren’t exactly uplifting, they do give me ALL THE FEELS. They’re both very political, tackling super tough topics like war and misogyny, but through the lens of somewhat absurd (initially, anyway) sci-fi circumstances.

Who I’d recommend them to

Um… everyone? OK, I guess folks who aren’t really into spec fic in the first place will probably not appreciate these books as much as they ought to be appreciated. I’d especially recommend The Handmaid’s Tale to folks who got really into the recent YA dystopian craze — especially to young women who are exploring their political opinions/options for the first time. Slaughterhouse-Five is a must-read for fans of Star Trek and other classic, thought-provoking science fiction stuff.

Links

The Handmaid’s Tale

Slaughterhouse-Five

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The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury

September 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury | May 1950, this ed. 2012 | Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor; of crystal pillars and fossil seas, where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.

When I compiled my Classics Club list, I purposely sought out classic books in the realms of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. To be honest, I rather prefer the stuff closer to the Fantasy side of that spectrum, and — again with the honesty — I don’t think I would have picked up this particular book if it hadn’t been for the Classics Club challenge.

The Martian Chronicles is really a collection of related short stories rather than a “real” novel. The stories begin at a time when Earthlings first begin to land on Mars and meet the native inhabitants, and proceed along to the point where a little group of humans become the Martians.

Of course, this book was written nearly two decades before we landed on the moon — several years even before the Space Race began. So, a lot of what a modern reader might consider “expected” in the way of terminology and technology and culture is completely reimagined. For example, space ships are generally called “rockets”… and mid-20th-century gender roles/expectations are quite firmly enforced, even for the original alien Martians themselves. It’s a little jarring, not gonna lie, but that’s the sort of thing you learn to expect with these old books, y’know? Not worth burning the book over, but I definitely rolled my eyes a few times….

I found this book kinda hard to rate because I wasn’t really grabbed by it (if it had been something I’d started on a whim, I might not have bothered to finish) but I can also see why it is so widely considered a classic. Bradbury’s writing is generally clean but beautiful in its own way, and the characters — while not 100% 3-dimensional — are interesting and realistic.

Further complicating matters, this particular edition does not include 2 stories that have been included in some other editions — “The Fire Balloons” and “The Wilderness” — while it does include a story sometimes cut from other editions, “Way in the Middle of the Air”. I suppose I can see why overly-cautious editors would cut the latter, as it includes quite a few utterances of the n-word. However, the story is quite clearly inspired by the budding Civil Rights Movement of the ’50’s-’60’s.

In the end, I’m glad I read The Martian Chronicles but it isn’t something I’d unreservedly recommend to other readers. But it’s a fine choice if you’re looking to expand your experience of early speculative fiction!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


Links:


Publication information: Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.
Source: Thrift shop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys

September 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys | 1966 | W. W. Norton | Paperback $14.95

With Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys’ last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

What can I really say about this book that hasn’t already been said, and by people far more eloquent than myself?

Whatever, it’s MY OWN DANG BLOG, DANGIT.

Anyway, this might not have been the absolute best time to read this book? I mean, Jean Rhys Reading Week, so that’s one point in its favor. But I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and… well, this (IMHO) was a fantastic novel. So on the one hand, I was actually motivated to read and was super happy to have spent my time on it! But on the other hand, how can anything else compare to this???

OK, maybe I’m just being overly dramatic.

TBQH, I might not have picked up this book if it weren’t for the word “Sargasso” in the title. Now, I know that might seem weird, but hear me out: I live on the Gulf Coast. Every year, we (or some other spot in/on the Gulf of Mexico) will get an influx of this Sargassum shit. I realize that might seem like a crazy reason to put a book on your TBR list — it happens to mention a type of seaweed in the title! oh joy! — but is it honestly any worse than “the cover is pretty” or “it’s a classic so people SHOULD read it”… ?

In any case, I am so, so glad that I put this on my Classics Club list — and I’m so, so grateful to the folks who hosted Jean Rhys Reading Week this year. Maybe this was just what I needed to read at this point in my life? It kinda felt like it….

So: You? Have you read this novel — & what did you think of it? Did you participate in Jean Rhys Reading Week, too?


Links:


Publication information: Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1966. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal use.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Jean Rhys Reading Week

September 11, 2016 Books 4

I’m participating in Jean Rhys Read Week, an event / semi-mini-challenge(?) co-hosted by the Lonesome Reader, JacquiWine, Poppy Peacock, and Margaret Reardon.

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I only picked out one book to read this week: Wide Sargasso Sea. Hey, it’s already on my Classics Club list!

A couple of readers I trust think it’s an awesome book… and it isn’t too intimidating. I’ve been in kind of a reading slump lately, so I’m hoping that this will be the book that rekindles my interest.

I’ll probably be mostly participating on Twitter and/or Goodreads, but I’ll post a book review here at the blog by the end of the week as well.


The Book
by Keith Houston

September 5, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston | August 2016 | W.W. Norton & Co. | Hardcover $29.95

We may love books, but do we know what lies behind them? In The Book, Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, thread, glue, and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the words on its pages—of civilizations, empires, human ingenuity, and madness. In an invitingly tactile history of this 2,000-year-old medium, Houston follows the development of writing, printing, the art of illustrations, and binding to show how we have moved from cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls to the hardcovers and paperbacks of today.

I haven’t been reading a whole lot lately, but at least when I actually DID read, it happened to be a fantastic book-about-books!

I got an ARC of this in e-book format via Edelweiss (and I’m a bad reviewer for not even finishing reading/reviewing until after the publish date, but whatever) and the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking, “I NEED this book IN MY HANDS.” Now, don’t get me wrong, the e-book is perfectly nice, but we’re talking about a book that covers everything from papermaking to binding to mass printing… so if you’re at all a fan of the physical object we know as the book, you’ll probably enjoy reading this in its classic format. The printing of this book in particular is quite lovely — and it includes many full color illustrations/photos, which is a huge plus in my book. (Ha.)

I’m convinced that this would make the PERFECT gift for any bookish person on the planet. I know it’s on my wishlist, and I can think of at least one person who’ll probably be getting a copy from me as well.


Links:


Publication information: Houston, Keith. he Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wine Folly
by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

September 4, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack | 2015 | Avery | Paperback $25

Red or white? Cabernet or merlot? Light or bold? What to pair with food? Drinking great wine isn’t hard, but finding great wine does require a deeper understanding of the fundamentals.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine will help you make sense of it all in a unique infographic wine book. Designed by the creators of WineFolly.com, which has won Wine Blogger of the Year from the International Wine & Spirits Competition, this book combines sleek, modern information design with data visualization and gives readers pragmatic answers to all their wine questions….

I like wine, but getting “into” it was a little bit intimidating. All the new vocab, funky tasting methods, and just the general snootiness of oenophile culture can be kind of a hurdle to get over, you know?

A while back, I dug around in the internet for wine websites and blogs. There are plenty of them out there, but Wine Folly is different from most. It seems more welcoming to newbies, more casual/fun/relatable. I was super happy to see that the creators of the Wine Folly website had published a book by the same name.

highly recommend this blog + book to anyone who’s interested in learning more about wine yet might be hesitating because of how intimidating the whole wine scene can seem. The book starts with the basics — how to store wine, carefully taste it, and pair it with food. Then come the wine style profiles, followed by info about regions where the grapes are grown and how geographic origins can affect quality. This is all accompanied by simple but attractive infographics that make it all so much easier to understand.

The real reason I’m reviewing this book — besides the fact that I really do think y’all out to check it out — is because I’ve just started the Wine Folly tasting challenge. This involves tasting 34 wines from the 12 main wine-producing regions, with at least 1 or 2 selections from each of the 9 main wine styles (aromatic white, full-bodied red, and so forth). I originally intended to get this done by the end of this year, but (1) I’m trying really hard to watch my calories right now and (2) I’ve got a lot going on between now and then, what with the holidays and some big work projects and stuff, so I can’t realistically commit to tasting X number of wines per week. If I taste just 1 or 2 wines per weekend, I should be done with this challenge by the end of next April at the latest.

So, how about you — do you enjoy wine? Have you done much exploring with it, or with any other type of beverage you like (tea, craft beer, or whatever)?


Links:


Publication information: Puckette, M. and J. Hammack. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. New York: Avery, 2015. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery

July 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 8

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★ ★ ★ ★ 

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery | 1908, this ed. 2014 | Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

When Anne Shirley arrives at Green Gables, she surprises everyone: first of all, she’s a girl, even though Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew specifically asked for an orphan boy to help around the farm. And second of all, she’s not just any girl: she has bright red hair, a wild imagination, and can talk a mile a minute. Anne has a temper as fiery as her hair and a knack for finding trouble, and she also has a big heart and a positive attitude that affects everyone she meets.

FIRST, I just have to fangirl for a minute over this gorgeous cover. *pets*

This was a re-read for me, although it’s been years since I read it last. To be honest, my memory of the book was a bit off! I remembered Anne as being an annoying, sickly-sweet character, and for some reason I imagined Marilla as a kind of villain?

Reading it again now as an adult, I found Marilla to be a much more sympathetic character. I did still find Anne a tiny bit annoying in some ways (all those giant wall-o-text ramblings, for instance), but she’s less of a Pollyanna than I remembered — not so much the eternal optimist, more like a little drama queen prone to rhapsodies of imagination and emotion.

I also enjoyed this book for its quality as a kind of snapshot in time. It is set in the Canadian Martimes in the early 20th century, and there are many interesting little historical details, like food and drink, rural public schooling, early feminism, and fashion of course — who can forget Anne’s obsession with puffed sleeves?

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll read the rest of the series. I don’t think I ever read them before? But I am glad that I put this on my Classics Club list and tackled it this year for the Women’s Classic Literature Event.


Links:


Publication information: Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. New York: Aladdin, 2014. Print.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

July 2, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★

The Awakening by Kate Chopin | 1899 | Del Rey | Project Gutenberg $0

Edna Pontellier is a young woman living comfortably in the beautiful city of New Orleans. She is fond of her husband and proud of her sons but finds it impossible to accept that for women it is a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals. She fights back in the only manner she knows.

I put The Awakening on my Classics Club list because it is often included in studies of feminist history, which is a subject that I find very interesting. Plus, not gonna lie, it’s short. So I went into this story knowing nothing more about it than that.

I somehow managed to avoid finding out what happens to Edna (the main character) before reading, and I think this really affected my reaction to the story. So if you haven’t read it yet, please keep in mind:

This review contains spoilers.

Here, have a bit of a line break while you think about whether you want to go on reading this review or not….

– – – –

I wasn’t really expecting Edna to commit suicide, in part because the few reviews I had read before even putting The Awakening on my to-read list made only oblique references to her “choice to leave” or similar.

Now that I understand what they mean, I’m particularly confused by the negative reviews that complain about Edna being generally unrelatable/immoral and condemn her gradual, then suddenly final abandonment of her family. I would argue for a more empathetic view of the situation.

I think the ending of the story shines a particularly illuminating light on the main character’s previous thoughts + actions. The woman is depressed or otherwise mentally unwell. She is having a crisis. This crisis is caused by her being “boxed in” to a particular role by her culture, a role she is not suited for but cannot wholly escape except in one way.

She begins to have an emotional affair with one man, then a physical affair with another; she sends her children away to live with her husband’s family and leaves her husband. Her instability is obvious to everyone around her, and at one point a doctor encourages her to come to him for help. But what kind of help could he really have offered, in this era before psychotherapy and SSRIs?

This was all terribly shocking behavior to the Victorians that were this story’s original readers. Of course a modern reader, especially a socially conservative one, might also think her actions are repugnant — but we also live in a culture where women can have careers and don’t have to marry well or risk lifelong poverty/seclusion, where having children is a positive choice rather than the default assumption, where people can get divorced if their marriage falls apart instead of being unhappily trapped forever. It’s impossible to judge Edna by modern standards when she didn’t have the advantages of modern options.

Well, anyway, this was a depressing story, and not at all what I was looking for when I was hoping for a bit of “light” summer reading. On to the next one….


Links:


Publication information: Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Company, 1899.
Source: Project Gutenberg.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Backlist Love | Two Preston & Child Novels

July 1, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

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.

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Riptide by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Macmillan, 1998)

Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Macmillan, 1995)

Relic

Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human…

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders. Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

Riptide

For generations, treasure hunters have tried to unlock the deadly puzzle known as the Water Pit: a labyrinth of shafts and tunnels that honeycombs the heart of a small island off the coast of Maine. Reputed to be the hiding place of pirate treasure, the Water Pit possesses an inexplicable ability to kill those who venture into it, from professionals to innocent explorers. But now one man has made a startling discovery: The Water Pit is actually a carefully designed fortress, conceived for pirates by a renowned seventeenth-century architect who hid his plans in code.

A thriller of the highest order, Riptide is an extraordinary novel of obsession, courage, and adventure. With each nerve-racking page we are swept into the mystery and the challenge of Ragged Island and forced to face the haunting question: Is the Water Pit a gateway to limitless treasure–or to hell itself?

Why I liked them

Actually, I chose to feature these books today because my spouse really likes Preston & Child books, and today is his birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to tell y’all a little about how the other half reads.

I do like these two titles in particular, though. Relic is actually the first in a series of books that follow the thrilling adventures of investigator Aloysius Pendergast, but I think it stands well on its own. I loved the museum setting and, like, it doesn’t *exactly* involve dinosaurs, but it kind of does? No spoilers! Riptide really is a stand-alone, and I enjoyed it in particular because it involves pirates and a mysterious curse.

Preston & Child are masters of thrill and suspense. I was too keyed up to sleep properly after I started reading Relic the first time. And don’t let the double authorship turn you off — it’s really impossible to tell which bits are written by which person.

Who I’d recommend them to

These are great books for anyone looking for a contemporary (er, semi-contemp by now I guess), science-ish / paranormal-ish thriller. Relic is possibly the better of the two, but if you aren’t sure about starting a series right now you should definitely give Riptide a try. Like Michael Chrichton or Dan Brown? You should definitely try these books.

Links

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2016 Projects Halfway Point

June 30, 2016 Books 2

Well, we’re now done with the 6th month of the year, so I guess it’s time for a check-up on my little projects, eh? (Here’s my Current Projects page, FFR…)

Foodies Read

I’ve read 4 books so far for this challenge. I still have a couple of other “foodie” books that I want to tackle before the year is out, though.

  1. The Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury — Reviewed 18 June 2016
  2. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson — Reviewed 27 Feburary 2016
  3. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt — Reviewed 31 January 2016
  4. Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm — From Scratch by Lucie Amundsen — Reviewed 9 May 2016

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge

I don’t review every single book I read, and several of the books I’ve pulled off my own shelves this year for this challenge have passed “under the radar” in this way. Plus, I’m on a mini book-buying ban until after our trip to Chicago later this summer.

  1. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen — Currently reading
  2. Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson — Reviewed 27 February 2016
  3. The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe by Allison Dolan — Read January 2016; Not reviewed here
  4. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt — Reviewed 31 January 2016
  5. Foundation by Isaac Asimov — Reviewed 29 January 2016
  6. How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman — Currently reading
  7. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman — Read March 2016; Not reviewed here
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Reviewed 6 March 2016
  9. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore — Read April 2016; Not reviewed here
  10. Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind — Reviewed 13 Feburary 2016

Women’s Classic Literature Event

I’m quite glad the Classics Club initiated this project, as it’s given me a little bit of a push to tackle a few more books on my CC list.

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery — Currently reading
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin — Review coming soon
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell — Reviewed 19 June 2016
  4. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall — Reviewed 26 March 2016
  5. Middlemarch by George Eliot — Abandoned!
  6. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — Reviewed 6 February 2016

Movie Musicals Challenge

Oh dear – I’ve only watched 4 out of 25 titles on this list! Well, to be fair, I thought I watched Show Boat, but it wasn’t the 1936 version that made the AFI list. I didn’t at all like the version from the ’50’s that I did watch, so I’m not counting it and I’m holding out for the “real” film – if I can find it in a nearby library or streaming somewhere.

  1. On the TownReviewed 26 January 2016
  2. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers — Reviewed 20 June 2016
  3. The Sound of Music — Reviewed 4 June 2016
  4. The Wizard of OzReviewed 5 March 2016

Well, I can’t say that any of this is particularly impressive, but I can say that these little challenges have induced me to read/watch things I never would have thought of otherwise, so that’s something. Wish me luck with catching up!