Sunday, January 29, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
In the meantime, The Huffington Post ran this article this morning about gender bias in the New York Times book reviews. Jennifer Weiner, one of my favorite authors, was featured heavily in the article. I don't always read the Times book reviews, but I found it interesting that Weiner pointed out that Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom was given a glowing review when it came out and many women who write similar books about families are dismissed as "chick lit" authors. Do you agree with Weiner?
Friday, January 20, 2012
In terms of the list above, I've only read a couple: The Kingkiller Chronicles and Shadowmarch. I got out of reading fantasy for a long time because of the issues I mentioned above, but I think the Kingkiller Chronicles are pretty solid. There are some stretches towards the end in both books that drag a bit and feel either unnecessary or too long. Shadowmarch, on the other hand, was insufferable. I quit halfway through the second book and I almost never stop reading books in the middle. I was pretty disappointed because I absolutely loved Tad William's other major fantasy series called Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, which I highly recommend. I really want to read The Way of Kings (the Stormlight Archive books) by Brandon Sanderson, but haven't gotten around to it yet. On one hand, I think he's done a fantastic job of finishing up The Wheel of Time books after the original author, Robert Jordan, died, but then again he's planning on writing 10 books in this series and I just don't think I have it in me to start another set of books that takes up fifteen years of my life. I'm going to try and wait until he's done the series.
I've read all of The Wheel of Time (starting when I was 15) and loved them. Granted they slowed down in the middle a bit as Jordan dragged the story out too much, but the first two are solid and three through seven are awesome. Sanderson's completion of the books are great. He's making things happen in the world and I'm really happy that he was chosen to complete the saga. The last volume is due to come out in the fall so this is the perfect time to pick them up. I've been contemplating rereading the entire series, but again, I just don't think I have it in me to start from the beginning and read all fifteen (I think that's how many there are).
One of my other favorites series is David Eddings' Belgariad. Eddings, who is now deceased, created a classic story. Poor farm boy gets swept into an adventure and is clearly destined for bigger things. The characters are definitely archetypal but the story itself is good. The sequels and prequels are weaker, although it's still nice to see the characters come back. He wrote a couple other series, but I didn't really get into them. There were too many similar characters between his worlds and they felt repetitive, although I did like the Sparhawk series a lot.
The best stuff happening in fantasy these days (in my opinion) exists in the young adult world. Growing up, there weren't a ton of options like there are now. But even then, I loved Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles and think they held up really well. I also read and re-read M. M. Kaye's The Ordinary Princess and Lynne Reid Bank's The Farthest Away Mountain. These days, kids can read so much more in the fantasy genre from Cornelia Funke's Inkheart Trilogy to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. These stories are fun, well written and have kids walking around with thick books in their hands like I haven't seen in years. Of course Harry Potter remains popular, as does Twilight and Eragon, neither of which I think are any good at all, but overall, if you are interested in fantasy, keep an eye on young adult lit. There's a lot of great, inventive stories being written and published all the time. And if you're looking for something grittier, like George R. R. Martin's books, see my recommendations above.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Until then, here's a list of what the Obama family is reading this winter. It was great to see The Phantom Tollbooth on there, as well as several other great books for the whole family.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
So Death Comes to Pemberley... well initially the story sucked me in. What Austen fan hasn't wanted to see what happened to Elizabeth and Darcy after Pride and Prejudice ended? PD James is clearly a fan and wrote this novel out of her own vision of what happened next for the whole P&P crew. I've never read any of James' other books so I'm not familiar with her writing. I read a few reviews that suggested that people who were not already fans of the author or Austen would enjoy this, but what non fans would even be interested?
So the story begins with six years after P&P ends with the Darcys (now parents to two boys) preparing for an annual ball. Soon enough Lydia Wickham arrives freaking out about how Wickham and Denny left their carriage and disappeared into the woods, after which shots were heard. Wickham is later found (this is all in the very beginning of the book) over Denny's body and faces a trial for murder.
I found the inquest and trial to be repetitive and boring. Austen's books typically tell more than show; often explanations are made in length and through letters before the plot can happily conclude. James tries this technique as well but it does not quite work. Explanations of events were reiterated through the trial and too much time was wasted reexplaining events that the reader already knew.
Also we barely saw the Bingleys or any other characters. We caught up with everyone from the original books, even briefly, and I enjoyed those sections although Charlotte Lucas was portrayed in a rather negative light. Elizabeth and Darcy hardly interacted. The reader spends most of the book in Darcy's head for scenes pertaining to the trial, which again were not super interesting. Then there were random chapters narrated by minor characters that felt out of place.
The mystery in the end was a bit obvious. I figured most of it out early on so there were few surprises. Also towards the end, Darcy and Elizabeth have this long conversation where they basically rehash the events of P&P, which again was repetitive and boring for a fan of the original. James had her own take on the events of P&P and I didn't really like some of her interpretations. There were a couple cute moments. As an Austen fan, I always wished that she would have characters from one book appear in the other. Couldn't the Darcys and Knightleys ever cross paths in London or something like that? Clearly I'm not the only one who wished for this. I caught a mention of the Eliot family from Persuasion and the Knightleys (and Harriet Martin!) from Emma. My mom said there was a Sense and Sensibility reference in there too but I must have missed that one and then she wasn't sure if there actually was one.
Next up is The Art of Fielding. I'm not really a big sports person but I've heard a lot of good things about this book, especially from my dad, who loved it. It's on the longer side, but hopefully won't take me more than a week. Stay tuned for the review!
Friday, January 13, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
As a character, Meg really spoke to me. She was geeky and felt out of place in her world. She was stubborn and quick to anger, but she would do anything for her family. And Calvin (the first tall adorable red head that I fell for before meeting my husband) recognized how special and smart and beautiful she was despite how her adolescent personality. Meg is completely three dimensional and easy to relate to. Her angst has a cause and over the course of the series, you really see her grow up and mature.
I started collecting Madeleine L'Engle books at some point. I loved the Austin family and Camilla. Recently I read her previously unpublished book, The Joys of Love, which was wonderful. I rarely read anything besides fiction, but I adored her memoir about life with her husband, Two Part Invention. I was even fortunate enough to hear her speak twice, and even got to meet her in person and had her sign my copy of Wrinkle.
Starting this month, Macmillan is running a year long celebration of A Wrinkle in Time and Madeleine L'Engle, which includes a graphic novel edition of Wrinkle and a brand new web page dedicated to Madeleine. I can't wait to see what else they come up with!
Anyway, it's a good article. Check it out!
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Monday, January 9, 2012
One of my favorite authors, Kate Morton, wrote a great book called The House at Riverton, which focuses on an upstairs/downstairs story set before and after World War I. Ethel the maid in Downton Abbey talked in the premiere about the world changing because of the war, which certainly affected everyone, but especially changed the life of people in service. The House at Riverton is a mystery and a family drama rolled together. It was fantastic and I can't recommend it enough!
My second recommendation is Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series. These are mysteries set after WWI, which focuses on the generation that survived the horrors of the war. Maisie was in service herself, but was a nurse during the war and after begins a detective agency. There's one book that centers on the white feathers that the women handed out during the war to any men not in uniform, which happened in the Downton Abbey premiere. I enjoyed the first few Maisie Dobbs' books a lot but never finished the series, although my mom still reads the books regularly and loves them.
Finally, A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book takes place in the years leading up to WWI. It features a Bohemian family living in England. The mother write's children's novels and the plot revolves around the various children, as well as the artistic types that fill their world, from Oscar Wilde to German puppeteers. It's a hefty book and I definitely read it with my phone opened to wikipedia to read about all the historical figures, but it was worth it!
I saw a lot of Brendan Coyle, who plays Bates in Downton Abbey, over the summer in another series called Lark Rise to Candleford. It also takes place in England, but earlier in history and features a lot of regular British actors that show up in a lot of the BBC productions, like Julia Sawala, from Absolutely Fabulous (which also premiered last night). It's about a young girl named Laura who moves from the tiny, poor hamlet of Lark Rise to the town of Candleford where she works in the post office with her cousin, Dorcas. I actually read about this series in an interview with Modern Family star Ty Burrell, who loved it. I've only seen the first three seasons (out of four), but Brendan Coyle is great (and infuriating sometimes) as the father of the family. If you like that show, also check out Cranford, starring the fabulous Judy Dench and featuring Michelle Dockery in the last season, who plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey.
Happy reading and watching!
Also, I was skeptical about Death Comes to Pemberley, but it kind of grabbed me so far. Clearly it isn't Austen, but so far I'm enjoying it for it's own sake.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
My goal for the day was to finish World War Z, by Max Brooks. I started it on New Year's Eve, so it took me a little longer to finish it than my normal five day average for a book. I know when I slow down a bit that I'm not fully engaged in what I'm reading. But today, my husband went to work, so I settled in to finish the last 25%.
Since it was Sunday, I went to spin class at 11am and had the rest of the day pretty much free, so I finally got to relax over a cup of tea, in my Anthropologie Homegrown Mug. How cute are these?! Yesterday we went to an opera matinee and then shopping so I never got to enjoy reading over tea.
Anyway, then it was time to get comfortable on the couch, with one of my favorite Christmas presents (I should really say two of my favorites - see the photo below) to finish the book.
So Max Brooks, the unofficial king of zombie literature, wrote this novel as a collection of personal narratives from a world wide war against zombies. I was intrigued by the premise, but had put off the book for a while because I had read Robopocalypse over the summer and read that World War Z was pretty similar, except with zombies instead of robots. Of course Robopocalypse came second and I have to admit that I wasn't really interested in robots, although it was scary to think about our technology like smart cars going against us. What I did like about Robopocalypse was that the same group of characters were revisited in each section so that you saw the war through a small group of people's recollections.
Max Brooks created dozens of characters and rarely revisited any of them, except towards the end. On the plus side, this meant that if there was a character that you didn't like, you probably didn't see them again, but of course if you were intrigued by someone's survival story, you never got to follow through on what happened to them during the war to explain why they were alive "today" when the narrator was collecting the stories. It also was difficult to remember characters from the very beginning who showed up again much later on.
The book is divided into eight sections: Warnings, Blame, The Great Panic, Turning the Tide, Home Front USA, Around the World and Above, Total War and Good-byes. Each section features various characters and their interactions with zombies. Some were military, the rest were civilians from various places around the world.
Some of the vignettes were excellent. I got pretty choked up during a story of a guy who lived out the war in Windsor Castle and talked about how the queen refused to leave and go into safety. He also talked about how medieval castles were used in Europe for protection, which made me start thinking about the Cloisters or the barn at Hancock Shaker Village, which are some of the closest buildings to castles that I have around me. There was another story about a handler for the dogs who were used during the war and how these tiny dachshunds were used to sniff out zombies. One of the best was about a blind survivor from the atomic bombs in Japan who lived in a state park during the war and fought off zombies using his other senses. His story briefly gets revisited at the end, which was nice. The one character that was revisited the most, Todd Wainio was the most interesting to me because we saw the most from him. So I guess that was the book's biggest failing. At first it was fascinating to read about all these little moments from various parts of the war, but then since there were so many characters, it was hard to care about the story overall. I saw this review, which I completely agree with: "Keith Phipps of The Onion's The A.V. Club stated that the format of the novel makes it difficult for it to develop momentum, but found the novel's individual episodes gripping."
Brooks never states when the book is supposed to take place. It's obvious that the initial outbreak took place sometime in our present (because of all the pop culture references: Waterboy, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Michael Stipe) and I'm pretty sure at one point it was stated that the narrator was collecting stories from twenty years after the war was over. So the WWII survivor would have been crazy old, and probably not up to killing zombies in a park. As a history teacher, I like clear timelines, so I found this a bit frustrating.
A couple things really stood out. There was this thing called the Redeker Plan, which was developed by an ex-apartheid government official in the book. The plan called for the government, military and a select group of people to be secured in a safe zone in South Africa, while the majority of people were left outside as living targets for the zombies. That plan ended up being adapted in most of the world, which is a scary thought. As an East Coaster, I was a bit freaked out by American running to hide behind the Rocky Mountains. Another things I found interesting was that many of American's immigrants became the saviors of society. In California, there were all of these white collar people who had no concept of how to labor for a living, while the immigrants ended up being used to teach the former 1% how to live. Brooks made the point that the blue collar workers and immigrants knew how to fix things and how to survive without a lot so they ended up rebuilding society. And of course, being an apocalyptic book, the whole theme is that the world needs to work together in order to survive as a species.
The wikipedia page for World War Z summed that up well:
I love my country enough to admit that one of our national flaws is isolationism. I wanted to combat that in World War Z and maybe give my fellow Americans a window into the political and cultural workings of other nations. Yes, in World War Z some nations come out as winners and some as losers, but isn't that the case in real life as well? I wanted to base my stories on the historical actions of the countries in question, and if it offends some individuals, then maybe they should reexamine their own nation's history.
While reading, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could survive a zombie apocalypse or other world wide disaster that cannot be controlled or reasoned with, which was what drove Brooks to write this: "The lack of rational thought has always scared me when it came to zombies, the idea that there is no middle ground, no room for negotiation. That has always terrified me. Of course that applies to terrorists, but it can also apply to a hurricane, or flu pandemic, or the potential earthquake that I grew up with living in L.A. Any kind of mindless extremism scares me, and we're living in some pretty extreme times."
I am interested in how this is going to be a movie. I read the other day that it was going to be a trilogy, which means that the writers are going to have to create a stronger narrative and stand out characters that last beyond one scene. Brad Pitt is going to be the narrator, traveling the world after the war to collect stories. It will be release on (of course) December 21, 2011... when I will be too busy hiding out from whatever end of world stuff is going to be happening to go to the movies. haha
Next up is Death at Pemberley by P.D. James. I'm usually opposed to authors writing sequels to famous books. I really enjoy Jane Austen (I've been reading one Austen a year for the last two years) but not so obsessively that I wouldn't read this. I've never read any P.D. James but I do like mysteries. Plus my mom really liked it so I'm giving it a shot. Stay tuned for the review!
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Speaking of book lists, here's a picture from last week's Entertainment Weekly. Justin Cronin's The Twelve is listed as one of the most anticipated of 2012. I seriously can't wait for this book. I thought The Passage was one of the best books I read in 2010 and I'm dying to know what happened after the major cliffhanger at the end!
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Monday, January 2, 2012
Sunday, January 1, 2012
1. The Radleys, by Matt Haig, (January 3-January 6)
2. The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart (January 6-8)
3. Reckless, by Cornelia Funke (January 9-January 11)
4. Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen (January 12-January 14)
5. In the Name of the Wind, by Patrick Ruthfuss (January 14-January 24)
6. Looking for Alaska, by John Green (January 25-29)
7. A Royal Pain, by Rhys Bowen (January 29-30)
8. Royal Flush, by Rhys Bowen (January 30)
9. Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan (January 31-February 8)
10. The Matchmaker of Perigord, by Julia Stuart (February 8-14)
11. Royal Blood, by Rhys Bowen (February 15-February 19)
12. A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness (February 19-February 27)
13. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (February 26-Mach 3; mini-term)
14. The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists, by Gideon Defoe (February 27- ; mini-term)
15. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (February 27-March 3)
16. Murphy’s Law, by Rhys Bowen (March 3-March 5)
17. The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Ruthfuss (March 6-18)
18. Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella (March 18-20)
19. The Carrie Diaries, by Candace Bushnell (March 20-22)
20. The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake (March 22-23)
21. Death of Riley, by Rhys Bowen (March 23-24)
22. Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, by Ayelet Waldman (March 25)
23. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, by Alan Bradley (March 25-26)
24. The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore (March 26-31)
25. Sweet Valley Confidential, by Francine Paschal (March 29)
26. For the Love of Mike, by Rhys Bowen (March 31-April 1)
27. The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald (April 1-April 6)
28. Red Hook Road, by Ayelet Waldman (April 6-April 10)
29. In Like Flynn, by Rhys Bowen (April 11-April 15)
30. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (April 15-18)
31. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (April 19-28)
32. The Miracle Inspector, by Helen Smith (April 28-May 2)
33. The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown (May 2-May 9)
34. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (May 9-May 15)
35. Three Girls and Their Brother, by Theresa Rebeck (May 15-May 19)
36. The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Pötzsch (May 19-May 25
37. A Red Herring without Mustard, by Alan Bradley (May 25- June 2)
38. Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brasheres (June 14-17)
39. Miss Peregrin’s School for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (June 17-June 19)
40. The Magician’s Assistant, by Ann Pachette (June 20-June 30)
41. Dead until Dark, by Charlaine Harris (June 30-July 2)
42. Decades, by Ruth Harris (July 2-7)
43. Godchildren, by Nicholas Coleridge (July 7- 11)
44. A Dance with Dragons, by George RR Martin (July 12-17)
45. Mini Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella (July 25-27)
46. The Plucker, by Brom (July 31-August 2)
47. The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles (August 2 – 5)
48. Then Came You, by Jennifer Weiner (August 6-7)
49. Roboapocalypse, by Daniel Wilson (August 7-9)
50. The Magician King, by Lev Grossman (August 10-15)
51. Room, by Emma Donoghue (August 17-18)
52. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon (August 18-20)
53. Something from the Nightside, by Simon Green (August 24-27)
54. Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan (August 27-29)
55. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (August 29-September 4)
56. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (September 4-10)
57. Naughty in Nice, by Rhys Bowen (September 10-13)
58. This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper (September 13-17)
59. The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta (September 18-21)
60. The Midnight Palace, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (September 22-26)
61. Girls in White Dresses, by Jennifer Close (September 26- 28)
62. The House of Tomorrow, by Peter Bognonni (September 29-October 3)
63. Miss Timmins School for Girls, by Nayana Currimbhoy (October 3-9)
64. The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy (October 9-20)
65. Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan (October 20-22)
66. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling (October 23-26)
67. The Infernals, by John Connelly (October 27-November 1)
68. I am Half Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley (November 2-6)
69. Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry (November 6-7)
70. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place II: The Hidden Gallery (November 7-11)
71. Matched, by Ally Condie (November 11-16)
72. The Messenger, by Lois Lowry (November 20-21)
73. I see you Everywhere, by Julia Glass (November 22-27)
74. The City and the City, by China Mieville (November 28-December 7)
75. The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (December 8-18)
76. 22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson (December 18-23)
77. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury (December 23-26)
78. The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford (December 27-29)
79. The Fairy Tale Detective, by Michael Buckley (December 29-31)
I read a bunch of graphic novels over the summer, but my husband won't let me count those in my books of the year list. He tries to read one book a month, but reads a lot of graphic novels, so really, he should let them count since he reads more comics than books.
There were lots of good 2011 books, but my favorite was The Night Circus, but Erin Morgenstern. It was so beautifully written. I've recommended it to a bunch of people who didn't love it like I did, but that's okay. It literally made me cry.
Here's my 2010 list:
1. The Child Thief, Brom (January 3-January 12)
2. The September Society, Charles Finch (January 12 –January 17)
3. Roman Blood, Steven Saylor (January 18-January 27)
4. Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde (January 27-February 5)
5. Nanny Returns, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (February 5-February 10)
6. Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead (February 11-February 13)
7. Frostbite, Richelle Mead (February 13-February 15)
8. Shadow Kiss, Richelle Mead (February 15-February 21)
9. Blood Promises, Richelle Mead (February 21-March 1)
10. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent (March 3-March 19)
11. Hood, by Steven R. Lawhead (March 19-April 1)
12. The Help, by Kathyrn Stockett (April 1-April 5)
13. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen (April 5/6-April 16)
14. Hand of Iris, by Jo Graham (April 17-May 2)
15. Fool, by Christopher Moore (May 1/2-May 11)
16. Scarlet, by Steven R. Lawhead (May 12-May 31)
17. La’s Orchestra Saves the World, Alexander McCall Smith (May 31-June 2)
18. Paper Towns, John Green (June 2-5)
19. Odd and the Frost Giant, Neil Gaiman (June 6)
20. The Ice Dragon, George RR Martin (June 7)
21. Water for Elephants
22. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
23. The Girl who played with Fire
24. The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest
25. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley (July 3-July 13)
26. Queen Bees and Wannabees, Rosalind Wiseman (July)
27. The Magicians, Lev Grossman (July 14-July 21)
28. The Mahabharata (finished September 8)
29. Fly Away Home, Jennifer Weiner (July 21-July 25)
30. One day, David Nicholls (July 25-August 1)
31. The Fleet Street Murders, Charles Finch (August 2-August 8)
32. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood (August 8-12)
33. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (August 13-24)
34. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (August 24-September 8)
35. Indigo and Ink, Natania Barron (September 8-September 19)
36. The Hedge Knight I, George RR Martin (September 20)
37. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (September 20-22)
38. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (September 22-24/25)
39. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (September 24/25-28)
40. The Gates, John Connelly (September 29-October 4)
41. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe (October 4-October 11)
42. The Prince of Mist, Carlos Ruis Zafon (October 11-October 13)
43. The Tale of Halcyon Crane, Wendy Webb (October 13-October 16)
44. The Passage, by Justin Cronin (October 16-October 26)
45. The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton (October 26-October 31)
46. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson (October 31-November 9)
47. A Stranger in Mayfair, by Charles Finch (November 10-November 14)
48. The House in Riverton, by Kate Morton (November 15-November 20)
49. Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart (November 21-November 27)
50. The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton (November 27-December 3)
51. Daisy Miller, by Henry James (December 3)
52. Matched, by Ally Condie (December 3-9/10)
53. The House on Durrow Street, by Galen Beckett (December 9/10-December 20)
54. The Children’s Book, by AS Byatt (December 20-January 2)
I'm not going to review these at this point. The ones that took me longer to read were probably ones I wasn't very into. The Hunger Games series, the Passage and Kate Morton's books were probably my favorites from the year.