Friday, August 29, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green // Gus is Not My Dream Guy


Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

I finally read it. 
And I see why it became the cultural phenomenon that it did. I really do see.
But for some reason - it didn't make it to that level for me.

That's not to say I didn't like it - on the contrary, it was an excellently written book, and I did enjoy it. And if it wasn't the HUMONGOUS bestseller that it is, I wouldn't feel the need to write this first part as a sort of "disclaimer" or whatever it is. 

So let's dive in and talk about TFIOS. Because there is a lot to talk about.

Firstly - this is the only John Green book I have ever read. Should it have been the one I started with? Who knows? Either way, it was my introduction to his writing, and the one thing I couldn't stop thinking about it was:

Goodness, John Green clearly knows his literature

It is so obvious to anyone who has read a good amount of classic literature (as I have) that John Green is stupendously well read. And I always love to read a well read author. It just feels good.
Because well-read authors invariably write well themselves - how can you not write well after having read all those books that make up the foundations of good literature? You have an excellent feeling for the flow of words and how they fit together to produce memorable prose. 
John Green has that feeling. He writes beautifully.

Let's look at characters now.
Primarily Gus.
Why does every girl say that they are looking for their Augustus Waters? (I asked this same question about Mr. Darcy last year.)
I know Augustus is supposed to be this adorable dream guy, but seriously.
If some random guy was staring at me for that long (and yes, I know there are reasons, but Hazel didn't know them at the begining), I would get creeped out! Even if he was hot. Especially if he was hot. The hot guys are the creepier ones, especially the ones like Gus who KNOW they're hot, so they KNOW they can get any girl.

Anyway, my little rant aside, Gus turns out to be a nice guy, rather too obsessed with metaphors - but hey, I don't mind that. He's smart, literate, and cute. Not bad.

Now I'm realizing that my problem here isn't with Gus, as much as it is with his relationship with Hazel. If that's not love at first sight, I don't know what is. I thought we were OVER that in this kind of literature. It just went SO FAST and I hated that. I HATE whirlwind relationships. Yes I know they are dying and have little time but PLEASE. And this is why I don't particularly like Gus. He seems to be the one pushing the relationship, he's the bigger flirt, he speeds it all up. It sort of ruins it for me.

On to Hazel. I liked Hazel.
Is she supposed to be kinda introverted? Because that's how she seems to me. She seems like an introvert that doesn't exactly mind being around people - not shy, but not outgoing and super talkative either. Guys, I'm that way. I love it when a character is a non-shy introvert (there are so few of them), because I relate to them on a personal level. And perhaps this is another reason why I didn't exactly like Gus - I felt like I could be Hazel (if I was dying of cancer, maybe), and so I judged Gus as though he were really my boyfriend. It was super personal.
I don't know if that makes sense.

Everyone talks about how funny this book is in the face of death and how all the gallows humor is awesome, so I will ditto that. I think that this is one of the big reasons why TFIOS is such a popular book - its a humorous yet serious look at teens with cancer. A realistic look. In real life, you have to joke about your troubles or else they will overtake you.

Can I add one more thing? I love Isaac. For some reason he's my favorite character. I adore his friendship with Gus, how they support each other during their moments of hardship, how close they really are. I feel like they were closer than Gus and Hazel were.

Anyway, there's my two cents on TFIOS. If I rated books, I'd probably give it three stars - Good. For some reason this book is so decidedly rate-able (that doesn't happen often).

Have you read TFIOS? What did you think? Have you seen the movie? (I don't think I will.)


Friday, August 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Shopping List!

As always, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Today's topic is: Top Ten Books You Want to Read but Don't Own Yet.
Well - I get my books from the library.
So I will modify this topic to: Top Ten Books I Will Buy on My Next Bookstore Trip. :-)
I have probably read all of them, which is why they are on this list. I only purchase books when I am sure they will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

4. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

5. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

6. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

7. Some H. G. Wells!

I'm sure there are a bunch more but my brain is filled with college right now... Speaking of college - I've got some homework to do (oh, phooey!) so I've got to scamper off. 

I have questions for YOU! I want to hear your answers - share in the comments!

Firstly, do you buy books or borrow them from the library - or do you access your literature in yet a third way?
And what are some books that you think EVERY personal  library should have?


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak // My Heart is Shredded


It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids - as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Here is what I knew about The Book Thief  right before I began reading it:

  1. It is set in WWII
  2. It is narrated by Death
  3. It made my sister cry desperately. 
If you don't know my sister, I would like to point out that #3 is a very rare occurrence. So I knew that there was Something Special about this book.

Still, I didn't realize it would turn me into a sniveling, tissue-less blob with a broken heart and shredded emotiones. (Seriously, I had NO TISSUES with me. I was freaking out the more I kept getting pummeled with feels, wondering what the heck I would do with all this ick on my face. Thankfully, I had just left work and had my dirty scrubs in my bag, so I used those. I was sitting on the steps of the Field Museum, bawling into some sky-blue scrubs, and the passersby must have thought I was crazy.)

Anyway, what I find odd about The Book Thief  is that Death is such an spoilery narrator. He/She continually warns us about who is going to die, but here comes the strange part - even though I knew what was coming, and had (I thought) steeled my heart against it, I still dissolved into that weepy, heartbroken blob when it happened. How does that even work? That goes against all logic. Markus Zusak is capable of working magic, obviously.

With Death narrating, it gives the book a slightly distant feel. Though the characters are spectacularly deep and well-written, I still felt that I was somehow watching from a distance, from above, because that is how Death is observing. And then, as though to emphasize this separation, Zusak employs an abundance of passive voice. Though, it is true (as my sister remarked) that passive voice has never been used so well and so perfectly. 

So one of my favorite bloggers, Kayla at The Thousand Lives, has this feature called Saturated Reads where she talks about what colors a book made her think of. The Book Thief made me think of that feature, because it has some pretty clearly defined colors for me. (Or non-colors, in a sense.) 
Anyway, here they are:

Its practically colorless, except for a hint of brown. And now as I look at those color blocks, I realize that those are really the colors of war. When we see a war film, its all very dusky, dark, and colorless - a lot of greys, blacks, and browns. And though The Book Thief isn't specifically about war, it's definitely about war's causes and effects, so I suppose those colors make sense. But the fogginess just adds to this feeling of distance, of separation. 
And those colors aren't the red, white, and black that are mentioned in the book. Though, now I think, perhaps they are, except covered in a layer of dust and fog. That would make even more sense.

I would now like to make a confession.
I keep comparing The Book Thief and Code Name Verity in my head, and I'm not sure why. 
They are two entirely different books, except for the fact that they are both set during WWII and both are written in a unique and unexpected way. Perhaps it is because I read them practically one after the other. But still - I really shouldn't be comparing them.

Whatever it is, my ultimate conclusion is this: 
Code Name Verity messed with me intellectually and made my brain explode - it is the first (the only) non classic on my mental Excellent list. 
The Book Thief made me break down in sudden, unstoppable tears in public - it is the first (the only) book to ever do that to me
Both of these things mean a book is of high quality in my opinion. 
So because I can't compare them - I will stop and just leave it at that.

Now go and read The Book Thief so you can also embarrass yourself by breaking down in utter distress while family members wonder about your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Or you could be wise and read it in your room with the door locked, which would have been the smart thing for me to do.

Now I just have to watch the movie of The Book Thief. (During which I know I will become a sobbing emotional blob again. Why do I torture myself so?)

Have you read The Book Thief? Did you cry? (Don't be shy, I know you did...)
Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Oh and - please warn before spoiling in the comments!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sunshine Award!

The fantabulous Robyn Hoode from Spiral Bound has kindly nominated me for the Sunshine Award, which is a bloggy questionnaire thing with even fewer requirements than our well-known Liebster.

So, here are the five questions that Robyn has asked me, and my corresponding answers:

1.What is your earliest memory?
The most specific one is probably when I was about two-and-a-half years old and we just bought our new grey van. It was evening - quite dark - and I was already in my PJ's. My parents announced to me that we had a new car, and so I rushed into my parents' room (which looked out over the street) and peered out of the window.
OMG we have a VAN! WOW!
For some reason I also remember my sister toddling next to me, but that would make no sense, since she had only just been born, or was a couple months old.
By the way, we still have that van. The AC is crap and the drivers-side window won't open and it smells like years of sweaty kids and spilled food, but it still takes me places!

2. What’s your favorite color?
I really don't have a specific favorite color. I enjoy green, as well as orange, but a shady sort of purple is also pleasing, as is a calming sort of blue.
I would like to point out that my first ever favorite color as a kid was yellow, which I've discovered not an oft-named favorite. I am proud of my unique childhood.
My special book
Also, I would like to mention that my sister's favorite color as a kid was "tutti-frutti," which gift-giving relatives interpreted as red, for some reason.

3. What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
Ugh this one is hard hard hard.
I'm going to go with:
My aunt and uncle got me the Complete Chronicles of Narnia with all the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes for Christmas a bunch of years ago. There it is:

4. Who is your current (living) favorite author?
Aw, you had to make it hard and put in that parenthetical, didn't you.
I'm going to have to say Maggie Stiefvater. I've only been a fan for a few months or so, but I am entirely in love.

5. Whatcha readin’ now?
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.

Now then, my questions for the Nominees:

1. Do you buy books from a bookstore, or borrow from a library more often? Why?

2. If you could have one fictional character as your best friend, who would it be?

3. Have you ever written a letter to an author - and actually sent it? (If so - did you get a reply?)(Note: I have done none of these things. Bad me.)

4. What is your favorite reading place?

5. If you could pick one kitchen utensil that describes you, what would it be and why?

And my nominees are:

Skylar Finn @ Life of a Random

Sky @ Further Up and Further In

Meg @ Adrift on Vulcan

That's it for this one, I think!
BUT: if you like my questions and I didn't nominate you, feel free to nominate yourself and grab the award. Just link back to me, please - and link me your post in the comments so I can read it!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Bible Project: Week 32 (Isaiah)

Darn. I'm a week behind again.

Isaiah was interesting - in certain bits. Then it just keeps repeating itself.
"Glorify the lord! He will shower you with glory! You have been bad! He will rain curses down upon you!"

It's all well and good for a few chapters - very eloquent.
But after a while it just gets old. We have 66 Chapters of this stuff.

Of course, it is just a collection of prophesies, not stories. As prophesies, they are very interesting, but I suppose that in such abundance they get overwhelming and just too much.

The writing is extraordinarily descriptive, however, but not quite as much as Psalms.
And some of the best verses from the Bible can be found in Isaiah.
It was just a bit of an overload. I am not looking forward to more prophetic books, but unfortunately, the whole rest of the Old Testament is prophesies.  

I am so ready for stories again.

That's all I have for Isaiah.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Coup' of Sorts

A short review, because I'm off to clean the unused fourth bedroom and turn it into my personal desk/bookshelf space!
PEOPLE - I am going to have my own bookshelf
Share in my ineffable glee

Anyway, on to A Coup' of Sorts by Howard Rosenzweig.

A Coup' of Sorts is a fast paced political thriller with elements of both the supernatural and of horror. It takes place in January 1979 in South America, with flashbacks to the Vietnam War, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and to the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. Les Cohen, a former American assassin during the Vietnam War, now a mercenary, has been enlisted by a Catholic priest to overturn the South American dictatorship he had helped to install. With the help of his wife, he must find the compassion he has so long suppressed, in order to follow through and not betray the priest, who himself has sought supernatural help from a rabbi friend in case the American fails him.

Can I please say that I think this book would be better as a film than as a novella?
- It's written in a very straightforward style and rarely describes things in very close detail.
- It feels like a screenplay, just the way that the actions and dialogue are written.
- There is way too much content for such a short book. So much content, so many flashbacks to so many different times. It's hard to keep track of when the scenes are so short.

This last point also is a reason why I think that for this story, novella isn't the best format. As a novella, there is minimal room for expansion of such an intricate plot.

My absolute favorite part was that Howard Rosenzweig inserted two songs into the book, that I think he wrote himself. They are excellently written lyrics!


A Coup' of Sorts is a complexly plotted story with the main flaw that it was told in the wrong format. I could see it being so much better as a film, or even a longer novel. But mostly a film.

And I'm off! To clean out my new space. :-)


Friday, August 15, 2014

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker // An Adventure in Ethnicities


Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. 

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. 

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

What a debut novel! I love this book for a variety of reasons: the characters, the writing, and, most of all, the infusion of culture into the story.

Let's talk about that - the culture part - first.

A Golem, you may know, is a creature from Jewish myth: a powerful, clay human-like thing, created by a rabbi, entirely obedient to it's master. However, if it once begins destroying things, it may not stop, and must be destroyed, so the master must be cautious.

A Jinni is a djinn, a genie, from Arabic folklore. You know, one of these:

And in the novel, these two mythological creatures meet, in that great melting pot of cultures - New York, of course!

And this is where Wecker shows her magic. She provides us with such an in-depth view of both Arabic and Jewish culture - the tastes, the smells, the idioms, everything. It is utterly fantastic. 

Culture fascinates me. Of course, in America, we have an american culture, but that's not what I mean. I mean ethnicity, and everything that comes with belonging to a certain ethnicity. I've always been interested in exploring the traditions and practices and mindsets of other cultures, and Wecker has been able to showcase the two cultures present in The Golem and The Jinni amazingly. 

I just adore the idea of combining two mythical creatures from two different parts of the world in one story. It's a spectacular plan. Also, the way that Wecker contrasted the characters of the Golem and the Jinni was great. They both had such depth to them.
They were practically opposites - clay and fire, obedience and freedom - and yet they were remarkably similar in that they were both stuck in a country that didn't believe in them, a country an ocean away from their home. 
And it's not just the two main characters that have depth. EVERYONE has depth. Everyone has some sort of backstory and purpose. At first there were a couple characters getting introduced that I wondered about - Will they actually be relevant to the plot? But they were. 

One thing that was a bit difficult, reading-wise, was the amount of flashbacks. The novel starts with the Golem coming to America, but of course we need flashbacks to hear about her story before. And the Jinni - gosh he had quite a history back when he lived in the desert. But his flashbacks were important and slowly taught us more and more about who he was and why he was stuck in a bottle and who had put him there. Though the flashbacks were sometimes confusing, they were definitely necessary to the plot, and could not have been written as non-flashbacks, since they added to the mystery of the novel. So that is definitely overlookable.

Highlight below for spoilers:

I also love that the Golem and the Jinni did NOT have a romance. The Jinni tried passion with Sophia Winston, and the Golem tried marriage with Michael Levy, and they both realized that, since they were not human, a relationship with a human wouldn't work. It just wasn't possible.
The next option was for them to fall in love with each other - but that didn't happen. The book is not about their romance - it is about their struggle in a world that does not accept their kind.
There is a hint at the end that they possibly worked something out, though:
Maybe, [the Golem] thought as she fastened her cloak, there was some middle ground to be had, a resting place between passion and practicality. She had no idea how they would find it: in all likelihood they'd have to carve it for themselves out of thin air. And any path they chose would not be an easy one. But perhaps she could allow herself to hope. 
So overall, I very much liked the book. The writing is detailed and rather lyrical, and the plot and characters are definitely unique. I'm very glad I read it, and can't wait for more Helene Wecker!

Have you read The Golem and the Jinni? If so - what did you think?
And either way - do you have any books to recommend that delve deeply into various cultures? Let me know!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein // Utter Perfection In Every Way


Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 


My brain cannot fathom the wonder that is Code Name Verity. It just can't.
This book. This book is just stunningly ineffable.
I cannot describe how amazing it is.

The characters.
The plot.
The writing.

I utterly and unendingly adore Code Name Verity.

Let me attempt to explain, without spoilers.
(This will be difficult, because practically anything involving the entire second half of the book is one huge spoiler.)


Goodness, I seriously don't know what to say, because I really want to spoil things. So I think I will.
If you haven't read the book, go read it now and then come back and read the rest of this post below the spoiler line. Just go read it because it is so good. SO GOOD.
(Because I clearly haven't mentioned that yet.)
And I know just saying IT'S SPECTACULAR and flailing about because of its awesomeness isn't a very good way to recommend a book.
So I will tell you something that actually means something:

Code Name Verity is the first non-classic to make it to my mental "Excellent" list.

That right there is a big deal, friends. That shows how highly I rank it.
I really think that it will be a classic in time. Seriously.

Okay, now is the time for you to dash off and read CNV if you haven't yet.
Everything below might potentially have a spoiler because I am just going to let loose.

(Comments are a possible spoiler-thriving zone, so don't read them if you haven't yet read the book. You can comment, just don't read the others. I'm not going to ask for no spoilers in the comments, particularly for this book.)


First: Because it is all written as a journal, we get such a good view of the characters. Julie's half of the book is totally different from Maddie's half. They have their individual voices, and I always respect any author knows their own characters so well.
Also, it's amazing how good of a view of the other characters we get through our two narrator's eyes.
Jamie is a spectacular example of this. He is awesome. I adore him. :-)
Von Linden in another example, because he's evil but that's not all he is. He has a daughter and he likes literature. His Gestapo actions don't define him - he's deeper than that.
And then there's Engel. What I find amazing is that Julie gets us to hate her, and then as we read Maddie's half, we realize she's not so bad after all. Which takes us perfectly into...

THAT TWIST. Oh my gosh I totally flipped when I found out that the whole first part was full of LIES. I had to go back and glance at the underlined words and find all the places that Maddie used when figuring out how to infiltrate the prison where Julie was prisoner.
Usually when I read, I tend to take everything that a first-person narrator says as hard fact. Or at least as their interpretation of the facts. But never ever would I have expected a narrator to make things up! I can safely say that that twist was one that I would never, ever have expected. Especially because it was written as a journal, and a journal is something that I think I can trust, right?
(Apparently not anymore.)

The journal style also really pulled me into a book more than usual. Books are supposed to make you feel like you're there, right? Well CNV did, except magnify the thereness by 20. Reading over that last sentence, I realize that sounded wierd, but I don't know how to explain this. I hope you understand. :-)

There is so much more to CNV that made it perfect, but it's super hard to articulate it all.
I adore it, and will definitely read more of Wein's books soon, especially Rose Under Fire. I heard Maddie comes back in that one. YAY!

I'm guessing if you've come this far you've already read Code Name Verity. Tell me what you thought! 


Monday, August 11, 2014

Classics Club Spin #7 Results!

The results for the spin are in!
The number chosen is...
And so I will be reading...

I am slightly intimidated by the size - but who am I to be daunted by thousand-page tomes? I've read Les Miz AND Gone With the Wind TWICE. Clearly I have nothing to fear when it comes to the size of my spin book. 

Have you read Hunchback? What did you think of it?
And do you get intimidated by large books?


Friday, August 8, 2014

Beautiful People #3: da Vale

It's that time again! Time for another character interview! And this time, it's a villain... 

Let me introduce you to Angelo da Vale, a member of the Council of the Ten, the most important judicial body in Venice. 

Also, I usually don't have a picture of my character, but I found one of da Vale! Except I think there should be slight hints of graying in his hair. He's a bit older.

Anyway, here we go:

1) What does your character regret the most in their life?
Regret? What is regret? Da Vale has no time for regret. He has a Council to run and a Doge to usurp!

But secretly, though he keeps pushing it away, he regrets breaking his relationship with his sister because of a small familial altercation. Justice was on his side, so he still feels he was in the right, but a small, hidden piece of his heart still misses her.

2) What is your character's happiest memory? Most sorrowful memory?

His happiest memory is when his love said she would marry him, twenty years ago. 

And there are two memories tied for most sorrowful.
One is his mother's face when da Vale said that he would never speak to his sister again.
And the second is when his fiance walked away from him, saying that da Vale's ambition was taking him from her. The next year, he heard of her marriage to another man.
3) What majorly gets on your character’s nerves?
V, another member of the Council of the Ten, who doesn't have a name yet. Da Vale highly suspects V of seeing through him, but V just keeps dropping little hints, and acting mysteriously, and da Vale CANNOT FOR THE LIFE OF HIM figure out how much V knows.
In other words, da Vale hates hates hates when people aren't transparent, or at least translucent. He prides himself on being able to see through people with just a little bit of inconspicuous probing.
Of course, he isn't transparent at all himself, but that's different (See #8)

4) Do they act differently when they're around people as opposed to being alone? If so, how?
He's quieter when he's alone, because he doesn't have an appearance to uphold. It's hard being a de facto leader and having to hide it. It takes effort pretending he's just at the level of all the other Council-members.

5) What are their beliefs and superstitions? (Examples: their religion or lack of one, conspiracy theories, throwing salt, fear of black cats.)
Well, he's Catholic, like everyone in Venice, at least in name. He goes to Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral every Sunday -
But really? Though he believes in God, he doesn't believe that God is minutely involved in the everyday life of humans. God is responsible for the Divine judgment once people die.
Here on earth, Da Vale will be the Judge, at least for Venetians.

6) What are their catchphrases, or things they say frequently?
"Now, now, let's not lose our heads."

7) Would they be more prone to facing fears or running from them?
I think running from them, but not exactly. More like covering them with a sheet and letting them gather dust. And then occasionally returning to them to see if they are still hidden properly.

8) Do they have a good self image?
Ha, what a question. 
Oh yes, definitely.

9) Do they turn to people when they're upset, or do they isolate themselves?
Da Vale trusts no one. He would never turn to anyone when he's upset, for fear of their usurping him and discovering his secrets.

10) If they were standing next to you would it make you laugh or cry?
Cry. Or just feel super uncomfortable, at least. He has a disturbing kind of smile.

What do you think of da Vale?
Have you written any favorite villains?


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Classics Club Spin #7

It is time for another Spin! 
Here are the rules, for those of you not familiar with it.

1. I pick out 20 books from my Classics Club list and number them 1-20
2. The Classics Club announces a number on Monday, August 11th.
3. I read the book that I assigned to that number by October 6th!

Again, I'm going to reuse the list from my last spin, and replace the one book I've read since. (Wow, great progress - not!)

So here's the list:


1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
3. Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
5. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

I Can't Wait to Read:
6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather 
7. 1984 by George Orwell
8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
10. The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I'm Dreading:
11. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (I started this one a few years back and only got a few chapters in.)
12. The White Company by A. Conan Doyle (Can you believe I've started this one twice and haven't finished it yet?)
13. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Well, this is both dreaded and anticipated. I'm both excited yet a little intimidated by the size...)
14. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I'm Neutral About:

16. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
17. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
18. The Man Who would be King by Rudyard Kipling
19. An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
20. The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Good luck to all participating!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store // So Very 2013

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

First off, yes, this cover DOES glow in the dark. I tested it. How awesome is that?

This was, quite possibly, the first book that I picked up at the library for no other reason but that it seemed interesting, based on the title and inside blurb. I had heard nothing about this book, either in the blogosphere or from my friends.
It is very, very rare for me to risk valuable reading time on a book that could, quite possibly, be a waste of that time. There are so many excellent books to read that I don't want to spend a single minute reading something terrible. So I generally rely on the recommendations of friends who share my reading tastes, or the reviews of bloggers I like.

Mr. Penumbra's turned out to be NOT a waste of time, luckily. It was fun and funny, and I wouldn't mind reading more of Robin Sloan's books. He has a friendly, causal writing style that suits our first-person narrator, and you can clearly tell that Slows loves and knows books and bibliophiles.
His writing makes me laugh. Here's one of my favorites:
"So we'll use hundreds of machines to do it all at once. We'll use Hadoop."
Everybody uses it. Google, Facebook, the NSA. It's software - it breaks a big job into lots of tiny pieces and spreads them out to lots of different computers at the same time."
Hadoop! I love the sound of it. Kat Potente, you and I will have a son, and we will name him Hadoop, and he will be a great warrior, a king!

Mr. Penumbra's is written in a very modern style. What I mean by this is that there are countless references to events, brands, and pop culture that are undeniably NOW. The setting can only be 2013 USA - no question about it.
My personal favorite reference that Sloan makes is the wonderful xkcd webcomic (which I love) - but you can see how that definitely confines the book to a certain year.
Not that that is bad, of course. It's just that I haven't seen it to this extent in a contemporary book.
(Though that may not mean anything - I haven't read many contemporary books.)
(But I compare this to The Raven Boys, which, though clearly modern, is not defined as 201X.)

Mr. Penumbra deals very much with the tension between traditional pre-tech practices and more modern technology. The entire story is about this pull. Is it all right to solve an age old puzzle by using Google's powerful programs? Sloan manages to find a satisfactory middle ground, and even makes fun of the popular argument - "Paper or e-books?" He knows all the supporting points on both sides. :-)
It's interesting, because we get to see a full range - from people who entirely support technology and cannot deal with analog, to those who abhor anything that hints at high-tech.
Corvina, the head of a secret society and , in a sense, the villain of the story, is one of the latter. Kat, Clay's girlfriend, is the complete opposite:
Kat bought a New York Times but couldn't figure out how to operate it, so now she's fiddling with her phone.

And Clay, along with Penumbra himself, is somewhere in the middle.

I did some research, because I was wondering about some of the historical characters that pop up in Mr. Penumbra. Turns out some of them are real, and others are figments of Sloan's mind.

1. The software Hadoop is real.
2. Gerritszoon, the typeface that is widely mentioned in the book, is not real, and neither is Griffo Gerritszoon, its creator.
3. Aldus mantius, the Venetian publisher and printer, who was apparently friends with a Francisco Griffo, was a real person. (See link for #2)

The one thing that stuck out for me (in a bad way) was the abundance of easy solutions whenever Clay and Penumbra and Co. hit a roadblock. Everyone had connections and everyone had simple ways of getting out of problems. Need someone with money? Oh yeah, your friend from highschool is a rich computer programmer now. Need access to a huge, powerful computer system? Oh wait - your girlfriend works for Google and can get you immediate access.
It was a bit annoying, but easily overlookable, since they weren't deus ex machinas and didn't just pop up from nowhere.

So overall, a fun read!

Have you read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore? What did you think?
And what is your opinion on grounding non-historical books in a specific year?


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Classics I Recommend to Non-Classic Readers

Hosted as always by the wonderful people at The Broke and the Bookish.

Today's topic is Books I Would Recommend to People Who Have Never Read X. And my X today is Classics.

One of the major reasons people avoid Classics is because they are just so dang loooooong.
So here are some nice short ones to start you non-classical folks off with!

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
Full of suspense, romance, mysterious death, creepy housekeepers, a title character who is DEAD for the entire book (not a spoiler) - oh yes, this book is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that Alfred Hitchcock made a movie of it.

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
I could gush about the writing in this book forever. Forever!
And it deals with life so straightforwardly and candidly. I definitely need to reread this book sometime soon.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
One of the greatest heroines in all of classic literature, in my opinion. Quite the strong lady.

4. Any book by H.G. Wells.
Some of the greatest Sci Fi. And very short reads, too! (Here's my review of The Island of Doctor Moreau.)

5. Any Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 
Who doesn't know who Sherlock Holmes is?
There are four novellas, but if you want something even shorter, there are the 56 individual short stories.

(And then you can watch Sherlock and feel awesome when you catch the show subtly referencing the original book.)

6. Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson.
In my opinion, the best of his books, though Kidnapped and The Black Arrow aren't too bad either. And Black Arrow has better female characters than any of the others.
(Also, can I say that the Disney movie of Treasure Island sucks? The 1934 one is even worse. The best is the one with Charleton Heston.)
(Can I also say that my sister had a humongoid crush on main character Jim Hawkins for practically the first twelve years of her life? She was so ready to marry him. :-D )

7. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Because guys, these are some of my favorite books ever! There's so much more to them than meets the eye... (even going beyond the whole Christian thing)

8. Edgar Allen Poe's creepy stories, such as:
(the creepiest, imo)

9. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Adorable and deep at the same time.

10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Well, this one's not exactly short, but... it never slows, that's for sure. The plot twists and turns in a thousand different directions, and neatly ties up in the end. It is some of the greatest plotting ever done by humankind.
But be sure to get a good translation. I read the one below.

(The Modern Library Classics, translated by Lorenzo Carcaterra)

Do you read classics? If so - which would you recommend to non-classic readers? And - if you have one - what's you're favorite classic?
If you don't read classics - any particular reason why not?