Thursday, July 20, 2017

This Or That Book Tag

This tag was created by Wendy @ Falconer’s Library. <-- Go check out the original. 

--> This Or That <--

Buy new or buy used?

If I was rich, I’d only buy new books, but sadly, money is extinct in my world. Almost all of my books are used books that I traded for.

Eat while you read or read while you eat?

Nooo! I’m a germophobe. What I hate most about used books is that they’re often covered in mystery stains. I’m not going to do anything that could contribute more germs to their pages. Yuck. 

Reread old favorites or preorder upcoming possibilities?

I’ve never preordered a book. (I’m broke, remember?) I do love rereading my favorites, though. 

Read every single word or skim at times?

When I was in school, I almost always skimmed my textbooks and assigned reading. No one wants to read that boring school crap. I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. When I read for fun, I read every word.

Happy endings or tragic?

Realistic? I don’t like books that wrap everything up too neatly. That’s why I have a hard time with middlegrade fiction. The endings are too perfect. I also don’t like books that kill off characters at the very end for no reason. *Mumble* Divergent trilogy *mumble.* If an ending is realistic, I don’t care if it’s happy or tragic.

Audiobooks or ebooks?

Ebooks. I like my Kindle, especially for traveling. I’ve only listened to one audiobook and couldn’t pay attention to it. My mind kept wandering. Maybe I should try an audiobook while running? That might give me something to concentrate on besides how much my ankles hurt. I don’t even know where to find affordable audiobooks.

Multiple books at once, or one at a time?

Ideally, I’d be a book polygamist. I prefer to read one short story collection and one other book at the same time. If I don’t have any short story collections on my TBR shelf, then I’m a book monogamist. I don’t like reading multiple similar books at the same time.

Mostly one genre, or a little bit of everything?

Everything! I’m a believer in reading widely.

Lifelong obsession or later discovery?

I loathed reading when I was a little kid and refused to do it. When I was in fifth/sixth grade, I stumbled across a few books that didn’t suck, and my bookish obsession grew from there.

Classics—yea or nay?

I don’t read as many classics as I used to, but I try to finish a few each year. Classic horror is my jam right now. (Do people actually say “my jam”? Is that a thing?)

Read aloud to others or be read to?

Be read to. I hate reading aloud. That’s probably one of the reasons I disliked reading as a kid. My teachers used to make us take turns reading aloud to the class. I’m way too anxious for that. Nope, nope, not going to do it.

Absolute silence or background noise?

I need silence to read. I remember trying to read The Stepford Wives in an airport last year, and I had to start the book over when I got home because I was too distracted by airport stuff to absorb anything I read.

Cover on or naked?

I used to leave the cover on so that I didn’t lose it, but now that I have carpel tunnel, I can’t do that anymore. The cover slides around too much, which makes the book harder to hold, which murders my wrists. My books have to get naked before I hold them.

Dog-ear or bookmark?

Only demons dog-ear their books. Civilized humans don’t do that. Be a good person and use a bookmark, especially if you’re going to trade the book when you’re done with it. Nobody wants to spend their time flattening out your demonic book mutilations.

Movie covers or originals?

Originals. I hate movie covers because the characters in my head never look like the actors plastered on the cover. Also, I’m a hipster. Movie covers are way too commercial for me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. 
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Review: Judging by the Goodreads reviews, a lot of people have incorrect expectations about this book. It’s not the people’s fault. I think the synopsis is misleading and makes the story sound much more action-packed than it really is. This is definitely literary fiction. It’s slow-paced, character-driven, and reflective. The majority of the story happens before the apocalypse. If you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably like this book. If you’re looking for a fast-paced post-apocalyptic novel, then you should probably look elsewhere.

The apocalypse begins with a famous Shakespearean actor dropping dead in the middle of a performance. Then, a deadly pandemic sweeps across the globe. We follow a group of characters who were connected with the actor. The reader meets two of the actor’s ex-wives, his son, his best friend, his young costar in the play, and the paparazzo who made a living following him around. For twenty years after the apocalypse, these characters’ paths cross and re-cross until two of them meet in a final deadly battle.

“No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.” – Station Eleven

If the apocalypse happened right this second, what elements of human culture would you want to preserve? That’s mostly what this book made me think about. Since parts of the story take place twenty years after the apocalypse, there is a whole generation of young characters who never knew the pre-plague world. How would you want them to remember us? Would you preserve our art and culture? Our religions? Our technology? Our passports and ID cards? Random objects that may have only been meaningful to one person?

What I love most about this book is how the author uses important objects to weave the story threads together. It shows how our relationship with our “stuff” changes as our circumstances change. What seems insignificant now can become treasured later. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there’s a mundane object that’s repurposed in bizarre ways after the apocalypse. It provides a very creative plot twist.

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.” – Station Eleven

I can see why this book has won so many awards. It’s well-written and brilliantly structured. I’m a structure junkie who’s read a lot of books with unusual structures, so I appreciate the work that went into Station Eleven. This novel is nonlinear with multiple points-of-view. It takes an extremely talented author to pull that off without leaving the reader confused.

Even though I like the book overall, there are two elements of it that I didn’t love: the characters and the plot.

I never felt connected to the characters. The prophet is creepy, but I didn’t find any of the characters very compelling. Before the apocalypse, most of them are rich people with relationship problems. After the apocalypse, they spend most of their time wandering around. I guess they’re realistic, but I’m not interested in wandering or rich people problems. If you like learning about the lives of famous people, then you might feel differently.

 “They spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.” – Station Eleven

The plot also left me slightly disappointed. Most of the plague books I’ve read follow the exact same plot. Basically, if you’ve read The Stand by Stephen King, you can predict the plot of many plague books. First there’s a disease, then the characters wander around, then they form nomadic societies, then they form bigger societies, then they rebuild the world. I was hoping Station Eleven would deviate from that plot, but it didn’t.

Literary fiction is one of my favorite genres, so overall, I enjoyed Station Eleven. It’s worth reading for the structure alone. Just make sure you’re going into it with the correct expectations.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein

Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes—in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. 
Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

Review: When Goodreads told me that there was a historical fiction book set in 1930s Ethiopia, I knew I needed it. When I found out that it was written by the same author who wrote Code Name Verity, I knew that I needed it immediately.

If you’re looking for a story with strong female characters, check this one out. It starts with two female stunt pilots, Rhoda and Delia, who may be closeted lesbians, but their relationship isn’t completely clear. (It is the 1930s, after all.) They run an air show called Black Dove, White Raven and travel around the world doing stunts in their plane. They also each have a kid. Em is Rhoda’s daughter, and Teo is Delia’s son. They’re raising the kids together as siblings, even though they look nothing alike. Em is white and Teo is black. The unconventional family is thrown into chaos when Delia is killed in a plane accident. Rhoda decides to move to Ethiopia with the kids because that was Delia’s dream, and being an interracial family is easier there. At first, the kids love Ethiopia, but when Italy invades their new home, Em and Teo are drawn into the war.

“I have nothing to lose. I am going to dare it. I will aim for the sun.” – Black Dove, White Raven

I have to admit that I had huge (and probably unrealistic) expectations for this book, and it didn’t completely live up to them. Honestly, I was bored for the first half of it. The story is told in diary format from Em and Teo’s points-of-view, and it took some time for me to get into the writing style. For a young adult book, it’s quite slow and dense. There isn’t much dialogue. There isn’t much action. There are descriptions of planes and flying. It just didn’t hook me. This is probably more my fault than the book’s. If I had to make a list of things I don’t care about, airplanes would be on it.

For me, everything got much better when the characters arrived in Ethiopia. Suddenly, I was motivated to pick up the book. I couldn’t get enough of it. The story taught me about a place and a part of history that I knew very little about. I loved seeing Ethiopia through Em and Teo’s eyes. It’s a country with a complicated history and a fascinating culture. Africa is full of danger, but the kids were free to be themselves there. They didn’t have that same freedom in the US.

I also like the themes. The book is about colonization and where people belong. Where is “home”? Em and Teo grew up traveling around the world with their mothers. They don’t have a real home until they move to Ethiopia. But, do they belong there? Or are they just as bad as the Italians who are trying to invade the country and take it over? Ethiopia is where Em and Teo live, but they don’t consider themselves Ethiopian. So, is home where you were born? Where you have citizenship? Where you’ve spent the most time? Or, is it the place you’re drawn to most?

“I wish you could go through life without ever caring about anything, without ever getting attached to people and dreams and inaccessible places. It just makes you sad when you can never go back.” – Black Dove, White Raven

The most interesting part of the book is actually the author’s note at the end. The research that went into this novel is astounding. I’m impressed that Elizabeth Wein was able to blend fiction and reality so seamlessly.

I guess I have mixed feelings about this one. I appreciate the strong female characters and the research. The story focuses on a family instead of on romance, which I always like. Getting past the slow plot was a struggle, though. I expected more from this book, but I learned a lot, so that made up for the difficulties. I think.

“Things became more civilized all of a sudden. Coffee does that. Or maybe it is women who do that.” – Black Dove, White Raven

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Sunday Post #105

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein.
  • On Wednesday I review Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
  • On Thursday I do the This Or That book tag.
  • On Saturday there might be a book haul. I plan on acquiring books.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and read The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. Right now, I’m reading Cold Summer by Gwen Cole.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I started training for a half marathon. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. My first week of training was pretty easy, but I know I’m going to regret this in a few weeks.
  2. My sunflower plants actually have flowers now! Suck it, squirrels. Most of the plants got destroyed by squirrels, but a few survived. Grow survivors, grow!
  3. I started doing a massive book clear-out because my shelves are overflowing. This means I’ll have shelf space and lots of credits at the used bookstore. Then I can get more books. The never-ending cycle continues.
  4. I won a giveaway! I get a new book, and I’m pumped. 
  5. So much Game of Thrones. I re-watched seasons 4, 5, and 6. Bring on 7. I’m ready for it. If you love GoT, you should watch Kit Harington (he plays Jon Snow) audition for ALL the roles. I promise it's hilarious:

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Discussion: Rereading Ruins Everything

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

Okay, that title is melodramatic, but I’m having a crisis, people!

Before becoming a book blogger, I was a huge rereader. I probably reread more old favorites than new books each year. When I started book blogging, that all changed. I realized just how many books there are in the world. It seems like a thousand new ones are published every day. I pretty much stopped rereading a few years ago so that I could read ALL THE THINGS. 

But, I missed my old favorites, so I made a goal to reread at least one book a month in 2017. So far, I’ve reread 9 books (including the entire Harry Potter series), and I’ve rediscovered how much I love rereading.

When I made my goal, I didn’t know that it would wreak havoc on my life. Every time I reread a favorite, I end up with a massive book hangover. I spend days thinking about the favorite. I can’t move on. I pick up other books and put them down again. Whatever I read after the favorite just seems . . . unimpressive.

Then there are the star ratings on Goodreads. I honestly don’t put much stock in stars, but I do use star ratings to help me see at a glance which books I liked and which I didn’t. In the first half of 2017, I’ve only given 5 stars to 5 new-to-me books. At this point in past years, I’ve had way more 5-star reads. At first I figured it was just me being cold-hearted, but now that I’ve thought about it, I blame the rereads. I’m subconsciously comparing every new book to my old favorites. The newbies just aren’t as good as the oldies. Very few new books have excited me this year.

Speaking of excitement, that’s another problem. I’m way more excited about my To-Reread shelf than my To-Be-Read shelf. I want to be rereading. This is terrible for my TBR because I haven’t stopped acquiring new books. The new books are just piling up on the shelf while I think about which old one I’m going to read next.

I guess there isn’t really a point to this post because I’m not going to stop rereading, but the “issues” it has caused have been unexpected. I’m wondering if other people love rereading as much as I do.

Let’s discuss: Are you a rereader? If you are, have you experienced any of these problems?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: The Ghosts Of Heaven – Marcus Sedgwick

The Ghosts Of Heaven – Marcus Sedgwick

A bold, genre-bending epic that chronicles madness, obsession, and creation, from the Paleolithic era through the Witch Hunts and into the space-bound future. 
Four linked stories boldly chronicle madness, obsession, and creation through the ages. Beginning with the cave-drawings of a young girl on the brink of creating the earliest form of writing, Sedgwick traverses history, plunging into the seventeenth century witch hunts and a 1920s insane asylum where a mad poet's obsession with spirals seems to be about to unhinge the world of the doctor trying to save him. Sedgwick moves beyond the boundaries of historical fiction and into the future in the book's final section, set upon a spaceship voyaging to settle another world for the first time.

Review: This is going to sound like the most self-centered thing ever, but I feel like Marcus Sedgwick understands me on a deep level. I’ve never met him and never will, but he can somehow see inside my mind. Like, if I made a list of all my favorite story elements, he’d have a book that has every single one of them. That’s why I’m slowly making my way through his backlist. Marcus and I (I can call him Marcus, right? That’s not creepy, right?) seem to operate on the same wavelength. Or something. I don’t know. It’s very odd. He scoops stuff out of my brain and arranges it on paper in ways I didn’t know were possible.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a bizarre and complicated collection of novellas. Each of the four novellas centers on the different meanings of a spiral. The same spiral imagery runs through the whole book. It’s weird and hard to explain, but I promise it works.

“You want to go back to where you began. You want to find the happiness you once had. But you can never get there, because even if you somehow found it, you yourself would be different. You would have changed, from your journey alone, from the passing of time, if nothing else. You can never make it back to where you began, you can only ever climb another turn of the spiral stair. Forever.” – The Ghosts of Heaven

The first novella is written in verse. It stars an ancient human girl who scribbles meaningless shapes in the dirt. After her tribe is attacked by invaders, she realizes that she could have saved her family if she’d been able to use the shapes to convey meaning. This is my favorite novella in the book. The verse makes it a quick read. It’s suspenseful and beautiful and haunting. I knew that Marcus Sedgwick was a brilliant prose writer, but it turns out that he can write verse, too. I guess he’s one of those annoying people who are amazing at everything.

Story number 2 jumps forward to the witch hunt years. A preacher comes to town to bring Christianity to a population whose beliefs seem to be a mixture of Christianity and Pagan-ish rituals. Shortly after the preacher arrives, a young boy has a seizure while playing with a spinning top. The preacher accuses the boy’s sister of using witchcraft to cause the seizure. This story has a few too many characters, viewpoints, and plotlines for my tastes, but it’s still my second-favorite in the book. It’s a slow-motion train wreck (in a good way). You know it’s going to end badly, but you’re too mesmerized to look away.

The third novella is my least favorite. It’s set in an insane asylum in the early 1900s. The main character is a doctor. One of his patients is a poet who’s afraid to walk up the asylum’s spiral staircase. The novella is written in diary form. The plot and characters are compelling, but again, there’s a lot going on in this story. I didn’t think all the disparate threads came together as well as they could have.

“The only true connection we have to the world is our minds. Yes, our senses can feed us information, but the information means nothing on its own. It is our minds that give things meaning. It is our minds that create the world for us. And minds can be mistaken. Minds can become confused. Damaged. What then of the world? How does it appear then? It, too, appears confused and damaged.” – The Ghosts of Heaven

The final story is science fiction. Five hundred people are traveling through space to find a new Earth. Twenty-something years into the mission, someone starts murdering the travelers. The main character discovers that there’s a mathematical pattern to the murders, and the murderer may be using math to warn him about the future of the mission. I love the suspenseful murder mystery aspect of this novella, but the ending is confusing. I’m not good enough at math or science to understand it. Basically, time and parallel universes get messed up near a black hole. This novella is for smart people. I am not one of those people.

“To see yourself on camera is not a natural thing, a thing no normal person is comfortable with; for it shows us as others see us, not as who we believe we really are.” – The Ghosts of Heaven

I think this is a book that readers will either love or hate. It depends on your tolerance for weirdness. Personally, I love it. If you like Midwinterblood, you’ll probably like The Ghosts of Heaven because they have similar structures.

Also, can anyone tell me why this book is marketed as YA? Most of the characters are adults. Unless I missed something, it doesn’t deal with typical YA themes. Is it just marketed to teens because the author’s other books are for teens?

Whatever this book is, I enjoyed it immensely. I already want to reread it because it’s so complicated that I think I’ll get more out of it on the next go-around. I’m eagerly looking forward to whatever Marcus Sedgwick writes next. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: There Once Lived A Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In: Three Novellas About Family – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived A Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In: Three Novellas About Family – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

After her work was suppressed for many years, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya won wide recognition for capturing the experiences of everyday Russians with profound pathos and mordant wit. Among her most famous and controversial works, these three novellas—The Time Is Night, Chocolates with Liqueur (inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”), and Among Friends—are modern classics that breathe new life into Tolstoy’s famous dictum, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Together they confirm the genius of an author with a gift for turning adversity into art.

Review: This review is for the English translation of a Russian novella collection.

This is the second Ludmilla Petrushevskaya book I’ve read, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t understand what’s great about her writing. These three novellas are intriguing enough that I finished them, but I can’t say I liked them or enjoyed the reading experience. They’re just so rambley! It’s infuriating.

The first novella, The Time Is Night, is written stream-of-consciousness style. The main character is a poet who seems to hate the women in her family. She put her mother in an old folks’ home and doesn’t get along with her daughter or granddaughters. However, she’d do anything for her grandson and her criminal son. (Even though she kind of hates them, too?) She’s basically an all-around horrible person. She’s been so beaten down by living in constant poverty that she’s mostly given up on life. The stream-of-consciousness writing style makes the story hard to follow. It jumps around in time without warning and rambles on for over 100 pages. The characters are mildly interesting because they’re all horrible, but there isn’t a plot. This is my least-favorite novella in the book.

I had slightly better luck with Chocolates with Liqueur. It’s mostly linear, so it’s easier to understand. It stars a father who feeds poisoned chocolates to his wife and children, but they fail to die. What follows is a weird and suspenseful tale of a woman trying to protect her children from her psychotic husband. This is my favorite story in the collection, but I didn’t love it. I have a hard time with Petrushevskaya’s writing style. There’s so much distance between the characters and the reader that I was never able to connect with the characters. I just didn’t care about them.

The ending of the final story, Among Friends, caught me off-guard. This novella is about a group of friends (or, more accurately, frenemies). The story covers a long stretch of time and shows how relationships change as people get older. Near the end of the story, one of the friends is diagnosed with a deadly illness. She goes to great lengths to ensure that her friends will care for her son if she dies. Honestly, I considered giving up on this novella. Similar to the first story, it rambles. I didn’t feel like it was going anywhere or building to anything. The ending is great, but getting to the end was a struggle.

My favorite part of the book is the introduction. The translator gives background information that is very helpful for readers who are not familiar with life in Soviet Russia. Writing these stories could have gotten Petrushevskaya in trouble with her country’s government because they show Russians in a negative light. Her characters are poor, overworked, starving, mentally ill people who live in crowded communal apartments. The stories are full of hopelessness and casual violence. I appreciate the bravery it took for Petrushevskaya to show her country in an honest way, but this book wasn’t for me.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Sunday Post #104

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review There Once Lived A Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In: Three Novellas About Family by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.
  • On Wednesday I review The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick.
  • On Thursday I whine about how rereading ruins everything. (And yet I keep doing it.)

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Then I reread The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton in honor of that book’s 50th birthday. The Outsiders was one of my favorite books as a kid. Then I read The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich. Right now, I’m reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. July 4th holiday. I wandered around in the dark and looked at fireworks. And, I don’t think I stepped on any toads. There were so many toads! I don’t know if the fireworks scared them, or if armies of toads come out every night.
  2. My mom made America cake. It was just chocolate cake with patriotic sprinkles, but it was good.
  3. Also on July 4, I tried Korean food for the first time. I’m not exactly sure what I ate, but I want more of it.
  4. I got a lot of reading done.
  5. The Love Interest made me laugh. YA needs more satire.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!