Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Favorite Retelling

From my Instagram account; the prompt was "favorite retelling".

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

the Classics Club: Life and Death of Harriett Frean

(about the classics club)

Life and Death of Harriett Frean
May Sinclair


 I live in a university town, and as a result there is often obscure classics available at the used book store.  I tend to browse the literary classics/fiction aisle of our looking for the green spines of the Virago Modern Classics volumes.   That was how I found this book.  Reading the back, I saw her style was compared to that of Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite authors.  This was enough for me.

This book is about a Victorian woman, brought up to be "morally beautiful" and to deny herself even little pleasures in order to achieve this beauty.  The result was a selfish, narrow woman, proud of herself and her nonexistent achievements.  For example, she turned down a man she loved because he was engaged to a friend.  She saw this as a "morally beautiful" act, and prided herself on it for decades.  The reader, and eventually Harriett, was able to see how this self-indulgent sacrifice ruined the lives of others.  Reading this, I thought a lot about how pride and vanity can be hidden under a guise of righteousness.

I also thought a lot about how similar the stream of consciousness style was to Woolf, though when I researched Sinclair I found that she is may have used that style first.  This novel contains few descriptive passages and not much action, with most of the book being thoughts or conversations.  It was immensely effective for telling her life.

May Sinclair
I felt sad for Harriett.  She watched life go by and spent much time regretting the past, even though she thought of it only as reminiscing.

I also felt glad I had read it.  I liked Sinclair's style very much and would like to find more of her works to read.  I would certainly recommend this book to those fond of Woolf's novels.

I think Sinclair wanted to show the reader the danger of  pretending there is no ugliness in the world, and also the hypocrisy that can hide behind a self-sacrificing nature.

My review for Amazon:
Life and Death of Harriett Frean follows, as one might expect, the early life through to the death of Harriett Frean.  She was brought up to be a perfect Victorian lady, and taught early on to be "morally beautiful", which in turn led her to become prideful in any little self-sacrifice she made.  As a result, she lived a narrow existence, self-righteously congratulating herself on how she lived her life.

There is very little descriptive passages or even action.  Instead, the story is told mainly in thoughts and conversation, in the stream-of-consciousness style.  This is extremely effective in telling Harriett's story.

It is a short book, and easy to read, but still manages to be quite thought provoking.  I recommend it for anyone who enjoys a stream-of-consciousness narrative; other readers might not find it as engrossing.

Books and Royalty

From my Instagram account; the prompt was "books and royalty".

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Jade Chang
expected publication date October 4, 2016
2/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

In the Wangs vs. the World , Charles Wang (who has just lost his fortune) and his family scuttle out of Bel Air just before the bank can foreclose on their mansion. The plan is for the Wang family to drive cross-country to the NY house of the eldest Wang child, and the novel is the tale of their (supposedly) comic adventures as they travel.

I disliked each member of the Wang family from the moment s/he was introduced, and further character development never changed this. Because I could not connect to any of the Wangs, I found it impossible to take interest in their story.

Humor is, of course, an intensely personal thing. Ms. Chang's humor is not my humor. The use of "bad language" as verbs and adjectives, for example, just doesn't tickle my funny bone. I was also not particularly amused by her elaborate set up of the Wang's name (which Mr. Wang deplores because of the genitalia connotations) and the fact that he was heir to a urea production factory. Like I said, her humor isn't my humor.

Overall, I guess I was not a good fit for this book. A review is a personal opinion, and I've no doubt that other reviewers will see this book quite differently than I did. I, however, simply did not like it. I am giving it two stars, though, instead of one because her use of backstory was well done and effective.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here
Fredrik Backman
5/5 stars

Britt-Marie leaves her cheating husband and takes her first job in decades, working as caretaker in a recreation center in Borg, a dying town.  OCD and socially awkward, she finds it hard to adapt at first.  Then, she unexpectedly finds herself coaching a children's soccer team--and just as unexpectedly, finds herself changing and growing.

This is a gem of a book.  I read it--all 324 pages of it--from beginning to end in one sitting.  While I was first just amused by Britt-Marie and her foibles, I quickly became attached to her and concerned for her future.  Backman made me care about Britt-Marie and the people of Borg.   It was well-written, with deep thoughts sprinkled throughout, and a story that was sweet, sad and believable.  I was uncertain until the very end as to how it would end, and one can rarely say that about a contemporary "feel-good" novel.

Obviously, I highly recommend Britt-Marie Was Here. It's quick and pleasurable, and leaves the reader feeling both hopeful and satisfied.

On a personal note: Yes, I read this entire book, cover to cover, without stopping!  It is the best I've read this year, just barely beating The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman.

Sunday Salon: The Week in Review

Musing for this week's Sunday Salon.

This week I read one ARC that just wasn't great and one that was super.  Yesterday I started another that I am having a real hard time reading.  I think I'm going to have to read it in small doses while I read one that I do enjoy.  I've got two library books, the book from my OwlCrate, a stack from the used book store (last month's trip) and today I went to the library's used book sale and brought home more--I really want to read one these and not this ARC.

Our county's library has a four day sale.  The first day is for Friends of the Library members only, which we are.  We didn't have a great deal of time to spend today, but I still found some treasures.  Look at the set of Alcott books from the 1950's (photo below).  They have never been read!  I also found old copies of the Woman in White (one of my favorites) and the Princess and the Curdie (by a favorite author).  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and Norwegian Wood have been on my I'd-like-to-read-it list for a while.  The Nabokov is one of the few I don't own (Transparent Things). On Tuesday, they have their bag sale ($5 for a grocery bag full of books) and I'll go back then. The pickings will be slim, but I'm sure I'll have no trouble filling up a bag!

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

The Secrets of Wishtide 
Kate Saunders
to be published September 13, 2016
5/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

This is the first mystery in a projected series about Victorian widow Letty Rudd.  Her brother Fred, a successful barrister, occasionally provides Letty with investigative jobs that are better suited to a genteel touch than to your typical police detective.  In this case, influential Sir James Calderstone hires Letty to ferret out the past of his son's inappropriate love interest.  What begins as a simple probe into a woman's life takes a serious turn, and Letty becomes involved in a quadruple murder.

Saunders is a polished writer, and this novel was immensely readable.  It was told in the first person, in Letty's voice, in a light-hearted, but still very Victorian, tone.  The characters were immediately likable, as well as fleshed out and believable.   The plot was just convoluted enough to be enjoyable, but with the right amount of clues for the reader can solve the mystery along with Letty.

Overall, I was impressed with the Secrets of Wishtide and I look forward to the next in the series.

Jasper Fforde

From my Instagram account: Photo prompt was "book you wish ended differently".  This one!  And I have been waiting since 2009 for a sequel!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

July OwlCrate!

I received my first OwlCrate today! I'm really excited about it, and about next month's!

The June "Royalty" Crate contained:

 -My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand and Jodi Meadows, along with a letter and paper crown sent by the authors

 -a truly beautiful bracelet handmade by Rich Love Shoppe

 -a mini mystery Funko. I got Merida from Brave. (If anyone would like to trade with me, I'd love Cinderella, the mouse, Belle, Cogsworth, Jasmine or Rajah.)

 -adorable magnetic bookmarks from Craftedvan. (I have more on order from them!)

 -a small print based on Red Queen by Evie Seo

Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang

Half a Lifelong Romance
Eileen Chang
3/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

Half a Lifelong Romance was originally published in China in 1951, and is being translated into English for the first time. It follows the thwarted romance of a couple living in Shanghai in the 1930's.

The reader knows from the first page that the romance between Manzhen and Shijun was not a happy one and there is an air of melancholy from the first sentence ("He and Manzhen had met. . . a long time ago.") that continues throughout the book. Chang has done an excellent job in setting that mood and evoking the emotions that go with it.

The pace is slow, due to the massive amount of details given. These details cause the reader to become completely immersed in the lives of, as well as in the culture of, the characters. However, at times the details become overwhelming and detract from the flow of the story.

Overall, it is an exceptionally well written book, but is a very slow read.

Note: This is my opinion; on Amazon, 55% of the reviews were 4 stars.

On a personal note: I had looked forward to this book all year, after reading about it before it was published.  I've tried to get my library to buy it so I could read it and finally put it on my to-buy list.  When I started reviewing again and it was available, I was thrilled.  Imagine my disappointment when this much anticipated book turned out to be such a reading quagmire.  I gave it three stars because she is an excellent writer, but her style was not for me!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dark Assassin by Anne Perry

Dark Assassin
Book 15 in the William Monk series
Anne Perry
3/5 stars

The William Monk series follows a format: Monk investigates; Hester helps; Rathbone takes the case to trial; Monk saves the day.  I don't have a problem with these novels being formulaic, as Perry's writing is excellent, the mysteries intelligent and the overall plot interesting.  In Dark Assassin, however, the pieces don't fully click and the story just isn't stellar.  It's still well written, and, due to the intensity of some of the plot, the novel should be exciting.  However, at times I found it slow going and dull, and found the mystery to be mediocre.

 I was also somewhat disappointed in the ending. One part was neatly tied up (so that no one had to deal with the repercussions of some wrong decisions) and the other part was left hanging for the reader to assume that somehow that mess got cleared up.

I can't say I disliked it--and I was thrilled with the Runcorn situation--but I have to say it was "just okay".  Luckily, most readers will be reading these in order (as they should be read to understand the relationship dynamics of the series) and will know that this wasn't typical of Perry's mysteries.

This is, of course, just my opinion.  On Amazon, 44% of the reviews were 5 star and 45% were 4 star.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


From my Instagram account: the prompt for this photo was "ended on a cliffhanger".  I'm glad I didn't have to wait a year for it to be released!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Foundations of Chinese Civilization

Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty (2697 BCE - 220 CE) 
Jing Liu
series: Understanding China Through Comics
  • Age Range: 11 - 17 years
  • Grade Level: 6 - 12
3/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

This first volume of  Foundations of Chinese Civilization covers the earliest known history of China.  It is told in graphic novel format.  The font is excellent and the illustrations good.  The book covers the history, philosophies, and education systems of the time. 

 It is packed full of facts, but it is sadly dull.*  It comes alive when it focuses on one person, such as Confucius or Cai Lun, but when the book is giving general history, it is as dry as any text book.  It certainly gives an amazing amount of information in it's 155 pages,  but I feel that it will be a chore for most people to read, especially the intended audience.

*Please don't accuse me of not understanding history books.  I have a B.A. in history, and I know that it can be made lively and interesting.

Note: This is my opinion; on Amazon, 82% of the reviews were 5 stars.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dracula Spin Off

From my Instagram account: the prompt for this photo was "spin off book". Newman's Dracula books rock!

Sunday Salon: Returning to Blogging

Musing for this week's Sunday Salon.

Last week I decided, after a longer-than-intended hiatus, to return to reviewing books for Amazon Vine.   I've already reviewed two books (posted on here, too) and an iPhone accessory.  It feel nice to put my mind to a task like this again.  I'm also glad to revive this blog; I didn't realize until I started just how much I've missed blogging.

I also updated my Classics Club list.  It's funny how having a goal like that can make me so excited to read.  I'm really looking forward, after I finish my current ARC, to starting one of the classics from my list.

This was my June to-be-read pile, taken at the beginning of the month.  I've read two of the library books already.  The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper was a 4.5/5 star read.  The Madwoman Upstairs was good, and it wasn't.  I'd give it 3 stars.  I took Agatha Christie's biography back to the library unread, because I found that I could get the audio book instead.  Since then, I've added a few more to the pile and had some holds come in for me at the library.  

Thus far, I've read six books this month and listened to three audio books.   I don't know if I'll finish the month at that pace, of course.

I've started another ARC, Half a Lifelong Romance.  I'm only a little into it, but am finding it slow and stilted.  The reviews are 30% 5 star and 60% 4 star, so I'm hoping it will get better.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sánchez

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman
Mamen Sánchez
translated by Lucy Greaves
5/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

Atticus, son of Craftsman & Co, is sent away from his routine and out of his depth on a job to Madrid. The Craftsman & Co. literary ma
gazine, Librarte, is loosing money and Mr. Craftsman wants Atticus to fire the five employees and close it down. These five employees, ladies very different from each other who have bonded into a close-knit family, are determined to find a way to save the magazine, and their livelihood. To this end, they lure Atticus to Granada on a literary treasure hunt. After three months of no contact, his father gets worried and initiates a police search for Atticus, beginning a chain of events that will touch --and change-- the lives of all five women, the police inspector, Atticus and his parents.

The story is told in chapters that alternate between between Atticus' past and the present of the Librarte employees, eventually bringing the two stories up to date with each other. It is skillfully done and most effective.

When I began, and the first person introduced was a bumbling police inspector, I thought this would be a book of stereotypes and cardboard characters, but I was so wrong. Our Inspector turned out to be more complex, than seemed at first, as did all the individuals encountered. Sánchez created a realistic cast, many of whom I cared about deeply.

At times this book was lighthearted, funny, sad, serious, romantic and dramatic. Sánchez is excellent at balancing her novel with these varied emotions. The situations never felt contrived, but always natural, as if life were really just happening to these people.

Naturally, I've not read the Spanish version, but I feel that Lucy Greaves must have done an excellent job as the prose and conversations never feel stilted. In no way would I have known that this book was translated had I not read that it was.

On a side note, though, I did wonder if Sánchez had actually read Nabokov's Lolita, as she classes it with a group of literature that it is most definitely not. This wasn't a problem for the quality of the book, though, just something that I, as a fan of Nabokov, found a bother.

Overall, this is a delightful, at time moving, but always enjoyable novel. I give it the highest recommendation and hope that more of her novels will be translated into English.

Quirky Character

From my Instagram account: the prompt for this photo was "quirky character".  This hilarious book is filled with them!

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Mystery in White 
J. Jefferson Farjeon
  • Series: British Library Crime Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • 3/5 stars

Mystery in White (originally published in 1937) takes place Christmas Eve in rural England.  A train becomes stuck in a snowdrift, and an ill assorted group of passengers decide to attempt a walk to another station.  Due to the blinding the snow, they find themselves lost, and stumble upon a well-lit house with warm fires, tea on the table and no one around.

I enjoyed how Farjeon built up the story, and I liked the characters tremendously.  Watching as they began to get to know each other and share their stories was fun, and the uncertainty of when the mystery was going to occur was a pleasant tension. When it final came, though, the mystery itself was weak and the solution relied too much on the talents of Mr. Maltby of the Royal Psychical Society and not enough on actual deduction.

That said, Farjeon's style was appealing and I'd like to read another of his books to see if the mystery aspect of the story improves.  If it does, combined with his excellent story-telling, I would expect it to be worthy of five stars.  This one gets a three, as most of the novel was a great read that the let-down wasn't a deal-breaker.

Note: This is just my opinion; 44% of the reviews are 5 stars.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Classics Club

I began the Classics Club a few years ago, but then took a break. I'm ready to restart it!

 Here are the basic rules of The Classics Club:

choose 50+ classics
I have chosen 50+ with the expectation that some will be terrible and I won't want to read them. I'm shooting for a goal of 50.  I have chosen some that I have always intended to read, or feel like I should read.  I've chosen others that I've read in the past and would like to read again to see if I have a better understanding, or just for the pure enjoyment of revisiting an old friend.

list them at your blog
Tada! (see below)

choose a reading completion goal date up to five years in the future and note that date on your classics list of 50+ titles
My orginal goal was to have read my 50 by 6 July 2018. My new goal is June 2021 (Holy Cow!) The Classics Club stresses that this is a "living list/goal" and as such it the list can grow, the goal date can be extended. . . the point is to read and grow with the classics.  That being the case, I reserve the right to add to or subtract from my list.

write about each title on your list as you finish reading it, and link it to your main list
The point of this is not to write reviews, but to initiate discussion by writing about "your reading thoughts".

Here is my list; note that I completed some a few years ago and have reposted my discussion on this blog.
  1. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read my discussion here)
  2. Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake
  3. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (read my discussion here)
  4.  The Professor by Charlotte Bronte (re-read)
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (re-read)
  6. The Thirty-Nine Steps by James Buchan (read my discussion here)
  7.  The Shuttle by Francis Hodgson Burnette
  8. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote (re-read) (my discussion here)
  9. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel deFoe
  10. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  11. The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot (re-read)
  12.  A Passage to India by E.M. Forester
  13. Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
  14.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  15. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (my discussion here)
  16. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  17.  Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  18. Mayor of Castlebridge by Thomas Hardy
  19. Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (re-read)
  20. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (re-read)
  21. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (my discussion here)
  22. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (re-read) (my discussion here)
  23. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
  24. Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (my discussion here)
  25. Lilith by George MacDonald (re-read)
  26. Phantasties by George MacDonald (re-read)
  27. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  28. The Garden Party and other stories by Katherine Mansfield
  29. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle  by Vladimir Nabokov
  30. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  31. Translucent Things by Vladimir Nabokov (re-read)
  32. 1984 by George Orwell (read my discussion here)
  33. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  34. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (read my discussion here)
  35.  Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (read my discussion here)
  36.  Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  37. The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
  38. Seducers in Ecuador by Vita Sackville-West
  39. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (re-read) (read my discussion here)
  40. Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger (re-read)
  41. Nine Stories by JD Salinger 
  42. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction  by JD Salinger
  43. Henry IV by Shakespeare (re-read)
  44. Henry V by Shakespeare (re-read)
  45.  King Lear by Shakespeare (re-read)
  46. Measure for Measure by Shakespeare (re-read)  (my discussion here)
  47. The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare (re-read)  (my discussion here)
  48. The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare (re-read) (my discussion here)
  49. Twelfth Night by Shakespeare (re-read) (my discussion here
  50. Life and Death of Harriet Frean by May Sinclair (read my discussion here)
  51. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (read my discussion here)
  52. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Juila Strachey (read my discussion here)
  53. Flame and Shadow by Sara Teasdale (re-read) (read my discussion here)
  54. Love Poems by Sara Teasdale
  55. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  56. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (re-read)
  57. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (read my discussion here)
  58.  The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (read my discussion here)
  59.  The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  60. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf (read my discussion here)
  61. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  62.  To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (re-read) (read my discussion here)
  63. The Waves by Virginia Woolf (re-read)
  64. The Years by Virginia Woolf (re-read)

Wink Poppy Midnight

Wink Poppy Midnight
April Genevieve Tucholke
Reading level: YA
3/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

Wink Poppy Midnight centers around three teens by those names that are involved in an unhealthy triangle of a sort. Midnight, a mostly average teenager, has been crazy about Poppy for some time, until he begins living next to Wink and falls for her. Poppy (beautiful, but self-admittedly vain and cruel), and Wink (innocent-seeming, fairy tale-addicted, and enigmatic) both strive to manipulate Midnight. Poppy uses him for sex and to boost her ego, while Wink is trying to mold him into a Hero with a capital H.

The story is told in the voices of all three, alternating and picking up where the last one left off. Sadly, the voices of Midnight and Wink aren't as fully developed as Poppy and often seem more like "generic teen" than an individual. The blurb lets the reader know from the beginning that no one is exactly as they seem, and to expect unreliable narration, which adds a pleasant sense of unease as the plot progresses, despite it being a relatively standard retelling of "boy between two girls". The prose is often lyrical and lovely, but seems out of place in the mouths of average teenagers.

Overall, this quick read was enjoyable without being unduly surprising or moving. I did like it, I just didn't find it exceptional.

Note: This is my opinion; on Amazon, 47% of the reviews were 4 stars.

Currently Reading

From my Instagram account: the prompt for this photo was "currently reading".