Showing posts with label Modern Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modern Fiction. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Library Haul

(Linking up with The Captive Reader's Library Loot event.)

I got a fantastic haul at the library!  This morning I decided I was going to the library and not leaving until I found at least a few books that I would actually read and enjoy.  After sulking through the fiction section and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't find anything, I went to the nonfiction section on a whim, namely, the literature section.  And that was where I fell upon short stories and a bunch of other fascinating stuff.

I have always blown off short stories for some strange reason, but I have remedied that now.  Here's my list from this week:

1.) Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, Compiled by Mary McDonagh Murphy

2.) The Best American Essays from 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat

3.) The Oxford book of American Short Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates

4.) The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories from 2012, edited by Laura Furman

5.) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, compiled by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland-Just looked fascinating

6.) The Best American Humorous Short Stories, edited by Alexander Jessup

7.) 1491: New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann-Just a book that looked fascinating.

Whew!  So this month is officially short story month for me.  I'll be posting reviews of some favorite specific short stories, as well as the books that they come from throughout the month of June.  I'm really looking forward to it!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recent Book Duds

As I was reading thorough my archives, I realized that I don't write about the book disappointments very much.  Often, I have nothing more to say then, "Meh.  It was fine."  Or else, "Ugh.  An awful book."  In the case of the latter, there are only so many things you can say about a bad book.  But I was thinking, isn't this kind of like the bloggers who only write about the great things and only post pretty pictures of their lives?  Every book blogger will tell you that she has had her fair share of bad, nay, awful books.  In this post, I'm going to tip you off to a few books that I have read recently and was not a fan of.

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel Fattah-This book was sitting on a table at the library and I idly glanced at it and thought it looked good enough to take home.  It's a YA book about a Muslim girl in Australia, dealing with cultural identity and discrimination in an immediately post-9/11 world.  I thought it sounded like a fascinating read.  I think the premise would have been fascinating as adult-level fiction, but, written for YA, it was too annoying.  Our heroine whined far too much, complained about school for probably a combined total of 50 pages, and had a mortifying crush that went on for too long without resolution.  In other words, the book was a stereotypical YA book, with the exception that there was some interesting commentary from the author on race and culture in our world today.  I will say, the book was very funny at parts. Still, not worth reading unless you love YA.

2. The Look of Love by Sarah Jio-Another idly-grabbed-off-the-bookshelf read.  I thought this one had potential.  Sarah Jio is a New York Times bestselling author with a lot of critical acclaim and I've heard good things about her books.  But this one….ooof.  This heroine was far too pathetic and I kept wanting to reach into the book and smack her.  Her sad, lonely, woe-is-me life just irritated me instead of making me feel any kind of sympathy.  That said, the premise of the story-a young woman who has the ability to see love is given the task of identifying the six types of love before the full moon after her 30th birthday; then, of course, falls in love-sounded kind of fun to read.  I'm going to keep pressing on, because, who knows, maybe I will be surprised.  If I end up liking the book, I'll let you know.

3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson-Now this was actually a great book.  At least, theoretically, I know that.  For whatever reason, it just didn't click with me.  I'd read a couple of pages, then wander over to a bookshelf or the library book box to see what else I had to read.  That said, I know that this is a good book and, when my mood is right, I'll pick it up again.  Still, I'm counting it as a dud because I can't review it if I haven't made myself read it.

That's not a terribly long list of duds.  But these are all books read (or started) just throughout the month of May.  I do think that I go on cycles of getting heaps of great books and then dry spells where I can't find anything to read.  Discouraging, but the good cycles where I have lots of books do make up for the times when I don't.  Tell me, readers, does this happen to anybody else?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Here's an interesting book that I just recently finished-and really enjoyed.  Philosophy is something to which I would devote copious amounts of time, if I could.  People endlessly debating?  Yes, please!  Probing theoretical questions that, pragmatically, aren't going to matter, yet give deep insight to what it means to be a human?  Of course!  I picked this book up about two years ago and it, along with so many other books, just never made it onto my current reads pile.  I ignored it and ignored it and let it drop to the very bottom of my list.  Then, in a fit of responsible readership, I decided I was going to pick something that had been on the bottom of my list for ages.  I book I felt sorry for, if you will.  And Sophie's World, it was.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder is an interesting book.  It's very much a work of nonfiction, yet it also is a novel.  I think that it's technically a YA book, but it doesn't read that way at all.  Sophie's World is really an introduction to philosophy.  A Philosophy 101 course of sorts.  However, it's also an engrossing, well written novel.

Sophie is a fourteen year old girl who starts getting regular letters from a mysterious pen-pal, a philosopher.  The first letter asks, "Who are you?" and from there, the questions in the letters grow more and more complex, introducing all the great philosophers in Western culture along the way.  Sophie is instantly captivated.  But there is more mystery.  Sophie keeps getting mail written to a girl named Hilde-somebody that she's never heard of before.

I think that "charming" is really the best adjective for this book.  It is fresh and interesting and like no other book I have ever read.  Unlike so much young adult fiction, there weren't these dark, complicated layers.  No dramatic family situations.  No near-death incidents.  In so many ways, it read like a 50s novel, except that there was something more to it, a wiser sense that isn't present in so much of fiction from the 50s and earlier, a lack of naiveté.  Hard to explain, but enjoyable to read.

After musing on this for awhile, I think that this may be a perfect example of post-postmodernism, sometimes referred to as the New Sincerity movement.  Here's a very interesting article about it from The Atlantic.  And a useful Wikipedia article.  In summary, it is a rejection of cynicism and irony delivered in large amounts and a return to sincerity.  However, it differs from the modernism of the 50s and earlier in that it acknowledges the progress that we made in boycotting a lot of the problems of modernity-the patriarchy, the racism, the inability to question some things (I'm not saying that these things aren't a problem any more, but we at least have started to acknowledge them).  Post-post modernism takes the best of both modernity and post modernity.  In the Atlantic article I linked above, the author writes, "Across pop culture, it's become un-ironically cool to care about spirituality, family, neighbors, the environment, and the country."

And I think that, in some small way, that was what I saw in Sophie's World.  A new kind of sincerity, with nods to post-modernity and what it gave us, particularly in regards to the philosophical world.  Maybe I was completely reading into it because I happen to be interested in the idea of this new movement (although it really isn't that new).  At any rate, I have been bitten by the philosophy bug.

Jostein Gaarder is a good writer, too, which made this book even more enjoyable to read.  Writing the voice of a 14 year old girl must not be an easy feat and he very successfully writes in Sophie's voice.  I admit to devouring the book easily within 2 days.  In addition to this, this book definitely made me want to read Sartre and Aristotle and everything in between.  I do think that I am going to add some philosophy classics to my Classics Club list, though.

This is one of those truly good books.  A nourishing book.  I spent a good portion of the book taking plenty of notes and underlining because there were so many things to remember, but then I became so engrossed that I forgot to take notes.  All this to say, this is a book that is definitely worth your time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

And here it is!  The long-awaited latest Flavia de Luce mystery.  It was eminently confusing, thrilling, shocking, and very strange.  I loved it.

(I recommend reading this post before you read this if you haven't read these books)

Flavia has been sent from her beloved Buckshaw (the name of her home) in England to the Canadian girls' boarding school that her mother attended.  Feeling rejected and lonely, Flavia sets off with the awful Rainsmiths, members of the school board, to her new school, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy.  However, there may still be hope for Flavia when, on her first night at school, a mummified body wrapped in a Union Jack falls out of the chimney.  Rather than the expected child's response of fear, she pockets some pieces of evidence to examine and sets to work solving the case.  But there's more-along with all of this runs the mystery of three missing girls who are never discussed.  In addition to this, she's making friends, constantly having run-ins with the strict headmistress, and taking private Chemistry lessons from the Chemistry teacher.  And Flavia is determined that she will be the one to solve both mysteries.

Parallel to all of this is an overarching mystery that has been growing throughout this entire series.  Flavia's mother, who died in Himalayas on a mission, was in some sort of secret spy organization, or so we gather, which Flavia is now expected to join.  It is only hinted at and pretty much all we know about it is its name-the Nide.  It begins to be revealed in this book that Miss Bodycote's is a cover for all sorts of work done by the Nide, something that some of the girls and teachers are in on.  Even in this book, things just grow more cloudy and confusing, but this just gives me hope of another book in the series.

Reading through this summary, I am struck by how ridiculous and formulaic these books could be. It's my own opinion that mysteries can veer off in that direction very easily and everything about these books could, if given the chance, scream "unbelievable and cheesy".  But, Alan Bradley never for a second even considers allowing that to happen.  The books are crisp and funny and exciting and, yes, even believable.  Flavia is a gem of a character, brilliantly written, and even made me interested in Chemistry (her specialty).  The supporting characters are no cardboard props, but 3-dimensional characters with interesting stories and unique personalities.  Even the villains aren't formulaic!

In reading people's reviews, I discovered that a lot of people objected to this book on the grounds that it was too confusing and that Flavia didn't end up with a clear ending or even direction.  I will agree with this objectors that this book did feel a bit like just setting the stage for the next book.  However, what I disagree with is the objection that Flavia didn't end up with a clear direction.  She is told that she "passed with flying colors" and, though we don't know what this means yet, we can understand that she clearly accomplished something.

If you've been reading the Flavia series, you really need to get your hands on a copy of this one.  If you haven't read any of them, well, you are in for a big treat, I think.  And if you have read this book, please chime in and let me know what you thought of it!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Where I've Been and My Reading List

Goodness, I left you in the lurch, didn't I, readers?  First, my family generously shared a head cold with me that left me sneezing and feverish for several days and then on Good Friday I was stricken with a nasty stomach bug, also generously shared by my family members.  So, basically, I've been lying on the couch whining all week.  That's where I've been.  Easter Sunday, I skipped church in favor of sleeping in, then, feeling 100% recovered, I went to the family Easter Dinner and had a lovely time.  On the way home, I started to feel myself crashing.  I came home and relapsed back into my stomach bug.  So here I am, the Monday after Easter feeling weak and still pretty whiney, but I'm at that stage where I have a very strange list of food I'm hungry for, including:
1. Pizza
2. Sushi, but the pickled ginger is what I'm really after
3. Vanilla Custard
4. Chocolate Ice Cream
5. White Rice with Soy Sauce

None of these are probably a good idea, but I did end up caving and eating White Rice and Soy Sauce for breakfast and, oh, did that taste delicious!

But enough about my aggravating viruses.  Because with all that sickness comes a lovely stack of books:
1. Great Quantities of Little Women
2. A bit of Don Quixote
3. Do Butlers Burgle Banks by P.G. Wodehouse
4. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
This book was the very best medicine.

While the rest of the books were all very enjoyable, can we just focus a moment on that last title?  Do you know what that is??  It's the latest Flavia de Luce!  Squee!  This is the book that kept me alive through these last couple of days.  Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember that I dearly adore Flavia de Luce.  In general, I don't love mysteries.  They can be formulaic, gory, boring, unbelievable (what on earth is wrong with your supposedly charming small town that there's a crime every 2 weeks?), and/or drone-y.  But Flavia is the exception.  Everything about these books exudes charm and brilliant writing with just enough thrills to keep the books exciting.

I'm not going to give a full review today because I doubt I'd be coherent, but let me just say that it was everything I expected it to be and more.

And that is where I have been, plus what I read.  Tell me, dear readers, how were your Easters?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

This book is winning the "Best Book So Far in 2015" award.  My little library, always just about one step behind the rest of the big book world just got this book, which the rest of the world was talking about back in the early fall.  So forgive me for being just a little bit behind.

Lila is one of those books that leaves you blinking, as though emerging from a trance.  Set in Iowa during the 1930s, Lila is the story of a young woman, abandoned as a baby and then, later, stolen by a woman who was working with a band of migrant workers.  She spends all of her growing up years enduring hard working conditions, a frightening case of being abandoned by her caretaker and the group of migrant workers, then being rescued again.  After the caretaker dies, Lila is left to take care of herself.

One day, caught in a rainstorm in the little town of Gilead, Iowa, Lila steps into a church, little noticing that a church service in in motion.  Lila and the old preacher's eyes meet and, though Lila doesn't say it, they are immediately attracted.  For the next 60 pages or so, Lila plays a will she stay-won't she stay game with the preacher.  She slowly falls in love with him, beginning with planting and tending his garden.  But Lila, damaged as she is, is convinced that nobody could ever love her, that everybody is going to up and leave any minute.  Finally, Lila becomes Lila Ames and goes to live with "that old preacher", as she refers to him throughout the entire book.

This book is a prequel to Gilead, written maybe 10 years ago.  I started it and never finished it, so now I am determined to go read it.  While Gilead is the preacher telling his life story to his son, Lila is set much, much earlier.  I think I might have gotten more out of Lila, had I finished Gilead.

I'll admit that it took me a while to get into the book.  It's written in a fashion quite unlike anything I've read.  There is a present and many pasts, all told in Lila's voice.  So, for example, the book starts with Lila being rescued, then jumps to her, pregnant, sitting on the porch and waiting for her husband to get home from church, then jumps to an experience with the migrant workers when she was about eight.  This makes for very confusing reading at first, but, just like an accent in a movie, after a time you stop noticing it.  The other unconventional thing about this book was that there were no chapters.  This made an already wonderful book even harder to stop reading.  Where was I supposed to stop?  I couldn't end right at that exciting part!  And so I devoured this book very quickly.

The other thing about this book is that it is written solely and completely through Lila's point of view.  There is no telling what the Reverend is thinking, if the neighbors are really looking down their noses, and if Lila really is the terrible person she thinks she is.  All we see is Lila's shame and self-deprecation, only Lila's narrow view of herself and the world.  This makes for a fascinating reading experience and a new, fresh way to approach characters.

The themes throughout the book are very interesting.  One is the intense loneliness that both Lila and John Ames feel.  John Ames, from losing his first wife and baby in childbirth and Lila from her isolated life and the way that she feels that nobody respects her.  The other emotion that seems to dominate Lila's inner thoughts is shame-complete shame at having lived such a rackety life, full of bad experiences and bad decisions; shame that she, as she sees it, will never be as smart as the Reverend.  The other theme that appears over and over is Christianity and the conflict between traditional Christian views and Lila's life experience.

Robinson, herself, is a devout Calvinist who has written quite a few books on topics of Christianity and, in particular, John Calvin's teachings.  She definitely provides a unique view of how Christianity is good at-and falls very short of-addressing deep poverty.  John Ames is not just a preacher; he also is a philosopher.  That's really what brings Lila and John together.  After she steals a Bible from church and begins reading starting, of all places, with Lamentations, they start to discuss her questions about being a Christian, life after death, and more philosophical questions.

Lila and John Ames have a very interesting relationship.  He is 65 and she, though we never know her exact age, must be somewhere in her 30s.  And yet, they appear to have a marriage of equals.  I honestly still can't figure out why.  John is very educated, respected in the town, financially secure, and much, much older.  But there wasn't this creepy element of robbing the cradle that is so often in books about relationships like this.  I think that Lila's complete, blunt honesty is part of the reason that their marriage works.  Lila is so frank, so willing to point out John's own flaws that I think they can be viewed as equal.

Lila has a hard time learning to trust-both other people and herself.  She constantly tells herself that she is getting on the next train, even after she becomes pregnant.  She worries that John will decide that she is an embarrassment to him and send her off.  And she can't even begin to trust God.  But it is through some of the strangest parts of her Bible reading (Job, for instance) that she begins to have clarity, to realize that people love her and that she can begin to rest.

There were so many times where my heart just about broke, reading Lila's story.  First, when she is sitting on the steps of her family's house, crying because she has been locked outside again.  Then when she is left behind a second time.  But the worst?  Lila is sitting listening to a conversation between John Ames and his friend, a fellow minster.  The friend begins to talk about "lost souls in China" and, with a start, Lila realizes that all of her friends, her makeshift family, are "lost souls", the people who will never get into heaven, according to traditional Christianity.  She realizes with a start that she will never get to see her makeshift mother.  She tells John Ames this and, in his explanation, you can read Robinson's own conflict.  He tells her that, though the view of saving lost souls and hell are the traditional teachings of the church, he cannot reconcile this concept of hell with that of his understanding of the vast love and forgiveness of God.

It's interesting-I tend not to read either deeply spiritual books or books involving as much heartache and drama as Lila contained. And yet, this book has to be one of my favorites now.  Robinson's genius writing, combined with some truly believable and lovable characters has created a masterpiece that I hope will make it onto lists of must-read classics 100 years from now.

Dear readers, if you made it to the end of this (long winded) post, then please, please, please go read this book and tell me what you think.  Even if this book doesn't sound like your genre of choice, the beauty and pure genius of this book is enough to make you love it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

I read a lot this year.  I think I read so much because I had this blog that was quietly tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to take the time to read and write on my blog.  Yes, there was my (brief) hiatus from blogging, back in the fall, but I could never completely leave this blog and, so, I'm committing to a brisker blog schedule and even more reading this year!  I thought I would compile a list of what I read this year.  I was so pleased, readers!  The list starts in March because that was when I started blogging and, honestly, I have absolutely no memory of what I read before that.

March

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (And my first blog post!)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Still one of my favorite works of fiction)
The Penderwicks Books by Jeanne Birdsall
Two Sherlock Holmes Books
Canterbury Tales
Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes
Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier (NOT a hit!)
The Beginning of Flavia de Luce
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays
The Life of Pi

Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Which I Meet Amelia Peabody

Readers, I met Amelia Peabody and I do think that she is the most charming, fascinating, lively, and well-developed mystery heroine I have ever read in my entire life.

I discovered her after a friend very casually mentioned this fabulous mystery series by Elizabeth Peters about a Victorian archaeologist.  It didn't sound fabulous, but I trust this friend with book recommendations, so I checked the first one out and, oh, was I in for a treat!

The Amelia Peabody mysteries are about Amelia Peabody, a middle-aged, strong-willed, stubborn woman who spends her days charging through Egypt and working and learning at excavation sites.  Oh, and there are mysteries that she solves on the side, too.

This first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, starts out with Amelia aboard a train, traveling to Egypt just after the death of her father.  While on it, she meets a waif-like woman named Evelyn Barton, who is fleeing her erstwhile lover and her tyrannical grandfather, who is enraged over the fact that she ran away with the lover in the first place.  Amelia firmly takes Evelyn under her wing and they proceed to Egypt, with a cousin-cum-prospective spouse for Evelyn in tow.  While there, they meet the Radcliffe brothers, who are an excavating team.  Sparks immediately start to fly between Evelyn and Walter, the younger brother, and Amelia and Emerson Radcliffe, the older brother, immediately decide to hate each other.  However, the whole party is thrown together after a walking mummy keeps making repeated, unfriendly visits.

The party knows that it has to be an Englishman, since only a person with Western influence would think to do such a thing and so they set out to find the strange mummy.  There are all kinds of adventures and near-misses and, meanwhile, Amelia and Emerson are growing strangely fond of each other.

This book really has everything-good characters with plenty of witty dialogue, an exciting plot, a smattering of romance, and a thrilling mystery.  I read the book constantly for 2 days and it went with me wherever I went.  This book is also responsible for a pot of soup burned to the point of inedibility.

The relationship between Emerson and Amelia was quite entertaining.  It was very reminiscent of the Darcy/Lizzie romance and countless others like it that have appeared in fiction ever since Pride and Prejudice made its way into the world, but at the same time, it was different enough to not be annoying.  Oh, and, spoiler alert, Amelia and Emerson do get married by the end of the book.  You knew it was coming, so that wasn't a terrible spoiler.

These books were first written in the 1970s by Elizabeth Peters and I am amazed at how historically accurate they were.  I think that 70s and 80s writing has a bit of a reputation as being sadly anachronistic, but there was nothing anachronistic about this writing.  It was perfectly done and very historically accurate.

I really, really loved this book and think that, if you are any kind of a reader, you will like this.  It was well-written and funny and exciting (oh, so exciting), and a million other adjectives, and I think that this series is something that pretty much anybody should at least read one of.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Her Royal Spyness Book 3- Royal Flush

I read something on the definitely light-ish side this weekend-the 3rd in the Her Royal Spyness series.  The Her Royal Spyness series is absolute fluff, but everybody needs some fluffy, no-brain-work-involved reading every once in a while, right?  I read the first two books but, when I went to find them to link, I couldn't find them.  So, all this to say, I am quite positive that I wrote reviews of the first two, but I can't find them anywhere.

I thought that this book was the best of all of them.  It was funny, it didn't have some of that awkward, trying-to-be-royal thing that I encountered in the other two books, and it was well-written, in a fluffy kind of way.

In this book, Lady Georgiana, Georgie for short, has gotten into a bit of a sticky situation.  It is a hot London summer and, with her on-the-sly cleaning business over for the time being, she searches around for a suitable job.  She tries hiring herself out as a theater and dinner companion and puts and ad in the paper and uses rather unfortunate terms.  As the editor of the paper tells her the next morning, "You might as well have just written 'Call Fifi for a good time'".  Mortified at her naive mistake, Georgie allows herself to be shipped home to castle Rannoch, which includes tracking the disreputable Prince of Wales, who is still flirting with the not-yet-divorcee, Mrs. Simpson at the castle down the road, Castle Balmoral.

While on the train, Georgie is coerced into helping Scotland Yard.  It appears as though somebody is trying to kill off members in line to the throne and Scotland Yard suspects that it is somebody "on the inside".  While there, Georgie comes across the dashing Darcy O'Mara who still seems to be in pursuit of her in the odd moments when he isn't running around the countery.

Of course, the book was no end amusing.  I spent the majority of the last few evenings curled up on the sofa with a huge horse-blanket quilt over my knees, reading Royal Flush.  It was a lovely way to spend those evenings and I even caught myself being thankful for the dratted Daylight Savings.

While these books are definitely fun to read, I wonder if I'll read through the whole series.  The books do have pretty much the same characters doing the same things, with no progression whatsoever, which gets kind of annoying.  And I get the feeling that nothing much is going to change in the future.  Maybe I'll just space the books so that I'm reading one every 6 months, so they don't get on my nerves.

This book was definitely faster paced with more intrigue and dashing here and there.  In the end, there's this section where Georgie is trapped up in an airplane with the murderer…talk about thrilling!  Of course Darcy O'Mara comes to save the day and everything ends alright, but the book is full of these kind of settings and adventures, something that was lacking in the previous two books.  It definitely kept the book from being totally repetitive and dry.

If you're in the mood for a light read with absolutely nothing that's going to make you have to seriously pay attention and if you like a good period mystery, then this is a good book for you.  Overall, I enjoyed it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Place Called Hope

I really enjoyed this book.  A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley is not the first thing that I've ever read by Gulley.  Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister and a writer of both fiction and nonfictional thoughts, mostly on Christianity and church life.  His portrayal of and insight into church life, both fictional and nonfictional is so very accurate and wise and funny that I can't help but love everything he has written.   And, of course, there is also the added benefit of the books being very, very well written.

The Harmony series is about a fictional series (although I think there's a lot of truth and almost-true events in the books) about a Quaker preacher and his wife and two sons who move home to Harmony where Sam, the main character, grew up.  There, Sam takes over preaching the small, fundamentalist, Quaker church where he spent his childhood.  Throughout the series, we are introduced to a number of characters in this small town-from the sensible church ladies on the Chicken and Noodles Committee to the raving conservative, Dale Hinshaw who manages to alienate almost everybody.   I'm sensing another post about this series coming on...

Anyway, this series is a spin-off of that series.  In this series, Sam and Barbara (his wife) are about to experience a change.  They have to leave their town of Harmony and Sam's pastoring position after an uproar occurs.  The Unitarian pastor in Harmony asks Sam to conduct a blessing at the end of a wedding.  To Sam's utter shock, the couple is gay.  And to add to the problem the local newspaper reporter is there.  When this news gets out, the church creates a complete uproar, fires Sam, and hires a fly-by-night pastor.

With no job and two sons just sent off to college, Sam and Barbara get ready to leave for new in Hope, Indiana, respectively, at a congregation of 12 people, and the school library.  They are happy there at this new church, with kind people and, of course, the few malcontents that accompany any church.  And this is the start of a new series.

I knew that I was going to like this book.  Philip Gulley is a very funny writer with a sense of the charming foibles and quirks that accompany church life.  It also makes me laugh at how universal some parts of church life are.  For instance, take this quote from the chapter in which Sam is being interviewed by the Search committee:

"'Now I'm clerk of the Limb Committee,' Hank said.  'Limb Committee?  What's a limb committee?' Sam asked.  'Just like it sounds.  I'm in charge of making sure th tree limbs get picked up.  Got a lot of trees here.  If we didn't have a limb committee, the yard would be a mess.'  'What other committees are there?' Sam asked.  'Well, let's see, we have the limb committee, the pie committee, the roof committee, the snow committee, the lawn-mowing committee, the kitchen committee, a funeral committee, a parsonage committee, and the pastoral search committee,' Hank Withers said.  'Don't forget the peace committee,' Norma Withers added.  'And technically, we have an elders' committee, but it doesn't meet regularly.'"

This sounds ridiculous to the average ear, but this passage so funnily captures that church-wide phenomenon of, "Have something to do?  I know!  We'll start a committee and stick a couple of people on it."

This is the brilliance of Gulley's writing- capturing the mundanities of church life and showing the true hilarity of some of the situations.

This book has also been rather controversial (at least, GoodReads seems to think so), because, by the end of the book, it's pretty obvious that Gulley is in favor of the church becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, something that, at least in the US, the majority of people are not.  I appreciated how he dealt with the topic with grace, humor, and kindness to both sides of the argument, something that is not often done.

This books is obviously a niche-novel.  It's written for a certain set of the population and the majority of the jokes are good-church-people jokes.   That said, if you've ever spent any time in a church setting (and, really, it can be pretty much any church), then I would definitely recommend this book.  It's a funny, kind, gentle book and a very fast read.  I enjoyed picking it up and reading about half of it over a lunch break and then the other half that evening.  I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Code Name Verity

For some reason, it's taken me forever to write this post.  It's not like I couldn't think of things to say, I just kept forgetting about it.  Anyway, here is the post.

Code Name Verity is about a young spy, "Verity", who is captured by the Gestapo in 1943.  She is given the option to reveal her mission or die a horrible, torturous death.  Verity chooses the first option and is given paper and pencils to write out her mission.  As Verity writes out her story, she weaves in the story of how she met her friend, a pilot named Maddie, who flew the plane she was in when it wrecked.  Verity writes with a desperate passion that comes through beautifully.

So here were the things I liked about the novel:

  • It is seriously the most well-written YA novel I have ever read.  I have mentioned before that I usually scoff at young adult fiction.  In my opinion, it's usually poorly written and shallow and very formulaic (sorry, young adult readers).  However, Code Name Verity defies every one of these stereotypes and manages to produce a gripping, moving, nail-biting book.  
  • The German characters are thrillingly evil.  They are bad, bad, bad, but believably bad.
  • This beautiful story of a friendship.  Maddie and Verity have a close friendship that is beautifully portrayed, simply through a confessional.
Okay, and here was the problem:
  • I didn't finish the book.  I know, I know (blush).  I read about halfway through and the extreme brutality (I won't go into details for those who haven't read the book) just was too much.  I don't usually like brutality in books and I would have stopped a lot sooner in a less well-written book.   But, see, I couldn't stop.  However, it finally got to be too much.  I just couldn't handle it and I shut the book.  I wouldn't say that I'll never finish it, but for now, I need a break and I'm going on to something lighter.  There will probably be a point where I'll be in the mood for a deep thrill and I'll wade through the gory brutality to find out the ending, but for now it's put away.  
So now I want to hear anybody's thoughts on this book.   Did you like it?  Was it too much?  I can't wait to hear about it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Library Loot- 7/19/2014

From the Captive Reader, "Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library."

I finally have a Library Loot post together!  After missing one and then writing a post for one and forgetting about it, here is my post.  I haven't been doing a ton of library reading, just because of a busy summer, but I still manage to have a nice little pile at all times.  So here's my list:


Code Name Verity-Yes, this is on my list again.  But it's first in line, once I finish just one more book.

The Elusive Pimpernel- You know the book The Scarlet Pimpernel that everybody reads?  I read it a couple years back and really enjoyed it.  I just recently discovered that there is a whole series of books about the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I was pleased that my library has some of the books!

Evelina by Fanny Burney- This is one of those books that has floated in and out of my request list and in and out of the house, but I have a firm grip on it this time and it's not leaving until I finish it!

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson- Shirley Jackson, the well known dark-bordering-on-horror short story writer, also wrote this very funny memoir about raising her children.  The reviews on Good Reads all said that this book was fantastic.  I am really looking forward to reading this!

Wretched Writing by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras- Just a funny book, filled with examples of horrible writing.  Is started it last night and sat on the couch, laughing my head off.

So that's my smallish Library Loot for the week!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Baker Street Letters

I barely read at all on vacation (I know, go ahead and be shocked), but I did finish one book on the trip down there.  I read The Baker Street Letters, a book I'd been looking forward to for quite a while.  I am a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes books and so I thought that this story of two brothers who own offices where Sherlock Holmes "lived" would be right up my alley.

Here's the basic plot: Reggie and Nigel Heath are two brothers who are radically different.  Nigel, the younger brother, is a lawyer who is slightly mentally unstable.  After a month in a mental hospital, Nigel is back, working in an underling position for his big brother, Reggie, a very successful lawyer.  Nigel discovers letters from an 8 year old girl in Los Angeles, written to Sherlock Holmes, asking for help finding her missing father.  Nigel sets off on a wild goose chase, with Reggie close behind.

Doesn't that sound good?  Well, it was kind of a flop.  Michael Robertson, the author, is one of those people who don't sound entirely comfortable with writing.  The sentences were often a bit cumbersome and the experiences of the main characters felt rather contrived at times.  He also took far too long getting to the actual mystery, with lengthy chapters that delved into Reggie's supposedly complex emotional life.  I found myself alternating between yawning and the occasional eye roll.  In short, the book wasn't very well written.

It also had the fault of being not very Sherlockian.  There were no references to past stories, no links to things about Sherlock, except for the obvious connection of having the same address.  That's not enough, in my opinion, to warrant calling this a Sherlock spinoff or even a book inspired by Sherlock Holmes.  That clever way of solving mysteries through observation that Sherlock had was completely lost in this book.

But it isn't like this book doesn't have redeeming qualities.  Robertson does have the ability to write wryly and with a sly humor that could be very enjoyable.  I liked that Reggie and Nigel were both fully human people with understandable faults.  But that's about all the good I can find to say about this book.

So maybe I wasn't in the right mood for this book, but it's definitely not the kind of book where I want to immediately find the other books and read the rest of the series.  I'm wondering if this book will settle in my mind so that I remember it with fonder thoughts.  If so, I'll let you all know.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fahrenheit 451

Whew!  This book was good, but kind of overwhelming.  Well, that's very strong, but it was definitely a grim read for the first part of the book.  So here are my thoughts about it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of those books that, apparently, everybody except me read in late middle school/early high school.  I managed to never pick up that book, but now I finally just did.  It's a dystopian novel written in the 1950s before dystopian novels were written en masse.  It is about a world where a select few live with all of the privileges that include walls of their houses completely converted to screens so that the people can "live" with their movie characters.  Books are burned by firemen because they encourage critical thought and keep the people from being perfectly placid.  The story is told by Guy Montag, a firefighter who suddenly starts to feel bad about burning all these books.  He meets a teenaged girl, Clarisse, who is like no other person he has ever met.  She spends time outside and thinks and mentions talking to her family instead of watching the walls, like most people.

Later, Montag is stunned when Clarisse is killed and he becomes disillusioned with his work of burning books.  Along with a team of old English professors, writers, and avid readers, he sets to work, smuggling books and saving them from the burning piles.

So first of all for the part I didn't like-The conversations between Clarisse and Montag were weirdly stilted.  Ray Bradbury's writing gift is obviously not conversations.  In fact, most of this short novella is descriptions and passive rather than active voice.  Every writer has it beat into his or her head at some point that passive voice must be actively avoided (haha).  Yet Bradbury skillfully uses passive voice without it becoming dry or poorly written.  I was impressed.

I was amazed by how much I loved this book.  It's a very dark book, but the end message (I'm not going to give away the ending to you) is one of hope and reconciliation.  Sure, great damage had been wreaked, but there was ultimate hope.  The other thing I found enjoyable about the story was how pro-books it was.  Of course, most books are "pro book", but this was was quite explicit about the need for reading in society.  As you can probably imagine, I very much appreciated this.

...And now I will stop procrastinating and work on bag packing.  I'm off for a trip that will take me away from this blog until next Sunday.  Until then, I hope you all have a lovely week.  The side bar with archives is there, as always.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Her Royal Spyness: A Royal Pain

This is a review that I've been saving in my drafts for about a week now because I knew it would be such an easy review to write.  As summer comes upon us for real, I'm feeling the urge to pull out light, breezy reads to satisfy my bookish cravings in the little bits of time that I have available.  These mysteries fulfill that perfectly.  Her Royal Spyness is by no means a masterpiece of writing, yet the characters are well-drawn (I can't abide one dimensional characters) and there is a real, interesting plot.

In this, the second book in the Her Royal Spyness series, Georgie (short for Georgiana), is summoned by the queen.  Filled with the fear that the queen is sending her off to remote Scotland to wind wool for a dotty aunt until a suitable husband is found, Georgie sets off.  However, the queen only wants her to host a visiting German princess.  Georgie is in no position to host a young princess.  Her own allowance has been cut off by her stingy brother and she is living in a drafty London townhouse with no hired help at all.  However, how can she refuse the queen?  So the wild Hanni comes into her life.  Soon after Hanni arrives, a string of deaths occur that at first do not appear to be linked.   And so Georgie starts sleuthing around the bumbling police to find who is behind all the deaths.

Georgie's friends are all back including, surprisingly, the love interest who I was sure was going to get cut out.  There may be hope yet for Georgie and Darcy, although I'm still going to be pretty surprised.  Rhys Bowen has still managed to write a unique book.  With series like this, I'm always worried that the books are going to run together in my head in one indiscernible mush so I can't remember what happened in one book.  But, so far, both stories were different enough to be enjoyable, yet familiar enough that it was easy to come back into Georgie's world.
The next book

This book really isn't for everybody.  However, if you've ever loved a British mystery, a funny novel, a light-yet-still-well-written book, and a group of lovable characters, then this would be a great choice for you.  I loved it and can't wait to read the third one!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday- Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR List

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up from the blog The Broke and Bookish.)

This week, The Broke and Bookish is asking about the top ten books on your summer TBR (to be read) list.  I had a really hard time with this question, not because I don't have a huuuuge TBR list, but because I have so many to choose from!

1.  The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyzewski- I already read this, but it was most definitely on my to-read list!

2.  The Mary Stewart books-I had a goal of reading all of them this summer, but now I'm second-guessing my abilities to read about 10 of her books along with everything else.

3. Gone With the Wind-After this was mentioned on the blog Girl With Her Head in a Book, I decided that I needed to get over my aversion to this book and read it this summer

4.  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-My dad read this recently and told me that it was fantastic, so I'm going to hunt this out and read it.

5. Evelina by France Burney-This was something that was on my Library Loot post about 4 weeks ago and I checked it out of the library, then forgot it, then considered checking it out again, and then forgot.

6. The Baker Street Letters- A book that the library annoyingly refused to put on hold because it was on the new book shelf.  I requested it again and I'm getting it soon

7. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman-A book that, apparently, inspired some kind of controversy (must read up on it).  I saw the movie when it came out and really loved it, so of course, I must read the books.

And then I've discovered a new genre: memoirs that I actually like!  Remember how a couple of weeks ago I had about 3 memoirs on my Library Loot pile?  Well, one of them went missing on the hold shelf and the other just wasn't available, even though it was on the library website (grrr).

So, 8, 9, and 10 are all memoirs that I want to read.  I can't remember all of the titles.  The one I just got in the mail (you know that happy feeling you get when you see that brown, book-sized box?) is called Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire.  It's a fabulous, pretty light book and I'm really excited to read it!

I have to mention as a side note, this is my 100th post!  Yippee!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Her Royal Spyness

I just finished reading the first in a great new series!  It's called the Royal Spyness series and they are about a young woman who is 34th in line to the throne.  Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is in the uncomfortable position of being a young, unmarried woman in the 1920s with not very many encouraging prospects (romantic or financial).  Georgie, as she is called by her friends, is poverty-stricken because she has no financial support thanks to her half-brother cutting off her allowance, yet she can't respectably get a job thanks to her title.  The Great Depression in the United States is obviously affecting things, which makes it even harder.  However, Georgie has a job thrust upon her when a villainous Frenchman who was trying to get the family estate is found dead in her half-brother's bathtub.  Of course, the brother is accused although he is innocent, so Georgie sets off to find out who the real murderer was.

When I first saw this book at the library, I was slightly skeptical.  There was something slightly cheesy about the cover and, really, pun titles do not impress me.  However, it was a really enjoyable romp of a read.  Sure, it's not the most serious writing and will never compare to, say, Agatha Christie, but it's well-written and an interesting story.  I actually laughed out loud in several places.  It was a perfect book to devour in one sitting Sunday afternoon.

Georgie is a likable character and the characters around her are all very well-drawn too.  From her bumbling half-brother who never does anything right to her pinched, humorless sister-in-law, the characters are all interesting and different.

There were some minor faults I found with the book, but none of them were enough to make me dislike the book.  The whole "upholding the family honor" thing was played so heavily that it felt really overdone.  I'm sure there were expectations of a young, unmarried woman so close to the throne.  But bringing up the brave uncle who stood to face the cannons on the Scotland moor every. single. time. there's a creaking noise in the house felt crazy.  The love interest is of the sort that you know is going to be unsuitable as soon as you meet him.  These crime solving women never, ever end up with the romantic interest (I've never understood why).
The next one in the series.

In spite of it's occasional faults and foibles, the story is well-written and I'm very much looking forward to reading another one of these books.  I'm off to check it out of the library!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alfie and Annie Rose

This darling little book is in a genre that I don't normally read, but it's such a sweet book that it really deserves it's own review.  The Alfie and Annie Rose books are stories about two little 80s/90s British children and their happy lives.   The stories are told mainly from Alfie's perspective, but Annie Rose definitely plays a big role in the stories.  Alfie is a 4 or 5 year old and Annie Rose is a toddler, so she's probably anywhere from 1-3.  I just read recently that Alfie would be 30 now if he were a real person.  That surprised me so much because Alfie lives in my mind as a 5 year old.  He has all kinds of adventures from going to a birthday party where his friend gets very wild and naughty to befriending the "big boy" (a first grader) at school.  Alfie and Annie Rose live charming, normal lives and I remember how much I identified with them.

Just recently, my mom got one of the Alfie and Annie Rose books just for fun.  It was fun to flip through those pages again and remember so many of those stories.  I grew up reading these stories and I was amazed how much I remembered about the books.  I think that these books are so enjoyable in large part because Shirley Hughes (the author) clearly knows children so well.  She understands just how excited and out of control children get at a 5 year old birthday party and she knows about naming inanimate objects funny names (I had a pumpkin named Perenkin when I was about Alfie's age).  In addition to all these wonderful qualities, the illustrations are gorgeous.  The family's cluttery, cozy little London flat is so much fun to see.
An illustration from one of the books.

I really do recommend these books for anybody.  If you have some contact with any children (or if you don't), I think these books are a must-read.  When there are so many unlikeable characters in children's books and sub-par stories, these books are very refreshing.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Library Loot 5/26

Whew!  Well, I've finally got my Library Loot post together for the week.  I've got a good selection of books this week, mostly from the library.  The other new thing that I've got this week is several nonfiction things!  I just happened to find a bunch of great nonfiction books in the archives of this blog that I thought I must read.  So here goes:

1. What the World Eats by Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel- This book came out quite awhile ago and I heard fantastic things about it, then promptly forgot it.  So now, I'm going to finally get around to reading this.

2. Unpunished- This dagblamed book is getting on my nerves.  It's been in my library loot pile for three weeks and I still can't get around to reading it.  This will be the week that I finally read it!

3. The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray- Recommended by the blog mentioned above.  I just thought this looked mildly interesting.  We'll see how it is.

4. Evelina by Fanny Burney- An interesting-looking book that I look forward to reading.  It's a funny 18th century novel.

5. Dear Enemy by Jean Webster- By the author who wrote the slightly more famous Daddy Long-Legs (which I need to read), this is the story of a woman who takes the role of superintendent of an orphanage.

6. The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson- I just recently finished the Sherlock TV show and loved it and then read the original Sherlock Holmes books.  I'm excited to see how this book turns out.

I feel like I got a good haul this week.  I'm excited to see how the books are!  And yet again, my interlibrary loan limit was exceeded.  Sigh.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Wilder Rose

Last week, I was talking to my grandmother and she was enthusiastically telling me about this wonderful book about Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I listened, exclaimed that it sounded wonderful, then promptly forgot about it.  However, she was persistent, and so now I've read the book, too.  And what a wonderful read it was!

A Wilder Rose is the fictionalized account of Rose Wilder's often-fraught relationship with her mother, particularly when helping her mother write the Little House books.  From unpublished diaries and letters, historians and writers are beginning to see that Rose Wilder pretty much wrote the Little House books herself.  Rose was a very skilled editor, journalist, and writer and had a lot of experience in the publishing world.  Laura, on the other hand, and pretty much no skill, but she had a lot of good stories. Laura and Rose's relationship when writing the Little House books is the basis of this book.  According to this book (and who knows how much of this is fictionalized and how much is really based on fact), Rose spent her whole life feeling like Laura didn't quite approve of her.  This feeling only intensified when, at the age of 3, Rose was left alone while Laura was sick.  Wanting desperately to help, Rose put too much wood on the fire and burned the Wilder's little house down.  Rose writes of still remembering that sickening realization of what she had done.  This was just the start of many years of severe poverty and hard living. Rose agreed to basically write these books for her mother with no credit because she always felt indebted to her parents because of all the loss they had suffered.
Rose Wilder Lane

Once Rose grew up, she was determined to make something of herself and so attended high school in Louisiana with one of Almanzo's (her father) sisters.  After that, she attended college and began a high-powered writing career.  She had a brief marriage which collapsed shortly after the death of her only son.  When the Depression came, Rose returned to the Ozarks to live with her parents.   That was when she had her mother began working on the Little House books.  The journey from a very unpolished memoir that Laura wrote to the polished stories that we know of today is a fascinating one.

The book is told by Rose to a young aspiring journalist who is living with her.  This made for some kind of confusing foreshadowing that I think the author could have worked a little harder to make clear.  However, that is my only complaint.  I was surprised at how different these well-known characters appeared to be.  Laura became a very different, but 3-dimensional, character.  This book portrays her as a very domineering, grasping, not-very-nice person.  But in spite of these less-than-perfect character traits, we come to identify with and pity both Laura and Rose through this story.

I recommend this book to anybody who has read the Little House books, which is a pretty large percentage of the population!  The story is well-told and gives the reader another perspective into these well-known stories.  I think that I am going to read a non-fiction book that has just come out about Laura and Rose's relationship.  I'll let you know what I think of it and how it compares to this book.

As usual, I have the amazon links for this book and the A Ghost in the Little House, the non-fiction book I'm going to read.