Monthly Kickoff – July 2015

July 1, 2015 Literature 0

How To Be a HeroineThe second half of the year is upon us; it really is hard to believe the year has gone this far. How has everyone’s reading been for the past six months? I have personally had a great half-year reading and hope the next six months are just as productive. This month’s theme is books about books and we are reading How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis. I am so pleased with the choice and looking forward to some good discussions over on the Goodreads threads.

As a reminder, August will be an indigenous theme and we are reading The Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which I am sure will spark some interesting discussions. I have read this book before and I am still trying to decide if I should re-read it or not. September’s theme has been decided and it was almost going to be science fiction but urban fantasy just pulled in front by one vote. Also, don’t forget you can join in on all this fun over at Goodreads and you can help us pick our themes and books by voting in the polls.

I am currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore; both of these novels are really enjoyable so far. I also plan to read Nest by Inga Simpson for my real life book club and Limonov by Emmanuel Carre?re (translated from the French by John Lambert), which is a biography about Russian poet (and so much more) Eduard Limonov. Other than that, I would love to read The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip G. Zimbardo. After that, I will just see what will happen, what are you planning to read this month?

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Monthly Review – June 2015

June 30, 2015 Monthly Reading 1

Double IndemnityAs I look back at the first half of 2015, I tend to wonder where all the time went but I also think about the 55 books I have read so far this year. As most people know, I have decided to do some more re-reading and focus on translated fiction; in particular Russian literature, where I am determined to specialise and become somewhat of an expert. Sure, it is a big task but there is something about the challenge that excites me. It has revitalised a joy for literature that I feel was missing. This does not mean I am going to stop reading and reviewing other things, I just have a goal in mind.

However, this has not translated too well to my blogging at the moment. Ever since taking a few weeks off to go to New Zealand, I have struggled to get back into reading and reviewing. I did get sick for a few weeks and I was feeling stressed with work but I plan to get back into the swing of things. I did think maybe BookTubing was causing me to neglect my blogging but I do not think that this is the case, but only time will tell. I am still determined to have my blog document my reading journey and BookTube is just allowing me to explore different options and hopefully get better.

I have read a very small amount in June, nothing too bad; I managed to finish six books this month. The first was a very interesting book called Sweetland by Michael Crummey, which explored the concept of isolation and heritage. The story started off a little shaky and I found myself being more interested in the secondary characters but then it really kicked into high gear. This novel was picked for my real life book club and I am not sure if I would have read it otherwise, but I am glad I did. One thing I love about book club is having books picked for me to read and discuss; I have discovered so many gems because of it.

I also read The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, which is the first novel by Gary Shteyngart. I love Shyteyngart and have wanted to read everything he has written. I would have disliked this book if I did not know anything about Gary Shyteyngart or have read his memoir Little Failure. There are a lot of autobiographical elements, which I may have missed if I had not been interested in this writer. I also read a novel, which might well be my favourite for 2015, Girl at War by Sara Novic. This is the perfect book for me, it reminds me of my love for All That is Solid Melts into Air last year and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena the year before. There is something about these books that I love, I think it is my interest in the eastern bloc and the people’s struggle that I am drawn to.

Next I read How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, a literary memoir where the author went back to all her old favourites and looked at the women within the books. This was part literary criticism but I had issues with the author’s opinions towards the theories and really effected my enjoyment of the memoir. I then picked up Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was translated by Antonina W. Bouis, to continue my interest in Russian literature and Bulgakov as well. This novella is also known as Heart of a Dog but this depends on the translation. Finally I read Double Indemnity for the Literary Exploration book club, which was a re-read for me and I posted a review for this book yesterday.

I am starting to get back into the swing of things and I hope to get back to reading and blogging as well. I am currently reading a heavy book that happens to be over 700 pages as well and that is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, I am enjoying the novel but it is taking some time to work through it. Also I am reading One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore, I am loving this novel and I do not want it to end, so I think I have been taking my time with the book. That was my reading month; it was not my best but it also was not that bad. How was your reading month?

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

June 29, 2015 What are you Reading 6

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

A Little LifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its publisher.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

One Night in WinterOne Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The acclaimed novelist and prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore explores the consequences of forbidden love in this heartbreaking epic, inspired by a true story that unfolds in Stalin’s Russia during the bleak days after World War II.

A jubilant Moscow is celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory over Hitler when gunshots ring out though the city’s crowded streets. In the shadow of the Kremlin, a teenage boy and girl are found dead. But this is no ordinary tragedy, because these are no ordinary teenagers. As the children of high-ranking Soviet officials, they inhabit a rarefied world that revolves around the exclusive Josef Stalin Commune School 801. The school, which Stalin’s own children attended, is an enclave of privilege—but, as the deaths reveal, one that hides a wealth of secrets. Were these deaths an accident, a suicide pact . . . or murder?

Certain that a deeper conspiracy is afoot, Stalin launches a ruthless investigation. In what comes to be known as the Children’s Case, youths from all over Moscow are arrested by state security services and brought to the infamous interrogation rooms of the Lubyanka, where they are forced to testify against their friends and their families. Among the casualties of these betrayals are two pairs of illicit lovers, who find themselves trapped at the center of Stalin’s witch hunt. As the Children’s Case follows its increasingly terrifying course, these couples discover that the decision to follow one’s heart comes at a terrible price.

A haunting evocation of a time and place in which the state colluded to corrupt and destroy every dream, One Night in Winter is infused with the desperate intrigue of a political thriller. The eminent historian Simon Sebag Montefiore weaves fact and fiction into a richly compelling saga of sacrifice and survival, populated by real figures from the past. But within the darkness shines a deeply human love story, one that transcends its moment as it masterfully explores our capacity for loyalty and forgiveness

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

* Books part of my reading challenge for 2015; re-reads and more books in translation

What Are You Reading?

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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

June 29, 2015 Book of the Month, James M. Cain, Pulp 0

Double Indemnity by James M. CainTitle: Double Indemnity (Goodreads)
Author: James M. Cain
Published: Vintage, 1936
Pages: 114
Genre: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When small time insurance man Walter Huff meets Phyllis Nirdlinger, her beauty quickly seduced him. The wife of a wealthy oil executive convinces him to help get rid of her husband, but not before a substantial policy was taken out on him. Accident insurance often causes suspicion but when Phyllis’ husband dies from what looks like a train accident, double indemnity kicks in and Walter’s bosses suspect foul play.

James M. Cain is the master at noir with books like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce and recently The Cocktail Waitress was released posthumously.  Double Indemnity is one of his most notable pieces of work and was adapted into the 1944 classic film noir movie of the same name. The movies screenplay was written by fellow master of pulp Raymond Chandler and has been dubbed culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant by the US Library of Congress.

Double Indemnity is a clause often found in accident insurance policies where the issuer agrees to pay double (or more) if the accident happens in certain conditions. It is often used to make the policy more appealing but applies to low risk incidents. Death by train accident is one of these examples and when Phyllis’ husband died in these conditions the insurance company was naturally suspicious.

This classic pulp novel follows Walter Huff who plots the perfect murder all for the beautiful Phyllis Nirdlinger. What he didn’t count on was that he was seduced into helping a femme fatale and now he was under her thumb. In true James M. Cain style, Double Indemnity holds nothing back, both in style and plot. Everything you expect in a 1930s noir novel can be found in this thrilling novella.

This is a re-read for me of Double Indemnity and I must admit I was so happy to return to the style of James M. Cain. Everything you expect from the pulp style and dialogue can be found within this classic story. I know I need to dive into some more of Cain’s novels, with some re-reads and completing his bibliography. I have no words to describe the feeling of returning to a much-loved author and I know I need to re-watch the movie. If you have never read Cain or anything from the classic pulp genre, then you can never go wrong with a book like Double Indemnity.

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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

June 28, 2015 Helen Macdonald, Non-Fiction 0

H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldTitle: H is for Hawk (Goodreads)
Author: Helen Macdonald
Published: Vintage, 2014
Pages: 300
Genre: Non-Fiction
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Helen Macdonald has always had a fascination with birds, since a young age she was determined to become a falconer. She would read books on the topic; one book in particular had stuck with her, The Goshawk by T. H. White. When Helen lost her father, grief struck her in a big way, and soon her obsession in training her own goshawk was her own way out. H is for Hawk is a memoir on both dealing with grief and obsession.

I heard so much about this book and when it was assigned for book club, I was excited. Although in the back of my mind, my thoughts on falconry were sceptical. I find falconry to be a barbaric and cruel practice that is no longer required within our culture. To starve and cage a raptor for your own amusement seems unnecessary. With these thoughts going into the book, I had a hard time appreciating the memoir.

I know Helen Macdonald repeatedly stated that she was not starving the goshawk, I still thought of it as a cruel practice. I learned a lot about falconry, some stuff was interesting but there was so much information to process. The book never changed my feelings towards falconry, only cemented them and that become my fundamental problem with H is for Hawk. I enjoyed the parts about The Goshawk and I love reading memoirs about reading books but there was not enough there to hold my interest.

I thought I would try annotating this book, it is a habit that I want to start and thought it would be fun. However I did have to stop with the annotation, as I started to feel like Helen Macdonald was over playing her grief just to make the story more interesting. I did not want to be the heartless person that criticises the author’s emotions, especially when it comes to grief. So I quickly abandoned my annotations and I continued to try to get into the habit.

While H is for Hawk has some wonderful writing, I had a very difficult time enjoying this book. I wanted Helen Macdonald to return to talking about The Goshawk through out the entire memoir. I am interested in seeing what Macdonald will do next, she certainly can right. I hope her next book, whatever that may be, will be something I can get behind.

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What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz

June 26, 2015 Manuel Muñoz, Mystery 0

What You See in the Dark by Manuel MuñozTitle: What You See in the Dark (Goodreads)
Author: Manuel Muñoz
Published: Algonquin Books, 2011
Pages: 272
Genre: Mystery
My Copy: Library Book

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When a famous actor and director arrives in Bakersfield, California (1959) scouting film locations for an upcoming movie about madness, the local gossip columns begin to speculate why they are here. However, when a murder at a roadside motel is discovered, this dusty, quiet town is turned on its head. Unfolding the same way the Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, almost frame for frame. No one ever predicted that life would rival anything that this director could capture on the screen.

Manuel Muñoz has been dazzling the world with his short story collections for a while now, often been compared to Junot Díaz or Daniel Alarcón. What You See in the Dark is his debut novel and it explodes onto the scene to explore the deliciously sinister side of desire. Heavily influenced by Psycho, Muñoz tries to capture that iconic feel of this classic movie.

What I found fascinating about this novel is the way it did try to mimic Hitchcock’s Psycho, trying to capture the feel and style. While it does not always work I was very impressed with just how much did translate to the page. Manuel Muñoz is a very impressive writer and I went into this book expecting something light and fluffy but ended up being captivated by the style.

What You See in the Dark is a very stylistic novel that tried and often succeeded in playing with the imagery, however it often did stick to what novels do far better than movies, and that is the internal monologues. The book is not without its flaws, there are times where it tries too hard at mimicking Hitchcock and there are other times where it feels flat or dry. In the end, this was an enjoyable book with a perfect title. What do you see in the dark? Hitchcock knows and he has the answer.

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

June 8, 2015 What are you Reading 2

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

sweetlandSweetland by Michael Crummey

For twelve generations, the inhabitants of a remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement. They have each been offered a generous compensation package to leave the island for good. There’s just one proviso: everyone must go.

Gradually, all of the residents surrender to the inevitable. All of the residents, that is, but one: old Moses Sweetland.

Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses resists the coercion of family and friends in order to hold onto the only place he’s ever called home. As his options dwindle, Moses Sweetland concocts a scheme to remain the island’s only living resident.

Cut off from the outside world, with the food supply diminishing and weather shredding away the last evidence of human habitation, Sweetland finds himself, finally, in the company of ghosts . . .

Written with incomparable emotional power and depth, Sweetland is a story about loyalty and courage, about the human will to persist even when all hope seems lost.

The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary ShteyngartThe Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

The Russian Debutante’s Handbook introduces Vladimir Girshkin, one of the most original and unlikely heroes of recent times. The twenty-five-year-old unhappy lover to a fat dungeon mistress, affectionately nicknamed “Little Failure” by his high-achieving mother, Vladimir toils his days away as a lowly clerk at the bureaucratic Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society. When a wealthy but psychotic old Russian war hero appears, Vladimir embarks on an adventure of unrelenting lunacy that takes us from New York’s Lower East Side to the hip frontier wilderness of Prava–the Eastern European Paris of the nineties. With the help of a murderous but fun-loving Russian mafioso, Vladimir infiltrates the Prava expat community and launches a scheme as ridiculous as it is brilliant.

Bursting with wit, humour, and rare insight, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook is both a highly imaginative romp and a serious exploration of what it means to be an immigrant in America.

Girl at WarGirl at War by Sara Novic

Part war saga, part coming of age tale, part story of love and friendship, Girl at War is a powerful debut novel by a young writer who will appeal to readers of Anthony Marra, Téa Obreht, and Anthony Doerr.

“An unforgettable portrait of how war forever changes the life of the individual, Girl at War is a remarkable debut by a writer working with deep reserves of talent, heart, and mind.”—Gary Shteyngart

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost. With generosity, intelligence, and sheer storytelling talent, Sara Novic’s first novel confronts the enduring impact of war, and the enduring bonds of country and friendship.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

* Books part of my reading challenge for 2015; re-reads and more books in translation

What Are You Reading?

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Monthly Kickoff – June 2015

June 1, 2015 Monthly Kickoff 2

Double IndemnityJune is upon us once again, which means we are almost half way through 2015; where did the time go? This month I am really looking forward to re-reading Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, which is our group read for the month, over on the Goodreads book club. This month is our hard-boiled/noir theme and I am looking forward to talking about this one.

Next month we have a book about books theme and voters have decided that the book will be How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis. Which I’ve been wanting to read, so I am really looking forward to having my chance to do so. Then discuss it, as well as all the books mentioned within this book.

As a reminder, the theme for August has been decided and we are looking for nominations for a great book about indigenous people.  There is plenty of excitement on the Literary Exploration book club; you can still join the reading challenge if you want. Come join in the fun and try different genres too, don’t forget to vote in the polls and decided what we will read in the next coming months.

You all know that I do not like to plan my reading too far in advance. I do hope to re-read Double Indemnity and may I will read One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore as well. Other than that, I will just see what happens. Let me know what your plans are for this month and happy reading.

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Monthly Review – May 2015

May 31, 2015 Monthly Reading 1

Wolf TotemMay has been a big month for me. I have been preparing for a trip to New Zealand and I also took time off before hand to get some reading done. In fact, I have scheduled this post in advance, so it will be posted on the right day. This does mean I will not be talking about my entire month of reading but just the highlights upon writing this. If you do want to see a full monthly wrap up, you will just have to subscribe to my YouTube channel and wait for it to be posted. I think I went into May with eleven reviews I still needed to write, and then add all the books I have read so far and I am so far behind. I get on a roll with my reading and it is much more fun reading than writing reviews. About a year ago I wrote my book blogging manifesto, which I have been reflecting on. So much has changed but my goals are still the same. I just need to remind myself to get back into writing more frequently.

Looking at the Literary Exploration book club, we tackled translated fiction this month (a favourite of mine) and we read Wolf Totem, a Chinese novel by Jiang Rong and translated by Howard Goldblatt. I am glad we finally got to books in translation and I hope it encouraged many people to read more novels from other countries. As a reminder next month we are moving onto hard-boiled/noir theme and reading Double Indemnity by James M. Cain and I am looking forward to re-reading this classic.

This month has been a wonderful month for reading but I am still very behind in blogging. Highlights of the month have included Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard, Aquarium by David Vann, The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith and a re-read of Anna Karenina for my Russian lit project. However, I am packing some great books to take away with me, including more Russian classics, so I think by the time this post goes up, I would have had a wonderful month. I am sad that I was not able to do a longer wrap up post talking about my entire reading month but a much need vacation was a better option. I will be back to a normal wrap up next month; but I would love to know what everyone else read this month.

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Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

May 30, 2015 Book of the Month, Historical Fiction, Jiang Rong 0

Wolf Totem by Jiang RongTitle: Wolf Totem (Goodreads)
Author: Jiang Rong
Translator: Howard Goldblatt
Published: Viking, 2004
Pages: 527
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Wolf Totem is the story of a Chen Zhen, a young Beijing student who is sent to the countryside of Inner Mongolia in 1967. He lived with the nomadic Mongols, who are a proud, brave, and ancient race of people, exploring the harmony, beauty and also cruelness of nature. As well as learning the philosophy the Mongols have towards nature and their attitudes towards the wolf; who keep the ecological balance.

This is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows an experience that the author, Lü Jiamin (writing under the pseudonym Jiang Rong) had during the height of China’s culture revolution. This revolution was a social-political movement that took place within the People’s Republic of China between 1966 and 1976. The communist chairman Mao Zedong’s goals were to preserve the true communist ideals within China. This meant the purging of capitalism and even traditional culture.

In the height of this purge, the protagonist is exploring the folk traditions, rituals, and life on the Steppe, looking into the culture and traditions of the ethnic Mongolian nomads and the Han Chinese farmers. These traditions were at risk of being purged under Chairman Mao’s rule, allowing the author to talk about the importance of keeping ancient traditions alive.

Also within Wolf Totem there is a whole obsession Chen Zhen has with wolves. They are seen to keep nature in balance. He fears and respects the wolves but he also questions their role in nature. A connection could be made between the wolves and the Communist party but that is up to the reader to decide.

I found this book to drag on a bit too much; there is a lot of information about wolves and agriculture that seemed to just go on and on. However, Wolf Totem explored some unfamiliar cultures to me and gave me great insight into one man’s opinions about the culture revolution. I think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it did not drag on so much; could have purged at least a hundred pages. Having said that, I am glad I read it and I think it is worth exploring different points of view.

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