Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

May 6, 2015 Jennifer Graham, Mystery, Rob Thomas 0

Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas & Jennifer GrahamTitle: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Goodreads)
Author: Jennifer Graham, Rob Thomas
Published: Random House, 2015
Pages: 336
Genre: Mystery
My Copy: Paperback

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Veronica Mars is back, and this time she is investigating what might be her most challenging case. The Neptune Grand has hired her to investigate a woman’s claims of assault and rape in one of their hotel rooms. This is a high-profile scandal that has the potential to ruin this ritzy hotel. Mr. Kiss and Tell is a mystery that finds Veronica working for the ‘big guy’ investigating something she has personally experienced, how will she cope with this type of case?

Most may be aware that I am a big fan of the Veronica Mars series and I was so excited that they were continuing the story in book form. Now the books are slightly different, switching from first person to third, but the characters and setting are all there. If you have seen the TV series you know that sometimes Veronica can get involved in a case that can challenge her own values. The show and book have an interesting exploration into the class struggle and Mr. Kiss and Tell has Mars working for the people (this time Neptune Grand) with the money.

What I enjoyed about this book is the way that Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham explored that struggle between Mars’ own personal experiences and the nature of the case. Rob Thomas often did this in the TV show and it was nice to see this conflict returning for the book series. Veronica Mars is a strong independent woman and I love this about her but I like to see that little bit of vulnerability coming through in this book, it really helps humanise her.

It is hard to talk about mystery novels without giving away the plot but what I will say is that I did not enjoy this one as much as The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. This book does feature a lot more of Logan Echolls but I always ship Veronica Mars and Mac Mackenzie (who featured heavily in book one). I am so happy to read more about Veronica’s life and I will be anxiously waiting for the next book in this series.

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The Stranger by Albert Camus

May 2, 2015 Albert Camus, Classic 4

The Stranger by Albert CamusTitle: The Stranger (Goodreads)
Author: Albert Camus
Translator: Matthew Ward
Published: Vintage, 1941
Pages: 123
Genre: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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The Stranger (also known as The Outsider or L’Étranger) tells the story of Meursault, an unsympathetic French Algerian, who after attending his mother’s funeral, finds himself killing an Arab man. The novel follows a first-person narrative that explores the events before and after this murder. Albert Camus said is best when he said “I summarised The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

On the surface The Stranger is the story of an emotionless protagonist; Meursault does not care about anything and could be considered a sociopath. However, this novel is often cited as an example of Camus’ philosophy on the absurd and existentialism. So in order to fully grasp the intent behind this classic novel, we must look into just what existentialism is and more practically absurdism.

The absurd is often referring to the conflicting philosophy that humans have a tendency to seek out value and meaning in life. However absurdism believes it is logically and humanly impossible to find any meaning of life. Philosophers may have very different doctrines but they generally believe that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject. Though existentialism comes from the disorientation or confusion that we are living in a meaningless (or absurd) world.

For Albert Camus, The Stranger is an exploration into the meaning of life and if life has no meaning what is the purpose of morality. Meursault’s detachment from the world is a result of his conclusion that life is meaningless; “The chaplain knew the game well too, I could tell right away: his gaze never faltered. And his voice didn’t falter, either, when he said, ‘Have you no hope at all? And do you really live with the thought that when you die, you die, and nothing remains?’ ‘Yes,’ I said.” Paradoxically, it was only after being sentenced to death, that Meursault was able to obtain some sense of happiness.

Without an understanding of Albert Camus’ philosophical ideas, I do not think that the reader will have any hope in truly understand or appreciating this novel. However I have heard that The Stranger has been an option for high school students (especially in America) to study. I wonder how many students fall into the trap of picking this novel thinking it was short only to discover how difficult it is to analyse. I do not have enough of an understanding of absurdism or existential philosophy to full appreciate The Stranger. However re-reading this novel has helped me understand this enough to enjoy the Camus’ philosophical ideas.

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Monthly Kickoff – May 2015

May 1, 2015 Monthly Kickoff 0

Wolf TotemWelcome to May, hard to believe that the year is going so fast. I hope that your year has been going as well as mine, especially when it comes to reading. This month in the book club we are reading Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (translated by Howard Goldblatt) as part of our translated fiction theme. I’m excited to dive into this book and get a better understanding on Chinese culture and history. Just a reminder, the discussions of this book will be happening over on the threads at Goodreads.

Next month the theme is noir and Double Indemnity by James M. Cain has been picked for the group read. I am really looking forward to re-reading this book and seeing what I get out of it this time around. July’s theme has also been picked and we are reading a book about books, so if you have any suggestions, please head over to Goodreads and make sure you nominate as quickly as possible, because nominations are only open for a very short time and the first six-ten books will be picked. Don’t forget you can join in on all the other fun over at Goodreads as well as helping us pick our next theme and books by voting in the polls.

As for my reading this month, I am not actually sure what I am going to read with the exception of the following books I have on the go already; Anna Karenina, The Firebird, Get Shorty and Manuscripts Don’t Burn. I have a little bit of vacation time happening this month and I hope to take full advantage of this and get some reading done. Please let me know if you have any books planned for the month, and happy reading everyone.

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Monthly Review – April 2015

April 30, 2015 Monthly Reading 2

kafka on the shoreApril has been a wonderful month for me; I celebrated my third blogiversary this month (not very publically). However the big news is the announcement of my Russian lit project, I am actually very excited to dive into this world and see what I discover. I have been feeling unmotivated with my blogging lately and I have fallen behind in my reviewing (currently ten reviews I need to write). I am struggling to find the motivation and the inspiration to blog but this Russian lit project has got me so excited. Even if I do not know how if it will work in terms of blogging or BookTube, my excitement is all directed towards what I will read and learn.

As far as reading goes, I was in a weird place where while I read an average amount of books, I still feel like I did not read much. I started the month off finishing The Whispering City by Sara Moliner, a Spanish crime novel translated by Mara Faye Lethem, that I had high hopes for but never really lived up to me expectation. However, I did follow that book up with another historical fiction novel, The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis which was my first attempt for this author and not sure if it was the best place to start. It had a very interesting premise but exploring Jewish heritage and culture during World War II has been done to death.

The next novel I read, I can actually review as part of my Russian lit project and that is the Ukrainian novel Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (translated by George Bird). This novel explores a struggling writer named Viktor who was given a king penguin to look after when the Kiev Zoo ran out of money and could not afford to feed the animals. Viktor gets a job writing obituaries and the book has the wonderful contrast between life and death. This is a dark comedy and I love the way Kurkov handled the balance between the satire and the message. Next was What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz, which tries to imitate the style of Alfred Hitchcock but I do not think worked. Hitchcock has a very visual style, playing with shadows and atmosphere and while this novel is able to replicate this to some extent, it does not work that well on paper. I followed that book with Haruki Murakami’s book Kafka on the Shore (translated by Philip Gabriel) which I love and have already posted a review for.

I attempted my first Ali Smith novel with There But For The, which is a witty and satirical book that I am still trying to get my head around. I love the style Smith writes in and I know I am going to read a whole lot more of her books. I then read Helen MacDonald’s memoir on grief H is for Hawk. I made the mistake of trying to annotate this; I had never tried to write in the margins of any book and while I loved the experience it was not the right choice. I found myself questioning MacDonald’s emotions and quickly decided I will try annotating again but with a work of fiction. I then moved onto Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgård (translated by Don Bartlett) which is the third book in the autobiographical novel series My Struggle. Finally, the last book was a novel that reminded me that I was not that intelligent and that is 10:04 by Ben Lerner. This was an extremely sophisticated and intelligent novel, I am still struggling to wrap my head around it completely and I am beginning to fear I never will comprehend it fully.

In retrospect I had a pretty great reading month, even if I felt like I did not read enough. Going into May, I have Anna Karenina, The Firebird, Get Shorty and Manuscripts Don’t Burn all on the go. So I know I am going to have a good month, I also have some vacation time and I cannot wait. How was April for you, did you read anything amazing? Let me know in the comments below.

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

April 29, 2015 Book of the Month, Haruki Murakami, Magical Realism 0

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Kafka on the Shore (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Vintage, 2002
Pages: 480
Genre: Magical Realism
My Copy: Library Book

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Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a fifteen year old book named Kafka who runs away from home to find his mother and sister. Although the alternate chapters tell the story of Nakata; a strange old man who has the ability to talk to cats. Like many of Haruki Murakami’s books, Kafka on the Shore blends pop culture with magical realism in order to explore the psyche of the characters involved.

It is often hard to try and give an overview of a Murakami book because they tend to come out weird and I do not want to give the impression that his novels are not worth attempting. For Kafka on the Shore, the magical realism allows the reader to explore the psychological mind of fifteen year old Kafka Tamune. Not only is Kakfa a young man discovering his sexuality, Sigmund Freud would probably suggest that he also has an Oedipus complex and has developed an unhealthy obsession with his mother and sister.

According to Freud, an Oedipus complex stems from the unconscious mind and normally caused by the repression of a mother (or father) figure. Freudian psychoanalysis theory suggests that this is a key psychological experience needed for normal sexual development. However if it is unsuccessful at resolving it may lead to neurosis, paedophilia, or homosexuality. Without going into the problematic thinking of Sigmund Freud, this does make for an interesting analysis of Kafka’s journey throughout the book, especially with his interactions between Sakura and Miss Saeki.

If we continue looking at this novel through the lens of psychoanalysis theory, we might even get some interesting insights into Nakata. I always thought the loss of mental faculties was due to the psychological trauma, he experienced as a young boy. He was one of sixteen schoolchildren picking mushrooms in a field trip towards the end of World War II, when they were all rendered unconscious from a mysterious light in the sky. However it has also been suggested that maybe Kafka and Nakata are two different parts of the same person.

Every time I read a Haruki Murakami, I am reminded of his brilliance (with the exception of 1Q84), and I want to explore more of his works. I am also reminded that I need to learn a whole lot more about psychoanalytical theories, and how much it would help with books like Kafka on the Shore. For me this was a bildungsroman book about sexual development and memories. However, I found myself more interested in the chapters centred on Kafka over those about Nakata but maybe that was because I understood them a little better.

Yet again Haruki Murakami has impressed me with Kafka on the Shore and I am eager to pick up more of his books. I know magical realism can be scary for some people but I love the way Murakami uses it to explore the mind. My only real criticism of this book is that it was a little bloated and could have been trimmed down a little and still achieve the same. This might be due to an aversion to big books that I really need to overcome and not a true reflection on Murakami. I highly recommend giving this author a go if you have never tried him but Kafka on the Shore is not a good starting point; may I suggest trying Norwegian Wood first.

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The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

April 28, 2015 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Short Stories 0

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins GilmanTitle: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories (Goodreads)
Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Published: Dover Thrift, 1892
Pages: 70
Genre: Short Stories
My Copy: Personal Copy

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In the title story “The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells the story of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A specialist recommends that she takes rest cure; a treatment in which has her lying in bed all day and only allowed two house of intellectual activities a day. After a few months of staring at the walls, things are far from improving.

While this is a collection of short stories, I am focusing on the title story simple because it gives you a sense of what to expect when reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “The Yellow Wallpaper” explores the decline of the protagonist’s health, both physically and mentally. Written in a series of diary entries, the story not only looks at depression but, on a deeper level, gender roles. The doctor and her husband are portrayed as repressors; while their intentions are to help her heal they never take into account her own opinion.

This in turn critiques that position of the woman, especially when it comes to the institution of marriage. Gilman looks at marriage as a hierarchy; the male is actively working and knows what is best for the house, while the wife is put in charge of the domestic jobs (cooking, cleaning and so on). The wife becomes a second class citizen; a servant only there to serve her husband. When the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” gets sick she is demoted further and her role becomes similar to a petulant child.

While I have focused on the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, these similar themes are found throughout this collection. What I found so satisfying is the way Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses irony to express her opinions. The use of both verbal and dramatic irony is found in all her stories but I enjoyed the sarcasm the most. There is a lot of symbolism and motifs within the stories well worth exploring that really empathises her point.

I loved this collection of short stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, there are so many interesting topics worth exploring and I used “The Yellow Wallpaper” to emphases and provide a glimpse into what you can expect. I am determined to read a whole lot more of Gilman’s works, I fell in love with her writing style and got so much pleasure out of reading these stories. The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories is a collection of stories well worth picking up and adding to your personal library.

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

April 27, 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.

The FirebirdThe Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Whoever dares to seek the Firebird may find the journey—and its ending—unexpected.

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images; glimpses of those who have owned it before. It’s never been a gift she wants, and she keeps it a secret from most people, including her practical boss Sebastian, one of London’s premier dealers in Russian art.

But when a woman offers Sebastian a small wooden carving for sale, claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof. Sebastian believes that the plain carving—known as “The Firebird”—is worthless. But Nicola’s held it, and she knows the woman is telling the truth, and is in desperate need of the money the sale of the heirloom could bring.

Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left, and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than hers. With Rob to help her “see” the past, she follows a young girl named Anna from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia. There, in St. Petersburg—the once-glittering capital of Peter the Great’s Russia—Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption…an old story that seems personal and small, perhaps, against the greater backdrops of the Jacobite and Russian courts, but one that will forever change their lives.

Get ShortyGet Shorty by Elmore Leonard

Loan shark Chili Palmer didn’t say anything when Ray Bones stole his leather jacket from Vesuvio’s in Miami. He just went to Ray’s house, broke his nose, took the jacket, and left. Twelve years later, on account of his boss getting whacked, Chili finds himself working for Bones and ordered to collect on a bad debt from Leo Devoe, a guy who died in a plane crash. But it turns out Leo isn’t dead; he’s in Las Vegas with the $300,000 the airline paid to his wife. So Chili follows him to Vegas and then on to Hollywood, where he hooks up with movie producers, actors, and studio execs. Getting Leo becomes a movie pitch unfolding in a city where every move you make is a potential scene, and making it big isn’t all that different from making your bones: You gotta know who to pitch, who to hit, and how to knock ’em dead.

Manuscripts Don't BurnManuscripts Don’t Burn by Mikhail Bulgakov & J.A.E. Curtis

n his own lifetime, Russian novelist and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov was scarcely published. A quarter of a century after his death, his novel, The Master and the Margarita, has become a worldwide bestseller. In this book, J.A.E. Curtis presents a chronicle of Bulgakov’s life. She is the only Westerner to have been granted access to either his or his wife’s diaries which record the nightmarish precariousness of life during the Stalinist purges. She combines this with extracts from letters to and from Bulgakov and with her own commentary. She also includes letters to Stalin, in which Bulgalov pleads to be allowed to emigrate; letters to his siblings; intimate notes to his second and third wives; and letters to and from other writers such as Gorky and Zamyatin.

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

What Are You Reading?

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The Unamericans by Molly Antopol

April 21, 2015 Molly Antopol, Molly Antopol, Short Stories 4

The Unamericans by Molly AntopolTitle: The Unamericans (Goodreads)
Author: Molly Antopol
Published: Atlantic Books, 2014
Pages: 261
Genre: Short Stories
My Copy: Library Book

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The world of short stories has had a rocky history, but every now and then there are authors that make you excited about a collection of stories again. When I think about great short story collections, I think Raymond Carver with his book What We Talk About When We Talk about Love, George Sanders (especially his recent collection Tenth of December) and now Molly Antopol with her debut collection The UnAmericans. Even I have to admit that I have often struggled with short stories but then something like The UnAmericans comes along and I feel ready to take on more collections.

Molly Antopol is a lecturer at Stanford University where she teaches as part of their writing program. In 2013, she was one of the recipients of the “5 Under 35″ award from the National Book Foundation, which highlights five young writers to watch and she has been someone well worth watching. Her debut, The UnAmericans was nominated for countless awards including the National Jewish Book Award and the National Book Award. Though her collection of short stories did not take home any major awards, this is the start of a very promising career for Molly Antopol and is someone I plan to follow closely.

The UnAmericans is a collection full of stories about families, heritage, identity and all the things that define us as humans. With a strong focus on immigration this book is a post 9/11 exploration into America. Exploring the lives of all those people that might have felt excluded as American due to difference in heritage, skin colour, religion, and political or moral beliefs. While it does not typically focus on America or events post 9/11, it is the kind of story that could have only been told after a tragedy like that day.

Each character is richly developed, coming from places like Kiev, Prague, Tel Avid and Soviet Moscow, the stories all explore the same similar themes but in away that never feels repetitive or preachy. Antopol appears to be interested in exploring peoples differences and similarities and trying to get the message across that we are all the same. All the different places these people live in and they all want the very same things, love and acceptance. While their heritage often plays a big part in their identity it doesn’t make them UnAmerican; we are all humans.

I was extremely impressed and it made me want to read more short stories; if Molly Antopol can give so much depth into her characters as she did in The UnAmericans then it makes me excited for the rest of the genre. I did go on to read another collection of short stories right after this one, this time it was by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I hate to say it; The UnAmericans was great but then going on to read The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, changed everything yet again.

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

April 20, 2015 What are you Reading 10

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.

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer, Helen had never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk, but in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

10-0410:04 by Ben Lerner

In the past year, the narrator of 10:04 has enjoyed unexpected literary success, been diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition, and been asked by his best friend to help her conceive a child. Now, in a New York of increasingly frequent superstorms and political unrest, he must reckon with his biological mortality, the possibility of a literary afterlife, and the prospect of (unconventional) fatherhood in a city that might soon be under water.

In prose that Jonathan Franzen has called ‘hilarious… cracklingly intelligent… and original in every sentence’, Lerner’s new novel charts an exhilarating course through the contemporary landscape of sex, friendship, memory, art and politics, and captures what it is like to be alive right now.

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

What Are You Reading?

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