Monthly Kickoff – March 2015

March 1, 2015 Monthly Kickoff 2

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasIn March the Literary Exploration Book Club will be exploring the weird and wonderful mind of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as part of our autobiographical novel theme. I have seen the movie a few times and I feel like I have read this book but I have not recorded this on Goodreads, LibraryThing or my reading spreadsheet, so I guess I am reading this book again (or for the first time). It feels like it has been a while since I last joined in on the group read (because I have already read the books) but it has not been that long, I was reading Tender is the Night with the group. If you are interested in reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, please come join the fun over at Goodreads.

Next month we are moving to magical realism and it looks like we will be reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I have not read much magical realism (and the majority has been Murakami), so I am actually looking forward to trying this novel.  It will also be a good choice for anyone looking for a magical realism book for the Literary Exploration reading challenge. Don’t forget you can join in on all this fun over at Goodreads and don’t forget to vote in the polls.

For my personal reading I am planning on finishing The Whispering City by Sara Moliner (translated by Mara Faye Lethem, Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (translated by Edith Grossman) and The World According to Garp by John Irving. After that, I am not sure what I will read, but I love reading on a whim and always look forward to seeing where my reading will take me. I have a few books I would love to read soon and there are some books reserved at the library but I am not going to put pressure on myself. Please let me know if you have any books planned for the month and happy reading everyone.

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Monthly Review – February 2015

February 28, 2015 Monthly Reading 4

The Paying GuestsWhere has the month gone? I cannot believe that February is over already; time just moves too fast. I feel like this month has been a very busy month with work and life but I cannot really work out what occupied so much of my time. Having said that, in my reading life, I was very happy with February. While I have been making this the year of reading more books in translations and some re-reading, my wife has challenged herself to read a book by an author from every country in the world. This is fantastic challenge that might take her years to complete but it also reminds me that there are some gaps in my reading. On BookTube, there is a lot going around about reading more diversely, and while I have noticed some trending problems, it has let me evaluate my reading. I have never read a book by a non-binary author. I do not know of any non-binary authors, so do not know where to begin and finally I need to read more books from South America. I may do the reading diversely tag on my BookTube channel just so I have a document of this.

I have not done too much towards my challenge in February, my goal is to do at least one re-read and one book in translation a month and I did achieve that. I had one re-read and two books in translation; I feel like most of my rereads will be books in translation but I am okay with that, I finished The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (translated by Hugh Aplin) which I started in January and I enjoyed this book so much more the second time around, there is so much going on and it is hard to articulate everything I want to say about it but I will try to do that sometime soon. I even read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin) and this is the first time I have read this book but I can see why people often pick this as their favourite from this author. I am currently reading two books in translation at the moment, The Whispering City by Sara Moliner (translated by Mara Faye Lethem) which is a book from Spain and Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (translated by Edith Grossman) which is from Peru, but I still have not worked out what I am re-reading in March.

I started off very slow in February and I got to a point where Goodreads were telling me I had fallen behind on my reading goal already. However one of the advantages of reading multiple books at a time is that sometimes all the books being read finish at the same time and I was able to get back on track. I have mentioned three books already but I also read another six books. The first book I read this month was Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch which is the fourth book in the Peter Grant series and I am trying to resist the urge to move onto the next book; I want to read it but then I will have to wait months for book six.

My local indie bookshop hosts a book club and it has returned and this month we discussed Deeper Water by Jessie Cole, which I had to race through to get it read before the meet up. This is an interesting novel that explores the culture clash between the city and rural Australia and while I had issues with it I still enjoyed reading this one. I also picked up Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald to compare with Tender Is The Night, which I read last month. I need to do some research into this book because I feel like F. Scott Fitzgerald may have white washed it a little to make himself appear like a nicer person. Finally after that I picked up my first Rose Tremain, which was a collection of short stories called The American Lover and shows off Tremain’s writing skills and character development, so much so I need to check out a novel by this author. Also I dived into Wolf in White Van which explored isolation and depression in a really interesting way and I read Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. This book was amazing. It was my first Baldwin novel and I have so much I want to say about this book but I am unsure how to express these feelings. Finally I read The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which seems to be getting mixed reviews but I really enjoyed; still sorting out my thoughts but I cannot wait to talk about this one with others.

I feel like I say this every month but I have no plans for March (reading wise) apart from what I am currently reading, which is The Whispering City, Red April and The World According to Garp by John Irving. I do have some books reserved at the library, The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol, Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard, Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley and The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell, so these books may make an appearance in my reading month. I would love to know what you have read in February and if you have any reading plans for March.

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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

February 27, 2015 Book of the Month, Historical Fiction, Sarah Waters 8

The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersTitle: The Paying Guests (Goodreads)
Author: Sarah Waters
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 576
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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The Paying Guests is something a little different for Sarah Waters; set in 1922 London, it is a period of history I don’t expect from this author. The novel tells the story an impoverished widow and her spinster daughter who are struggling to keep their large Camberwell villa after the loss of her husband and sons due to the war. They take in a modern young couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber to help make ends meet. True to Sarah Waters form, The Paying Guest is full of tension and mystery, but there was something missing.

Granted I have only read Tipping the Velvet (I really should read Fingersmith) but what I know and expect from Waters is something set in the 1800’s. Needless to say this was an enjoyable novel, exploring the differences in classes and the effects of World War I on the people in London. This period of time is an interesting one; the results of the war and the modernisation of London make for an interesting backdrop.

What I think Sarah Waters does best is create incredibly complex characters and The Paying Guests in no exception. Told from the point of view of Frances Wray, all the characters within the novel slowly take form, as secrets and new facts are revealed about them. This is an effective way to build a character and allows them to grow with small reveals that are both expected and unexpected.

The main focus of this novel is the blossoming romance between Frances and Lilian, this is expected from Waters and where she really excels. The idea of forbidden love is a heavy theme, not just because a lesbian relationship would be taboo but also the fact that Lilian was stuck in a marriage she wasn’t happy with. This allows the reader to explore the concepts of love and relationships in interesting ways; should we be encouraging the relationship between Frances and Lilian when one is married?

As I said earlier, I still think there was something missing in this novel. There is a gothic element that runs through The Paying Guests which starts off well, with all the secrets that slowly began to be revealed. However this stopped working for me when the plot became too predictable. I’m not opposed to a predictable plot; the focus on the character development was effective enough. The problem was the whole gothic aspect became clunky and the basic plot didn’t allow this theme to really go anywhere and just left me wanting more.

Comparing this novel with Tipping the Velvet is probably a little unfair; this is a completely different type of book. Having read one great Sarah Waters book, I expected a little more. I like the way Sarah Waters writes characters and captures a time period; I would have liked to see her do more with a gothic theme. Somehow The Paying Guests was on track to being another great novel by Waters but for me, it fell a little short. Maybe someone new to Sarah Waters would enjoy this one more, as it gives a little tamer introduction to what this author does best. Having said that, I’m still excited to read everything written by Waters; she is a great author.

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Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

February 25, 2015 Ben Aaronovitch, Fantasy 4

Whispers Under Ground by Ben AaronovitchTitle: Whispers Under Ground (Goodreads)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Narrator: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Published: Orion, 2012
Pages: 303
Genre: Fantasy
My Copy: Audiobook

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When a body is found stabbed to death at the far end of Baker Street tube station, it seems like an ordinary murder. The victim is an exchange student at Central St. Martins named James Gallagher and his father is an American senator. The Folly have been called in to assist with the investigation and it is quickly discovers that there is a supernatural component to this crime. This case leads Peter Grant into the secret underground that lies underneath the streets of London.

Peter Grant is back in the third book in the series, still a sorcerer’s apprentice to Inspector Nightingale. The Folly, which is the police department that specialises in the supernatural has grown to three, as Lesley May officially joins the team. Yet again this is a natural progression in the series, Peter doesn’t know many spells and still struggles with his form but he has grown as a police officer, a wizard and a person. What I enjoyed about Whispers Under Ground is the character Dr Abdul Haqq Walid is explored in greater detail. He is a world renowned gastroenterologist and cryptopathologist who works with the Folly and is investigating how magic effects the world. This allows Ben Aaronovitch to build his world a bit more and explores the effects of magic.

While this is an urban fantasy series, it follows the tropes found in a police procedural and Peter Grant never just relies on his magical abilities but rather sticks to his strengths, which he learned from his training. There is a lot of investigational work within the series and sometimes I worry that the police procedural elements will over power the urban fantasy or humour, however Aaronovitch gets the balance right.

If you have not read the series, I would highly recommend it mainly because of the character development, in particular Peter Grant and Nightingale. Peter Grant is a biracial character (his mother is from Sierra Leone and I am pretty sure his father is white) and his heritage and life play a big part in shaping him. This also allows Ben Aaronovitch to play a little with racism but I feel like he handles the whole subject well. Inspector Nightingale is a prim and proper Englishman and the last officially sanctioned English Wizard, having gone to a now defunct private school for wizardry allows for plenty of Harry Potter jokes.

This is a fun series that I am completely immersed in; when I finished Whispers Under Ground I didn’t want to leave the world. I started Broken Homes (which is book four) straight away, which is unusual for me but I needed to know what happened next. For fans of urban fantasy, police procedurals and British humour, I highly recommend the Peter Grant series, I do not think you will be disappointed.

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

February 23, 2015 What are you Reading 8

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 Whispering CityThe Whispering City by Sara Moliner (Translated by Mara Faye Lethem) *

Barcelona, 1952: General Franco’s fascist government is at the height of its oppressive powers, casting a black shadow across the city. When wealthy socialite Mariona Sobrerroca is found dead in her mansion in the exclusive Tibidabo district, the police scramble to seize control of the investigation. Ana Martí Noguer, an eager young journalist, is surprised to be assigned this important story, shadowing Inspector Isidro Castro.

But Ana soon realises that a bundle of strange letters unearthed at the scene point to a sequence of events dramatically different from the official version. She enlists the help of her cousin Beatriz, a scholar, and what begins as an intriguing puzzle opens up a series of revelations that implicate the regime’s most influential figures. The two women have placed themselves in mortal danger. As the conspiracy unfolds, Ana’s courage and Beatriz’s wits will be their only weapons against the city’s corrupt and murderous elite.

Go Tell It on the MountainGo Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

“Mountain,” Baldwin said, “is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.”

Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.

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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Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

February 22, 2015 Horror, Jeff VanderMeer, Science Fiction 2

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: Acceptance (Goodreads)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Published: Fourth Estate, 2014
Pages: 341
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Acceptance is the final instalment of the Southern Reach trilogy. It is winter in Area X and a new team is about to embark on a new expedition. The plan is to press deeper into the area and explore unexplored terrain. Will they finally find out the secrets behind Area X? What will Southern Reach do? And what is with this lighthouse?

Yet once again I am stuck trying to work out just what to say about this book, much like the other two novels in the series. I really don’t know what I can say without giving spoilers but I also have committed myself to write some kind of review with everything I read. Area X is a mysterious ecosystem; it is an environment that is untouched or corrupted by humans and yet Southern Reach is determined to discover the secrets behind this mystery.

Within Annihilation the readers are introduced to Area X and we are allowed to explore this new world, but there were so many questions being raised without many answers given. I loved this about Annihilation; I was thrilled by everything in this novel and I knew I had to read the series to find out the answers. Authority explored the mystery behind the governing organisation Southern Reach; while I didn’t enjoy the book as much I was interested in find out more about bureaucracy.

After both Annihilation and Authority, there were still a lot of questions to be answered and Acceptance felt more like a novel to tie everything up. There is a new expedition and there is still some excitement to be found in the final instalment, but for me it was a letdown. I got my answers, but I wasn’t satisfied and in the end I just felt like everything wrapped up too neatly.

The Southern Reach trilogy is a thrilling science fiction series that plays with ideas of environment and bureaucracy. The world that Jeff VanderMeer has created is immersive and wonderfully crafted. These books are short and don’t take long to read. While I had my issues here, I am still glad to have worked my way through this trilogy and am interested in trying to more of Jeff VanderMeer’s novels.

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

February 20, 2015 Jill Lepore, Non-Fiction 4

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeTitle: The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Goodreads)
Author: Jill Lepore
Narrator: Jill Lepore
Published: Scribner, 2014
Pages: 432
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman is the story behind Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston. The life of Marston is a fascinating and unconventional one, full of contradictions and this book really explores this in a bit more detail. The idea of Wonder Woman grew from the Amazons in Greek mythology and the feminist movement. Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941 and is now one of the most recognisable superhero’s to grace the comic book pages. Despite this fact, there has not been a major motion picture about Wonder Woman yet, The Lego Movie (2014) has been her first and only film appearance to date.

American psychologist, lawyer and the inventor of the Lie Detector, William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman under the pen name Charles Moulton, but it is his life that seems to be the biggest influence on this caped crusader. Wonder Woman is a powerful feminist and this may have been a little problematic for the movement. First of all, Marston’s Wonder Woman was a powerful woman but she lost her powers when bound by a man. This could be considered a symbol of the oppressive nature of a male dominated society however the frequency use pointed to his a fixation of bondage and submission.

Originally William Moulton Marston called his character Suprema and she stated that she was a “tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are, [combining] all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. This in itself shows the problems facing the creation of Wonder Woman and Marston was very controlling of his creation and the vision he had for her. While on the surface Marston was promoting the feminist movement, his personal life contradicted his ideals; living with two women, his wife and his mistress, he expected them to fulfil all there wifely duties at home while his wife was the main source of income for the majority of their lives.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an interesting micro-history that explores the life of William Moulton Marston and Wonder Woman. While some of what is revealed within this book is nothing new, Jill Lepore does a good job of bringing feminist history into the world of pop-culture. There is so much worth talking about here and this book asks the question, should Wonder Woman be recognised as a feminist icon? Well worth checking out if you are a fan of this superhero or are just interested in the history behind her.

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

February 16, 2015 What are you Reading 21

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.

Wolf in White VanWolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Welcome to Trace Italian, a game of strategy and survival! You may now make your first move.

Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of seventeen, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of “Trace Italian”—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.

Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, and are explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called on to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tracing back toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.

Brilliantly constructed, Wolf in White Van unfolds backward in time until we arrive at both the beginning and the climax: the event that has shaped so much of Sean’s life. Beautifully written and unexpectedly moving, John Darnielle’s audacious and gripping debut novel is a marvel of storytelling brio and genuine literary delicacy.

The World according to GarpThe World According To Garp by John Irving

A masterpiece from one of the great contemporary American writers.

‘I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave – and nothing but laughter to console them with’

This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields – a feminist leader ahead of her times. It is also the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes – even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with ‘lunacy and sorrow'; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. It provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: ‘In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.’

John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times – winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. He also received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for the short story ‘Interior Space’. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules – a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent novel is Last Night in Twisted River.

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

What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

February 9, 2015 What are you Reading 12

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 American LoverThe American Lover by Rose Tremain

Trapped in a London apartment, Beth remembers a transgressive love affair in 1960s Paris. The most famous writer in Russia takes his last breath in a stationmaster’s cottage, miles from Moscow. A young woman who is about to marry a rich aristocrat instead begins a torrid relationship with a construction worker. A father, finally free of his daughter s demands, embarks on a long swim from his Canadian lakeside retreat. A middle-aged woman cares for her injured mother at Christmas. And in the grandest house of all, Danni the Polish housekeeper catches the eye of an enigmatic visitor, Daphne du Maurier.

Rose Tremain awakens the senses in this magnificent and diverse collection of short stories. In her precise yet sensuous style, she lays bare the soul of her characters the admirable, the embarrassing, the unfulfilled, the sexy, and the adorable to uncover a dazzling range of human emotions and desires.

Save me the waltzSave Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

Save Me the Waltz is the first and only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when Fitzgerald was working on Tender Is the Night, Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story, which parallels the narrative of her husband, throwing a fascinating light on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life and work. In its own right, it is a vivid and moving story: the confessions of a famous, slightly doomed glamour girl of the affluent 1920s, which captures the spirit of an era.

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

What Are You Reading?

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Among Others by Jo Walton

February 3, 2015 Fantasy, Jo Walton 4

Among Others by Jo WaltonTitle: Among Others (Goodreads)
Author: Jo Walton
Published: Tor, 2011
Pages: 304
Genre: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

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

After tragically losing her sister, Mori has to learn to deal with this great loss. She fled to her estranged father who then put her into a well-respected all-girls boarding school. Mori is left alone trying to deal with grief, a new school and her own teenage angst. Among Others is written in a series of diary entries exploring Mori’s coming of age.

While I found it extremely difficult to give a plot overview of this book, it might be easier to just say this is a book about book with a fantasy element to it. The tragic loss of a twin sister would be a difficult subject to write about and Jo Walton has combined some auto-biographical elements within the novel. Mori feels lost and she turns to books to bring her comfort and escapism, she is a fan of science fiction novels and slowly she begins to find the therapeutic value to reading.

Being set in 1979 allows the book to explore the older science fiction novels that I love without going into some of the modern stuff. What I loved about sci-fi novels of the 60s and 70s is there were strong psychological and sociological themes throughout the narratives. I found great joy when books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Man in the High Castle and Slaughterhouse-Five were mentioned. There was something about reading a fantasy novel about reading science fiction that really tickled my fancy.

The fantasy elements were only a very small fragment of the book and I began to question if this really was a fantasy novel. I would call this book magical realism but the mention of fairies, elves, etc. probably does make it a fantasy novel. These fantastical elements played an interesting part in the book, and I began to question that this world actually existed. However for Mori, it existed and it was her way to hold onto her sister and deal with her death. She treated this world almost like a secret that was for her only and it allowed her to deal with her loss. When she held on to this world too tightly she feels whole again but she also can see how damaging it will become.

This was a fascinating look at grief and since it was a book about the joys of books and reading, I was hooked. It was a bit of a slow burn but I enjoyed the slow pacing and journey. About half way through, I felt myself losing a little interest but then Mori joined a book club and I was right back in. Among Others is a quiet and tender book about life, loss and most importantly books which makes it well worth reading.

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