Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Sunday Post #115

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli.
  • On Tuesday we talk about cult characters.
  • On Wednesday I review Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood.
  • On Thursday I do the Liebster Award Tag.
  • On Saturday there might be a book haul. I haven’t done one of those posts in months. It’s probably time.

In My Reading Life

I started the week with epic eyestrain, so I read a bunch of short books with big font. I finished Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. Then I read The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg and All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg. Then I reread one of my favorite Stephen King novellas, The Body. Right now, I’m reading The Poet’s Handbook by Judson Jerome and Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray.


In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. In my part of the world, it’s officially fall.
  2. Caramel apples.
  3. Since my eyes hurt too much to sleep, and reading was hard, I watched a bunch of blurry movies. I saw/listened to Hidden Figures, My Cousin Rachel, The Conjuring, and Avatar. They were all entertaining.
  4. Walking my dogs at night. I like walking at night, even though it’s really dark, and I’m slightly worried about getting run over by a bicycle. Around here, the competitive cyclists train 24/7.
  5. New books!

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere! 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

A voyage for buried treasure spells trouble for cabin boy Jim Hawkins, who finds himself in the middle of a mutiny with some of the nastiest pirates to ever sail the seven seas.

Review: When I was a young, classics-obsessed bookworm, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I expected it to be creepy. Instead, it was boring. Very, very disappointingly boring.

After that less-than-thrilling reading experience, I was hesitant to try more Stevenson books. Then someone offered me a copy of Treasure Island for free. You can’t pass up free classics, right? I took the book, put it on my shelf for six months, and then finally got around to reading it.

And . . . it was very, very disappointingly boring. Seriously, the most interesting part of the book is the annotations left by the kid who owned my copy before it was given to me. Judging by the kid’s margin-scribbles, she was deeply unimpressed by the story and by the essay questions her teacher assigned. Her pirate doodles are pretty adorable, though.

Anyway, on to the story. The novel is narrated by Jim Hawkins, a teenager who finds a treasure map that once belonged to a pirate who died at his parents’ inn. Jim and a few other people acquire a ship and a crew to take them to Treasure Island. They want to dig up the treasure. Unfortunately for them, their pirate crew mutinies. Chaos and death ensue. It’s up to Jim to save his friends without losing his treasure. Treasure Island was first published as a serial in a YA magazine during the 1880s.

“Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest, yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” – Treasure Island

Compared to most classics, the plot of Treasure Island moves very fast. There’s a lot of action and danger. The book is short (about 150 pages), so it’s a fairly quick read.

If the book had been longer, I wouldn’t have finished it. This might be a case of “It’s not you, book, it’s me.” I’ve never had much luck with novels set on boats. Probably because I don’t care about boats and don’t have a huge desire to learn about them. There are so many ship-related words in this story that I often had trouble picturing the action scenes. I just didn’t know what the author was talking about, and constantly putting the book down to Google boat images is distracting. This is totally my fault, not the book’s. If you’re an expert in 1700s-era ships, you might love the setting.

I had a hard time following the pirates’ dialogue. I always got the gist of what they were saying, so I was never confused for very long, but holy crap, pirates ramble on and on. Get to the point already!

“The captain has said too much or he has said too little, and I'm bound to say that I require an explanation of his words.” – Treasure Island

This story was originally written for children, so the plot is simple, but it’s too simple for my liking. It’s obvious that the pirates are going to mutiny. I knew that Jim would save his friends. It’s obvious who has the treasure. I questioned why I was reading the book at all.

Treasure Island wasn’t for me, but I’m glad I read it because it’s part of western culture. This story has influenced many of the modern adventure novels I read and loved as a kid. I’m grateful for that. It’s also helpful to know the origins of “Long John Silver.” It’s more than just a restaurant where you can buy mediocre fish and chips. #TheMoreYouKnow

“It was Silver's voice, and before I had heard a dozen words, I would not have shown myself for all the world. I lay there, trembling and listening, in the extreme of fear and curiosity, for, in those dozen words, I understood that the lives of all the honest men aboard depended on me alone.” – Treasure Island

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books on my fall to-be-read list. Here’s what I’m going to be reading in the next few months.

My Fall TBR

Adam of the Road – Elizabeth Gray Vining

“A road's a kind of holy thing,” said Roger the Minstrel to his son, Adam. “That's why it's a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It's open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle.” 
And Adam, though only eleven, was to remember his father's words when his beloved dog, Nick, was stolen, and Roger had disappeared, and he found himself traveling alone along these same great roads, searching the fairs and market towns for his father and his dog.

Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival – Joe Simpson

Touching the Void is the tale of two mountaineers’ harrowing ordeal in the Peruvian Andes. In the summer of 1985, two young, headstrong mountaineers set off to conquer an unclimbed route. They had triumphantly reached the summit, when a horrific accident mid-descent forced one friend to leave another for dead. 

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – Alfred Lansing

In December 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty-seven men set sail from South Georgia for the South Pole aboard the Endurance, the object of their expedition to cross Antarctica overland. A month later the ship was beset in the ice of the Weddell Sea, just outside the Antarctic Circle. Temperatures dropped to 35 degrees Celsius below zero. Ice-moored, the Endurance drifted northwest for ten months before it was finally crushed. The ordeal, however, had barely begun.

All the Broken Pieces: A Novel in Verse – Ann E. Burg

Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family—and the terrible secret—he left behind. Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.

The Poet’s Handbook – Judson Jerome

Judson Jerome's years of experience as both a poet and a teacher come together to expertly guide you through the poetry writing process. You'll learn how to merge mechanics with art to produce poetry that will endure. You'll discover the meanings and uses of a wide variety of poetic terms, illustrated with the works of such poets as Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, and John Gardner. Jerome also includes a versification chart, an index to poetry terms, and indexes to poems/poets quoted in the book, making this book equally valuable for quick reference or in-depth study.

The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule

Ann Rule was a writer working on the biggest story of her life, tracking down a brutal mass-murderer. Little did she know that Ted Bundy, her close friend, was the savage slayer she was hunting.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From The Crematory – Caitlin Doughty

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

State Of Wonder – Ann Patchett

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.

The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit – Michael Finkel

In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life—why did he leave? What did he learn?—as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

The One Hundred Nights Of Hero – Isabel Greenberg

In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle—and Cherry. 
But what Jerome doesn't know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." 
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten . . . her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant—the sinister Mrs. Danvers—still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca . . . for the secrets of Manderley.

Review: I first saw this book on a list of classic horror novels and thought the synopsis sounded epic. A young bride who barely knows her husband? An old mansion? A creepy servant? A mysterious death? I needed this book in my life. I promptly tracked down a cheap copy and ordered it.

When the book arrived, I was not prepared for what I found. The cover was Valentine-red, and some ugly-ass all-caps font proclaimed it THE UNSURPASSED MODERN MASTERPIECE OF ROMANTIC SUSPENSE.

Romantic suspense?


Luckily for me, this book is light on the romance and heavy on the suspense. Maybe it was considered romantic when it was first published back in the 1930s, but by today’s standards, it’s not romantic at all. Maxim de Winter and the unnamed narrator have only known each other for a few weeks when they make the spontaneous decision to get married. The narrator moves to Maxim’s house, a mansion called Manderley. She becomes the second Mrs. de Winter. The first—Rebecca de Winter—died mysteriously in a sailing accident. The staff at Manderley is still reeling from her death. Rebecca was loved by everybody. As the narrator settles into her new life, she inadvertently uncovers Rebecca’s secrets while desperately trying to preserve her own identity.

“‘Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.’
‘Do you mean you want a secretary or something?’
‘No, I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool.’” - Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier has a thorough understanding of introverts. I actually laughed out loud a few times because the narrator doesn’t always play well with others. She stands in the middle of fancy parties and pretends to have fun while secretly hating every second of it. She sneaks down back staircases to avoid interacting with Manderley’s staff. She even climbs out a window because she’s just come home from a trip and is too exhausted to put up with Maxim’s irritating sister. I can relate. Sometimes, you just want to be left alone. That’s hard when you’re the owner of a mansion-turned-tourist-attraction, and when you’ve taken the place of the ultra-extroverted Rebecca.

My favorite part of the story is how the other characters subtly push the narrator into the space that Rebecca left behind. They expect her to keep the same daily routine that Rebecca had. They make her answer her mail at Rebecca’s desk and serve her all the same foods that Rebecca liked. All of Rebecca’s friends want to meet the new Mrs. de Winter. It’s creepy. Instead of feeling like the owner of a home, the narrator feels like a guest in Rebecca’s home. Rebecca is gone, but she’s far from forgotten.

“‘Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.’” - Rebecca

Reading this book was a strange experience for me. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. I wanted to know what really happened to Rebecca, and why the creepy Mrs. Danvers was so obsessed with her. I even cared about the narrator’s marriage. I wanted to know if she’d stay with Maxim or if she’d leave because he wasn’t over Rebecca. The story is suspenseful and gave me a lot to think about when I wasn’t reading it, but when I was reading it, I often got bored. There are tense moments, but they’re separated by long stretches where nothing happens. The slowness frustrated me.

I’m also not the biggest fan of the writing style. I’m a reader who loves description and always wants more of it, but the description feels clumsy in this novel. For example, the narrator and Maxim would be walking to the beach, and then there’d be a half-page block of text that lists every plant that grows in the area. I was tempted to skim those.

I didn’t love Rebecca as much as I thought I would, but there are some things I admire about it. The novel shows how we can build up a stranger in our minds until they become unrealistically perfect. This is a story about jealousy, insecurity, secrecy, and how our perceptions of others can be disastrously inaccurate.

“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.” - Rebecca

I have My Cousin Rachel sitting on my TBR shelf, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else Daphne du Maurier has written. 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Sunday Post #114

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
  • On Tuesday I show you what I’m going to read this fall.
  • On Wednesday I review Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

In My Reading Life

Unpopular opinion time: I DNFed Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Basically, I’m really picky about my nonfiction. I only like narrative nonfiction. The writing style in Hidden Figures is dry and distant. I wanted to read about badass lady mathematicians, but it felt like I was reading a student’s American history essay.

On a positive note, I finished The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Then I read A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh and We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly. Right now, I’m reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlyn Doughty.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. It’s actually cold outside! I can run without dying from heatstroke.
  2. Speaking of running without dying, the smoke from the wildfires seems to be gone. I’m not sure if all the fires are out or if the smoke is just blowing in another direction.
  3. The leaves are changing colors! And there’s Halloween stuff in stores! (Can you tell I’m excited for fall?)
  4. There are no more books from 2016 on my TBR shelf. All my unread books were acquired this year.
  5. For the first time in months, I’m caught up on emails. If I owe you an email, check your inbox. My reply should be there. Sorry about my never-ending email crisis.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Discussion: When Should You Keep Your Opinion To Yourself?

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

Most of the people reading this post right now are bloggers. Sharing our opinions is what we do. If you’re like me, then you have a lot of opinions, especially about books. (And food. But mostly books.) I’ve been wondering if there are times when you should keep those bookish opinions to yourself.

One of the book bloggers I follow on Twitter passionately dislikes a popular book series. I haven’t read this series because it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but I guess controversial stuff happens (or fails to happen) in the books. Some people are angry about how the controversial stuff is handled in the series. This particular blogger is massively pissed off about the “stuff.” She often complains about the series, its author, and its rabid fans. Sometimes, when I read her tweets, I think Wow, that’s harsh, but her tweets usually don’t bother me because it’s her Twitter page. She can post whatever she wants on it. If I’m not in the mood for rage, I can scroll over her posts.

Earlier this year, the newest book in the series came out. The blogger ramped up her rage. Whenever someone mentioned the new book on Twitter, she replied to their tweet with a massive multi-tweet rant. The rant basically said If you like this series, then you’re a terrible person and need to reevaluate your life choices.

I didn’t mind this blogger’s rants when they were just floating around Twitter, but once she started directing them at specific people, they started to seem . . . shitty. These people weren’t asking for thoughts on the series. They were posting photos and getting excited about their preorders showing up. Maybe they knew about the controversial stuff and didn't think it was handled poorly. The blogger was giving her opinion without anybody asking for it.

This has made me wonder when it’s okay to give your opinion online. Is everything online fair game for opinions? When you post something on social media, should you expect people to give their thoughts on it? If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, right? If you can’t stand the opinions of strangers, get off the Internet.

Or, does personal space exist online? Should you only give your opinion if it’s asked for? If someone is excited about a book you hate, is it okay to say you hate it, or should you ignore it and move on?

Let’s discuss: I want to know your opinion on opinions. When should you speak up, and when should you back away from the keyboard? 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Inside Out & Back Again – Thanhha Lai

Inside Out & Back Again – Thanhha Lai

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by, and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. 
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape, and the strength of her very own family.

Review: One of my goals this year was to read more novels-in-verse. I’ve been slacking badly on that goal, but better late than never, right?

Inside Out & Back Again is an #Ownvoices middlegrade novel that is loosely based on the author’s experiences as a Vietnamese refugee in the US. The story is narrated by Hà, a curious and intelligent ten-year-old. After the Vietnam War forces Hà’s family from their home, they settle in Alabama, where everything is strange. The food tastes bad, the people dress weirdly, Hà’s new classmates are bullies, and English makes no sense. Hà survived a war, but now she faces a whole new set of challenges.

“Oh, my daughter,
at times you have to fight,
but preferably
not with your fists.” – Inside Out & Back Again

For an adult, this book is a very quick read. It’s less than 300 pages and written in simple verse. I finished it in one sitting. It may also be a good book for reluctant readers (if you can convince them that poetry doesn’t suck). The plot is straightforward, the cast of characters is small, and there aren’t many words on each page. Kids might get a sense of accomplishment from turning pages so quickly.

I love Hà. She’s such a sweet kid. To me, she comes across as a believable ten-year-old with childlike concerns. She wants to know what they serve for lunch at school and why the men in cowboy hats don’t own horses. Those are probably the same questions I would’ve had as a kid in a strange place. Especially the horses thing. I was obsessed with horses as a kid. I would have been very disappointed to find a cowboy who didn’t own a horse.

The author does an excellent job of capturing the disorientation of being in a new country. There’s one scene where Hà is looking up words in the dictionary, but there are so many definitions for each word that she gets confused. She goes from being a smart kid in Vietnam to feeling dumb in America. She observes everything that goes on around her, but she can’t really participate because she doesn’t understand what’s happening. All she knows is that she’s different.

“I’m hiding in class
by staring at my shoes.
I’m hiding during lunch
in the bathroom,
eating hard rolls
saved from dinner.
I’m hiding during outside time
in the same bathroom.
I’m hiding after school
until Brother Khôi
rides up to
our secret corner.” – Inside Out & Back Again

Admittedly, I’m not a poetry expert, but I think there are a few brilliant poems in this novel and a lot of “meh” poems. To me, most of the poems seem like chopped-up prose. They don’t do anything unique with language or structure. They could have been written as a block of text, and the effect would have been the same. I know that this is a book for kids, so it can’t be too complicated, but I would have liked to see more variety (or creativity) in the poems.

The choppy poetry is an effective way to show Hà’s alienation, though. Everyone around her speaks fluent English. While her classmates jabber away, she struggles to string words together. Her classmates are reading novels, and she’s trying to pronounce the letter S.

This isn’t my favorite novel-in-verse, but I can see why it has won so many awards. It shows the challenges that refugees face when they come to a new country. The author’s real-life experiences give the novel authenticity. If you’re new to reading novels-in-verse, this would be a good place to start. The characters are likeable, and the plot is compelling. And, the poems won’t kill you. I promise.

“Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and the new
until it doesn't matter
which is which.” – Inside Out & Back Again