Category Archives: reading

50 Book Challenge: April update (13/50) and reviews

April was a much more productive than February and March, since I made a point to read several less-than-900-page books, Murakami. (Why am I so mad tho? I read it on purpose, after all.) Now I am only three books behind schedule instead of five. Without forcing this challenge upon myself, I know I would not be anywhere close to 50 books this year. Goodreads has been so helpful in keeping track of my progress. However, I have made it a point not to read any reviews on books prior to reading the books or writing these reviews here. Several times I have found my opinion actually does change with issues pointed out by certain reviewers. I don’t know how common that is, but I think of it as a discussion where I approach subjects with an open mind: willing to hear the other side, and taking into consideration many points while still questioning their validity. Regardless, I don’t have all the time in the world to read many thousands of reviews, so my opinions don’t change that much from their base. Subjectivity is the name of the game. Bringin’ it:

9. The Magician King by Lev Grossman:  Why am I struggling to write this review? I was really engaged in part two of Grossman’s series, and of course I want to read the next installment immediately before I stop caring, but it won’t be out for another year or so. Anyway, this book. The tone is quite casual, which I enjoyed continuing after the prior heaviness of 1Q84. We pick up with the snarky protagonist a few years after the first book ends, and he is just as dissatisfied as always. This point of view gets old, and we get reprieve when we get POV back story on another character, spliced in to the present narrative. I enjoyed the back story but it did drag a little bit, perhaps because the pacing was not as much go-go-go as the other. The ending made me so angry. Anticlimactic and teasing and just horrible. Rated 3/5 because I couldn’t put it down despite the negatives.

10. Dearly Devoted Dexter (Dexter #2) by Jeff Lindsay: I had read Darkly Dreaming Dexter (#1) about two years back and enjoyed it, as I had watched the show pretty religiously  until after season 6. (We stopped paying for cable around that time to save money.) The first book differentiated from the first season enough to be interesting, and book two is an entirely different story altogether than the show. Despite the handful of stretches in plot that I had trouble finding believable, I read this in 12 hours. The Dexter-isms are always perfect, that cocky, raised-eyebrow wittiness in the heat of a situation that would turn stomachs of most. Plus, I am always down for some good gory details. Alliteration aside, 4/5.

11. Dexter in the Dark (Dexter #3) by Jeff Lindsay: Another fast read, as these books are paced quite nicely for the most part… perfect for a casual weekend read, or for someone attempting to make up for lost time in a book challenge. Same love for the style and feel of all Dexter books, though the subject matter on this one was a little bit of a stretch. I found the supernatural/biblical “antagonist” IT intriguing because, as I’ve said before, I give all books the benefit of temporary belief suspension, but this did not fit in with the Dexter canon at all. His cold, calculating logic – one of the things I love about the character – was pretty much gone for the majority of the book. This made for dragging passages about his struggle with having human-like emotions for the first time in his life. This might have been interesting if it were in a different setting – I’ve always felt Dexter would have had more? any? emotions surface when the truth of his Dark Passenger’s “birth” was revealed to him (and to be honest, I cannot remember what his reaction was during the first book). With his biological brother still on the run, there is a lot of untapped story that would make sense for Dexter to find a little humanity. Big bad IT scaring away an inferior shadow, leaving a void filled by feelings? Okay, Jeff. Whatever. I could speculate on motives, that Lindsay perhaps thought that Dexter needed a bit more of a human touch, a stray from his norm to break what felt like monotony in the author’s brain. I will not go further, and just give this book 2.5/5 stars, hoping the next books in the series are more believable for one of my favorite literary characters.

12. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: My favorite part of this book was the final chapter, “Historical Notes.” It was a fantastic way to wrap up the story, to remind us that nothing lasts forever. The narrative itself was intriguing, believable, though I agree with other reviewers that there were perhaps unnecessarily long moments of teasing by the author. Even after the book ended, Atwood held things back. Yet it made me itch for more, and quite a quick read. 4/5.

13. The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern: I loved Morgenstern’s flowery descriptions of the fantastical Cirque des Rêves, and it appears she enjoyed them herself. The book is packed with details, making visualization effortless. There are books that I feel are written with the hope, or perhaps the intention, of becoming movie adaptations. I enjoyed so much of the story, but I had issue with several things in hindsight. Long list ahoy: the protagonists’ relationship felt somewhat contrived; the point of the game – the point of the entire story – was a little bit lost on me; the game itself was not a competition in the least; and any urgency in causing the competition to end was thrown in without reason. Always in hindsight I end up hating a book more than I originally thought. You know, I really did like this book. I read it to the very last page in less than a week. My suspension of belief lasted only until I shut the book; then, my brain turned back on and remembered how to think critically. 4/5 initial rating, 3/5 hindsight.

May preview:

14.Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro
15. Runaway by Alice Munro

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50 Book Challenge: February and March update (8/50) and reviews

These past two months have been super slow on my goal progress. Why? God damn Murakami and his 900+ page novel. I’ll just get right to the reviews.

6. In the Cities of Coin and Spice (The Orphan’s Tales #2) by Catherynne M. Valente: Part two of this series was just as beautiful as part one. I definitely recommend reading them immediately back-to-back, for the stories are all interconnected and impressively weaved together. If I had taken too much of a break in between these two, I feel I could have easily forgotten many important details from the first. As it stands, I think these deserve a re-read since they are so complex. I closed this book so very satisfied with the conclusion. Valente really knows how to craft a powerful story, but more importantly, she knows how to end that story. I rated both of these books 5 stars on Goodreads without hesitation.

7. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: What an undertaking this novel was. It took me 6 weeks and really pushed me back on my progress towards my goal. (Goodreads says I am now 4 books behind! Dammit!) Whatever, it was really good. Typical weird Murakami, strange fantasy intertwined with the real world. It kind of dragged, with lots of details and waiting and thinking, “Seriously we are still sitting in this apartment doing nothing?” When things happened, though, they happened, and it was engrossing overall. The only thing that bothered me, besides the pace, was that it seemed like he was kind of patting his own back at times. The novel involves a fantasy story written by a young girl,  not very well written so it has to be rewritten by an editor. The kicker is that her story actually happened, her characters and settings actually exist in a world within the novel. When he describes her story, he pretty much says, “If this was fiction, it would be one of the best and most imaginative things ever written,” but the fact remains that he fucking wrote it.  I mean, he is a genius and his little display of ego there won’t stop me from reading everything he’s written. 3.5/5.

8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman: This book has crazy mixed reviews, and I really should not read any more of them before providing my own. My initial reaction was simply this: enjoyment. I liked immersing myself in the belief that perhaps all these amazing fantasy worlds I’ve loved for years could be real. Perhaps that is childlike but that also seems to be the intention of Grossman. Did he present that idea with a pretentious, annoying, cocky, morose, egotistical protagonist? Sure. There were a lot of inherent issues with the novel but hey, I am reading the second one and liking it, too. So many times with reading I will gloss over things that bother me to get to the meat of the parts that I like, because I try to give things the benefit of the doubt. Either way, I had major feelings with a certain death at the end. 3.5?/5

**

April preview:

9. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
10. Legends II edited by Robert Silverberg

I have a long list of to-reads on my Goodreads account, so my next few books will be from that list. Surprises! They’re great!

50 Book Challenge: January update (5/50) and reviews

This year, one of my goals was to read 50 books. Typically I will read anywhere from 25 to 40 books over the course of a year, so 50 was enough of a challenge. This also gave me an excuse to go to the library and read all of those books I’ve been meaning to read. While I don’t have any rules for myself against re-reading, my ultimate goal is to read 50 new books. But who cares if I don’t, really.

If I don’t go back and write about what I have read, review or discuss it, I will not remember a damn thing. Isn’t that the point of reading – to learn things? Even if it’s just a new joke, or that you really hate romance novels? My time as an English major taught me as much. If I rewrote my notes before an exam, I did not have to do any other studying. If I wrote a paper on a subject, I understood it enough to write essays months later. I will be writing “reviews” here in an attempt to remember and learn, though they may end up just as stream-of-consciousness reflections.

January started off excellently, as far as goals are concerned. I completed 5/50 books and started the sixth. What did I read? Well, here you go.

 

1. Paradise by Toni Morrison: I was introduced to Toni Morrison for the first time (much later than I should have been) in 2011 by my favorite professor. In my literary criticism class we read A Mercy, and ever since then she has topped my list of favorite authors. Morrison has a particularly unique way of presenting her worlds: equal parts confusing and enlightening, visceral and lovely. Paradise is no exception; however, I found myself confused more often than enlightened. Characters are often referred to by vague pronouns, scenes from odd points of view, so the story becomes slightly disjointed and/or difficult to follow. But this is Toni Morrison we’re talking about here. Parts of the novel were so good it hurt. I won’t say this was her best work, but it’s a hell of a lot better than so many other things out there. This, I feel, deserves a more critical re-read.

2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami: Another favorite author I discovered far too late in life, Murakami has never failed to capture me. After Dark is short and sweet; I read it in three days, a feat (for me) in regards to any Murakami works. It did not seem to have the same depth as Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle did, but I found myself enjoying it nonetheless. The novel is simple and straight-forward, but still requires active reading and pause for thought. I read a review that said Murakami is “for people who enjoy thinking about feelings.” Factual.

3. Columbine by Dave Cullen: After the Sandy Hook tragedy, I found myself fascinated with gun violence in schools. A morbid curiosity I suppose. It seemed only natural that I read Columbine, in an attempt to grasp, at the very least, facts on one of the most famous episodes of school gun violence in America’s history. I do not feel like I will ever understand the why of such things, but certainly the who, what, when, and where. Cullen presents a mostly unbiased view of the events, structured in a non-linear narrative that feels more compelling than chaotic. Cullen leaves few stones unturned; the ones that do remain are buried deep with the bones of Eric, Dylan, and their victims. I read this in 2 days, perhaps to speed past my many feels. I closed this book with a heavy heart and moved onto something else as quickly as possible, but I feel like it was an important, necessary read. I can only hope something so thorough is written for the other confusing acts of infamous violence.

 4.  Legends I, part 3/3 edited by Robert Silverberg: The only reason I own this multiple-part anthology is because of George R. R. Martin, the heart-eating, soul-crushing author whose world won’t even let my brain go.  I love him and hate him. His epic Song of Ice and Fire, incomplete yet, has left me needing more Westeros, so I sought out his “Dunk and Egg” stories. They are only published in anthologies so far: Legends I part 2, Legends II, and Warriors I. After purchasing Legends I part 1 without realizing there were three parts, I went ahead and bought the remainder of the anthology because can’t bear not to have a complete set of something. I also can’t bear not to finish something once I have started it, as far as books go at least. This volume took me a while to finish because I am lazy sometimes. Other books got in the way. Fortunately, it is comprised of four novellas, meaning it is easy to take breaks between them without having to attempt to remember what happened before.  I started it back in November and finished it some time early in January.

These anthologies have introduced me to a world of new fantasy epics that I am almost afraid to tackle. Jumping between worlds was exhilarating and terrifying. Can I really take down Wheel of Time AND The Dark Tower series? Perhaps. I certainly am going to try.

5. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: This book is part one of two incredibly magical, engrossing novels. Stories within stories within stories, folded together masterfully, create a rich fantasy world that feels so deep and real.  In the Night Garden is lush with beautiful prose and unique, well-developed characters. At first I wondered why the books were separate, as the could have been one very large volume, but this novel has a slightly different feel to In the Cities of Coin and Spice. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Valente is now among Morrison, Murakami, and Martin as my top modern authors. I cannot wait to read more of her novels.

**

February preview:

6. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente (completed 2/8/13)
7. 1Q84  by Haruki Murakami
8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
9. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Current status: 6/50 books read