Posts Tagged ‘4 out of 5’

27th January
2014
written by Steph
End Of Your Life Book Club

The End Of Your Life Book Club

I never expected that traveling would change my reading tastes. All my life I’ve been a devoted reader of fiction and not really much else, and that’s honestly suited me fine. Don’t believe me? Of the 300+ posts that I’ve written about books on this site, less than 10 of them feature non-fiction titles. I’m all for reading broadly and diversifying one’s tastes, but I clearly also know what works for me and don’t stray too far from my literary predilections very frequently. And yet, ever since we’ve been traveling, I’ve found I have the attention span of a gnat, which not only makes it difficult to coherently synthesize and discuss the books that I do read after the fact, but it’s made focusing on my reading material a lot more challenging too. Part of why I failed to read very much last year is because I frequently found my attention waning and shifting whenever I picked up a book, except in the rarest of occasions, and I found that most novels simply did not capture or engage me in any real way. I’d put down books for days at a time without picking them up again, only to find that when I did, the story had pretty much fallen completely out of my brain. I couldn’t just peck at books sporadically, and my memory didn’t seem to have the capacity to retain enough plot to allow me to follow any novel in a lucid manner, and so I’d abandon one book after the next as I hunted (mostly futiley) for things that I could focus on. During this time, I discovered that I often had an easier time with memoirs, as they tended to pull me into their stories quickly and I could dip in and out of them over the course of several weeks and their coherency never suffered despite my haphazard reading schedule. I’d hate to cast aspersions on the memoir genre as a whole having, admittedly, not read much from it, but I think in part, the writing in the average memoir tends to have a lower difficulty threshold, so the cognitive demands placed upon the reader are perhaps less and the barrier to reader engagement is reduced. Or maybe there’s something about the conversational approach that memoirs tend to take, so that you actually feel like the author is speaking directly to you, like a friend would, and you’re just sitting down to a (somewhat) one-sided conversation and can enjoy the ride. (more…)
5th January
2014
written by Steph
casehistories

If only ebooks had nice covers...

Given that the site is newly raised from the dead, it somehow seems fitting that my first review is of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Not only is the book about a series of decades-old cold cases, it’s also a book I read many moons ago, well before this site ever existed and was one I had long left for dead. As a re-read rearing its zombie head, I probably couldn’t have picked a better book for a reboot if I had been trying. Case Histories is the first in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, which, to date, consists of four books. I am previously on the record as having a big girl crush on Atkinson  and loving her non-mystery fiction, and being far more ambivalent (though that might be putting it nicely) about her forays into whodunit fiction. Because I first read this book before I started writing reviews here, I don’t have any in-depth analysis or record of my thoughts on the book then, but I do remember that I was wildly underwhelmed by it and might even go so far as to say I did not like it very much at all. So why read it again if I found it so dull the first time round? Mostly because although I’ve been living under a literary rock for the past 16 months, I still keep up-to-date with some of the book world’s news and I’ve been reading a lot of buzz about my girl Kate’s latest book, Life After Life. I didn’t have a copy of that on hand, but I was able to get access to this and decided to test the waters to see if it was as disappointing as I remembered. (more…)
4th January
2012
written by Steph
What is it that they say about the best laid plans? Something about how they never work out? That sounds about right... Despite my intentions to catch up on blogging while Tony and I were up in Canada, I wound up not even bringing my laptop and was hardly online at all. Instead I slept in late every day, played tons of Mario Super Sluggers on the Wii, tried my hand at NHL 2012 on the PS3 (never making it past the rookies), played some non-video game bowling (and finally broke triple digits!) and watched lots and lots of Mantracker (everyone outside of Canada is missing out, because Mantracker is possibly the best reality show ever made). I managed to read the bulk of one book (but not finish it) while we were away, so I was only marginally better at reading than I was at blogging. I feel slightly guilty about this, but mostly I'm just happy I got some time to completely relax and hibernate. I'm still not feeling entirely recharged, but I'm feeling quite a bit calmer than I did before the holidays. Given that I wrote not a single thing while I was away, I still have four books that I read last year that I still need to write about. AND I need to write one of those fun summary posts in which I recap 2011. Already I am behind the times! Before I do any of that, however, I am instead going to direct your attention to the January 2012 issue of BookPage, in which I reviewed Penelope Lively's newest novel, How It All Began. I did actually read this book a few months ago, so while it's a 2012 book for most, it was actually a 2011 book for me. I've only ever read one other Lively novel, Moon Tiger, but she made a wonderful first impression on me and I'd been wanting to read more of her works ever since. Despite being published 25 years after Moon Tiger, How It All Began is still clearly a Penelope Lively novel. It is perhaps less experimental than MT, as it does largely focus on telling a briskly paced story filled with a dynamic cast of characters, but it still has a soupçon of metafiction, which I really love. The thing about Lively's fiction that always seems to resonate with me is that she unabashedly loves stories and actively uses her work as a means of promoting the idea that we as humans are drawn to storytelling and the written word because of the closure and permanence they provide. Anyone who loves books like I do can't help but feel that one has found a kindred spirit in an author who so unabashedly espouses this view in her books. Fellow readers will also get a kick out of the main character, Charlotte, as she herself is an ardent bookworm (and adult literacy teacher) and large swaths of her storyline are devoted to musings on how reading enriches one's life. The novel as a whole is incredibly engrossing and touching, but that thread in particular really spoke to me. Rather than read my inelegant ramblings here, check out my review at BookPage for the full scoop. In the interim, I'll get to work on putting the rest of 2011 to bed!
19th December
2011
written by Steph

Hot on the heels of my dance with Dame Christie, I decided my lust for murder mysteries hadn’t been slaked, so I decided to take a turn with another queen of crime. Not only is Cover Her Face the first published P.D. James mystery, but it was actually my first dalliance with James’s writing at all. After my disastrous first date with Dorothy L. Sayers stemming from my reading Gaudy Night before picking up any of her other books, I have become a rather staunch adherent to reading serial fiction in chronological order, even when others claim it is not necessary, so for those of you who feel similarly and have yet to become acquainted with Detective Adam Dalgliesh, this is the place to start. The following theory is just based on wild conjecture on my part, but I think that readers may be the most idiosyncratic when it comes to their taste in mystery novels. Little old grannies may suddenly profess a penchant for dark Scandinavian noir, and ostensibly there is even a market for readers who prefer crimes that are cracked by animal sleuths (Wikipedia tells me that Lillian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” mystery series, numbered 29 titles!). Personally, I’m a “Golden Age” mystery fan, loving my crimes to be relatively bloodless, to take place between 1910 – 1950, and to be situated in England if at all possible. I have no idea why that trifecta is pretty much the holy trinity when it comes to mystery novels, but there you have it. To me, these types of novels are pretty much the ultimate in comfort reading, and rarely do they fail to delight me. And of course there are exceptions to this rule (as my love of Tana French, clearly displays), but this is why it’s a rule and not a law. (more…)
8th November
2011
written by Steph

Before I know it, it's going to be the middle of the month... and then the end of the month... so before I forget, I'd better remind you that the November issue of BookPage is out AND, after having taken a few months off, I actually have a review in it! As you have likely gathered from the title of this post, I read David Guterson's newest novel, Ed King, which is actually a modern day retelling of the classic Greek play, Oedipus The King. The original source material is quite a yarn, so you can imagine just how fun and zany this book was! Although knowledge of the original play is by no means necessary, familiarity with Sophocles' version will certainly add to one's enjoyment. It was really fun to see how Guterson chose to modernize certain elements, and one of my favorite bits was how he re-envisioned the Greek chorus. But regardless, however you read this one, whether it be with fresh eyes or through the lens of what came before, this is a book that hooks you right from the start and is full of juicy scandals. Although this isn't Guterson's first novel, it was actually the first book of his that I've read and I really enjoyed it. It was the perfect blend of smart and playful, and even though it was certainly quirky, I never felt like Guterson was trying too hard to be clever at the expense of the story. If I were reviewing it solely here on the blog, I would give it a 4 out of 5. For more of my thoughts on Ed King, you can check out my review here.
19th September
2011
written by Steph

I don’t have very many reading rules, but one rule that I have set for myself and that I have managed to observe for the past 3 – 4 years (read: ever since I made it up), is that I only ever read one Jane Austen book a year. Austen is one of my favorite authors, so it would be really easy for me to just read and review her over and over again, but that might get tiring for you guys, so instead, as a means of maintaining balance, I instead limit myself to one book by her each year. Admittedly, this rule also partially stems from my deep-seated fear of running out of Jane Austen novels, and is my attempt to ration them. The thought of living in a world where I have no new Jane Austen to discover chills me to the marrow of my bones. I do realize that since Jane Austen only published six full-length novels that this reading plan would only preserve me from my greatest fear for six years, BUT you’ll note that my rule says nothing about reading a new Jane Austen novel each year, so if I wanted to read P&P for the next decade, that’s totally kosher. As it is, since establishing my One Austen Per Annum rule, I have actually only revisited works of hers that I’ve already read. I still have Mansfield Park and Persuasion on the TBR pile, and even though I always claim that this will be the year that I finally try one of them, it never seems to work out that way. When Nicola over at Vintage Reads pointed out earlier this year that this was the 200th anniversary of Sense & Sensibility, that pretty much sealed the deal regarding which Austen I’d be cozying up to in 2011! My desire to do so was heightened after popping the Oscar award-winning film featuring Emma Thompson into the DVD player a few months back. In retrospect I think that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to follow up the film with the original source material, simply because Emma Thompson’s adaptation is just SO good, and I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the two and I have to say, Austen’s version didn’t always come out on top. [Also, everything from here on out presupposes that you have more than a passing familiarity with the plot of S&S. Spoilers and in depth discussion ahoy!] (more…)
26th July
2011
written by Steph

Lying in bed sick with horrible chest congestion that has kept me and Tony up half the night, wracking my body with skeleton-shuddering coughs that have done little to help me get a clear, deep breath, the timing is morbidly apt to discuss The Collector. Anyone who has read this book will understand the sinister parallels between my condition and that of Miranda Grey, the female character who captures the obsessive attentions of Frederick, the creepy central figure at the heart of Fowles’s novel. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s backtrack a bit and give a bit of framework for those of you who haven’t experienced this bone-chilling, spine-tingling read. I have long wanted to read Fowles, but I admit to having been defeated during my two attempts to read The French Lieutenant’s Woman… While I dig its Victorian vibe, I never make it very far in before the overblown prose overwhelms me and begins to feel like drudgery and I move on to less impassable novels. I decided to give The Collector a shot after my friend Trisha blogged about having read it over the course of a weekend over at The Book Case many moons ago. Sometimes it helps bolster one’s spirits when heading into battle with an author when someone you know has actually had success with one of his books, no? (more…)
13th July
2011
written by Steph

I know that I am not the only book blogger out there who is stubborn. I’ve read plenty of posts in which readers proclaim about “refusing to give in to the hype” and steering clear of books that have shot to the top of bestseller lists and set the general public on fire. I like to think that I tend to avoid mass hits in the publishing world because they tend to be directed at readers whose tastes are different from myself, but I do know that part of my avoidance is definitely due to not wanting to give in to peer pressure and jump on the latest bandwagon. Tony is probably the first person who can tell you that I do somewhat pride myself in being difficult and contrary, so it’s no surprise that this aspect of my personality extends to my reading preferences. All this to say that even though I have been told by people for ages that I would love Ann Patchett and that Bel Canto is one of the best books ever, I have resisted reading anything by her until now. I have a copy of Bel Canto that has languished unread for a few years now, but just when I think I’ll give it a try, someone tells me how much I will love it, and I immediately feel like I have to read anything else. When I saw that State of Wonder was being offered up for a TLC Tour, I was mildly interested, but it wasn't until I read the brief summary of the book that I was fully intrigued. I mean, a book that involves doctors and scientists researching medicines in the Amazon sounds like heaven to me, so with that temptation before me, I asked to be part of the tour. And I promise I did so in good faith, or mostly in good faith. I admit that I wanted to like the book, but part of me also sort of hoped that I would hate it so that I could be a lone ornery drummer in a band full of Ann Patchett fans. (more…)
16th June
2011
written by Steph

If I told you that while reading The Brief History of the Dead I had flashbacks to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road AND Jose Saramago’s Blindness, would that intrigue you or make you go running for the hills? I think my instinct would be to flee, since both of those books are so harrowing, thus those two allusions might not be the best, and yet there is no denying that I kept thinking of them as I read. I suppose that on the surface there are some similarities between the two and so the vague sense of déja vu that I experienced is not so ridiculous, but I will say that to those of you who are thinking of hightailing it out of here and reading about some fluffy beach reads instead, despite the company The Brief History of the Dead might keep, it’s really not a scary/super sad/depressing/horrifying read at all. Promise! In this book, Kevin Brockmeier takes the oft-proclaimed platitude that those who die are not truly dead so long as they can live on in the memories of others and makes it real. The world that he envisions is actually split into two: there is the plain of existence that we all know, populated with those who live and breathe; and then there is another place, the City, that is filled with all the people who once walked among us but have since departed. So long as there is at least one person on Earth who harbors a memory of them, even if it is lodged in the darkest recess of the mind, these “souls” will live on in the City. Rumor has it that a place exists beyond the City, but one only transitions to that place after all who knew them has died, and no one has ever returned to report back, and besides, the City churns with new arrivals each and every day so it is hard to keep track of where everyone winds up. Suddenly, however, the City begins to shrink, its population vanishing, people disappearing never to be seen again. As the City begins to tighten its perimeters and the populace dwindles, rumors begin to emerge of a worldwide plague back on Earth… (more…)
23rd April
2011
written by Steph

Doris Lessing is one of those authors who intimidates me. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but somehow I got it into my mind that she’s one of those smart difficult authors (her winning the Nobel Prize probably has something to do with it), and so I’ve been terrified to try her. Do any of you know what I mean? You pick up an author with a “scary” name and you start to read and even though you find the text is actually really accessible, there’s this part of your brain telling you that it’s going to get hard so you slam on the brakes and pick up Bridget Jones’s Diary instead. In this case, I think the fear that coursed through me stemming from the knowledge that I was finally reading something by Lessing worked in my favor since The Fifth Child is a very creepy book by its own rights. Reading the back cover you’d be forgiven if you assumed it would be very similar to Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I promise you, The Fifth Child is very much its own book and is a very different look at the whole “evil child” trope. (more…)
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