Book Challenge Take 2

Book Challenge Take 2

I know I said that I wouldn’t try another book challenge when I re-launched this blog in January but now find myself drawn to the idea of a book challenge….oh fickle Pinterest, why do you send so many through my feed?

I came across one this past Friday from Bustle.com-21 books every woman should read by 35– and was immediately drawn in. Why, I’ll be 35 in a little over a year! And shiny! What a fun mix of books. Fiction, non-fiction, old classics, new classics, books I probably should have read by now and others that I’m excited to read because they are outside of my normal genres, et cetera.

I’m not sure if I am simply experiencing some sort of weird mid-30’s crisis but for whatever reason, I feel like 35 is going to “a year” and that I need to accomplish something meaningful. A book challenge (plus finishing my MBA if all goes on schedule) seems like a good lead-in but part of me still wants to do something epic like hike Mt. Kilimanjaro with a bunch of other bad-ass (or crazy depending on how you want to look at it) women in 2018. Or maybe I’ll go the less expensive route and finally get around to training for a marathon….

Potential existential crisis aside, another reason I like this particular challenge is that I’m already off to a great start and have read two of the books on the list. I’m not enough of a purist (aka: lazy) to re-read those books simply for the sake of the challenge, even though the book were great reads and one, Lean In, is still a topic of conversation at my work, but hey! look at that? Only 19 more books to go…I’ve so got this.

If I can figure out how to embed a countdown timer in WordPress, or even if I can’t, head over to the fancy new page devoted to this challenge and help keep me accountable to finishing this one! And be on the lookout for some future book reviews from titles off the list.

 

PS: In the spirit of more book list (Thank you, Pinterest) here are a few other links that may be of interest. Happy Reading!

The Book Nerd’s Guide to Surviving a Dystopia

11 Books to Read if you Love “The Handmaid’s Tale”

20 Life-Changing Nonfiction Books That You Can Finish In A Day

 

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Freedom, like everything else, is relative.” 

I’m sorry to say that I have never read this novel by Margaret Atwood prior to now. Perhaps it was fortuitous that I had seen ads for the TV series adaptation on Hulu and an otherwise dry spell of books led me to select this as my next free Kindle title. Fortuitous and yet heart-wrenching as the chilling similarities between the story the author pens and the calamitous political storm our nation faces today are brought side-by-side.

The Handmaid’s tale is told from the point of view of a woman named Offred, who had another name prior to the collapse of society in America. Offred is what is known as a Handmaid – a woman that is a sanctioned mistress.  Her entire existence is based solely on her ability to have children by the man she is leased out to- generally a high-ranking military or political figure- and she goes to whichever home she is ordered to. Failure to produce a living, breathing normal child after three attempts means a fate worse than death. And even if a Handmaid has a healthy child, she is sent quickly after giving birth to the next man to produce another child.

As Offred narrates her current existence and shares flashbacks of the time “before,” the novel dances between despair and hope. Reading this today, 30+ years after it was first published, I am chilled less by the story that came after the fall of the government and more by the events of how it all took place.

In the beginning, a staged attack kills the President and most of Congress. An extreme Christian movement launches a revolution, suspends the Constitution and begins to take away women’s rights under the pretext of restoring order. Offred arrives to work one normal day only to be let go because it was now a law that women were not allowed to work….or have their own bank account…or vote. Women were further stripped of their rights and dehumanized as it became illegal for them to even read printed words amongst other actions.

Atwood describes the reaction of society to this appalling movement as well…almost nonexistent:

” There were marches, of course, a lot of women and some men. But they were smaller than you might have thought. I guess people were scared. And when it was known that the police, or the army, or whoever they were, would open fire almost as soon as any of the marches even started, the marches stopped.”

Normally, I enjoy books with not necessarily happy endings but closure and the Handmaid’s tale does have closure in a sense. The reader is left knowing that Offred makes it somewhere safe to record her tale but not where or how she spent the remainder of her days. While I prefer to be optimistic when faced with the open-ended fate of Offred, this novel has left me a bit haunted. It is raw, dark and I feel almost paralyzed due to the parallels I can see in the political dictatorship that is unfolding every day and the society that lead to and was present in Offred’s tale.

Who wants to believe, that as a society, we could ever be so blind or passively willing to let our rights be taken away? But isn’t that what is happening to many? Isn’t that what has happened in other countries in a not-so-distant past? Aren’t we witnessing the rise of a power that seems to embrace and ignore that their version of “better never means better for everyone…it always means worse for some?”

I’m not sure what the future will hold or that posting this silly blog will have any impact. I am still searching for the inner political firebrand that hides inside me and letting her voice rage. But I have to remind myself that some action is better than no action; not everyone’s rise against this tide will look the same but the collection of our will and the desire to not stand by silent in these ignoble times is what is required of us. If we believe in the rights of others, and that we live in a country meant for a better destiny than the one currently being crafted, the time for silence is over.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Starting Over

Starting Over

Once again, I find myself on the cusp of a new year full of excitement, vigor, and ambition. Oh the ambition! How many resolutions should I set (and likely fail at because let’s be honest here, I don’t have the best track record with these) for this year? Should I attempt another book challenge? Run a marathon? Bake my way through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice and eat all the deliciousness?

While all of the above sound oh-so-tempting, I am going to try and minimize my focus this year. Next Monday starts another term of graduate school and with several more terms on the horizon, this is probably not the best time to challenge myself to read the complete works of Shakespeare (yes, I did seriously consider this) or take up a time-heavy exercise regime. However, I am challenging myself to bring focus to areas of my life the have either been neglected these past few months or that are important to stay on the priority list. While exercise and school are staying on the top of the list, I am also going to try really, really hard to plan in time for book blogging.

While on break from both school and work (yay!) between Christmas and New Year’s, I admit that I read books like a man dying of thirst. I was aided in this by t a new Kindle Voyage as a Xmas gift from my wonderful husband, who had decided it was too painful watching me read books on my tiny iphone 5. 🙂  I signed back up for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited so between that and my local library, I enjoyed an endless stream of new books. This past week at work, I was asked by a co-worker to name which book had been the most interesting, a near-impossible task for a book lover such as myself! However, I did eventually settle on the Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson. I was inspired to read this non-fiction book after listening to the author’s Ted Talk which was a quick overview of the book’s plot. Highly entertaining to both watch and read. Some of you may recognize the name or at least might as Jon Ronson wrote the book “The Men Who Stare at Goats” which the Geroge Clooney movie of the same title was based on.

All in all, I think my total book count for the 10-day break was roughly 7 books. If you are curious, I have listed the titles below. I often take for granted the speed at which I read, so I tried to be modest and not overly-embarrassed in admitting this number and hearing gasps of surprise from people. I really think my motto for 2017 needs to be something along the lines of “That’s what I do- I drink and I know things…cause I read a lot” to steal and modify a Tyrion Lannister quote. Side note: I would love to have this coffee mug, but I think my work establishment might frown on it or think I’m a lush who needs an intervention since I tend to mention beer, wine, scotch etc, being a means to make meetings more pleasant… Continue reading “Starting Over”

The Darkest Minds…

The Darkest Minds…

The first book in a YA trilogy of the same name, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken was a good read. While I wasn’t as pulled into the plot and the character dynamics as with The Hunger Games, by the end I did close the back cover with a desire to read the next book and a slight sigh of discontentment that my romantic heart was denied fulfillment in the last few pages.

The Darkest Minds follows the story of Ruby, a 16 year old girl who has been in a “rehabilitation camp” since the age of 10. She is one of the unlucky (or lucky depending how you want to look at it) kids who survived a disease that swept the United States killing off almost all the children almost as quickly as the first symptom presented itself. The children who did survive were forever changed and found themselves with unusual powers, and due to the fear that these powers wrought in the government, they were rounded up and sent to various camps. The public was told it was for rehabilitation and so a cure could be found, but the truth was the camps were for experimentation and containment only.

When Ruby is sent to Thurmond, the first camp, with many other children, all are screened for their “power level” and categorized into sub-groups: Greens are the weakest but have superhuman brains with photographic memory; Blues are telekinetic; Yellows can manipulate electricity and cause any electronic item to turn off, on or explode; Oranges have telepathy and can read minds, place or remove memories along with manipulating thoughts; Reds are thought to have powers of psychokinesis but this first novel only hints at that.

Ruby is an Orange (without knowing what that really means in the beginning) but as she is being sorted, she instinctively tries to protect herself and convinces her tester that she is a Green. She spends her 6 years at Thurmond hiding her true abilities and living behind a mental wall of fear. Inevitably, it’s discovered that she has powers far beyond any “Green” and a Doctor acting as an undercover agent for a group called the Children’s League smuggles her and another Orange out of the camp.Wary at what the future holds, Ruby hopes that she has finally found someone and somewhere to belong.

Sadly for Ruby, the Children’s Leagues main motivation in breaking her out was to exploit her abilities in their own political war. When Ruby realizes that the partner of the Doctor who got her out of Thurmond executed the children he was supposed to save from another camp, Ruby makes a run for it before he can do the same to her. As she is fleeing, she encounters another group of children who escaped their camp- Liam (the leader), “Chubs” (the brilliant mind) and Zu (little girl with crazy Yellow powers who wont talk), and joins up with them to escape the League agents.

Liam, Chubs and Zu are searching for a place called East River where rumors say there is a safe haven camp for kids with power and a leader named the Slip Kid who is able to connect with your relatives anywhere in the area or get you to a safe home elsewhere. As Ruby works to both hide her secret of being an Orange and yet stay with the group, Liam begins to fall in love with her… when they do finally discover the secret location of East River, not everything there turns out to be the perfect Utopian they were hoping for…

To reiterate the sentiment that I opened this post with, overall I enjoyed this novel and plan to eventually read the remaining books (oh, where will I find the time?!). However, I think what kept this book from being categorized as great for me is that there was too much repetition with the plot. OK, I get that Ruby and the others are traveling to some unknown, remote location but there seems to be redundant situations that didn’t necessarily advance the character’s development or interactions with each other. I mean, how many times do I have to read that they dodge almost being captured by various agents of the League, bounty hunters or other children gangs? Maybe the author was trying to hit a certain number of pages or perhaps she felt that each situation of danger really did help Ruby bond with the others in the little tribe but I would have been satisfied if the book had been shorter and the story-line condensed. (Side rant- Stephanie Meyers’ The Host has to be the worst offender ever in the category of endless pages of wandering that are both unnecessary and noncontributing to forward movement in the plot. Seriously….like at least 100+ pages that could have been cut from that book and you’d never miss them. Ok, end side rant.)

My other beef is the ending and I say that only because I didn’t get the hopeless romantic ending I wanted. Wasn’t really expecting it to happen with this being book one of a trilogy but if things don’t play out with love happiness for Ruby  in the end, I may be scarred for life. Or just reluctant to read other works by this author. Reading is my happy place so don’t take away my perfect love endings darn it!

 


 

The trilogy continues with Never Fade and ends with In the Afterlight. Find more info on the author’s website here. There are rumors that The Darkest Minds is slated for movie production but per the author’s website, while there is a screen writer working on the novel adaptation, there are no actors or directors currently attached to this project. Stay tuned!

Photo is courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Oh my!

Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. Oh my!

Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy is a pleasant, delightful piece of historical murder mystery fiction. This is the second book by the author and having not read the first one, my introduction to both the author and the main character Mary Handley. Now, I don’t tend to read a lot of murder mystery and if I do, I would argue that they fall more on the thriller/suspense side but I love well written, accurate historical fiction. Heck, half of the random facts filed away somewhere in the vast reaches of my brain are from historical fiction novels.

The novel is set in Brooklyn during the year 1890. Mary Handley, the daughter of a butcher, is an young, intelligent, (unofficial) consulting detective attempting to establish herself as a professional. In the first novel, she successfully helps the Brooklyn police close a tricky murder case and now finds herself at loose ends waiting for another potential case. As luck would have it, she is hired by a woman to investigate the 20 year old death of the woman’s uncle where there is suspicion of foul play.

With this review, I don’t want to dive too deep into the plot and provide spoilers but I will say that the twist and turns kept on coming. Mary’s investigation into the uncle’s death uncovers a buried coffin full of stone and that the uncle apparently died not once but twice eight years apart and in two different locations! Other murders, seemingly unconnected to Mary’s investigation, being to occur and the deeper Mary dives into this case, the more she realizes that she is playing fire with Brooklyn’s snobbish elite and the underworld social climbers that pull the strings. As if Mary doesn’t have enough on her plate with missing bodies and cold leads, her brother is arrested for the murder of his fiance (a close friend of Mary’s), and she falls in love with a Vanderbilt and becomes engaged.

I admit to skepticism as to the validity of some facts in this novel. Being somewhat scarred by Hollywood’s inability to keep historically accurate facts in the forefront of their movies, I felt it prudent to keep a running list of things to cross check as this novel seemed chock full of potentially disappointing untrue facts. So with that, I set out to confirm if the below list could be realistic for a person in Brooklyn in the 1890’s to know about or to be a current practice for the era:

  • Embalming still a current practice?
  • Jujitsu?
  • French form of kickboxing called Savate
  • Would a women have a boyfriend

Good ol’ Google did surprisingly confirm these facts: Embalming became popular in the U.S. during the civil war; in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s, the U.S. became fascinated with Japanese culture especially martial arts and so it’s very likely that Mary could have been introduced and trained in jujitsu and there were even debates in England as to whether a boxer could be defeated by a trained martial artist (see website here); while I couldn’t find any proof that Savate was present in the U.S. in the 1890’s (albeit after only a brief internet search), given the popularity it had in Europe during that same time period, I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of historical accuracy that Mary wouldn’t have known and/or been trained in Savate, especially as it was lauded as a self-defense art; and lastly, yes, it is conceivable that a women in or around the 1890’s could indeed have had a boyfriend (linguist history lesson here) and referred to said boyfriend in social conversation.

I can’t remember the last time a novel challenged me to question history but I am pleased that the author obviously did his homework and must have complied some exhaustive research in the writing of Mary’s second adventure. This author’s desire for accuracy is confirmed by an interview he had with a fellow wordpress blogger and also that he put a lot of effort into ensuring the characters spoke accurately for that time frame. I am  still unconvinced on this point but am going to trust in the author on this one. Head over to Book Club Mom to read the interview.

All in all, I enjoyed Brooklyn on Fire. Mary Handley is not a perfect person (a bit prejudice against the rich and privilege) but she is a witty, strong woman living by her own terms and is entirely identifiable with in this current day and age and I look forward to reading more of her adventures. I will give one spoiler alert though- my hopelessly romantic soul is sad her engagement ended. Love is a fickle thing.


 

Brooklyn on Fire is available Jan. 19th, 2016. Find more information here and check out Lawrence H. Levy’s website here.

**I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. My first pre-release book ever! Click the link above for more information.

 

Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

I had high hopes for this book and yet was oddly not compelled or captivated by the story line. I struggled to finish it and had I not added it as a selection for my 2016 challenge, I don’t know that I would have finished. Is something wrong with me?

Some of my favorite books are by Dan Simmons: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Terror: A Novel, Drood. Each of these was a lyrical, gripping novel, either with a historical setting or pure fantasy/sci-fi, but all demonstrating Simmons ability to draw his reader in with beautiful words, unpredictable plots, fascinating characters and deftly capturing the vast reaches of human nature.

So why did Phases of Gravity feel flat to me? I grabbed this off the library shelf based on my love of the author’s other titles and because of the (misleading?) inside jacket summary: “Phases of Gravity is a novel about the power of dreams and the possibility of second chances, about journeys remembered and newly undertaken.” OK, I get all of that and could write a literary paper pulling out segments that fit each of those pieces but overall…I’m disappointed. Unmoved. Puzzled.

Comprised of constant, sometimes disjointed, flashbacks, this novel centers around Richard Baedecker, former NASA astronaut who walked on the moon. 16 years after his moon walk, Richard (or Dick as he is commonly referred to in the book) is struggling to understand his place in the universe. His marriage has ended, and he has no real relationship with his son, Scott. In an attempt to reconnect, he travels to India where Scott has joined up with guru on his farm for meditation, cleansing and answer searching. While in India, he meets Maggie Brown, also in the area to see Scott. Richard and Maggie end up spending time together touring the area and Richard is intrigued by this young, self-possessed woman talking about “places of power” and the effect they can have on a person. Eventually, later in the book, they start a relationship that is short-lived and predictable from page one of her entry.

Along the chapters, Richard encounters the other members of the space mission team: one found God and started a successful church; another, Dave, became a politician, writer, soon-to-be father himself and is battling cancer When Dave dies in a plane crash where he was pilot and only crew member, his widow ask Richard to investigate how this happened and why Dave was heading for his apparent destination at the time of the crash with the unspoken question being did he commit suicide. What ensues next is soul searching by Richard of when does one full experience a moment of happiness in this mortal life?

The book ends with Richard finding his way and peace with himself. He repairs his relationship with his son after a daring (and random) visit by helicopter to the new farm in Oregon his master from India relocated to, decides to honor Dave’s pre-death request to help him finish the book he had started and seeks out Maggie, whom he loves, to try and rekindle their relationship. The books ends with Richard having a transcendental moment up on a mountain in a “place of power” with Maggie calling his name.

Perhaps what really caused the disconnect with me for this book is that it felt cliche; a recycled male mid-life crisis plot so-to-speak. Older man searching for himself by journey to a foreign country and then across the US, quits his job, hooks up with a hot, young but precocious and deep woman, suffers the loss of a close friend triggering subsequent questions of one’s own mortality, etc, etc. I can understand how having once walked on the moon, the pull of Earth’s gravity would pale in comparison to the experience but overall I felt this novel was both trying to hard to instill deeper messaging into it’s pages and yet was overall unimaginative in the effort.

While reviews of this books span the board, it is with a disappointed frowny face and hope for the next Dan Simmons book I read, that I return Phases of Gravity to the library.

 

 

 

2016 Book Challenge

OK, maybe this is  bit of bandwagon joining and post- New Years resolution setting but after talking with a friend about book challenges and her desire to try and organize/track the massive list of books she wants to read, I realized that I have never participated in a book challenge.  Well, not since I was a wee one participating in the county library summer reading challenges, which I totally rocked for the record! “How is that possible?” inquiring minds probably aren’t asking but oddly enough, it hasn’t crossed my mind previously to attempt a guided reading journey, so why not this year? Life is already predicted to be crazy moving forward (grad school?) and I am trying to challenge myself to expand my literary horizons. The book club I formed with two friends last year has done wonder in this area (still recovering  from Carsick by John Waters although he was incredibly entertaining at the Christmas concert we saw about a month ago) and I look forward to the many reading adventures yet to come but along the way, why not throw some additional challenges into the mix and also help prevent this blog consisting of many novels of similar genre and scope?

A quick search on my beloved Pinterest resulted in a few different challenge “lists” floating around the interweb. While I didn’t find one that perfectly fit what I was looking for (which if I thought more about it, finding a list that perfectly suited my desires and literary likes would be defeating the purpose), I did come across the below list from PopSugar which looks like it has been recycled for a few years but hey! still relevant for this year.

Now, it looks like some people assign crazy rules to their challenges: read a book every week for the entire year until finished or don’t pick books that you have already read and re-read them, only physical books, no audio or kindle versions etc. I am going to take a much looser interpretation of this list and say that my goal is just to read a book in every category, in whatever order/format that may take before the end of the year and (hopefully) blog about a fair number of them for your entertainment. Head over to the 2016 book challenge page to see what I will be reading for each category (listed below) and also keep an eye on the 2016 Book Count page as I can only imagine that I will be reading other novels that don’t fall into one of the 40 below categories.

If you are interested in joining this challenge, please comment often and let me know what you are reading for each section and how you are progressing overall. The more, the merrier in the book world!

~Erica

2016 Reading Challenge as posted on PopSugar.com

  • A book based on a fairy tale
  • A National Book Award winner
  • A YA bestseller
  • A book you haven’t read since high school
  • A book set in your home state
  • A book translated to English
  • A romance set in the future
  • A book set in Europe
  • A book that’s under 150 pages
  • A New York Times bestseller
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year
  • A book recommended by someone you just met
  • A self-improvement book
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book written by a celebrity
  • A political memoir
  • A book at least 100 years older than you
  • A book that’s more than 600 pages
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club
  • A science-fiction novel
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A graphic novel
  • A book that is published in 2016
  • A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
  • A book that takes place during Summer (why summer?)
  • A book and it’s prequel
  • A murder mystery
  • A book written by a comedian
  • A dystopian novel
  • A book with a blue cover (why blue?)
  • A book of poetry
  • The first book you see in a bookstore
  • A classic from the 20th century
  • A book from the library
  • An autobiography
  • A book about a road trip
  • A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
  • A satirical book
  • A book that takes place on an island
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy