Monday, October 15, 2018

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Shades of Milk and Honey
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Pages: 302
Finished: Stopped at page 27

First Sentence: The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neightbors in every respect. 

Summary: Because I did not finish this, here's the discription from the flyleaf: Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Thoughts: I found this title while searching for readalikes to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I LOVED Strange and Norrell. It was a fantastic Jane Austen meets Charles Dickens with fantasy infused. The wit and humor were there. The ridiculousness was there. It was a joy to read. So to find a book that mentioned both that AND Jane Austen (who is my favorite author) was amazing.

... Oh my goodness was the book underwhelming. The author, while clearly a fan of Austen, is not as good a writer as Austen. The sentences were clumsy and didn't read as true to the time. It was very clear the book was written in the 21st century. On top of that, even though I only read 27 pages, the characters were so suck in their stereotypes that I could barely handle it. Jane was a mix of Anne Elliot and Eleanor Dashwood while Melody was clearly a rehash of Marianne Dashwood. Also, Melody said "La!" at least three times. Enough that it was grating. The dialogue was uninspiring.

Perhaps this book is one that gets better as you go, but as I was hoping to use it as a break book for both Count of Monte Cristo and The Scarlet Letter, I'm not willing to do the work. Overall a grave disappointment.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

October Reads

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - family book discussion
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - Back to the Classics / Classic Club Dare
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal - Personal Reading Challenge
(The Time Machine by H.G. Wells - Back to the Classics)

I am going to finish Count this month. Even if it kills me. So with that being said, I'm going to try and keep the rest of my list small. Scarlet Letter is short, but even with the length, I expect it's also going to be a bit long. Shades of Milk and Honey looks like it's going to be right up my alley and I'm very excited for it. I might use it as my break book. 

If I finish the top three books, I hope to read The Time Machine to continue my Back to the Classics.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Title: Far From the Madding Crowd
Author: Thomas Hardy
Pages: 352
Finished: September 26, 2018

First Sentence: When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

Summary: Bathsheba Everdene takes over her uncle's farm upon his death. While there, she attracts the attention of three different men. Over the course of a year, she runs the farm with an intelligent hand and wards off all her suitors, until she doesn't. Tragedy strikes and int the end, she marries the man she's supposed to.

Thoughts: I have so many. Oh my goodness. Let's start with Bathsheba. I actually really liked her for the most part. Often, when I read classics, I have a hard time believing the characters are the age they are because they act so much older than their age. To be fair, people back then had to grow up quicker, but it's hard for me to believe they are so young because I suppose I read things with a 21st century thought process. But Bathsheba read as young 20s to me. Between her thoughtlessness and her narcissism and just, in general. I didn't like how she thoughlessly sent that Valentine to Boldwood. Not at all. And I had some trouble with how she had a tendency to lead men on. But as I read it, I wondered how much of that had to do with the fact that it was a man writing her. I did appreciate that she knew she didn't want to marry anyone unless she loved them. Of course, I was frustrated that she fell for Sergeant Troy who's horrible, but she did love him. And she was faithful to him. I'm not explaining this well. I don't necessarily want her in a relationship that's horrible for her, but she tries.

Mr. Boldwood. Where do I start. Mr. Boldwood is that guy who you flirt with once and now he expects you to have sex with him. In 19th century terms. This guy infuriated me so much! I felt bad for him for a couple of chapters, but when he kept going on how she owed him, I got more and more frustrated. Suddenly, everything he did for her felt like a guy saying, "look, I helped you so therefore you should be my girlfriend." It was so absolutely disgusting. There was even a bit where it was mentioned that his strength of character bent hers to him that just felt so icky.

Sergeant Troy. Oh my god was he despicable. First and foremost, I did not expect him to actually love Fanny the way he clearly did by the end of the novel. He seemed to be blowing her off through the whole thing. I even expected him to have given her the wrong church in order to avoid the wedding. So I was annoyed that he clearly impregnated her and then came back to Weatherbury to flirt with Bathsheba. (Not that he necessarily knew he had impregnated her... but still.) So instead, he started leading Bathsheba on in ways that were so controlling. Then he agreed to marry her in Bath in a scene we don't know about, so we don't know who pushed whom into it. Then he left, and tried to get her back after abandoning her for a year. I mean, seriously, who does that?!?!

Gabriel Oak. Our stolid farmer who is clearly the one meant for her even though she refuses him the first time. He was not so odious as the others, but I have to admit, I don't know why he fell in love with her right away. Nor did I feel he had the right to get so annoyed when she showed preference to other men. By the end, he grew on me with how much he was willing to protect her even though really that's not his choice.

This is getting long and it's really rambly. I'm sorry guys.

Overall, this is not my most favorite classics, but I do think I enjoy it as one of the better ones I've read this year for my Back To the Classics Challenge. For a book written in the 19th century, there's quite a bit of women's liberation in this that's a bit unexpected. I wonder how it would have read if it was written by a woman. I did have to read passages out loud because I found myself skimming over the pages long descriptions and then not knowing what was going on. Overall though, I'm glad to have read this. I'm interested in hearing why this is one of my dad's favorite books. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Dare to Get Your Goth On!

For the month of October, The Classic Club has dared us to read something scary. We can define scary how we want. Some people are picking gothic novels. Others are horror novels. I am picking a book that scares me due to how long it is.

For a couple months now, I've been slogging my way through The Count of Monte Cristo. Between the giant list of other books I'm reading, along with my other hobbies, I just am not getting through it. So I'm going to make October the month that I finish this book! (And then I can start the other book on my list that scares me - One Hundred Years of Solitude). Looking forward to finally finishing this!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord

Title: Redemption In Indigo
Author: Karen Lord
Pages: 188
Finished: September 16, 2018

First Sentence: A rival of mine once complained that my stories begin awkwardly and end untidily.

Summary: Paama leaves her gluttonous husband to return to the quiet life of her family. However, when her husband follows her, she shows compassion even as he embarrasses himself three ways in as many days. It's not long before he leaves her in her home town to go back home. All this serves as the set up for the meat of the story. The Djombi (gods and other supernatural beings) note her compassion and decide she is the person to hold the Chaos Stick - the power currently being squandared by a Djombi who calls himself the Indigo Lord. Of course, once he realizes his power is gone, he will stop at nothing to get it back.

Thoughts: I'm just going to take a moment to wax poetical about Paama. She is amazing guys! She's kind and compassionate, but she clearly has learned her lesson and is done suffering fools. She's protective of her family. She's intelligent. And she's very principled, though willing enough to learn new things when necessary. I just love her so much!

The story itself takes a bit of time to work out. It's written as though a storyteller were orating it in a hall. The whole thing is a little jarring at first, but as I kept reading, it started working itself out. Mostly. With that in mind, sometimes the story follows another plot that has seemingly nothing to do with what we want. Things are skipped over, others drag on. Mostly, I didn't mind it. I did have a hard time picking out just when this was supposed to have taken place though. I never really managed to figure that out, but I suppose it wasn't all that important to the story.

This is a retelling of a Senegalese folktale. I had to do a bit of digging to try and find which one. There seems to be a folktale called Asigne the Glutton. I couldn't find the text online, but I was able to find a collection of West African folktales that contain this one! I look forward to reading it and seeing how they compare.

Read for my own Personal Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Title: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Pages: 301
Finished: September 11, 2018

First Sentence: I always vaguely expected to outgrow my expectations.

Summary: Gretchen Rubin decides to take a year to become happier. She does so by coming up with resolutions that she believes will make her happier in various aspects of her life. Throughout the book, she also comes up with Happiness truths as she shares her journey.

Thoughts:  This was the right time to read this book for me. I've been seeing a therapist for almost three years now, and we've been really working at being more positive. I've been studying a ton of personal development books to help me find that positivity and that happiness. So instead of reading this book and immediately getting defensive, I found myself nodding my head to much of what Gretchen was saying. Many of the things she tried are things I've been working on too. How I interact with my husband and my kid. How I interact with other people. How I treat myself and my home. Most of it was in line with what she was saying. I'd already come up with many of these things by myself (with the help of my therapist and other books.) My goal wasn't to become happy, but it was a nice by product.

The one area that I was frustrated with was when she mentioned that she had no interest in meditating or going outside. To the point where she decided not to do them. And I guess the main reason that left me with a bad taste in my mouth is that I fought both meditation and going outside too, but once I started, boy did I feel better. In fact, I try to get every single person in my household outside every day because we all do better when we go outside. Meditation has been crucial to helping me focus too. That being said, I have a feeling she does meditate at times, just differently than I do. And that's okay.

In general, it was a nice enough book. I didn't really get much out of it other than the self acknowledgement that what I'm doing for myself has worked for other people too.

Read for my non-fiction challenge.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

September Reads

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy - Back To the Classics Challenge
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord - Personal Challenge
The Count of Monte Cristo - Personal Challenge
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin - Nonfiction Challenge
Switch How to Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath - Nonfiction Challenge***

I really wish to finish Count this month if possible. That way I can give myself two months for the other book on my list that I imagine will be fairly slow. 

Out of this list, I'm most excited for Redemption in Indigo. It's a fantasy book inspired by a Senegalese folk tale! I know so little about any folk tales from the African continent other than broad strokes of Egyptian mythology. 

I'm curious about Far From the Madding Crowd as it's apparently on my dad's top five list. He's been less than complimentary about our previous book discussion books, so I hope this one sits better with him.

The two nonfiction books showed up on a list about productivity, and both caught my interest. Now's as good a time as any. 

The Count of Monte Cristo continues to be a slog. I find I can only read about a half hour of it before I lose focus. This seems to be working in my favor because it means I can handle two books at once. Half hour of Count, at least half an hour of something else. While I don't typically enjoy reading two books at once, this is allowing me to make progress rather than stalling forever on the brick.

***I've decided not to read Switch at the moment as I really want to finish Count.