Friday, January 19, 2018

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


Title: The Girl in the Tower
Author: Katherine Arden
Pages: 350
Finished: January 18, 2017

First Sentence: A girl rode a bay horse through a forest late at night.

Summary: Vasya has left her village, forced to flee when the villagers brand her a witch. She disguises herself as a boy and sets off to be a traveler. Of course, things have a funny way of going wrong, and she runs into her brother and sister while saving some girls from a troupe of bandits. Throughout it all, a strange boyer seems taken with her, and the Grand Prince is in danger of going to war with the Mongols.

Thoughts: This was a significantly quicker read than the last one. There wasn't as much set up, so I didn't have the slog I often find in many books. Vasya is brave and strong, if a bit rash and naive. There were times that I wanted to yell at her to think about what she was doing, but overall, I loved her. The priest, Konstantin, is still a horrible man. I disliked Olga quite a lot, though the poor woman was only following what was set forth for aristocratic women at the time. I don't think I'd survive well in medieval Russia.

These books make we want to learn more about Russian history as well as brush up on my Russian folktales. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie


Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: 212
Finished: January 14, 2018

First Sentence: It was five o'clock on a winter's morning in Syria.

Summary: Hercule Poirot, world famous private detective, finds himself investigating a murder while on a train ride back to London.

Thoughts: My only experience with this before reading the book was watching the Poirot episode that aired on Masterpiece Theatre in 2010ish. So I had a vague notion of what happened, but not much.

This was my first ever Agatha Christie read. It was... interesting. The mystery itself was fun, if a little farfetched. I was a little shocked at the broad stereotyping of both the sexes and the nationalities. I've noticed in most of the classics I've read that were written by women, women characters aren't so horribly treated as they are in male novels. This one was definitely an outlier in that respect. (The crime must have been committed by a woman because it was passionate?) And then they used the nature of the crime and people's nationality to accuse?

M. Bouc and the doctor were both rather ridiculous, but then they were there to be a foil, so I suppose it wasn't so horrible. I was totally misled by one character, but that's because the adaptation I fuzzily remembered had changed his character. In general, I appreciated the novel as an easy read for the start of my classics journey in 2018.

After I finished, I found the Poirot episode I remembered watching many years earlier and watched it. There were quite a few characterization differences, and plenty of changes to the story that explained my confusion while I was reading. It was an interesting enough adaptation, and I've already put the 2017 movie on hold for when it comes out at the library. I'll definitely be checking out more Christie works in the future.

Read for Back to the Classics 2018 Challenge.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai


Title: Listen, Slowly
Author: Thanhha Lai
Pages: 272
Finished: January 12, 2018

First Sentence:

Summary: Mai looks forward to spending her summer on the beach with her friend Montana while they flirt with a cute boy from her class. Instead she's spending it in Vietnam helping her grandmother find out what happened to her husband after The War. And she is unhappy. As is usual with these types of books though, she learns about her family and becomes a deeper, more thoughtful person. Yay.

Thoughts: I listened to this on audiobook, and it honestly ruined the experience for me. Mai is a sixth grade girl, so the narrator went with spoiled, whiny brat when she started. And boy was she spoiled and whiny. I had a really hard time sympathizing with her as a 30 year old adult. But I think some young teens would really enjoy this. Read for my Caudill Challenge.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend


Title: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
Author: Jessica Townsend
Pages: 480
Finished: January 11, 2018

First Sentence: The journalists arrived before the coffin did.

Summary: Born on Eventide eleven years ago, Morrigan Crow, along with all other Eventide born children, is cursed to die at midnight on the next Eventide. As her death nears, an eccentric named Jupiter Crow appears and offers her an escape. A way to bypass death and continue life with plenty of opportunities. An opportunity Morrigan takes.
Thoughts: Very Harry Potter. Also, it felt very steampunk even though it's not really. Great piece of middle grade fiction. I'm interested in reading the rest of the series when they come up. Glad to have another recommendation in my back pocket for our voracious 5th and 6th grade fantasy readers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Pages: 531
Finished: January 9, 2017

First Sentence: A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe. 

Summary: Ursula Todd walks into a cafe in Germany and shoots Hitler. She dies. Years earlier, Ursula Todd is born, but dies due to strangulation from the umbilical cord. Ursula Todd is born and survives because the doctor arrived this time. Ursula Todd dies at the age of four from drowning in the ocean. Don't worry, she's reborn. In fact, she's born again and again, and dies again and again. Each life is different. Sometimes greatly so, other times not so much. And it seems she's doomed to live this life over and over.

Thoughts: Woah. I read this for part of a challenge at work. The adult winter reading theme was Expand Your Reading Comfort Zone. We filled out a form of our typical reading styles, and then the adult services librarians picked a book for us that was outside of our comfort zone.

I don't typically read a ton of historical fiction, and I tend to be a pretty linear person, but I found myself hooked on this book. I found it interesting how Ursula changed in each iteration. People have compared this to the movie Groundhog Day, but I find that a bit unfair. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character knew exactly what was happening each day. Ursula was only vaguely aware that things were happening again. She fumbled through each life with plenty of trial and error.

Sylvie was the character who confused me the most. When we first met her, I actually quite liked her. She seemed very bright and vivacious. Intelligent and ready to give Hugh a run for his money. And then she just got worse and worse. I know I'm reading the book with 21st century sensibilities, but her way of handling Ursula's rape and subsequent abortion was very unfeeling and very... wrong.

The chapters regarding London during the Blitz were quite difficult to read. The detail of the bodies was quite gruesome. Don't read while eating. It reminded me a lot of Foyle's War, a television series set in WWII.

In the end, I'm really glad I read this. I feel like it needs a second read to be digested properly, though that will obviously have to wait for another time. 

World War Z by Max Brooks


Title: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks
Pages: (342) Audiobook
Finished: January 9, 2017

First Sentence: I listened to this, so I don't know what the first line is

Summary: 10 years after China has declared victory against the undead, our unnamed narrator known as the Interviewer travels the world talking to survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Thoughts: This book has been in my sites for a while now thanks to Chris Hardwick extolling it's amazingness on the Nerdist Podcast more than once. He mentioned the unabridged audiobook in a recent episode, so I decided to check it out. I was not disappointed!

I don't like horror. I've an active imagination, and I can give myself nightmares too easily. But this one worked for me. The documentary nature of the book made everything that happened something in the past, so even though scary things were happening, the reader listener already knows that the person talking survives. I liked that, though I understand that not everyone found it so interesting.

The book is divided into multiple parts - basically the set up and spread of the disease, the panic as people realized they couldn't escape, the failed fight against them, the turning of the tides, and the cleanup. The spread of the disease and the panic were really the most interesting parts to me. Latter chapters got long. Also, important to note, interviewees will reference something that will never be explained again. This can be frustrating sometimes when you decide you really want to know about that one small detail, but I got used to it as the book went on.

I listened to it primarily because some of my favorite actors were cast to voice characters in it, but I wish I had read it instead in hindsight. I listen to audiobooks while doing other things, so I'm never paying full attention to what I'm listening to. I mean, it's not too difficult when I'm folding laundry, but I can't put full attention while driving. I also don't retain information as well when listening as I do with reading. I missed references I should have caught, and I found myself forgetting things that happened. I found the Schmoop entry to be invaluable for keeping things straight.

I definitely plan on revisiting this in book form in a year or so. Might be a good October read.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin


Title: Snow and Rose
Author: Emily Winfield Martin
Pages: 205
Finished: January 3, 2018

First Sentence: Once, there were two sisters

Summary: This is the story of Snow White and Rose Red, two sisters who live in the forest, save a gnome, and befriend a bear. Only it's not quite that story. There's a library with goats for one. And a mushroom farmer. And many other delightful little embellishments to make the story so lovely.

Thoughts: Martin clearly took the fairy tale and turned it into a middle grade piece of literature. There's no love interest in this story about a pair of sisters aged 9 and 11. But it doesn't need it. The sisters are perfect in themselves. Both strong in their own ways as they figure out the mysteries of the forest. I really liked this book and definitely would recommend it to readers 4th grade through 6th or 7th.

The book itself is also gorgeous. It has pictures. Such lovely pictures. The pages have a lovely weight to them. It's the right size. All in all a wonderful reading experience.