Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reading plans for the rest of the year

If there were a way to read multiple books at once, I would be doing it. As there is clearly not, I have to pace myself, which we all know has never been my strong suit. Anyway, I've decided on a reading list through the end of 2016, that also includes some room to read books I grab on a whim at the library or that may show up in reading challenges. So, here we go.

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September

To finish:
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (This one is obvious...I've been reading it since February.)
  • Eve of a Hundred Midnights, by Bill Lascher (WWII China/America nonfiction)
  • Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M.T. Anderson (WWII Russian nonfiction)
To read:
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up, by Marie Kondo (Finally got my hands on it!)
  • Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly (new WWII novel...clearly I'm on a WWII kick)

October
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe (I have tried and failed to start this for years.)
  • The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (a scifi series I've wanted to read)
  • The Book of Chameleons, by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (for a Goodreads group read) 

November
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
  • The rest of this month is open

December (my Christmas re-reads month)
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  • The Legend of Holly Claus, by Brittany Ryan
  • Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  • Redwall, by Brian Jacques (this will probably stretch into 2017 as I re-read the whole series)
  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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I am telling myself to stick to this list, even though there are books I have from the library right now that are not on it. Doesn't matter, I will read and review those as well. I look forward to December with all my re-reads though. I might even begin Redwall or LotR in November. The cold months are the best time to read those. What are you planning to read for the rest of the year??

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: All About Audio

brokeandbookish.com

Happy Tuesday! I missed a couple of these again, and today's topic is a little tough for me. Audiobooks are just not for me most of the time. I really do try, but I'm too easily distracted by literally everything, among other reasons I have mentioned before. However, this week's topic is a freebie, which means I don't have to list just books, but I can pick anything audio related. So, I'm going to list five audio related things that have to do with books and stories in general. I'm only doing five because I just don't have enough experience in this area.

1. The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques
     This is one of my favorite books series of all time anyway, and the audiobooks that were made were full cast dramas, narrated by Jacques himself. The world of Redwall Abbey, Mossflower, and all its creatures came to life in a big way through these, and I was sad that there weren't more of them done; only a handful of the books were ever performed.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
     In all likelihood I have read the Narnia series more than any other books in my life. The radio dramas that were produced by the BBC only made the stories come even more to life for me. I listen to them every single winter; so perfect on a chilly and snowy evening with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

3. EOS 10, a sci-fi radio play
     This is a podcast I stumbled across on the Podcast app on my phone; EOS 10 is a space station. I would listen to it while cleaning, and it's a really fascinating and funny story. The voice actors are so great too. Worth checking out if you like audio dramas and sci-fi. I've only listened to the first season, so I need to play catch up here soon.

4. Welcome to Night Vale
     An audio drama that runs the gamut from fantasy to sci-fi to musical theatre to just plain weird, I fell in love with Welcome to Night Vale pretty quickly. I am way behind on episodes (also on the Podcast app) because it's tough to remember to listen, but I liken it to The Twilight Zone in some ways. I've also discovered new music through listening, so that's a bonus.

5. Zombies, Run!
     This is maybe a weird one to include, but it's a fitness app that actually does follow a story, and it kinda like virtual reality. It's actually super motivating because each episode/session leaves you hanging so that you want to go out running (or walking; you don't HAVE to run!) to hear more of the story. Plus you collect items and meet new people and your map expands as you learn more about the area your character explores. So totally cool, and a unique concept that I'm pretty thankful is a thing. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

End of summer catch up reviews

Hi, my name is Elisabeth and I read too fast for my own good and then don't stop to think. I'm behind on book reviews, so in order to not have too many new posts suddenly, I'm going to write short reviews in this post, Twitter-style. For those of you who have followed my blog for a few years, I've done this before. Clearly, I have a problem.

Anyway, I have eight books to talk about, not counting the three cookbooks I've read cover-to-cover. I haven't tried any recipes from those yet, so I don't feel I can give an accurate review. (All links lead to Amazon. Not affiliate links.)

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Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
     This fell off the shelf at work while I was putting other graphic novels away, so I thought I'd give it a go. Perfect for Halloween, even though I read it in early summer, it's a creepy tale of a girl who learns all too quickly that ghosts may appear friendly but generally have their own agenda. It was a really quick read and I enjoyed all the Russian references too.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, by Amy E. Reichert
     I don't normally go for modern romances, but when it's set in Milwaukee and revolves around food, it's hard not to take that chance. A super quick and absolutely adorable read about a chef and the restaurant critic who causes her to lose her restaurant (sounds bad, but trust me!); anyone who likes Milwaukee and food and the romance that can result from serious misconceptions would love this story! It's not the best written book, but the descriptions of Milwaukee and the food we love so much here in Wisconsin totally make it worth it. And like I said, it's adorable.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling
     Hah, so I'm not actually linking to the Amazon page for this book because it's not even worth it. No, it wasn't because it's in script form; that didn't bother me in the least. It's not worth it because, quite simply, it's crap. It's utterly deplorable, and J.K. Rowling must be stopped. She's writing her own fanfiction, and quite frankly I feel like she's turning into George Lucas...which is never a good thing. Leave your own work alone, the original is JUST FINE. *hides in a corner with original unedited Star Wars* Wait, what was I talking about? Oh right. Don't bother with Cursed Child. Just. Don't.

Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body, by Kate Hudson
     This was a totally fun book to read, and while there were some weird Buddhist things I had to wade through, the gist of it was that there's no one way to love the skin you're in. And it's the only one you're getting, so you'd do well to take care of it and not hate it because it's easier to love and care for others if you love and care for yourself. She's got all kinds of great tips on exercising and eating and being mindful. Really nice.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, by Paul Krueger
     Another one that I found by accident (released in June) and really loved, this is a crazy romp through Chicago where alcohol is magical and bartenders are on the front lines to protect humanity from disgusting creatures called tremens. Taking the classic cocktails to a new level, Bailey Chen learns that each basic liquor has it's own magical effect, and that she's a natural at bartending. The fictional lore about each drink (think old fashioned, gin and tonic, margarita, long island iced tea) is super cool too. Be careful though, you might get thirsty!

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, by Lindsay Ribar
     This is a brand new YA novel (I know, it's weird!) that had an intriguing premise...there's a boy named Aspen who has the magical ability to reach inside people and steal...whatever he wants. Pain, memories, loves, likes, etc. His grandmother and aunt can do the same. One summer he is called to the ancestral home in the small town of Three Peaks where he has to be a part of the ritual. This ritual keeps the cliff above the town from falling on everyone. Little does Aspen know what lies ahead of him as he keeps stealing from his friends and expecting no consequences. It was a fascinating tale with a couple idiotic characters, but maybe I only thought they were idiotic because I'm not a teenager anymore. Still worth reading, and the system of magic was one I hadn't seen before, so that was cool.

The Leaving, by Tara Altebrando
     Also a brand new YA novel, The Leaving is about a group of teens who have been returned to their town after having been kidnapped eleven years previously. None of the five who came back can remember anything, not even about the sixth child who didn't return. The story is told from the perspective of a few of the returned kids, and also the younger sister of the boy who didn't come back. There's some fancy typography in this novel that definitely kept me engrossed. But the ending left a lot to be desired...there were a couple plotlines that were promising and led nowhere, and I was hoping for a more supernatural ending, but that's not really what happened. But well written, for the story that we are given.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, by Agnes Martin-Lugand
     I just read this today; it took a couple hours. Honestly, by the title and the fact that it was translated from French...I was mildly disappointed. Also, character development was rather odd. It's about a woman named Diane who loses her husband and young daughter in a car accident and then a year later jets off to Ireland to try to recover. There's some romance, but it didn't build up accurately in my opinion. The descriptions are what I really loved, especially of Paris and then Ireland's rocky coast. Kind of a cute story, and there's a sequel out now (soon?) which I'll probably read as well.

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There you have it, I am now caught up. I have approximately 43782 books from the library to read yet, and I'm still slogging my way through Anna Karenina. I had no idea that would take me so long!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Classics I Read in School

brokeandbookish.com

I am so bad at keeping up with these lists...which is sad because they're so fun! Going to strive to do better, and I have a few book reviews backed up too, so hopefully that means a lot of activity here for this little blog soon. Anyway, this week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish is "back to school" and it's a freebie, meaning you can pick how you want to approach your personal list. I have chosen to select the top ten classic works of literature that I read over my schooling years, possibly including college, but not likely. Granted, it's a bit different than if I had been in school; half of these I don't recall if I read them for school or for fun. But being homeschooled makes the lines a bit blurred, and I can't say I'm upset about that! So, here is my list, in no particular order.

1. Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
     Obviously I had to include P&P, because this set off a lifelong obsession with all things Regency.

2. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
     I distinctly do remember reading this one for fun when I was seventeen, though I think I did write a short paper on it for my mom because it made such an impact on me.

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo
     This was my first foray into French literature and it totally blew me away.

4. All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque
     I read this one three times, once in high school, twice in college (one of those for fun). Not as old as the other books on this list, but every inch a classic and a book I tell everyone they should read.

5. Silas Marner, by George Eliot
     Haha, this one I fought with my mom about...it sounded so boring when she wanted me to read it (I think I was in 8th grade?). And the print in our copy made it hard to read, but I struggled through it and found at the end that it really wasn't that bad. I'm thinking of rereading it in the next few years.

6. The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan
     This is my very first review on my blog! I've read it a few times throughout my life. Always excellent.

7. Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott
     Initially I read this for school, in junior high I think, and got an abridged copy from the library that took me only two hours to read and I was left thinking a lot was missing. Mom suggested I find an unabridged copy, which I did, and that ended up taking me three weeks to read haha. But a seriously amazing story, I love it so much. One of the books that fueled my love of medieval England.

8. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
     This I definitely read in college, because I took a class on it. I had read short excerpts in the past, but always only from Inferno, and I was beyond ecstatic that my favorite professor was going to teach on the entire work. It was one of the best classes I ever took (all of his classes were the best, tbh), and I now own three different translations and like to tell everyone they should read the entire thing. [Yeah, you reading this, go read Dante!]

9. The Epic of Gilgamesh, author unknown
     I believe I read this in junior high or my first year of high school, not sure. (The years blur because there's not really such a thing as grade separations when you're homeschooled haha.) It was on my classical literature list and I didn't fight about this one at all, because I adore old, old, old literature. The translation I read was really awesome too, easy for me to read. Wish I could remember which one it was.

10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll
     I would be remiss if I didn't include this on my list!! The first hundred times I read it were totally for fun, but the culmination of my college career was my senior seminar on Alice, so I spent a lot of time reading and rereading while I worked on that. It's definitely one of my favorite books of all time, despite that it's technically a children's book.

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There you have it, my top ten classics read in school!! As I was writing this list, I actually had to pare down and pick and choose, because there were a lot more than ten...classics were always something I loved very much.





Monday, August 29, 2016

Battle Royale

amazon.com

Sometimes, you read a novel that just sticks with you.
Sometimes that novel is one you've wanted to read for ages, but only recently got your hands on a copy because time and forgetfulness are real.
Sometimes said novel is everything you hoped for and more.
Sometimes you can't stop thinking about the characters, even a month later.

Sometimes...
...a book changes your life.

Most recently for me, that book was the very violent but absolutely incredible Japanese novel from 1999 called Battle Royale. I kid you not, this was an almost 600 page book with small print that I read in less than 24 hours because I just could not put it down. People call it the original Hunger Games, and also liken it to Lord of the Flies, and I see it. But it's better than the latter, and also hugely better than the former, which I am 99.9% certain is a total ripoff. (There's just too many similarities, guys. Suzanne Collins, at least for the first book, really had to have ripped off Battle Royale. Anyway, I digress.) All that aside, this book was just sooooooooo good. If you don't handle rather graphic descriptions of violence and gore well, I would suggest you stay away, but if you don't have a problem with it, read it. Really. There's so much socio-political stuff, and getting inside the heads of the teenage characters when they are faced with certain death (at the hands of their classmates, no less), is fascinating. Human nature is well explored in this novel, which I find interesting from a Christian standpoint because Japan is so different from most of the Western world in how they view humanity. And yet, the depravity of the human soul is shown so well, as is the fragility. It's so sad and yet so beautiful in its own way, amongst all the killings. I know that sounds so weird, but it's true.

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I don't have anything else I feel I can say at this point about Battle Royale. You will just have to read it for yourself to see just how beautiful it really is. Beyond five stars.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Moor's Account

 amazon.com
amazon.com

Historical fiction is a really great genre to read, but it seems to be dominated by tales set in Europe, specifically England. At least in my experience. And I will admit, I used to mainly read books set in England because I've always been an Anglophile. However, with my quest to continue to read outside my comfort zone and knowledge set, I've discovered some fairly interesting tidbits of history. For instance, reading The Moor's Account, by Laila Lalami, gave me insight into a much lesser-known Spanish expedition to the New World (aka North America) in the early 1500s, the Narvaez Expedition. Not only is the book about an expedition we don't usually learn about in school, but (as per the title) it's told through the eyes of a black man from North Africa, a Moor, who is a slave. He is the first recorded black man to set foot on the continent. The author lists her sources at the back of the book and I'm really curious to do more research at some point.

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Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, renamed Estebanico when he was brought to Spain, tells his story as a member of the Narvaez Expedition to find gold and colonize La Florida, and gives a unique perspective as he talks about present-day events and being a slave to a man of the expedition, Dorantes, but also in how he tells the story of his birth and upbringing as the son of a well-to-do notary in Azemmur, a city in Morocco. He explains, throughout the ill-fated journey, how he came to be a slave, even after he was a slaver for some time himself. As the expedition journeys through Florida and encounter many Indians, things become increasingly difficult, and most of the members of the group die. Estebanico does not get involved in the politics of the Spaniards, instead befriending the Indians when possible, and helping out wherever needed. The group loses their way and ends up in the Land of Corn, which is essentially the modern-day plains, likely Texas. Things become bad enough that even his master says he will grant his freedom if they ever make it out alive. Eventually, after much, much wandering, and many long years, the small group left is rescued and taken to Mexico. There, Estebanico continually reminds Dorantes of his promise, and Dorantes continually puts it off. At this point they have married Indian women and Estebanico is the only one who actually intends to keep his vows after being rescued. At last, Dorantes has refused to let him go free for too long, so Estebanico takes advantage of the fact that he's been asked to lead another expedition, and he and his wife go, leaving no traces behind them.

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Okay so that review is a bit muddled, but to be fair I read the book almost a month ago and took too long to write my review! Also, the story itself is muddled, being a tale of harrowing adventure and certain death, as well as being interspersed with vignettes from the past. And because it was written like a journal, there were no quotation marks, which honestly drove me mad. All other punctuation was great, and I realize this was a stylistic choice on the part of the author, but gah, it was annoying. Anyway, it was a great story, though I have to admit I felt that the author also took a lot of liberty in portraying white Christians as always evil, and the black Muslim as super pious and never taking any part in gruesome or promiscuous acts. But, that is her choice too, and it didn't detract enough from the story to make me quit reading.

So, I did love the book, though it was tough to follow at points. The landscape descriptions were fantastic, and it was really easy to feel the different environments they traveled through. I would encourage anyone interested in historical fiction to pick it up, especially if you have a particular interest in Spanish expeditions. And I would welcome any recommendations for historical fiction that isn't English!




Thursday, June 16, 2016

5 Centimeters Per Second



Ahhh Japan, how I do love thee. Your food, your culture, your music...and your anime and manga. Nothing quite compares, and when people dismiss anime and manga, they're really missing out. It's not "just cartoons and comic books" and definitely not "just for kids". This isn't American Saturday morning stuff, guys, though there's shows of that type. It's an entire art form in and of itself, with multiple genres. There is literally something for everyone. And it really irks me when someone won't even attempt to understand that.

But I digress.

5 Centimeters Per Second is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking manga I've ever read. I watched the anime first, and happened upon the manga by chance a week later. The title refers to the speed at which cherry blossoms fall from the tree. It's a story that everyone will likely be able to relate to in some way, because it is an all-too-familiar look at friendship and love, and how time and distance can change those things.

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Akari Shinohara and Takaki Tohno become friends in elementary school, bonding over everything from lack of physical prowess to their love of books and science. Their friendship is incredibly strong and a clear love grows as they do. Soon, Akari moves away from Tokyo, because of her parents' jobs. When they are thirteen, Takaki finds out he will be moving very far south, and plans a train journey to go see Akari one last time before he moves. Even though it is March, a huge snowstorm delays the trains and he is hours late, and yet Akari is still waiting for him. They kiss that night under a snow covered cherry tree, and it is the last time they see each other. The letters last for some years, but it becomes hard to relate when they are unable to visit each other.

In high school, a young woman named Kanae has a terrible crush on Takaki, which he unknowingly makes worse because he's so kind. And yet in the back of his mind he is always thinking of Akari. This carries into his adult life where we see him barely relating to anyone, basically living as a shell. His girlfriend of three years cares for him very much, but he can't even see that. The ending of the book (and film) is so sad because at this point we see that Akari has moved on with her life and is soon to be married, and there is a point at which they cross each other's paths...but then a train goes through and when Takaki turns around she is gone. But at this point Risa, his girlfriend, has let him go, and he has begun to realize what he has missed in life.

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Maybe that review doesn't make much sense, but really it's a great story. Before cell phones and social media kept everyone attached at the hip (for better or worse), it took work to keep up a long distance friendship, especially one that blossomed into love so young. Do you ever find yourself wondering where so-and-so is now, and what might have happened if your friendship had stayed the same? Even in the social media saturated world, we still lose connections for whatever reason. But the important thing is to keep on living and not let those things cause us to forget to really live.