Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Jess Reads November

Life's been crazy busy so no blogging recently....

Books for November:

1.  The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

This is a true story about saving priceless writings from Timbuktu in Africa.  The story focuses on the fact that most people think Africa was a continent of completely uneducated losers.  Contrary to this, there are manuscripts illuminated to the best of them, early Islamic teachings of equality and a woman's right to refuse how things have changed.  The story is interesting, especially because it brought to light how naive I personally am about early 14-17th century writings in Africa, but it ends up mostly being about radical Islam and how it has affected so many places and the desire to not let people be educated and do anything contrary to extremist teachings.  You will end the book seriously irritated about radical Islam and wishing it would all just stop.  Fascinating and sad all at the same time.

2.  Rooms

Rooms is a Christian fiction book.  It focuses on a young man who inherits an amazing house from a rich uncle he's never really been in contact with.  Then the house starts changing as he starts having to deal with issues from his past.  I've never been crazy about Christian fiction in general, and this book is no exception.  It's okay, but that's about it.  The story is okay and I like how he interacts with another main character, but it's utterly predictable which I think is my biggest beef against this genre.I probably wouldn't have finished it but I was sitting in a deer stand with literally nothing else to do. Pass.

3.  The Forgotten Sister

This is one of many Pride and Prejudice continuations.  The Forgotten Sister focuses on Mary and her story mostly during the time that Pride and Prejudice takes place.  P&P stories can be infuriatingly bad, but not this one.  I love Mary's story, her history that is given, and how her life plays out.  It's a fresh take on a character that wasn't exactly charming in the original.  She's slightly irritating here too, but it's how the book pulls everything together.  Read it, you'll be glad you did.

4.  The Monstrous Regiment of  Women

This is the second book in the Mary Russell series which follows Mary with her mentor and partner  Sherlock Holmes as she goes to college at Oxford and solves crime in her spare time.  It's an interesting take on Holmesian thinking from a woman's perspective, one which I love and appreciate it.  If you've read any Sherlock Holmes and enjoyed it, then you'll love this one too.  I am half way through the third one as well and they just don't disappoint.  They might not be serious reading but they sure are fun.

5.  The Bookshop on the Corner

A charming, and very quick read.  It focuses on a young English librarian named Nina who loses her job because her library is closing.  All she's ever wanted to do was help people find good books. Faced with no job and needing to pay the bills she buys a food truck style van and moves to Scotland to sell books to the masses in rural areas.  One caveat, the book lost some of its charm as the story progressed and Nina started making some not great choices.  Mostly having sex and getting slightly vulgar as the story goes on.  I felt like in the beginning I would have recommended this book to everyone, but the change in tone in the latter half of the book makes me think twice.  I so appreciate a story that has a character who loves books, that alone sold me on the first half, but wish the author would have left her just a little bit more carefree, sweet and dare I say it purer and wholesome.  Nina's not by any means outrageously vulgar, but I feel like somehow her personality didn't match who she was at the beginning.  Still a good book and probably worth your time.

6.  Rules of Civility

I read this after reading A Gentleman in Moscow, one of my favorite books of this year.  I figured Amor Towles' first novel must be just as good.  Boy was I wrong.  This book takes place in 1938, a decade I really dislike reading about.  That should have tipped me off but it didn't.  It's basically the story of a woman and her close friend and a man that they both liked and what happens among them after an automobile accident seriously injures one of them.  But really all you need to know is that this book is terrible.  There is none of the charm like Gentleman, and I don't really even feel like it seems like it's from the same author.  It's a good thing I read this second because had I read it first I never would have given Gentleman the time of day.  Skip it, not worth your time, which is a shame because clearly the author is capable of some amazing work.

7.  Valley of the Moon

Single mother Lux goes on a camping trip when her son is visiting his grandparents.  She wakes up in the middle of the night and has to go to the bathroom and finds herself surrounded by fog,  She follows a light and ends up back in time.  Lux finds rest and simplicity in 1906 in a community called Greengage but knows that she must go back to her own time in 1975 where her son is.  There she faces a tenuous and stressful relationship with her father, and her finances aren't all that great.  As the months go on she continues to travel back in time to Greengage for rest on weekends but comes to the realization that she needs to decide if she will stay forever or not.  This book has a great concept and it was executed fairly well.  I appreciated an ending that had a little bit more surprise in store than what I was thinking even if I guessed right for part of it.  This is a simple tale, simply wrote, but I appreciate it even more for that.  The author didn't try to overachieve or make the story more complicated then it needed to be.  A very quick read, even if you don't totally love it it's so quick I don't think you'll feel like you wasted your time.

8.  The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

This was a super charming book about 69 year old Arthur Pepper and the mysterious charm bracelet he finds on the first anniversary of his wife's death.  It's a bracelet he's never seen before and on one of the charms he finds a phone number to India.  He makes a call which sets Arthur off on a journey to discover who his wife was before they were married and why she never talked about it.  I feel like the author was probably heavily influenced by the book Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, of which I also loved.  Arthur's journey is filled with both charm and chutzpah (for lack of a better word!) as he finds himself challenged by his situations and growing out of his widow mode and into what can only be described as him finally living his life after a year of moping for Miriam.  The only one thing I couldn't quite get on board with was the fact that Miriam hid so much stuff from him.  Turns out the reason is perhaps quite charming, but I am not sure I can believe it.  I would want to talk about all the things that happened in my past with my husband.  Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book. Definitely read it.

9.  Sahara

I have to admit it, Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt series of which this is one, feels like old man reading.  I mean that in the best of ways, really I do.  It's adventure reading for the pleasure of adventure reading, something that I feel like older retired men would do.  Cussler wrote a whole series focusing on Dirk Pitt- an underwater researcher, who happens to be dashing with the ladies, can always get himself out of near-death experiences along with his best friend Al Giordino, and somehow always has the perfect one liner to say.  I love it.  And I'm not even a little bit ashamed.  Sahara focuses on Dirk Pitt in Mali looking for the source of a toxin that is headed towards killing all plant life in the entire world.  At the same time Dr. Eva Rojas is in Mali also looking for a toxin that is resulting in a plague affecting people and making them insane.  Sounds like Pulitzer prize winning stuff, huh!?  Add a tyrannical dictator and a billionaire suave Frenchman and you have yourself quite a story.  I love the Dirk Pitt series, every single one of them.  I read them whenever I want a literal escape from anything serious including reading.  One note, Cussler is a prolific writer, often teaming up with other authors to do writing for him.  I'd say stay away from those and only focus on books where Cussler is the only author.  This book was also made into a movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey as Dirk Pitt and Steve Zahn as Al Giordino.  It was considered a flop in terms of revenue, but I actually loved it.  It does swerve from the book a fair amount, but just like the book, it's adventure for the sake of adventure and sometimes a girl needs that!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Jess Reads October

1.  The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor's Wife follows a woman named Martha who goes to help a family where the wife is getting close to having a baby because the husband travels a lot; and where she proceeds to fall in love with a man named Thomas who has a secretive past in England.  This sounded like such a good book- using the history of the English Civil War to shape the characters and drive the story line. Except Martha is really hard to like and not a whole lot happens.  Honestly, when it came time to come back and do my books read for October I realized this book was completely forgettable.  Like literally.  I had to jump onto Amazon and remind myself what it was about because none of it stayed with me.  Skip it.

2.  Madame Curie

I'm going to be super honest here.  I don't love biographies.  They usually bore me to tears, and as a general rule I tend to stay away from them.  But I came across an old copy (not this one pictured here) for a dollar at a sale, and I have a soft spot for Marie Curie.  This book was amazing.  Written by her youngest daughter Eve, it goes through her life in Russia occupied Poland with her family, all of them also extremely intelligent, follows her into college in France where she meets Pierre, their courtship, struggle to find physics positions for both of them, their marriage and work (they discovered radiation along with several elements, naming one Polonium after her original country of Poland), and her incredible volunteer work in the first World War. There was so many amazing things about her that I had no clue of.  What a remarkable woman in so many ways.  And for most of her career, extremely undervalued.  They did their biggest discoveries in France in a shed with almost no heat.  It wasn't until after Pierre died only 8 years into their marriage where Marie took over his position as the first female ever allowed to work at the college, before she was essentially given the status that her incredible mind and research should have been given to the Curies years before.  She was also the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.  Marie and Pierre could have patented their research on radiation and become exceedingly wealthy, but decided that radiation was for everyone, and to make money off of it was "contrary to the scientific spirit".  An attitude you will almost never find today.  If you are even slightly science minded you should read this book. You should read it even if you hate science.  Madame Curie is 100% worthy of your time.

3, 4, 5.  The Eye of the World,  The Great Hunt,  The Dragon Reborn

When I was a senior in high school a friend of mine recommended The Wheel of Time series.  It was pretty much my first foray into fantasy writing and I loved it.  There are 14 books in this series, all of them in the 500+ pages category, so if you start them it is a commitment.  When I first was introduced to this series in 1999 there were already several in paper back but the series wasn't complete, and I was devoted.  I would read the new one every few years as they were released feeling like 2-4 years was such a long time to wait for the next book.  Sometimes forgetting stuff that would happen because they are so long and it had been such a long time since I read the last one.  And then the author died in 2007 before the series was ended.  You know how you become emotionally invested in something? Yep, that happened,  But Robert Jordan knew he was sick and took many notes and long talks with his wife led him to pick Brandon Sanderson as the author to help write the final books after his death. The final book was released in January of 2013.

All that info. stuff to say that I have decided to reread the series for the first time since the last book was completed almost 4 years ago.  It's been 18 years since I read the first book and I am excited to give it a go again.  It's kind of hard to describe the books because there are a lot of characters, and a lot of stuff going on.  Jordan can be wordy, and repeats background information a lot, but I guess when you write a series over an extremely extended period you need to do that.  My advice to you is just to read the first one and see if you like it.  You can google stuff about it, but all the summaries that I read make it sound kind of ridiculous and not anywhere near as good as it really is.  If you like fantasy, then this series is it.  He's widely recognized as one of of the best fantasy writers of all time. Just be prepared to get sucked down the Robert Jordan hole and not come out for a very long time.....

6.  The Beekeeper's Apprentice

A friend of mine recommended this to me quite a while ago, and I just finally got around to reading it.  It's about an extremely intelligent young girl named Mary Russell who happens upon Sherlock Holmes in the English countryside after he has retired.  They have a verbal exchange which leads to him realizing that an apprentice for himself has quite literally stumbled upon him.  The book moves forward from there as he trains her and follows her story at Oxford.  This is not just another Holmes book, although if you love Sherlock Holmes you definitely will not be disappointed in this.  It's a fresh way to experience "Holmes like" reasoning from a woman's perspective, which truly changes a lot.  This is the first in a series, and the only one that I have read so far.  I definitely will be continuing through them.  Read it.

7.  The One in A Million Boy

This book is very hyped in the blogging world.  It follows a young boy's relationship with a 104 year old woman until he unexpectedly dies and then his father who hasn't been around, vows to finish his son's obligations with the elderly lady.  Boring sounding, I know.  But this book deserves the hype that has been generated around it.  The interactions of the father with Ona (the old lady) throughout the book are incredible, and the pain that you read about through both parents seems genuine.  I feel like this book gave me a fresh perspective on people who are nearing the end of their life. Ona's thoughts on her life are a gentle reminder that you can't just write off people in society because they are old.  So obvious, I know, but something that I think our society forgets. Ona is by far my favorite character, full of spice and one liners, and I love that through the book you get clips of an interview that the boy did with her from just her side.  Read it.

8.  A Gentleman in Moscow

Another much-hyped book.  I loved it.  I loved it so much I am buying a copy.   And that is a rare thing indeed.  This book follows Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat who ends up getting house arrest in the Moscow hotel after the Bolsheviks come to power.  It follows his 30 odd years in the hotel and the relationships he forms with the patrons as Russia changes around him.  Alexander brings us back to a time when flowers were sent to someone based on what the flower said.  A time when wines were picked out specifically to complement flavors.  Rostov is a gentleman and while the Bolsheviks may not have appreciated it, you certainly will.  I already have a proclivity for Russian history and took Russian in college, so that may have swung me in favor of this book from the get go, but you will be charmed by this book.

9.  Commonwealth

For my third much-hyped book of the month, this one by far fell the flattest.  It follows the kids of two families who have become stepsiblings after an affair.  Commonwealth was super hard to follow as it jumped back and forth between time and people, and try as I could I just couldn't get into it. I didn't care one lick about what happened to anyone in any of the families.  About the only thing that I could appreciate was the stories of the dumb things the kids did when they were young and thinking about all the stupid things I did.  The rest of this book was a wash.  Not that interesting, not that thought provoking, and not worth your time.