Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Insurgent - Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth

Chicago is in chaos. A simulation has turned an entire faction into a mindless army and brought an already divided society to the brink of war, - all because of a huge government secret. Now Tris and Four are determined to find a way to expose the truth and save the innocent. With the help of all the factions, plus the mysterious factionless it should be easy, right? 

I finished Divergent* in record time. Like, I raced through it. It was all I thought about. I talked about it to everyone (sorry friends).  I had no choice. It was everything I wanted in a winter read.  I had  to start Insurgent immediately. Thankfully Veronica Roth knew what I needed. Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off.

Insurgent is very much the second book in a trilogy. We're past learning about the factions and the characters that inhabit them. Now we're onto secrets and plot points every couple pages. It doesn't feel like the story over lags or meanders anywhere self indulgent. It certainly doesn't feel it's 500+ pages, which is a surefire sign for me that I've found a really good book.

I've always appreciated that Roth didn't fall into the trap of the love triangle. Sometimes things between Tris and Four move fast but their relationship is what makes the series interesting. They argue, they make up, really they interact like real people.  Their interactions are always refreshing and create nice breaks in the chaos that is happening on almost every page.

My only complaint is that sometimes it feels like there is too much happening.  Tris and Four shoot about the city meeting new people and learning secrets for each of the five factions. Whenever there is exposition it's very in your face. You won't forget it but it isn't subtle.  Overall it's a very small complaint for a book I finished in a little more than a day.

I don't like to fall into series right when the movies are coming out but after finishing Insurgent I knew Veronica Roth was going to take her readers on a very powerful journey. Honestly it made being snowed in fun.

*I reviewed Divergent last week.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth

Sometime in the distant future Chicago has been split up into five factions. Each is designed to cultivate a virtue and work toward the greater good of the city. Beatrice Prior was raised in Abnegation, but she has never felt like she fits into the selfless world of her parents. After an inconclusive aptitude test Beatrice makes shocking choice that leads her to tasking physical and mental challenges, new friends,  some enemy's and a word that she has to keep secret - Divergent.

We seem to live in a world where everyone wants to create a dystopian society, especially in YA books. Veronica Roth isn't an exception. However the society she creates in Divergent is completely compelling. Instead of an oppressive government Roth gives her readers factions. The factions separate the general population based on virtues like bravery, selflessness, kindness, bravery and truthfulness. The beauty with the factions is that while they clearly aren't ideal, they aren't inherently good or evil. It's easy to fall into the black and white distinction between hero's and villains and it's so refreshing that that doesn't happen here. The shades of gray make Divergent, and it's subsequent books very real.

Besides an interesting world, Roth created dozens of interesting characters. Tris and Four could easily have felt like cardboard cut outs of characters from other series but they shine through the pages. They're interesting, and just flawed enough to make them relateable. More importantly, Divergent doesn't become about their relationship. True there is some romance, but there is so much more happening than a girl obsessing about whether or not a boy likes her. Tris is strong because she can be more than just brave or just selfless.  She has complex relationships with her family, has to figure out how to be herself among her new friends and still compete through a series of increasingly rough initiation tests.

This review has been particularly hard for me. I really loved this book. I started it during the great snow storm two weeks ago and finished it in a day. I was so grateful to have my kindle and be able to download the second book immediately.  The pacing was perfect. I loved the characters and the world they lived in. If you're looking for a YA series to get you through the cold winter months I would definitely recommend trying out Divergent.  It's pretty much a perfect start to a series.

Note: There's a movie coming out in March. Based off the trailer I'm not completely sold on it, but it still looks like it could be a good time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Addiction Has Never Been So Pretty

My name is Sarah and I have a problem.
I buy books. A lot of books. I buy them used, new, paperback, hardcover, electronic. I don't discriminate. I try and read what I buy. I do. But sometimes I buy three books at once and I only make it through two before I go shopping again.  That's not to mention the times where I read a review and I can barely wait the three minutes it takes to one click buy the book on amazon. It's a sickness. My bank account hates me. I'm running out of room on my shelves.

The point I'm trying to make is that I have a ton of books that I haven't read. What's worse is that I have a ton of books that I'd forgotten that I own. I needed a way to organize my To Be Read list. Which is why when I saw this post on Book Riot I immediately texted my mom to see if she had any unused mason jars. Thankfully she had one.

The idea is that you write down all of the books you want to read and throw them in the jar (or whatever container you want, the mason jar looks nice in my room) and pick one out when you don't know what to read. So last night I spent way to much time going through my bookshelves writing down all of my unread books on colorful pieces of paper. It was a revealing exercise. Like I said before I have a lot of unread books.

After a two hours and a lot of reminiscing I'd made it through all my shelves.  Instead of being embarrassed by the number of unread books I have, I was actually quite proud of the number I have finished.  I split up my shelves by color. Classics in yellow, contemporary fiction in blue, the only sizable genre I read is historical fiction so that's in pink, and then the odds and ends (like nonfiction, young adult and fantasy) are in orange.
Had I done this months, or let's be real years, ago I'd have noticed some trends that would probably have saved me a lot of money. For starters I'll buy any classic so long as I don't already own it and think there is some slight chance in Athena's heaven that I'll ever get to it. Second, I need to stop buying historical fiction novels at rummage sales. Third, if I don't like an author once I'll be hesitant to try them again (There's no need for me to have four Zadie Smith novel's when I can barely make it a hundred pages into them). Lastly, while my young adult and nonfiction selves take up the least amount of space in my personal library they are also the ones with the highest percentage of finished books. Basically the lesson I learned was that if I'm not super into a genre I'm more critical of what I pick up. If I buy a memoir it's usually because I'm going to go home and read it that day. I should take that discipline and use it for the other sections of my library.

Now all my unread books are jumbled together in an antique mason jar. I officially can never say "I have nothing to read" as an excuse for well, not reading. My goal is to never go more than a day in between books. I'm hoping having everything color coded will allow me to find books I'm really in the mood for instead of forcing myself through Hemingway when all I really want is to read one of the many a killer thriller.  I think I'll draw from the jar at least every five books. That way I can still read what I want and make a dent in my personal library.  Here's hoping that this is a system I can stick with!

Do any of you have strategy for cutting down on unread books? What about ever growing TBR lists? I'm all ears!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If on a winter's night you read an article about Italo Calvino...

It seems like every year I take on a challenging read. It's not a personal goal I make for myself, but usually just something that happens along the course of 12 months. A few years ago it was to tackle Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49 was all I could manage), 2012 was the year I finally battled through Anna Karenina. Last year all I wanted from myself was to rekindle my love of the written word. I did that, but along the way I discovered my unintentional goal - Italo Calvino.

I'd heard talk of If on a winter's night a traveler around the internet. it was apparently experience  a resurgence in the way that only a half forgotten classic could. It would appear in quotes on my tumblr, on a flavorwire list, or mentioned in a post by a favorite blogger. Me being, well me, fell in love with the idea of a book that's written half in first chapters of other lost books. Books about books are romantic, right? Not romance books, but in general they appeal to the bookish set.  Amazon told me it was 260 pages and I was in need of a new read, so 40 seconds later I was diving into it on my kindle.

I didn't know what I was getting myself into. What I thought was going to be an interesting second person story about a guy who was unfortunate enough to pick up a misprinted copy of If on a winter's night a traveler, and  punctuated with chapters that were more short story than plot points turned into an outright adventure through fictional countries, with rouge translators, publishing houses and a shut away author.

Even though I was always interested in actual plot (not always the first chapter stories) it was still hard to push through Calvino's novel. There was too much musing on the process of writing, and a few to many fantastical turns for me to stay in the realm of suspended disbelief.  It became a book I'd come back to when I had nothing else to read. I'd fight through five pages and then forget about it for months. This was no tome but I was treating it like one. It's the book that inspired me to write this post on ebooks. I couldn't easily flip back through the text to job my memory and found myself rereading chapters over and over again. 

I know that's a flaw with myself, not the text. At the same time if I'd been compelled to finish this 260 page novel in a timely fashion it wouldn't have been a problem. In the end I was enchanted by a gimmick - a dozen first chapters, a book about books. If on a winter's night a traveler didn't hold my attention, and therefore lost my affection.  Sorry Calvino, I promised I tried.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Dinner - Herman Koch

The Dinner
Herman Koch

In a upscale restaurant in Amsterdam the Lohman family reunites for a very unique dining experience. Their dinner won't be filled with just mindless chit chat and long descriptions of courses.  No matter how many times they look over the menu or talk about the latest poll results it won't change the fact that their children have done something terrible, and that these two sets of parents will do anything to protect them.

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started The Dinner. I didn't.  The book is split into different courses. With each one you learn more about the Lohman family, and the events that brought them all together. I should backtrack. The Lohman's are Serge, who is running for Prime Minister, his wife Babette, his frankly unstable brother Paul, and Paul's wife Claire.  I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to tell you that they're all awful people. At 320 pages The Dinner should be a breeze. The theme's are interesting - nature versus nurture, family and the crumbling of society - and they each play huge roles on almost every page. Only it's hard to be interesting in these concepts when every single person, from Paul to the wait staff are irritating. Not every narrator has to be likeable but at some point there should be a character you have some positive feelings for. Even a homeless woman who is described near the end of the novel barely gets more than pity from me. Really, these are not people you would ever want to be in line behind at Starbucks.

While I absolutely hated all of the main characters and a large chunk of the supporting ones I did enjoy a few things about The Dinner. For starters Paul is an incredibly unreliable narrator. Maybe that's why everyone comes off so bad? I'll let you decide that for yourself. The real trick here is that you don't discover exactly how skewed his perspective is until late in the novel when his backstory becomes important. The backstory was another thing I appreciated, even if it was a bit heavy handed.. Instead of large chunks of exposition you're treated to little scenes that really attempted to make these awful people feel real.

At the end of the day the story isn't enough to make up for all of the flaws working against Koch's novel. He set out to tackle some pretty big themes and just fell short of making anything stick.  Possibly the worst thing going against The Dinner is that I gave it three stars on goodreads. It's not bad enough to make me angry, or good enough for me to recommend. At the end of the day it's just taking up space on my Kindle.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Bookish Resolutions

 Top Ten Bookish Resolutions
1. Pay More Attention to this Blog - I put in my personal resolutions that I would ideally post here at least once a week. I really love this community and it's a shame I come in and out so frequently.
2. Review EVERYTHING I Read -This was a problem for me last year, only about a third of the books I read got thoughtful reviews. I'd originally started reviewing so I could remember what I read, and after a year of barely doing it I discovered that I need that critical thinking to ingrain some texts into my memory.
3. Always Have a Book On Me - The latter half of 2013 was a whole lot of fun, but there were a lot of idle moment I could have enjoyed if I'd just kept a paperback or my kindle in my purse.
4. Go to More Author Events - They're fun, they're cheap, and usually you meet awesome people.
5. Work on My Twitter and Tumblr Presences - It's been a while since I've tweeted from my Bookish account, but I have recently been working on a sister Tumblr for this blog. It's mostly pictures and quotes right now but I'm excited to see how I can evolve it.
6. Enforce the Fifty Page Rule - For those of you not in the know, my fifty page rule states that I'll give a book, any book, fifty pages to grab my attention. After that if I'm not enjoying it or not sure I'm interested in the story I am free to toss it aside guilt free. When I don't enforce this rule I end up spending three months reading a 200 page novel.
7. Finish my Harry Potter Reread - Self explanatory, yeah?
8. Read Books Set in Far Away Places by Far Away People - Last year I focused on new releases, and learned that I'm pretty good at reading male and female authors evenly. This year I want' to broaden my horizons. The bookish world is so much more than white people in American and Europe writing about, well, America and Europe. I'm really excited for this resolutions. 
9. Read a Bit Every Day - It's been years since this has been a problem, but like I said, winter 2013 wasn't the best time of my bookish life. This year I've already thrown myself into more books than I did for all of November and December. That just started by telling myself 'Hey, you actually like doing this so do it.' The internet and DVR will always be there for me and at least a half an hour of reading can calm me down and brighten my mood.
10. Have Fun - This is one of my resolutions every year. This blog should never feel like a chore and the books I'm reading shouldn't feel like homework. Life is too short to make my favorite hobby into an obligation.

Happy 2014 Everyone. I've got a feeling it's going to be a great year!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reading Challange

I'm not usually one for reading challenges. I like to be free to read whatever I want whenever I want. I'm kind of selfish like that. However I did come across the European Reading Challenge and decided, hey it's a new year, I should try some new things. I should be able to make it through at least 3 qualifying books.  So here I go. 2014. The year I do my first reading challenge. Go team!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 in Review

I spent New Year's Day watching sports with a head cold, my car broke down, work was crazy. These are my lame excuse for not getting up my 2013 in Review post in a timely manner. They're not great excuses.  I'll try to do better in 2014.
Anyway, 2013 was a big year for me. I changed jobs, moved,  went to new places, and read some great books. Since this blog is dedicated to the latter here's my list of books read in 2013.

1. David Mitchell: Back Story - Mitchell
2. Beautiful Creatures - Garcia/Stohl
3. Office Girl - Meno
4. Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Semple
5. Sweet Tooth - McEwan
6. Fanfarlo - Baudelaire*
7. Beautiful Darkness - Garcia/Stohl
8. The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg - Twain*
9. Beautiful Chaos - Garcia/Stohl
10. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Fowler
11. Beautiful Redemption - Garcia/Stohl
12. Tenth of December - Saunders
13. The Casual Vacancy - Rowling
14. The Devil - Tolstoy*
15 The Aviators Wife - Benjamin
16. Pride & Prejudice - Austen
17. 1984 - Orwell
18. The Little Prince - Saint-Exupery
19. A Map of Tulsa - Lytal
20. Looking for Alaska - Green
21. The Horla - Da Maupassant*
22. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards - Jansma
23. The Alienist - De Assis*
24. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls - Sedaris
25. The Fun Parts - Sipste
26. How the Two Ivan's Quarreled - Gogol*
27. Inferno - Brown
28. Vile Bodies - Waugh
29. American Gods - Gaiman
30. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Gaiman
31. An Abundance of Katherines - Green
32. The White Princess - Gregory
33. The Love Affairs of Nathanial P- Waldman
34. The Distracted Preacher - Hardy*
35. The Last Runaway - Cheavlier
36. Dispatch from the Future - Stein
37. The Kite Runner - Hosseini
38. The Cookoo's Calling - Galbraith/Rowling
39. The Enchantress Returns (Land of Stories #2) - Colfer
40.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Rowling
41. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling
42. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling
43. Fortunately, The Milk - Gaiman
44. If on a winter's night a traveler - Calvino
45. The Snow Queen - Anderson*

My original goal was to read 30 books, and to focus on newer releases. I accomplished both and am quite proud of the results, especially since I let my reading habits fall by the wayside this winter.

I hope to read more in 2014 and to make more time for all of you readers. Hope everyone has enjoyed the new year so far!