Friday, November 28, 2014

From the Z Shelf...

Author: Zeltserman, Dave
Title: Monster, A Novel of Frankenstein 

For me, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is more sad than scary; truth be told, I've always felt sorry for the monster.  Zeltserman must feel the same way. His retelling of Frankenstein is told from the monster's point of view (and his portrayal of Victor Frankenstein is not a very flattering one--in his version Frankenstein is well-acquainted with the Marquis de Sade). Zeltserman's sympathies lie with the "monster" who once was a man. Before he died, Friedrich Hoffman led a scholarly life and had a fiancee he loved very much; now his fiancee is dead, the world thinks he murdered her, and he's become an abomination thanks to Frankenstein's experimentation.
"I am a dead thing brought to life by dark satanic forces. There is no cure that could help me. ... As Friedrich Hoffman I led a gentle life with barely any harsh thoughts pervading my mind, and certainly never any regarding revenge and murder. Now I was consumed with such thoughts, and it worried me that my soul might become as coarse as my outer appearance."
It's the other side of the story. Still not a happy one, but an interesting take on Mary Shelley's classic novel. I liked Zeltserman's writing and his imaginative portrait of a monster and a man. (Who are sometimes one and the same.) Friedrich Hoffman, while far from perfect, is still a sympathetic character...and one I liked. This book was definitely a serendipitous find from the Z shelf. See what happens when you go to the library without any lists in hand? Maybe Reading the Alphabet wasn't such a bad idea after all. Here's hoping I find some equally serendipitous reads from authors whose last names begin with X and Y.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen

The books of Jane Austen. A possible murder. A literary mystery. Two witty bibliophiles--Sophie Collingwood and Eric Hall--and an Austen-worthy romance. Combined, these five elements make First Impressions by Charlie Lovett one of my most favorite reads this year. It's every bit as good as his first novel, The Bookman's Tale (which I loved). The chapters in this book alternate between past and present, between Jane Austen and Sophie Collingwood, a narrative style that normally drives me crazy but which I actually didn't mind here. In fact, I enjoyed reading both story lines.

Here's the first line of the first Jane Austen chapter:
 "Fond as she was of solitary walks, Jane had been wandering rather longer than she had intended, her mind occupied not so much with the story she had lately been reading as with one she hoped soon to be writing."
And here's the first few lines of Sophie's story, present day:
"After five years at Oxford, Sophie Collingwood had mastered the art of reading while walking ... This was a useful skill for someone so absorbed by the books she read that she often pictured herself at the center of whatever romance or mystery or adventure played out on their pages."
 These first lines lead to a delightful tale of old books, intrigue and mystery, friendship and romance, and some of Jane Austen's best writing. I thought it was a lot of fun. I'm glad Charlie Lovett wrote it...and even more glad that I got to read it !

Happy Reading!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bookish Thoughts...

On lexile numbers. In what universe does The Diary of a Wimpy Kid deserve a higher lexile number than Harry Potter? Lexile numbers, which rate the "readability" of a book, are supposedly determined by a computer analysis of sentence length and structure, word frequency, syntax and complexity. So please tell me how the Wimpy Kid books rate lexiles ranging from 950-1050 while the Harry Potter books rate only 860-960? Open either series at random and compare the two side by side and tell me which is a better-written and more challenging read! I've always thought lexile numbers were arbitrary and I have proof.

On rereading.  Lately my library books have been coming between me and the books I own. See, there are books sitting on my shelves that I love and really want to reread, but there's always a stack of library books that I have to read first. It seems that books with a due date take precedence over books that I own and can read any old time. And I don't know what to do about it. Not going to the library is not a viable option (at least not for me); but never having time to reread my favorite books isn't working either. I should just limit the number of books I check out...which sounds good in theory, but when I'm actually at the library all my good intentions fly out the window and I end up filling my library bag and coming home with more books that I meant to. So, what's the solution? I have no idea. It's a bookish dilemma I haven't quite figured out yet. But I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

172 Hours on the Moon...

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing, NASA is holding a contest. Three teenagers, randomly chosen from around the world, will get to join the next lunar expedition and travel to DARLAH 2, NASA's secret moon base 238,000 miles away from home. It promises to be the adventure of a lifetime. What none of the teenagers know is that something sinister is waiting for them on the moon. Something they might not survive.

Is it believable that NASA could build a base on the moon and keep it secret for fifty years? Or that they'd consider sending three untrained teenagers into space? Of course not. But is it a fun premise? Absolutely.

The three winning teens couldn't be more different from each other:  Mia, resourceful and tough, is in a Norwegian punk rock band, Midori is a high school student from Japan, and Antoine, the oldest at seventeen, is from France. Then there are the actual astronauts (five in all) accompanying the teens; one of them knows more about DARLAH 2 and it's hush-hush past than he's telling. And then there's the question of the moon base itself:  why was it never used and why is NASA so determined to revisit it now?  Norwegian author Johan Harstad has written an intense YA science fiction story. 172 Hours on the Moon has a little bit of everything: good writing, great characters, mystery, action, and suspense. Plus there's a twist at the end--a very surprising twist that you may or may not like. I'm still undecided...but overall, I thought this book was a fun read.

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bookish Art for November

Three Women Reading - Uemura Shoen
"If you have a good book to read you are never bored or alone."
--Sherry Young (columnist for the Deseret News)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Eleventh Classic of 2014...

     "I have frequently told you, and the holidays just past have convinced me, that my prime has truly begun. One's prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full....One's prime is the moment one was born for."
 "Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life."

So speaks Miss Jean Brodie, a 'progressive spinster' and teacher at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930s. She surrounds herself with a small circle of eleven-year-old girls, 'The Brodie Set', presumably to mold them in her image as they grow up, but mostly to have a captive audience for all her stories and grand ideas. She's unconventional and energetic and I wanted to like her, but mostly I found her imperious, judgmental, and completely self-centered. Sadly, I didn't find much to like in any of the Brodie girls either, but maybe that's because of Spark's narrative style which is a bit aloof and removed. What a disappointing read!

I've read a few of Muriel Spark's other novels--books I quite enjoyed--but I didn't like this one at all. I was expecting something funnier and more warm-hearted, but The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is not a feel-good novel; in fact, this book left me feeling cold. At least it's short and I was able to finish it quickly. I wish someone would tell me why people like this novel so much. I just don't see it. With my apologies to Muriel Spark, this is one classic I won't be reading again. 

Happy Reading (some other book)!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reading the Alphabet...

I think I might read my way through the Alphabet, starting with Z and working my way back to A. (Or maybe jumping around from letter to letter.) Why? I want to explore the library shelves again; I want to get away from To Read lists and books on hold and rediscover the serendipity of stumbling upon a great read from an author I never even knew existed. Plus, it sounds like fun. I could probably read my way through the alphabet in a year, reading a different alphabetical author every two weeks...but that feels a little too forced for me. I want this to be enjoyable; I don't want it to feel like an assignment or a chore. After all, reading shouldn't feel like work, should it? And I really don't want to stress about getting the next letter of the alphabet read in order to meet some imaginary deadline just so I can blog about it. If I want to spend a month reading from the Z shelf, I will. If I want to move on to a new letter after just one book, that's okay, too. I just want to read whatever and wherever the bookish spirits move me. So keep watch. A post called Reading From the Z Shelf just might be coming your way soon. (Or not.)

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Hero's Guide...

"There's a lot you don't know about Prince Charming...Some of you may not even realize that there's more than one Prince Charming. And that none of them are actually named Charming. No one is. Charming isn't a name; it's an adjective...(And) if there was anything that Liam, Duncan, Gustav, and Frederic all had in common, it was that none of them were very happy about being a Prince Charming. Their mutual hatred of that name was a big part of what brought them together. Not that teaming up was necessarily the best idea for these guys."

Whatever you do, don't dismiss this book simply because it's shelved in children's fiction. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healey has a lot to offer to readers of all ages. First and foremost, it's funny. (Laugh out loud funny in some places.) I loved getting the princes' perspectives on Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, especially Prince Liam's. (He's the prince from the Sleeping Beauty story and by far the handsomest and most heroic of all the princes. Unfortunately for him, in this book Briar Rose is much more Briar than Rose--you would have called off the wedding, too.) These four princes are tired of getting short-changed in all the stories. After all, they're the heroes! Each one is uniquely flawed (and not always that heroic), but all of them made me laugh, especially Duncan, Snow White's talkative, eccentric and excitable prince. In fact, the only prince I didn't like quite as much as the others was hardheaded and impulsive Gustav, who charges into every situation without thinking, but even he had his humorous moments. Frederic is the quietest of all the princes and the least like a hero. (Most of the time he just wants to go home.) Their adventures are more like misadventures, and at times it's questionable whether or not they can save themselves let alone save a kingdom. Then there are the princesses. Ella is by far the best; she's adventurous and brave and the kind of girl who doesn't need a prince to rescue her...she'll rescue herself, thank you very much. I also liked Prince Liam's younger sister, Lila; she's daring and smart just like her brother. There are also trolls, dwarfs, a giant, a dragon, and an evil witch. Healy takes these classic fairy tale characters and makes them fresh, surprising, and fun. I loved everything about this book. (And so will you.)

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Day is Dark

Yrsa Sigurdardottir has written several thrillers, but this is the first one I've read. I picked it mostly because of the setting--it takes place at an arctic mining camp on the Eastern coast of Greenland. It's isolated, forbidding, and according to the locals, cursed. Three workers from the camp have disappeared and Thora Gudmundsdotter, an Icelandic lawyer, and her boyfriend, Matthew Reich, an employee of the bank underwriting the mining company, have been sent to this hostile landscape to investigate. What they find surprises even them.

The back of the book calls this mystery "chilling, unsettling, and compulsively readable", and I couldn't agree more. You don't know if the people at the camp went crazy, or if the harsh climate was responsible, or the locals, or the spirits of the dead ... but you don't want to stop reading until you find out. And even though Thora is a recurring character, it didn't seem to matter that I hadn't read any of her previous novels. This novel stands alone just fine. I thought it was a great read--an intense Nordic crime novel without being too dark or too gritty. I can't wait to try this author again.

Happy Reading!

Similar reads:
     The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi
     Where Monsters Dwell by Jorgen Brekke