Extra Books – December

  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
    • Date read: 9 December (part of the 3rd Annual Holiday Readathon hosted by Liz @ WhoRuBlog)
    • Published: 1942
    • Genre: Philosophical fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Interest in existentialism, this book often referenced
    • Rating: 3 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • Not really sure what I was expecting but this was totally different from any unconscious expectations I held! Actually, I was expecting something more like The Trial…and while I think the the two novels are quite similar to a degree, what I was really expecting was the protagonist of this book to be a victim. Clearly not the case!
  • The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
    • Date Read: 8 December (part of the 3rd Annual Holiday Readathon hosted by Liz @ WhoRuBlog)
    • Published: 1983
    • Genre: Horror
    • Why I picked it up: High rating by someone I follow on Goodreads
    • Rating: 4 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • Of the four books I read for the Readathon, this one is definitely my favourite! A favourite among the books I read for the Readathon, and a favourite among all the books I’ve ever read. I’ve never read any type of book that could be classified as horror, yet alone a Victorian ghost story, but I adored this one. 
      • I was a little surprised to find myself actually spooked! I read a good chunk of this book in the family room, where my mom and dad were also reading and the fire was burning – that is to say, I read a chunk of this book in the most comforting atmosphere possible and yet I was still frightened. That should give you an impression of how strong Hill’s writing is.
      • The story itself seemed, to me, fairly basic and simple for a ghost story, containing many of the characteristics or tropes one might expect from such a story (I thought the ending was particularly well done and probably relatively unique [though I have no comparisons on which to base this opinion]), but I suspect that it is highly difficult to craft a novel that actually makes the reader feel afraid. I honestly was not expecting to feel frightened – it’s a book, it’s just words on the page and my imagination. I believe a writer who is able to possess such strong control over my imagination must have a real talent.
      • The prose was easy to follow and flowing, despite being told in a style invoking Victorian fashion. I found the characters not too few or too many and that each was well-formed – in fact I think this adjective could apply to all aspects of the book: well-formed. 
      • I was disappointed to learn that the movie diverges greatly from the book…I would have loved to see it even though I know I would have been terrified!
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
    • Date read: 9 December (part of the 3rd Annual Holiday Readathon hosted by Liz @ WhoRuBlog0
    • Published: 1962
    • Genre: Fiction (of an odd sort ;P)
    • Why I picked it up: High rating by someone I follow on Goodreads
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
      • Date read: 15 December to 16 December
      • Published: 1988
      • Genre: Fiction
      • Why I picked it up: Mild interest in Japanese fiction
      • Rating: 3 stars
      • My Thoughts:
        • An odd little story, at the same time both light and refreshing and crushingly sad and melancholic. For me this story felt small and tidy and serene and also thoughtful, not too profound but still full of realization.
        • I definitely was not expecting a character to die! Though I did like the second part of the novel better.

      Extra Books – Autumn

      • A Series of Unfortunate Events
        • Date read: June to October
        • Published: 1999 to 2006
        • Genre: Children’s literature
        • Why I picked it up: Longtime fan of the series
        • Rating: 4 stars
        • My Thoughts:
          • I reread this series over the course of five months in preparation for Snicket’s Who Could That Be at This Hour? I first discovered ASOUE when I was ten years old, around the time when the sixth book was being published – I purchased a boxed set of the first three volumes through the Scholastic book fair and continued to purchase each new book on the day of release for me to devour.
          • Very few series ‘from my childhood’ have I continued to read on a regular basis – in fact, I am fairly certain the only one is the Artemis Fowl series. With ASOUE, I occasionally picked them up and read parts earlier on but since the series concluded I haven’t really read them much. After reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, I found myself desperately wanting to read ASOUE. I was pleased to find that the books felt exactly the same as when I had read them at a younger age; it didn’t feel like an awkward step back into the past. 
          • I only read The End once. After that first reading, I felt very strange and I thought the last book was odd and I wasn’t very comfortable with it. This time, reading it immediately after all the others, I thought it fit more naturally as part of the series and was an appropriate ending – it didn’t ‘stick out’ as much. 
      • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
        • Date read: 22 September to 6 October
        • Published: 1977
        • Genre: Non-fiction
        • Why I picked it up: Interest in Tolkien
        • Rating: 4 stars
        • My Thoughts:
          • A satisfying introductory volume to Tolkien’s life. Much can be expanded upon, I think, and I’ll find that in other books I plan to read, but this was a good starting point for someone like me who wishes to learn everything possible about Tolkien and his mythology. For me, this book helped to tie a lot of things together – I had read a lot of other books specifically on The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings and happenings in Tolkien’s life were, naturally, often referenced, as was this volume in particular. To just have a straightforward read-through in chronological order of Tolkien’s life helped put things in order for me.
          • I have found that other Tolkien scholars (most noticeably for me John D. Rateliff) take issue with certain interpreation’s of Carpenter’s, not without reason, so I wouldn’t say this is the definitive biography on Tolkien (as there very rarely are ‘definitive’ biographies) but it is a great starting point.
      • Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle
        • Date read: 7 November
        • Published: 1989
        • Genre: Children’s literature
        • Why I picked it up: Fan of another book by the author
        • Rating: 3 stars
        • My Thoughts:
          • One of my earliest favourite books (from when I was six or seven, probably) is The Lost Flower Children. I thought it a delightful little tale, but for some reason I never picked up the author’s other books. I decided it was about time, and I blazed through this one.
          • I’m glad I did not read it as a child. I would have been highly disappointed to find there were actually no fairies in it. I was still disappointed! But at my age I was able to see this wasn’t that sort of book and I was able to appreciate it more for what it actually is. 
          • I did wonder what I would have thought of the book had I read it at its intended age level? Would I have believed that what Harriet saw was what she said she saw? It was easy to understand that there weren’t actually any elves, despite the story being told from Harriet’s perspective, but I wonder if I would have realized it as quickly at a younger age.
          • I thought Sara-Kate was very well-written, an intriguing character truly impossible to decipher.
      • Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips
        • Date read: 22 September to 24 September
        • Published: 1984
        • Genre: Non-fiction
        • Why I picked it up: Fan of Hemingway, book sounded interesting
        • Rating: 2 stars
        • My Thoughts:
          • A rather thin and unfascinating volume…Hemingway didn’t really give ‘writing advice’, but the author of this book has picked through quotes and things that can be or are more generally about writing. None of the quotes were very memorable; nothing stood out to me – not sure if this Hemingway’s fault or the compiler’s!
      • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
        • Date read: 14 October to 16 October
        • Published: 2009
        • Genre: Children’s fiction
        • Why I picked it up: Purchased and the first two, felt obliged to read the last
        • Rating: 1 star
        • My Thoughts:
          • I purchased these three books from the bargain section at my local indie bookstore…they have know all been happily desposed of at my favourite used children’s bookstore!
          • Ugh. I’m rather impressed with myself for finishing this book. If I don’t like a book, I have no qualms dropping it, but since I bought the trilogy for $10 and trudged through the first books, I decided to stick it out for the third. You can read what I did/didn’t like about the first two books here; all the things I didn’t like in the first books are intensified in this one and unfortunately the few things I did like about the first books are not present in this one.
          • About halfway through the book I got very frustrated and decided to make notes on just what was bothering me so much: Necessary but unnecessary awkward over-explanation (hard to describe but you know it when you see it – for example, ‘she pronounced rendezvous as if it rhymes with “Ben says mouse”‘ – this maybe isn’t the greatest example but others included explaining why a door wasn’t locked, or why something had to be done a certain way, etc.), awkward out of place torture (pg 264) and passages trying to ‘up the risk’ (pg 280), puzzles too contrived and too oddly/too logically/too easily solved (for example page 223). Okay, that last one sounds like I’m being picky. I’m having trouble describing what I didn’t like, but I think just found everything a little awkward or too contrived. The book has all the elements of an intense, daring, child adventure/thriller/mystery but they are poorly executed.
          • I think the overall impression I got from this book was that it reads like a first draft, as in you just had the idea for the story and you wrote it down as it came to you. The book needs a lot of work, but you have the basic frame. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this book got the haul over it could have used.
      • Generation X by Doug Coupland
        • Date finished: 21 September
        • Published: 1991
        • Genre: Satirical fiction
        • Why I picked it up: On my TBR list for ages
        • Rating: 2 stars
        • My Thoughts:
          • Dunno. I haven’t really got any thoughts on this book…it just didn’t do anything for me. It was mildly interesting when I was reading it? But now I can’t recall anything about the story. Meh.

      Bruce K. Hanson – The Peter Pan Chronicles

       
        Author: Bruce K. Hanson
      Title: The Peter Pan Chronicles
      Date read: 21 December to 26 December
      Published: 1993
      Publisher: Birch Lane Press
      Length: 288 pages
      Genre: Non-fiction
      Why I picked it up: Interest in Peter Pan
      Rating: 2.5 stars
      Buy:  AmazonChapters | Check your local bookstore!
       

      I wasn’t going to write a ‘full’ post on this book, but once I started writing it came out longer than I expected so here are some thoughts! I came across this book while doing research for a paper I was writing on Barrie last year. I didn’t pick it up at the time, since it wasn’t relevant to my paper, but I took a bit of time to read it over my holidays.
      On adaptations of Peter and Wendy – I have seen the musical, the Disney film, the ballet, read the book, read the play, but somehow I have never seen the play! So, for me this was a kind-of, not-really-intriguing read about the various adaptations throughout the years with a heavy focus on the actresses playing Peter.
      The format of the book is fairly repetivie, with the author recounting each production in a similar fashion. I’m not suggesting that there be a better way to write such a book, the format fits for this kind, but as I said – it gets repetitive. I also found the author’s judgements and opinions in the later half of the book intrusive and overstated. The author writes, ‘It is inconceivable that one can not hum the beautiful “Never, Never Land” or even be able to sing a line or two of “I Won’t Grow Up” after the first hearing.’ This is a vast generalization, the credibility of which can be question, as the author offers this opinon after writing that the ‘the score was generally not credited as an element for the success of the musical.’ Perhaps the author could have included his own opinions in a separate section of the book, as an afterward or something of the sort. I feel that they detracted rather than added to the book (I found his opinions annoying and excessive, frankly.)
      On a lighter note, the parts of the book I enjoyed best were the little anecdotes about performing the play from the actresses. Eva Le Gallienne shares a story of how she sent one little girl, who cried ‘No!’ when the audience is asked if they believe in fairies, hiding under her seat after giving Eva gave the girl many stern glances throughout the rest of the play. These anecdotes are few, however, and seem to be buried under lengthy descriptions of the actresses’ careers beyond their roles as Peter Pan.
      Overall, the book is a decent introduction to various productions of Peter Pan, but much of the writing is superfluous and made the book less interesting than I think it could have been.

      Jose Saramago – The Double



      *The following information applies to the English softcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 2002). *  

        Author: Jose Saramago
      Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
      Title: The Double
      Date read: 1 December to 7 December
      Published: August 2012
      Publisher: Harcourt Books
      Length: 324 pages
      Genre: Magical realism
      Why I picked it up: Favourite author
      Rating: 3.5 stars
      Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!
      ~This book was completed during the 3rd Annual Holiday Readathon hosted by Liz @ WhoRuBlog 🙂 ~


      Another Saramago book! This one I didn’t pick up for any particular reason…I found a copy in the discount books section at my independent bookstore so I bought it.  

      One of the aspects of Saramago’s writing I love is his ability to expand on a notion, pulling on threads to see where they go, even (especially!) if they lead to a only marginally related tangent. Not everyone will be a fan of this style. I know I wouldn’t tolerate it, this chasing after every little thing and expanding on minute irrelevant details, unless it was done well – I find Saramago is one of those writers who can pull it off.

      I also think Saramago can be a very good example of the only writing rule I consider to be steadfast but often necessarily broken (oh, isn’t that nice contradition…) – ‘show don’t tell’. I marked a passage near the start of the book where Tertuliano is changing out of his work clothes:

      …pulled a sweater on over his shirt, but left his tie, because he didn’t like his to leave his throat exposed, then went into the kitchen. [Pg 9]

      Now that I’ve typed it out, perhaps this is actually a better example of showing and telling. Saramago shows us the tie is left on and tells us why, but both of those points combine into a larger instance of showing something about Tertuliano’s character. This is what I like.

      I enjoyed the inclusion of Tertuliano’s common sense as a character who crops up every now and then, adding something a little different and unique to the story, giving it a bit more flavour. (I didn’t mark it, but a piece of dialogue between the two made me laugh: Tertuliano: Well, I will see you later, Common Sense: Oh, I doubt it).

      [Tertuliano starts] Well, it seems to me that common sense has a very chauvinistic way of expressing itself, That’s not my fault, it’s just the way I was made, That’s hardly a good excuse from someone who does nothing but offer advice and opinions, But I’m not always wrong, This sudden rush of modesty suits you, Look, I would be better than I am, more efficient, more useful, if you helped me, Who, All of you, men and women, after all, common sense is just a ind of arithmetic mean that rises and falls according to the tide…[Pg 224]

      Last point: I read a review on Goodreads that compared Saramago to Haruki Murakami, another one of my favourite authors. I don’t think I would have noticed the similarity if someone had not suggested it, but I think I would agree. The story is relatively mundane, with the extraordinary being handled in a very ordinary way. Notably, this review made the comparison in a disparaging manner, arguing that Saramago merely replaced Murakami’s tropes with his own. I wouldn’t think so. Saramago has a very distinct style and I think this sort of story fits with what he writes – it doesn’t seem out of character or like he was trying something different. The story felt naturally Saramago; similarities to Murakami being coincidence. That being said, I think the two (Murakami’s overall body of work and Saramago’s The Double) are rather similar in how I felt about the plot – a bit dry and dull and lengthy in the middle, with an exciting final 50 pages or so turning around how I felt about this book. Everything really came together towards the end and that’s why I’m giving this book 3.5 instead of 2.5. If you manage to stick with it (though I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), then it is a good read!

      Neal Shusterman – Unwholly

        Author: Neal Shusterman
      Title: Unwholly
      Series: Unwind
      Date read: 28 August to 31 August
      Published: August 2012
      Publisher: Simon & Shuster
      Length: 402 pages
      Genre: Young adult dystopian fiction
      Why I picked it up: Loved the first book
      Rating: 4 stars
      Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

      CONTAINS SPOILERS

      This has been sitting as a draft for months! I read it immediately in the days following it’s release, but for some reason I could never bring myself to blog about it. I’m still feeling reluctant but I really need to get this out of my drafts pile. I was planning on being one of those people who get a relatively early review up but nope, that clearly did not happen.

      I never thought Unwind needed a sequel. I adore the book the way it is, and while there was lots more Shusterman could have written about, I was satisfied with the conclusion. When I heard the book was going to be part of a trilogy now, though, I was ecstatic. I loved the world Shusterman had built and the characters it inhabited and I was definitely interested in hearing more. If Shusterman wanted to write more, than I trusted to him to write more well – he did not disappoint! I didn’t make a lot of ‘general’ notes while I was reading, I just specified bits I liked so here they are.

      I absolutely adored Lev in this book. I think he is a great character – they all are (Connor, Risa, Hayden, etc.) but Lev really undergoes the most change and development. He was fantastic in this book. I don’t usually have crushes on book characters but I think if Lev were in a movie I would probably have a crush on him. Which we can blame on Shusterman! He just writes Lev so well.

      Through Miracolina, the religious beliefs debate plays an even larger role in this book than in Unwind with Lev. Props to Shusterman for tackling such a touchy subject head on. I love the dynamic between Lev and Miracolina; it adds a really intriguing dimension. I don’t really want to talk about this too much here because a lot depends on whether Miracolina chooses to be unwound by the end of the trilogy. I’m reserving judgement on her character til then, because I’m not sure how I’ll feel if Lev convinces her unwinding really is bad. This is a complicated subject that I can’t really explain my thoughts well on because it’s been a little while since I read the book, but basically – I’m on hold about Miracolina. She does make a great new character for Lev to play off, though!

      • Cam’s thoughts – really interesting way to play that out (see page 47)
      • The ads throughout the book are really fascinating and provide some interesting perspectives the reader wouldn’t get through the main characters. I particularly like the ad on page 63, from the perspective of a man who wants legal adult unwinding so he can unwind himself to support his family.
      • Parts pirates + illegal harvest camps = brilliant, logical idea I never anticipated.
      • Connor’s reasoning as to why he should push Risa away made me tear up. These books are intense and have made me ‘feel all the feels’ but this was the first time my eyes actually watered. Heartbreaking. (For the curious – the note I wrote in my iPod was DAWWWWW poor Connor ;-;)(Page 105)
      • When I get very involved in a story, I am totally blind as to what might happen next, so when I began to see how the scene with the cookie girl was playing out I could not stop saying ‘NO NO NO NO NO’, like I said, I adore Lev and my heart ached for him. 
      • GOOD GOD Hayden in the plane. I was so tense, I was so certain that scene was going to end terribly. Wow. What a well-written sequence. (I wish I had written down the page number so I could quickly reference it again!) I let out a massive breath at the end.
      • These books aren’t really where I look for prose inspiration, but I did like this metaphor: “How do you judge the brightness of a light when you’re the source? A spotlight caqn never see the shadow it casts.” (Page 198)

      While Unwind felt like a solid stand-alone novel, Unwholly certainly feels like the middle, or even beginning, of something. Lots and lots of setup for what’s going to go down in the next book – the story clearly screams ‘sequel needed!!’. I don’t really mind that but…it did just feel really open ended, asking you to wait patiently for the second book. I prefer a book that can stand solidly on its own and not need support from another story. This is why I still like Unwind more than Unwholly. Still, for a sequel, Unwholly still manages to push the bounds with some provocative ideas, stellar scenes and really really great characters.