Friday, January 31, 2014

The Classics

A few weeks ago, while brainstorming my Reading Resolutions, I decided that it was about time I tackled some classics. That's not to say that I haven't read any classics at all- I've read those that were assigned in high school (and yes, I actually read them) and some for my favorite literature class in college, titled "Great Books that Shaped the Western World." Some of the ones that I have vivid memories of reading include: A Tale of Two Cities, The Catcher in the Rye, The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, The Republic, Darwin, and Don Quixote. 

Out of all of the classics that I read between the eighth grade and now, my favorite has remained Maus (Volumes 1 and 2) by Art Spiegelman. Out of all of the beautiful stories that have been recorded and revered by the masses, my favorite is a graphic novel. But to be fair, it's so much more than that. It's an incredible depiction of one family's journey through the Holocaust; a heart-wrenching account that is artfully told through both pictures and words. Spiegelman is beyond talented, and although it's unusual for me to recommend (or even read) a graphic novel, if you haven't read this yet, do it now. 

So, as you can probably tell, classics aren't my area of expertise. Confession: I've actually never finished any of Jane Austen's novels. I know- I can imagine hearing your gasps and seeing your shocked expressions. For some, it's impossible to claim bookworm status without having read Pride and Prejudice. I'm actually pretty embarrassed that I've never finished one- but in the case of the ones I've started, I haven't been interested enough (or patient enough) to keep reading.

This year, I'm hoping to change my outlook on the classics. I generally hail them as a collection of books beyond what I could ever dream of writing and I am so in awe of the authors that created them, but it would be rare to see me with one in hand. That being said, I've picked some books that I will be seen with this year, and they constitute my list for my 2014 Classics Challenge.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
A lot of the books that I've been drawn to in the past few years have been based off of the Jane Eyre plot, including this one (which made it onto my Top Ten post for this year) and this one (which I'll be posting a review for soon). Apparently, Jane Eyre was the start of the archetypal governness characters that I find myself searching for in bookstores and libraries. I'm really looking forward reading it, as I already know that I like elements of it.

The Time Machine & The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells is considered to be the father of the science-fiction genre. I'm not actually that into science-fiction books in general (I'd rather stick with fantasy and historical-fiction), but these are regarded as "scientific romances," so I'm willing to give them a chance. I found the two stories combined into one book, and since they're both so short I figured I'd count them as just one book for my challenge. These both come highly recommended and I thought they'd add diversity to my challenge, but I'm also interested in seeing whether Wells can convince me to look more into the science-fiction genre in general.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is one that I've been meaning to read for years. I have a beautiful old copy of it that I've packed and brought with me every semester of college, but I've never gotten around to reading it. Since I'm putting more effort this year into reading children's literature, I figured that my classics challenge needed to include children's literature in some respect, and this was my pick.

This is where I need some recommendations. I have a few ideas, such as picking another children's book...maybe A Little Princess? (Though I'm not sure that it would be fair, out of the many choices I have, to read two books by the same author.) One book that I've always heard great things about is Heart of Darkness. Another option would be to make this the year of great achievements and actually read a book by Jane Austen, but which one? Please help me choose! I'm taking any and all recommendations.

Do you have a favorite classic, or one that you've always wanted to read?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Children's Review: Charlie's Superhero Underpants

{on Goodreads}
On a windy day in May, the wind blows the laundry straight from the clothesline and scatters it around the globe, including Charlie's superhero underpants. Charlie is devastated! Those scarlet underwear were his ticket to defending his city, and even had "POW!" written across the front. Charlie can't go on without them, so he packs a bag and takes off on a rescue mission, hoping to find his favorite superhero underpants. He travels through France, Peru, and many other places, stumbling across other items in his family's laundry, but never his underpants. It's not until he's feeling desolate in the mountains of Nepal that he finally finds them, and you'll never guess who's wearing them!

This is such an enjoyable book for young fans of superheroes. It's a great adventure story, the rhymes are upbeat and playful, and the illustrations of animals wearing Charlie's laundry are cute and comical. I loved the element of surprise at the end, when we find out where Charlie's superhero underpants had been while he was searching the globe. This is definitely a recommended read for young boys, but I think girls will find it funny too- after all, what child doesn't enjoy the novelty of reading a story about underpants? It's sure to make them laugh. 

Recommended for ages 3 and up!
Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Charlie's Superhero Underpants
Author: Paul Bright
Illustrator: Lee Wildish
Publisher: Good Books, 2010
Price: $16.99 (I found it on clearance for $0.99!) (Amazon is selling for $6.57)
ISBN: 9781561436793
Format: Hardcover
Source: University Library

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Killer Librarian

Killer Librarian is the first in a series featuring Karen Nash, a small-town librarian who devours mystery novels and fantasizes about one day walking in the footsteps of her favorite literary characters. Nash plans a trip to England with Dave, her boyfriend and the "love of her mid-life". Only hours before they are set to leave, Karen receives a devastating phone call from Dave. Suddenly, he feels that their four-year relationship isn't going to work out. Karen gathers herself and decides that nothing will stop her from an enjoying her long-awaited trip. She heads to England, only to discover that Dave is also still going--with another, younger woman. She fantasizes about Dave's demise during the first few days of her stay at a charming Bed and Breakfast run by the quintessential English gentleman. As she finds herself caught up in the charm of rainy London, Karen soon realizes that perhaps Dave wasn't the best boyfriend she's ever had, and maybe he doesn't deserve to die. It's too late though--she has accidentally set a shady, (possibly) criminal character on him and his new girlfriend, and she has to find this mysterious man before something bad happens. In the midst of getting lost in British museums, browsing bookshops, drinking English tea, and fretting over Dave's potential danger, another guest in the B&B passes away and Karen suspects that it wasn't an accident. She decides to emanate her favorite sleuths and solve the mystery at hand. 

Like many other readers, I had mixed feelings about this book. I borrowed the book from the library (the librarian chuckled when checking it out for me) with the expectation that it would be a dark and winding, good old-fashioned mystery. It actually turned out to be quite a light read, even the deaths seemed as though they had little effect on the characters. Not too serious, not too challenging, and with little focus on the mystery at hand. Rather, romance (and revenge) took the front seat, but not in a suspenseful way. In spite of its deviation from my expectations, I did enjoy reading the book. I finished it in just a few hours, realizing that perhaps I haven't given this type of lighthearted read as much attention as it deserves. What I loved most about the book was the setting: London, and the idea of spending a holiday (as the British would put it) perusing antiquarian bookshops, cafés, museums, and pubs. It was the understanding between reader and writer, that books hold such a special place in our hearts, that drew me in. I wouldn't say that I loved the book, but it's hard to resist a novel whose title practically calls out to a bibliophile like myself. And it's that feeling, that this is a book meant to be read by the fire on a dreary day, that makes me eager to read the next in the series.

Bottom line rating: 3/5

Title: Killer Librarian
Author: Mary Lou Kirwin
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2012
Price: $7.99
ISBN: 978-1-4516-8464-3
Format: Paperback
Source: Public Library
Book #58 of 2013

*Note: I have since read the second book in this series, Death Overdue, in which Karen must clear her new boyfriend's name after there is a terrible death at the bed & breakfast. I enjoyed this one even more than the first book, and had a harder time guessing who the culprit was. I'd recommend the second for any fans of the first, and would even go so far as to say that the second could stand alone. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Word Worship

Robert Frost

How countlessly they congregate
O'er our tumultuous snow,
Which flows in shapes as tall as trees
When wintry winds do blow!--

As if with keenness for our fate,
Our faltering few steps on
To white rest, and a place of rest
Invisible at dawn,--

And yet with neither love nor hate,
Those stars like some snow-white
Minerva's snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Books vs. E-Books

I'll admit that I've owned a kindle since they first came out on the market. I know that many of my fellow bibliophiles viewed the birth of the kindle as something akin to the arrival of the antichrist. At first I was eager to show off my new device, but soon I was experiencing a feeling of guilt over it...was I abandoning books for this? For something that represented the threat to the world of libraries and bookstores? I went back and forth between feeling bad for not using my kindle enough to feeling like I was abandoning books, and by proxy, abandoning part of my identity as a reader. After many years (and immense growth in the e-book market), I've come to settle my dilemma. There are pros and cons to both physical books and e-books, and I now use my library card and kindle in equal measure and my reading experiences are considerably more happy for it.

Mostly, I use my kindle when carrying books is inconvenient. This includes during the academic year when I am already lugging around binders, textbooks, my agenda, and any number of other supplies. In that case, using my kindle is so much easier. In past years I've even used my kindle as a electronic textbook. I also use my kindle whenever traveling. That way, I can carry multiple books at once, and even download one in case I finish my current read. The e-book market is expanding considerably, and in the years since I first received a kindle, they've become more like tablets than readers. That is where I find fault in them now, as a big part of the draw is that the screen is much easier on my eyes than a traditional electronic screen. As a student, I spend a considerable part of my day on the computer and I know that my eyes are suffering for it, so reading on the specialized "paper" screen helps give my brain and eyes a break from all that stimulation. At the moment, I carry a second generation kindle, but the only one I would considering upgrading to is the paper white, as it is smaller (even more convenient) and maintains the specialized screen.

That being said, I will always be loyal to books. Though I love my kindle and couldn't imagine traveling without one, there is no better feeling than bringing home a big stack of books from the library or bookstore and physically turning the pages. There's something about the smell and feel of books that makes reading so much better. Besides that, books are great conversation starters. When a person is holding a book on the metro or in a waiting room, it's much easier to comment on their reading when you can read the title first. (Even if I've never heard of the book, there's always a comment to be made about the cover art.) Plus, I love the sight of them on my shelves, nightstand, and pretty much every other surface in my room. It was Cicero (the great Roman orator) who said, "A room without books is like a body without a soul." That just about sums it up.

What do you think of e-readers?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Children's Review: Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Glooms takes place in foggy, gritty London, where master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini enchants little Clara Wintermute with his expert puppet shows. Clara begs her mother and father to invite Grisini to her birthday party, and Grisini takes his show to her dazzling estate to perform. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, Grisini's wards and assistants, both find themselves enchanted with Clara, whom despite her extravagant lifestyle has had a childhood just as tragic as their own. It's Clara's sad existence that leads her to fall for the tricks of Grisini, who reveals himself to be a much more sinister man than Lizzie Rose and Parsefall thought possible. After Clara goes missing, the children realize that only they have the ability to help return Clara to her grieving parents, but they must flee London in order to avoid being jailed on suspicion of helping to kidnap her. They travel to an old estate where Grisini's nemesis awaits them, not knowing that they are putting themselves in even more danger, not knowing that the witch has something she desperately wants from them as well. 

Within the first chapter of reading, this book became one of my favorite children's novels that I've read in recent years. The historical element is described in so much detail and with such accuracy that it could be a great historical fiction read in addition to it's role as an enchanting fantasy. The story is quite sophisticated, both in its themes and in the language, and deals with such mature topics as orphans, hunger, misfortune, and social class. Much of the book is morbid, but the children's integrity gives hope to the reader throughout. The magic in the book is subtle in that it does not overwhelm the reality of life in London, and it plays an important role in the lives and fates of all the characters. I was held in suspense throughout much of the book, and look forward to exploring more of Ms. Schlitz's work. 

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5
Recommended for ages 9-12 (grades 4-7).

Title: Splendors and Glooms
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
Price: $7.99 (paperback)
ISBN: 0763653802
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Book #1 of 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Cleopatra's Daughter

Cleopatra's Daughter is the story of what happened after the famous suicide of Cleopatra. Her remaining children, twins Alexander and Selene, are brought to Rome to live with the (future) imperial family. Their upbringing in Rome is pampered, and yet the children yearn to be returned to Egypt as the rightful King and Queen. Living with Octavian's sister Octavia, they are privy to all of the sights of the most wealthy children in Rome. They visit and make bets at the Circus, learn from a skilled Magister, and dine alongside the likes of Vergil. But they also see the darker side of Rome- in which slaves are killed for the smallest mistakes, babies are abandoned on a whim, and a rebel leader by the name of the Red Eagle threatens Octavian's already fragile reign. Alexander and Selene are two of the most well-educated children in their time, and Selene proves herself to be one of the most talented young architects in Rome, but will that prove to Octavian that she is more valuable alive than dead? While they bide their time in Octavian's home waiting for their futures to be decided upon, Octavian becomes Emperor Augustus, the slaves and plebians threaten a revolt, and the twins begin to question whether they will ever be set free from their gilded cage.

I was a Latin student for six years, and as such I translated many speeches and poems that were written during this time period. I had always had such a liking for Octavian Augustus, as he is considered one of the greatest rulers in history and was responsible for a Golden Age in Rome. This book, however, made me question my love for him. Moran portrays Octavian as a ruthless leader, with fragile health and an overwhelming sense of superstition. It is an interesting perspective to take, after so many years of unwavering admiration for Augustus, to suddenly find myself slightly put off by his nature. I loved the character of the Red Eagle, although he was not historically accurate (as Moran writes in the Historical Notes), he brought an element of mystery to the story, and I was genuinely surprised when his identity was revealed. I found myself most enchanted, however, by Selene. I had no idea that Selene was such a strong presence in her time, and I thought at multiple points throughout the book that her mother, whom I've always admired as a incredible female figure in history, would have been so proud of her vivacious character, unwavering sense of integrity, and exceptional intellect. Moran is quickly becoming a favorite author for me when it comes to considerable female characters throughout history. She has a great talent for portraying these time periods in such a way that it is remarkably easy to find yourself transported and completely immersed in the story. 

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Title: Cleopatra's Daughter
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: Crown, 2009
Price: $25.00
ISBN: 978-0-307-40912-6
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Book #2 of 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reading Resolutions

I know we're already three weeks into January, but I've been taking my time in brainstorming my reading resolutions for the year. I have my personal resolutions of course, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself in a few different ways when it comes to my to-read list.

Classics Challenge

Which entails finishing at least four classics this year...something that I've struggled with in the past. That's an average of one classic every three months, which doesn't sound too bad considering that I read an average of five books per month. I'm not going to say that they have to be classics that are new to me, because in all honesty when we read these books in school it's hard to turn off your analytical side long enough to enjoy the book as simply a great piece of literature. That being said, I'm compiling a list of possible picks and would love to hear some recommendations!

Biography & Memoir Challenge

For which I'm going to pick two biographies or memoirs of people {living or dead} that I admire. I already know that I Am Malala is going to be one of them. She's an incredible young woman, and I while I know that reading her story will be emotional, I am so looking forward to it. I read Destiny of the Republic in 2012 and loved it. I've never loved a piece of non-fiction so much {except maybe this one} and I'd consider re-reading it for this challenge but that kind of feels like cheating. I'm still brainstorming for my second choice, but I'm thinking Cleopatra might be an option...although I also have a biography of Dante on my shelf waiting to be read...decisions, decisions...

History Challenge

That is, American history challenge. Aside from the type of history featured in movies like National Treasure (don't even pretend that you didn't love it), American history isn't my favorite subject. I'm hoping to find a history book that piques my interest and keeps me interested. I currently am deciding between America Aflame and America's Women, but I'd be willing to hear recommendations for this  challenge too!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Children's Review: Madeline at the White House

 This is the story of Madeline's trip to the White House, where she meets the President's only daughter, Candle, who most of the time feels lonely and bored. Candle is isolated, but finds that she has a true friend in Madeline. The girls take a ride on a magic tide of cherry blossom throughout the capital of our country, and readers get to see the sights rendered in perfectly enchanting watercolors. 

Madeline at the White House was gifted to me by my mother while I was attending college in Washington, D.C. (I've since transferred back to Massachusetts.) When I was a child, Madeline was my favorite literary character (for obvious reasons- although my name is spelled a tad different), and I still have a collection of Madeline dolls for every season and occasion. What I love most about this book is the backstory- it was originally a collaboration between Ludwig Bemelmans (the author of the original Madeline) and his dear friend, Jacqueline Kennedy. Not only am I a huge fan of the Madeline series, I'm also a huge fan of Jackie Kennedy. That woman emanated class as First Lady, and her style is iconic and endlessly inspiring. I loved that this was an idea that the two of them worked on, but sadly it never came to fruition as Bemelmans passed away before they could collaborate further. His grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, came upon the project while researching his grandfather's life, and decided that it was time to bring the book to life. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this book is the masterpiece of the Madeline collection, but I did enjoy the book and would recommend it for any young readers who already enjoy the adventures of Madeline. This would also be a great gift for any children as a precursor to a trip to D.C., as they would be able to make text-to-world connections between the illustrations and the monuments, as well as make text-to-self connections between Madeline's experience and their own. 

Bottom Line Rating: 3/5
Recommended for children ages 3-5 years (Preschool & Kindergarten)

Title: Madeline at the White House
Author: John Bemelmans Marciano
Publisher: Viking Juvenile, 2011
Price: $17.99
ISBN: 9780670012282
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gifted

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Girls of Murder City

The Girls of Murder City is an account of the real life events that led to the inspiration behind Chicago, one of the most popular musicals in Broadway history. Although the book features the murderesses who became famous during a particularly troublesome time in Chicago history, the timeline is built around Maurine Watkins, a bold young woman who comes to Chicago chasing a dream: to become a field reporter. As Maurine makes her way into the chaotic world that is Chicago homicide, she finds that unlike many of her female colleagues, she has a real talent for reporting the news stories as she sees them, not as the lawyers of these beautiful killers portray them. Her wit and sarcasm earn her a spot as a top reporter for female homicides. As the stories unfold, we can recognize moments of Chicago as they were actually said during the trials, and we follow Maurine's story until years after Chicago has made her famous. 

I picked up this book as a precursor to my first trip to the city of Chicago. I thought it would give me some great background knowledge on the city in its heyday, as well as be one of those history books that pulls you as if it were a novel. I actually lost interest at several points throughout the book, and the most interesting points to me were ones that could have been elaborated on much more. I think I was most fascinated by the case of the Millionaire Murderers, who actually had little to do with the narrative, except that Maurine covered the story. I would love to find a book on that case. I did like the look into Ms. Watkins' articles, as her writing was charming and I loved that she saw through the public facades of these women. What bothered me the most was the ditzy personalities of the murderesses. Maurine's sarcastic comments about their dramatic testimonies reflected my own could these juries have been so gullible? In any case, some of the stories were interesting, and I did have fun imagining my self in the city as if it were in that day. There was something glamorous about the whole scene, but I'd much rather stick to the movie soundtrack than trudge through this book again. 

Bottom Line Rating: 2/5

Title: The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago
Author: Douglas Perry
Publisher: Viking, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-670-02197-0
Format: Hardcover
Price: $25.95 (I paid $5.95)
Source: University Store
Genre: History, Non-Fiction
Book # 57 of 2013

Friday, January 10, 2014

Looking Forward To in 2014

2013 was a year to celebrate...and by that I mean it was a year of great new book releases. In an effort to be thrifty and support my local communities, I've been on a library kick this past year and borrowed many of the books I read in 2013. That meant that when a new book came out, I sometimes had to wait over a month before I could get my hands on it. I could have easily downloaded it on my kindle or gone to a bookstore to buy it, but frankly I'm a bargain hunter and the prices of brand new hardcover books sometimes hurt my eyes (not to mention my college-student budget). I'd say the books that I anticipated most in 2013 were Life After Life and Bellman and Black. I have yet to get my hands on the latter but I am determined to read it by the end of winter break. I love the anticipation of a new release, but sometimes I do get a little bit impatient waiting for it to be published. I often get jealous of those lucky readers who are granted a sneak peek and get to tell us all how amazing the book is...but then we still have to wait months and months to experience it for ourselves. 

Below is a list of just five books that I'm looking forward to in 2014. They all happen to come out this month (some of them a few days ago), so I'm thankful that when it comes to these five, my impatience will be short-lived.

January 7, 2014

I am a huge fan of The Secret Life of Bees. I think this author has an extraordinary ability to write about heartbreak in a way that makes you feel it in your core, but she also finds a way to take that tragedy and shape into something that we can eventually feel hopeful about. This book was released three days ago, so it's already available for those who cannot wait! I feel like this one may need a permanent spot on my shelves...

January 7th, 2014

Beah's first book, A Long Way Gone, holds a very special place on my shelves. I read it in eighth grade as part of a bookclub, and it was the first book to introduce me to the harrowing lives of children in war-torn places like Sierra Leone. As it happens, I've grown up in very safe communities and although it was a hard book for me to read at that age, I so appreciate that it gave me a great sense of perspective.

January 14, 2014

This is a follow-up to the widely acclaimed Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which I had happened to download in 2011 because it was on sale in the kindle store. It took me quite awhile before I actually got around to reading it, but it was one of my favorite books in 2012. It's a morbid read, but also really unique, and the antique photography used throughout helps to embellish the story and make it feel completely real. This doesn't seem like one of those sequels that can be read on its own, so if you haven't picked up the first one yet, I'd recommend doing so soon!

January 7th, 2014

A book about reading, and the ways in which it shapes our lives, thoughts, and perspectives. It argues that we should spend less of our time doing meaningless tasks and reading more. {Amen!} I anticipate that this will be a favorite read, and it has great potential as a gift for the other bookworms in your life.

January 28th, 2014

This book was officially released in 2013, but is now being released by Knopf this month & will finally be available on Amazon. It's a take on the infamous Dreyfus affair, and although I haven't read a book by Harris before, this book has received worldwide admiration and stunning reviews. I'll admit I'm sadly lacking in knowledge when it comes to this moment in history, and I look forward to experiencing the renown storytelling of Harris while learning more about the events that took place. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Children's Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict society is the tale of four children: Reynie, Constance, Sticky, and Kate. These four come together through a series of tests, for which they found an advertisement in the newspaper offering "special opportunities" for those who passed. The circumstances of the tests are quite mysterious, and they lead the children to come under the guidance of Mr. Benedict, a strange and fascinating man who offers them a part in a most important mission: saving the world from a dark and dangerous man and his sinister plan. The children are each brilliant in their own right, and volunteer to work as a team on behalf of Mr. Benedict. They are led to a prominent preparatory school on an island, in which they enroll as new students, expecting to complete their mission shortly and return to Mr. Benedict. They soon find out that the plans being hatched are far worse than they could have imagined, and that their fruition is imminent. The children must work together quickly, without arousing the suspicion of those on the island. They face many obstacles, the least of which is the alluring draw of offers to take part in the evil plan itself.

This is one of my all-time favorite children's series. There are three books and a prequel, and each one is as amusing and enthralling as the next. What makes the series special is that the children are brilliant for their age. They have all faced difficult childhoods and are independent beyond their years, which makes the book mature in both its themes and language and suits young readers who like to be challenged. This book was recommended to me by a little girl that I babysat many years ago, and I am so grateful that she showed it to me. Even in my second time reading it, I was enchanted by it. Each character has their own endearing quirks, and the villainous circumstances of the children's mission mirrors the very situations that we face in today's world. Definitely a must read for children {and adults} who love the work of Lemony Snicket, as well as those who seek a unique read. 

Bottom Line Rating: 5/5

Recommended for children grades 3-7

Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2007
ISBN: 0316057770
Format: Paperback
Price: $8.00
Source: Public Library
Genre: Children's Fiction
Book #60 of 2013

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: The Stockholm Octavo

The Stockholm Octavo is a historical novel set in the time of King Gustav III, who ruled Sweden in the 18th century. Sekretaire Emil Larsson is told that there is a big event in his future, and is led to discover his octavo, a chain of eight people who will set into motion a great change in his life. His octavo is shown to him by an old fortune teller who seeks her own octavo, one that could determine the fate of the French Queen, Marie Antoinette. As they both search the Town to discover who the characters in their octavos are history is being shaped. Center stage are the opulent fans wielded by the women of Stockholm, who are master manipulators. One of these women, a widow with a penchant for engaging with powerful politicians, is conspiring against King Gustav and her plans put his life in grave danger. Mr. Larsson seeks love and connection (and hopefully an engagement) but comes to realize that he plays an important role in the fates of many in Stockholm and in France.

I am finding myself more and more drawn to historical novels, and this one was a departure from my usual French and English picks. I really enjoyed learning about the culture of this novel, and especially liked learning about the fans that were used by women in that period, which were both a revered art form as well as a tool for flirtation and manipulation. What I loved most was that the female characters were generally stronger than male characters-- despite their fragile facades, many of them were the most powerful characters in the novel. I will warn any potential readers that parts of this story were not for the faint of heart. I was sometimes troubled by the more vulgar scenes in the book, but the suspense and mystery were enough to keep me reading, not to mention the heart-pounding moment when all the secret planning comes to blows. Definitely a recommended read for people who enjoy books with just a little bit of magic and a lot of conspiracy.

Bottom Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The Stockholm Octavo
Author: Karen Engelmann
Publisher: Ecco, 2012
ISBN: 1444742698
Format: Ebook
Price: $2.99 (I paid $1.99)
Source: Amazon
Genre: Historical Fiction
Book #59 of 2013

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books That...

As a follow up to my Top Ten post, I started thinking about books outside of that list that still hold a special place on my shelf. I put together some superlative-esque books that were particularly noteworthy to me this year.

...Made Me Laugh

I was not a fan of Kaling's character in The Office (I know she was supposed to be annoying, but I just could not take it). After learning that she was one of the writers for the show, however, I found myself seeking out her work. The Mindy Project is one of my favorite television shows now, it makes me laugh out loud every single week. This book (in a similar style to Tina Fey's Bossypants) is just another example of her hilarious talents, and is perfect for 20- and 30-something readers who want a light read that reassures us we're not the only ones who feel like life is a daily struggle to be graceful.

...Made Me Cry

I just cannot handle refugees tales without a box of tissues and without seriously considering volunteering for the peace corps. This book was real.

...Made Me Question Everything

I'm not going to give it away, but I feel like the world needs to sit down and discuss this book. I don't have many friends who've read it, but I feel like this is one of the very rare times that I've sided with a "villain" in a story (the result of a Disney upbringing), and I want to know that other people have the same conflicted feelings. I really felt that something about the evil in this book was, in fact, extremely wise. I know that Dan Brown can be a bit of a controversial topic in literature circles, but I've always been a fan and will remain so.

...Pulled Me Out of My Comfort Zone

I picked this up at a Friends of the Library book sale for a dollar. It took me forever to read, but when I finished I felt like I was in an altered state of consciousness for days. I hadn't known anything about the expeditions to find the Northwest Passage, but after reading I was fascinated by the way these men took such great risks for the chance to be the discoverer of this mysterious arctic passage, and actually bought a related book, Resolute, that would interest any adventure/history buff. The fantasy element in The Terror was an added bonus, although while reading it felt like it was barely fantasy, more like a legend that is almost too crazy not to believe. 

...Made Me Gasp At Every Turn It taught me the meaning of evil (and manipulation). Writing about it gives me the creeps. But I also have a strange urge to re-read it. Bottom line: It messes with your head. I can't imagine what kind of mental state Gillian Flynn must have been in while writing it. 

...I Wish I Liked More

I was embarassed, in the midst of Gatsby fever this year, that I hadn't already read this. All I can really say is that when it comes to the 1920's, I am a fan of the fashion...and that's about it. I had no empathy for the characters and came away both confused and a little annoyed. Some books I have trouble connecting with, unless I'm in an English course where we can hold discussions and conduct analyses of the book. I think this is one of those books. I'm going to leave it at that, until I get a chance to re-read.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top Ten of Twenty-Thirteen

This year I pledged sixty-five books for the annual Goodreads challenge. I didn't quite make my goal, as I am still in the middle of my sixty-second book. As a full-time college student, finding the time to read outside of class is certainly a challenge, but putting time aside to read meant that I could unplug, relax, and explore new time periods and new places. I learned so much from these books, and I also found connections to them cropping up in the most unexpected of places. Each of them made it onto my all-time favorites shelf (although I'll admit I am quick to add books to that list), and I found myself chattering excitedly about each of them to different people throughout the year. In my opinion, nothing serves as a better conversation starter than a book in hand. I wish I could give you my own review for each of them, but unfortunately this blog is a recent endeavor and I haven't been strict about reviewing books on Goodreads in the past. (Don't fear though! All future reads will be documented both here and on my Goodreads page.) Until that ball starts rolling, I'll link you back to their Goodreads pages, where plenty of fellow bookworms can give you all the details. Below are my top ten reads for the year (in no particular order)...

This was a recent read, although it has been on my shelf for years. Being from a small town, I loved the way that Groff took her own hometown and crafted it into a place that plays host to a mysterious past and a little bit of magic. I couldn't help but love the way the monsters came into play. 

This was one book that I absolutely got lost in after reading. I walked around campus with images of the characters swimming in front of my eyes, and I couldn't shake them for almost a week afterwards. I'm not exactly the type to rave about love stories (and this isn't strictly a love story) but the love in this book was so real to me. Take that, add characters who love books as much as I do (and some Shakespearean conspiracy theories), and I was sold. 

I waited anxiously for this book to be released. The press for this was insane, and I just knew it was going to be a favorite. I waited for over a month before it was my turn to borrow it from the library, and immediately passed it onto my mom. The story is far more complicated than anything I could ever imagine writing. It's almost pointless to try and describe it, as I don't think I could ever write a recommendation that could do it justice. 

I am a big fan of books about art and artists, especially ones that feature long-lost female artists (ones I feel I should already know about). The imagery alone was enough to make me wish I could have attended dinners alongside Mademoiselle Morisot. 

This is one of those books that I just flew through and was then mad at myself for reading so quickly once it was over. It was the cover that got me, but the setting was amazing and Gemma's adventures were everything that I could hope for: trying, uplifting, and also heartbreaking. It's based off of Jane Eyre, which I've never read but now feel the need to put at the top of my classics list.

This one is from a local author and features my hometown. I loved knowing exactly where things took place, and the story itself was enchanting. Definitely a must read for any fans of New England.

I picked this one up because it reminded me of something that a good friend of mine would read. I learned so much about the French Revolution and Madame Tussaud (before she was called by that name). Who knew she was such a strong personality and savvy businesswoman?! It only increased my love for this period in historical fiction. A few of Moran's other books made it onto my Christmas list. I can't wait to dive in!

I hate to admit that I don't always finish the books that I start. I read the first two Millenium books years ago, and put down the third halfway through. I was inspired to re-read them this year, and boy am I glad that I finished the series. I'm saddened that we'll never be able to witness another great thriller by Stieg Larsson, but these books inspired me to look into similar Swedish crime authors.

It seems I had a thing for historical fiction books this year, since this is the fifth book on this list in that genre. This one makes it onto my favorite book covers list (to be published soon), and there was something about it that just got me. The writing was beyond beautiful, and the setting was close enough to home for me to feel some connection to it. Note to self: keep an eye out for more books on WWII. 

& An Honorable Mention

I also want to mention here the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. Although I didn't love the first book in the trilogy, the second was much more enthralling (and a little less cheesy). I'm eagerly awaiting the release of The Book of Life, which is set to be published on July 15th this year.