Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December Wrap-Up

December has come and (almost) gone, and a new year is upon us! Before I start thinking about what I'll be reading in 2015, I thought I'd talk a bit about the books I read in the last month of 2014.

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga
The Sixteen Pleasures

This book was pretty in the middle for me. It follows a female book conservator in I think the 40s or 50s who travels to Italy after a massive flood damages many historical libraries. I heard about this one from one of Nancy Pearl's Books Lust books. It wasn't bad, and it didn't disappoint me, but I didn't really connect with it.

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor
A Prayer Journal

As an English and Religion double major, this book hits a lot of my interest points. It was really interesting seeing how O'Connor related to God, and chose to present that in her journal. I wasn't a fan of the intro; according to the back of the book he was a close friend of hers, but I didn't like how he seemed to be suggesting that O'Connor's journal was less of a sincere set of letters to God than another dramatized writing exercise of hers. No matter how well you know someone, I'm not sure you can ever make judgments or statements about someone else's faith. So that kind of soured it for me, and I wished I hadn't read the intro. The journal was very interesting though, but be forewarned that it is very very short, so I wouldn't buy this one unless, like me, it really hits your interests.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

I was pretty sure I would like this book and I was not disappointed. It was so fun to read, but it was sincere and very real. It tells the story of a man who has lost his family and has become a certified at-home caretaker. He starts to care for a teenage boy with muscular dystrophy, and it catalogs their relationship and growth together. The second half of the book consists of a road trip that brings on a cast of quirky characters, but it never feels cheesy or forced. I gave this book 5 stars on goodreads because it was such a pleasure to read.

The End of the Jews by Adam Mansbach
The End of the Jews

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It's one of the few books that I've bought in recent years without hearing anything about it beforehand. It just looked interesting and so I bought it. But then I was reluctant to read it. I finally picked it up and I'm glad I did. It has a similar feel to Zadie Smith's White Teeth in that it follows different members of a family and spans different generations, and focused on the issues of family, belonging, and identity. It was really well-written and I really think this book deserves to be talked about more.

Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs
Knit the Season (Friday Night Knitting Club, #3)

My grandma picked this up for me from a garage sale because she thought I had read the other books in this series. I actually haven't, but after reading the not-so-great reviews on goodreads I decided it would be best to read it right away and get it over with. And unfortunately I really did just want to get it over with. The characters were flat and at times, especially the males, unbelievable, and for a knitting book it didn't have too much to do with knitting. A good piece of knitting fiction makes you want to knit, and inspires you. This one did not, and I would avoid this read.

Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell
Etched on Me

This book was a little different than I expected. I picked it up because I love books about people in mental hospitals (I know, weird) and this book definitely has that element. I didn't realize that it is and LGBTQA book, so if that is something you're uncomfortable with I would avoid this book. Overall, I didn't absolutely love this book, and I've definitely read better books that deal with this subject matter, but this one did offer a unique perspective, and it wasn't predictable. It was compelling and I for the most part enjoyed reading it. I think this one is worth a read.

So, there was my December. I hope everyone had a fabulous reading year, and here's to another great one!

Find Me:
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Twitter: @RachelDoose
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Books I Read in 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Now we can all reflect on the fabulous books we read in 2014. For my list, prompt provided by The Broke and the Bookish, I will not be focusing on books that have been released this year because I don't read too many new releases (which is not too fun when it comes time to vote on the Goodreads awards and I realize I've only read one book out of all of the nominees).
Nonetheless, oldies are goodies, people, and I read some great books in 2014. Here are my top 10:

1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
White Teeth is an incredible book. I think it may be the only book that I read this year that has officially been added to my "favorites" shelf. The story of many characters in modern-day England, this novel gives voice to the experience of colonization. With one family a mix of white British and Jamaican, and another family Indian, these best friends all get a chance to talk about their place, or misplacement, in England.

2. Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Arcadia is an incredibly original novel. Essentially the story of a hippie commune that goes to crap, this book is not exactly a happy one, but it's really worth the read. It gives a vivid portrayal of a community that struggles to adhere to the ideals it was founded upon, and paints a striking portrait of human failure. I highly recommend this book.

3. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
A retelling of the biblical story of Dinah, this is a book that will really stick with you. It touches on everything from family dynamics to gender roles, and if you haven't picked up this highly popular book yet, I recommend you do in 2015.

4. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
I just finished this one and I loved reading it. It has that quick, addicting quality that you don't always find in Literary Fiction, and it again touches on a underrepresented topic. The novel consists of a main character, Ben, a man who has lost his family and has recently taken a class to become an in-home caretaker, and Trevor, a teenager with muscular dystrophy. Eventually they embark on a road trip. Heartbreaking but also really funny, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

5. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This book is really fun without giving you a bad aftertaste of bad writing or some other unsatisfying literary component. It tells the story of a Sheldon Cooper-like character falling in love, and it's highly enjoyable. This book made me laugh out loud, which basically never happens, and it's just a really sweet read. This one would make a good holiday gift.

6. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
SO SAD. So sad. If you want to be heartbroken read this book. But I love when a book breaks my heart because that means it really affected me. This is a quick, compelling read, that clearly packs an emotional punch.

7. Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers
This book is not for the faint at heart. I had to read this for a class where I understood about 25% of what was going on. It's so well-written, however, and it really made me think. It revolves around a group of people who are trying to build a computer that can successfully pass the exam for a Master's degree in Literature, it involves a lot of flashbacks and a lot of people who are not what you would call nice. This book isn't for everyone, but I have to say that I was really impressed with this novel.

8. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I was not expecting to like this book, but I have to say I really did. I knew nothing about the Dracula story except the fact that he is a vampire, but the book is so much more than that. It's told in a series of letters and diary entries, and it has a great cast of characters. If you're looking for a classic to try, I think this is a good one.

9. Listening is an Act of Love by Dave Isay
This is a book compiled by the Storycorps group, and organization whose mission is to preserve the history of America through the stories of real people. They have vans set up where a person and a loved one go in and get interview each other. They get a CD with the interview, and so does Storycorps. The book is a compilation of some particularly poignant stories, and I really loved reading it. If you, like most readers, are interested in people and how their lives have been shaped, give this book a read.

10. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
This title is pretty misleading but also entirely accurate. Set in a technology-laden future, this is the story of a pretty sad and pathetic main character and his love for a mean girl. It's also the story of the destruction of our society. It's bleak, but it's good.

So there you have it, the top 10 books I read this year. I hope 2015 yields even more great reads!

Find Me:
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/RachelDoose

Monday, December 1, 2014

What I've Read in the Past 3 Months (September/October/November Wrap-Up)

So, college happened, which means I didn't have much time to read, which means I didn't have much to write about. But, the glorious time that is Winter Break is soon upon us, and I expect to get a lot of reading done in those three weeks. Before that, I figured I should catch the blog up on what I read in September, October, and November. It isn't much, folks, it isn't much.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick, easy read that was also very complex. I appreciate Haddon's choice to present this sort of perspective to the reading world (the narrator is presumably autistic) and it was overall a good reading experience.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the d'Urbervilles  (Second Edition)

Ah, Tess. This book was different than I expected, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It's definitely a tragic tale, but I think it's worth reading. It's one of those books, however, that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but looking back on it it doesn't give me that satisfying "I really loved that book" feeling. I'm glad I read it, and would recommend it if you want to read more classics, but it's not a new favorite of mine.

Thinks... by David Lodge
Thinks . . .

I liked this book, but again, it's not one of my favorites. I wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but I had to read it for class (like most of these books) and overall it was an enjoyable reading experience. It made me want to keep reading, and I definitely got immersed in the story. An interesting read, especially if you have an interest in consciousness or the dualist/materialist debate.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula

I was not expecting to enjoy this book, and I kind of loved it. I didn't know anything about the Dracula story apart from the fact that Dracula is a vampire, but trust me, there is so much more to this novel. It revolves around way more than just Dracula, and Professor Van Helsing is now one of my favorite literary characters. I highly recommend this one.

Habibi by Craig Thompson
Habibi

This is the ONLY book I've had time to read for fun lately. One of my professors let me borrow it after I told her I had done a research project on Islamic calligraphy. The art in this book is stunning. The story itself is definitely gritty and a bit graphic, but I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Wrap-Up

August! You came and went so quickly. Here is what I read:

Mr. Wroe's Virgins by Jane Rogers

Mr. Wroe's Virgins

This is the first product-of-browsing-the-library book I've read in a looong time. On that particular library trip I decided I wanted to pick one book that was not on my TBR and try to return to the way I used to pick books, if only for a fraction of my reading. And this pick was a success! It was very interesting and beautifully written. The story surrounds a religious group, whose leader suddenly declares that he must pick seven virgins. Since Religion is one of my majors, this definitely sparked my interest. The book rotates between the perspectives of a few of the girls, and the author really did an amazing job of developing the voices of each character. The book wasn't perfect, but I enjoyed it. In the end I gave it 4 stars, and I would definitely read more books by Jane Rogers.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3)

This is the third book in Harkness' All Souls Trilogy, and I think it was pretty good. The first book, A Discovery of Witches, was amazing. The second book, Shadow of Night, was pretty terrible. The Book of Life was somewhere in the middle. Because I'm attached to the characters and the story, I enjoyed it. However, the book had problems. There were a lot of things that just weren't explained properly. I gave it four stars because I did enjoy it, but the four stars were mostly for the trilogy as a whole, and my attachment to the characters.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend

I finally finished this beast. This book was for class, and it is not a quick read at 800 pages. This is one of those books that I didn't love, but will probably grow fond of as we discuss it in class and I do multiple research and writing assignments about it.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway 

The Cellist of Sarajevo

This was a very interesting read, surrounding a topic that I knew nothing about. It's one of those imagined versions of a real situation books, and I think it was done very well. This is another rotating perspective novel, and it was a fast-paced read that covers a serious topic. I gave it four stars.


What am I reading right now?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 

The Goldfinch

This is a book I'm reading purely because of the hype. When I put it on hold at the library I didn't even know what it was about. I'm only about 60 pages in so far, but it is already pretty gripping.

Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers

Galatea 2.2

This is a read for a different class, and at first I thought I was really going to hate it. As we get farther into the book, however, I am liking it more and more.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

July Wrap-Up

What did I read in July? Not all that much, it feels like. Here's what I managed to get to:

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel
My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

If you have an interest in anxiety you will find this book interesting. It is not a manual on how to cope with anxiety; in fact I think it gave me more things to be anxious about. It was fascinating nonetheless.

Listening is an Act of Love edited by Dave Isay
Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project

Despite the self-help-esque title, this is actually a compilation of true stories recorded by everyday Americans through the Stopycorps project. I highly recommend this to anyone. It is so moving, and it reminds us that everyone has a story to tell.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Ghost World

The description or blurb (I can't remember which) of this graphic novel claims that it is one of the most accurate depictions of young people. Which I found funny because I did not relate to the characters at all. It was depressing without being moving, the characters were extremely annoying, and I just didn't get it.

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Saving Francesca

I liked this book. I probably would have enjoyed it more a few years ago, when I was still a fairly frequent YA reader, but this book had the same feeling of some of the books I used to love reading, and it didn't make me roll my eyes, at least that I can remember.

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

I saw this on the shelf at the library and had to revisit it. Calvin and Hobbes actually aren't my favorite comic strip (that would be a tie between Mutts and Zits), but I really enjoy reading these collections.

I also got about halfway through Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. This is a book I have to read for class. I have kind of a so-so opinion of Dickens. I've previously read Great Expectations, and now that I've read that and half of OMF, from what I can tell I generally enjoy reading Dickens in that it is not a painful experience. For a classic the writing is smooth and quick-moving, despite the fact that Dickens does not write short books. But I won't be rushing to pick any of his work up for my own enjoyment, although eventually I would like to read more of his work.

Our Mutual Friend

For August I'll be focusing on finishing up OMF, and I am also picking up The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness tomorrow, so I should be finishing that one up since it's a library copy.


Monday, June 30, 2014

June Wrap-Up

June is over, and I read quite a bit this month! Here are the books I read in June:

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility

My first Jane Austen! Now when I watch The Jane Austen Book Club for the 50th time I'll know what they're talking about for at least a section of the movie. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I'm glad I finally broke the ice with Miss Austen. It did drag at some points, but I think that's because I watched the movie right before I started reading it. 4 out of 5 stars.

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You

This book was so good. It was very sad, very original, and very addicting. If you're looking for any or all of those aspects in a book, please read this one. 5 out of 5 stars.

3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden

There are a couple of books I had as a kid that I just couldn't get into, and which I want to try to read now that I have a greater attention span. The Secret Garden is one of those books. I enjoyed the story and its message, and it's one that I'm sure I'll read to my children. It's not quite a favorite, though. 4 out of 5 stars.

4. Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day (Every Day #1)

This was an interesting read. I liked that the main character was flawed, and the original story line. Thinking about it now, though, I can't even remember how it ends. So I did enjoy it at the time (I gave it 4 out of 5 stars) but for me personally it didn't strike a particular cord.

5. The Believers by Zoe Heller

The Believers

This book was just ok for me. The pacing was a bit off, and, to put it bluntly, it felt like a poor man's White Teeth. I found the religious aspect interesting, but I just hated some of the characters, and it really didn't do anything special for me. 3 out of 5 stars.

6. My Antonia by Willa Cather

My √Āntonia

I was a bit disappointed in My Antonia, which is a bit scary to say since it's her most famous novel. Part of it may be that I picked it up at the wrong time. However, what makes me more comfortable in my assessment is that I've read Cather before. I read O, Pioneers! at the end of last year and absolutely loved it. It was a 5 star read for me. My Antonia, however, was a bit boring, and I didn't like the main character Jim. 3 out of 5 stars.

7. The Bear by Claire Cameron

The Bear

I couldn't decide if this was a 3 or 4 star book, and I'm still wavering. I ended up giving it 4. It was very compelling, and I read it in two days. I didn't love it, but I think it's worth a read.

I am currently reading My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel, which so far is a very interesting nonfiction read, especially for someone who suffers from anxiety. After that I think I will move on to Lisey's Story by Stephen King. 

I hope June was a great month for everyone, and that July holds some great reads!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I Renewed my Library Card!

Hello!

Yesterday was an exciting day: I renewed my library card! Not only that, but I went to the (non-academic) library for the first time in probably about a year. I'm a student, and my freshman year my friend and I got temporary cards at the local library. Eventually school caught up with me, though, and I probably went three semesters without going back, and by that time my card had expired anyway. Now that I'm living in my college town for the summer though, I finally went back to the library and got my card renewed. And it was so fun! I had planned on trying to read the books I own this summer, but after staring at the same twenty-odd books for a while, things start to get dull. My little trip to the library made me realize how exciting and refreshing it is to have access to all kinds of new books. And there's no shame: you didn't spend a penny. Here's what I picked up this trip:


All of these books were on my Goodreads TBR, because I'm determined to gradually reduce that, and I'm really excited to read them. I highly recommend revisiting the option of your local library. They're great assets to the community, and it's a great way to give books a try with no risks involved. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Book Cover Trends I Like/Dislike

Hello!

I'm participating in my first Top 10 Tuesday, a book blog meme created by http://www.brokeandbookish.com/ ! It's all sorts of fun, so I'm excited. This week's theme is book cover trends. I'm choosing to break this up into two Top 5 lists, one for my favorite book cover trends, and one for the trends I absolutely hate.
Let's start with the bad:

Top 5 Trends I Hate

1. Thin White Girl with Perfect Hair
The Last ForeverThe Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer, #1)

Listen, everyone is self-conscious. Especially young men and women in the middle school to college age range. And we really don't need another source of media telling us how we are supposed to look, or telling us that happy endings happen only to beautiful people. I'm not saying it's a crime to be beautiful; I'm saying that book covers like these, and many of the ones also pictured below in other categories, tend to make readers feel excluded. And we really don't need any more of that in the world. And note to publishers: Just because you don't show the face does not mean that it is not exclusive! Also, the backs of heads are not that interesting.

2. Dramatic Ball Gown
Unearthly (Unearthly, #1)The Elite (The Selection, #2)

LOOK AT MY LONG DRESS AND FORLORN FACIAL EXPRESSION! I think this trend is finally on it's way to dying out. These types of covers just strike me as incredibly cheesy and unnecessary, and I think the publishing world is starting to get the message that no one likes them.

3. Dat Kitchen Object Tho
The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking SchoolA Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table

These covers bore me to no end. I don't care if it's a book about food. There are so many more interesting and dynamic ways to convey this theme. I don't think publishers give the masses enough credit; if more cover designers thought more artistically and less literally, I think we'd all get a lot more enjoyment out of book covers. (Keep reading to see the Top 5 Trends I Like for peeps doing book covers right!)

4. Foot Fetish
Honey, Baby, SweetheartIt Happened One Wedding (FBI / US Attorney, #5)

Why are there so many feet and shoes in the book world? I just don't understand. And a general theme you'll see in all my dislikes: I wish we used more graphic design, original artwork, illustration, and thoughtful photography on book covers, rather than this generic photography that we see so much.

5. Romantic Embrace of Two Perfect Humans
    (See also: Thin White Girl with Perfect Hair)
He + SheBiggest Flirts (Superlatives, #1)

Again, this is just so exclusive, not to mention cheesy and not that interesting (Ouch, I am on a roll). I think as readers we are all capable of imagining what characters look like. In fact, imagining the people and the setting of a book is one of the greatest things about reading; each reader brings their own perspective and imagination to the process. Publishers, please don't take that away from us, and especially don't make us feel like crap about ourselves in the process. Thanks, Love ya

And now, drum roll please:

Top 5 Trends I Love

1. Typography
This is Where I Leave YouThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Who doesn't love a great font? Especially book people. We love words, and love them more when they're pretty or interesting. I love this trend and hope it continues to evolve.

2. Creative Illustration/Artwork
The Patron Saint of UglyThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

These two covers are great examples of illustration and art meeting book design.

3.  Bright and Colorful
The VacationersThe Interestings

Humans are attracted to bright objects. I don't know if that is scientifically true, but it sounds right. And I sure am attracted to these books that use color beautifully.

4. Artistic Rendition of an Animal
Vacationland

Not only do these book bring in an illustration/art element, but they feature animals! Why that draws me in, I don't know, but these covers are a success. It also doesn't hurt that they feature a great use of typography.

5. Combo Plate (Great Font, Eye-catching, These Books Have it All)
Euphoria
Quesadillas
























These are just two fantastic book covers. They are colorful, they use cool fonts, and they are just really well-designed and original. Kudos, book world.


Well, there you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly of book covers. What are some of your favorites and least favorites?

My goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8900562-rachel
My Twitter: https://twitter.com/RachelDoose

*I got all images from goodreads.com