Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: One Day

Read: One Day by David Nicholls
Stars: Five

Drinking: Simply Lemonade with blueberry

I've been binge-reading all summer, most of the books very good, a lot of five-stars.  But none of them have left me quite as book-hungover as One Day. I'm not really sure why, but when I put it down after reading it pretty much in two days straight I was in a daze.

It is well written, very beautiful, and hauntingly relatable.  Nicholls take his trope - the tale of one day, July 15, for nearly 20 years - and expands beyond to tell two intertwined lives. Emma and Dexter are two twenty-somethings, then thirty-somethings trying to find their way in the world.  I found myself nodding in understanding more than once, especially in the first half of the book as Emma feels she is wasting her life and her university degree. I related less well to Dexter's partying and infamy, but I know the feeling of being surrounded by people yet feeling very lost and alone. We've all been there.

It's also love story, a romance, but not in a conventional way.  They make mistakes, life gets in the way, they are afraid. It reminds me very much of Love, Rosie - two good friends, obviously meant for each other, but lives keep getting in the way.

Although this book could easily fall under the "romantic chick-lit" category, there is much more to the story than just the romance. In fact, for a good portion of the book, Em and Dex are hardly friends, much less lovers. Dex spends much of his life drunk, high, and with an endless stream of women until it all comes crashing down. Em tries to find herself, only succeeding later than she intended to. Along the way there is so much life in them, so much exploring, and also years of failure and misery.  It's never perfect.  It's not always happy.  But in the end, it's life, with all the bruises and scars. I think that between the quality of the writing and the way Nicholls so accurately portrays what life really is like, that the book sucked me in.  I'm still not quite out.

One Day is not an uplifting novel.  Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes uncomfortable, yes. Like life itself, though, it is beautiful through. And the end leaves the reader with hope despite everything. I highly recommend it to all of us who are struggling still with our twenties or even thirties.  The world is out there and we will eventually make our way, even if not in the way we expected.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: A Memory of Light

Read: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Stars: Five

Drinking: Irish Breakfast Tea, Twinings

A Memory of Light is the final installment of The Wheel of Time.  I've been reading the series for 15 years, and it's hard to believe it's over.  The book is a long wrap-up of the series - we learn the fates of major and minor characters, a few characters come into their potential, and a few lingering mysteries are solved.  The final battle between the Dragon and the Dark One played out quite differently than I expected, but it was fantastic. The whole book was a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) farewell to characters that had become close friends. 

I'm in the process of going back and re-reading the series, now that I've finished the whole thing.  Jordan's brilliance is coming out in each book - events in the final installment are foreshadowed as far back as the first book!  Every time I re-read, I get more out of the series, and now that it is complete, I am noticing even more than ever.  Things that seemed strange or out of charcter are becoming suddenly clear (i.e. that character was evil all along! The evil plot is so clear now!).  I love a well written book or series that can be so new every time it is read.  Maybe I can never have the magical experience of reading it for the first time again, but I am enjoying the magic of uncovering secrets I never saw before.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Read: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Stars: Five

Drinking: English Afternoon Tea, Twinings

In this collection of short stories, published by Oxford University Press, the famous detective is outsmarted by The Woman, Irene Adler, discovers the secret of the five orange pips, and investigates the Red-Haired League.  Each adventure is narrated by Dr. Watson, Holmes' former flatmate and friend.  

If you haven't read any of Conan Doyle, you are missing out!  Even stories I had read before surprised me with Holmes' reasoning and deductions.  I like this Oxford edition because it includes detailed notes that really enhanced my understanding of the stories by explaining references to current events and terms that are no longer used.

Comparing the stories to the BBC's Sherlock TV show was also quite fun.  They manage to slip in a lot of details that I only realized while reading the stories. I am also amused that the short story involving Adler, "A Scandal in Bohemia," has been taken by fans to imply some sort of romantic attachment between her and Holmes.  While he admired her for outwitting him, there is no hint that Holmes was romantically attached to her, especially given the ending of the story.

I've always enjoyed Sherlock Holmes, so rereading the stories was very fun - I picked up some new nuances I hadn't noticed before.  I highly recommend any of Conan Doyle's Holmes stories (and BBC's Sherlock needs to get back on air. Seriously.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Fortress Europe

Read: Fortress Europe: Dispatches from a Gated Continent by Matthew Carr
Stars: Five

Drinking: Pinot Noir

Fortress Europe gives readers something they may never see: a view of Europe from the perspective of undocumented migrants trying to enter the continent. Carr looks at different entry points to Europe and between European countries.  He looks at how the Shengen agreement changed Europe's borders, and how it made some border countries into migrant traps.

Although Carr does his best to present his tale in an unbiased, journalistic nature, it is clear he feels sympathy for the migrants and see the border guards and European governments as antagonistic.  Many of the policies and officials quoted in the book are unguardedly racist and worried about the "darkening" of Europe by African, Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrants.  The stories Carr collected from migrants attempting to enter Europe, attempting to stay in Europe, or who had been deported from Europe, but were willing to try again, are haunting.

Fortress Europe was published in 2012, and it's message that Europe is becoming more racist, insular, and discriminatory against immigrants has only been highlighted by the recent murders in Athens.  The book is timely and important for anyone interested in international affairs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review: So Good They Can't Ignore You

Read: So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
Stars: Five

Drinking: Cranberry Blood Orange Rooibus, Bentley

I absolutely loved Newport's take on career advice.  This is not your ordinary book on how to find a job or how to break into an industry: this is about having a different mindset about careers.  Our generation - Generation Y - has been told all our lives to "follow your passion" or "do what you love."  We are floundering, however, in figuring out how to succeed with our passions.  Newport argues that it is skills, not passion, that create an atmosphere conducive to a great career that one loves.  It is a simple, but seems like a revolutionary concept: become skilled in something rare and valuable, then use those skills to leverage the life you want.

What I love most about the book is that Newport started from the same place most of us start - finishing a degree and wondering where to go with his career.  He decided to find out what it is that makes a compelling career - is it the conventional wisdom that we do something we are passionate about, or is there something else?  He interviewed people who have great careers - start ups, Harvard genetics research, Hollywood writing - and came up with a toolkit that anyone can use to build the career of their dreams.

The best part about the book is the end, when Newport takes his toolkit and applies it to himself.  He acknowledges that he has not yet reached his full potential, and in fact has somewhat backed away from it.  He lays out his plan for becoming even more skilled - developing rare and valuable talents in his field (computer science) and how his new job as a professor will allow him to do so.

I highly recommend this book to anyone - whether you feel adrift in your career, are unemployed, or have been in a satisfying career for years, there is something for everyone.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Reading Challenge Wrap- Up & 2013 Challenges

For 2012, I entered 3 challenges for which I would read a minimum of 28 books.  I read far more than 28 books this year, but I fell far short of the challenges!  For challenges this year, I read:

2012 TBR Challenge:
What Is The What by Dave Eggers
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler 

Sci-Fi Challenge:
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Agatha H & the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Foglio
Old Man's War by John Scalzi

War Through the Generations WWI Challenge:
One of Ours by Willa Cather
Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing

For 2013, I'm setting an equally ambitious goal, with 3 more challenges. This time, however, I'm going to try to be a bit more strategic about it!

Since my boyfriend is in love with Jane Austin, I'm hoping to read at least one of her books - I'm leaning towards Sense & Sensibility.  I'm also hoping to finish Northanger Abbey, which I think I've been working on for at least a year.  Also on my British challenge list:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (since BBC is making us wait for Series 3)
The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Casual Vacancy by Joanne Rowling
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (a re-read in anticipation of the miniseries!)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Professor & the Madman by Simon Winchester
Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I'm going to retry War Through the Generations' challenge, this time with Revolutionary War books at the Dip level:
1776 by David McCullough
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Finally, I'll be doing the 2013 Woman Challenge at Peek A Book at the Girls Power level -6-10 books.  Ideally, I will read books for this challenge that aren't overlapping with the above two!  Authors I'm planning to hit up:

Margaret Atwood
Octavia Butler
Doris Lessing
Phillipa Gregory

Are you doing any challenges for 2013?  Care to join me in any of these? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Alfred & Emily

Read: Alfred & Emily by Doris Lessing
Stars: Three

Drinking: Pumpkin Spice Chai, Twinings

Alfred & Emily reminded me a lot of Atonement.  In the first half, Lessing creates an alternate history for her parents in which World War I never occurs.  Instead, England slips into a long period of peace, in which Alfred and Emily never marry, although they are friends. Alfred is a farmer with a kind wife and two sons.  Emily is a successful nurse, then hostess, and finally supporter of education.  The strange alternate world that Lessing creates is almost more interesting than their lives - a Serbian rebellion and a longing for the young men of England to "have a good war" are just two of the details that appear.  It is an interested, but not necessarily satisfying, story.

The second half is a series of essays about Lessing's real parents, damaged by the first world war and jaded by the realities of living in Southern Africa. Emily, the socialite nurse, becomes a clingy, desperate mother.  Alfred is a farmer, but not the idyllic British farmer. Farming in Rhodesia is difficult, they have no training, and Alfred's wounds from the war have made him very ill.  Both spend most of their lives wishing for the time before the war.  Alfred wishes he could have died with his comrades at Passchendale.

The best essay is not about Lessing's parents, but about her brother, Harry.  Harry was on a ship in the Pacific that was sunk by the Japanese, but he survived to be an old man living in South Africa.  The entire second half of the book - their parent's lives since World War I - can be summed up by Harry's comment about his life after the ship sank" You see, Tigs, it's most of my life: I simply haven't been here at all."  Alfred and Emily hadn't been those people who survived Passchendale or had a lover shot down over the Channel. Those people were gone.  Lessing comes to terms with the absence of the people her parents really were through the alternate history she created for them, where ultimately, they are perhaps happier.

I enjoyed the book, but I'm not sure it really achieved Lessing's goal.  I think that perhaps if she had used a different format - a short introduction to her parent's lives, followed by the alternate history - it would  have been more effective.  The essay format does highlight the regrets of her parents and how the war affected them, but it is piecemeal.