Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Yes, I'm aware that this cover is hideous. But after discovering that ALL THREE copies we have of this at work are abridged, I had to resort to the free Kindle version...

My first exposure to this book came at the age of ten or eleven. Somehow, I got my grubby little hands on a Dickens omnibus, and I slogged my way through A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and half of this before I left it at a friend's house in England, only to be reclaimed four years later.

So when it came time to assemble my Classics Club list, it seemed appropriate that I should put this on there. And for the most part, I found it enjoyable if not especially Dickensian.

Set during the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities is a lot more serious than the other Dickens books I've read. Which isn't to say that other Dickens books aren't serious. Many of them are! But there's usually SOME element of comic relief to the story, one or two utterly ridiculous characters who provide the reader with a few moments to come up for air before diving back into the depths of opium addiction or child abuse or debtors prison or traipsing barefoot across the moors in fifteen feet of snow or whatever other horrors Dickens put his characters through.

Dickens apparently considered this his best work, and while I'm not entirely convinced I agree, it's definitely a fabulously written book that tells a compelling story. Admittedly, it took me a while to get into things, but once I did, it was full steam ahead.

I think what's most fascinating to me where A Tale of Two Cities is concerned is that it's historical fiction. There's a great tendency, I think, to consider historical fiction a product of the twentieth century. But here, Dickens is writing about events that happened some 80-odd years earlier. This is the French Revolution seen through nineteenth century eyes. This is, in effect, the French Revolution as we view the World Wars today. And that gave me a new appreciation for the story.

Having studied the French Revolution in high school, the story made far more sense to me this time than it did at the age of 10. (Shocker, right??) The villains are spectacularly villainy. The heroes are long suffering and make sacrifices to save those they love. It's a story almost entirely free of side plots, which must have just about killed Dickens to do, because the man really does love a good side plot (not to be confused with Victor Hugo, who loved a good 100 page tangent). And it's a story full of some of the most amazing quotes to come out of nineteenth century literature.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TTT - Diverse Books

Time to link up with The Broke and the Bookish again!

I wasn't planning on participating in Top Ten Tuesday this week. But when I saw what the topic was? How could I resist??

For those of you who aren't regular followers, this year I'm reading a diverse book every week and vlogging about it on my Youtube channel. So obviously, I have a lot of diverse books that I want to shout about from the rooftops!

All the books I'm reading for my challenge have diverse protagonists. It's one thing to have diverse characters in a book, it's another entirely to tell it from the PERSPECTIVE of a diverse character. In a lot of ways, I feel like young adult novels are doing diversity reasonably well. There are an increasing number of books featuring not just sassy gay/black/Latino best friends, but characters who are transgender, who are intersex, who have a disability, who are mixed race, who have mental health problems or eating disorders, or who are diverse in multiple ways.

Really, it's adult books that are failing where diversity is concerned. And it would be great if there were more diverse young adult books in the spotlight that AREN'T set in the US...

ANYWAY. Here's my list.

1. Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli

As I've told the girls at school with disturbing regularity, this is the best book I've read so far this year. It deals really well with a teenage boy struggling with his sexuality and coming out, not only to his family but to his friends and the wider school community.

2. The Wrath and the Dawn - Renee Ahdieh

I absolutely adored this retelling of The Arabian Nights. All the characters are people of colour, the culture shines through brilliantly, and basically this book made me really hungry because it talks about food so much.

3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Saenz

One of the best books I read last year. It's the story of two Mexican-American teenage boys growing up in the 1980s, and discovering that maybe there's more to their relationship than just friendship. Astonishingly beautiful from start to finish.

4. The Shattering - Karen Healey

Set on the south island of New Zealand, this book is told from the perspective of three teenagers. One's Maori and a lesbian, one's Samoan, and while the other is straight and Pakeha (of European descent), she's dyslexic. It's a fabulous book, not only because of its diversity, but because the story essentially fits into multiple genres. It's contemporary but also a crime story but also there's magic involved??

5. None of the Above - I.W. Gregorio

A teenage girl sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time, and as a result of massive pain, learns that she's intersex. This has a massive impact on her relationship, her friendships, the way she's seen at school and, potentially, her future as she's got an athletics scholarship to university that might be compromised by her intersex status. It was feels-tastic and absolutely brilliant.

6. People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

This book starts with an Australian paper conservator being summoned to Bosnia by the UN to examine and preserve the Sarajevo Haggadah. The rest of the story takes us back through time, telling the stories of the people all over Europe who created and transported the Haggadah, keeping it safe across the centuries. The vast majority of these people, including Hannah, are Jewish though there are also some fabulous Muslim characters.

7. Two Boys Kissing - David Levithan

Oh, please. Like you could make a list of diverse books and not include at least one by David Levithan. I cried four times reading this book, and it's only two hundred pages. I know the narration - a Greek chorus of the dead of the AIDS generation - doesn't work for everyone, but I absolutely adored it. And I loved the diversity WITHIN the seven or eight main characters. Sure, they're all gay, but there are a range of different ethnicities involved, and one of the characters is transgender.

8. Laurinda - Alice Pung

Set in Melbourne, this is the story of a teenage girl who wins a scholarship to a snooty private school and really struggles to come to terms with the two halves of her identity - the scholarship girl struggling to make friends in a new environment, and the rough-as-guts western suburbs girl who came to Australia by boat and who knows exactly where she fits in. Not always an easy read, but an important one.

9. Not Otherwise Specified - Hannah Moskowitz

A lot of reviews on Goodreads talk about how grating and awful the main character is in this book. But personally? I loved Etta. She's African-American, bisexual, and has an eating disorder. And all she wants is to be a dancer and leave Nebraska. Not necessarily in that order. I loved how open Etta is about her sexuality, how well the issue of food was dealt with in the story, how Etta's told that her body type will prevent her from achieving her dreams but she keeps on fighting. Basically, it was great.

10. Stormdancer - Jay Kristoff

A steampunk story set in Shoganate Japan with nothing but diverse characters? Uh, YES PLEASE. It took me a while to get into this one, because the world building was sort of...scattered?? And Kristoff's writing is very heavy on the descriptions. But I really loved the world and the characters that Kristoff created. Plus, how can you pass up a sassy, scene-stealing griffin??

What's on your list this week?

K xx

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

TTT - Recently Acquired Books

It's been a while since I've participated in Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish. But this topic is one that's simple enough that I don't have to think too hard about the list and therefore doesn't strain my brain too much when I'm in a post-work, currently-coughing-up-a-lung state of zombieness.

So. Let's get to it!

1. Hidden Huntress - Danielle Jensen

This one arrived in an order at work last week, and I've been wanting to read it for aaaaaaaaaaages so obviously I snaffled it from the new books display this morning before the kids could see it mwahahahaha.

2. Pretty Girls - Karin Slaughter

I had no idea that Karin Slaughter even had a new book coming out, so I was pretty damned excited when Kim started raving about how awesome it was on Facebook the other day. And I bought it on my Kindle immediately.

3. Scarlet in the Snow - Sophie Masson

I stumbled across this one at work last week, and seeing as one of the topics for the Aussie YA Book Bloggers Book Club Challenge is to read a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it seemed like it was fate!

4. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

I'm reading this one for Classics Club, and initially I'd borrowed a copy from work. But it turned out to be an abridged edition - we have several editions, and they're ALL abridged - so I had to go with the free Kindle edition instead, even though it has a HORRIBLE cover.

5. P.S. I Still Love You - Jenny Han

I wasn't the biggest fan of To All The Boys I've Loved Before, but the Kindle edition of this wasn't very expensive so I figured I may as well get it and see how the story finishes!

6. Vicious - V.E. Schwab

I've heard so many amazing things about this one, and when I saw that the Kindle edition was less than $5, I figured I'd give it a shot.

7. An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

I've just started this one, and it's another one that I snaffled basically as soon as it arrived in the order at work. I'm totally late to the party because this one was hype-central a few months back. So I'm interested to see how I feel about it!

8. To Hold the Bridge - Garth Nix

I think this is the most recent book I've bought in physical form, and that was probably a month ago. I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but I'm pretty excited about a new Old Kingdom story, along with a bunch of other Garth Nix awesomeness.

9. 99 Days - Katie Cotugno

I'm a little hesitant about reading this one because I've heard mixed things and it soooort of seems like the type of story that will send me into a rage spiral. But, you know, the Kindle edition was cheap, so........

10. Kissing in America - Margo Rabb

I finished this yesterday and absolutely loved it, though the title is totally full of lies - it's not a contemporary romance. It's the story of a girl coming to terms with the grief she feels over her father's death two years earlier. And it was great.

What have you acquired recently?

K xx

Monday, July 13, 2015

Virgil - The Aeneid

Another book crossed off my Classics Club list, and this one was another CLASSIC classic. I'd heard a lot of amazing things about this book, most of them from my little brother, who did Latin all through high school and is still a big fan of Greek and Roman literature.

First things first: this is basically fan fiction. Virgil wrote it at a time when Rome was in upheaval, and this legitimises not only the origins of Rome, but the reign of Julius Caesar and, by extension, Augustus who was emperor at the time Virgil was writing. So yeah. It's basically rewriting Roman history to authenticate it and give it a basis in the existing history of the classical world as it was known at the time.

In The Aeneid, Virgil takes a minor character from The Iliad whose fate is ambiguous. He has him lead a party of Trojans away from Troy as it falls, and they travel across the Aegean and around Sicily to Carthage before heading up into Italy and fighting a series of wars to claim their homeland and found Rome. Virgil died before finishing the poem, so it finishes in the middle of a series of wars, prior to the founding of Rome.

I...had mixed feelings about this. I really loved the initial books, the story of Aeneas and his family trying to get out of Troy, the story of the Trojan horse, the story of their flight across the Aegean to Carthage. All of that was really compelling stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even enjoyed the slightly weird sixth book where Aeneas visits the Underworld and his dead father gives him a prophecy about Rome's future.

But then the second half of the story is battle after battle after battle. We get introduced to character after character just before they die in horribly graphic ways, interspersed with discussions from the gods about what's going on and debates about who should marry who to end the wars. And uuuuuuuugh.

Honestly, it doesn't surprise me that I felt this way. The first half of the story follows the style of The Odyssey, which I very much enjoyed. The second half is more like The Iliad, which I found to be kiiiiiind of a repetitive snorefest.

I ended up giving The Aeneid three stars. Like I said, I very much enjoyed the beginning of it but by the end? I kind of just wanted it to be over. And then it ended all too abruptly. Sigh.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June reading wrap up

So. July is a thing that's happening now. WHERE IS THIS YEAR GOING OH MY GOD.

Books read: 35. I need to stop. This is getting utterly ridiculous.
New vs rereads: 21 new books versus 14 rereads. So much for keeping things balanced........
Most read genre: CONTEMPORARY. Good Lord, I read a lot of contemporary books in June.

Favourite book: Fairwil by Alysia Gray Painter, which I suspect comes as no surprise to anybody who's been around here for any length of time. But really, there was a pretty narrow margin between Fairwil and a few other books this month. I read SIX five star books in June. SIX!!! That's unheard of.
Least favourite book: Buffy the Vampire Slayer S8 V7 - Twilight by Brad Meltzer. It was a trainwreck and a half.
Favourite cover: Probably The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. I love the depth to it.

Diverse Books Project: It's going pretty well at the moment! Although I do really need to branch out and read more books with male protagonists...

In June, I ended up reading 3 graphic novels, 3 non-fiction books, and 29 novels. There are links to all my Goodreads reviews below!

None of the AboveFairwil: Wilfair Book 4All the RageThe Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn, #1)Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation WhyVanity Fair
5 stars: None of the Above | Fairwil | All the Rage | The Wrath and the Dawn | Ms Marvel Vol 2: Generation Why | Vanity Fair

Hawkeye, Vol. 2: Little HitsLove is the Higher LawOpen Road SummerThe Start of Me and YouPeople Of The BookPrisoner of Night and Fog (Prisoner of Night and Fog, #1)The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyThe Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)
4 stars: Hawkeye Vol 2: Little Hits | Love is the Higher Law | Open Road Summer | The Start of Me and You | People of the Book | Prisoner of Night and Fog | The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly | The Infinite Sea

3.75 stars: Scarlet

Thud! (Discworld, #34; City Watch #7)The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London, #3)The Boy's Own Manual to Being a Proper JewRethinking Normal: A Memoir in TransitionThe Full Montezuma: Around Central America And The Carribbean With The Girl Next DoorUnder the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates
3.5 stars: Thud | The Shadow Cabinet | The Boy's Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew | Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition | The Full Montezuma: Around Central America and the Caribbean With the Girl Next Door | Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

The Mummy CaseSpell Bound (Women of the Otherworld, #12)The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksCalypso SummerBlindsided (Transparent)The Penguin Who Knew Too Much (Meg Langslow #8)
3 stars: The Mummy Case | Spell Bound | The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks | Calypso Summer | Blindsided | The Penguin Who Knew Too Much

Strange and Ever After (Something Strange and Deadly, #3)Life After TheftReliquary (Pendergast, #2)Full Speed (Full, #3)Maybe Someday (Maybe, #1)Definitely Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, #6)
2.5 stars: Strange and Ever After | Life After Theft | Reliquary | Full Speed | Maybe Someday | Definitely Dead

The Toyminator
2 stars: The Toyminator

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Twilight (Season 8, #7)
1 star: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8: Twilight

What did you read in June?

K xx
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