Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Page #: 486
Name and # of Series: Book 1 in El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados

Book Blurb: Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Juli├ín Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

It's not a coincidence that this book is my very first blog review. The minute that I started reading it I just knew that I had to talk about it to anyone and everyone that would listen. The Shadow of the Wind wholly deserves the 5 star rating that I gave it and maybe bonus points for being so much better than I expected when I bought the book.

It has been quite a long time since I've read such an amazing adult novel and it's a refreshing change from the disappointing adult books I've read of late. The concept drew me in immediately because who doesn't want to read a book about characters whose lives are also affected by the written word. Not to mention the fact that the edition I own has a cover and spine printed to look like an old leather bound book, which is AWESOME and got my attention the moment I saw it.

The prose is wonderfully written and has such great description, which is completely shocking considering this was translated from Spanish. Normally some books lose their quality in translation, so I think we should all give props to the translator, Lucia Graves. In my mind I could completely envision post war Barcelona and I desperately wished that The Cemetery of Forgotten Books (the title of the series for all those who don't understand Spanish) actually existed.

In addition to the beautiful writing style, this book is full of perfect lines that make memorable quotes. For example on page 484 Daniel recalls something Bea (his romantic interest and best friend's sister) said: "Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day."

How completely true and amazing is that?!!?!?!?!

As for the tempo and plot of the book, it isn't fast-paced. In any other book that would be an aspect that I would complain about for hours, but here it completely works. The story never gets stagnant; it just skillfully and delicately unfolds. Had this been a plot driven book about Daniel discovering the mystery of Julian Carax's past, I don't think I would have enjoyed it quite so much.

Another aspect that firmly plants this book in the 5 star category is Daniel's point of view/narration. What Zafron did perfectly was give his character a unique voice that made him engaging and relatable. I don't know about you, but I could see a little of myself in Daniel and I bet other book lovers will as well. Not the whole navigating the transition from child to teenage boy (which was great character development by the way), but discovering a book and possessing the need to know more about the author. When I was in elementary school, I discovered a love of Roald Dahl and by the time I hit middle school I had to know more about the author whose words gave me so much entertainment, so I read his biographies Boy and Going Solo. The same goes for Agatha Christie, only I went farther by choosing her life as the topic of my 9th grade research paper. This similarity was what kept me so interested in Daniel's story and Julian's for that matter...which brings me to my next point.

I loved the subtle similarities between Daniel and Julian. From their difficult romantic relationships and the threat of being drafted into the army right down to them both possessing the same exact pen their lives seem to mirror each other. Their relationship is more than just a reader obsessed with a mysterious author.

By the time I reached the end of the book I realized that I was interested in more than just the gothic toned mystery of Julian's life and the burning of his books. I cared about the numerous characters and how their lives progressed, thus proving again that fantastic books are character driven with an intriguing plotline to back it up.

As soon as I can I will most definitely be picking up the sequels to The Shadow of the Wind and reading them as fast as possible. I highly recommend that you read this book. You won't regret it.

End of August Updates!

Hello! I dragged my sunburnt and exhausted self back to my computer for a few minutes to give you some updates on how this blog is moving forward.

I few posts back I was considering doing some full length book reviews for this blog rather than forcing you to go to Goodreads and now that possibility has turned into an awesome reality. If you look on the left side of the page and scroll down just a tad you'll notice my brand new rating system. This is the system that I will refer to in my future reviews. Should you wonder what those random colored stars mean, that rating system will always be there for your reference.

I've recently finished two books over the course of the past week and I have plans to write reviews for the both of them. I won't reveal the titles just yet, but keep a lookout for those in the coming weeks.

How about we switch gears again. In another past post I hinted that I was considering doing an additional Watch-a-thon because I enjoyed the past one immensely. I've decided to carry through with that plan!! For all those wondering the next book that I will commit to watching all of the adaptions is..........Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

That really wasn't much of a surprise was it? I LOVE this book and over the years I've tried to watch all of the movie adaptions released. Like Pride and Prejudice I have my favorite adaptions and my not so favorite adaptions. I've just never taken the time to figure out exactly why I like or dislike an adaption. The only difference is that I won't be able to quickly release all of my reviews like the last time. I don't have all of that summer free time nor do I have every adaption readily available. Despite those setbacks there will be reviews released sporadically throughout the coming months. I'd like to think of them as random surprises.

Well that's all I have for today. Look out for those reviews and as always, Best Wishes.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Used Book Haul #3

Surprise! I got in one last book shopping trip before heading back to college and I found a whole bunch of amazing books...which means that I won't be able to do a Murder Mystery Monday post.

 As a side note if you have been following my Goodreads, you've probably noticed I haven't been doing much reading as of late and that would be due to my video game addiction kicking in. I morphed into my weird teenage boy persona when I got my hands on a copy of Saints Row 4. For 3 days straight I basically played that game. I was determined to beat it before going to college on Monday and I did. Now I've come back to reality and the mound of packing I still have left to do.

For all those wondering, yes you should pick up a copy of Saints Row 4. It was SO AMAZING!!! The fourth installment of the franchise completely redeemed itself and helped ease the pain of the poor quality of Saints Row 3.

Back to the book haul. Here is what I picked up a couple of days ago.

Agatha Christie Omnibus: I came across this and immediately snapped it up because I haven't read A Pocket Full of Rye nor do I own a copy. The rest of the stories included I've previously read and own. The thing about my Agatha Christie love is that I refuse to pay full price for her books. They have gone through so many reprints that I can always find at least one copy of anything she has written in every used book store.

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak: When I read this book for the first time I completely and utterly fell in love with it. The story was so inventive and captivating and I couldn't put it down. Sadly, that was a library copy and I've always wanted to own the book since then. I never got around to buying it at a bookstore and when I saw this used copy I snatched it up. I'm planning on rereading this book sometime soon because I want to relive the awesomeness. A movie adaption of this book is already in the works and I'm crossing my fingers that they don't ruin it. A teaser trailer is already out, but it's so disappointingly vague that I refuse to make any judgments on the movie just yet. If you haven't read this book you need to drop whatever you're doing and read it.

Sweep by Cate Tiernan: I'm always happy when publishers decide to make an omnibus of a series because they are cheaper than actually buying every single book. The blurb of this series sounded interesting, so I grabbed this copy. Hopefully it will turn out to be a great series.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron: The spine of this book actually caught my eye when I saw it (further proof that cover and spine art are incredibly important). I read the blurb and immediately wanted to start reading it did. I'm about 150 or so pages in and this might actually be the book that I do my first real review of.

 The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon: Not a whole lot to say about this book. The blurb sounded interesting and I bought it.

Daphne Du Maurier Omnibus: For years now I have been wanting to read Rebecca and I was completely willing to pay full bookstore price, but the Barnes and Noble near my house never carried a copy. I can't wait to see how good it is with the added bonus of being able to read more of Du Maurier's writing when I'm done.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: I've heard nothing but great things about this book and I'm a bit ashamed that I haven't read it sooner. My friends have been raving about the series and I can't wait to see what all the hype is about. On the bright side I can immediately pick up the sequel if this turns out to be great.

Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan: I've always been a fan of Duncan's work since middle school and that love is still strong well into college. This is a title I haven't read yet and I just know it will make for a nice afternoon read.

Well that's it for my haul. I hope some of these titles intrigued you like they did me. I'm off to update my TBR pile. Best Wishes!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Murder Mystery Monday #4

Shocked? I actually managed to read another mystery before today and that means it'll be a good week.  If you remember I was part of the way through Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie when my Summer Read-a-thon challenge. I decided to finish the rest of it and talk about it for this Mondays post.

Quick Summary: Hercule Poirot encounters a man named Mr. Shaitana who tells Poirot that he collects interesting objects, a few that in the same line of work as Poirot. Those particular rare "objects" that he is referring to are people who have managed to get away with murder. Shaitana invites Poirot to a party where Shaitana plans to show him the murderers who got away with their crimes. Poirot arrives and discovers that in addition to the four murderers, Shaitana has invited Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Battle, and Colonel Race, all sleuths in their own right. As the evening progresses, Shaitana arranges two bridge games: one with the sleuths and another with the murderers. Then he leaves the sleuths and stays in the same room as the murderers. When Poirot and the other players wrap up their game, they go to check on the other bridge game only to discover that Shaitana has been stabbed and is now dead. The four sleuths work together to determine which of the murderers has decided to take another life and in order to do that they must look into the pasts of the murderers.

This book intrigued me because I've read on a number of occasions that this particular case was Poirot's favorite and I finally figured out why. As Agatha Christie mentions in the preface, this is a purely psychological murder. With barely any physical evidence and no eye witness, Poirot insists that the murderer of Shaitana would have committed it in the same way as they had in the past. This book is also unique in that it only has 4 suspects, but despite that Christie keeps you confused over who really killed Shaitana. In fact I suspected one person from the get go and was convinced to suspect another person only to have it turn out that my first instinct was completely correct.

To continue on the topic that I discussed in my last Mystery Monday post I am even more convinced that Ariadne is actually Agatha Christie herself. In this book readers learn that Ariadne has a finnish detective character named Sven. Ariadne talks about how she doesn't quite appreciate her character and regrets making him foreign without knowing much about his culture. I have to wonder if this is how Christie feels about Hercule.

My one problem with the book has to be the fact that Shaitana is referred to again and again and again as having a Mephistophelian look about him. I got the allusion the first time and I didn't need it repeated throughout the story. I'd like to think it would be even more annoying for readers who haven't read Faustus.

This book has a movie adaption starring David Suchet that does vary quite a bit from the original plotline. While the murderer and the death of Shaitana are the same, some of the characters names and backgrounds have changed. Despite the fact that it does differ from the book, it was an enjoyable movie.

This was a quick read and I highly suggest that you check it out the next time you're looking to read a good mystery novel

Changing topics quickly, in these last few days before my sad and inevitable return to college I will be trying to read a few more books so that I have something interesting to discuss that isn't Chaucer, D.H. Lawrence, or the Romantic poets. My goal is to make sure that I read another mystery novel before next Monday rolls around and write up my fifth Murder Mystery Monday post. I'm also considering starting up another watch-a-thon, but more on that later on in the week.

Also you may have noticed that I'm currently reading another Agatha Christie book that won't be in one of my Murder Mystery Posts. The surprising reason for that is because The Golden Ball and Other Stories isn't a mystery short story collection. Some of them have a romantic tone to them while others show off Christie's ability to dabble in the supernatural genre. I'm really enjoying this new side of my favorite author and I wish that she had written a full length novel in the supernatural genre.

In other mystery news, did any of you catch the season finale of Whodunnit? That would be the show that I recommended a week ago. I wont spoil it for those who haven't had a chance to see it, but I found the ending to be incredibly disappointing. Maybe it was because I was rooting for an underdog to win, not the annoying and conniving prick that did win. Even with the crappy finale, I still hope that this show can come back for a second season.

If you are bored in these last few moments of summer I highly suggest that you check out these two books or if you are in the mood to play some video games you should look into those based on Christie's books.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 7 & Wrap Up

Well it looks like we made it. A week of reading has finally passed and I can say I'm no worse for the wear. I managed to finish 5 books that I wouldn't have normally read this quickly under different circumstances. While I didn't enjoy all of the books I read, I'm just glad to get them out of my TBR pile.

Now on to todays page counts. I finally finished Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie, which adds 96 pages to my total and brings it up to 1425 pages. I forgot to mention this in my Murder Mystery Monday post but for all those interested in the different adaptions of the book there is a fun hidden object game based on the story with the same title and there is currently a movie adaption starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot (I can't tell you how it is because I refuse to watch it. Ustinov is a terrible Poirot). For all those like myself who see David Suchet as the one and only Poirot, there will be an adaption of Dead Man's Folly starring him which is slated to be released sometime this year. I just wish they would hurry up and release it already.

Moving on. After that I picked up the book Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie and managed to read 60 pages.
 Factoring in those last few pages my final total for the entire Summer Read-a-thon challenge is..... 1485 pages!!

Now that this week is finally behind me I will sadly have to face reality and read my other summer reading book (not the fun kind, the college kind sigh). Maybe just one more Downton Abbey episode before then... :)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Murder Mystery Monday #3

I'm taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming (reading of course) to bring you my next installment in my Murder Mystery Mondays as promised. I was planning on discussing two books today, but sadly I am only about halfway through the book I was intending to present. but have no fear. This will still be a double Mystery Monday. How about I start off with the book I've been reading for the past two days or so and that is Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie. As usual I will provide a quick synopsis for those who haven't read the book and I promise no spoilers.

The premise of this book is Sir George Stubbs is putting on a fete at Nasse Hall, where one of the attractions will be a murder hunt organized by the wonderful mystery writer and friend of Poirot named Ariadne Oliver. The only problem is that is the process of organizing the hunt, Mrs. Oliver has the sinking feeling that an actual murder might occur. Acting on her instincts she calls in Poirot under the pretense of handing out the prizes for the hunt. When the designated victim of the hunt, Marlene Tucker, is actually murdered and Sir George's wife Hattie Stubbs has gone missing it's up to Poirot to discover who the murderer is and where exactly Lady Stubbs has disappeared to.

In usual Christie fashion my hunches were completely wrong and I was pretty shocked by the ending. On the way though I did make a few observations other than the ones I pointed out yesterday.

The first is I have to wonder if Ariadne Oliver truly is Agatha Christie writing herself into her novels and giving her two cents on the issues at hand. Here Ariadne talks about how difficult it is to put together a mystery that makes complete sense and doesn't have an plot holes. She also talks about how she has a hard time keeping everything straight in her mind. This seems to be an accurate description of Christie herself if you've ever taken the time to read Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran

This book discusses all the of the notebooks that she kept where she organized all of her plotlines and is a must read for anyone that considers themselves an Agatha Christie fan.

Another aspect of this book and the genre in general is the distrust of foreigners. Agatha Christie is known for using this to her advantage. She taps into the psychology that people seem to distrust people or cultures we are unfamiliar with and then promptly manipulates that suspicion by making the actual murder someone that we would normally trust or rule out like a meek woman, a gentle grandmother, or even a child. In Dead Man's Folly most of the suspicion falls on Etienne, Hattie's foreign and mysterious cousin while the rest of the characters suspect some outside person from the hostel nearby. If you're lucky and refuse to fall into that trap, it becomes easier to discover who the true murderer actually is.

Another trick that I love about Christie's works, which always causes me to guess the wrong person as the murderer is that fact that she makes sure that every suspect says something peculiar to make you think that they did it. For example in this book Poirot is talking to Mrs. Folliat who was the previous owner of Nasse Hall and he tells her that it must be hard to see other people living in the house you used to own. Rather than just giving an affirmative answer she says: "So many things are hard, M. Poirot." Throws suspicion now doesn't it?

The second part of this Murder Mystery Monday post has to do with a tv show that I have been watching recently called Whodunnit.

While the season finale of this show is next Sunday, I still suggest that you check out the entire series. The premise of Whodunnit is that it's a reality tv show where a group of people are invited to Rue Manor, where they must stay for the entirety of the show, and must compete against each other to win a quarter of a million dollars. The catch is that a murderer is among them and in order to win the money they must correctly guess the murderer's identity and stay alive. In the first episode there is an initial "murder" and Giles the butler informs the contestants that they must deduce from clues left by the murderer how exactly the person dies. If they guess correctly they are spared for the next day and if they fail to get it right they receive a scared card and are in jeopardy of being "murdered", thus taking them out of the running for the cash prize.

What attracts me to this show so much is the fact that it resembles my favorite Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None. In that book a group of people are murdered one by one at an isolated manor and are forced to fight for their lives by trying to find out who is the murderer among them.

Lets make something clear about this show though that I annoys the crap out of me. Everyone knows that nobody will actually be murdered and that the person designated to die is taken to special effects where they are made up to look dead. Sounds simple right? Instead the people in this competition freak out and cry at the prospect of receiving scared cards and dying...even though they AREN'T ACTUALLY GOING TO DIE! I know I would get pretty upset at losing the chance of getting a quarter of a million dollars, but I certainly wouldn't cry about it.

Aside from that I like everything else about the show. I'm always constantly speculating who the murderer is based on their observations about the crime scene or how they react. This is the kind of murder mystery show that I want on tv. In fact I vote that we get rid of NCIS or CSI or any of the other shows and replace them with shows like this. I know I would be glued to the tv.

So I hope that you will check out both the book and the show that I've talked about. You won't regret it.

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 6

Sorry for the delay of this post. I found out the new Panic! At The Disco song dropped and I had to abuse the replay button a few times before I reminded myself I had a post to write. If you're curious about it, I have placed the video, called This is Gospel, in my favorite songs of the moment box in the sidebar.

 I would also like to call your attention to the new tab feature I have which proudly displays a TBR tab that will take you to an up to date list of all the books that are currently in my to be read pile. Aside from the fact that I have grouped books by the same author together, they are in no particular order. I could chose to read my next book from anywhere on the list. As I gradually finish the books they will be crossed off and, of course, I will be adding new books as I buy them. So grab your curiosity and head on over there!

As you all know from my last post the book that I'm currently reading is Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie. I managed to read 88 pages today, which brings my overall total up to 1329 pages. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. While I'm determined to stay mostly silent on my opinions until tomorrow, I do have a few things to comment on before I let you all get back to your incredibly important lives.

The first relates to Christie's penchant for giving a list of the characters with a brief bio before the story. While I do appreciate this immensely, I have to wonder if it's a bit of a cop out. The problem is these people's names pop in the story without any character introduction and then I'm constantly forced to flip to the beginning of the book to tell them all apart. You would figure with all of her books that I've read I would be used to it, but I'm not.

The second relates to the story and isn't a criticism or some positive aspect of the book. Rather it's just the images that seem to pop in my head when reading this. Lady Hattie Stubbs in the book is portrayed as sort of a flighty, materialistic, simple-minded woman who couldn't possibly be a legit suspect (even though I totally think she could be the murderer). Constantly the other characters reference the fact that she is well dressed, but seems to be lacking in mental faculties or has lost a little bit upstairs. Either way they put it, every time they do I see this:

  Poor Lady Stubbs! If only she had intelligence...or a head for that matter
The last observation that I made was something shocking that I noticed about the book. I don't know if it's because I haven't read the right Christie books, but she actually acknowledges the possibility of rape being in conjunction of murder. I take it for granted that all of her stories involve murders that revolve around someone with a motive who only engages in coldblooded and not sexual murder, which is directly opposite of the crime shows today where every murder takes on a grim, revolting sexual tone. I think I'll just stick to my Agatha Christie's thank you!
Those are the only opinions I'll be sharing today, but do stick around for my posts tomorrow. I bet the suspense is killing you ;)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 5

Welcome to Day 5 of my summer reading challenge series, where I strive to make my reading sound as interesting as possible, but really it's just me lazing around with cups of tea staring at some paper for an hour or two. Now I call that riveting stuff, which sadly didn't happen for long today. I got busy right after I woke up and then time seemed to have run away from me. So it goes.

I did however do a little reading, so I might as well discuss my book of choice and the page counts. As I indicated in the last post I decided to pick up Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie.

After I finished the Lincoln book I knew right away that this would be the next book on my list. Earlier I was watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow (no I'm not an old woman and yes it is a great show) and they mentioned Agatha Christie's summer home and how she took her inspiration for this book from the area. This book flashed on the screen and when the plot didn't immediately come to mind I wondered if I owned it or not. Lucky for me it was sitting right there in my TBR pile just waiting to be noticed. I picked it up and well here we are.

I managed to read 41 pages of it tonight, which brings my overall total up to 1282 pages. Now as much as I'd like to reveal some of my opinions, I will be holding off on most of them until Monday when I do my Murder Mystery Monday post. I just know that I'll have some rather interesting observations to make about the genre.

I do have one last thought that I'd like to share before wrapping up this post. I've been considering sharing this much talked about TBR pile of mine. Maybe seeing it written down will convince me that I will have to find a spare moment during college to read some of them. Maybe you'll see a book that you've read and have an opinion you'd like to share about it or maybe you'll see one that you're interested in having my perspective on before you read it yourself. Either way I think I'll see about making that happen sometime in the future. Plans! So many plans!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 4

Finally!!! With the arrival of this day I am more than halfway done with my summer reading challenge, which is a welcome milestone.

At the start of this day, I was completely convinced that I wouldn't get around to finishing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter but in the last 30 minutes before midnight I mustered enough resolve to complete it. My wording of the previous statement should indicate that I really didn't get much enjoyment from this novel. In a word it was boring. Something that should no doubt shock those upon reading the title.

Before I get to my final opinions, let me reveal the page counts for Day 4. I finally completed the book, which added up to 170 pages read today. This brings my overall total up to 1241 pages...thus completing the goal that I set for the full week!!!!!!!

I figured the triumphant Sybil gif would be perfect for this moment :) Despite reaching my goal, I will, of course, continue to read until the end of Day 7 at midnight...and then keep reading because I like to read and don't need an excuse to do so.

So in regards to the book I read today, my overall opinion is that it reads like a biography without the truthfulness of one, which is such a waste of time. The true enjoyment of reading a biography is learning interesting facts about a person's life. Here I would read along and come across something interesting not connected with the vampire part of the plotline and find myself questioning whether or not it actually occurred. It comes as no shock that the author gleaned most of his information from the internet, particularly Wikipedia, which any teacher or student can tell you is the worst resource to rely on even if it is a work of fiction.

I did however get some enjoyment out of the illustrations in the book. They were so hilariously photoshopped that it made me chuckle once or twice. As a whole I didn't hate the book, but I found that I didn't love it either. It was a solid medium that I will probably never read again. Luckily, I paid less than a dollar for it at a used book sale, so I have no regrets on that front.

While I haven't begun another book just yet, my plan is to start Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie either later on tonight or in the morning. So until tomorrow...Best Wishes!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 3

Welcome to the end of Day 3 in the Summer Read-a-thon challenge, which incidentally might actually be the shortest coverage of any of the days. As you know from yesterdays post I had just started Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith and I continued to read the same book today.

While I didn't manage to finish it quite yet I did however read 116 pages. With those sparse, but still well needed pages I end Day 3 with an overall total of 1071 pages!!!

Having just about reached the halfway point of this novel I do have to say that I find it rather boring for some reason. The storyline isn't catching me and that is probably one of the reasons why I didn't actually finish it today. I do have to say that the integration of vampires into Lincoln's history is done in such a way that isn't ludicrous or lacking in taste. I was worried that it would tend towards that direction and thankfully it didn't. I just wish the plot would get a little more exciting and have a central conflict.

Depending on whether or not this book turns out to be a great read I might watch the movie adaption. It's a Tim Burton film and I always love his work.

I know this is a post about my reading, but I'd like to stray a little considering that this is a short post with plenty more room to fill up. Confession time. The other reason I didn't find myself finishing this book is because I did in fact start watching Downton Abbey. All I can say is WOW!! Why didn't I start watching this ages ago. Every episode just sucks you in with all its drama and the episode cliffhangers are so well done that I find myself immediately watching the next one.

I do have to applaud Hugh Bonneville. He plays patriarchs of period families so well. I'm glad he didn't stop after playing Mr. Bennet. I would also like to say that Sybil is my favorite character with the Dowager Countess following a close second. When Sybil came out in that awesome outfit I became the weirdo yelling "You go girl" at my computer screen. I also love how she is determined to get that poor maid a secretary position. In addition, who knew good ol' McGonagall was so feisty!

I would tell you that I will get right back to reading after publishing this post, but that would be lying. I'll probably be finishing the first season of Downton Abbey tonight. If you haven't seen it, I would urge you to take the plunge...and do some reading of course :)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 2

I'm back with an update on how awesomely my challenge is going. Luckily my momentum hasn't slowed and at this rate my TBR pile should be dwindling by the end of the week. So as you can remember from last nights update I was up to 608 pages and counting...because I stayed up until about 3:30 in the morning reading when I really should have gone to bed. Such is the life of a night owl.

I continued to read Baby Proof by Emily Giffin and finished the remaining 297 pages, which brought my total page count up to 905 pages!!! I think I should have made my goal higher, but I can't rule out having an off day especially when factoring in that I have seriously been considering watching Downton Abbey. Everybody raves about it and as everyone can tell from my thorough watch-a-thon, I do enjoy a good period drama. I just can't figure out why I haven't added this to my watchlist.

Back to the actual topic at hand, which is Giffin's book. All I can say is burn me once shame on you, burn me twice shame on me. This book was so AWFUL!! After I finished it I considered writing a review for Goodreads and then I said screw it and gave it 1 star knowing fully that I would probably vent here we are.

The premise was soooo good and I had never heard of another author tackling that topic in fiction. Let me give a brief summary of said premise. Female protagonist (whose name I can't remember because she was annoying and like every other character in Giffin's novels (woman whose marriage sucks and warrants an entire books worth of discussion))'s apparently Claudia now that I've bothered to pick the book up from the corner I chucked it in.

Claudia is a woman who determined early on that she wasn't cut out for motherhood and made sure to tell all her boyfriends that she would never agree to having their baby in the future if they get married. She spends some time reminiscing on how sucky it was not finding a man to agree to those terms when lo and behold Ben appears who shares her same viewpoint. They get married and shocker (not shocker) he changes his mind and she doesn't. This disagreement is what is supposed to fuel the conflict for the entire book. "Supposed to" being the operative words of course. That little conflict peters out after about 60 pages or so and readers get to enjoy Claudia's ridiculously self-deprecating, poorly written, first person narration, while "coincidentally" the secondary characters' storylines all seem to revolve around children.

This is where I would normally warn readers about spoilers, but in this instance I won't because you shouldn't even consider reading this book. I can't spoil anything that was bad in the first place.

Rather then get the hundred pages or so of Claudia and Ben sorting out this disagreement like I had hoped, they instead neglect to have a true discussion on the subject and Claudia gets a quickie divorce. Yeah, weren't expecting that now were you, well neither was I. I could tell you the particulars about how every female character in this book is screwed up in some way, but I'll save that for when I'm whining about the twisted relationships in D.H. Lawrence's books in the near future. Instead, I will say that the whole cheating plot device that I was whining about earlier, is exploited times ten here. Claudia's roommate is dating a married man cheating on his wife, Claudia's mother ditched her dad for another man, and lets not forget Claudia's sister's cheating husband, who Maura"bravely" forgives, which is totally ok because it gives her power now over their relationship. HUH!! 

Despite the unoriginal and repetitive cheating plotline, the book really lacks content. I'd say that 75% of it is just Claudia's stupid inner monologue that just cycles back and forth between "I really don't want a baby" and "I should have a baby because then Ben will take me back and I wont be alone WAAAA". There is no real depth or exploration of the idea that society puts so much pressure on women to have children and women are forced to deal with the judgment of people who always insist that you can have a wildly successful career while still being a significant figure in your children's lives...even though time and time again that has proven to be a unattainable ideal.

The ending is also supposed to be a cliffhanger, but lets face it I know enough of Giffin's style to perfectly fill in all that she decided she would leave out. Had the ending been finished I have no doubt that Ben and Claudia would remarry and the two of them would ignore the topic of children for probably another year tops. Ben will bring it up again and Claudia, whose codependent nature will never allow her to function independently in the world, will cave. Then in true Giffin book fashion, Claudia will decide to give up her lucrative career in publishing and become a suburban housewife. Slowly she will resent her husband and the children she never wanted to have in the first place and Ben will wind up cheating on Claudia thus providing the readers with another instance of cheating which Giffin is so fond of utilizing. BOOM! Ending Complete.

I just have one more bone to pick before I move on to the rest of my Summer Read-a-thon and that seems to be one glaring similarity that I found to none other than the book Twilight. When I read this certain section of Baby Proof I did a double take and read it again to make sure I hadn't rage hallucinated. Then I checked the publishing dates of both Twilight and this book where I found out that Baby Proof was in fact published after Twilight. The instance that I'm referencing is when Claudia, deep in the doldrums over her quickie divorce, whips out her copy of Wuthering Heights and proceeds to devalue Emily Bronte's brilliant prose by comparing it to her own sad situation. Does that scenario sound familiar to you? Well it should because the eerily similar codependent Bella Swan trots out her copy of Bronte's novel and sullies it by comparing Heathcliff to Edward. I really am fed up with authors of crappy books throwing in the title of a beloved classic novel to try to make their main character dynamic and to draw some shoddy parallelism. The Bronte's are for me to enjoy, not for you to devalue.

Now I'd like to move on to the next book that I picked up today for the challenge. At first I decided to read another Agatha Christie novel, but for whatever reason I just wasn't in the mood. Instead, I started reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.

The premise sounded a little ridiculous, but I decided to give it a chance. I managed to read 50 pages before midnight rolled around and I shall be withholding all opinions until I finish the book.

With those last few pages and the end of Day 2 of the Summer Read-a-thon challenge my overall page count is now up to 955 pages!!! With my goal over halfway complete I think it's time to celebrate with a great cup of tea and a movie. Then maybe I'll ask myself why it is that I insist upon finishing a book, even when I find myself hating it halfway through. Until tomorrow...Best Wishes!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon: Day 1

The first day of my personal reading challenge is complete and I'd like to think that I'm on my way to meeting the 1200 page goal. For those wondering how I read as much as I did when I reveal my page count, I am one of those readers who does their best reading in the dead of night or in the wee hours of the morning. I'd like to think that habit was a result of the fact that I used to do all of my required reading in middle an high school before I went to bed. That would of course explain why I can never get a ton of fun reading done during the school year.

As you know I started out by reading Emma by Jane Austen and in the early hours of the morning I finished it. That brought my page count up to 212 and I had the satisfaction of finishing a book I also felt guilty for not having read. Although I didn't post a review of the book my general opinion was that I enjoyed it extremely and it obvious proved to be better than the movie adaptions that I had previously seen. I have to say that I was delighted to learn that Mr. Knightley never says anything about how he held Emma in his arms as a baby and takes joy in holding her in his arms as an adult. I always found that line to be a tad creepy when I was watching the Kate Beckinsale movie adaption and it made it seem like Knightley was about 20 or 25 years her senior, which he isn't.

I also felt like Emma was a great book to read in order to get more insight into the social conditions of the time period. What I love so much about Austen is that there is a bit of romance in her books, but it always takes a backseat to her wit and subtle, effective social commentary.

I do have to say that I would have got around to reading this book faster if I had had the foresight to buy a better edition. For all those wondering, please don't buy this particular copy of Emma.

There are no footnotes or any chapter notes at the end of the book, which is a huge letdown for me. It is just the plain text presented in the tiniest font possible and with small spacing. I never really got the point of book magnifiers until I struggled to follow along with the story because inevitably I would skip a line or two. There was also the added problem of not being able to keep track of who was speaking when because most of the time entire dialogues were lumped into one large paragraph. So the lesson learned here is that the edition and format of any book, especially classic ones are particularly important.

After I finished Emma, I picked up Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin.

I finished this book today which had 368 pages and brought my total page count to 580!! Now I did post my review of this book on my Goodreads account, but I refused to do a review for this blog because I want my first official review to be on a book that I actually liked and had a ton of positive things to say about.

I picked up this book because I previously read and enjoyed Something Borrowed and Something Blue by Giffin and promptly bought up all of her other books at used book stores. Those books had been sitting in my TBR pile until now. Let's just say that I wasn't particularly happy with this book and I would urge you not to read it.

In this instance the book blurb really did a lot of good for the book, but not for the readers. All it mentions is that two women's lives are to be connected in a surprising way. I didn't realize that was code for a lifetime or soap opera esque book and not even an original one either. This book is about a suburban housewife who imagines her life to be perfect while brushing off the fact that she isn't quite enjoying being the stay at home mom as much as she thought she would. Oh lets not forget that her seemingly perfect husband who cheats on her and she basically blames it on herself. I'm pretty sure that you can guess the ending because this story has been done over and over again.

I was pretty disappointed by this book, but I didn't let that stop me from reading another book that she wrote: Baby Proof by Emily Giffin.

 I managed to read 28 pages from that book tonight which brings my Day 1 total up to 608 pages!! I haven't gotten far enough along to be able to provide a useful opinion, so you can look forward to that tomorrow on Day 2 of the Summer Read-a-thon. Happy Reading! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer Read-a-thon

As much as I'd hate to realize, the end of summer is upon us and as I look on at my to be read pile I get a little disappointed that it isn't substantially smaller. Sadly, it's also the time that my textbooks for this next term of college come in and I get to see all of the books that I'll be reading instead of my awesome books in the TBR pile. Let's just say I'm not looking forward to reading basically everything D.H. Lawrence has ever written.

I've also hit what some of you may recognize as the reading slump. Sometimes in even some of the most devoted readers there comes a time when you just don't feel like reading and instead choose to do something else. Lately I've taken to playing video games and watching a lot of tv, but I figure it's about time for my reading slump to end. In order to do this and make as big a dent in my TBR pile as possible before the end of August, I've decided to do a Summer Read-a-thon!

The conditions are quite simple. The Read-a-thon will last for an entire week starting today and ending the 12th. My goal during this week is to read at least 1,200 pages and with any luck I will read more than that. I also plan on reading at least two mystery novels and doing an extra large Murder Mystery Monday post because I've neglected to do one for the past couple of weeks and I feel a little guilty about that.

I will also be posting daily updates about my progress and maybe even some reviews of the books I've read. The other day I decided that this really can't be a great book blog without some in depth reviews of some of the stuff that I've been reading. So I will be adding those to the mix of the random assortment of book related stuff I like to discuss here in the near future.

The first book that I'll be reading is Emma by Jane Austen. I've seen a couple movie adaptions of this book and I've always felt guilty about not having read it, so what a perfect time to finally get around to finishing it. In other completely coincidental news, the makers of the awesome Lizzie Bennet Diaries has announced that their next vlog will be based off of Emma!!! The great thing is that by the time the first episode comes out I will have finished the book. I'm already 170 pages in so I wont be counting those towards my total page count for the challenge.

If you love this idea, then do it with me. There is nothing quite as satisfying as reading a book that has been sitting around collecting dust. Well I am off to do some reading before bed. Best Wishes!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Cover Pet Peeves

Brand New Post AWE YEA!!

After I realized I was no longer chained to my notebook and my adaptions of Pride and Prejudice, I racked my brain for a new random topic to discuss and this one came to me. I was thinking about the bookshelf scavenger hunt and how so many people had problems finding books with just words on the cover and how millions of others had no trouble finding multiples of books with girls on the cover.

Naturally that led me to what I hate most about book covers and the assumptions that get made about the "particular audience" of a certain book. Now so many of us have heard the adage "Don't judge a book by its cover." While a delightful adage when putting it in the context of not judging people by their appearance, it's not necessarily correct when talking about actual books.

I will admit here and now that there have been some books with awful covers that I have fallen in love with and will probably reference later on in this post, but I do judge books by their covers hardcore.

The reason I never seem to follow this rule is because I am a book browser. Any chance I get to go to Barnes and Nobles you can usually find me circling the Teen books section like a vulture. While I do have a few books in my mind that I plan on buying I tend to pick up books whose covers catch my eye. Granted I read the blurb after that, but it is the cover that always attracts or repulses me. That's why I have so many pet peeves about book covers and I bet you share some of these.

The first cover mistake that seems to annoy me the most is covers that have no relation to the actual content of the book. Lets say the cover of a book has a picture of two lovers in a passionate embrace wearing period clothing. From that image I'm likely to assume that this book is an erotic romance novel that takes place in the 1900s...and it's a trashy Harlequin that I will have no enjoyment in reading. In an ideal world my assumption would be correct, but nowadays that could turn out to be the cover of a YA paranormal romance, which brings me to my next pet peeve.

Covers that have girls in long, dramatic, sometimes period dresses despite the fact that the story takes place in today's time period and there is not an instance in the book where the main female character wears such a dress.

 I don't know why or when this became a thing, but as the saying goes I was already in the middle of it before I realized what had happened...or something like that. All I know is that I am so tired of these random girls and I want beautiful, inventive covers. What happened to the days when there was actually cover art rather than the same picture taken over and over with a different dress. The only great thing to come out of this mishap is that the books without these stupid girls stand out on the shelf and I usually pick them up and buy those instead.

 How about we continue on in this same vein of book covers that lack art but seem to focus on the photography of women. My next pet peeve is the overuse of the random girl head who is either giving you the stare down or looking away wistfully.

This really has no relation to the book whatsoever, but she is pretty so that must mean book sales right? NO!

My next book cover pet peeve may not bother some people, but I seem to find it incredibly annoying. Do you remember a few posts back where I discussed the fact that my love of reading started when I realized that I could imagine the characters and how the story plays out in my mind? This ability is what makes books such a different medium from movies. Every reader is going to have their own visions about what the characters in the book look like and that is part of the fun in reading. I hate when book covers have pictures of actual people on them. Right from the beginning I'm presented with this image of what the main character could look like and that ends up being the image that I'm stuck with. What's even worse is when they decide not to use the same models in the covers. One AMAZING series that has this sucky cover problem is The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead.

Here is the first book in the series with the aforementioned girl. Once the readers discover that the main character, Rose, is a kick ass girl with brunette hair, it becomes hard not to associate this cover model with Rose. If that problem wasn't enough the models seem to change.

This is the cover of the last book in the series with a completely different brunette model. Inevitably I end up wondering if this is a different character in the series or if this is still Rose. It must be Rose because the story is completely centered on her, but who knows because the covers lack consistency. I would rather this series have some beautiful cover art to reflect that awesomeness of the text inside. Let the readers do the imagining and you will never have to worry about hiring models.

Oh, but don't worry, the publishing industry also has a solution to the girl face problem and that is covers where the model's head is missing a huge piece.

It's like somebody had a cropping accident when they were trying to fit the picture to the cover. I find this to be just as tacky and repulsive as the covers that use the entire person in the cover.

My next pet peeve is something that I know for a fact many readers hate, but for some reason it still happens and that is covers of books that have been changed to the movie poster. I don't know if this is some scheme to try to draw more people into reading the book that the movie they just saw was based off of, but I'd like to know if that actually works. In many cases the movie turns out to be a sucky adaption and that new cover replaced some awesome cover art. It's also not something that I would be proud to display on my bookshelf.

This next cover trend that has recently popped up has caused me to have a few rage incidents is modernizing the covers of classic novels. It really pisses me off when publishers recover a classic novel with the current book cover trends or base it on the cover of the book that is currently popular. I REALLY REALLY hate when they take a book with a beautifully complex narrative and make it look trivial and YA genre friendly with a girly cover. Like this:
THIS MAKES ME SO ANGRY!!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!!! The Bell Jar is such an important complex book and here it makes it look like a shoddy teen romance. This does nothing for anyone. The girl that picks this book up based on the cover will be sorely disappointed to find it isn't a light romantic read and diehard Plath fans like myself are just filled with disgust.

Do you know what fills me with me rage and anger? When publishers figured they could cash in on the Twilight craze by repackaging classic novels to look like them. Do you know what books they chose to ruin?

THE BRONTES!! The Bronte novels are something that I hold sacred. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are my favorite classic authors and I can't stand to have their wonderful works bound in the shittiest fashion. I am all for making sure that today's teens willingly read these great works. This is just the worst way to do it. Not to mention the fact that those "ugly cover" books released by Barnes and Nobles or other distinguished publishing houses have incredibly helpful footnotes that make it easy to read the texts on your own. I read my Barnes and Nobles classics copy of Jane Eyre on my own and I understood it better than people who have actually read it in a classroom. In a game of who can imitate the "it book" the best, everyone loses.

The last book cover pet peeve was actually brought to my attention when the lovely author Maureen Johnson talked about it on her twitter...and I found that I completely agreed with her and it is gendered book covers. I have a pretty big problem with this because it indicates that the audience has already been determined by the publishers and they gear the covers towards them. Somebody somewhere determined that YA fiction is only for girls, so the covers became girlier and became a girls only club. The reality is that there are guys that love YA fiction and even YA romance as much as the next girl. In the same token sci-fi book covers are gendered as well. They are made to look manlier because the assumption is that only guys like science fiction. I HATE gender stereotypes in real life, so why would I ever want them attached to my books.

The funny thing is when a book has a gender neutral cover, they tend to sell more and capture the attention of both genders. Take for instance The Hunger Games.

This is the perfect example of a well executed cover. It has cover art rather than a photographed model. The art is symbolic of the actual text and it's gender neutral. When this book first came out I saw tons of guys and girls reading it and enjoying it, even though the protagonist is a female and it deals with a love triangle. This could have easily got a girly cover because it's YA fiction and I bet it would have been less successful and alienated plenty of potential readers.

How about another example.

This delightful remake of Beauty and the Beast by Alex Flinn has a beautiful but decidedly girly cover, which sends out the message that it is a book for girls. The interesting thing about this book is that it's narrated by Kyle and it follows his struggles with his self image and how he treats other people. Had this been a gender neutral cover I bet it would have attracted a stronger male audience, especially when the narrator is someone who they can identify with. Can't we all agree that stereotypes suck and move on with our lives and our culture? PLEASE!

Those are the book cover pet peeves that I have currently, but I bet some new cover trend will be dreamed up that could rival some of the ones that I've pointed out. Were there any others that I missed that annoy you?