Sunday, September 11, 2016

August 2016 Wrap-Up

Hello readers and welcome to the long overdue August 2016 wrap-up. In case you're new here, this is where I share all of the books that I read during the past month and give each book a mini review. As you may have heard a few times so far, August was the month that the great reading slump hit.

I could feel the reading slump slowly coming these past couple of months, but I just kept denying that it would happen. Then all it took was reading some really great books, which turned in to a book hangover, which in turn snowballed into the slump. Now my room looks like a library because my TBR pile is kind of out of control. As you'll soon be able to see, I only read five books in August. I know. How can I call this past month the month of the reading slump when I still read enough to equal out one book a week? Well, I read the first three books one right after the other at the beginning of August and then the slump hit hard.

Now enough whining about lost reading time. I think I've just about pulled myself out of the slump, so September should be a great month. As I mentioned in my last book haul post, I will not be posting a September TBR. I just want to read whatever sounds awesome in the moment. Limiting my reading choices will send me back into the slump. Time to review my August reads.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

You had to know that as a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I needed to know how Harry Potter's story would continue. Now that it's been a few weeks since the book's release, I've heard about all of the backlash on the internet. I seen and read some pretty harsh reviews from people who are fans of the Harry Potter series. For whatever reason, I feel like I'm in the minority because I actually liked this play.

I think part of the reason why I enjoyed the play so much was because I came into the reading experience in the right frame of mind. I don't think people fully realized that this is not, in fact, the "Eighth Harry Potter Book." It's just the script of the play showing in London. While not written exclusively by J.K. Rowling, in my head, I like to think of this as fan-fiction canonized.

The protagonists in this continuation of the Harry Potter series are Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy respectively. The both of them are headed off to their first year at Hogwarts and despite the antagonism of their parents, they become friends. Once the weight of his father's fame gets the best of Albus, he ends up on a time turning adventure with Scorpius. That's all I want to say about the plot because I don't want to spoil the play for others.

All I have to say is that I acknowledge that this book really does have some flaws. Choosing to have the main mechanic of the story involve the most questionable part of Rowling's world in the original series (the time turner) was kind of a bad idea. The big character reveal near the end really gave this play the "fan-fic" vibe that I mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the plot and I loved getting to know all of these new characters. I do have to say that the best parts of this play were revisiting old characters, who triggered all of the old emotions you experienced near the end of the Harry Potter series.  
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Lately, I've been in the mood to read a lot of nonfiction works and part of that includes memoirs by some of my favorite historical figures and celebrities. I read quite a bit of feminist literature in college, but I never read anything written by Gloria Steinem. My Life on the Road shares her experiences traveling as an activist and writer. She talks about how the effects of traveling influenced her family growing up. Not to mention she shares stories about some of the people she met along the way. I thought it was a great afternoon read if you are interested in learning more about Steinem.

  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

In the past year, Victoria Schwab has become one of my favorite authors. Her worlds and characters are so distinct and the plots are always action packed. This Savage Song is no different. The story centers on two protagonists, Kate Harker and August Flynn. Both reside in a city divided between monsters and humans. They exist in this kind of dystopian world where violence seems to create dangerous monsters.

August is one of those monsters desperately trying to live a normal life and Kate is the daughter of a man who uses the threat of monsters for his own personal gain. When the two sides collide, August and Kate are thrown together, fighting for their own survival. What makes this story different from some other YA releases is that there is no romance between the main characters. Instead, they build a bond of friendship. That may not sound so groundbreaking, but it seems like so many YA novels romantically pair their male and female protagonists.

While the world building wasn't quite as fantastic as some of her previous books, the reading experience was just as fantastic. The end of every chapter forced you to keep reading, which is both a positive and a negative, particularly if you have to go to work early in the morning. All I can say is you are really missing out if you haven't read a Victoria Schwab book.
  • Ancient Egypt: Civilizations of the Nile Valley from Pharaohs to Farmers by Parragon Publishing
Near the beginning of August, I was looking around a dollar store and ran across this book. As some of you may know, I have a huge interest in Ancient Egypt and I love reading about it.

As far as the content of the book is concerned, it provides a nice broad overview of the culture, particularly for those without too much knowledge of the time period and region. If you've already studied Ancient Egypt in the past, this book really won't provide you with new information. In fact, I found the text to be really too broad to suit my taste. but the photographs and illustrations were very interesting to look at. It also made for some great light reading near the end of the month. 

  • The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Recently, I've read a lot of fiction books set during WWII with a good majority of them taking place in France. Personally, the best books with this setting are thought-provoking. They are grounded enough in the time period to give you a sense of how terrible life would have been like then, while also having complex characters that allow you to emotionally connect to the story.

Some of those books strike that nice balance, while others don't. I found that The Paris Architect was kind of an average read. The story focuses on Lucien Bernard, an architect living in France. Not much work has come his way since the German occupation of France. All of that changes when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise a hiding place for Jews escaping persecution. Part of the deal also includes designing factories for the Germans.

I found the plot to be pretty engaging, although it did lag at some points. The main reason why I didn't rate this book any higher is because I really didn't connect with the main character. Granted, I don't expect all protagonists in such a situation to be morally perfect, but I didn't like him at the start of the novel and nothing changed by the end.
Those are all of the books that I managed to read during August. The month was by no means a complete fail and I did happen to read some really great books. Now that I've gotten back into the habit of blogging again, hopefully this month will be a little more productive. Now to tackle all of those new books that I bought.

Friday, September 9, 2016

New and Used Book Haul: August and September 2016!

Hello readers and welcome back to another better late than never post this September. As you may already know, I've been going through one of the worst reading slumps I've experienced in a while. With this slump comes the urge to just veg out on the couch and do nothing productive, like write blog posts.

Naturally, the most illogical decision to make when you are experiencing a huge urge to do anything besides reading is to go book shopping of course. As if I don't already own too many books. This time, I decided to save my wallet and buy the bulk of my books used. A couple of weekends back, I made my way to the local Salvation Army to find some great used books. Then a week after that, I ordered a few books from Amazon and then rounded everything out by buying some books from Barnes and Noble. I have a book hoarding problem.

Anyway, time for me to share what books I bought during the past month.

A few of these books may seem familiar and that's because they are! If I happen to read a really great book on my tablet, I have to own a physical copy of the book. That means some of these will go straight into my book collection, while others will make it to my ever increasing TBR pile. 

The first half of the books, which I included above, are the used books that I picked up at the Salvation Army. Usually buying books there can be a hit or miss experience. This time it felt like someone with my similar taste in books donated a bunch. 

The first book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and it's one that I've been meaning to read for the longest time. After that is another classic to add to my stack, The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I've only read a few of his short stories, so I'm interested to read one of his full length novels. Next, is Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. I actually already own a copy of this book, but for a while I've been meaning to replace it. I wasn't so kind to my books when I was younger and the copy I currently own has a ripped and torn cover. After that is Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, which was an impulse buy if there ever was one. I remember watching the movie and enjoying it, so I figured why not read the book.

Vampire Academy and Frostbite are the first two books in the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. Despite the fact that it is one of my favorite series, I didn't actually own these two. Many of you may know that I occasionally like to read a nonfiction book and one of my favorite nonfiction writers is Erik Larson. He takes historical events or true stories and molds them into a book that's just as exciting to read as a fiction novel. When I saw Thunderstruck, which happens to be one of his books that I haven't read, I needed to own it. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was another classic to add to my TBR pile. 

I snatched up Rules of Civility by Amor Towles purely because it is set in the 1920s, which is not a great reason to get a book, but meh. Then when I saw Ready Player One by Ernest Cline at the Salvation Army, I almost did a happy dance in the store. I was THIS CLOSE to buying this book at full price when I was at Barnes and Noble. It's a fantastic book that I've reviewed on this blog and I highly recommend it. Last but not least of the used books is Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie. Christie is one of my favorite authors and I've read so many of her books. The problem that I'm running into now is that I have no idea what books I haven't read when I go book shopping. I don't even know if I've read this book. I really should make a list of the books I still need to read.

Now on to the new books that I purchased! The first is a book that I've been meaning to buy for a long time. Like many others, I consider myself a Jane Austen fan, but I've only read her main novels. I haven't spent any time exploring her other writings. This book is a small bind up of Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sandition. The next book is one that I knew I shouldn't have bought, but I couldn't resist. In one of my past wrap-up posts, I reviewed The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski and I went on a long discussion about how I was wary that his books were all form and no substance. I made up my mind not to continue on with that series. Rather than leaving it there, I scanned over his section at my local Barnes and Noble and found Only Revolutions. Again it's a book with a unique format and I'm hoping the story shines through the form like House of Leaves

Apparently, I don't own enough classics so I bought volume two of The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, even though I haven't read the first volume yet. I have a problem. Next, I bought a physical copy of one of my favorite books of all time, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I love this book and I highly recommend it if you were not made to read it in school.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on Goodreads looking for new books to read that I hadn't heard about yet, and I came across a list someone made of books that have unique formats or narratives. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente was one of them. I did read her middle grade book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and found it to be an average read. I figured why not explore some more of her writing.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix is another book that I first read on my tablet and throughout the reading experience, I wished that I had bought the physical copy. This book is formatted to look like an IKEA catalog and is one of the best horror stories I've read in a long time. The last book in my giant stack is The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt - Edited by Helen Strudwick. I've always loved learning about Ancient Egypt, so when I came across this huge book in the bargain section at Barnes and Noble, I snatched it right up.
Those are all of the books that I've bought during August and the beginning of September. I hoping that some of these books will tempt me enough to get out of this reading slump. I've managed to do some reading this month, so I'm optimistic. For those wondering, my August Wrap-Up post is on its way! I've started putting together the formatting, but I'm desperately waiting for the motivation to review everything. I will probably mention this again in that post, but I will not be releasing a September TBR post. I don't want to plan or promise to read anything this month because I feel like that would only increase the severity of the slump. I just want take my time and read whatever I'm craving in the moment. In the meantime, happy reading!!  

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Penny's Music Recommendations: August 2016

Hello all of you music lovers and welcome back to another rather late Music Recommendations post. I've sadly been in the throes of the dreaded reading slump, which has also kind of zapped all of my creative juices with it. I finally just had to suck it up and force myself away from the lure of tv shows and video games in order to let you know about all of the music I've been listening to in the month of August.

Normally when I write these posts, I'm still obsessively listening to the songs I recommend, but in this case, I've kind of worn them all out to death. Every work day, I have an hour drive to work and an hour drive home from work. Let's just say you over listen to songs with that kind of commute. I'm thinking of exploring audio books just to preserve my music sanity. Anyway, how about I stop blathering and talk to you about all of the songs I've listened to at least 20 times this month.
  • Send My Love (To Your New Lover) by Adele

Normally, I dislike most of Adele's songs and it has nothing to do with her singing ability or the quality of her songs. The real problem is that for four years in college, I was stuck on all girl floors and the moment any of them broke up with their boyfriends, Adele could be heard all the way down the end of the hallway. Freshman year was the worst. Now that I no longer live in a dorm, that dislike has been tempered. When I heard "Send My Love" on the radio, I actually really enjoyed it.

Rather than the usual mournful break-up songs that I generally associate with Adele, this is really catchy and upbeat. I'm also a huge fan of the lyrics, which reflect a break-up from a mature adult perspective.
  • I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers

So much of today's indie music has a real 80's aesthetic to it and I honestly don't mind it at all. I know I've featured another Bleachers song on this music recommendation series and as the months go by I like more and more of their songs. In my head, this is the song that you would hear in the background during the climax of a John Hughes movie. Again it has an upbeat electronic/rock sound with lyrics that deal with the desperate desire to improve yourself. 
  • Midnight City by M83

Before I say anything about "Midnight City," let me tell you there is probably an 80% chance that you've already heard this song before, but you just don't know it. This song isn't really known for it's complex lyrics or the misadventures of their band members. The most appealing part to this song is its atmospheric sound. It has the weird synth beat that think at first listen is going to be really obnoxious, but it isn't. I swear this song has been sampled by numerous tv shows, movies, commercials, and video games. After hearing it so many times, I finally looked the song up and it turns out I do really like it. It's also one of those perfect driving songs. I may have to look into M83 some more and see if I like any of their other music.
  • Take a Walk by Passion Pit

Passion Pit is another indie artist that made its way onto my radar through my random Pandora listens. As with much of my taste in music, Passion Pit is described as synthpop, indie pop, and even indietronica in sound (the last term being one that I never even knew existed). The song has a driving synth beat and guitar that distracts you from the kind of depressing lyrics about life and raising a family.
  • Faint of Heart by Tegan and Sara

At first listen, I wasn't really a huge fan of Tegan and Sara's new album, Love You To Death. After a couple of listens, the album is really starting to grow on me. "Faint of Heart" is the newest song to grab my attention. It has that standard indie pop sound that I love. It may not be the best song from the album, but it's still merits a listen or two on the drive into work.

Those are a few of the songs that I listened to over and over again during the month of August. Now I think it's time to break this creative/reading slump of mine. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August 2016 TBR

Hello readers and welcome back to another monthly post. Now is about the time to share with you the books that I plan to read during August. Or in the case of this month, what books I might have already read. What can I say. Sometimes I'd rather procrastinate on these posts and get a jump start on the new month. After having such a fantastic reading streak last month, I'm hoping to keep the trend up.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
 You had to know that the new Harry Potter book would be on the list. I was so excited to read it that I finished it a few hours after my pre-order copy came in the mail. Just in case you haven't heard about this, it isn't the eighth Harry Potter book. You'll be sorely disappointed going into the reading experience if you think that's the case. This is the script of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play currently showing in London. The script was not solely written by J.K Rowling, but I'm pretty sure with her name on it, it has her canonical stamp of approval. This play picks up right where the last Harry Potter book ended, with Harry's son Albus heading off for his first year at Hogwarts.

I can't wait to share my thoughts about this book with you!!

  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
 I've been in a huge nonfiction mood lately and this month is no different. In fact, the urge to read nonfiction was so strong that I've already finished this book too. As the title suggests, this book is made up of Gloria Steinem's experiences traveling as a writer and activist. She reveals moments from her life as well as encounters with other influential people.

  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

For those of you who follow my Goodreads, you know that I've also started reading this book. In order to prevent a book slump, I've just been book hopping when I feel a sense of boredom creep in. The Eyre Affair has been on my TBR list for ages and ages, so I figured now was as good as any time to read it.

This book takes place in an alternate time in Britain circa 1985. In this setting, time travel is a reality and people love to forge great works of literature. The story focuses on Tuesday Next, a special operative in the literary detection division. Apparently, the plot is about someone who kidnaps characters from stories. I'm excited to see what the author does with this premise.

  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Finally!!! Another Victoria Schwab book has been released and I'm so ready for some awesome reading. She is the one author that has consistently released stories with amazing worlds and characters.

In this book, the world is split between humans and the monsters that prey on them. This Savage Song has a dual narrative, with half of the focus on Kate Harker, the daughter of a man that provides protection to humans at a cost, and August Flynn, a monster desperately wishing to have a normal, human life.

While I'm not 100% sure this is true, I've heard rumors that this story has no romance and you have no idea how happy I am about that.

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
 Now it's time for the classic pick of the month. I've really been into reading books lately that deal with social class as well as women's traditional gender roles. I never read The Awakening in any of my English or Women's Studies courses in college, so I figured now was the time to do just that. The plot focuses on Edna Pontellier, a woman who struggles with the expectations of her role as wife and mother.

Those are all of the books that I plan to read in August. I think it's a nice mix of recent releases and well as books that have been lounging in my TBR pile for far too long. Now time to get back to reading!

July 2016 Wrap-Up

Hello again readers and welcome back to our regularly scheduled program, a few days late as per usual. I don't know about you, but July was a fantastic month. I held my Summer Read-a-thon 2016, enjoyed some lazy summer days, and had a marvelous week off from work. Now I'm back to work and still battling that impending reading slump. I refuse to let it happen. REFUSE! That being said I read a ton of books this past month, so sit down, get comfortable, grab some snacks, and let's get down to reviewing all of the books that I read during the month of July.
  • The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (The Checquy Files #1)

Whoa, I'm starting out this wrap-up post on a high note with a book that could possibly be one of my better reads from the past couple of months. The Rook begins with the main character, Myfanwy Thomas, returning to consciousness with no recollection of her past. Immediately, she has to fight for her life and discovers that the previous Myfanwy knew she would lose her memories and left letters instructing her new personality. Myfanwy works as a Rook in the Checquy, a secret organization that protects Britain from supernatural phenomena. A large portion of the organization is run by people with extraordinary powers, one of those people being Myfanwy herself. Now, she has the challenge of running an organization with no recollection of her life while also trying to determine the identity of the traitor that wiped her memories clean.

What I love about this book is that you go on the same journey as Myfanwy. As she learns more about the Checquy, so do the readers. While the letters that the old Myfanwy wrote are kind of an info dump, the world building is solid and engaging. The novel is over 400 pages, but every bit of it is action-packed. For those who like to stay away from books that are full of cliches, Myfanwy doesn't have that "special-snowflake" feel about her and did I mention there is NO ROMANCE!!!! There is just a strong protagonist trying to find more out about herself and building relationships with those around her.
  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George


The Little Paris Bookshop focuses on a man named Jean Perdu, who runs a bookstore on a boat, which he calls a literary apothecary. Jean gives people the books he thinks will cure whatever emotional ailment they're currently suffering from. When a newly heartbroken woman moves into an apartment next to Jean, she discovers a letter from his lost love that he's avoided for years. She convinces him to read the letter, an action that forces Jean to confront his past while traveling to the south of France.

When I first picked up this book, I was excited by the plot, but as with any potentially great book, the story was ruined by the characters. So many of the secondary characters were one dimensional and highly forgettable. Jean seemed to be the only character with any dimension, but I hated him anyway. The book bills the relationship with his lost love as heartrending, yet the narrative makes it read as carnal and cheap. Jean doesn't relate to any woman in this novel except physically. They are just a collection of attractive body parts that he recalls from time to time. Basically, this story is all potential and no heart.
  • Gimme a Kiss by Christopher Pike

Out of all the Christopher Pike books I've read, this one has to be the weirdest/ most eye roll inducing one yet. The story starts out with Jane, just your average high school girl. She gets decent grades, has good friends, and is in a happy relationship with her boyfriend. Everything changes when everybody at her school reads one of her juicer diary entries. Rather than brush the incident off, Jane sets her mind to revenge, the kind that might involve murder.

The plot was kind of predictable, but the characters' decisions were way out of left field. I also felt like this was one of the few Pike books where I didn't find the story to be interesting enough to grab my attention. Reading this now, you can definitely tell this book is a relic of it's time.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In this work of non-fiction, Skloot shares the life of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who receives treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital for cervical cancer. This event leads to the creation of the infamous HeLa cells that scientists used in a variety of scientific research and discovery. Those so called "immortal cells" were taken from Henrietta without her knowledge and Skloot shines a spotlight on Lacks' life, her influence on the scientific world, and the fall-out that the Lacks family had to endure because of it.

Every bit of this non fiction story was interesting and completely captivating. What you should know is that this isn't just a story about Henrietta. It's also sort of Skloot's quest to find out more about Lacks and to give her and her family a voice that they never had before. Near the end of the book, the real life discoveries that Henrietta's family makes are quite touching. This has to be the easiest nonfiction book that I've ever read. I also just found out about a week or two ago that HBO will be producing a biopic based on the book.
  • My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Next I was really in the mood for some light YA contemporary romance and My Life Next Door is just that. The book focuses on two families that live next door to each other. The Reeds are a quiet, small family, which includes our protagonist, Samantha. The Garretts, in comparison, are loud, messy, and have plenty of siblings to go around. Since Samantha just lives with her mother and sister, she envies the exciting life next door and watches them from afar. All of that changes when Sam meets the love interest of the story: Jase Garrett. She experiences first love and finally has an inside look at the life that goes on next door.

The conflict of the story was kind of a bit wimpy, but with romance books there has to be some conflict to throw the lovers apart or the plot just starts to get boring. If you're looking for a beach read or a light summer read, this is the book for you.
  • Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley (The Checquy Files #2)

Now time for the book that took up much of my time during the Summer Read-a-thon. After I read The Rook, I needed to read the sequel immediately, That is how much I loved the characters and the story. Stiletto picks up the story right where the first left off with the tenuous alliance of the Checquy and the Grafters. Their cooperation is put to the test when a number of supernatural attacks plague London.

I was ready for a plot driven follow up with one of my favorite protagonists, Myfanwy Thomas, but as I disappointingly discovered, she is not the protagonist of this novel. Some people weren't bothered by this, but I think that was what ruined the story for me. In her place are the point of views of Felicity Clements, a Checquy Pawn, and Odette Leliefeld, a grafter. I get that having viewpoints from both sides of the alliance is supposed to better illustrate the strains in the groups, but the whole time I kept imagining how better this would be through Myfanwy's perspective.

I also felt like the plot wasn't quite as action packed as the first book and there is one moment of shock in the whole novel, but it didn't save the story for me. Honestly, I wish I had just read the first book because it was so perfect.
  • Emma by Alexander McCall Smith 

I decided to give the Austen Project books another chance and here we are. For those not aware, the Austen Project is where a select few writers were chosen to write modern adaptions of Jane Austen's novels. To date I have disliked every version, but the retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is a piece of work let me tell you. In case you didn't catch the disdain dripping from that sentence, that's not a good thing.

As far as the re-tellings are concerned, this is by far the weakest of the bunch. While the others were imperfect, they at least made some attempt to bring the story forward in time and do something with the characters. All this version of Emma succeeds in doing is making you hate the characters more than you could have ever thought. Smith doesn't really do much to modernize it and the story is utterly forgettable.

He tries to spend much more time on Emma's upbringing and Miss Taylor is a larger secondary character in comparison to Austen. Knightley is non-existent, which depresses me to no end and of course kills the romantic aspect to this story. Let's not forget with no real redeeming qualities to this iteration of Emma, she just comes off as a rich, entitled meddler with no respect for those around her. Oh and every female character in this story is urged on to find a decent marriage in order to avoid working. The final nail in this "modern" re-telling. I was planning on reading the Sense and Sensibility re-telling, but I think it's time to abandon the Austen Project for my own sanity.
  • Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon

As many of you may know, one of my favorite actors is Cary Grant. Over the course of this past year, I've tried to seek out autobiographies of people I'm interested in learning more about. When I came across this book at a library book sale, I was intrigued. I recently read a biography about Cary Grant that was pretty horrific in composition and I was curious to know what one of his ex-wives thought about him. This book is a tell-all of Dyan Cannon's time with Cary Grant, from their first meeting until the dissolution of their marriage.

With these kinds of books, I always take the content with a grain of salt so to say. Regardless, I thought this was an interesting read. If anything, what Dyan reveals seems to point out the pitfalls of marrying a man much older than you. He occupies the roles of both father and husband.  While this book reveals more of the darker side of the movie star, I found that it doesn't lessen my enjoyment of any of the movies he stars in. As far as the reading experience is concerned, I don't think you'll like reading this book unless you have some interest in either Grant or Cannon.
  • Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Even though I wasn't planning on reading a classic book this month, I couldn't resist the urge to read this one. As you know, I'm a big fan of classic movies, particularly ones that star Katharine Hepburn. There is a 1935 movie adaption of the book under the same name starring Hepburn and Fred MacMurray and I really enjoyed it. Since I liked the movie so much, I figured why not give the original story a chance. Let's just say I'm glad that I did.

Alice Adams is a book that heavily deals with issues of social class and trying to uplift your class status. It centers around a middle class family, particularly the daughter, Alice. She tries to associate herself with those higher in society, but really has trouble making friends and connections due to her family's lack of a substantial income. Alice's father is loyal to his employer, but his wife belabors him about the fact that the family lives on so little. Everything changes when Alice's father decides to cave to his wife's entreaties.

I really enjoyed the social commentary of the novel and it turned out to be a quick read. For those wondering, the book does end differently than the movie. As with many Hollywood movies, they needed the picture perfect happily ever after.
  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

After I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, this was one of the books that people recommended, so I obviously decided to pick it up. The story centers around two different main characters during WWII. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who lives with her father. The two of them are forced to flee to her uncle's after the German invasion of France. The second half focuses on Werner, a young German orphan, who develops a fascination with radios. His repair jobs end up attracting attention and he is sent to a school that basically trains children to become soldiers.

As you can tell from the rating, I seem to be one of the very few that really didn't enjoy this book. Somewhere in my Summer Read-a-thon posts, I mention that so far the story is building up to a plot and that mostly character development has been the focus. Turns out the story doesn't really build up to much. I always praise books when they have great character development, but this had nothing but that. To put it bluntly: the story kept plodding along and it was boring. In a sea of fantastic historical fiction books about WWII, this just doesn't stand out for me. 

  • The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

I have a secret. A pretty shocking secret when you think about it. That secret is that I've never read the Chronicles of Narnia series. GASP!! I know. I know. I just never had any interest in it when I was younger and then I got sucked up into the Harry Potter fandom. I never had the chance to even consider the series. Then, a couple of weeks ago I was used book shopping and found a box set of the whole series for three dollars. That was a deal that I just couldn't pass up. Now I had no excuse to read it, so I started at what is technically the beginning with The Magician's Nephew.

The basic plot of the story is that two children named Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory's uncle, Andrew, into testing out two types of magic rings that take you to a different land. Uncle Andrew sends Polly into the land and Digory goes after her to save her. While in this mysterious woods, Digory manages to awaken an evil queen. This book also includes the set up of what will soon to become Narnia.

I think this was one of the many cases where I would have enjoyed the book more if I were a child when I read it. The story wasn't half bad and the characters were not one dimensional, but they just didn't manage to grab my attention. All of the biblical allusions also slapped me in the face too hard for my liking. All in all it was just a slightly below average read and I'm going to give the next book a chance just to see where the story goes.
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Now time to review the book that was so good it gave me the first massive instance of book hangover this year. When I first heard about My Lady Jane and that it was a YA revision of the struggle for ruling power after the death of Henry VIII, I was so put off. I was also pretty terrible and judged this book by it's cover, which made me think this would be another childish romance. Boy was I wrong! I have no idea what changed my mind about reading it, but I finally decided to give into the hype again. Thankfully, it turned out in my favor.

My Lady Jane is actually a comedic, fantasy, romantic retelling of the events that occur during the reign of Edward VI, Henry VIII's only son. Instead of tackling the divide between Catholics and Protestants, as well as the struggle for power after Edward's death, the kingdom in this world is divided between the Verities and Eðians. The Verities are basically your normal, average people and the Eðians are people who have the power to shape-shift into an animal.

Here Edward discovers that his illness is actually fatal and is advised to leave his kingdom to the male offspring of his cousin, Jane Grey. The problem is that she isn't married and doesn't have any children. Here is where the political intrigue kicks up and all sorts of shape-shifting misadventures occur.

What I love about this book is that it's just so entertaining, so hilarious that you don't want to ever put it down. It's been so long since a book actually made me laugh out-loud. What also makes this book amazing is that the narrator is so tongue and cheek about everything and acts as the icing on top of such a good book. It has a great balance of comedy, romance, fantasy and drama. I can't recommend My Lady Jane enough and in all honesty, I'm kind of in the mood to read it again...and I don't re-read books that often. 

Twelve books. I read twelve books this month and I waited until the end of the month to write up all of the reviews. C'est la vie I guess. I hope you enjoyed this lengthy wrap-up and I'll see you back here for my August 2016 TBR!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pygmalion Watch-a-thon: The Pygmalion of Ovid and Shaw

Welcome readers to the first installment of the Pygmalion Watch-a-thon series, where I break down adaptions and interpretations of George Bernard Shaw's famous play, Pygmalion. In past versions of this series, I didn't give much introduction to the works of literature themselves, which makes the assumption that you have either read the work in question or have at least heard of it. Here, I want us to start on almost the same playing field, or as close as possible.

That means before we can start watching some movies and tv shows related to Pygmalion, we need to talk about two topics: Ovid's "Pygmalion" and Shaw's Pygmalion. Since we must start at the beginning of all this, that means breaking out my copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses (a book I've referred to, but never read all the way through. Shame on me!). Here is one of the first prominent narrative iterations of the Pygmalion mythology.

In the narrative poem, Pygmalion is a sculptor disgusted with the "shameful lives" and "vices" present in all of the women around him. Basically, none of them meet his standards of behavior, so he chooses not to have any sort of involvement with women. Instead, he devotes himself to his art and makes " ivory statue,/As white as snow, and gave it greater beauty/Than any girl could have...The image seemed/That of a virgin, truly..." (Ovid's Metamorphoses. Translated by Rolfe Humphries. Page 242).

Pygmalion and Galatea II: The Hand Refrains by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones 
You've probably noticed with words like "ivory," "white." and "virgin," Pygmalion's ideal version of beauty involves the purity he finds lacking in the flesh and blood women. Naturally, he falls in love with his own creation and treats the statue as if it were a real woman. He lavishes gifts and attention on the statue, but, of course, it's still just an ivory statue.

When a festival for Venus/Aphrodite arrives, Pygmalion makes an offering to the goddess and wishes that his future wife be like his statue. The goddess recognizes that Pygmalion's true wish is to have the statue as his wife. When Pygmalion returns, his touches and caresses appear to bring the statue to life, whose "...eyes open/At once on lover and heaven..." Notice how the two of those seem to exist on the same plane.
Pygmalion et Galatée by Jean-Léon Gérôme
The two conceive a daughter named Paphos and that's all Ovid writes. Later iterations of the myth give the statue/woman a name: Galatea. It's important to note that she doesn't have a name, or really any identity except in the eyes of her sculptor/lover. She doesn't just magically come to life all at once; it takes the attentions and ministrations of her creator to turn hard stone into yielding skin.

Shall we talk about George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion?

Many people are only familiar with Shaw's play through the lens of the Broadway play or the movie, My Fair Lady. In fact, the two are quite different. Summary time!! In Act I of the play, we are introduced to a rainy scene where all types of Londoners are gathered under a portico to seek shelter from the downpour. Amid the crowd are a mother and daughter waiting for the son to get them a taxi. In his rush, he collides with a flower girl, who berates "Freddy," about not watching where he's headed. Turns out the son's actual name is Freddy and the mother pays the Flower Girl to tell her how she knows her son's name. She doesn't know the son because Freddy is just a slang term for a man. It's important to note the slovenly appearance of the Flower Girl as well as her Cockney English.

Meanwhile, a gentleman arrives and the Flower Girl tries to get him to buy some of her wares, but a bystander tells everyone to be careful because there is a man writing down what everyone says. The Flower Girl freaks out thinking the man is a policeman and that she is under suspicion. Turns out "The Note Taker" is just interested in phonetics and places everyone's hometowns based on their speech. The Note Taker makes an outlandish claim that he could pass the Flower Girl off as a duchess under his phonetics expertise. The Gentleman and the Note Taker share this interest in the art of speech and decide to spend supper together, but not before the Note Taker gives the Flower Girl some of the coins from his pocket.

Around this point our cast of characters are better identified. The Gentleman is Colonel Pickering, The Note Taker is Professor Henry Higgins, and The Flower Girl is Eliza Doolittle. 

In Act II, the play intros with Higgins and Pickering, who are interrupted with Eliza's arrival. She has come to request lessons from Higgins because she hopes speaking in a more genteel manner will help her establish a flower shop rather than selling on street corners. At first, they seem resistant to the idea until Higgins and Pickering place a bet with each other that they can pass her off as a duchess at the Ambassador's upcoming party. This exchange is peppered with a number of insults lobbed at Eliza by Higgins, whereas Pickering treats "Miss Doolittle" with a modicum of respect. After a bit of hesitancy, Eliza agrees and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce takes Eliza upstairs for a bath and a change of clothes. 

Meanwhile, Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle makes an appearance. He sees an opportunity here to make some money and requests 5 pounds from the men for his cooperation in their bet. Alfred makes it a point to note that he isn't looking to use the money to better his social position. He just wants it to spend aimlessly on food and alcohol. Higgins is immensely intrigued by the man's rhetoric and gives him the money. Eliza returns downstairs after her bath and her father doesn't even recognize her. Shaw ends the Act with a small scene revealing the type of training that Eliza receives under Higgins' tutelage. That is to say Higgins' impatience and rude demeanor make it difficult and tear-filled for 

In Act III, Higgins decides to have a test run with the newly trained Eliza at his mother's "At-Home Day." Mrs. Higgins rejects this idea because Professor Higgins always seems to upset her guests with his poor manners, not to mention she has some qualms about this bet. At this point, Mrs, Miss, and Mr Eynsford Hill arrive effectively silencing Mrs. Higgins. The three of them are identified as the same family from Act I and Eliza engages them in conversation. Despite having near perfect pronunciation, Eliza tells a rather uncouth story about how her Aunt died of influenza, but the family circulates rumors that she may have been killed. In this moment of hilarity, it's revealed that Eliza needs a bit more training, but Freddy is inexplicably enamored by her. Meanwhile, Mrs. Higgins again voices her reservations about the men treating Eliza like their "living doll" and inquires what should happen to Eliza after this experiment is over.  

Next we fast forward to the party, where the bet is won or lost. The trio run into one of Higgins' old pupils, Nepommuck, who uses his phonetics knowledge for his own gain by blackmailing those who wish to keep their backgrounds a secret. Eliza seems to impress everyone and the hostess tasks Nepommuck to find out who Eliza is. He insists she speaks English too perfectly to be an Englishwoman and proclaims that she is a Hungarian Princess. With this triumph, the trio leaves the party.

On to Act IV! When the three return, the two men pride themselves on their success and talk about how relieved they are that the experiment is over. They give no praise or attention to Eliza and she silently gets more upset as the conversation continues. The two retire leaving a very hurt Eliza behind. When Higgins returns looking for his slippers, she flings them at his face. The two get into an argument where Eliza reveals that she's worried about her uncertain future. Now she is no longer fit to run a flower shop and has no place now that the bet is finished. She almost regrets the whole endevour. After Eliza asks if the clothes are her's to keep, Higgins returns upstairs for the night, angry and upset. Eliza collects her belongings and leaves, but, in the process, she runs into Freddy, who reveals his feelings for her. The two leave together in a taxi.

Now time to finish everything up in Act V. Higgins and Pickering return to Mrs. Higgins' residence upset at the realization that Eliza went missing/ran away in the middle of the night. The group is interrupted with the arrival of Alfred Doolittle, who is a changed man thanks to the casual word of Higgins. Turns out Higgins mentioned Alfred to a millionaire trying to form moralist reform societies, calling Doolittle, "the original moralist." As a result, the man left Doolittle a living with the stipulation that he give lectures. Now family have come out of the wood-works after Doolittle's money and he will shortly be getting married, much to his displeasure. 

It turns out that Eliza has been at Mrs. Higgins' all along. She reveals herself to the men and thanks Pickering for the respect he has shown her throughout the experience. She and Higgins subsequently get into another argument. He wants her to return and live with him, but she refuses. She points out that he's consistently rude and doesn't treat her with any respect. Instead, she prefers the kindness and respect that a life with Freddy might offer her. After Eliza stands up to Higgins, they all leave to attend Alfred's wedding and the play ends with Higgins telling Eliza to pick up some items before she returns. Then he laughs over the thought of Eliza marrying Freddy. The play ends ambiguously with no outright indication whether Eliza will marry Freddy or return to Higgins.

Whoa! I think it's time for a break after that.

Now that I've had a mental break and some snacks, it's time to tackle some important themes as well as talk about how Shaw's play re-imagines the Pygmalion myth. Right from the beginning of Act I, you can tell that Shaw's play has a social critique built right into it. Our characters are not immediately identified by their names, but by their social positions. Not to mention that society places you in your social class based on wealth, behavior, and, most importantly here, appearance. 

From the get go Shaw makes sure you know that the unnamed Flower Girl's clothes and hair are dirty and that she is in bad need of a dentist. Mrs. Eynsford Hill is quick to give Eliza money after she uses her son's name because she's worried that her son might be associating with the lower classes of society. Such an association would damage her position as well. That same social critique continues when you learn that Mrs. Eynsford Hill keeps up the appearance of a wealthy existence, but behind that facade, the family is actually not that wealthy anymore.

Alfred Doolittle's transformation illustrates how all of those factors that make up social class are intertwined. As a member of the lower classes, Doolittle relishes the freedom that a poor life gives him. His behavior is relatively ungoverned and the money that he obtains is his to waste. Once he finds himself a moderately wealthy man, now he must act in an appropriate manner befitting that wealth.

The problem with Eliza is that her appearance and manners have been molded to suit an upper class existence. While she had eyes on a middle class living as a lady running a flower shop, she has the comportment of a Princess or a Duchess. Her worry is well founded near the end of the play because this new physical transformation leaves her without a solid place in society. 

The question is how does Ovid's Pygmalion factor into all of this? I mean it is the title of the play. In simplistic terms, Professor Henry Higgins is our Pygmalion equivalent and Eliza is his Galatea. As with great works of literature, nothing is ever that simple. 

Shaw's work seems to hint that his version of Pygmalion, and even to an extent the mythical Pygmalion is flawed. When Higgins is introduced, it isn't a positive portrayal. He's described as an unfeeling and uncaring scientific type and even like a "very impetuous baby." He's a man with a rampant ego and no consideration for others. His phonetics study/art consumes his life. Like our original Pygmalion, Higgins does not have any involvement with women. At one point, the play mentions that any woman he would be involved with could never compare with the paragon that is his mother, Mrs. Higgins. Higgins doesn't treat women as his equals, particularly Eliza. 

While Ovid's Pygmalion doesn't outright claim ownership over Galatea, her very existence is wrapped up in his desire and her position as the object of affection to his devoted lover. Here Eliza is her own independent person and therefore not completely governable by Higgins. He sees her complete identity as a manifestation of his work and tries to claim ownership of her. At one point he argues that he put all the ideas in her head and the words in her mouth. 

In contrast, Shaw shows us that while Higgins may be the Pygmalion figure, he is not the sole creator of his Galatea. First, there is the unquestionable fact that Eliza already has her own established identity before Higgins. Her transformation changes how other people perceive her and was originally intended for her own gain. Let us not overlook the fact that Higgins isn't her only agent of transformation. Mrs. Peace is actually our first Pygmalion figure. She's the one to enact the initial physical transformation by taking Eliza up for a bath and she's the one who attempts to keep Higgins' civility towards Eliza in check. Our other Pygmalion figure can be found in Colonel Pickering, whose money funds this transformation, but also whose courteousness and kindness makes Eliza realize she deserves to be treated with respect. At one point, even Mrs. Higgins points out that part of Higgins' triumph is due to his dressmakers. 

At the end of the play, Shaw's decision to make Eliza's future ambiguous signals that his Galatea has recognized her freedom to choose her future. She doesn't have an obligation to be tied down with her supposed creator. I have a real appreciation for this ending, but it turns out that not many other people who chose to adapt the play did. Here Shaw denies the mythical Pygmalion ending as well as the cliched romantic ending that people come to expect and be comforted by.

In fact, Shaw became so annoyed that his ending was warped to have Eliza end up with Higgins that he wrote an afterward to the play clearing up Eliza's future. So much for that nice ending. There he makes it completely known that it never made sense for Eliza to return to a life with Higgins. Instead, she does decide to marry Freddy and they agree to open a shop together. Turns out all that phonetics training didn't prepare Eliza for the reality of running a business and her and Freddy end up taking business classes. 

Eliza may have ended up trapping herself in a different marriage, but at least it's a life she's chosen for herself. As Shaw puts it most eloquently: "Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable." What a contrast to Ovid's Galatea, who sees both her lover and the heavens as equal.  

After all that, we are finally done!! Everyone still with me?? I hope this rather laborious post gave you a better sense of Pygmalion and of Shaw's play. While this is in no way comprehensive, I think I've created a great starting point for my brand new Watch-a-thon series and it'll make my future posts much more accessible.You know what this means?! It's now time for me break out some popcorn, sit myself in front of the fan, and watch some movies. Now I have an excuse to tell myself when I want to stay inside and be a hermit. See you back here for the next installment in the series! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Watch-a-thon Series Announcement!!

Welcome back to another surprise, dear readers! I guess July is the time for announcements apparently, or rather I have the most time off from work this month. I think an increase in the amount of sleep I get reflects in my willingness to blog. So there you go.

For the longest time, I've been leaving vague hints here or there that I would be resuming my Watch-a-thon blog series. It's always been my favorite series on this blog and it was, in fact, the first one that I created. For those who are new to my blog, the Watch-a-thon series is a collection of blog posts where I pick one of my favorite classic works and review existing film/video adaptions of the story. These reviews talk about the faithfulness of those adaptions or how the new interpretations build on the original work.

In the past, I've done Watch-a-thon series on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Both of those works were a joy to review and write about. While they were time consuming in their own ways, I kind of wanted to up the game a little bit and take the series in a more complex direction.

It took me quite a while to settle on another subject for the series. I needed to find a work that I loved, which also found its place in the cultural lexicon. Basically, there needed to be a wide range of adaptions. I played around with the idea of another Austen novel or even a work by a different Bronte sister, but in the end, I chose something I'm quite sure you haven't guessed yet. Have I built up enough anticipation?

The next Watch-a-thon series will feature Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw!!

Pygmalion is perhaps my favorite play, but the jury is out if you include any of Shakespeare's works. My love affair started the summer when I decided to start watching classic movies and came across the gem that is My Fair Lady. I watched that movie and immediately picked up a copy of Shaw's work. I was surprised to find the source material differed in some significant points. My academic mind preferred this version to the film adaption and I've always wanted to explore the story in depth.

What people really don't seem to realize is Pygmalion has a pretty solid and ingrained place in our culture. It just depends on what version of the story you choose to look at, be it the Greek myth, Shaw's play, Broadway's My Fair Lady, or many many more.

For the purposes of this Watch-a-thon series, most of the focus will be on adaptions/interpretations of Shaw's Pygmalion, but I very well might dabble in versions that ally themselves more with the myth than the play. As a note, I won't be including series, episodes, or films that only briefly feature the Pygmalion story. It needs to be the main narrative focus. That means versions like the Classic Alice series on YouTube or that one Simpsons/Disney Channel Hercules episode will not be included. As much as I would love to be comprehensive and include all adaptions, that just isn't possible.

There will be one change from the last Watch-a-thon series that I've completed so far. Before I delve into discussing the adaptions, I will be releasing an overview post that talks about the Pygmalion myth and the play itself. This gives readers who are a tad unfamiliar with the story some basic information and gives us a solid framework to refer back to when discussing themes, plot, and character construction.
That being said, rather intensely if I do say so myself, I'm looking forward to vegging out on the couch with some snacks and watching some great movies. I hope you'll join me on this literary journey!