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!