The Good Earth

Today we are shooting across the globe to China and reading about yet another culture I haven’t spent much time in. I’m so glad to be opening my world up beyond the normal White America that is so prevalent in publishing.

I’m thinking about doing an Around the World challenge–reading a book from every country. Does anyone know of any “Map My Books” apps or websites? I have what I want in my head but I’m not sure if they are out there. I’d really like a way to track the books I’ve read from outside of the US in certain places, and maybe look up books in countries I’ve not read yet. Not sure if anything like that exists.

Just brainstorming. May be a challenge I’ll put together for 2016–and that’s still a ways away. Hmmmmm…..

Aaaaannnyyyywayyyyy….Back to China.

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The Good Earth takes place in the late 1800s-mid 1900s in mostly northern China. Wang Lung starts his adult life as a poverty-stricken farmer living with his old, grumpy father. He wants a wife, so he skimps a few coins to buy an ugly (but not pock-marked) slave from a rich family in town. She becomes his life-long friend and companion, not only giving him many children, but because of her help in the fields, they are able to grow the farm to success–with a few struggles along the way, of course.

I loved the first half of this book. It’s almost a Fiddler on the Roof kind of love story (OK, so I MAY have watched that episode of Gilmore Girls last night where Kirk is in an elementary play.). They don’t start by loving each other, but they work next to each other in the fields, hardly talking, gaining mutual respect, and it’s a marriage. It’s a hard life, but a seemingly happy one. O-lan supports his constant yearning for landownership and never pushes him towards material things. It’s a simple life that they both want.

But, something breaks in Wang Lung after the first famine, when they have to go south, I think. After they get back, he immediately starts gaining new land and capital, and is never the same. When he realizes how rich he is, and above the Old Lord, his ego overcomes him and his life just goes downhill from there. The more “successful” he is, the less fulfilled he becomes.

I did have to remind myself a few times that this is a different culture, and so things like concubines and sons getting education over working in the fields were normal. But I was so frustrated for O-lan. And I did not always understand the dynamic between Wang Lung and his uncle.

Really, I think my main takeaway is just that you don’t always need to be rich in order to have a full life. Oh, and Chinese farm wives are badass. That too. O-lan, you’re pretty much my hero right now. “Just bring me a sharp reed, and stay out.”

Ok, O-lan, whatever you say, O-lan.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #18:  A Pulitzer Prize-winning book

Les Miserables

One Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty-Three.

That’s how many pages are in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

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I started this beast on Sunday. It has been a long time since I have conquered a book like this and it was almost as big a battle as the battle Hugo as writing about.

Ok…maybe not that big. But at times it felt like it. Like when we get through the biggest fight scene in the book–the big drama throw down at the barricade–and then we get a dissertation on Paris’ sewers.

No one kills a climax like Victor Hugo. WOMP.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. It’s impossible to read something this massive without having super strong feelings about it. This book is powerful, no way around it. And because I saw the movie musical first, it’s really hard to separate the two in my head. The entire time I was reading it, I was singing the songs. The main characters were their cast, of course. And I was pleased to find out how well the play actually did follow the main plot of the book…

…when we actually got to see the actual main plot of the book.

Here’s the thing about Hugo (or at least Les Mis, as this is my first Hugo):  he is the KING of context. For every 2 books/volumes of plot, there is at least one of scene setting or character building. For instance, before we even get to the storyline, we have to know every single itty bitty detail about the household of the bishop who redeems Jean ValJean. He’s an important character, sure, but a minor one. One we see him, he’s gone from the story. So why do we need to know Old Testament-level detail about his life? And we get that for nearly every single person who is introduced into the book.

You would think this would be a helpful feature in remembering who everyone is. But it’s actually just the opposite. All of the overcharacterization actually made it harder to keep track of the people in my head. It was just too much information. I didn’t realize until the end that Gavroche was the little boy until he took the note from Marius to Jean ValJean during the battle, or that Enjolras was the leader of the rebels. I actually had those two people backwards. Of course, I knew the main people–Jean ValJean, Javert, Cosette, and Marius–because, helloooo, I will never ever forget an Eddie Redmayne character, ever. But the rest is curtained by Hugo’s overwriting.

On the flipside, some of the extra stuff, even if it gets in the way of the story is interesting. Les Mis is as much philosophy as it is fiction. (Great historical fiction–but fiction nonetheless.) Sewer rant aside, there is quite a bit to be gained from diving into Hugo’s studies, even if it does sound like he’s standing on a soap box preaching at the top of his lungs. I also felt like I got much of the French history that I was missing. I want to go back and read parts of it from yesterday because I was not in the mindset to absorb it all and there was so much there that I have been wanting to learn about.

Les Miserables is a hell of a beast, but extremely worthy of my time and effort. I would suggest that if you’re going to try it, clear the other projects off your list.  This isn’t a book that you are going to be able share your reading schedule with, as I learned the hard way. Hugo requires too much focus for that. It’ll go in my reread pile…but not for quite some time.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #47:  A play

Fulfills Boxall #92

Joseph Andrews

You know…there are just some reviews that I do not know how to write. I just sit here with my mouth open a little flabbergasted.

But, since I can’t move on to the next book until I review (kind of a cathartic/cleansing process), it must be done!

*wetdogshudder*

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When I think of England 1742, I do not think of comedy. I think of pomp and red coats and powdered wigs and tea. Very high brow, pinky in the air type stuff.

But, I suppose, every generation has their own form of entertainment…and Henry Fielding was apparently it. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to well to “funny” in 2015. Socially on point, maybe. Funny, no.

I only got through Volume 1, but the book is basically about a footman who has committed to abstinence until marriage. What? Yep, apparently he took the same health class we did. However, all these slutty women (I’m using this term because it is how the book refers to them, not because I want to slut-shame.) keep throwing themselves at him. Something about his chastity makes them absolutely crazy.

At one point, a woman all but forces him to have sex with her because she absolutely does not believe he is a virgin. He is a man, and poor, so obviously he is promiscuous, right?

“I can’t see why her having no virtue should be a reason against my having any; or why, because I am a man, or because I am poor, my virtue must be subservient to her pleasures.”

The woman goes on to say, “I am out of patience.” And then continues to bully him into giving it up because she is SO superior to him. She strips him of his wages and position in her rage.

There are other similar instances, and all of them are supposed to be, as Fielding calls it, “burlesque,” or slapstick. They are meant to be comedic, and not serious. However, in today’s culture, I think it’s a great example of how sexual pressure can go either way. I realize it is fiction, but to have this example from 1742…it just stuck out at me as something to keep in mind.

One really obnoxious thing about this book are the characters’ names. Some are normal:  Joseph, Fanny, Pamela. But you know a character is going in the story for dramatic or comedic effect based on their name. People like Lady Booby, Madame Slipslop, and Constable Suckbribe. I WISH I were making this up. Constable SUCKBRIBE?! I mean…really. I guess that’s slapstick in 1742. Someone please write an SNL skit for this. Please.

I do feel like he spends more time explaining his book than actually having a book to explain. He gets sidetracked or something, I’m not sure. We’ll be in the middle of a scene, and it’ll be like “Squirrel! Oh, let me explain to you a thing.” And he’ll go on a tangent about the chapter headings. What?

Weirdest book ever. Ok, probably not. But it’s definitely up there. I’m not sure I have the brain cells necessary to try for Vol. 2, so I’m just going to list it and move on down the line.

Constable Suckbribe. Really? REALLY?!

Fulfills PopSugar #15:  A popular author’s first book

Fulfills Boxall #86

The Truth According to Us

R and I are on this fitness track. Both of us are trying to lose weight, so we bought Fitbits, and have been walking. I’ve upped my yoga game, and we’ve been cooking more (and healthier) at home. So far so good!

Something I’ve noticed though is that since we’ve started this, I have a really hard time sitting still! Relaxing has never been an issue for me, but lately, I’ve been pretty charged up. This means that settling into a book can be challenging. I read in shorter spurts, unless it is something that really holds my attention.

Normally, I can go through two books on a weekend, unless it is something really long. 500 pages doesn’t really scare me. It might take me a day and a half…but it doesn’t pose too much of a challenge. When it’s day 3 and I’m only halfway through, that usually means I’m not so interested.

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The thing about The Truth According to Us isn’t really the characters or the setting this time. I actually like the idea of the book itself–a senator wants to teach his daughter Layla some work ethic in the middle of the Depression, so he sends her to a tiny town in West Virginia to write its history for the WPA. Of course, she hates the idea, but the more stories she hears, the more she falls in love with the place and its people. There’s also a little girl (an almost Scout-like character) who follows her around, trying to figure out what she’s up to. At first, she worships her, then it because more suspicion.

Part of me really wants to know what happens, but I just can’t keep going. I am so incredibly frustrated with the writing. Actually…it’s not even that. It’s really just the narration. I can’t freaking figure out from page to page who is talking! One moment, it’ll be 1st person narrative from Willa’s (the little Scout personality) point of view. Then you’ll have a not even a chapter break, but just a section pause, and it’ll shift to third person narrative overlooking everyone. Then the chapter WILL break and there will be some letters between Layla and her friends, and it’ll be more third person, but more from her perspective…until you go back to Willa again with little warning. Oh my gosh. It’s so frustrating and confusing. I can’t keep straight what is going on.

I was seriously reading a chapter where Willa was talking in 1st person and a paragraph later “they” were all sitting in the kitchen, Willa included. HUH?

Nope. Trying to figure out who is in the frame and if the narrator is omnipresent is just making me crazy. That is why it is taking me so dang long to read this book. It’s giving me a headache, and it’s just not worth finishing. I hate quitting ARC reviews halfway through, but I just can’t do it!

The Truth According to Haley is…don’t read this one unless you have a LOT of patience.

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. It is being released today, June 9th, 2015.

Fulfills PopSugar #50:  A book you started but never finished

The Turn of the Screw/The Aspern Papers

Whoo hoo! I’m finally finished with Henry James! When I read The Iliad as my first “study” book, I thought reading prose would be easier than epic poetry, but I’ll be honest…this really seemed to drag on forever. I know some of you have been wondering about this book sitting in my Currently Reading section of WWW Wednesdays. Trust me, it’s a strugglebus only reading a chapter a day! But, I think I’d exhaust myself trying to read more of these books at a time.

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The Aspern Papers

This story made me really angry at everyone involved. At the narrator for being such a prick and taking advantage of Miss Tina and the old woman. While he is upfront about his intentions and desire for nothing but the Aspern Papers, he still manipulated Miss Tina quite a bit. I hated the old woman for hanging on to these papers with such a fervor, wanting to burn them rather than have anyone else have them. And then there is Miss Tina. Now, I understand how tempting it must have been, being a spinster and having a man come live with her, befriending her, and all that. But come on Miss Tina! You KNEW what he wanted. He TOLD you what he wanted. The entire relationship you were plotting to get those papers away from your aunt. So why in the world did you think he was in love with you, and not those papers? Sigh. Miss Tina made herself ridiculous in the end, and I was so ashamed.

It was well written, I just didn’t like a single character in it. Sometimes that happens. *shrug*

The Turn of the Screw

I’ll be honest–I had to look up the Wiki summary of this one because I was so utterly confused by what the heck was going on. I could tell it was some sort of ghost story–that much I got from the beginning narration. After that, I completely lost my way and I was just ready for it to be OVER…which thanks to the short chapters and my chapter-a-day ration…it took FOREVER. Oh my goodness. Needless to say I did not like it.

The Beast in the Jungle

I quite liked this one, maybe because I can relate to it so much. The main character feels there is going to be something so big in his life that he must put off everything else for waiting. Even when he meets the love of his life–a woman who becomes his best friend and essentially, life partner, he will not marry her, because of this “beast” of an event. And he waits, and he waits. And May, ever patient, waits with him. I’m always waiting for the next big thing to happen, so it struck home to me quite a bit.

The Jolly Corner

My first thought when beginning this one was “Wow, this would make a great name for a bar!” More than that, I don’t have much to say about it. It’s another one of James’ really vague ghost stories.

I think that’s the key thing about James’ writing–and the thing I most dislike. His stories are so vague, probably to seem mysterious, but I never had any idea what was going on. There was never any real definition of what the “mystery” was or what I was supposed to be looking for. Just this whispery hint of discomfort. The protagonist was troubled, but why? I always ended up going to Wikipedia afterwards to see if I understood the story correctly, and more often than not I found out details that I had missed.

So, not a fan of Henry James. Mark another X on the list!

Fulfills Boxall #85

Fulfills PopSugar #25: A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t

Red Queen

Everyone has been reading Red Queen lately. It is the new it cover right now. Of course it is–it’s gorgeous!

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I’ve seen mixed reviews, but I knew I had to get my hands on this story. It took me a little while to get from the library, but yay! Just in time for our last minute road trip.

The structure of Aveyard’s book is familiar, and I think that might be the cause for the mixed feelings. It’s another combat dystopian:  female main character, relying on two males for help, which of course leads to the inevitable love triangle. (There’s actually a third mixed in there too–can’t tell if he’s just buddy buddy or what that relationship is meant to be yet.) So, yes, the framing is nothing extremely unique. I’m ok with that though.

I very much enjoyed the world Aveyard created. There are two types of humans–Red blood (lower class) and Silver blood (upper class). The Reds are forced into a kind of serfdom society and mandatory military service at 18. Life means desperate poverty and misery. Silvers have special abilities–like manipulating minds or throwing fire, and they battle each other for power and notoriety. Reds lack this power and so they are held down by the stronger Silvers.

However, a rebellion is rising up among the Reds and one young girl is caught between the two societies.

This is only the first book in the series, and of course now I’m dying for the continuation. I had a hard time putting Red Queen down. Even though the tropes were familiar and somewhat predictable, I like this kind of book, and it was a fantastic addition to the genre.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #31:  A book with bad reviews

Bring Up the Bodies

Henry VIII. No matter your opinion of the man, no one can deny that he and his court are immensely fascinating and dramatic. If only there were reality TV in the 1500s–could you imagine the Real Housewives of The Tower? THAT would be worth watching. (Hey spoofers…someone please do this. Please!)

I fell in love with Henry’s court when I first watched The Tudors on Netflix several years ago, and while there were several dramatic liberties taken, it let me down a rabbit hole of information hoarding. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the period.

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Somewhere in there, Hilary Mantel published Wolf Hall, her first book from the perspective of the formidable Thomas Cromwell. I was completely enthralled. Cromwell is like all of the Lannister’s in one brain. Jaime’s weary eye, Tywin’s crazy intelligence, Cersei’s power hungry ambition, and Tyron’s book sharpened wit. Not to mention Littlefinger and Varys’ connections and abilities to find out really just about anything about anybody.

In Wolf Hall, you see Anne Boleyn’s utter domination over Henry and his court…and Katherine’s subsequent demise. And now in Bring on the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s second Thomas Cromwell book, you get the same sneaky ambition as we watch Anne Boleyn’s scheming come to a bitter end.

Mantel’s second book is just as well written as the first. Cromwell has always been an intriguing character to me. Not quite villainous, but definitely Slytherin in nature. He is out for his own skin, furthering his own cause, even using his son to do so. He is normally a background character in every other rendition of this court’s history, but Mantel brings him to life. I love the stream of consciousness narration that she gives him–not quite third person, but it’s all in his head, talking to himself.

If you like Game of Thrones, you will like this book. As I’ve mentioned, I draw a lot of parallells in the court and Cromwell to Martin’s characters (although I have read that he wrote it about the War of the Roses, which was before this period). Also, if you like Philippa Gregory, then you probably already know this storyline, as told by the women. You’ll really like this book, if you’re interested in a different perspective. Just be sure to read Wolf Hall first. There are some nicknames in Bring on the Bodies that will make more sense if you do.

I really hope Mantel continues this series! I look forward to reading them!

 

Fulfills PopSugar #46:  A book written by an author with your same initials

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geeks

HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!

JUMPS UP AND WAVES ERRATICALLY AT ALL MY FELLOW GIRL GEEKS, NERDS, OBSESSIVE LOVERS OF EVERYTHING.

I HAVE FOUND THE FANGIRL FEMINIST BIBLE.

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*phew* Ok. I’m tired now. Sometimes being that enthusiastic can be exhausting, but this book gave me ALL THE FEELS. Because ladies, it is all about us! And it’s amaaaaazing. I’m not kidding, I was internally screaming the whole time I was reading, like FINALLY someone stood up and said HEY! We need this. We deserve this. This is ours.

I basically want to post myself at the doorway of every high school and just hand out copies of this book. Because girls need to read it. It would change so many young girls’ attitudes about so many things.

I should probably tell you about it, huh? *deep breath* Ok. Calming down. Just a little bit though.

Sam Maggs is a fan girl. And like many of us, she’s gotten all of the resistance from the patriarchy about being a “fake geek girl.” What even is that anyway? Ugh. So, she’s written a book about how to fly our fan girl flag so high that the guys can have absolutely nothing to say about us being fake. Because we are pretty freaking awesome, ladies, and we should show it.

This book covers all the bases of geek–from cosplay to Tumblr, cons to YA lit. But the real underlying theme is confidence and feminism. It’s time to believe in ourselves and stop letting the world outside tear us down and stop us from being who we really want to be. The most wonderful thing about being a geek is that we love something with everything we have, which makes us different than anybody else. Why not show everyone what that one thing is?

If you couldn’t tell, I really loved this book. It’s coming out on May 12, and you bet I’m going to have this one on my shelf. Are you a fan girl? FLY THAT FLAG!

 

Fulfills PopSugar #24:  A book based entirely on its cover

NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review.

Written in Red

Fanfiction of fairy tales is the “it” thing right now, and I am loving it! For some reason Red Riding Hood especially seems to be popular. She was never my favorite character growing up, but I do love the modern day remixes.

Book Club Fiction is reading Written in Red this month, and while it’s been awhile since I’ve participated in one of their readalongs–I was able to get this one from my library in time. I am so glad I did!

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I will say that at first, I wasn’t too sure about it. The prologue really doesn’t explain what the Others are very well, and so the whole time I was thinking “Oooook….so you’re saying if Native Americans just would have been evil cannibals, the white men wouldn’t have come in and taken over?” It just seemed a little…off. Once I got into the story and realized the author wasn’t talking about people at all, it made perfect sense, but at first, I was more than a little concerned.

Don’t let the prologue scare you like it did me. The Others are actually ancient earth natives. Terra Indigene. Their basic form is a pumped up form of animal (Wolf, Crow, Coyote, Bear, even Vampire), but they have adapted to be able to shift into human shape as necessary. However, they hate humans, and see them as just another form of meat that they somehow have to live with.

Meg, however, doesn’t smell like prey for some reason. She’s different, and they don’t know why. But she is scared and needs shelter, so they hire her on. Suddenly things get super complicated.

I loved this story. It was both scary and also gentle. There was friendship, but not exactly romance. I kept expecting it to break off into romance, because, you know, that’s what always happens in books like this. But it never came, and it was a nice change.

I do want to give you a trigger warning. There is quite a bit of discussion and a couple of scenes with cutting. Meg was in a cult type culture before she came to The Others where the girls were cut to induce prophecies. If that will trigger you, please don’t read this book, or proceed with caution, as it is a big part of the story. Please take care of yourself!

Two books in a row that I couldn’t put down? Maybe my slump is finally over! *fingers crossed*

 

Fulfills Popsugar #37:  A book with a color in the title

 

Killing Kennedy

Certain moments define a generation. They are the points in our history that we talk about forever, the stories we put in our books, the memories we tell our grandchildren.

For my generation, that moment was 9/11. I will never forget sitting in a testing room with 20 of my classmates, finishing early and hearing the buzz of the nervous teachers, then watching in horror when they turned on the TV.

Before that poignant day, I heard so many adults say, “I’ll never remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot.” And I always thought that was such a weird comment, but now I get it. Those memories really do live forever.

Until recently, the 1960s seemed so long ago. Camelot seemed so old-fashioned and unrealistic, and I was never really interested in that time period. It bored me to death, to be honest. But now, with civil rights issues suddenly exploding, the 1960s are no longer boring…they are happening all over again.

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My husband has been reading…or at least buying…Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series, and so far has found them very interesting. I don’t lean quite so Right, so I was avoiding these, afraid that they would be a little too political for me. However, Killing Kennedy really didn’t have any political slant at all, for being a book about a president. Most of the base details I already knew, but it was interesting to ready about the finer points of what happened leading up to the days of the assassination and what happened after. The book was obviously well researched and well written.

My only real criticism is that the authors (not sure who did most of the writing) use the world “belie” waaaaaay too much. Seriously, it’s a weird word and they use it over and over and over again. I know. I’m nitpicking. But it stuck out at me.

If you like histories, this is a good one. It reminded me of the Pearl Harbor history that I read of FDR not too long ago. It wasn’t a full biography of JFK, just a moment in time. I won’t be so hesitant to read the other three O’Reilly books in the series now.

 

Counting this for PopSugar #43. It takes place in Dallas, which is not my hometown but it’s where I live now. My home town is a tiny town of 10,000 people.  #43. A book that takes place in your hometown.