Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014

I’ve been on a big non-fiction kick lately. I’m mostly interested in history right now. As well as all things European or British. (We can thank the BBC Sherlock for this obsession). I think my obsession with England is overtaking my obsession with France. In my rather insane desire to learn about all things Europe, I’ve been scouring the websites for quality nonfiction books. I want to learn something when I read. Actual facts and figures, not just opinion pieces or funny anecdotes. I feel ready to step away from fiction from a while and really give my brain a challenge. Hence, the Nonfiction Reading Challenge, someone reminiscent of my Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge I attempted a few years back. I’m quite tardy in signing up, but better late than never. Here’s hoping I find some interesting titles to add to my list in the meantime.

There are 4 levels for the challenge. We’ll see where I wind up by the end of the year.

Dilettante–Read 1-5 non-fiction books

Explorer–Read 6-10

Seeker–Read 11-15

Master–Read 16-20

Book Review: The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

The Red Necklace (French Revolution, #1)
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Audio book: Narrator Tom Hiddleston
YA – Historical Fiction

Set during the tumultuous times of the French Revolution in the 18th century, this novel tells the tale of two unlikely teens caught up in the whirlwind of confusion, and tensions between the aristocrats and the peasants in the streets.

The publisher’s synopsis:

The story of a remarkable boy called Yann Margoza; Tetu the dwarf, his friend and mentor; Sido, unloved daughter of a foolish Marquis; and Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, who has half the aristocracy in thrall to him, and wants Yann dead. Yann is spirited away to London but three years later, when Paris is gripped by the bloody horrors of the Revolution, he returns, charged with two missions: to find out Kalliovski’s darkest deeds and to save Sido from the guillotine.

Although this is a YA novel, I wouldn’t label it as a romance novel. Although there is a strong connection between Yann and Sido, it is definitely not at the center of the novel. The novel is more about the tensions in Paris, the fervor spreading across the city as hatred for the rich is mounting and mounting. Sido is swept up in the middle of it all due to her Marquis father, who doesn’t even want her around. Cound Kalliovski is vile, cruel, and wants Sido as a wife. But then there is the wonderous Yann. He needs to figure out a way to save Sido from two very distinct types of death. Marriage to the count and the guillotine. The book itself is a bit iffy on the facts of the revolution, but the revolution is really just a backdrop to the interwoven story between Sido, Yann and the count. There were a number of plot twists that I anticipated, but just as many that I didn’t see coming. There is a magical realism element with Yann’s ability to see threads of light hovering around objects and people around him, allowing him to telepathically move things at a whim.  The novel is well-paced and I like the variety of characters that are introduced. Gardner doesn’t dwell too long on any one element of the novel, but I didn’t feel rushed through the novel either. For reader’s advisory, I think this could be an easy sell for boys, despite the girly cover art. A book about death, revolutions, and a man who can control the entire city of Paris with blackmail and murder threats isn’t an easy book to turn down. This is also book one in a series. Book two is The Silver Blade.

Narration:

I was lucky enough to listen to the audio book narrated by Tom Hiddleston. His narration is flawless. His accents, the voices are all so unique, he really does bring the book to life. His menacing Count Kalliovski that he portrays is spine-tingling. I think he’s narrated one other audio book to date, a James Bond novel. I’m eager to listen to that one next.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise

High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Published 1978
Setting: London, England

In a city block sized high-rise, residents of 40 floors have access to everything they would need in this mini-city within walls. A bank, a grocery store, a junior school and a restaurant. Although the residents tolerate each other, tensions build as mechanical breakdowns start the eventual downfall of the hierarchical society and mass chaos ensues as tenants form packs and their primal instincts kick in for self-preservation.

This book is an eerie look at society falling apart & turning on each other, like packs of wild animals. Apart from being isolated in a high-rise building, it was never very clear why the society in the building decayed beyond technical malfunctions of the elevators. Of course, there was clear jealousy between the haves & have-nots with literal ties to the poor on the bottom & the rich on top. However, the actual cause was murky which bugged me for the entire duration of the book.

The women are passive and victimized in horrifying amounts and are portrayed as neglectful of their husbands and children. The men are aggressive, full of sexual frustration with urges to pee on everything to mark their territory

Did I like this book? No. Did I like how Ballard was able to dehumanize society? Yes, actually. The changes that take place over one character in particular, Wilder, were a fascinating character study to me. This transition from mild social climber to ferocious beast was gradual, frightening and seemed to mirror the entire mood of the high-rise. Most of the other lead characters (all men) where dull in compassion. Laing & Royal in particular offered very little to the book.

The book was recently adapted for the big screen. I’m curious to see what the movie will be like. There is quite a bit of violence (both physical & sexual) throughout the book as people attempt to assert their dominance & status.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book review: A Town Like Paris by Bryce Corbett

A Town Like Paris: Falling in Love in the City of Light
A Town like Paris: Falling in Love in the City of Light by Bryce Corbett
Broadway Books, 2007

Bored at work and nursing a broken heart in London , Bryce Corbett applies for a job in Paris on a whim. He exaggerates his resume, and somehow lands the position. While in Paris, he takes advantage of everything the city has to offer, from the food to the nightclubs to the women.

This isn’t really one of the better Paris memoirs, although I did find Corbett to be funny at times. He is either witty and self-deprecating or pompous and narcissistic. The book is more like a series of essays, there is no structure or form to it really. He constantly refers to his girlfriend as “the showgirl” which is demeaning. Maybe the book is meant to be really light-hearted, but it came off as unprepared for print. Although the book is set in Paris, Corbett’s quest for love could have taken place anywhere in the world. Paris actually has very little to do with the book other than being a backdrop to his escapades.

I read this book so long ago, and on as an ereader, that to be honest, my memory is a bit dusty. I do remember laughing a lot when I read this book, but in regards to the actual substance of the story, I’m at a loss. I won’t lie. This book clearly did not stay with me as other Parisian memoirs have. Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence hit the right notes of humor, wit and culture insight. Stephen Clarke’s A Year in the Merde is the book, if you are looking for something hilarious, sarcastic and snarky.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mystery/adventure tale of a young man in San Francisco who is recently laid off from work. He finds employment with Mr. Penumbra, working the night shift at the bookstore. What he soon discovers is that the bookstore is more than it seems. There is a secret society that comes in, using the books to break codes and solve the clues of a grand mystery.

The main character is kind-of-likeable, but also kind-of-annoying with two sidekicks:  Neel, a computer-obsessed best friend and Kat, an unusually intelligent young woman ( A Googler who also happens to be the  love interest). The central mystery involves a peculiar library in the bookstore and a centuries-old encoded book, and the use of modern technology and software to help solve a very old-fashioned riddle. This book had a very strong beginning. The characters were interesting and well-developed. The writing was funny, but very on point with what life is like in the Bay Area right now. The book is set in San Francisco, so there are a number of local site mentioned throughout the book that I was easily able to identify.  The rest of the book though… it had an iffy middle and a very blah ending.  I’m still trying to the decide if it’s a tribute to Google for all its glory and magnificence, or a warning against Google for all its glory and magnificence. Either way, there is only Google. For a book with so much potential to be awesome, I wasn’t expecting the ending to be so…anticlimactic. The book also has way to many convenient details. This was one of my big complaints about the book Ready Player One. Neel is a millionaire who can pay for everything the group needs and Kat can get them into Google and utilise all the company’s resources, etc). There was never any real tension or peril in the book. I wasn’t really sure what direction the author was headed in most of the time. Is it a love story? A mystery? An adventure? Where do the three overlap? What does it all mean?

So much build-up for nothing. I think Sloan did a wonderful job of keeping an even balance between technology and tangible books. I never got the sense that one is more important than the other. Despite a lackluster ending, I do still recommend this book, especially for the high school age-range.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book review: How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits
How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline De Maigret, Sophie Mas
Doubleday, 2014
 

Written by four best friends, who are also French, this book takes a more unique approach to the French je ne sais quoi. The book doesn’t really have chapters, and it doesn’t tell a story. Well, it tells a broken down story of a Parisian woman, describing everything from her hair, to her clothes, to her parenting style, to her affairs, and throwing lavish dinner parties. Apparently, the hardest part about being a Parisian woman, is making everything seem effortless. Also, it should be no surprise to find this book loaded with delicious recipes. Ones that I want to make right away. The book is funny, although the Parisian woman sounds ridiculously high-maintenance in her attempts to appear low-maintainence. I wonder though, how much of this book is real and how much is parody? How obsessed are we non-French folks, that we’ll readily believe anything and everything written about how to be French?

This is definitely not a memoir, no big insights into the culture other than their fascination with appearances and simplicity. I guess simplicity is really the best definition of the French way of life. You either live a simple life, or you make sure that your complicated life appears simple to passersby.

I did find a few profound nuggets of good advice in the book though. This one is my favorite. I like the concept of cheating on myself. Its like “treat yourself day” but more indulgent.

Nowadays more than ever your life is organized like clockwork, everything ‘a planned, you go from A to B, yet at this instant your phone is turned off , no one knows what you’re doing or where you are. It’s exciting to break your own habits; you’re cheating on yourself, expanding the scope of your possibilities.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z : a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Two Roads, 2013
Find this book at your local library

This book was a totally engrossing & captivating story of Scott. & Zelda Fitzgerald’s roller coaster marriage. Fowler’s work reads with the same pacing and flow as Melanie Benjamin’s books (of which I am a huge fan). This novel follows the relationship of the Fitzgeralds through the various stages of Scott’s literary career, covering all of his published works. A majority of their nomadic marriage was spent overseas in France, drunk.

As much as I love The Great Gatsby, I have to admit that my knowledge of the Fitzgeralds is negligible. All I knew was that Scott was best friends with Hemingway and that he was drunk most of the time. I knew absolutely nothing about Zelda before this book. It was an eye-opening look at life nearly 100 years ago, and how far the woman’s independence movement has come since. I doubt Zelda would have felt the same constraints on her ambitions now as she must have felt back then.

My only complaints with the book are that ending felt rushed & choppy. The entire story was well paced, with just enough time devoted to the various stages of their lives. But then, we get to the end and Zelda’s institutional period and everything is quickly rushed through. Maybe its because these experiences were a blur for her? I don’t know, but I wished that those areas had been fleshed out a little more. Although Fowler had been making subtle statements about the latent sexism of the time throughout the novel, I felt that she really battered the reader with it during the last few chapters about Zelda’s institutional experiences and the ridiculously sexist opinions of the psychiatrists (however accurate they may have been). As an end result, I now feel extra inspired to read the rest of Scott’s work, but also to find and read Zelda’s work too. I want to know more about their lives. Fowler tried to stay neutral between the team-Zelda and team-Scott fans. Although I think there is a slight bias towards team-Zelda. I for, one, am anti-Hemingway, and at the very least, this book solidified my opinion of him as a pompous, inflated ego.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book Review: Born Reading by Jason Boog

Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age -- From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between
Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age – From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between by Jason Boog
Touchstone Books, 2014
 

I seriously don’t have enough good things to say about this book. I borrowed this copy from the library, but I already have plans to order a copy to keep, because its an amazing resource. Not just for parents, but for librarians and teachers too. Also, I want to say that of all the read-to-your-kids books that I’ve read, this is one of the few, maybe the only, that actively encourages using the library and talking to librarians. I felt so appreciated.

The book tracks Boog’s reading experiences with his young daughter Olive from her birth to Kindergarten. Along the way, he discusses the importance of interactive reading (if you read anything in this book, make sure its the introduction). He provides awesome booklists for every stage and the pages are filled with reading activities, app activities for parents and children to do together. Its a great way to see literacy intertwined with everyday life. From having books in the bathroom during the potty-training stage, to have books at the dinner table and in the car. His reading relationship with his daughter is commendable. I’d like to say that he’s this generation’s Jim Trelease.

I must sound like such a groupie. But this book is awesome, and I think its one that should find its way into school curriculum for teachers and librarians. I think its really important for all of these figures in a child’s life to bring the same messages and examples at every stage of their lives. I want to know what the parents are reading, what the kids are reading so that I can make sure that my library is stocked with books that will be of value to them. That will help guide their curiosity and enhance their experiences.

The sections on interactive were the most interesting for me. There are about a dozen different tactics to use when reading with your child. From pointing to pictures on a page, to asking questions about the illustrations and the story. This type of reading has been shown to increase IQ points as well as overall reading comprehension level, putting some children ahead 6 to 8 months from their peers. Something so simple can have such a huge impact. I mostly let out a sigh of relief when I realized that this is not only how I read to my son, but also, its how I read during my storytime performances. I like audience participation. I just didn’t realize that it would benefit the kids in such a strong way.

In his own words:

It’s not only important THAT we read with children, but also HOW we read with children. Born Reading will show anyone who loves kids how to make sure the children they care about are building a powerful foundation in literacy from the beginning of life.

Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park. Its one of those tragic, teen love stories that you wish would never end. Eleanor has newly been allowed to move back in with her mom, siblings and stepfather. After a terrible fight, he kicked her out and wouldn’t let her come back home. Seeing as how Richie is an abusive drunk, Eleanor’s transition back into her own family was difficult. For fear of inflicting his wrath, she did her best to remain invisible. Invisibility is what she could not produce at school. With bright red hair, and a plump body, Eleanor quickly became a target for the various cliques at the school. But everyday, she rode the bus to and from school with Park. Everyday, Park would read a comic book and one day Eleanor started reading along. Eventually, the two navigated their way towards a budding romance.

 

So much of this book reminded me of my youth. My crushes and even how my current marriage developed over the years. Rowell is a master of subtle emotions. The changes in Eleanor and Park and their feelings for each other happen so gradually, so naturally, that you don’t even realize how perfect it all is, until you take Eleanor’s stepfather into account.

The book is set in the 1980s, so I appreciated the sincerity of the relationship and the lack of technological crutches. Everything came down to looks, tone of voice, body language. This book will resonate greatly with teenagers, although I really only know adults who’ve read it. But it does have all the great elements in it. The mean girls, the abusive stepfather, the misunderstood teenagers trying to figure themselves out in a crazy world and how teenagers are constantly on the edge. They live in the 4-walled bubble of home, but have one foot out the door towards adulthood.

I listened to the audio book version. The authors narrated male and female for the alternating Eleanor and Park chapters. The dual perspective really added to the development of their relationship as they would recap some of the same scenarios from different view points. I sometimes halt at alternating perspectives, because the books tend to get repetitive, but Rowell did a good job of providing original material in each chapter.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Gilmore Girls is Coming to Netflix! (10/01/14)

Brew your coffee, order your pizzas and burgers because Gilmore Girls is coming to Netflix on Wednesday Oct. 1st! Nevermind that I already own all 7 seasons on DVD. Nevermind that I’ve already seen every episode about a dozen times and can tell you what will happen in the entire episode just by watching the first 5 minutes. Nevermind all that, because now I can do it all again, without having to constantly get up and chance the disc in the DVD player! Yay!

Via (The Decider)