Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Source: My Copy
2015 Reading Challenge categories

  • Written by a woman
  • A book that can be read in a day
  • A book a friend recommended

Through Homer’s epic The Odyssey, what we know of Penelope is that she is the faithful and clever wife of Odysseus. She is the wife who remains loyal and devoted to her husband after a twenty-year separation. Ten years for the Trojan War, and the following ten years it takes of Odysseus to find his way back home. Throughout her time, many suitors barge into her home in the hopes of marrying her and laying claim to all of her wealth and possessions.

The Penelopiad follows the same story, but told through the eyes and voice of Penelope. The story is told by Penelope in the afterlife (Hades) centuries after her death. I”m still unsure how I feel about this. It allowed for a modern tone & colloquialisms, but it still felt out of place with when the Odyssey took place. I think I went into this book expecting is told concurrently with the Odyssey rather than a retelling many eons later. I learned that Odysseus is a charming ass, but we already knew that. But he is only one of the few people who listens to Penelope and treats her with respect. The chapters told through Penelope’s voice are separated by chapters told through the 12 maids who were murdered by Odysseus upon his return to his palace. Although they were murder under the premise of their disloyalty to Penelope, early on we find out that it was Penelope who encouraged them to mix and mingle with the suitors, to bad-mouth their mistress in order to find out their plans. Penelope didn’t reveal her plan to Odysseus before the murder, so thus, the injustice was carried out. I liked the chapters of the maid’s point of view the best I think. They varied from prose, to song, to a trial before a judge. The injustice of their deaths was very creatively done.

National Readathon Day – Saturday 1/24/2015

Readathon (image courtesy of Penguin Randon House)

Saturday January 24th has been bookmarked as the first ever National Readathon Day, organized by The National Book Foundation, GoodReads, Mashable and Penguin Random House.

You can read the full blurb by Penguin Random House on their blog here.

From the site:

You can get involved by joining readers across America in a marathon reading session on Saturday, January 24. From Noon – 4 PM in our respective time zones, we will sit and read a book in our own home, library, school or bookstore.

Get started now by creating your own Firstgiving Fundraising page, and inviting friends and family to donate, or visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for more information.

The Hobbit: Or There & Back Again (JRR Tolkien)

The hobbit, or, There and back again

The Hobbit (or There and Back Again) by JRR Tolkien

Library Copy

2015 Reading Challenge categories:

  1. A book that became a movie
  2. A book with nonhuman characters
  3. A book with magic

As a young hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds himself immersed in an adventure of unknown dangers after being mistaken for a burglar by a troupe of dwarves seeking to return to their homeland. Brought into the group as the fourteenth member by Gandalf the Grey Wizard, Bilbo finds not only adventure, but a host of new friends, experiences and levels of bravery that he didn’t think could extend past the warm comforts of his hobbit hole.

What is there to say about the Hobbit that hasn’t been said before? I will openly admit that I wasn’t 100% aware that this book was written for children by Tolkien. I’d seen it shelved in the children’s fiction shelves, but because of the year it was written, I didn’t think that children were the primary audience. That being said, the book is surprisingly and wonderfully kid-friendly, albeit a challenging read with difficult vocabulary, concepts and an intriguing menu of characters from the dragon Smaug, to the elves to the Lakemen. This book is a great bridge for those delving into the Harry Potter books, but aren’t quite ready for the scary arch it takes sometime after The Goblet of Fire. Although, I did find it odd that in the entire book, there is not one single female character. I was more than halfway through the book when I realized that. It didn’t make the book any less interesting or well written. But it is an interesting note.

Other thoughts. The book struck a fine balance between scary, suspense, humor and adventure. There were some slow parts, and parts of the Battle of Five Armies felt rushed. Smaug’s demise wasn’t as dramatic as I thought it would have been, especially since the dwarves had no part of it. The chapter titled Riddles in the Dark was a good introduction to Gollum and the one ring designed to rule them all. It’s funny how easily Tolkien glossed over the powers and the weight of the ring in this book. It’s hardly worth remembering except that it helped Bilbo get out of a few scrapes and help rescue his friends along the way.

Right now, I feel very ready to tackle the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read the first a long time ago, and my memory of it is very vague. Quite possibly because I skimmed so much of it. Tolkien can be very Dickensian. The Hobbit was nicely spaced with songs, riddles, illustrations and maps (apparently all drawn by Tolkien). These bits helped break up the monotony of the story. Now that I’ve finished the Hobbit, I’m not ready to leave the world of Middle Earth. And I do believe that a trilogy is one of the items on the 2015 Reading Challenge.

New Year, New News

I hope everyone had an an amazing New Year holiday! I’ll be jump-starting this year with my category of the Cybils Shortlist titles for Easy Readers & Early Chapter Books. I won’t be posting reviews until after February though. Although I should have a review of The Hobbit up pretty soon.

The round 1 judges spent countless hours reading, reviewing and discussing the merits of these books (among others). They did a great job narrowing down the selection for my round 2 group.

View this list, along with their commentaries on the Cybils website

Easy Readers

Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken by Sarah Dillard (Aladdin)
Okay, Andy! by Maxwell Eaton (Blue Apple Books)
Clara and Clem Under the Sea by Ethan Long (Penguin USA)
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway (Candlewick Press)
The Ice Cream Shop: A Steve and Wessley Reader by Jennifer E. Morris (Scholastic)
Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare by Melissa Wiley (Simon Spotlight)
My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems (Disney-Hyperion)

Early Chapter Books

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend by Anna Branford (Atheneum)
The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin (Atheneum)
The Lion Who Stole My Arm by Nicola Davies (Candlewick Press)
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon (Dial Books)
Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay (Albert Whitman & Company)
Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake by Julie Sternberg (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Lulu’s Mysterious Mission by Judith Viorst (Atheneum)

Book Review: How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean

Source: library copy

Genre: non-fiction

How Paris Became Paris is a wonderful book for anyone interested in a brief history to the City of Light. DeJean’s book covers a lot of ground, focusing on the 17th century developments happening in the city. However, she doesn’t go in as much depth as say a history book. Her writing style is much more casual, although you’ll be inundated with interesting facts about the structuring of the city of Paris.

She starts with the Pont Neuf bridge, and from there, the chapters discuss the ripple effects of this bridge on French social society. The invention of this bridge quite literally paved the way for modern French interactions, fashion as well as development throughout the city. The widened bridge became the first in Europe to be of such a width as to allow the public to parade through the streets. It is as a result of this bridge, that the French started leaving their homes to go for walks. These walks led to the necessity of being fashionably dressed. The need for fashion led to the invention of clothing stores and the hobby known as shopping. The availability of shopping allowed for people of all class caste systems to be able to dress and intermingle with people above and below their rank. This intermingling led to many more social developments, particularly in relation to women’s freedoms.

The chapters have a very easy flow to them, picking up where the previous one concluded. I found them to be the perfect length. Neither too long, nor too short. There are a number of illustrations, photographs and maps dotted throughout the chapters to break up the text and help highlight the author’s opinions. The author has a clear love for the city, and it strongly reflected in her writing. Paris can do no wrong and had apparently been an inspiration to other European capitals over the centuries. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone planning a trip to Paris. Having some historical insight will make the tourist stops that much more meaningful.

A Jane Austen Book Guide

I found this gem on Tumblr from the Austin Public Library. Apparently it was Jane Austen’s birthday on Dec. 16th. What a fun way to celebrate! I now have even more books to add to my to-read list.

photo

  1. Longbourn by Jo Baker
  2. Jane Austen and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron
  3. Pride & Prescience by Carrie Bebris
  4. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
  5. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  6. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
  7. Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife by Linda Berdoll
  8. The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Simonsen
  9. Sass & Serendipity by Jennifer Zigler
  10. Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
  11. Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
  12. Emma adapted by Nancy Baker
  13. Sense & Sensibility adapted by Nancy Baker
  14. Pride & Prejudice adapted by Nancy Baker
  15. Northanger Abbey adapted by Nancy Baker
  16. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
  17. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
  18. Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
  19. Lost in Austen
  20. Bride & Prejudice
  21. The Jane Austen Bookclub by Karen Joy Fowler
  22. Austenland by Shannon Hale

2015 Reading Challenge

This 2015 Reading Challenge complied by PopSugar seems very feasible, for me at least. I’ve never been good with reading challenges, but I think I could accidently read a number of the books on this checklist. That’s another plus, is that its a checklist form. There’s nothing I love better than checking something off a list. I think I might print out a number of these to pass out at the library this month. What reading challenges are you signing up for next year?

Book review: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (Austen Project #1)

Sense & sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (Austen Project #1)

Source: Publisher

Publisher/ISBN: HarperCollins 2013, 9780062200464

Find this book at your local library

In this contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood women are upgraded to the modern era, with Facebook, Twitter, cell phones and modern-day analogies of their 19th century dilemmas.

After the death of Henry Dashwood, his house at Norland Park is given to his son, the next male in line. This is because he and Belle Dashwood never actually got married. After John and Fanny move into Norland Park with their young tot Harry, Fanny promptly kicks out the Dashwood family, sending them to Devon to live at Barton College. What happens next is a series of romantic flings and romantic flops as the women try to sort out their lives now that everything they know is in disarray.

I’ve read so many review of this book, and so many of them are so negative. Although I agree with a considerable sum of the complaints, I still liked the book. I thought it was a very well retelling of a story. Much of Jane Austen’s work is social satire, highlighting the restraints in freedom of women in 19th Century England. Of course those restraints don’t translate into this century. Women are free to work, the passing of property doesn’t automatically go to the next male heir (unless its written in a will) and women aren’t forced to marry for money to maintain their living standards. They can, and most do, make do on their own two feet. The retelling definitely stunted the Dashwood women, but trying to maintain a semblance to those social standards of yore. Belle Dashwood was frustrating in her ignorance and lack of maturity. Elinor took over the reigns to get the family back on its feet. Marianne was flighty, devoutly falling in love with John Willoughby (Wills!), even though why and how they fell in love so quickly was never addressed. That made that entire storyline awkward and forced. The youngest sister was here and there, never really a presence. The way Belle and Marianne were so cavalier about money and not giving it a thought after they had been effectively made homeless by Fanny was ridiculous by today’s standards.

OK, so maybe it sounds like I didn’t like the book. I did like it. I swear. I was still very much interested in the lives of the Dashwood, particularly seeing how Trollope was able to come up with modernized elements of the novel. I think she did the best with what she was given. Although I wish she left the teen slang at bay. I cringed every time I came across the word “totes.” All in all, I thought it was wonderful. Trollope is a well-regarded novelist in the UK, although this is my first experience with her works. I am interested in reading her novels though. Her language and style is very fluid and illustrative, like Jane Austen. She has a way with descriptions that pull you right into the narrative.

This is book one of the Jane Austen Project. For those who don’t know, the Austen Project is a retelling of all of Jane Austen’s books by contemporary authors, pulling the stories and characters into the modern era. This is the first retelling. Northanger Abbey, Emma and Pride and Prejudice have also been published. Look at what beautiful covers the books have too!

 

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

 

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #1)

121 pages – Penguin Edition

Find this book at your local library

My experiences with Sherlock Holmes have been scattered and never direct. I’ve heard people talk about him, misquote the book (Its Elementary, my dear Watson), and I’ve seen many a TV show that parody or references him (Monk, and a number of Star Trek the Next Generation Episodes).  Most recently, I’ve been obsessing over the BBC’s Sherlock. Meaning, I’ve seen each episode twice and have watched all the special features that Netflix has to offer. However, there’s now going to be a nearly year-long gap until the next (and single) episode of 2015. I figured I might as well try my hand at reading the Sherlock Holmes mysteries to become better acquainted with the story, the characters and some of the mysteries. The BBC series stays ridiculously close to the books, but does an excellent job of modernizing elements of the book, and amending plot twists and character reveals to make the show its own being. It’s a very fine line to balance, especially with a work of literature as popular as the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Mark Gatiss and Stephan Moffat have done an amazing job though. The first episode is A Study in Pink, linking back to the first book, A Study in Scarlet.

The book starts with the introduction of John Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Both men looking for a flat to share. They wind up at 221B Baker street. Unlike the show, it takes a while before Watson is drawn into Sherlock’s career as a consulting detective. However, the two were a match made for each other right from the start. The book also starts with a mysterious death, the mysterious message Rache, and a set of poisonous pills. Holmes, in the book is just as arrogant as depicted on screen, but I couldn’t hold that against him. I found it kind of endearing. Well, I really found the way Watson wiggled into Holmes’ heart endearing. The two are polar opposites, but make for a great team. The book was definitely not what I was expecting though. Its broken down into two parts. Part one was the mysterious death and Holmes’ reveal of the murderer. Part two provided the back story to the murder. That part was very confusing, long-winded and bizarre. Particularly its depiction of Mormonism at its worst with power-hungry elders. Told through Watson’s point of view, we never really pick up or know what clues lead Sherlock to his great deductions. That part kind of irks me. He just announces information as facts and we, as the readers have to accept it as the gospel truth. The mystery was resolved rather neatly, but this departure from England at the beginning of part two was just plain odd. I wasn’t overly impressed with the book, but then again, I did jump from the show to the book with lots of mix-up Sherlock representations in my head, so I’m sure my expectations were higher than they should have been. I do plan on reading more of his work though. It’s so well-regarded, that it seems silly not to give them another chance. Mostly, I just want to get to Moriarty.

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