Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trying Something New, Part II: More Marjane Satrapi Graphic Novels

After reading Persepolis I & II, I couldn't resist continuing to read everything by Marjane Satrapi I could get my hands on. She has also written children's books and been a contributor on other compilations, but I'm pretty sure I have now read all of her graphic novels.


Embroideries, written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Series? yes; companion to Persepolis
Publisher: Pantheon
Date: 2003
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

Marjane and the ladies of her family swap stories about their love lives in this companion to Persepolis. It was so interesting to see their perspective as part of a different culture than my own. There is so much we all have in common, and yet there are also challenges many of them face that may seem foreign to a Western reader. Going in, I had no idea what the significance of this book's title was other than a vague thought that embroidery is a typically female activity, but it turns out that is not what it is referring to at all. I won't tell though, you'll have to read it to find out!

* * * * *

Chicken and Plums, written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Series? no
Publisher: Pantheon
Date: 2004
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

This wasn't my favorite of all the stories involving Satrapi and/or her family, but it was still well worth reading. This time we went further back in history and learned the story of her musician uncle. An interesting read, but also quite sad. If you enjoyed Persepolis, I would recommend giving it a try. This one was also made into a movie that I will be watching as soon as I can track down a copy from Netflix or my library.

* * * * *

The Sigh, written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Series? no
Publisher: Pantheon
Date: 2004
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

This was more like a picture book than a graphic novel. The story is a retelling of an old Iranian fairy tale and unfortunately was just OK for me. I've read in other reviews that a lot was lost in translation, and I am inclined to believe that is a big part of the issue.

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Reading Challenges:
Diversity on the Shelf
In Translation
Book to Movie

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Trying Something New: Outlander & Persepolis Graphic Novels

The Exile, written by Diana Gabaldon & illustrated by Hoang Nguyen
Series? yes; a companion/adaptation of Outlander
Publisher: Del Ray
Date: 2010
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

Nothing will ever replace the original Outlander for me, but this was a fun introduction to a whole new genre and format of storytelling. I thought it would be a good idea for my first graphic novel to be one that was adapted from a book I've already read and I'm glad I made that decision. I really enjoyed the artwork, even if the characters weren't exactly how I'd pictured them -- but honestly, how could they be? I didn't picture them illustrated in my mind, after all. I thought the introduction where Gabaldon shared her history with reading and writing Disney comics was fascinating. It also made me realize exactly why she would be so interested in adapting her novel in this way. I do think if I had not read Outlander first, I might have been a little lost, but for a fan of the series, I think this was very well done. It only covers up until Jamie's decision to return to Lallybroch, which I think was the perfect stopping point. If you've toyed with trying graphic novels and have read Outlander, I would definitely recommend giving this one a go.

* * * * *

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Series? yes; Persepolis #1 & #2
Publisher: Pantheon
Date: 2004
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

This was my first original graphic novel, meaning that it was not based on another story like The Exile was. I had heard this one is highly acclaimed and respected in the genre, so I thought it would be a good one to start with (and it was also turned into an Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated movie, so bonus points for the Book-to-Movie challenge!) I had read about halfway when I realized I was very confused about the Iranian history behind the story. This is not the author's fault, she actually did a very good job of providing background information, but it was my own ignorance about the implications of what was happening that led to my confusion. So I stopped, read up a bit on the Islamic Revolution, and then re-started from the beginning. This really helped my understanding, and I read the second half with no trouble. I do think this historical event was covered in of my global history class, but not very thoroughly and whatever I may have learned had gone completely out of my memory. This was also a great book for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge because it really educated me about a part of the world and a culture I was not familiar with. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to give graphic novels a try.

* * * * *

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Series? yes; Persepolis #3 & #4
Publisher: Pantheon
Date: 2005
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

This one is more focused on Marjane's coming of age and her struggles to establish her identity as she tries to find a balance between Western freedoms and the traditions of her homeland. She lives in Europe for several years and then later returns to Iran where she faces new challenges after being away for so long. Especially as a Western reader, the extent of the repression of women seemed absolutely incredible, and I'm not surprised that some of my favorite scenes were the ones where Marjane rebels and speaks her mind -- quite a dangerous thing to do!

Both Persepolis books have really convinced me that graphic novels are well worth reading when I take the time to seek out topics and stories that interest me. And while I would never choose a book solely based on its length, they definitely are fast reads for those days or weeks I'm feeling time-crunched.

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Reading Challenges:
New Author
Diversity on the Shelf
In Translation
Book to Movie
Prequel & Sequel
Lucky No. 14: Not My Cup of Tea + Books vs. Movies

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (#23): My Gateway Books

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I consider myself a pretty eclectic reader, so for this week's list I've chosen my gateway books to some of my favorite genres...


Fantasy: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by JK Rowling

While this may not literally have been the first fantasy book I ever read, it was the first that made me a fan of the genre. Before HP, I read a lot of mysteries and other realistic fiction, but this series changed all that.

Dystopias: Tomorrow When the War Began, by John Marsden

I don't think I fully understood what a dystopia was or that this series was indeed dystopian at the time I read first read it, but it was my first foray into the genre and I enjoyed it immensely. I loved how thought-provoking this series was and I continue to be attracted to that aspect of dystopias.




I had certainly read historical fiction before this one, but this book made me love historical fiction. Which leads into the more specific sub-category I later discovered...

Gothic Historical Fiction: The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton

Ahhh, I love a Kate Morton's writing so much and this debut of hers is all it took to seal the deal. I now compare all gothic-y books to hers and it's because of her I now seek out more like it.



Genre-bending books: Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon

This was the first series I read that defied categorization. To this day, I describe it as "a little bit of everything" -- there's romance, time travel, family, history, intrigue, politics, war -- you name it, and it's probably in one of these books. It is truly expansive in scope and I think of this saga every time I hear about a new book that doesn't fit neatly into a specific category.

Foodie Books: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

I was reading this book while working a very stressful and emotionally draining job and can vividly remember coming home at the end of the day and immersing myself in its pages. There was something about the simpler, slower lifestyle and the focus on nutritious local food that appealed to me very strongly and still does.



The Classics: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

This is an area I still am working on, but the first classic I remember reading and actually enjoying (even as a highschooler!) was Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It made me realize not all classics are boring and they come in all different varieties & genres -- it doesn't have to be all Shakespeare and Dickens (not that there's anything wrong with those!)


I had always liked the idea of a book about books, but this was one of the first I actually read introducing me to a new favorite genre. I didn't read it all that long ago actually and can't wait to dive into more!



Humorous memoirs (& audiobooks): Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern

This one was a completely hysterical double-whammy -- it made me realize not only how much I love this type of book, but also how a performance or narration in the audio format can sometimes make a good story even better.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Audiobook Mini-Reviews

I've been on a bit of an audiobook kick lately in between my regular reads, so I decided to do a bit of a round-up instead of individual posts. These were all on the shorter side and perfect for car trips and general multi-tasking around the house. I gave these a mix of ratings, but would recommend all of them except for the Stephen Colbert one, though my 1-star rating probably gives that away...


If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't)
Series? No
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Date: 2011
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

What's not to love about Betty White? When I spotted this one available as an audiobook from my library, I couldn't resist. I remember the Golden Girls fondly and have enjoyed seeing Betty pop up in other projects and shows more recently. This is basically a series of anecdotes from her life along with a lot of great lessons she's learned throughout the years. A wonderful & quick read!

P.S. I was surprised to see how "high" the page count was of the print book when I looked this one up on GoodReads -- 258 pages -- given that the audio version was only 2 1/2 hours long. Turns out there are a lot of photos in the print book which I took a peek at the next time I visited the library.

* * * * *


Books, by Larry McMurtry
Series? No
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Date: 2007
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

I usually love books about books, but this one is much more about book-selling and the book trade than anything else. There is nothing wrong with that, but there were a lot of names and places McMurtry seems to assume the reader would be familiar with that were not necessarily well explained, but I decided to not let that bother me. I gave up on keeping track of every single store and book dealer and enjoyed the stories as the anecdotes they are, even if I couldn't keep up with all the name-dropping. If I read this in print, I may have given up on it (or taken much longer to read it), but found it quite enjoyable on audio. An interesting look into the world of rare and antiquarian book selling. (P.S. The one location I knew right away was England's Hay on Wye from reading Charlie Lovett's The Bookman's Tale -- such a good book if you haven't read it!)

* * * * *


I am America (and So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert
Series? No
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Date: 2007
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 1 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

I really did not care for this one. I don't watch The Colbert Report, but have seen occasional clips and thought this might be entertaining as an audiobook. That turned out to SO not be the case. I know Stephen Colbert is known for satire and dead-pan delivery, but something got lost in translation from performing in front of a live audience to narrating an audiobook. It was really hard to remember he was poking fun at the various topics he addresses without an audience's laughter or the comedic timing involved in a live show. If you didn't know anything about Colbert previously, you would probably think he meant everything he was saying seriously (and literally). If you like him, I recommend sticking with the show.

* * * * *


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
Series? No
Publisher: Random House Audio
Date: 2011
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

I picked up a whole slew of audiobooks from the library on a whim and then went to check reviews on GoodReads after I got home -- when I realized by friend Christy gave this one 5 stars, I bumped it to the top of the pile. I don't watch The Office and the few clips/episodes I've seen haven't inspired me to watch any further despite my brother's pleading to give it another chance. I was still intrigued by Mindy and am really glad I read her book. She seems so down to earth and I can probably relate to her upbringing and outlook on life a lot more than other celebrities out there. I particularly loved her list of "best friend rules" and her plea for men to leave their chest hair alone. Enjoyable all the way though and made even better by Mindy own narration.

* * * * *


I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I've Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High, by Tony Danza
Series? No
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Date: 2012
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

I only vaguely remembered that Tony Danza had a (short-lived) show about his year as a teacher, so thought this one would be a fun listen and it definitely was. His experience is different from a regular teacher's, given that he only taught one class and had cameras following him around, but it was still an interesting look inside a profession I've only viewed from a student's desk myself. It's clear Danza cared about his students and their education and his year in the classroom really affected him. This book reminded me a bit of The Freedom Writers' Diary, but not quite as intense for obvious reasons.

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Reading Challenges:
Audiobook
Non-Fiction
New Author
Diversity on the Shelf

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sh*t Like This Makes My Head Hurt

I haven't actually read anything by John Green, but when I came across this post of his yesterday about two of his books being challenged (along with quite a few others), I couldn't resist sharing my two cents ranting a bit here. I host a Banned Books Reading Challenge after all, so that should give you a big clue about where I stand on the subject! If you haven't heard, the basic story is that a Colorado school has approved a new Young Adult Literature course (an elective, no less!) and some parents are objecting to the reading list for the class. The teacher has defended her curriculum and the matter is going to be addressed at a board meeting in April. The teacher reached out to Green who in turn reached out to his readers to support his books and this teacher.

I don't think it matters that I haven't read all the books on the list -- I have read a couple as well as plenty of others that contain the same kind of dialogue/scenes/language/themes under scrutiny. It makes me mad when people don't give teenagers credit for being able to think and read critically. It makes me mad when people don't give teachers credit for teaching teenagers to think and read critically. It makes me mad when people make books out to be the enemy and try to discourage reading out of fear. It makes me mad when things are taken out of context and pointed to as evidence of "inappropriateness." And it makes me really mad that people think lit curriculums need to be "cleansed" of all books that include anything they don't agree with. People (teenagers included) don't live in a bubble. If we cut ourselves off from every single thing we don't agree with, we might as well unplug our TVs and computers, throw out all our books, and never leave our houses ever again.

Books make people think -- they put you in another's person's shoes and let you experience things from another's perspective. In my opinion, books are a safe way to explore the world without actually putting ourselves in every possible situation. Why some people think reading about something (in a classroom, no less!) is an automatic gateway to doing it themselves is beyond absurd to me. Are teenagers impressionable? Of course they are. We are all impressionable to an extent. But banning books and shielding students from how things are in the real world is not the answer. Teaching and empowering kids to make intelligent decisions is the answer. Books that deal with tough subjects or bad decisions should facilitate discussions and learning, not be shoved out of sight to avoid "corruption." Knowledge is power, and yes power can be used for good or for evil, but ignorance is a far greater danger than knowledge ever will be.

* * * * *

P.S. If you're in my banned books challenge this year and have read any of the books on the list (since Jan. 1st), make sure you count them toward your goal!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The World's Strongest Librarian

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
Series? No
Publisher: AudioGO
Date: May 2013
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

This audiobook was an enjoyable listen, but I can't honestly say it was especially memorable. As indicated in the book's subtitle, it covers many aspects of the author's life and it was interesting to read about Josh's unique experiences. I especially liked his stories about his childhood, his parents, and the snippets of his life as a librarian. Admittedly, I was hoping for a bit more of the latter, but I did know going in that wasn't truly the focus of this book.

Josh is Mormon and it was interesting to see how his relationships with his family and his wife intersected with his faith, struggles and all. Not a very religious person myself, I find stories about other people's experiences with faith fascinating for some reason.

One particularly difficult topic that is also addressed is infertility. I only point this out because I know it is a fairly common problem that is not often talked about. I think it was very brave to share such a personal account of how this affected his life and marriage. A condition like Tourette's is out there in the open whether you like it or not, but infertility is a kind of silent issue that many couples deal with only behind closed doors. I think there will be many readers out there who will appreciate his honesty on that particular subject.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

While Beauty Slept

While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell
Series? No
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books, a Penguin imprint
Date: Feb 20, 2014
How did I get this book? free advanced copy from the publisher via Shelf Awareness for my honest review
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

Right around the time I started this book, I also started seeing glowing reviews for it pop up all over the place. They were actually making me nervous because I kept wondering what I was missing. I was at the point where I wasn't really in the groove of the story yet and didn't know what to make of all the positive feedback. But once I was about 200 pages in, everything started coming together and I was hooked! I know that is a long time to get invested in a story, but I'm glad I didn't give up and knowing how everything plays out, I would absolutely love to re-read this one with a greater appreciation of earlier events.

Basically this is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty as if the fairy tale could have "really" happened, told from the perspective of Elise, a servant at the castle and companion of the young princess. There is still a curse, but there are no magic spells or dragons or anything like that. It's not true historical fiction, but it definitely reads like historical fiction which I thought was a completely fascinating take on the subject (and is what originally piqued my interest.) There is not a specified place or time period, but it has a definite medieval feel.

Being the lifelong Disney fan that I am, I had to do my homework on this one -- what fun is a retelling without revisiting the original? Now I know the Disney movie is a retelling in itself, but it is likely the most popular version so I thought it worth watching alongside this book. I also pulled out my Grimm collection so I could read the actual original and compare all three. I won't do a point-by-point comparison because that would definitely ruin the book, but there is one key thing worth noting without going too much into specifics. Contrary to popular belief, some Grimm stories actually do have happy endings! Not all of these stories were drastically warped when they got "Disney-fied." While certainly embellished and re-imagined in its own way, I was very happy to realize the Disney movie I grew up loving is fairly true to the original tale in this case. (Of course this now makes me want to read all the other original stories Disney movies were inspired by, but that is a project for another day.)

It kind of blows my mind how well Elizabeth Blackwell molded her story around Grimm's original, keeping its true essence while at the same time taking the story in a whole new direction -- a very rich, complex, intriguing direction that makes for quite a compelling read. I had never read a retelling before, but this book just may be my gateway into that particular sub-genre. I'm still extremely wary about YA re-tellings for some reason, so if anyone has recommendations, throw 'em at me! And if you know of any other adult re-tellings, please share those, too -- I'm super curious now :)


P.S. Any Game of Thrones fans out there? A very kind and noble character in this book is named Joffrey and it really messed with my head! If you've watched the show or read the series, you know what I'm talking about!


Explore further:
Discussion Questions on the publisher's site
A much more articulate & less meandering review than mine over on Doing Dewey
Once Upon a Nightmare, a post by Elizabeth Blackwell on the Penguin books blog about the upcoming movie Maleficent

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Reading Challenges:
Review Pile
New Author
March 2014 Take Control of Your TBR Pile

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to be a Woman

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Series? No
Publisher: HarperAudio
Date: 2012
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

Bloody f***ing brilliant! I can barely put into words how much I love this book. The narration of the audiobook by Caitlin Moran herself is absolutely perfect. One complaint I've seen in reviews is an excessive use of CAPS LOCK FOR EMPHASIS, but that is not an issue with the audiobook for obvious reasons. I listened to much of this book while outside doing yardwork (gives away how long this post has been in draft, doesn't it!) and laughed so often and so loudly, I am now convinced the neighbors think I've gone mad.

Each chapter focuses on a particular point in Moran's life and she hilariously discusses a lot of day-to-day stuff that affects modern girls and women. She can be very blunt and I doubt anyone reading would agree with her on every single point, but overall there is such truth in what she is saying and so much of it really resonated with me. She captures the absurdity of a lot of the silly crap women think about, deal with, and worry about on a daily basis in addition a lot of the "big issues". She talks about body image, weight, high heels, shaving, Brazilian waxes, work, relationships, fashion, weddings, having babies, not having babies, being a mother, abortion, porn, and so much more.

It's important to realize this is first and foremost a memoir. It is not meant to be a feminist manifesto that comprehensively addresses every single issue and speaks for every single woman out there in the world. Moran writes about her own experience as a modern, middle-to-upper-class, western woman and she does so brilliantly. I'm not trying to discount the experiences of women who do not fall into that demographic, but I think in the format of a memoir, it would have been disingenuous for Moran to try to speak for absolutely every woman out there. This is the story of her life as she struggles to establish her identity in a society where women are constantly bombarded with mixed messages and unrealistic expectations. It is a story I can relate to and I think many other young women will relate to as well, at least in part.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 2014 Take Control of Your TBR Pile challenge sign-up

I've been reading a lot of review books lately, so I didn't think I was going to participate in this year's Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge, BUT then I realized two of the March book club selections at my local library are ones I have in my towering TBR pile! I'm not 100% sure I will make the deadline for both since the meetings are only two days apart, but I'm definitely going to try and use this challenge as some extra motivation. So my main goal is to read those two books and if I manage to read anything else, I will consider it a bonus!

View on GoodReads


View on GoodReads

If I actually succeed in making it to either of the book club meetings, I will post more about it afterwards -- there are also transportation issues, but I will start off on the right foot with reading the books -- wish me luck!


Friday, February 28, 2014

When to post reviews of brand new books?

With all the blogging advice to be found around the internet, I have debated this question quite a bit. A lot of conventional wisdom dictates ARC reviews be posted within a few weeks of the book's release date, either before or after. In my very unscientific observation, it also appears to me (especially for the BIG blogs) pre-release reviews seem to be somewhat favored. I could be wrong, so don't quote me on that -- it's just the impression I've gotten over time as I've been flitting about the blogosphere.

The problem is, I don't think that works for my blog. First of all, I don't have any kind of established relationship with publishers -- I'm a small-timer and I'm totally cool with that. I've never emailed anyone to request a title, so there has never been a written commitment to post by a certain date. The ARCs I'm lucky enough to receive are mostly from giveaways and contests -- mainly GoodReads or Shelf Awareness ads. Most of the time (especially with that last one), I never quite know if I've been chosen to receive a title until it's on my doorstep. Sometimes that leads to an unexpected glut of books all coming out around the same time, even though I've only ever been chosen for a small percentage of these contests. I've had my share of book-blogger fails, mainly in the form of ARCs collecting dust long past when they should have been read and reviewed. I've tried to forgive myself my past (inexperienced) transgressions, even though I still feel guilty about them. I have committed to a more conscious effort to I give newly received ARCs greater priority (and to not enter so many contests!), but that still doesn't mean I am going to write pre-release reviews.

I want to help get the word out about great new books, but for my blog, pre-release reviews just don't seem to work. Even when I do review an ARC well before it's publication date, I prefer to post on the release day itself, at the very earliest. There is often so much pre-release buzz, I think sometimes bloggers forget the majority of people (myself included most of the time) need to actually wait until the publication date to get their hands on a new book. I'm not naming names, but take for example this tweet I just spotted by a book blogger:
"If you haven't already picked up ___ by ___ you're missing something in your life"
It was referring to a book on my wishlist by an author I've read before, so I immediately thought I got my dates mixed up and missed the publication date. The tone of the tweet also made it sound like it had been out for a fair bit of time. Except it hasn't. The release date is not even here yet, but this makes it sound like it's already on the shelves. PET PEEVE. I'm not quite sure how that is doing the book any favors. Granted the release date is only a few days away, but still.

I am of the belief that if I'm going to pique someone's interest in a book, they should be able to get hold of it, if they so choose. Don't get me wrong, it's totally OK for other bloggers to write pre-release reviews, as long as the date issue is clear. I understand the desire (and the need) to get buzz going about new books beforehand and I know they are valuable contributions to the book community. I just hope that for a small timer like me, it's OK to sometimes not do things exactly the same way as everyone else.

* * * * *
So fellow book bloggers, I'm curious -- how do you handle ARCs and when do you post reviews of brand new books?