Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman

This was just OK. It was by no means badly written, bad, or even that boring. I just did not find myself finding anything special about the work.

This was my first time reading a Batman novel that was not a graphic novel. I found that towards the ending the writing style did remind me of a comic. I found the dialogue in the 1950s scene a bit too campy and on-the-nose. I did not feel particularly attached to any of the characters, and just enough for Bruce/Batman and Thomas.

What kept me reading was the mystery did keep building and I liked the inclusion of Thomas Wayne’s story. I found the femela characters lacking, particularly Martha who seemed to be a rich girl stereotype and dream girl more than an actual person in her scenes.

I found the plot and ending typical of how the Batman mythos has evolved in film. I would not particularly recommend this to anyone, but it was an alright novel that some Batman fans may enjoy.

Read January 23-25, 2015.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

What a lovely tribute to P. G. Wodehouse.

I have read all the Jeeves & Wooster books, but that was many years ago. I enjoyed most them, but they got a bit repetitive after awhile. Bertie would get in a scrape, become engaged to an annoying female, and Jeeves would save the day. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Faulks did a lovely job of rounding both Jeeves and Bertie out in their last “adventure” here. I really enjoyed the side characters as well. He got the tone of the dialogue right because I could hear Stephen Fry as Jeeves reading things out loud.

I won’t spoil the plot or details, but I think fans of the books would enjoy this unless they were super-canonical and particularly about details. I really liked the ending and I definitely enjoyed this novel.

Read January 19th, 2015.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

In my eyes, this is a fairly typical Kingsolver novel. It features strong female protagonists and characters, a connection to or metaphors with the land, and a quiet and satisfying ending.

I keep reading Kingsolver’s books because I find her characters to be well drawn out. They are often similar women, but the words and their thoughts seem realistic. They are human. They aren’t perfect, but I often want to be their friend. They have tragedies and in this one, the protagonist is surrounded by it. She makes the best of it with her baby girl Turtle.

These novels aren’t exactly feel good because of the emotional and mental realism of the characters. I can rely in Kingsolver ending the novel with hope and a good resolution. Her endings are not flashy ones. They are candid yet important endings for the characters.

I will continue to read her novels though my favourite book of hers is the nonfiction Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I didn’t really love The Poisonwood Bible as much as everyone else. I do relate to Kingsolver’s ethos with the land and being connected to both people and it.

Read January 12th-13th, 2015.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

This novel is a gem. It has well drawn characters, action, romance, poignancy, great diction, and it’s just delightful. The story is of a chef who is kidnapped by pirates.

My best friend is a library technician, but I read more than her. She saw a post at her library’s book recommendation board. She said the main character and narrator is similar to the Crane brothers from “Frasier,” a show we both love.

Indeed, Owen Wedgewood does remind me of Frasier Crane with a dash of Niles, but that is just the surface of how fun this book is. It has interesting characters and lots of history points. In fact, the climactic moments of this novel take place in the South China Sea, in the Pearl River Delta, and in Macau which are places I am very familiar with.

The writing is elegant as befitting the narrator who is a master chef. Brown is great at historical fiction and adventure, but he’s a great food writer as well. This novel was almost written for me especially with the character development and romance that happens toward the end.

Sad and tragic things happen in this novel, but it’s not swept under or made mawkish. The writer has a deft touch. Furthermore, I love the vocabulary of the novel. I had to refresh my memory and look up a few words. I really enjoy that as I love words, and I find most novels don’t challenge my vocabulary anymore. This one does and it’s splendid.

If you enjoy pirates, food, and history, I’d highly recommend this novel. This was a great reading start to the new year.

Read January 3-4th, 2015.

Manga Classics: Pride & Prejudice

I read this book awhile back, but I wanted to share it. It’s a fun manga rendition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I enjoy graphic novels and have read a bit of manga in the past, but I haven’t sought it out. I saw this book had a lot of good ratings.

Manga is known for is humor as well and there are just a few off hand side moments that are not in canon in this novel. They work rather well. Pride and Prejudice does have silly aspects to it and the manga form plays it up. The adaptation is not over the top though and it captures all the important moments from the novel.

This manga is definitely worth the look if you like Pride and Prejudice with some visuals.

Read November 26, 2014.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

The reception to this book was mixed and not that positive to be honest. I tried going into it unbiased. There are a lot of things about this book that I didn’t like, but strangely, I think it grew on me a little bit by the end.

There were too many characters and I didn’t really feel sympathetic for most of them. It took about a hundred pages before I could tell the characters apart. They all sort of blurred together for me. It took until half way through the book (around 250 pages) that I started feeling a twinge of pathos about one of them.

I enjoy Rowling as a writer. I think she does have weaknesses as a writer exhibited in the Harry Potter books too. She has decent characterization skills, but it wasn’t shown in this novel. Somehow though, I became less indifferent towards the end of the novel. It veered towards being a bit cliche though, but I think she hit some emotional notes correctly.

On the way, I do not regret reading this novel and it was not as bad for me as some readers. I don’t recommend it though. If this was not JKR, I probably wouldn’t be eager to read another novel.

Read November 11-17th, 2014.

Little House series round-up post

I am counting this as one Classics Club entry because technically I’ve reread most of the books except two.

  1. The Little House in the Big Woods
  2. Farmer Boy
  3. Little House on the Prairie
  4. On the Banks of Plum Creek
  5. By the Shores of Silver Lake
  6. The Long Winter
  7. Little Town on the Prairie
  8. These Happy Golden Years
  9. The First Four Years

When I started this read-along, I wanted to judge if the books were as good as I remember them and if reading them as an adult coloured my views. This was not my absolute favourite series as a kid, but it definitely had its moments. I’m someone who has always been pulled to the country and simpler life. I have a lot of old fashioned tastes and hobbies so the books worked on me in that level. I also enjoy history.

I was perturbed and saddened to find that Pa Ingalls did seem to be an irresponsible father at times. As much as he loved his girls, he was a bit shady and a poor man with finances. Most kids would have a lot of this stuff go over their heads, but even as a kid, I never understood why Charles Ingalls moved his family so much across the country. I also disliked the racism especially as voiced by Ma.

I would still read or recommend these to children, even though I have the aforementioned qualms. One of the best aspects of the series is Laura herself who is honest, brave yet realistic. She is inherently relateable to most young girls. The writing is good too. I think Wilder is a lovely writer. There is some memorable images and fun moments from these books. Credit to Laura and maybe Rose Wilder Lane for that. I think it’s written well for the most part.

More than ever, this readalong has really made me excited for Pioneer Girl. I look forward to reading Laura’s even less embellished childhood.

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I first read the reviews of this book earlier in the year, I didn’t think I would read the “final” Little House books. I don’t think I read this book when I was a kid or a teenager. Like Farmer Boy, I had missed out on it. Maybe I did read it and blocked it out because it is quite depressing in parts. Having said that, I think I liked it.

The story is considerably different in tone than the other books in the series. Laura did not work on it much after Almanzo died so it this could be considered an unfinished manuscript. The rawness and honesty in the books makes it interesting though. Laura doesn’t want to be a farmer’s wife which is in character. The young family suffer through so much in the books and there seems to be a lot less happy moments. It is no wonder why the previous/last book is called These Happy Golden Years.

A friend and I discussed how this book makes you wonder more about the marriage of Laura and Manly. There seems to be less good moments between them as they both suffer through bad luck on the farm and not the best financial management. I felt bad for them both. There was a distinct lack of romance in this book.

I am glad to have read this book. It makes one appreciate what one has now and how hard it was back then. I look forward to Pioneer Girl even more now though as I have become attached to Wilder’s writing again.

Finished reading November 11, 2014 on Kindle.

Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby’s collected articles for “The Believer” magazine. This book is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read the whole thing. I’ve already read the previous three compilations and reviewed them on this blog. There are a few chapters of new content in this nearly 500 page book. I basically read that which amounted to a cracker with cheese snack of reading.

I got it from the library, but I immediately put this book on the wishlist for the future. I love Hornby’s writings about books. I wish I had his job

I’ve found some incredible and indeed, some of the best written books from him. His word is very analytical about literature and art but still accessible. On the downside, I’ve also found some boring books from him, but I take the bad with the good.

Read the lastfew pages on November 7, 2014.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra F. Vogel

I started this biography and Chinese history book in May when I was actually in China. I had already read eleven books, but they were all fiction. I thought it would be fitting for me to read a nonfiction book about China.

Since I read this on Kindle, I didn’t realize how long it was until I really started. I think it is about 1100 pages in actual book form. The subject was fascinating to me right away. I was able to cover the first 40% of the book when I was there, but I basically found it hard to finish it when I got back. I wasn’t as into the subject anymore, and it felt so right to me when I right it there. Since I got back to China, I have read it little by little. Fitting of an academic work, the last 30% of the book are notes and references.

This is one of the best biographies and history books that I’ve read in recent memory. It is incredibly well researched. It is very academic and it reminded me about all my university texts, but better. In fact, I did my graduate dissertation was on China covering much of the period discussed in this book.

I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to know the history of China in the twentieth century. It covers mostly the political and economic history; however, Vogel includes much of the context on what China is today including its culture and even medieval history. It’s packed with information yet easy to read too. It is still a topic about Deng Xioaping, the Communist Party, and China so if you have no interest in these topics, it would be difficult since the book is very long.

I found it worthwhile because I learned quite a bit on subject I have studied before. I’m also proud that I was able to finish it and it was my major nonfiction book of the year.

Read May 28, 2014 to November 2nd, 2014 on Kindle.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

This novel is the retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ point of view or rather focuses on the lives of the servants.

I picked this book up spontaneously from the library’s Express Books as I often do. Looking for some midweek relaxation, I read it last evening. It wasn’t particularly difficult to read, but I do feel I glossed over some of it.

There are some nice moments and if you’re familiar with the Austen books or the time period, it can be an easy read. I did realize early on that I wouldn’t really love this book. While I felt a bit for Sarah, I wasn’t really engaged with her all the time too.

I found most of the novel on the boring side. To be honest, this is a historical novel that feels like it randomly inserted characters with the same names as the ones in P&P rather than act as a homage to the work. I just didn’t really see the link between this novel and P&P other than it sharing some characters.

What got me most after I finished it was that the tone of the novel was very different than P&P. While Austen does have her dramatic and serious feeling moments, the satire, social commentary, and tongue in cheek nature of some of her characters make the novels light. There wasn’t any lightness to this novel. It felt dour and humourless. The ending was a happy one, but it didn’t make up for how most of the novel was heavy.

Reading the reviews of it afterwards on GoodReads, it polarized people. I can see some positives to it, but I would not call this a true homeage to Austen.

Read October 28th, 2014.