Book View: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

My first audio book ever!  Sarah Drew’s narration of Delirium by Lauren Oliver was a great place to start.  Her voice could be slightly whiny at times, but I just chalked this up to proper character treatment as Lena was often whiny.

Delirium is a young adult dystopia set in a world where love has become a deadly disease.  The government has put the US in lockdown mode and requires all citizens to receive the ‘cure’ once they turn 18.  So instead of a world driven by love, hate, and passion, Lena (our heroine) now lives in a world filled with fear and indifference.  She’s perfectly content until she meets Alex, a boy from the outside wilds, who helps her uncover the truth the government has so desperately hidden beyond the city’s electrified fence.  Insert cliffhanger and anxious waiting for second book in series here.

A world without love definitely qualifies as an interesting premise and Oliver does a masterful job at creating a backlist of literature, government propaganda, and medical pamphlets to convince readers that there is something to fear in loving freely.  As a reader, you can almost become convinced that a world without passion, without hate born from passion might be better – until the incident with the dog (no spoilers beyond that!).  Then you realize indifference doesn’t solve our world’s problems, only creates new issues.  Issues with no hope of resolution because no one cares enough to change anything anymore.

Delirium began quite slowly – which can be understandable when you’re building a new world.  A lot of exposition takes place, but I kept waiting for the pacing to pick up – for the action to overtake the languid plotting and that just never happened – until the final few pages.  And by then I was so frustrated that the cliffhanger wasn’t even that exciting and was completely predictable.  I was also frustrated with character development – Lena’s character changes and grows a bit (somewhat reluctantly), but Alex is rather flat and Hannah, in my opinion, regresses.  For this reason, the love story between Lena and Alex didn’t ring true.

What did work for me was the thoroughness of the world.  Oliver’s strength definitely lies in her imagery and description.  The evil government and their incredible lies juxtaposed against a Portland, Maine backdrop of endless sea and the freedom of flying seagulls.  Seeing the citizens completely under the charm and control of representation they’ve put their blind faith in is so scary.  Not only is the US separate from the world now, but each individual city is locked down from each other.  You never leave your little fishbowl – you never know what exists outside that fence.  Terrifying.  The Wilds was also done so well (the world outside the fence where the uncureds and sympathizers live).  The broken streets, abandoned houses, and bombing remnants are visceral and haunting.  I could picture my own street in the aftermath of a civil war.  These were the images that made Delirium soar.

I’ll get around to reading the second in the series, Pandemonium, once it’s released.  I hope the pacing picks up and that Oliver convinces me these characters are worth following for a third book.  If not, I’ve enjoyed the world she’s built and believe she’ll only grow as a writer over time.  Can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year!  I’m excited for 2012 and many books ahead.

Book View: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell is fantastic.  I cannot imagine a world where someone would read this chunky novel and hate it – so please do not shatter my illusions.  Besides, Henry James loved it and he knows all.

On with the story!  Molly Gibson is a young girl of 17, raised by her father after her mother dies, who must navigate the English countryside during the 1830s.  Her father remarries and the new Mrs. Gibson is certainly a less-than-perfect stepmother for Molly, but Molly does gain a beloved stepsister (but really a romantic rival).  How will Molly survive her new family structure and will dear Cynthia steal away all the eligible bachelors?

In short, I would love to teach this novel if I ever manage to become a teacher of such things.  Gaskell, while appearing to write a rather light-hearted romantic sort of story, has actually crafted an intelligent and decisive work of social commentary.  She goes beyond writing about manners and class structure (though these themes are present) and journeys into deep questions of marriage’s necessity, nature vs. nurture, and what makes family family.  At the end of the novel, even Molly’s often clueless stepmother stops to wonder that “people talk a good deal about natural affinities” and what concepts beyond mere blood or familial title make us bound to each other.

For these reasons, I think Wives and Daughters was way ahead of its time.  You have women shunning marriage and enjoying being in middle age with no husband or prospects.  You have fathers that can’t get on with sons and mothers who are clueless about their daughters.  Then you have the charming relationship between Molly and her father that puts all other parent/child bonds to shame.  There are social scandals in the name of good and people crossing class lines with a nonchalant shrug of their shoulders.  With this novel, you get a front row seat to a cultural evolution of sorts and it’s a tremendous ride.

I loved Molly dearly as a vehicle of honesty – she’ll show you the truth behind every other character’s motives.  Cynthia is such a complex female and sister to Molly – a perfect FOIL really.  You’ll root for Molly while booing Cynthia only to end loving them both.  Don’t be dismayed when you learn Gaskell died before finishing the novel.  At 650 pages, the story is fairly complete in its final written chapter.  There are no doubts left as to who marries whom and besides – the BBC miniseries will give you a proper ending.  And do watch the mini-series because it is amazing and so loyal to the book.

So make plans to include Wives and Daughters in your 2012 reading.  You won’t be disappointed!  I cannot wait to read something else by her as this was my first Gaskell.  The writing is so clean and easy to read, yet sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.  She doesn’t go in for major cliffhangers, but there’s always some secret you’re waiting to be divulged that keeps you intrigued.  This novel was emotionally cathartic over Christmastime as I was dealing with my own family dilemmas and estrangement from my father.  Perhaps not as bitingly witty as Austen, but a pleasure all the same.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting on Delirium by Lauren Oliver so stay tuned!

Cheap Books!

Just wanted to let everyone know about the good sale going on over at barnesandnoble.com!  Bargain hardcover and paperback books going for $1.99-3.99 (most are $2.99).  The selection is pretty great – just got 5 myself, but had around 15 in my basket at one point.  Also, buy four the fifth is free – plus, you can google for an additional coupon discount.  Unless you are a member or spend a certain amount of money, you still must pay shipping – but even with shipping the deal is pretty fantastic!

Top Ten Tuesday: 2011 Favs

 

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So, it’s time to wrap up 2011 and reflect back on which books meant the most to me this year.  Most of these novels were written before 2011, but they were new to me and timeless!

1.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – A novel of place and beautifully written.

2.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – I love Wharton so very much.

3.  All 7 Harry Potter books – I reread this year for first time and loved them even more than first reading!

4.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – So perfect for history buffs and lovers of atmosphere.

5.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink – Quite possibly my favorite of 2011.  What a powerful little story.

6.  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – This book shocked me.  I hated it the first time I read it so dreaded reading for book club, but the second time through was an amazing experience.

7.  The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – My book club hated it and I loved it.  Favorite Fitzgerald so far – the grey house still haunts me.

8.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – Upon finishing the novel, I thought I had enjoyed the first Flavia story, but since then I haven’t been able to get her out of my mind!  Will catch up on series in 2012!

9.  Saturday by Ian McEwan – His ability to turn a phrase is phenomenal.  I would read his prose about ANYTHING.

10.  The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud – Initially I hated this book, but upon rumination I realized I was deeply affected by it.  Some books sneak up on you like that!

The Books Ahead

As 2011 draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about my reading goals for 2012.  Normally, I set a number of books I hope to read (this year’s number was 50) and dedicate at least 25% of my reading selections to classic literature.  I blew by 50 books in 2011 and now predict a grand total of 68.  The highest number since I started keeping track in 2008.  It really helped that I was unemployed for half the year.  Next year’s goal will remain the same as I hope to find a job again soon.

2011 also brought success of the TBR shelf variety.  I had probably 40 books or so that had sat on my shelf for years – many since before I graduated college.  Of those roughly 40 selections, I probably only have around 10 left to be read.  SCORE!  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I still have 100 books physically on my bookshelves that I’ve bought over the past 12 months that remain unread…then there are kindle books…and a new subscription to Audible, oh dear.

With all this in mind, I sat down recently to create a reading schedule.  I mapped out my selection road plan for each month which looked something like this:

4 books a month:

Litwits book club selection

A book from TIME’s 100 Best list

A childhood favorite

A random selection from my shelves/kindle

The very next day I ruined said schedule by reading The Night Circus for January’s Litwits meetup a month in advance.  I couldn’t help it – the need was too strong.  And then I realized that there was no way to stick to such a strict plan and tossed the sucker out entirely.

Now I’m left all willy-nilly to read whatever my little heart desires.  Of course, I’ll still have 11 more selections to read for the Litwits and still hope to read 12 or so titles from TIME’s list, but other than that everything is up in the air.  I thought about joining some reading challenges, but quickly became overwhelmed by the massive amount of blog challenges and dropped the notion.  I find I’m quite at peace with reading whatever strikes my fancy and look forward to what roads the new year will lead me down.

I do know that my first book will be The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht as I intend to follow along with the Huffington Post’s book club online.  And February will find my nose deeply entrenched within The Art of Fielding’s pages for the Litwits!  I also know that I’ll be rereading Emma, The Great Gatsby, Jane EyreThe Hunger Games, and The Hobbit at some point.  So despite the lack of well thought out plan, I still have much to look forward to in 2012 and hope y’all will join me on some of my adventures!

Let me know what you plan to read in the new year in the comments!  I’m going to wish everyone Happy Holidays now as I doubt I’ll be posting again before next Tuesday.  Next week I’ll be back with my views on Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

Top Ten Tuesday: Dear Santa…

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

What I’d love for dear old Santa to drop down my chimney this Sunday:

1.  Harry Potter Page to Screen by Bob McCabe – an obvious gift for the Potter lover and also the only book on this list I might actually end up getting from Santa Hubs.

2.  The original U.K. hardcover editions of all 7 HP books – For my permanent home library and because my paperback copies are nearing the end of their life.

3.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Read in high school but need to reread for upcoming movie release.  Also want in hardcover to add to the shelves.

4.  The Hobbit by Tolkien – Same as #3.  So many book-to-screen adaptations releasing this year!

5.  The entire Roald Dahl collection – Want to reread all his novels in the coming year.

6.  The Professor by Charlotte Bronte – The last Charlotte Bronte novel I haven’t read.  I love when I read all of one particular author’s novels.  Makes me feel well read.

7.  In the Garden of Beasts:  Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – I loved Larson’s Devil in the White City and can’t wait to read this!

8.  Bossypants by Tina Fey – Want this on audiobook!  Love Tina Fey so very much.

9.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Have never really read any Russian literature and need to remedy this immediately.  Always been far too intimidated.

10.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Want to know what all the fuss is about!

Book View: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Pages: 208 (paperback edition)
Genre: Chick Lit/Austen spin-off
Original Publication Date:  May 29, 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Kindle

You might have noticed the slight change in post title – I’ve decided to rename my ‘reviews’ to ‘views’.  A sort of blogging nickname, if you will.  Why?  One of my main goals of 2012 is to stop taking things so seriously (including myself) and just try to have more fun.  So why not start here?  So long uptight Reviews and hello whimsical Views!  Feel free to mock me in the comments.  Basically, just hoping to keep things conversational in the 2012 because reading is meant to be fun – at least outside of school!

Ok…enough already and on with the view!  Austenland is one of those Pride and Prejudice spin-offs (or professional fanfiction) that I so dutifully avoid.  You see, I’m an Austen purist.  Elizabeth Bennet is so close to my idea of a perfect character that I cringe when anyone tries to rework her.  FOR SHAME!  Earlier this year I gave Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a little read (I mean, who doesn’t like zombies right?) and came away seething in anger.  So what convinced me to give Ms. Hale a shot?  Very simple:  Kindle Daily Deal for which I’m a complete sucker.  Also, I’ve dedicated December to reading whatever floats my boats since I’m way past my reading goals for the year.

Austenland follows Jane (shocker!), a thirty-something New Yorker, on a trip to England bequeathed to her by a dearly departed insanely rich Aunt.  She’s been booked as a guest at an English resort of sorts that caters to women obsessed with all things Austen – think of it as a huge role playing game for the Darcy obsessed upper class.  And for a woman who has sworn off men because no one could ever possibly live up to the incredibly sexy Fitzwilliam Darcy (as portrayed by Colin Firth in the 1993 BBC miniseries), Jane is the perfect nut…er…vacationer.

Essentially, Hale has written chick lit for Austen fans.  As with all chick lit, the entertainment lies in the journey, not the ending (since they all tend to end the same way).  And Austenland’s journey begins on rocky footing.  I had a hard time relating to Jane on any plane existent on planet Earth.  Who is ashamed to love Pride and Prejudice – so much so that they hide their dvds in a potted plant?  Also, who can’t have a normal relationship because of a fictional turn-of- the-19th-century man?  Crazy people who should be committed come to mind.  So Jane and I did not get off to a good start, but rather surprisingly, we finally hit it off once she reaches Pembroke Park and recognizes the cray-cray that lives inside, coming to her senses and learning to enjoy her life as it exists in actuality.

I do applaud Ms. Hale for remembering that fans of Austen are often intelligent women who can enjoy the entertainment value of good chick lit without wholly abandoning their literary tastes.  She writes a really brilliant moment in Austenland where Jane discovers her behaviors often mimic those of Darcy more than Elizabeth Bennet’s.  A great gender switch and blending of gender identity – highly ironic in a genre so tooled towards women.  If only there had been more of these brilliant little revelations.

All in all, there’s nothing award winning or knock your socks off about Austenland.  Jane suffers as a relatable protagonist and often comes off as a caricature of Austen fans. But if you love the BBC’s P&P, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here – if not, go ahead and skip it.  The story is filled with cliches down to the quintessential airport chase scene at the end.  You’d be much better off finding a few hours to settle down with the P&P dvds, as long as you promise not to hide them in any household greenery!

I would like to add that many people seem to enjoy Hale’s middle grade and young adult fiction.  So perhaps those of you interested in her writing should begin there!

Up next:  I’ve just begun Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.  A huge chunkster novel that I have no hope of finishing before the new year.  However, I’ve also just begun my first audiobook from audible.com – Delirium by Lauren Oliver that I’m quite enjoying thus far.  For the January book club discussion, I finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern last night and can’t wait to discuss it with everyone (a little hint…I adored it!).

Happy Monday!

Book Review: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Title: Motherless Brooklynn
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction/Detective/Crime Novel
Original Publication Year:  1999
Publisher: Vintage
Source: Personal Copy

Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn was a book I purchased several years ago that has sat on my TBR shelf collecting dust.  Thank goodness that is no longer the case because this little book was thrilling, captivating, and tenderly subtle.  Published in 1999, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, an entirely deserving recommendation.

Lionel Essrog is a “carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster” – in short, he has Tourette’s.  He’s also one of a gang of orphans – called Minna Men – who have found a family and pseudo-father figure in Frank Minna, small-time Brooklyn mobster.  When Minna is killed, Lionel – the Human Freakshow – begins to question his fellow Men and decides to strike out on his own in a gritty detective story that plays homage to Ray Chandler and other ‘hard-boiled’ crime novelists.

Lethem’s novel is the best love story I’ve read all year.  Perhaps because the love he writes isn’t between fictional man and fictional woman, but rather between a novelist and wordplay, a writer and his heroes, a man and his home.  Lionel’s Tourette’s allows Lethem the ability to turn phrases and create word mash-ups that would make “Glee” weep – ‘spread by means it finds, fed in springs by mimes, bled by mingy spies’.  This wordplay also ensures that Lionel transcends beyond gimmicky plot device and becomes someone we respect and trust – he’s the only reader of the bunch having spent most of his solitary hours in boyhood hiding in the orphanage’s library reading every single book.  Quoting directly from Ray Chandler’s novels, Lionel offers the perfect vehicle for Lethem to show readers his affinity for those novelists who came before without coming off as a second-rate imitation hiding behind the tenuous at best pronouncements of adaptation, retelling, or sequel.

What Motherless Brooklyn accomplishes most successfully is sense of place.  Appropriate since our backdrop is pronounced boldly on the cover.  So many authors have written beautiful prose and lyrical imagery devoted to Manhattan, but so often forget the boroughs that are much more the heart of NYC.  Lethem puts you on the streets of Brooklyn from the ‘70s through the ‘90s – the corner shops and deli sandwiches, the ethnic neighborhoods, the crime, the dirt, and eventually the gentrification.  You’ll want to walk the very same streets and meet the people who make Manhattan run everyday but can’t afford to live in the astronomically high rents of Soho or the Upper East Side.  You’ll walk away with the same Us vs. Them attitude the denizens of the outer boroughs feel on a daily basis – or so says my Queens-raised husband.

A word of warning – the big mystery of who killed Frank takes a back seat for me.  The whodunit is predictable and all the characteristic clichés of this sort of detective novel are present – shady mobsters, lady bombshell, underhanded deals, and huge scary men with no names.  Motherless Brooklyn isn’t trying to create a new mystery, only trying to tell the mystery in a different way so that we see the people, the places, and periphery around the central mystery that so often lingers in the background lost in the need to develop page-turning plot.  These elements, though always essential, hardly ever get to share the limelight in much the same way that writers are overlooked as we sit glued to the explosions and salacious scandals produced by film and television directors, actors, and producers.  Highly recommended.

Now that I’ve recommended this novel to all of you, I’d like to challenge those of you who’ve only visited the Manhattan idea of NYC to walk, drive, or take a ferry to each of the outer boroughs.  Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy strolling through the picturesque streets and the beautiful brownstones of Brooklyn; head over to Flushing, Queens and enjoy some of the tastiest Asian food you can get in this country; take in a Yankees game, visit the zoo, or tour of some NY’s highest rated college campuses in The Bronx; and the Staten Island Ferry is one of the top experiences you can have in NYC – the best photo opportunity for the Statue of Liberty – and once you reach the island you’ll discover the finest Italian food and some of the friendliest NYC natives.  Plus, the prices are cheaper!

Share some of your favorite things to do outside of Manhattan in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday!

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is books we’d give as gifts.  Since I have nearly no one in my real life who appreciates a good book, I’m giving imaginary gifts to imaginary people.  Such is my life.

1.  To the hater of science fiction:  Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – my first sci-fi love affair and a book I still love to reread.  Ender will make a believer out of you!

2.  To the Twilight hater:  The Harry Potter series by Jo Rowling – It’s always good to help solidify Twilight loathing by reading worthwhile books.

3.  To the non-fiction hater:  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This story will suck you in and consume you in a massive google search for even more information on these infamous murders.

4.  To the classics hater:  Emma by Jane Austen – Mr. Knightley is superior to Mr. Darcy in every way, plus you’ll have another reason to revisit Clueless and enjoy a young Paul Rudd.

5.  To the young adult hater:  Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty – I don’t actually think these novels are young adult, but the first one reads as a young adult, but with a slightly smarter tone.  I think modern young adult fiction has reached this same standard.

6.  To the poetry hater:  Marge Piercy’s work – Piercy writes novels as well, but she’s the first poet that I’ve ever read like a novelist – from page one all the way through to the end in one sitting.

7.  To the Shakespeare hater:  Richard III – Or really any of the history plays, this particular one just happens to be my favorite.  The histories are filled with drama and humor but much more accessible to the common reader.  A great place to start!

8.  To the fiction hater:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt – For me, this book was superb and stands out as one of my favorite all-time reads.  For the first time, when I finished this story I immediately wanted to reread it.  Also, my sister liked this book even when she claimed to hate reading.

9 & 10. To the history hater:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink – I know these novels are fiction, but often fictional historical accounts win readers because of the human connection  they bring to the story.  When we’re better engaged and feel intimately connected to the characters, we’re much more receptive to the lessons woven into the plot.  Both of these novels are exceptional in this respect.

December Meetup: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Yesterday, our lovely group met at Hudson Grille to discuss a Christmas classic.  Hudson was an emergency, last-minute venue we had to share with boisterous Falcons fans and cruising cougars, but we made it work – always nice to add a little Dickensian class to a sports bar!

Everyone is familiar with the plight of A Christmas Carol’s plot.  Old Mr. Scrooge, miserly accountant that he is, has a hardened heart and the Christmas season finds him not only unable to empathize with his fellow man, but also without the range of emotion common to most humans.  His BAH HUMBUG fills the night air, overshadowing the carol singers and Merry Christmas wishers of his village.  He’s reluctant to give his employee Christmas day off and has no time for his pesky nephew’s dinner invitation.  All this changes, as we know, with the visitation of 4 ghosts.

Everyone loved the novella.  Despite seeing several movie versions and stage productions, we still felt enchanted and surprised by the source material.  Dickens wrote a seriously creepy little tale – we agreed that the scene of the starving children appearing out of the robes of of Christmas Present was poignantly disturbing and perhaps the most interesting scene left out of many adaptations.  The ghost of Christmas Past with his changeable appearance mimicing the malleable nature of memories genuinely frightens and the ominous spirit of Christmas Future without a face and marked by silence warns of the dark unknown that lies ahead.

We were surprised at how easily Scrooge changed his ways.  Seemingly, after the visit from Christmas Present he was jumping at the chance to lighten his spirit and to begin bettering his ways.  We also wondered at the discrepancy between the somewhat minor role Tiny Tim plays in the novel and the inflated roll he always finds himself in on the movie screen. We soon found ourselves delving into the obvious Christian parallels within the story especially with the three ghosts resembling the Holy Trinity.

No matter what your religious beliefs, A Christmas Carol is a fable for everyone.  At its foundation, Dickens wrote a moral tale of the strength of humanity and the ability of good to overcome evil no matter how deep that evil seems to have taken root.  As a group, I think we’d love to remind people that while watching the film every holiday season has become tradition for so many families (the Mickey Mouse version seems to be a favorite!), nothing can beat Dickens’ original story so don’t be afraid to switch off the television and pick up this wonderful book.

On a side note:  Dickens is often an intimidating author for many people due to his word count, Victorian prose, and numerous characters to keep straight.  A Christmas Carol is a great place for a Dickens virgin to begin.  Knowing the plot will allow new readers to focus more on the language and imagery instead of stressing over what’s happening in regards to story.  Reading aloud always helps – so grab the kids, your spouse, or even your fur-children and get reading!

Next month we’ll be reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Looking forward to a great discussion of magic, mayhem, and the Big Top!