Reading Slumps and Book Bingo

I have made exactly 0 progress with Middlesex since I last posted.  I am in one of the worst reading slumps I’ve ever been in (also why I haven’t been posting:  a reading slump is extremely bad news for a book blog).  Work got extremely busy within the last few weeks, and when I’m not at work, I’m usually doing other things not reading-related or trying to catch up on sleep, so I just haven’t had that much time.  Additionally, Middlesex just isn’t making me reach for it yet.

I’m going to put it aside for now.  I hate doing that, but I’m just not making any progress and I need to shake things up.  I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to pick up instead – it might be Game of Thones – but it’s definitely time for a change.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of the Books on the Nightstand podcast, and a recent-ish (I’m a little backlogged) episode was about their Beach Blanket Book Bingo, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  Here is my card:

BOTNS Bingo [Random!]

I don’t know what I’m going to read yet, but it goes through Labor Day, so I’m just going to try to do as much as I can!  You can get your own card here (hit refresh first) if you want to read along!

How do you deal with a reading slump?


Movie Review: “The Fault in Our Stars”

I dragged my husband to see “The Fault in Our Stars” over the weekend, and I was impressed.  Being somewhat obsessed with the reading the book before I see a movie adaptation, I feel like I can speak with some authority on book-to-movie adaptations.  This one was excellent.

There was one major story line left out:  Augustus’s previous girlfriend was never mentioned.  While I felt that in the book, this added some depth to Hazel’s determination to distance herself from Augustus, I certainly didn’t miss it in the movie.  Rather, I felt that it would have been superfluous.

I was impressed with the performances almost across the board, but particularly with Laura Dern and Sam Trammell as Hazel’s parents.  As I mentioned in my book review, I love the way the the book portrays the parents, and the movie was no different.  For me, the biggest tearjerkers weren’t from Hazel and Gus, but from Hazel and her parents.  I found that they drove home the messages of the book better.

My criticism is a small one:  this was a fairly low-budget film ($12 million), and it showed.  I particularly didn’t like the way that the text messages showed up on screen.  “Sherlock” is the master at this, and while that obviously wouldn’t have worked here, I am sure that there is a less cutesy way that it could have been done.

Overall, this was a very good movie and an excellent adaptation.  I am very glad I saw it.  For anyone who hasn’t read the book, be warned:  while it isn’t in the least depressing, it is certainly sad.  And also, read the book.

Review: “The Historian,” Elizabeth Kostova

Publisher’s Synopsis:  Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil:  the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages.  The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe – in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, no exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

Rating: 4.5/5

I decided to re-read The Historian at the end of the Bout of Books 10.0 Read-a-thon, when I was dealing with quite a bit of anxiety and felt that it would be nice to read an old favorite.  I first read it around 2007, and I’ve reread it (I think) twice since then.

The Historian was Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel; her second novel was The Swan Thieves, which I reviewed here.  If I recall correctly, The Historian sat on my bookshelf for a long time before I picked it up, because I hadn’t realized when I bought it that it was a vampire story, and I wasn’t interested in it because of that.

In actuality, this is a vampire story, but it’s not quite one like you’ve read before.  It intertwines the story of Dracula with the history of Vlad Tepes and the folklore of Eastern Europe, so that it’s much more a story about a research quest through history than it is about vampires.  It is told from several perspectives, but the primary narrator is an unnamed young woman who discovers papers in her father’s study relating to his own search for Dracula, approximately 20 years before.  Her father’s story is told from his own perspective (initially through letters, then as separate chapters in his first-person perspective), and another historian’s quest is told through letters to the narrator’s father.  It gets a little messy, but I never found it particularly difficult to follow.

One thing that annoyed me quite a lot on this reading which hadn’t bothered me before was the narrator’s naivete.  She acknowledges it at the beginning of the story, but she is approximately 16-18 years old during the majority of the narration, and her voice belongs to someone 13-15 at the oldest.  It almost seems to me as though Kostova originally wrote her younger, then decided that didn’t work with the plot as it was unfolding, so went back and made her older without changing the voice, just by adding that note at the beginning.  Luckily, after the first third or so of the book, the narrator isn’t the primary voice.

Another complaint I have (which isn’t new to this reading) is that The Historian ignores the allure that Dracula has in every other retelling of the myth – and that vampires have in general in all vampire stories.  The characters have no moral ambiguity – Dracula and his minions are bad, those hunting him are good, and that is the end of that.  It would be far more interesting if at least one person was seduced by ‘the dark side.’

Complaints aside, I really do love this book.  The characters’ journeys through Europe are beautifully described and the plot is suspenseful without being stressful.  In fact, in thinking about it, I’ll add a caveat to my previous paragraph:  the ending is open-ended, and I think that it allows for an interpretation of moral ambiguity, which appeals to me quite a bit.  On the subject of the ending, I thought that this one was very appropriate – it wasn’t absurdly optimistic, but it wasn’t Hamlet, either.  It was a good balance between good and bad (I just wish it was a better balance between good and evil!).

Ultimately, what sells The Historian for me – and what keeps me coming back – is the adventure of the quest though Europe and the way that it is described.  Kostova would be a brilliant narrative travel writer – she evokes a sense of the places that is intoxicating, even if it isn’t accurate (I can’t speak to its accuracy).

Review: “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” Robin Sloan

Publisher’s Synopsis:  “The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest.  The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything – instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store.  Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s  behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends.  But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra’s they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.  Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like:  an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.”

Rating:  5/5

I didn’t notice until I was nearly halfway through Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore that it has an endorsement from George Saunders on the front cover.  If I had seen that before I got started, I may have been a little more excited about it.  This reads as a love letter to books mixed with a treatise on the interplay of books and technology – the mingling of old knowledge and new.

I quite honestly loved everything about this book.  The characters were delightfully quirky, but still real and quite likable (if sometimes a bit superfluous).  The setting was wonderful; how could a book with “24-Hour Bookstore” right in the title not have a fabulous setting?  The plot moved at exactly the right pace:  events unfolded, but they never seemed rushed and as much as I enjoyed the book, I never wanted it to slow down to give me more time.  This was not a difficult book to read, but nor was it overly simple.  Sloan struck a perfect balance on almost every element of storytelling, leading to a whole that was cohesive and not at all over the top.

It is strange to me to read books set during the recession; it feels too current to have been immortalized in fiction just yet.  However, the way that Sloan juxtaposes the recession and the generation that has been living through it on top of the interplay between a mysterious used book archive and Silicon Valley is masterful.  A book about ancient books has never felt more modern.