Friday, March 28, 2014

Resolution Update

In January 2014 I undertook several resolutions, including four bookish ones.  They were as follows:

Literary Explorations Challenge
    The goal of this challenge is to read books from 36 different genres, from action/adventure to young adult.  So far I have completed 12 of the 36 genres.  I started with some of my favorite genres like mystery and urban fantasy.  The real challenge will come later with horror and true crime.

Mount TBR
     Here the goal is to read 36, maybe even 48, books from my to be read list.  Beyond that, my goal is to turn my mountain of unread books into more of a hill, which means not adding to the TBR pile either, at least not too much.  With this challenge I have had mixed results.  On the one hand, 12 of the books I read this year came from my TBR pile as it existed on December 31, 2013.  On the other hand, I have purchased at least that many books since that date.  I have also been going to the library more which cuts both ways (not adding to the list but not reducing it either). 

What's in a name?
     This challenge involves reading books whose titles reference time, a position of royalty, a number written in letters, a forename or names, and a type or element of weather.  This should be easy to complete as there are only five categories.  So far I've completed two of the five categories - a reference to time and a forename or name.

Goodreads Challenge
     This is a general challenge to read a certain number of books in 2014.  I'm aiming for 65.  At 24 books read so far, I'm well ahead of schedule.  Some of the books I want to read this year are pretty hefty so this pace probably won't continue, but at least the year is off to a good start.

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston What a tremendous biography!  I was first introduced to Zora Neale Hurston through I Love Myself When I’m Laughing...& Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (A Zora Neale Hurston Reader), anthology edited by Alice Walker.  Since then I’ve meant to read more of Hurston's work but always found her a bit intimidating.  After reading Valerie Boyd’s biography of Zora Neale Hurston, her books will definitely move up the ladder on my to be read list.

Valerie Boyd must have spent years researching her subject in order to produce such an in depth portrait of Ms. Hurston’s life.  The author of such classics as Their Eyes Were Watching God and Jonah’s Gourd Vine really comes alive through Boyd’s writing.  Her genius, her courage, her bravery, and her flaws - it’s all here.  Wrapped in Rainbows is the March selection of my book club.  I am so glad this book was chosen.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

By Blood We Live by Glen Duncan

By Blood We Live By Blood We Live is the last in Glen Duncan's trilogy of werewolf stories.  The series began in The Last Werewolf in which the World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP) is so good at hunting down monsters that eat people there is but one werewolf left - Jake Marlowe.  While werewolves are not immortal they do live for an awful long time and world weary Jake has seen a lot and done a lot, and is ready to let go of this life. Then all of sudden Jake isn't the last werewolf.  Talulla arrives and Jake's world gets a little brighter.  Their meeting eventually leads to their twins Zoe and Lorcan.

Seconds after giving birth, Lorcan is ripped away from Talulla.  In Talulla Rising the novel's namesake chases after her son's kidnappers in an effort to get him back.  While Talulla doesn't have time for the sort of melancholic, existential crisis Jake goes through in the first book, there are questions about how one raises children who by their very nature have to learn how to commit murder efficiently and safely (safe for them, not their victims) on a monthly basis.  Questions about life, death, and humanity play against a backdrop of action packed with copious amounts of blood and gore.

This trilogy started in an interesting way but got weaker with each book.  The Last Werewolf had some beautiful writing in places and presented a new take on the werewolf genre.  Written from a woman's perspective, I felt Tallula was less successful than its predecessor but was still well worth the read.  By Blood We Live is written from multiple perspectives making for an uneven narrative. 

The bigger problem I had with this and that was there didn't seem to be any overarching goal or problem to be solved.  Not that every story needs this but in the first book there is a steady march towards Jake's demise, and then when Talulla arrives, the question becomes will Jake survive.  The story continues in the second book with Talulla trying to rescue her son and get her children to safety.  To be honest, beyond the daily struggle to survive - in the case of werewolves this means finding ways to satisfy the beast's hunger while evading humans who want to kill them (not without good reason) - I'm not entirely clear what the third book was about or why it matters.  There was something about a cure, a prophesy, the reincarnation of an old lover, and militant angels who have made it their mission to hunt down and kill werewolves.  The story never came together for me and it lacked the interesting introspection of the first two books.  This would have been okay if this series were just a horror series about monsters and blood, but the series started out as something more.  I found myself skimming through the last 100 pages because I just wanted to finish already and move on to something else.  Thankfully, now I can.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall (Hex Hall Series #1)  On her 12th birthday Sophie Mercer discovered that the father she has never met is a warlock and that she is a witch.  Three years later she is sentenced Hecate ("Hex") Hall, a reform school for prodigium who have done something to risk revealing their nature to humans.  A love spell gone very wrong is the mistake that lands Sophie at Hex Hall.  On the upside, for the first time Sophie meets other kids like herself.  There are witches, fairies, shifters, werewolves (here shifters can become an actual animal while werewolves are in a constant half-human/half-wolf state), vampires, ghosts and even a demon.  At regular school, Sophie was an outcast.  At Hex Hall, while not exactly popular, at least there is the potential of fitting in.

Hex Hall kept popping up in my recommendations list on Goodreads, probably because I read a lot of young adult and paranormal/ urban fantasy/ supernatural books.  That it is set in a boarding school was an added bonus.  Boarding schools always sound like so much fun, but then I never attended one, so that's probably why they interest me.  Unfortunately this only mildly interested me.  The writing and plot are extremely simplistic.  There isn't much in the way of character development.  Sophie is sarcastic.  Sadly, her sarcasm is less in the way of witty and more in the form of bratty teenager with a chip on her shoulder. 

Hex Hall is the first in a series.  It is classified as a young adult but I would almost classify it as juvenile or at least at the younger end of the YA spectrum.   Perhaps the story gets stronger over the series but I won't be finding out anytime soon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina  The first ballet I saw was probably a production of The Nutcracker at the local community center in my hometown.  Since then I have been fascinated, intrigued, and completely mesmerized by dance.  There is something magical about men and woman flying through the air, and dancing on their tiptoes and telling a story without saying a word.  When I lived in New York I tried to see as many ballets as my time and money would afford.  Several years after leaving New York, attending a performance at Lincoln Center is still one of the things I miss most about the city.  So when I heard that Misty Copeland was publishing a memoir/biography I was thrilled.  First, she is a wonderful dancer.  Second, as a soloist at the American Ballet Theatre she is one of the very few African-American women to have ever made it to this level at a major ballet company. 

Copeland has an interesting story to tell.  Her background doesn't quite fit the mold of a typical ballet dancer.  For starters, she began dancing relatively late at the ripe old age of 13 and her first class was at a Boys and Girl Club.  In Life in Motion Copeland tells how she went from dancing at a gym at a Boys and Girls Club to the stage at Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House.  In addition to her personal story, Copeland provides a glimpse of what it takes to be a dancer - the daily regimen of class and rehearsals, the injuries, and even the politics of the ballet world.  Notwithstanding my love of the ballet, I have to admit I don't know much about its history so I was particularly interested in the bits about other dancers of color who preceded Copeland (now I have homework to do) and the inner workings of a ballet company.

I very much enjoyed Life in Motion.  It was a quick and entertaining read.  If you're interested in ballet or dance in general, I would recommend it.  If you're interested in the politics surrounding race and art this might also interest you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Solo: A James Bond Novel by Willilam Boyd

 Solo  As Solo opens James Bond is turning 45.  He is soon off to a made up country in Africa that is in the middle of a civil war with the vague mission to make the person leading the civil war a less effective leader.  Oh yeah, oil has recently been discovered in this African country, which in one reason for the civil war.

I have seen a few of the James Bond movies but have only read one of the books, so I cannot compare this to the books that make up the James Bond canon.  Just taking this on its own, I have to admit I like the movies better.  It wasn't necessarily a bad book, it just didn't quite rise to the level of action and excitement I have come to expect from James Bond.  That is probably largely because being primarily acquainted with the films, I expect a combination of death defying action and funny one-liners.  The Bond I am used to is suave and sexy, downing martinis and bedding nearly woman he comes into contact with and it's all in good fun.  Of course in real life that would make him an alcoholic womanizer but that part usually fades from my mind when I watching Bond wrestle a gun from a bad guy.

In Solo there is some action but little glamour.  Bond falls "in love" with every woman he meets, which just doesn't seem like the Bond I know, and his drinking and smoking seems a bit out of control.  In fact, for the first few chapters he has a seriously sore throat, most likely from smoking so much.  I kept expecting to him to take to bed what with how much he complained about feeling ill.  Compared to the visual spectacle that are the Bond movies, this was a bit of let down. 

The writing style bugged me a little too, specifically the point of view.  It kept switching between third person and Bond's first person point of view.  The constant switching was jarring and not at all subtle.  I also couldn't understand why Bond has so much trouble figuring out why the United Kingdom, United States or any other country might be so interested in a civil war in a country where vast amounts of oil have only recently been discovered.  But maybe that's not fair as I am reading this in 2014 - maybe in 1969 an oil rich country would have attracted less worldwide interest?

I may try reading one of Ian Fleming's books sometime in the future but for now I'll stick to the movies.