Reading Challenge Update #6

I recently finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This was a book that it seemed like everyone had read except me. Even my mom read it and she reads about 3 books a year. I picked this book based on her recommendation. I don’t read much modern literature, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much coming into this novel. I was pleasantly surprised, though.

the art of racing in the rain

At first the narration style got on my nerves a bit. The wording was often simple, but repetitive. I had to keep telling myself that the style was like that because the narrator is a dog. This dog is no ordinary dog though, and he soon won me over completely. Enzo has a child-like spirit and marvels at small things that we often take for granted, like opposable thumbs. At times he is brutally honest, but his wisdom shines through.

The novel focuses a lot on racing and cars, so I thought I wouldn’t enjoy that emphasis much, since I don’t really have a strong interest in cars, but the metaphors were well written throughout the novel, helping, rather than hindering the narrative. Enzo’s master is Denny Swift, a racing enthusiast, so it makes sense that Enzo loves racing just as much as he loves Denny. I loved seeing their relationship develop, because like human relationships, there are ups and downs.

Maybe I enjoyed this novel so much because I have a puppy of my own. In some ways, Enzo is every dog, loyal, loving, and pure-hearted. But because I have a puppy, the emotional parts of the novel were likely even more emotional than they would be if I had never had a pet of my own. Overall, I think this is a must-read novel for any dog-lover, or animal-lover, for that matter.

I will say that the story progression is a bit predictable. If the narrator were anyone but a dog, I would have put the book down after the first chapter or so. The story is more remarkable because of the canine narrator. Even with the mostly predictable story line, it’s still a cute novel. I can’t really give much of a summary without spoilers, but it’s a quick read.

Reading Challenge Update #5

About two week ago I finished reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I counted this under the category ‘a book set in Europe’, although it could have counted as a few different things.
owc-tenant-of-wildfell-hall1
Although Anne Bronte is one of the least well-known Bronte sisters, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The style seemed like a mix between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. It has a similar style to Charlotte Bronte with the feminist themes, coupled with beautiful and accurate observations of characters/setting, but it also resembles Austen’s style that is lighter and more relationship-focused than that of Charlotte Bronte.

I loved that the novel used some of the Gothic elements, like many Victorian novels, including Jane Eyre (one of my top 5 favorites). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an interesting adaptation of the Byronic hero that is present in so many Gothic novels, in that the hero is actually a heroine. It’s definitely arguable that Helen Graham, the main character of the novel exhibits the traits of the Byronic hero, or in this case, heroine.

For those who may or may not know, the Byronic hero was named after Lord Byron, as a variation of the romantic hero.
Character traits of the Byronic hero include: high level of intelligence/ keen observation skills; cunning and adaptability; sophisticated/ educated; self-critical/ introspective; mysterious/brooding, but also charismatic/ magnetic; struggles with integrity; power of seduction and sexual attraction; social/ sexual dominance. Helen doesn’t necessarily fit every category, but many Byronic heroes won’t check every box.

A brief summary without spoilers: A mysterious widow arrives at Wildfell Hall, a manor near Gilbert Markham, the narrator of the first and third parts of the novel. He observes her with great interest and begins to learn about her life, despite her wishes to remain as isolated as possible from the world around her. However, Mr. Markham and Arthur, Helen’s son, soon form a strong bond, and Helen is eventually drawn into a friendship with Mr. Markham. Helen harbors secrets though, that if the truth was found out, her and little Arthur’s lives could be drastically changed forever.

That’s all I’ll say of that. There are elements of mystery and intrigue, as well as romance and heartbreak. If you’re looking for drama and Victorian gossip, there’s some of that as well. Honestly, it has all the elements of a great novel, and the characterization is vivid. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in Victorian literature.

Reading Challenge Update #4

I finished up Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard just a few days ago. This book was eye-opening for me because I had never thought about how World War II impacted China. Honestly, I was unaware that Japan held so much power in China during this time. Not only that, but I was also unaware that Japan set up internment camps within China to hold Europeans, Americans, and Chinese civilians and soldiers.

Empire of the SunI’ve read quite a few novels about WWII, some about concentration camps, some about the interment of Japanese Americans, some about Nazi occupations of Europe, but this novel was different. Although it was a memoir, like many of the others, the protagonist, Jamie (Jim) is the most optimistic protagonist I’ve come across in this genre. The story begins just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when Jim is only 9 years old. In many ways, he doesn’t understand the war, but in other ways he is more observant and his ideas about the war surpass the logic of adults when it comes to witnessing violence and other acts of war. He can be brutally honest at times, which can make him seem callous to what is happening around him, but if you take into account the atrocities he is witnessing, Jim is a likable character.

A (kind of) short synopsis: Jim is a British boy living in Shanghai with his parents at the start of the war. Soon after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, the Japanese troops within Shanghai take over the European, American, and Chinese troops stationed in Shanghai, taking control of the city, and most of the country. During the confusion and chaos of this quick takeover, Jim loses connection with his parents. He roams the streets of Shanghai for some time, meeting some interesting characters, while searching for his parents. Eventually, he decides to surrender to the Japanese, which results in him ending up at Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center (an internment camp). Jim’s ability to see the good in everyone, even the Japanese (who were considered the enemy) and his resourcefulness enable him to survive the war.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Reading books like Empire of the Sun continually remind me of the perseverance of the human spirit, even when the world is crumbling.

I would recommend this novel if you enjoy history, WWII stories, memoirs, airplanes (Jim loves airplanes), and stories of hope/optimism.

Reading Challenge Update #2

This update should have happened about 2 weeks ago, but at least it’s happening. The next bullet to mark off my list was the ‘Science Fiction Novel’. For this category, I chose Dune by Frank Herbert, as it is generally referred to as the pinnacle of science fiction literature. Many of my friends also recommended this book to me, one of them even claiming it was is favorite. Needless to say, I had high expectations going into Dune.

dune-cover

For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. From the beginning, one can tell that the main character, Paul, is going to be part of an epic journey. I was first struck by the characters of Paul and his mother, Jessica. Their unique talents made them interesting characters to follow. However, I think the biggest draw to this story, for me, anyway, was Herbert’s world building ability. The story has a fully developed ecosystem that greatly affects the plot, as well as many different cultural groups, each with their own religion and ideals. It was also interesting to see how the environment and the different cultures affected the characters, as well as how the characters affected the environment and the culture. Overall, it felt like a realistic dynamic between humans and their environment.

I don’t want to go too much into plot detail because the story starts very quickly, so there’s not much I can say without giving too much away. As my boyfriend remarked, “The plot thickens very quickly.” However, I can say that if you enjoy intergalactic politics, environmental issues, or prophesies, you will probably enjoy Dune.

Other notes:
-Dune is the first book of a series (six total). However, Dune is a stand-alone novel, as well. Personally, I doubt I’ll read any other books in the series, just because Dune was a bit dense and I liked where the story ended.
-I wouldn’t recommend the movie Dune to anyone, so I’d steer clear of that. I haven’t seen it, but after reading the book, I think it would be hard to do the story any justice in movie form. Especially since the movie was made in 1984.

 

2016 Reading Challenge

I’ve seen a lot of different posts about yearly reading challenges, the most popular by far is the MMD (Modern Mrs. Darcy) Reading Challenge . The goal is 12 books in 12 months. It’s a great challenge that exposes new readers to great books and even longtime readers to new genres.

I always go a little over the top with these sorts of things, so I created my own version of a 2016 reading challenge that is considerably more substantial. I used the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge as a starting point as well as the 2016 PopSugar Reading Challenge.

  • A book based on a fairy tale
  • A National Book award winner
  • A YA best seller
  • A book you haven’t read since high school/ A book you were supposed to read in high school (but didn’t)
  • A book set in your home state
  • A book translated into English
  • A romance set in the future
  • A book set in Europe
  • A book that is less than 150 pages
  • A NY Times best-seller
  • A book that is becoming a movie this year
  • A book with a protagonist who has the same occupation as you/ a protagonist that has your dream occupation
  • A book that takes place in the summer
  • A book and its prequel / A book and its sequel
  • A murder mystery
  •  A book written by a comedian
  • A dystopian novel
  • A book with a blue cover
  • A book of poetry
  • The first book you see in a bookstore / the first book you see in your home library
  • A classic from the 20th century
  • A book from the library
  • An autobiography (can be a fictionalized autobiography)
  • A book recommended by a friend
  • A self-improvement book
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book written by a celebrity (or someone you consider to be a celebrity)
  • A political memoir
  • A book more than 100 years older than you
  • A book that is more than 600 pages
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club
  • A science fiction novel
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A graphic novel
  • A book published in 2016
  • A non-fiction book
  • A book about a road trip / voyage
  • A book about an unfamiliar culture
  • A satirical book
  • A book that takes place on an island
  • A book that is guaranteed to bring you joy
  • A book you chose because of the cover
  • A book with magic
  • A banned book
  • A book that was published the year you were born
  • A book you started and never finished (or a book you have always wanted to read, if the first does not apply)
  • A book by an author you have never read
  • A book of short stories

48 books, 12 months. Although not a small task by any means, this is my 2016 reading challenge. Happy reading!

2016 reading challenge