Thursday, December 31, 2015

Our Favorite Reads of 2015


After seeing a slew of articles circulating the interwebs titled "The Best Books of 2015," etc., we knew that we needed to do our own. We've had quite a productive reading year! Charlotte read over 30 books, and Liz read 16! We've read some really crap books, but, more importantly, we've read some truly excellent books that will stay with us for years to come. Here's each of our top five for 2015!

Charlotte's Top 5 Books of 2015

5. The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

Okay, okay. This is technically five books. I’ve reviewed three of them so far: one, two, and three. They weren’t the most spectacular books I’ve ever read, but they left a mark. I can always dig a book about rebellion, about ending oppression, about equal rights. I enjoyed this myself, and I know it’s something I can share with the tiny humans in my life: siblings, nieces and nephews, my own kids one day. Books that teach kids about these things make me happy. 

4. The Martian by Andy Weir

Now, this was a damn good book. An astronaut gets stranded on Mars after his crew mistakenly thought he was dead. It’s a story of survival and resilience and the worth of human life. Without giving much away, I’ll say that our protagonist must try and stay alive and his team, as well as hundreds or thousands of people on earth, need to figure out if there’s any way to save him.

I loved this book a lot. It was thrilling yet smart. There are some books I just devour, but they don’t make me think much. This book is jam packed with science and logic but is written in such a way that those of us without degrees in rocket science can still understand it. It’s a real adventure. It’s one of my favorites for the year because it kept my adrenaline pumping; I couldn’t put it down.

3. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
I wouldn’t necessarily call this a crucial book, but if you’re looking for something from a female role model who doesn’t fuck around, this is a great place to start. I loved it because it was hilarious, but I also gleaned some insight from Kaling’s experiences. Her first book was also terrific, but this offered a more grown up attitude while maintaining fast paced humor. I’ve been a fan of Mindy Kaling for a while, and I hope she never stops writing books. This book is top five for the many, many laughs as well as the insights. Highly recommend. (And I reviewed it here.)

2. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I haven’t reviewed this book yet, but I did write a few things about it in this post.

Gretchen Rubin is my favorite author for this genre. She combines research, history, and experience to form really great advice to change habits. This book left me feeling more optimistic about my chances to actually improve and gave advice that was actually possible to implement.

And finally, my best book of the year:

1. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Just, let’s not get me started on this book again. It’s phenomenal. The writing is unbelievably good, the stories are terrific. I couldn’t put it down. The writing will just blow you away. I reviewed it here and I talked about it a bit more on my personal blog right here.

Liz's Top 5 Books of 2015

When Charlotte and I were discussing this post the first thing she said to me was “so your entire list will be Murakami.” HAHA, CHAR. VERY FUNNY. While she’s spot on, 2015 became the year I discovered Murakami and he became one of my favorite authors, my top 5 is not all Murakami. This list is compiled of the books I read this year that will be the books that stick with me for years to come- the ones I’ll bring up in conversation (and constantly recommend), the ones I’ll think of when I’m reading a different book that shares a similar element, and the ones that drew intense feelings and thoughts from within me.

5) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre was a pleasant surprise (I was wary given my bad history with other novels of the same period). While I haven’t seen any film depictions of the novel, I assume they focus almost wholly on Jane’s relationship with Rochester, but Jane Eyre is not a romance novel. Jane Eyre is a survivor, a woman that bucks the norms of her time, strong willed, intelligent, and honest. Jane Eyre is entitled after the main character because it’s about her life, and her life is more than just the man she ends up falling in love with. It is about the abusive household she was raised in and survived through, how she came into her own at a strict and unforgiving boarding school and the important relationships she built while there, how she questioned women’s preordained roles in society and challenged them on the basis that women have the same wants and skills as men, and finally, how she found true love despite trying circumstances that would ordinarily keep two people apart.

From the beautiful writing to the themes that still hold true today, Jane Eyre as a novel, and as a character, will stick with me for years to come.

4) 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I was torn between including 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore for this list. As I’ve written before, Kafka on the Shore is the Murakami novel that pieced together the puzzle for me- it’s the novel that made me finally feel like I was starting to truly understand what Murakami is all about. But it’s 1Q84 that has made my list because it’s the first Murakami novel I read. As I’ve continued to read Murakami novels, and even works by others, 1Q84 frequently comes to mind. 1Q84 was, in some ways, a challenging novel as an introduction to Murakami’s works, but as I’ve continued to read his novels, I gain a better understanding of 1Q84 as I reflect on it.

1Q84 is a combination of a dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy, and love story all wrapped into one novel. The story follows Aomame and Tengo as they navigate some kind of parallel universe, which Aomame calls 1Q84. As they try to figure out this strange new world, Aomame’s and Tengo’s paths eventually come closer and closer together. Aomame has become one of my favorite female literary characters, and as I’ve read more of Murakami’s novels, I would argue that Aomame is the strongest female character he has ever written.

1Q84 is complex, fantastical, confusing, and both heartbreaking and beautiful, which is why it makes my top five of 2015.

3) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If I could only choose one word to describe The Handmaid’s Tale it would be “terrifying.” Published in 1985, this dystopian novel is frighteningly relevant to today. In the future, a supposed terrorist attack takes place (blamed on Islamic extremists) that ends up killing the President of the United States and most of congress. This gives the opportunity for a religious extremist group, the “Sons of Jacob,” to put forth a revolution and take over the government. This new world strips women of all human rights and creates new class divisions. The story is shared by the protagonist, Offred, a handmaid that was assigned to the household of Fred (thus her name, Offred). Due to declining birth rates, Handmaids are assigned to upper class households for  reproductive purposes.

Through flashbacks of Offred’s life prior to and after the revolution, we are introduced to a world of rampant pollution, sexism, and religious extremism. This book is one of my favorite reads of 2015 because, especially given the dialogue that has taken place during this presidential election season, it’s themes of environmental degradation, the desire of men to control women’s lives and bodies, and class warfare are more important to understand than ever. Atwood’s novel is not a cautionary tale about our future- it’s a warning about the present.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards bring you down.

2) A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

For those of you who are familiar with Doctor Who, you probably will recall one of the Doctor’s famous lines about the nature of time: “Time isn’t a straight line...time is more like wibbly wobbly...stuff.” A Tale for the Time Being is a superb novel that will make you question the nature of time and how we are all connected.
This novel is told through the narrative of Nao, a teenager who was born in California that is forced to move to Japan, where her family is originally from, when her father loses his job, and Ruth, a Japanese-American writer who lives on a small island off the coast of British Columbia. Nao’s story is told through her diary, and Ruth’s story is told as she is reading Nao’s diary, which she finds one day on the beach. As an American, Nao is treated by her peers as a foreigner, and consequently she is relentlessly bullied while she is in Japan. Her father struggles to find a job and is thrown into a deep depression. After he tries to commit suicide numerous times, Nao’s own mental health is greatly impacted. Ruth finds Nao’s diary while she is in the middle of severe writer’s block. Nao's diary takes Ruth on a crucial journey to possibly save Nao, while also saving herself. While Ruth and Nao's stories are on different timelines, the two are connected both literally and figuratively in ways that, at times, will boggle your mind.
Thrilling, thought-provoking, and emotional- this novel will stand the test of time for me.
1) Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood, which I recently reviewed at length, is my favorite book of the year. Beautifully written, touching, and relatable, I could hardly put this book down. Murakami’s insightful words on death and the importance of love leave a lasting impression. As someone who has experienced death, when I read Toru’s thoughts as he was trying to understand death himself, I thought “yes, exactly, this is precisely what this is like.” This book is not only a favorite for this year, but possibly one of my all-time favorites because when I recall this novel, all the feelings it gave me come flooding back.

Liz & Char

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Norwegian Wood

By Liz
Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Official FC Rating:


When I was having a particularly rough day, my partner offered to get me a book while he was visiting one of my favorite bookstores that evening. I was in a negative place at the time- I had just had my terrible experience with The Bookshop, work was particularly stressful- I needed something I knew would be a comfort. At the time I had already read three of Haruki Murakami’s books (this is now my fourth) and loved them each, so I felt safe asking for Norwegian Wood.
Despite already feeling confident I’d enjoy this novel, somehow it still managed to surpass my expectations. It’s been years since a book has touched me like Norwegian Wood. When I finished reading, like I usually do, I skimmed some reviews on Goodreads. This review explains how I felt about this novel well:
“There are some books you read, which leave you with stories-bitter, exciting, adrenaline-driven, romantic, depressing or grisly. And then there are books which leave you with feelings. Norwegian Wood, most definitely, belongs to the second category.”
Norwegian Wood has sometimes been described simply as a love story, and other times as a coming-of-age story, but leaving the description to those terms is far too narrow for the scope of this work. Norwegian Wood is about our protagonist, Toru, as he learns to navigate the complicated worlds of death, love, life, and how each of these worlds intersect.
My dad died when I was 17. My mom got a call at 3 AM on April 29th, 2009, and I woke up to her crying- my dad had a sudden heart attack. In Norwegian Wood, Toru’s best friend, Kizuki, commits suicide on his 17th birthday. As Toru learns to cope with, and understand, death, I related greatly to his insights and feelings, especially since we both experienced loss during the same age period. When I read the below excerpt, I got chills- these words truly resonated with me:
"Death exists...and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust."
Like Toru, after my dad died life and death became much more complicated concepts. Once you lose someone, so much of your very being changes. What touched me the most about this novel is how well it captures the impacts of death on your mental health, how you view the world, and how important it is to hold your loved ones close.
From the very first page of this novel, I noticed that stylistically it was very different from the other Murakami novels I’ve read. At first I thought that maybe it was because this novel was written by a different translator than the other Murakami novels I’ve read, but I don’t think this is the case because there were points in the novel where I thought “ah, here’s the kind of Murakami writing I am used to.” All of that being said, this novel is beautifully written in every way, from the story itself to the style of writing. I thought this particular excerpt was remarkably poetic and visual:

The more Murakami I read, the more I feel I am getting a grasp on his writing and what he is about. Like Kafka on the Shore (which I reviewed on GoodReads), Norwegian Wood was one more Murakami novel that helped me understand his various themes and philosophies. In this novel, and in his other novels, music, the importance of exercise, and the necessity of love, especially through trying times, are all themes throughout the text. Additionally, in my review of Kafka on the Shore, I mention how Murkami consistently resolves any possible monetary issues his lead characters could encounter and how I felt that he did this purposely so his characters would be free to develop themselves without restrictions. My suspicion of this was confirmed in Norwegian Wood.
Norwegian Wood is much more contemporary than Murakami’s other novels- it has less fantastical elements and is more grounded in reality. So, class issues were brought up in a very different way than his other novels. I feel the best example is through Midori’s struggle. Midori, one of Toru’s love interests, grew up in a working class neighborhood and worked her whole life in her family’s small shop. She was sent to private school and constantly felt ostracized because she couldn’t invite friends over to her small home, or couldn’t always go to a friend’s home. Midori frequently discusses how her family’s financial struggles greatly dictated how she could develop in life. On the opposite side of Midori is Toru’s friend, Nagasawa, who is exceptionally wealthy and, consequently, aloof, uncaring, and selfish. Both these characters emphasize how money can impact one’s development.
Class is also alluded to in other ways in the novel. For example, Toru often discusses how his favorite novel is The Great Gatsby. It’s no secret that The Great Gatsby is about how the American dream is unattainable- that it is impossible to both prosper under capitalism and maintain healthy and loving relationships. Without spoiling too much, the story of Nagasawa and his girlfriend, Hatsumi, very much mirrors the story of The Great Gatsby.
Norwegian Wood is frequently compared to The Catcher in the Rye, which makes sense given the themes they have in common. The main characters of both novels deal with internal struggles following the death of a loved one, both novels have themes regarding mental health, frustrations with society, and class issues.  The frustration of hypocrisy in society is an area where I felt the two novels were most strongly connected. At one point Midori shares with Toru a story about her experience joining a revolutionary student group on campus. She discusses how despite the students being highly educated about the theories of Marx and various other political theorists, none of the students had the patience to actually teach or discuss those theories. What angered Midori the most was undoubtedly how women in the group were treated in comparison to the men. This supposedly radical and progressive group still would make the women prepare meals for the meetings and would silence the women from actively taking part in discussions.
Finally, you can’t discuss a Murakami novel without discussing the importance of love. While figuring out how to cope with the death of Kizuki, Toru falls in love with Kizuki’s high school girlfriend, Naoko. Both Naoko and Toru truly get close after Kizuki’s death, however, the way both of them are able to handle his death is very different. Naoko and Kizuki knew each other since they were children. Having grown up together, she never felt they would be apart. After Kizuki dies, Naoko battles severe anxiety and depression that render her incapable of being in the “normal” world. Naoko checks herself into a sanitorium in a rural, mountainous region of Japan, where Toru keeps in touch with her via letters and occasional visits. While Naoko and Toru are apart, Toru eventually meets Midori, who in many regards is the total opposite of Naoko. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!! I feel that Toru’s relationships with Naoko and Midori represent the different phases he enters following Kizuki’s death. Towards the end of the novel, while Toru still very much loves Naoko, he realizes that he is very much in love with Midori and wants to find happiness in life with her. By deciding to commit to Midori, this moment symbolizes that Toru is finally beginning to heal from Kizuki’s death.
Each paragraph I’ve written could easily be their own essays, and I could even go into more, but allow me to wrap this up (if I haven’t already bored you to death). This novel can get nothing less than five stars from me. It has everything you could want in  a book- an excellent plot and characters, complex and interesting themes, and beautifully written language. I laughed, I cried, and I related- this novel goes down as my favorite of the year.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Liz
Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Official FC Rating: 



I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I saw the movie a couple years ago and was blown away by it, but, not surprisingly, I heard from many that the book was way better. So, when I came across cheap copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second book in the series, The Girl who Played with Fire, in an antique store, I snatched them up.

Explained simply, the novel is a murder mystery. Mikael Blomkvist, our protagonist, is publisher and co-founder of the magazine, Millennium, and is charged with libel against a billionaire industrialist, Wennerstrӧm. Because this case is widely publicized throughout the country, Blomkvist catches the eye of Henrik Vanger, a competing CEO of Wennerstrӧm’s. Vanger lures Blomkvist to investigate the cold case of his missing niece, Harriet Vanger, by promising him that he has evidence against Wennerstrӧm that Blomkvist can use. As the investigation into Harriet’s disappearance gets too challenging for Blomkvist to handle himself, he ends up partnering with one of the best investigative researchers and hackers in Sweden, Lisbeth Salander. The closer the two get to solving the mystery, the closer they also find themselves to imminent danger.

Let me start explaining my feelings about this novel with this: Lisbeth Salander is all that matters. Lisbeth Salander is everything. I mean it- she’s one of my favorite female characters I’ve read in a novel in my adult years, and she’s undoubtedly the best thing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, I assume, the rest of the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson. “Bad ass” is probably the best way to describe Salander, but to break that down, she’s incredibly intelligent, clever, unconventional, and takes no shit from any man. Basically, I want to channel her energy in my daily life.

Salander is significantly more interesting than Blomkvist. To be frank, Blomvist is pretty boring, and I couldn’t figure out his allure. Nearly every female character he has some sort of close relationship with sleeps with him. Sure, there are some redeeming qualities about Blomkvist, but I genuinely get the sense that this character is a “Gary Stu,” the male equivalent of the “Mary Sue.” Blomkvist is described as kind, sensitive, intelligent, handsome, and, obviously, a ladies man.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is frequently described as a feminist novel. Undoubtedly, this was the intent of Stieg Larsson, and I don’t disagree that the novel is in many ways empowering. The original Swedish title of the novel is “Men Who Hate Women.” The novel is also filled with various statistics about violence against women in Sweden. It was made clear that Salander has faced sexual violence in her past and is generally untrusting of men because of this. Without spoiling too much, Salander is faced, again, with sexual harassment and assault by a man with power over her in the novel. Despite the novel addressing this horrendous aspect of the patriarchy, I wouldn’t say the writing is all that feminist.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s problematic that Blomkvist is the “good guy” trope and every woman consequently wants to sleep with him. Additionally, the female characters that are featured the most in the novel have no strong friendships with other women or each other. In fact, because each of the main female characters have slept with Blomkvist, there is this gross jealousy that ends up taking place between them. For a novel that’s supposed to be about the empowerment of women, there isn’t a lot of solidarity seen between the women in the novel.

The physical descriptions of the women are much more in depth than any for the men, in my opinion. I could really picture the women, but not nearly as much with most of the men, including Blomkvist. The women are also, of course, described by a man’s narrative in most cases and thus described in a moderately sexual manner.

Feminist critique aside, I loved this novel. I enjoyed the detail and how I was able to envision the characters and the scenery. The plot was really exciting. Because it had been a while since I had seen the movie, I couldn’t remember entirely who was responsible for Harriet’s disappearance, so new information and plot twists were thrilling. In written form I was able to retain more details about the case and the various suspects. Some people told me that the book was really confusing for them and hard to follow, which wasn’t the case for me, but that could be because I saw the movie first.

And because I know people will be dying to know which I liked better, I definitely have to say that I liked the book more. That being said, I really do think they did a great job with the movie! The hardest thing about seeing a movie version of the book before reading it is being able to envision your own images of the characters and scenes instead. In the case of this book though, I thought the casting was pretty great. Rooney Mara was cast as Lisbeth Salander, and I really think in both appearance and acting Rooney was an excellent fit. Rooney wasn’t a perfect physical match to the description of Salander, so I was able to picture her a little differently. Daniel Craig was cast as Mikael Blomkvist, which, given how mediocrely the character was described physically, was probably a fine fit, but personally I think Daniel Craig is so blah looking. If Blomkvist was described better maybe I could have done a better job creating my own mental  image, but, try as I might, god damn Daniel Craig’s face kept popping into my head.

In conclusion, this book gets 5 stars because of Lisbeth Salander mostly, but also because the book was too good to put down. I’m hoping I enjoy The Girl who Played with Fire just as much! 

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Snazzy Jazzy Read

By Charlotte
Book Review: 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
Official FC Rating: 

*Spoiler alert: I don't reveal what happens at the climax of the book, but I do talk about the occasional plot point. I wouldn't really consider them spoilers, but just a heads up in case you like to jump into a book without knowing any of the plot beforehand. 

I won't lie, I didn't have high hopes for this book. I don't really know why. Maybe it was the corny title, or maybe it just seemed a little too cutesy for me based on the synopsis. 

I was mostly wrong. 

This book was good. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. We're given a few different story lines that continuously intersect (or at least run parallel to one another) and get to follow along as our three main characters deal with life, hopes, and dreams. There's Madeleine, a "sassy" little kid with a hard life who really just wants to sing. We've got her teacher, Sarina, who is recently divorced. And then there's Lorca, owner of The Cat's Pajamas, a dying jazz club. Their stories are, for the most part, separate. They just occasionally intersect. The three will, at 2 A.M. on Christmas Eve, find themselves at The Cat's Pajamas. 

The stories were alright. Madeleine's was sad. She's described as sassy but mostly she's just rude. For readers, she's easy to empathize with but hard to particularly like (for me, anyway). She's not a bad character, just... I thought the surrounding characters were better and infinitely more exciting. But yes. Her backstory is a sad one. Her mother is dead and her father, well, let's call him ill. She's on her own, being primarily taken care of by friends of her mother. She is a talented singer, but due to her ornery attitude and her principal's dislike of her, she can't often share her talent. When she finds out about the historic Cat's Pajamas, she knows she must go there to sing. 

Lorca is the owner of the club. He's an alright guy, but not attentive enough to his relationships, whether it's with his son or his girlfriend. He spends most of his time with his music friends. He avoids responsibility outside of music and the club. But the club is dying. On top of that, he gets citations and must pay thousands of dollars in fines to keep the Cat's Pajamas open. Much of his story focuses on this particular struggle and his efforts to raise the money. But we also get a look at his personal story and his flailing relationship with his son. 

Then there's Sarina, to me the most likable of the three main characters. She's divorced, she's very kind and empathetic. She's a bit unsure of herself, something she should probably work on. But overall she's an intriguing and amusing character, and her story is the funnest to read. She walks the city with an old fling, not sure if things can go anywhere. She, of course, will end up going to a club with said fling. 

I liked the book because it was touching at times. The stories were interesting, if not completely enthralling. Some of the characters were lovely. (I especially liked the minor characters.) Bertino did a great job with pacing. The book was written in such a way that I was never bored and I always was hoping to find out what happens next. At some point, I became invested in the stories, even though they weren't life and death scenarios. It was a sweet and charming book. 

There are a few reasons I gave it four stars instead of five. First, the writing was a little too flowery at times. I love metaphor an imagery and every other literary tool and technique, but I do think it can be overdone. It got better as the book went on, but in the beginning, I thought the writing was too pretty, it was taking away from developing the story. Secondly, I didn't feel particularly strongly about most of the characters. They were far from lackluster, but they weren't exceptional, either. Lastly, do you remember in school how we were all taught the different parts of a story? Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution/conclusion. The first two parts were done wonderfully. The climax wasn't incredibly surprising or exciting, but it was good. But the last two parts - the falling action and resolution, they were just okay. 

Overall, I sort of recommend the book. It's a good story and a fun and quick read. I enjoyed it a lot. But you're not going to die if you don't read it. If you're looking for a light, charming book, absolutely pick it up. If you're looking for the stuff of giants, though, you can skip it without worry. 
__
Char    
  
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Delightful Dickens

By Charlotte
Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Official FC Rating:




Every Christmas season I tell myself I'm going to read A Christmas Carol. And every Christmas season I fail to read A Christmas Carol. Bah humbug, indeed. 

Until now! I finally committed to reading it. I loved it. I've read some of Oliver Twist (If I remember correctly, I put it down to read Harry Potter instead. I truly have a problem.) so I knew I liked Dickens. His writing is a bit much to get through since we just don't write or speak like that anymore, but I enjoy it. A Christmas Carol didn't disappoint. 

I'll keep this short and sweet, just like the story. First of all, his characters are awesome. In my mind, he and Agatha Christie are similar in the way their main characters stick out. I can perfectly picture Poirot right down to his mannerisms, and it's because of the physical descriptions Christie offers just as much as the personality. The same is true of Dickens. Scrooge is such a vivid character. There's a reason this story has been adapted approximately 42,000 times and it's not just the message it sends. It's Scrooge. 

Also, also. Remember in school, when we were taught that three adjectives is the perfect number? I think Dickens would roll his eyes at that rule. There were several instances where he used a ton of adjectives, and instead of it feeling overdone or clunky, it added a sense of fun to the reading. I almost got a feeling of nonchalant urgency while reading it, if that's possible. It wasn't important to hurry and read a sentence, but you did anyway because of how it was structured; I pictured a really excellent storyteller reading the story aloud, and those sentences chock-full of adjectives turned into crescendos. Does that make sense? At all? It made it a really delightful read. If I try to sum A Christmas Carol up in one word, delightful is absolutely the word. 

Not that I really have to mention this since it's known across the world, but the moral of the story is a beautiful one. I anticipate reading this at least every other year. 

My point: Yes! Go read it! 

And of course, Merry Christmas! 

xoxo
Char 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Reading Round-Up


Hello! It's the happiest and merriest and most wonderful time of the year! (Current events notwithstanding.) With the end of the year comes a steady flow of "Best Books Of 2015" posts, which makes for some good reading! Check out some of our favorites here, as well as some other terrific book-related posts! 

Because we're conceited buttheads, let's start with Charlotte's post about her favorite books over on THL. Any you've read make the list? 

Have you seen NPR's book concierge yet? It's pretty fabulous! We highly suggest you take a peak and see if ya strike a fancy to any of those killer books (The Tsar of Love and Techno made the list, of course!).

Reading Harry Potter is even better when you're an adult. Check out what this writer over at Bustle has to say about the evolution of lessons she learned from Harry Potter.

Have you considered writing your own book? What do you think of these tips on creating a writing plan?

Buzzfeed selected their favorite fiction books of the year, and while we think there are some stellar-sounding books on that list... it's a bummer that it's mostly just contemporary fiction. More books! We want more books!

Came across this list of books that will make you more interesting on Pinterest and totally love it! We've read a few of them ourselves, and some are on our list of Books to Read in Your Twenties!

We've had our fair share of assigned and/or recommended reading throughout high school and college, and we've definitely kept some of our favorite texts! So we thought this article on books you'll want to read again as an adult was intriguing. Are there any books you'd like to re-read as an adult? Charlotte thinks it'd be great to reread Animal Farm (first read in sixth grade, about 12 years ago) and Liz would love to reread Heart of Darkness.

Charlotte is personally of the opinion that LOTR and HP are on the same level, and that no other books can compare, but here, read this article about books that are allegedly as enchanting as the HP series.


December means Christmas means gift guides means gift guides specifically for book lovers means gift guides specifically for lovers of Harry Potter means gift guides specifically for people who have chosen Hermione Granger as their favorite HP character. Enjoy. (Swooning over this one.) We also loved this list of gifts for English majors - not aptly titled! It's a list of gifts for writers and for book lovers alike! Liz is fond of that dope ass reading lamp and Charlotte likes the "Shhh" light.

Loving the winners of Goodread's best books!

Here's an article that lists books with "unexpected hot sex scenes." "Hot" is relative, tho.

We also liked The New York Times list of 100 notable books of 2015.

I love the holidays and we don't mind the occasional YA book, but.. damn, some of these books sound corny.

Ah, this was sweet. Authors share the books they're thankful for.

And, oh! Are you Catholic? Or do you like Pope Francis? Or do you want to live like Jesus, hollah?! Today starts the year long Jubilee of Mercy, and Pope Francis has suggested reading Dante's Divine Comedy. Charlotte's read Inferno, and Purgatory and Paradise are on the list! This year is the year!

Best Book Quotes! Throw it on a poster, bro. 

Do you have a kid who loves graphic novels? Or, maybe you love them! Mighty Girl has compiled a list of terrific graphic novels.

Really, really enjoyed this article explaining how a few literary characters got their names! Coming up with names for characters is no easy task. 

And finally, from Modern Mrs. Darcy, a list of books that you *should* have read in high school, but are worth reading now. (As part of a reading challenge! we love reading challenges!)

And that's it for this round! 
Stay tuned for a list of our favorite books we've read this year! 

xoxo
Liz & Char

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Tsar of Love and Techno

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Official FC Rating: 


A few weeks ago I asked my friends for book suggestions. I was really craving a good, good book. Specifically, I wanted something that could rival Ayana Mathis' The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. That book stuck with me like no other (okay, not as much as Harry Potter). Mathis' writing was just terrific. My friends gave some suggestions, but nothing I've read in a while has compared. 

Until Anthony Marra. Oh gosh. The Tsar of Love and Techno is a collection of stories, but they're so well done that it feels as though you're reading just one story. I loved The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - it left an indelible mark. But I think The Tsar of Love and Techno might be even better. The two are similar in that the writing is unbelievably good. It's not often that I have to put a book down just to let the writing sink in. Marra, like Mathis, is an exception. I found myself re-reading lines frequently, basking in the mastery of the English language. Really, the writing alone is enough to make this book a top-notch choice. 

Luckily for us, the writing is but the tip of the iceberg. Marra weaves together stories that span decades in a beautiful (and often unexpected) way. I was wary when I first picked up the book; I've read collections of stories before and too often they're choppy and lack cohesion. Not the case this time! No, sir! The stories were distinct, each with their own voice, but came together to form a larger story. Love that! Nothing is worse than reading stories and trying to figure out the point, the connections, the themes and finding only that the author was unsuccessful in providing us with those things. I was so glad that wasn't a problem with Tsar. Each story was riveting, and while I was eager to finish (How else are they connected?! Are we going to find out ___? etc), each had its own rising action and climax. The whole book was so wonderful to read. With the benefit of different narratives but the feel of a novel, I really can't recommend a better book.

Marra gives us tales of love, politics, family, and war. We start out by meeting a censor for the Soviets and end in outer space. The first story gave me chills, and the stories only get better, though there's no shortage of heartbreak. I'm scared of giving anything away by revealing how I felt and the end of the book (I couldn't figure out if I'd be happy or not as I approached the end!), but I will say this is one of those books you really, really ought to read. I have literally NO complaints. I liked everything about this book, from the meaty stories right to the font, the page thickness, and the cover. I kid you not. AND Marra even mentions Harry Potter a few times, and you all know that's a ticket straight to my heart. 

Conclusion: Get thyself to a bookstore or a library and retrieve this book! You won't regret it. 
____
Char

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own. 








Saturday, November 28, 2015

Instant Happy Journal

By Liz
Journal review: Instant Happy Journal by Karen Salmansohn
Official FC rating:




You know what I am? A bundle of god damn stress and anxiety at least 80% of the time. For example, if I am cooking a meal that involves meat, you can bet that I am calling my mom at some point during the cooking process to make sure I haven’t messed up.

I also can be so negative because of my anxiety. I’ll come home from work and 2-3 hours later I will think to myself, “I hope I didn’t come across as awkward during that meeting…I should have said this…I should have done that.” It gets exhausting, so when I came across the Instant Happy Journal on Blogging for Books, I figured “hey, why not? Maybe this will make me more ~positive~.”

The journal, which has lovely little designs and pretty colors, contains questions, quotes, and other prompts for each entry. When I received this journal in the mail (like…nearly two months ago…) my goal was to write in it every evening for one whole month.

Ooh, ahh, pretty cover!
Pretty outside and inside! 
Being the way that I am, I constantly felt like there was a certain way I had to use the journal. At first I wrote in each page consecutively, but occasionally the prompts felt weird. Sometimes they wouldn’t be applicable to my day. Was I supposed to write about something from my past? Would that make me more positive about this particular day? Annoyed, I eventually took to flipping through the entire journal to find a prompt that ~spoke~ to me. I liked this method better and stuck to it for a while. I felt like I was breaking the rules though, even though journals don’t really have rules (blame this on my Virgo nature??)

Another frustrating aspect was how god damn little space you have to actually write. When the prompts were particularly through provoking, it was annoying that I had to condense my thoughts to 5 lines. Remember when a teacher would say 1,000 words, no more and no less for your essay? That’s what this felt like sometimes.

Now the big question remains, did the Instant Happy Journal make me instantly happy? Nah. Part of the problem could be that I didn’t end up writing in the journal every day. On days that were stressful or busy, I didn’t feel like writing. Ironically, the days when I most wanted to write were days that were generally positive days for me. Like if I did well at work, or ran farther than normal- that’s when I wanted to use the journal.

Even, though I kind of feel like this is more like Instant MEH Journal, I give it four stars. All in all, this is a fun journal. I like the prompts, the colors are cheery, and the idea of it is nice. I’ll continue to use it over the course of the year, but I’ll try to get better about actually using it daily.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Flirting Book: Chapter 1


A few things. 1. This is part of an ongoing review. You can read the first part here. 2. If you are or ever have been a male mentor, teacher, or father figure to me, just don't read these.

This is a review of chapter 1: Rediscovering the Flirt in You

I finally managed to finish the first chapter of The Flirting Book (technically called How to Attract Anyone, Anytime, Anyplace: The Smart Guide to Flirting, but that’s a mouthful so I’m going to stick to calling it The Flirting Book, forever solidifying my role of Least Official Book Reviewer Ever). 

Moving on. 

The intro got off to a bad start by suggesting that all single people are party hopping hooligans (I’m exaggerating but only slightly). It’s alright though, because it soon after mentioned eating desserts for lunch and I am all for that

Right off the bat, I can tell this book is corny. I mean, I knew that because it's a book about flirting. But the writing is going to be corny, too. On the very first page, for instance, we see this line: 

Even a visit to the neighborhood laundromat doesn't have to be a social wash. 

I'd laugh hysterically at such an awful pun in real life, but puns are harder to work with in books. So already, I know I'm in for quite the ride. 

Let's get into it, though. The author says this:

Learning to flirt is no more difficult than learning to dance.

Uh okay, so basically I'm fucked. Or, actually, won't be often if the above statement is true and good flirting technique is only as attainable as good dancing technique.

Even though I think it's a bad/intimidating metaphor, I understood the author's point and marched forward. "I will read this book! I will rediscover the flirt in me!" Even if this doesn't help the romantic flirt in me, the intro all but promises increased social, communication, and work skills. So this won't, in theory, be a futile attempt. 

The book starts off with a quiz, and I'm all for quizzes. This quickly erased any worry that the book, written in the 90's, would be outdated and useless. Quizzes! We love quizzes! Isn't Buzzfeed extremely popular?! This book is basically Lil Kim to Buzzfeed's Nicki Minaj. This book is relevant. This book will help me rediscover the flirt within. So yes, I took the quiz. It was quick and relatively easy. I also feel like I should mention that at least one of the questions gave me pause. Flirting is okay, but there's a line and doing something like telling a woman "her melons look fine" as she's trying to pick fruit out at the grocery store isn't cute flirting, it's inappropriate. I worried that the book would end up being horrible, but I told myself that this is a quiz meant to gauge the reader's personality, not a section with actual advice, so I'm going to give it a chance.

There were five multiple choice questions, and each had seven possible answers. At the end you count up how many of each letter (the answers were a, b, c, d, e, f, g) you chose and if you had one letter multiple times, you're a certain type of flirt. I had a B, two Gs, and two that were a toss-up between A and G. (Does that make sense??) So I flipped to the page that tells people who chose G often to find out what kind of flirt I was, though I took it with a grain of salt. I am, it seems, an Analytical Flirt. Sounds about right (although I'm nowhere near as analytical as the example she gave). I flipped back and read over the other kinds of flirts, too:

The "I Don't Flirt" Flirt
The Self-Centered Flirt
The Terminator Flirt
The Pressured Flirt
The Insincere Flirt
The Rejected Flirt
The Analytical Flirt

Rabin describes each type of flirt (though the descriptions are exaggerated big time, to the point where I almost didn't want to read them) and I'm assuming the info and advice in the following chapters will be tailored to each kind. Only time will tell!

xoxo
Char

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Bookshop

By Liz
Book review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Official FC rating: 



I’m actually disgusted with myself for having been deceived by this book, because the back of the book describes it perfectly. It’s a book about a widow, Florence Green, who “risks it all” to open a bookshop in her small seaside town. From the onset, when the people of her town hear that she is opening a bookshop it causes a stir of rumors. Her bookshop slowly becomes a success, but small-town politics create hostility since the shop is seen as impractical. Only until it is too late (for both Florence and the reader) does she realize a town that doesn’t have a bookshop doesn’t necessarily want one.

Shocker: the book ends with Florence leaving the town she has lived in for ten years of her life because the town never wanted a bookshop.

And that’s it. That is literally all this book is about. All 156 pages are about the small-town politics and economics of opening, and eventually closing, a bookshop. I actually didn’t bother reading all 156 pages once I got to the half-way point and came to my senses that this book was not going to get any better. So, I skipped to the very end and was not remotely shocked by the depressing AF conclusion.

This novella was so even keeled. I got past the half way point and was like, “oh…this book isn’t going to have a climax…because there’s hardly any direct conflict…” Penelope Fitzgerald, did you think straight up not using plot devices that typically hook readers was going to work out for you, or what?

I have no idea why I expected this book to be more exciting or interesting. Maybe I had high hopes for this book because, in the back of my mind for years, I’ve had dreams of one day owning a bookstore or working in a library (like when I retire or something).

The kicker is that Florence isn’t even that into books. She describes herself as a trained retailer, not a person who understands the arts or whether or not a book is a masterpiece. WHY EVEN OPEN A BOOKSHOP THEN??? (Maybe the ending was poetic justice, then. I just don’t know).

I thought maybe this book will be a deeply thought-provoking commentary on how society is more interested in money and technology than literature and the arts. To some degree, the book probably was about that a little- but mostly it was about small-town politics and how they generally suck.

I will grant that the author has captured the nastiness and pettiness of small-town politics well, but I don’t need to read a book about small-town politics- all I need to do is visit my hometown in rural, Upstate New York for that. And frankly, the small-town politics of my hometown are more interesting than this damn novella.

Small-town characters have the potential to be interesting and have a lot of personality (not a book, but see Gilmore Girls as an example). Like the style of writing itself, the characters were given little description and were also boring.

If you would like to read passages about bookkeeping, taking out loans, and random details about a small town in the UK, then by all means, read this book. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.