Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On reading to become well-educated

I've recently been exposed to Susan Wise Bauer's list of books for the Well-Educated Mind (this blog has the neatest and clearest copy of her list that I could easily find). The friend who told me about it talked about how she and her partner were working through the list separately and that they felt it would be a lifelong project to read through this list. I was impressed with her dedication and with the broad range of perspective that her exposure to this list had given her so far.

That being said, this list is one person's perspective of what a well-educated person should have read. There are a lot of classic texts and a lot more modern ones. There's some diversity on this list as well. It got me thinking about what I would add to this list or what more I would want to consider someone well-educated. And here are a few of my ideas:

  • Eastern books - Most of the work on this list comes from Western authors. Though there is a lot of diversity on the list, it is mostly confined to Western countries or ancient Greek and Roman writings. I'd love to see some ancient Chinese, Indian, or Japanese works in translation listed on here. And the broadness of this request shows how little I know about Eastern literature, but I'd love to learn more and this list could be an excellent start to that exposure. And knowing about world cultures should be an important part of being well-educated.
  • More work by women - This is another area that I feel like this list could be expanded more. I understand that throughout history, women's writing has not been as prominent or as beloved as men's writing. However, there are plenty of modern women writers that deserve recognition or that must be read for one to be considered well-educated. I was glad to see Toni Morrison on this list, but the poetry section seemed especially sparse for women. Again, I wish I knew more about poetry to better recommend specific women poets to be included, but this list would be an excellent opportunity to expose people to more important women's writing.

What would you add to or remove from this list? What books do you think someone must read to be considered well-educated?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Updates and new adventures

Guys, blogging is tough. When I started this blog, I was certain I'd have the time, energy, and creative power to post 3 times a week. And for awhile, I kept that up. Then, a few months ago, I brought that down to twice a week (plus blogging memes periodically when I felt like it). Now, my life has changed again and I'm realizing that there is no way I can keep up with twice a week. I just started an internship that occupies my 9a-5p hours, plus I'm working many evenings and weekends. There simply isn't time for me to blog so often at this point in my life. So, for the remainder of the year, I'll be doing at least one post every week (and hopefully more blogging memes or posts when I have time and energy to do more).

I've also started posting reviews on my blog. When I first started, I wanted this blog to be a place for book discussions and book lists and I hoped that book reviews could stay on my Goodreads account. However, as I've gained more perspective on book blogging (and lost free time), it's become clear to me that posting reviews makes a lot of sense (especially since I have more blog followers than Goodreads followers).

I'm excited to continue this blogging adventure and I'm so glad I've kept this up as long as I have (15 months so far)! Hopefully, I can continue this for many more months:)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Released by Doubleday on July 31, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990's Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both

The Santiago family lives in a gated community in Bogotá, safe from the political upheaval terrorizing the country. Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to this protective bubble, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city's guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona's mysterious ways. But Petrona's unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls' families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal. 

Inspired by the author's own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricable coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation

I have definitely never read a book like this before and I learned so much about Columbian history while reading.

Chula and Cassandra are young when their mother hires Petrona to clean their house. What starts as a working relationship soon becomes much more than that for Chula - and getting close to Petrona will change their lives in ways they never could have imagined.

For the first several chapter of this book, I was intrigued by the beautiful writing and the well-done character development. It was a lovely book and I was enjoying getting to know about another culture. But as the book went on, that changed considerably.

Is it wrong to say I was not expecting this book to be what it was? I expected a deep, lovely, sweet book about a family accepting a young girl into their home. And for a long time, that's exactly what it seemed like. But the book got darker and darker as it went on, but in a really satisfying and meaningful way. I wasn't expecting to get so attached to these characters or to want to know so much more about the conflicts they experienced.

The author was especially masterful in showing that not everyone gets a happy ending. Some books end on a happy note, but it feels artificial. This book presents itself in the beginning as one that ends on a happy note (The family immigrated! The girl got married! There's a cute little baby!), but by the end, you understand that it's so much more complicated than that for our characters and there's so much more to consider when trying to understand their happiness. The ending is bittersweet and the author handled this perfectly - along with leaving some hope and change open for Petrona in the end.

I especially was intrigued by Pablo Escobar, who I know was a real person who really terrorized Columbia for years. Hearing old news reports is one thing, but reading about how one man tore apart so many lives and families puts things into a new context. I want to learn more about that period in Columbian history and not a lot of historical fiction books make me that excited to learn more. This book is fantastic in that regard - you're so wrapped up in the lives of the characters that you don't notice how much you're learning until the guerillas are a central part of the plot. I was slowly eased into learning more and now I want to keep going.

Highly recommended to lovers of Latin American literature and those with an interest in family dramas.

Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading this book? What cultures are you excited to read more about?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: Lost Gods by Micah Yongo

Lost Gods 
Released by Angry Robot on July 3rd, 2018
Available for purchase on Amazon

In an epic fantasy kingdom inspired by African legends, a young assassin finds himself hunted by the brothers and sisters he has trained alongside since birth.

A teenaged assassin is hunted by his own Brotherhood as he seeks to uncover a supernatural conspiracy before it’s too late

Neythan is one of five adolescents trained and raised together by a mysterious brotherhood of assassins known as the Shedaím. When Neythan is framed for the murder of his closest friend, he pursues his betrayer, and in so doing learns there’s far more to the Brotherhood, and even the world itself, than he’d ever thought possible.

This was an intriguing start to a new fantasy series, but I don't know that I'll pick up the next book.

Neythan has just received his first mission as a newly-graduated assassin and is thrilled to be joining the Brotherhood after years of work. But after an unexpected murder, Neythan's world spins out of control and he is set on a path that he never thought he'd be on - one that might threaten the Brotherhood and everything he was raised to believe.

The surest sign that I love a fantasy series is that I can't shut up about it. I most recently experienced this with a Robin Hobb series - I've talked about it enough that my husband has vaguely followed the storyline over the months I've read the series, even though he's never read the books. Lost Gods was a book that I have hardly talked about and have hardly thought about since I put it down. While I enjoyed it, that's a sure sign to me that it didn't rock my world and now I'm beginning to understand why.

This book certainly had a lot of good things. The world building is incredible in this book and if I were to continue reading the series, it'd probably be to see more of the world. There are so many cities and lands and customs and governments and secret societies to keep track of, but it's a deeply built world that obvious has parts that we aren't shown in the book. The government feel vaguely ancient Egyptian to me, but it's obvious that it's meant to be its own government and not one that closely based on anything else. The author obviously put a ton of thought and care into building an interesting and well-developed world and I was very impressed.

The plot grabs you right away and that was something I appreciated about this book. A lot of books try to draw you in, but it feels so forced. This felt like a very natural place to begin our narrative and interesting things start happening immediately. The author structured his book well in that regard.

I also liked the progression of time in this book - the author jumped to important bits and didn't keep you sitting with characters all through their travels. At one point, a character mentions that they've been away from the Brotherhood for six months and I was really surprised at that. The plot felt like it had taken place in a short amount of time, but because our characters are often shown on the road for a short time before arriving at their destination, that estimation made a lot more sense. And it was cool to see how much our characters grew in that time.

Now, on the other hand, there were a few things that were kind of meh about this book. For instance, the characters weren't anything special. Now, in their world, they definitely were, but here was nothing to set them apart from other fantasy characters I've read. There was also no character I felt really connected to or invested in and I think a little more character development (besides just the main character, Neythan) would help me care more about their lives.

Also, the plot was obvious fairly high-stakes, but I couldn't bring myself to care about it. I think this was partly due to it being not all that different from a lot of other fantasy plots. Plus, the author shows you things from various perspectives and, while this is fun, you often know a lot more than the characters do. In some books, this would be maddening in the best kind of way, but in this book, it just made the stakes a lot lower and made me care less about the outcome.

Overall, this is an exciting new series and I think there are a lot of people out there who will enjoy it. But I'll probably stick to other fantasy for now.

Have you read this book? Are you interested in reading it? What draws you to a new fantasy series?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

State of the ARC #3

Today, we're continuing State of the ARC - where I talk about how behind I am on my ARCs and make excuses for why I'm not through them yet. State of the ARC is run by Avalinah's Books. Read the official rules HERE.

ARCs can be really difficult for me. As much as I love reading, I don't often get books that I thoroughly enjoy in the form of ARCs - I'm still catching up from my initial flood of Netgalley requests and I requested every book in sight, no matter how odd they looked. Now that I'm starting to be a little more discerning about which books I'll request, things are getting better, but there's still that pile of books I no longer care about that I have to force myself through and that's just....bleh.

BUT in spite of this, I managed to get some ARCs read this month and make a little progress! Here is where I was at the beginning of May:

While my requests definitely aren't completely out of control (for now....), there's still a lot of work I could do in order to catch up (and try not to fall so far behind again). Here are the books I've finished since State of the ARC #2:

Diary of a Beatlemaniac: A Fab Insider's Look at the Beatles Era  Sheets  Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope

Two Girls Down  Lost Gods  Fruit of the Drunken Tree  Carnegie's Maid

And while I did finish a lot of books (for which I'm very impressed with myself), I also requested a lot of books (there are so many good SFF books coming up!). end of the month chart does not fully show how much progress I made and how proud of myself I am.

The overall numbers stayed about the same, but my overdue books went way down! And I'm striving to keep up on my books that are coming due (and actually doing a decent job of that). 

Have you heard of any of these books? How do you keep ahead of your ARCs? How many ARCs did you read this month?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On recently released or upcoming books you should check out

It's been a couple months since I've written about this! And, to be fair, there haven't been many brand new or upcoming books that I've read that deserve to make the list. But luckily, there have been a few here and there and I'm excited to talk about them more here!

The Sisters Mederos
  • The Sisters Mederos by Patrice Sarath (April 3rd) - This fun fantasy book about a pair of sister who must save their family will be a hit with YA readers. It's clean, hilarious, and full of brave and daring young women who will stop at nothing to help their family. It's a fun read and the cover is astounding.

  • Sheets by Breanna Thummler (August 28th) - After her mother's death, it's up to Marjorie to run her family's laundry business and care for her brother and dad. Enter a ghost to change everything. This graphic novel is bittersweet and adorable. The characters are memorable, the artwork is AMAZING, and the story is touching. This is a great middle grade or YA read.

Lost Gods
  • Lost Gods by Micah Yongo (July 3rd) - A young and newly graduated group of assassins have their world completely change when one of their number is unexpectedly murdered. This new fantasy series is exciting and has a beautifully built world that I'm excited to learn more about.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree
  • Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (July 31st) - Two sisters' lives are about to change when their mother hires a new house servant. Taking place in Columbia during Pablo Escobar's reign, this story will teach you about Columbian history and also about sticking together as a family in the midst of turmoil. This is a beautiful and surprising book that I highly recommend.

What upcoming books have you been excited about? Have you read any of these? Do you plan on getting any of these books?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Club Discussion: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Unsure of what your next book club read should be? Not sure how to get a good discussion started during book club? Don't want to waste time finding "inspirational" quotes to share with your club? You've come to the right place. We've got you covered. Today's Book Club Discussion is centered around Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank.

Why should this be your next book club read?

  1. This has a fascinating and somewhat dated view of nuclear warfare and it can bring up interesting discussions of how conversations around nuclear warfare have changed or how some of the science mentioned by Frank was not entirely accurate.
  2. It's not your typical sci-fi - it's very much centered around the "what if" of nuclear apocalypse and after that, it's just people trying to make it work. Plus, since it doesn't have a ton of sci-fi tropes, readers who don't usually enjoy sci-fi will be more likely to enjoy this.
  3. This book is wholly centered on what people would do if the world were to end - and it makes for a personal read so you can put yourself in the character's shoes and wonder how you'd survive.
  4. This is a great start to talking about emergency preparedness - a topic which some people are really passionate about and which other people know almost nothing about. But this book will definitely motivate your readers to get thinking about preparedness.

Alas, Babylon

Author information: (taken from HarperCollins' websitePat Frank (1908–1964) is the author of the classic postapocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon, as well as the Cold War thriller Forbidden Area. Before becoming an author, Frank worked as a journalist and also as a propagandist for the government. He is one of the first and most influential science fiction writers to deal with the consequences of atomic warfare.

(taken from the Florida Backroads Travel BlogPat Frank was born Harry Hart Frank in Chicago in 1908 and died in Atlantic Beach, Florida in 1964. He is not well known today as one of the leading Florida authors of his time, but he really was. 
He spent some of his life living in Tangerine, Florida, a small rural community a couple of miles south of Mount Dora. 
It was here that he wrote his best selling novel, Alas Babylon. This novel immediately gave him recognition as one of the most famous Florida authors. He wrote this novel about survivors of a nuclear holocaust during the peak of the Cold War in 1959. Many Americans were required to read it in high school or college. The novel is a classic story about how people cope with disasters and deal with the darker side of human nature. Many observers believe that the novel's fictitious town of Fort Repose is actually based on Mount Dora, Florida. After attending the University of Florida for two years, Pat began his career as a reporter at the Jacksonville Journal in Florida. He later worked for the New York Journal and the Washington Herald. While with the Herald, he became very knowledgeable about government and world affairs, and eventually became a government consultant. Like an early Tom Clancy, he had an ability to portray government secrets in a very realistic way. When World War Two ended, Pat started a full time career as a writer.

Book inspiration: (taken from Grade Saver) Alas, Babylon tells the story of what would have happened if the Cold War did result in a nuclear attack, set entirely in the small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based on the real city of Mount Dora, Florida. The novel was published in 1959, making it one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age. To this date the novel is still extremely popular with science fiction and apocalyptic literature fans. The name of the book is taken from the Bible passage Revelation 18:10.

According to Frank himself, a simple question asked by a friend inspired this work. "What do you think would happen if the Russkies hit us when we weren't looking—you know, like Pearl Harbor?" Frank's recent experience working with the government and military during the World War II meant that things of this nature were constantly on his mind, and he used his expertise while writing this novel.

Setting information: This series of articles on Pistolville (a town just outside Mount Dora, FL, historically occupied by poor black workers) help give more context to the racial and socioeconomic setting of Alas, Babylon and how the area has changed in the past few decades.

Discussions questions:
  • Before the bomb, Lib tells Randy 'I think you ought to go to New York or Chicago or San Francisco or any city with character and vitality. You should go to work. This place is no good for you, Randy. The air is like soup and the people are like noodles. You're vegetating. I don't want a vegetable. I want a man.' How does Randy change after the Day? What opportunities are available to him in a post-bombing society that were not available to him pre-bomb?
  • When this book was published in 1959, many women were confined to the home and to specific occupations. While many women in this book are employed or have been educated, their opportunities are limited. How are their opportunities changed after the Day? Are there broader spaces for women after the Day or are their opportunities more limited? Are these opportunities different for each woman?
  • After the Day, the library becomes an important part of society in a way that it wasn't before. Today, we rely on the internet far more than we do on books. Do you think people today would utilize the library in the same way as characters in the book do? Are there other ways to learn available for people today to use?
  • Missouri and Malachai are an important part of the Randy's group and contribute and benefit alongside everyone else. However, in 1959, they would not have been part of white society except as laborers. How does the Day change their place in society? Does the Day put them on a level playing field with everyone else, or do they still have to work twice as hard to have a place in society? Is racism still as prevalent in their new society as it was in their old one?
  • Today, we know that nuclear bombs will likely destroy all electronics. However, in 1959, this would not have been widely known. Given this information, would things have changed in the book if electronics had ceased to work? How might that change how the characters handle post-Day life?
  • Which characters do you feel are most suited to survive after the Day? Which ones need others to help them survive? Which traits to our surviving characters share that enable them to continue on?
  • In Alas, Babylon, Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown was secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare before the Day. She eventually becomes president because everyone in line before her has died or cannot be found. How would you feel if the current secretary of Health and Human Services or Education was made president? Do you feel they have the knowledge and background necessary to lead the country?
  • In the book, Rita begins collecting valuable items, thinking that she'll use them after things are over. Randy tells her that these things have no value in their new society. In our society today, do things like gold and jewels have value, or is it simply that we put value on them? If the events in this book were to take place today, what "valuable" items would people collect?
  • How would you survive in the event of a nuclear apocalypse? Did any of the actions characters took in the book surprise or inspire you? Is there anything you plan to do/buy to be better prepared in case of emergencies?
  • How do you think this book would be different if it took place today? 
  • How do you think this book influenced the direction of science fiction? Do you think it influenced post-apocalyptic media (i.e. books, movies, video games, etc)?

Have you read this book and if so, did you enjoy it? What about this book makes it a valuable book club read?