Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review/Latest Book Club Read: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi



Here's the description from Goodreads.com:
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

So this was our latest book club read, which my twin sister picked.  It definitely generated a lot of conversation.  We all really enjoyed the book, though we did have some issues with it.  In the beginning Nafisi mentions something about not comparing the books they read to their lives, but then the entire book is pretty much her comparing her life to books.  Which isn't a bad thing at all, we just noted that she'd mentioned not doing it.

One thing that really struck me was what life was like for Nafisi and her students during the war back when she started teaching.  They pretty much just keep living their normal lives.  If it was me, I think I'd stay hibernated at home, I'd make my family stay with me.  But Nafisi and her husband keep working, and her kids keep going to school.  The violence going on around them was just a part of life.

I honestly don't know much about the history of Iran, but I learned a bit from this book.  It was terrifying comparing how womens' rights were taken away (like walking outside in shorts and t-shirts, now having to wear a scarf and robes in public) to books I've read like The Handmaid's Tale.  Nafisi tried to protest against it by not wearing the veil, but eventually she had to give in and wear it.  She and her students are normal people.  And they had these simple rights taken from them.  I'm not trying to get political or anything.  There's nothing wrong with wearing the veil if it's your choice.  And some of her students expressed this opinion.  Before it was law, they willingly wore the veil, but now they were feeling stifled because they were forced to wear it.

Reading this book made me want to revisit the classics like The Great Gatbsy and Jane Austen.  It also made me want to read Lolita and other books I never ever thought of picking up.

It also really made me think, which is always a good sign for me.  Sometimes I want fluffy books so that I don't have to think about anything.  This is not one of those books.  I found myself taking notes on my Nook while reading this.  We had a fantastic book club discussion!  This is definitely a good choice for book club, at least if your clubmates are into non-fiction.

I can't wait to dig into our next book club pick, The Monuments Men!

Have you read Reading Lolita in Tehran?  Did you read it for book club??  Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter!

Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Author: Azar Nafisi
Date of Publication: 2003
Number of Pages: 384
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir
Source: personal ebook

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry




Here's the book's description, from the book jacket:
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics--at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets", adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.

Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Bronte, Eliot, and Lowell--who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school's most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.

Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.


So Lexicon.  What can I possibly say about this book that will do it justice??  It is by far one of the best and most unique books I've ever read in my life.  From the moment I started reading, I was drawn in, and not just by the story.  There's something special about it.  And Barry's writing is simply perfect.

I read this book over the course of a few days.  I desperately wanted to read it in one sitting, because from the beginning it hooks you in.  But at the same time I wanted to relish it.  I kept raving about it to my family and friends and pretty much anyone within earshot.

The plot is just so different from your typical book.  The poets and their organization are a lot of fun to read about-how are they able to get people to do basically anything just with words??  And why is Wil immune to those words?? 

I promise you, you will end up loving this book.  It really stuck with me, and I definitely see myself rereading it in the future (after I've lent it out to all my family and get it returned!).

I highly recommend Lexicon.  You'll find yourself lost in a world where words really are all-powerful.

Have you read Lexicon??  Let me know what you thought!!  Find me on Twitter, or post in the comments below :)

Title: Lexicon
Author: Max Barry
Date of Publication: 2013
Number of Pages: 400
Genre: Fiction
Source: Personal copy

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares




Here's the description from Netgalley:
Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

So believe it or not, this is actually my first time ever reading anything by Ann Brashares.  I know she wrote those traveling pants books.  Never read them.  But this book was a lot of fun.  It's the kind of book that makes your heart race, and I kept finding myself reading at the oddest moments, just because I needed to find out what was going to happen.  I'd be boiling water, and on would go my Nook.  I'd be waiting for the boyfriend to bring dinner to the table, and I'd sneak in a few pages.

The story and the characters are what made the book for me.  I love time travel in books, as long as it's believeable.  And it was in this book.  Prenna and her mother have come from the future, the 2090's I think?  And so it's not hard for me to be like "okay, by then someone has developed a time machine."  They had to leave because a terrible blood plague was killing everyone, and the group of people who came back to 2010 originally come back to try to stop it fom happening.

Prenna was a lot of fun as a narrator for me.  Once she realizes that the other travelers aren't really doing anything to stop the horrible future from happening, she decides to take matters into her own hands, with the help of Ethan, who I loved.  He is really the perfect YA love interest, because he's sweet and he's smart, and he respects Prenna.  He's not trying to get in her pants (well, he's sweetly trying I guess, but he's not pushy, and I like that, it sets a good example).

All in all, I really enjoyed this book.  I can't wait to discuss it with someone!!  So if you've read it, comment or tweet me!

Title: The Here and Now
Author: Ann Brashares
Date of Publication: April 8th, 2014
Number of Pages: 256
Genre: YA
Source: Netgalley

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan




Here's the desription from Goodreads:
Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.

Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assem­blage of Marina’s essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.


This was kind of a hard book to read.  Keegan died just days after graduating college, and these essays and short stories are all being published posthumously.  I think knowing that made me look at the stories and essays differently.  There are many times when Keegan writes about what her future may hold, and it was heartbreaking knowing that none of what she wished for would come to pass.

She was definitely a talented writer.  I connected really well with this collection.  Keegan and I are from the same generation, born the same year.  So the topics and themes of most of the stories and essays are things I personally can relate to.  Things like becoming an adult, and wondering what you're going to do with your life.  It makes me think on my own life and what I had imagined doing as a child, because I sure didn't picture myself sitting at a cubicle at a technology company (gotta pay those bills though!).

My favorite piece from the collection was an essay she wrote about her first car and the memories it holds.  I've only ever had 1 car, my beautiful silver Saab, which I shared with my twin sister for 4 years before it officially became mine.  And I love that car.  So much.  It's messy and needs to be cleaned out and vaccuumed so badly, and I've put so much money into repairs that I really should just get a new car.  But I'm running that thing into the ground.  And Keegan's story about her own car just clicked with me.  I loved it.

From reading this collection, I can honestly say that Keegan would have written great things if she was still around.  These pieces were fantastic, especially the essays, and it is sad to think of what else she could have given us.  I definitely recommend The Opposite of Loneliness, especially for young college grads or current students.  Keegan hits a note that I think is close to home for us.


Title: The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
Author: Marina Keegan
Date of Publication: April 8th, 2014
Number of Pages: 224
Genre: Short stories and essays
Source: Netgalley

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Adding to my French Book Wishlist

Last month I posted about 2 French books I was looking forward to eventually reading.  This month I continue with that theme.  I stumbled upon this awesome looking book about a serial killer.  So of course I need to read it.

Fleur de tonnerre by Jean Teulé, translated into English as The Poisoning Angel.  The translation comes out on July 14th (happy Bastille Day!)

I can't find a copy of the cover for the English version!  But that's what the French one looks like..  Here's the description from Gallicbooks.com:
Schooled in the ancient beliefs of the Breton people by her mother, the beautiful Hélène grows up feeling detached from the nineteenth-century world around her and yet destined for a terrible vocation: to do the work of l’Ankou, death’s henchman. Beginning with the demise of her very own mama, she leaves a trail of devastation with the special soups and cakes she makes – those who taste them never recover. Jean Teulé brings his unique blend of imagination and historical insight to a novel that is both an upbeat portrait of nineteenth-century provincial French life and a startling chronicle of a decades-long killing spree carried out by the most notorious female poisoner in history.

Look's pretty good, right??

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I'll Be at BEA this Year!

I am ridiculously excited.

I've been blogging about books for over 4 years now, and I've never gone.  This year I have the means and I can take the time off of work.  So I was like "why not?!"

My main goal is just to have fun and meet other bloggers.  You might remember from the year end surveys in years past how I've always talked about cementing real friendships in the blogging world.  It's really hard for me to get "close" to someone on the internet, but in person not so much.  So I cannot wait to meet other bloggers who are attending this year!

I'll be in NYC from Tuesday May 27th (getting in that evening, my 25th birthday, btw!) until Saturday the 31st.  BEA won't be the only thing on my agenda though.  I plan on hitting up some other fun things in the city.  Like the American Girl Doll Store (because there's nothing wrong with collecting dolls when you're half of 50, or when you are 50, for that matter).

Are you going??  I'd love to meet you!  Send me an email (kellyrochford@gmail.com), message me on Twitter, or respond below in the comments.  And maybe we'll get the chance to say hi and hang out.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: Once by Morris Gleitzman

 


Here's the Goodreads.com description:
Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic orphanage. The only problem is that he doesn't know anything about the war, and thinks he's only in the orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them--straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland.
To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be sign that his parents are coming to get him. Why are the Nazis burning books? They must be foreign librarians sent to clean out the orphanage's outdated library. But as Felix's journey gets increasingly dangerous, he begins to see horrors that not even stories can explain.
Despite his grim surroundings, Felix never loses hope. Morris Gleitzman takes a painful subject and expertly turns it into a story filled with love, friendship, and even humor.


My little sister recommended this one to me, and even let me borrow her copy.  She promised me I'd be crying.  And she wasn't wrong.

This is a book about the Holocaust, so it is super, super sad.  Felix has no idea what's going on, he's living in his own little fantasy, and then when he sets out to find his parents, that's when he slowly realizes what's actually happening.  I loved his relationship with Zelda, a little girl he rescues along the way.  She is so cute but also kind of a pain, and Felix tells her stories to calm her down.

This is a super short book, only a hundred something pages, and I feel like I'd be giving so much away if I wrote much more.  So I'm just going to say.  The ending!!!!  It's not what I expected (which isn't really a bad thing!).  I think I need to talk to my little sis about this one.

I definitely recommend this book to readers of all ages.  It's short, but it packs a punch.

Title: Once
Author: Morris Gleitzman
Date of Publication: 2006
Number of Pages: 149
Genre: Fiction
Source: Borrow from Little Sis