What shall we talk about today?

Hmmm? How ’bout books?

But first, let me complain a tee-tiny bit about flu shots. Yes, my sister the nurse told me they are a waste of time, but I’m more of a show me than a tell me kind of gal and my empirical evidence was proving that they do work. I’ve had one every year since somewhere in the 90’s and have not had the flu in all that time. And then. When it’s not even really flu season (hello, it’s springtime!), I go and get the flu. There was the fever that I could get under 100 for a couple hours but would pop right back up. There were aches all over my body; it hurt so badly that I couldn’t sleep. There was the headache that felt like someone was slowly driving railroad spikes into my skull. That was the first 36-48 hours. Then came the four days of exhaustion, having to nap three or four times a day, getting out of breath going from the sofa to the kitchen in our very small house. Thankfully the headache backed off a bit and I could do some reading while I was trapped on the couch.

And read I did. I’ve only got a couple reviews because I only finished two that I’m going to discuss in detail, but I’ve actually read several more. I occasionally get myself on a chick lit kick (and like many others have noted, chick lit is a horrible name for a genre) and am on one now. I’ve pulled down a few yummies on BookBub and have been reading my eyes out, or something like that. I actually read three entire books and part of a fourth on Friday. It’s crazy, right? The whole light-hearted sort of let’s all be girlfriends and drink some wine and giggle thing is a real palette cleanser when I stick a bunch of them between books that win Pulitzer Prizes and classics and the like.

Reading will slow down again now, though. I am feeling 100% better. I did yard work with Wayne this morning. I am leaving as soon as I post this for knitting group. I expect I’ll be catching up on housework after group. Reading will get back-burnered for a while.

Anyhoo! How ’bout those reviews?

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

  • Classic Literature
  • Kindle e-book, free classics
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book with a color in the title

What a sweetly moralistic little read this was! It tells the story of a young woman (18 at the beginning of the book) named Agnes. She’s the baby of the family, her mother and older sister try their best to spoil her despite the fact that their father is nearly destitute and is slowly dying. The mother decides it’s a great idea for Mary, the sister, to try to sell her lovely little watercolors to try to make some money for her own needs, Agnes announces that she would also like to contribute. After much poo-pooing, everyone finally agrees to  her try her hand at being a governess.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Agnes makes it through almost a year at the first house before she’s sent home with her tail between her legs. And no, she’s not at all saddened by that because she was trying to teach a small army of monsters. She stays a bit longer at the second house, where her charges are older but no less nasty. Through her first-person narrative, Bronte does a great job of pointing out the no-mans-land inhabited by folks like governesses and tutors: not as low as servants, not as high as family, stuck in a place where they really have no one in whom to confide, no one to befriend.

Agnes, through it all, sticks to her upbringing and stays kind and wholesome. Despite what I found to be close to abuse (and a whole lot of it – I would have spat in at least three faces and packed my shit long before Agnes), she is sweet and loving, always. And the ending was quite satisfying to me, especially when compared to what I feel are contemporaries to this novel (all of Austen’s work, Jane Eyre – Anne’s sister Charlotte’s most popular work, etc). I like a happy ending, what can I say?

I find myself sometimes struggling with the classics, but this book was no sort of struggle at all. It was a light and easy read, the language was accessible, and the story was worth my time. I recommend it for anyone who loves a little history and a little romance.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

  • Modern Literature
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A Pulitzer Prize winning book

Whoa this book was AWESOME. It left me with a series of word impressions, and that might be the best way for me to share it with you:

  • Gritty
  • Horrible, but very correct, language
  • Mojo, more bad than good
  • Poverty
  • New Jersey
  • Sex, both too much and not enough

This is the first Junot Diaz I’ve read, and I have no idea why. His writing style is unique, hard, dirty, and just plain amazing. The narrator’s voice (actually narrators’ voices) are so clear and so well-done that I could see Yunior in my head, I could hear him telling his story in his own voice with his own cadences. The characters were so well-developed that I found myself looking for Lola at the orthodontist’s office, for Oscar at the library, for Yunior at Giant.

I’m not going to review because I cannot do it the justice that it deserves. I am going to say I can see why it won the Pulitzer. I think of the idea that the work should express something that is uniquely American, that speaks to our culture and our shared way of life – Oscar Wao fits that mold to a T. This is the second Pulitzer Prize winner I’ve read since I started the reading challenge and I’m thinking that my next challenge is going to be to read every Pulitzer Prize winner (fiction, at least, and possibly drama too).

I am very, very glad I read this book. It’s wonderful on a whole different level than a lot of things I read. If you can abide the use of the “f” word, you need to read it. If you can’t abide it, read it anyway and just chalk it up to realistic language. You’ll not regret it.

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I’d like to pretend I’ve been terribly busy, too busy to post, but that’s not true. What’s closer to, and a better explanation of, what’s been going on is an odd combination of laziness and springtime. Sun is shining, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and I want to be out there with them, not hunched over a keyboard. All of that blooming and budding and frenzy of life out there also does a number on my allergies, leading to headaches that stagger me and leave me stretched out on the couch, unable to do much more than sleep.

But it’s Monday, the first day of a new work week. I slept pretty well last night. The headache is, if not vanquished, at least crouching off to the side for a bit. And I feel like sharing.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

  • YA Distopian
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book that became a movie

I read Divergent a while ago and loved it, which means one of two things would happen with Insurgent – it would be terrific or I would hate it.

I most certainly did not hate this book. I was Kindle-in-bed-at-midnight with this book. I was peering-around-the-shower-curtain with this book.

I wish it was about 200 times as long, but I get that it’s YA so it can’t be 200 times as long. And I’m cool with that, I suppose. And even though it’s not at all fair, I can’t help but compare this series to some others I’ve read. If I could put each series on a ladder, these would be on the second-to-the-top rung (I haven’t read the last book yet, so I can’t put it at the very top). The Uglies would be half a step down. Artemis Fowl would be a full step down. Harry Potter would be on a different ladder. The Dark is Rising would be on the roof, about three feet above the ladder. Twilight would be in a hole, deep down, under the ladder.

So in order of worst to best:

  • Twilight (please)
  • Artemis Fowl
  • The Uglies
  • Divergent
  • The Dark is Rising

I really do enjoy YA adventure series, as you can see. There’s a bunch that I haven’t read yet (Cinder is definitely on my list, for example, and I need to finish Divergent, and I want to read The Dark is Rising again). I’m glad that this particular series is holding up, though, and can hardly wait for it to be my turn to get the library book.

My advice: Get all three of the books and then read them. The only thing that disappointed me about Insurgent was that I didn’t have Allegiant in my hot little hands to read immediately.

Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

  • YA Paranormal
  • Kindle e-book, free from BookBub
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book set in high school

Jenny Pox is a self-published book that masquerades as YA but is really geared towards an older reading population. The general plot: Jenny was born with some sort of condition that causes anyone who touches her to grow nasty, plague-like sores. If she holds on, the other person dies. She killed her mom, the doctor, and the nurses when she was born. She’s spent her whole life living in the woods outside a small town in North Carolina with her alcoholic dad, and when she leaves their small and dirty house, she dresses so that everything, including her hands, is covered.

Enter her dastardly villain of an enemy, Ashleigh. Ashleigh is a beautiful and popular girl who has a power of her own. She also is the girlfriend of the most eligible boy in their small town. To get a good image of Ashleigh, imagine what would happen if Regina George (had Plastic in Mean Girls) and Heather Duke (lead evil Heather in the Heathers) melded into one horribly popular bitch, who then produced a kid with Satan. That kid would be about 25% as horrid as Ashleigh.

And then there’s Ashleigh’s boyfriend Seth, who also has a power. His power is the opposite of Jenny’s and he is the only person she can safely touch. Of course she immediately falls in love with him. At first she sort of lets herself be mowed down by Ashleigh, but then she puts on her Big Girl Panties and commences to fight back.

I love the idea of this book, and some of it really pulled me right in. I was especially pleased with the bits that talked about people unleashing their powers – those were particularly interested. What I didn’t like was what I feel was a lack of good editing, which is a common issue with self-published books. The story is really great and the voice is decent, but the writing is sometimes drawn out and repetitive, and I stumbled over more than one mistake. I know how hard it is to self-edit (believe me, I really do) so I’m not slamming the author, rather I would hope that he could get picked up by a publisher and perhaps get set up with a terrific editor.

My recommendation: if you have a ton of patience for something that is sometimes a slog (and not really a positive one), and you LOVE gore (I do, sometimes), read this book. Otherwise, give it a pass.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

  • Mystery
  • Hard cover, library check-out
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book written by someone under 30

I thought this one would be coming of age, but it turned out to be a rather delightful mystery. The narrator, Blue van Meer, is a freshman in college, telling the story of what happened during her senior year in high school. There are deaths, bumbling police officers, cliques, bad teachers, and bullies. There are twists and surprises and love stories and “a-ha” moments. Blue is funny, witty, and often wry; who is still often ruled by the same crushes and vanities that every other teen is plagued with, despite her rather odd upbringing.

Folks, I loved this book. Pessl writes it in such a newly refreshing manner: making Blue a total egghead who is supposedly writing her memoir, complete with in-text citations and a LOT of supporting information. I wonder, still, if all of Blue’s sources were real or if some were made up, but it wouldn’t matter to me one way or the other. It’s a fabulous read, devourable despite its length.

I would think even people who don’t like a good mystery (crazy talk, right?) would enjoy this book. It’s just plain fun to read. My advice: go for it!

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