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Nonfiction November: Fiction and Nonfiction Book Pairings

November 10, 2015 11 comments

I was looking forward to this week’s theme of Nonfiction November the most, because one of my favorite parts of being a librarian is “reader’s advisory.”  Reader’s advisory is when you chat to a person about what they enjoy reading, what they’re interested in, what they’re looking for, and recommend a few books to them as books they might enjoy reading.  (I don’t get to do this a ton as an academic medical librarian, but it does still come up sometimes).  I view this as a book blogger version of that.

For this, I thought I would select out a few of my favorite fiction books and seek out nonfiction books that would pair well with them.  If you read and enjoyed the fiction, consider checking out the nonfiction.  Of course it will also work the other way around!  If you’ve read the nonfiction book and enjoyed it, consider checking out the fiction.

First Pairing: Sled Dogs

Wolf howling at moon.The Call of the Wild
by:

Jack London
Fiction
Blurb:
Buck is a spoiled southern dog enjoying a posh life when one of the family’s servants steals him and sells him away to be a sled dog for the Alaska gold rush.  Buck soon goes from an easy life to one of trials and tribulations as the result of humans fawning over a golden metal, but it might not be all bad for him in the wild Alaskan north.

covergoldrushGold Rush Dogs
By:
Jane G. Haigh
Nonfiction
Blurb:
Dog lovers and history buffs will delight in this collection celebrating the beloved canines that offered companionship, protection, and hard work to their masters in the Far North.
Why pair it?
Buck, the main character (and dog) in The Call of the Wild is trained to be a sled dog for the gold rush (not the Iditarod).  This nonfiction book is about the gold rush dogs.

Second Pairing: Women in Ancient Japanese Court Life

A Japanese warrior woman's face has the shadow of cat ears behind her. The book's title and author name are over this picture.Fudoki
By:
Kij Johnson
Fiction
Blurb:
An aging empress decides to fill her empty notebooks before she must get rid of them along with all of her belongings to retire to the convent, as is expected of her.  She ends up telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a tortoiseshell cat who loses her cat family in a fire and is turned into a woman by the kami, the god of the road.

coverdiaryDiary of Lady Murasaki
By:
Murasaki Shikibu
Nonfiction
Blurb:
The Diary recorded by Lady Murasaki (c. 973 c. 1020), author of The Tale of Genji, is an intimate picture of her life as tutor and companion to the young Empress Shoshi. Told in a series of vignettes, it offers revealing glimpses of the Japanese imperial palace the auspicious birth of a prince, rivalries between the Emperor’s consorts, with sharp criticism of Murasaki’s fellow ladies-in-waiting and drunken courtiers, and telling remarks about the timid Empress and her powerful father, Michinaga. The Diary is also a work of great subtlety and intense personal reflection, as Murasaki makes penetrating insights into human psychology her pragmatic observations always balanced by an exquisite and pensive melancholy.
Why pair it?
Fudoki features tales being told by an aging empress that illuminate women’s lives in ancient Japan.  This nonfiction period piece is a diary by a real woman with an insider’s view of the same court life.  Although not written by an empress, she was an empress’s companion.

Third Pairing: We’re Living in the Future the 1800s Scifi Imagined

Simple cover image containing a broad off-white background on the top third of the cover and a red background on the bottom two thirds. The book's title and author are printed on the background.The Time Machine
By:
H.G. Wells
Fiction
Blurb:
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time.  But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.

cover_inthebeginningIn the Beginning…Was the Command Line
By:
Neal Stephenson
Nonfiction
Blurb:
This is “the Word” — one man’s word, certainly — about the art (and artifice) of the state of our computer-centric existence. And considering that the “one man” is Neal Stephenson, “the hacker Hemingway” (Newsweek) — acclaimed novelist, pragmatist, seer, nerd-friendly philosopher, and nationally bestselling author of groundbreaking literary works (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, etc., etc.) — the word is well worth hearing. Mostly well-reasoned examination and partial rant, Stephenson’s In the Beginning… was the Command Line is a thoughtful, irreverent, hilarious treatise on the cyber-culture past and present; on operating system tyrannies and downloaded popular revolutions; on the Internet, Disney World, Big Bangs, not to mention the meaning of life itself.
Why this pairing?
Wells and Stephenson are both considered masters of the scifi genre.  In this nonfiction piece, Stephenson explicitly draws comparisons between modern culture and the one envisioned by Wells in The Time Machine.

Fourth Pairing: Scandinavia Is Perfect….Or Is It?!

Silhouette of a person standing in a white hall.The Unit
By:
Ninni Holmqvist
Fiction
Blurb:
In the Sweden of the near future women who reach the age of 50 and men who reach the age of 60 without having successfully acquired a partner or had children are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live in “a unit.”  These units appear at first glance to be like a high-class retirement home, and indeed they have all the amenities.  The residents, however, are required both to participate in medical experiments and to donate various organs and body parts up until their “final donation” of their heart anywhere from a year or a few years after their arrival in the unit.  Dorrit arrives at the unit depressed, but accepting of her fate as the result of her independent nature, but when she falls in love, she starts to question everything.

fixedcoverThe Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
By:
Michael Booth
Nonfiction
Blurb:
The whole world wants to learn the secrets of Nordic exceptionalism: why are the Danes the happiest people in the world, despite having the highest taxes? If the Finns really have the best education system, how come they still think all Swedish men are gay? Are the Icelanders really feral? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastical oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes?
Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off, for over ten years, perplexed by their many strange paradoxes and character traits and equally bemused by the unquestioning enthusiasm for all things Nordic that has engulfed the rest of the world, whether it be for their food, television, social systems or chunky knitwear.
In this timely book he leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success and, most intriguing of all, what they think of each other. Along the way a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterised by suffocating parochialism and populated by extremists of various shades.
They may very well be almost nearly perfect, but it isn’t easy being Scandinavian.
Why this pairing?
The Unit is a unique dystopia in that it is set in Sweden and takes various aspects of Swedish culture to their dystopic extremes.  Since Scandinavia often comes across as idealistic, it was interesting to see a dystopia set there.  This nonfiction work takes a long tough look at Scandinavia and exposes the minuses (in addition to the pluses) of living there. 

That’s it for my pairings! I hope you all enjoyed them.  I know that I certainly found a few new books for my wishlist!

Book Review: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula’s Lost Love by Christine Frost

October 19, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula's Lost Love by Christine FrostSummary:
Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince, inspired the story of Dracula with his bloodthirsty, iron-handed ruling.  This, though, is the story of his long-time consort, Ecaterina Floari, mother one of his sons and a daughter.  She loves him deeply but is haunted by his ruling style, as well as spirits in a helmet he brings into their home from one of his battles.

Review:
I picked this up during the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale years ago but it took a while for my mood to be just right to read it.  It is a historic piece set in 1400s with splashes of the fantastic, and I tended to be in the mood for one or the other but not both.  Finally in the heat of the summer, I was ready for a dark historic fantasy that would take me away to heavy gowns and ancient rulers.  I was surprised by the level of historic research and detail in the book, as well as the tie-in to the Dracula story, making it a marriage of two genres.

This is a long book with a lot of rich setting detail.  That doesn’t tend to be my style but it works with the feel the book is going for, and many readers will enjoy the pace at which the book moves.  The dark fantasy elements take time to set up, but when they get into motion they really add to the story.  The story strikes a nice balance of Ecaterina working with the culture of her time-period and being bothered by certain things Vlad does.  For instance, it bothers her that he has mistresses, but she comes to accept it as is expected of her in the time-period.  This trajectory acknowledges the feelings the modern reader may have about the situation but also lets the character be true to her time-period.

The author toes a finely-held line of showing Vlad’s cruelty but also keeping him human and not demonizing him.  He was a cruel ruler but he wasn’t a monster.  Similarly, although Ecaterina loves him she is still disturbed by his actions when ruling.  This lends both characters depth they would not have if Ecaterina’s love was blind or Vlad was monstrous.

In spite of appreciating the historic fiction plot covering many decades, I did sometimes feel that the plot meandered a bit too much.  I also felt that sometimes the book told too much instead of showing.  Similarly, there were a few too many typos and grammatical errors for a book that is in its final version.  It was not enough to make me stop reading but it was enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.

I appreciated how much of the book is from women’s perspectives.  Not just Ecaterina’s but her mother’s, servants, and other consorts and even a spy are featured.  The female cast is strong, and that would be easy for a less thoughtful writer to pass over in favor of showcasing the men history chose to record more thoroughly.

Overall, readers seeking to learn something about the 1400s in Romania will be pleased by how much they will learn reading this book.  Those who come to it due to the Dracula connection will enjoy the fantastical elements toward the end in particular.  Recommended to readers of historic fiction and fantasy who do not mind a long book with a slow burn.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Smashwords

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September Updates and August Reflections

September 1, 2015 2 comments
A lovely pond my fiancé and I rested near on one of our hikes.

A lovely pond my fiancé and I rested near on one of our hikes.

Hello my lovely readers!

I hope you enjoyed the variety of genres on the blog this month.  I know I enjoyed reading them!  I also just wanted to let you know not to expect a huge influx of product reviews.  I at most will have one a month, and then only if I’ve won an item from another blog (I like to give them the links back as a thank you) or if I receive an item for review.  Again, though, I will keep it to one a month at most.

The book of the month for September will be:

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
First reviewed in September 2011
“Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not.  I recommend this to noir fans, highly.”

How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?

August books read: 4 (1 historic urban fantasy, 2 ya dystopian scifi, 1 historic fantasy)

August reviews: 7

Other August posts: 1 product review

Most popular post in August written in August: Product Review: Squatty Potty

My favorite post of August: Book Review: Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman. I really enjoyed the discussion in the comments of this review.  It was a difficult review to write, and I was really glad it stirred such a positive response!

Most popular post in August written at any time: Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

August writing: I put my writing energy into the blog this month, as well as my reading.  This was intentional, as I was very limited on time, and I wanted my blog in tip top shape before fall.

Coming up in September: I have a 2015 ARC with a giveaway to post, as well as reviews for the reads named above.  For the first time in years, I won’t be participating in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.  Instead, I chose to participate in the Once Upon a Time fantasy challenge in the spring.  But I encourage you all to consider participating in R.I.P. X!

Happy September and happy reading!

2014’s 5 Star Reads!

January 8, 2015 1 comment

Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoy assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.  You may view the 5 star reads for 2011, 2012, and 2013 by clicking on the years.

With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2014!

A bone hand holds chopsticks.
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts

By: Ying Chang Compestine
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Horror, Short Story Collection
Themes: Chinese history, food
Summary:
According to Chinese tradition, those who die hungry or wrongfully come back to haunt the living.  Compestine presents here eight different ghost stories, each correlated along with a course in a banquet and richly steeped in Chinese culture and history.
Current Thoughts:
A cute book that I think of fondly.  I really need to make at least one of the recipes in this book!  This short story collection is presented in just the way that I most enjoy.  Different stories surrounding one unifying theme.  Plus, I learned something.
Full Review

A Japanese warrior woman's face has the shadow of cat ears behind her. The book's title and author name are over this picture.
Fudoki

By: Kij Johnson
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher: Tor
Genre: Fantasy
Themes: the meaning of family, identity, duty
Summary:
An aging empress decides to fill her empty notebooks before she must get rid of them along with all of her belongings to retire to the convent, as is expected of her.  She ends up telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a tortoiseshell cat who loses her cat family in a fire and is turned into a woman by the kami, the god of the road.
Current Thoughts:
Warrior woman who was once a cat. Set in ancient Japan. What is not to love about that? My only regret is I waited so long to read this book.  It languished on my TBR pile for far too long.
Full Review

A woman's hair is barely visible on the left-hand side of a book cover. The book's title and author are in red against a black background.
Gone Girl

By: Gillian Flynn
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary
Themes: be careful who you marry, not everything is as it first appears
Summary:
On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home from working at the bar he co-owns with his sister to find his wife gone. The door is wide open, furniture is overturned, and the police say there is evidence that blood was cleaned up from the floor of the kitchen.  Eyes slowly start to turn toward Nick as the cause of her disappearance, while Nick slowly starts to wonder just how well he really knows his wife.
Current Thoughts:
It’s hard to give thoughts without revealing spoilers so let me just say that I still love the twist in this book, and I found the writing style to be perfect for a thriller.  It’s a book that really curled my toes, and I’m glad it exists and has become so popular, and I’m looking forward to reading more Gillian Flynn this year.
Full Review

Woman in short wedding dress and black boots holds a sword. A dog in a bow tie is nearby.
My Big Fat Demon Slayer Wedding

By: Angie Fox
Publication Date: 2013
Publisher: Indie, Self-Published
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: weddings are hell but lifetime partnership is amazing
Summary:
Lizzie Brown, once preschool teacher turned demon slayer, is extremely excited to be marrying her true love, Dimitri Kallinikos, who just so happens to also be a magical shape-changing griffin.  And she’s also fine with letting her adoptive mother run the whole show, even though her mother wants to make the wedding into a week-long event.  She’s not so ok with having to tell her mother about being a demon slayer, though. Or about integrating her mother’s posh southern lady lifestyle with her recently discovered blood-related grandmother’s biker witch gang.  She’s pleasantly surprised that her mother found a goth-style mansion to rent for the wedding.  Maybe the magical and the non-magical can integrate fairly well, after all.  But then it becomes evident that someone in the wedding is trying to kill her.  Plus, they find demonic images around the property….
Current Thoughts:
I read this right after I got engaged, so I was in just the right frame of mind for an urban fantasy featuring a wedding.  But even if I hadn’t just gotten engaged before reading it, I still would have loved it.  This book knocks it out of the park with everything that makes urban fantasy delightful.  A normal event kicked up a notch by fantastical characters and happenings.  It also communicates the odd combination of the horror that is wedding planning and the pure joy that is finding your lifelong partner.  Plus it’s hilarious and romantic.
Full Review

A woman's jawline and neck are viewed through a shattered glass.
Still Missing

By: Chevy Stevens
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary
Themes:  be careful who you trust, hope and healing
Summary:
Annie O’Sullivan extremely forcefully declares in her first therapy session that she doesn’t want her therapist to talk back to her; she just wants her to listen.  And so, through multiple sessions, she slowly finds a safe space to recount her horrible abduction from an open house she was running as an up-and-rising realtor, her year spent as the prisoner of her abductor, and of her struggles both to deal with her PTSD now that she’s free again and to deal with the investigation into her abduction.
Current Thoughts:
This book features a realistic depiction of PTSD plus it scared the pants off of me.  Still does if I think about it too much.
Full Review

A sunset near tropical trees and a mountain range
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown

By: Julia Scheeres
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Nonfiction – History
Themes: understanding a tragedy, when spirituality goes awry
Summary:
On November 18, 1978, 918 people, mostly Americans, died on a commune named Jonestown and on a nearby airstrip in Guyana.  The world came to know this event as that time that crazy cult committed mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid.  However, that belief is full of inaccuracies.  Scheeres traces the origins of Jonestown, starting with its leader, Jim Jones, and his Christian church in Indiana, tracing its development into the People’s Temple in California, and then into Jonestown in Guyana.  Multiple members’ life stories are traced as well, including information from their family members who, perplexed, watched their families give everything over to Jones.
Current Thoughts:
I am so glad I read this.  I feel so much more informed and knowledgeable about Jonestown.  It’s sad to me that the cultural myth of Jonestown is so different from what actually happened, particularly with regards to the mass suicide, when in many cases it was murder not suicide. This book presents an event that would be easy to brush off as “those people were just crazy” in a way that humanizes it and makes it more real.
Full Review

Book Review: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

April 2, 2012 2 comments

Red silhouette of man running against black background.Summary:
The narrator makes his living as a pickpocket in Tokyo.  When the man who taught him the art, not to mention his only true friend, finds himself on the wrong side of the Yakuza, he sees the likely impending end to his own life.  But can he run or are his heart strings tied to the city?

Review:
Nakamura is a best-selling writer in Japan, and this is his first novel to be translated to English.  I’m a fan of the crime/noir novels coming out of Japan, and this one certainly didn’t let me down.

The narrator is everything you want from a criminal lead–sympathetic, dangerous, talented, handsome but not exceedingly so, trapped, creative.  It is so seamlessly easy to jump into his head and move through his life.

The story is far more complex than pick-pocketing.  We get a peek at the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, but also at the narrator’s poor, rural upbringing.  We encounter everyone from the downtrodden son of a prostitute to the (apparently) leader of the Yakuza.  It’s glamorous, dirty, and unpredictable.

The ending may turn some readers off.  It is an ambiguous one, which I know some people don’t like.  I love that kind of ending though, because it leaves me to ponder how I think things turned out. How I hope they turned out.  And I didn’t feel at all cheated by it either.  It’s well-supported, but stops just short of telling us everything.

Something did hold me back from completely loving the book though.  I think it would have been better if we had met the narrator a bit earlier in his career to follow his downward trajectory more completely.  It all felt a bit too sudden to me.  I wanted to know the narrator and his relationship to his teacher better.

Overall this is a great piece of translated crime fiction that gives the reader a peak at the crime underworld of Tokyo.  I recommend it to fans of both unique crime fiction and works in translation.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Friday Fun! (Holy Busyness Batman!)

March 23, 2012 3 comments

My lovely readers!  Boy am I ever glad I gave you guys the heads up that things would slow down around here for the next few months.  I’m not even sure how long it’s been since I posted a Friday Fun. A couple of weeks?

In any case, my new job is AWESOME, and I am so blissfully happy that after years of struggling through school and in a bad economy that I wound up with a job in the field and area of librarianship that I wanted in the city that I love.  I love my commute! I love my coworkers! I love my patrons! I love the view from my shared office!  I love that I HAVE an office!  I love that I’m getting to go to the Medical Library Association’s 2012 conference in Seattle!

But it is also a huge learning process and I find myself with a brain refusing anymore information by the time I hit the T at the end of the day.  This means that all three of my nonfiction reads I had started before working at my new library, as well as during the first week, have hit the wayside. Cannot. Do. It. I need memoirs and paranormal romance and swashbuckling and FICTIONAL STORYLINES FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.  I cannot read and attempt to comprehend things about evolution in a toxic world or why you should eat this and not that.  Nope.  Can’t do it.  At least not right now.  So, yes.  I’m going to attempt to struggle my way through the three nonfiction reads I had started with a chapter a day. Beyond that, no more.  I mean, I have to work on learning PHP for my new job.  One can only handle so much nonfiction in one day.  That said, I still want to do Diet for a New America, but I think I’m going to have to rework it somehow.  Maybe make it a challenge instead of a project.  That way I won’t feel bad if it takes me a while to get to the next book.  I still intend to finish, buuuut probably not by the end of 2012 *snort*

Speaking of diet and health, I have discovered ZUMBA and it is AWESOME.  I’ve always been a dancer from a very young age (before I got fat and unhealthy) and for some reason even though I’ve recovered my fitness, I was ignoring dance.  No more!  Zumba is basically dance aerobics only using Latin dance and a mix of Latin music and modern popular songs.  (I think to date my favorite routine has been the one we did to I’m Sexy and I Know It.  It involved showing off our guns).  Anywhooo I love the Latin dancing because it is all hip shaking, but it’s also a great class to go to once a week because long-term cardio is still what is really difficult for me, but the class and instructor are just so dang FUN that I am bound and determined to make it through.  And I do.  I just also have at least one point in every class where I am certain I am going to die.  Then we pretend to be roping a cow, and I suddenly am fine. 😉

Happy weekends everyone!  Tomorrow is my first day as a Saturday librarian, and I am mad excited.  (Which seems to be my perpetual state of emotion nowadays).

Book Review: The Group by Mary McCarthy

April 14, 2011 2 comments

Black and white picture of a group of women.Summary:
A collection of women graduate from Vassar in the 1930s.  Their friendship is known collectively as “The Group,” and their distinctive Vassar education has given them a distinctly liberal view on the world.  How this changes with time as they repeatedly encounter societal expectations and relationship problems are told through a series of vignettes that focus in on moments in their lives over the seven years after graduation.

Review:
I am so glad that Nymeth’s review made me add this to my wishlist.  This piece of historical fiction told entirely through women’s lives looks at women’s issues in an oft-ignored time period–1930s America.  Particular issues that impact these women’s lives and dreams include birth control, gender norms, violence against women, and social justice.

Moving smoothly through the seven years but changing perspectives by spending a chapter or two on each woman in turn, we get a glimpse of their lives.  For instance, early in the book we see Kay’s life in detail, but later we only catch glimpses of it through her friends’ eyes.  This lends a greater sense of depth and mystery to these women’s lives.  What happened to change them?  How drastic of an impact did certain events have on their lives?  Are they truly happy now?  Much like real life, the reader can only speculate based on the limited information she has.

The style of looking at women’s issues in history through the lives of multiple women lends a depth to the story that would not be there if it was told in the traditional manner of focusing in on one single woman.  The, essentially, cluster-fuck of circumstances, expectations, and personality that come together to create the different lives they end up leading is endlessly fascinating to study and ponder.

This book humanizes women’s issues in the 1930s and brings them to light in an engrossing manner.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of historic fiction or an interest in women’s issues.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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