Reading Wrap-up: August, 2019

I’m currently a couple weeks into college, and super busy. During the first few weeks of August, I tried to read as much as possible to prepare for starting college, and I ended up finishing 19 books and 2 short stories. This is great, even more than my average of about fourteen books a month. However, since school as started now, I’ll probably not be able to read even a fraction as much as I was able to this month, so expect my wrap-ups to be a lot shorter in the next few months.

Anyway, before we get to the reviews, let’s briefly update my reading challenges.

Reading Resolutions

(my original post of my resolutions)

  1. Read 1 Indie book a month: I did do this.
  2. Read 2 short stories: I did do this.
  3. Read more challenging books: I did a lot of this. I read several books which were almost or over 500 pages.
  4. Reread some books: I reread four books this month which used to be my favorites as a teen, so I did do this!

Reading Challenges

(my original post on my challenges)

  1. The Year of Asian Reading Challenge: I read a total of 52 of my 51+ books, which means this challenge is complete! I read three books this month by Asian authors. I may read a few more before the year is out, but for now I can cross this challenge off my list.
  2. Back to the Classics Challenge: I read a total of 11 of 12 books, reading Notre Dame of Paris by Victor Hugo in August. However, as I’m writing this a few days into September, I have just finished Les Miserables, which finishes up this challenge too.
  3. Pages Read 2019: I read 6,173 pages this month, bringing my grand total to 41,261 pages this year, out of the 48,000 I need. This is amazing, since I know I won’t be doing as much reading since school started. I have only seven thousand pages to read in four months.

And finally, let’s get to the reviews. Most of the books I read this month I either liked or loved, which is super rare, so we’re starting at two stars.

2 Stars

  • The Lost World (Jurassic Park #2) by Michael Crichton (1995)
    • I really enjoyed the first book of this series, but this one just seemed like a repeat of the original. A similar plot. Similar characters (there is even a boy and girl to repeat the kids from the first book). Similar scientific debates about evolution and the chaos theory. There are a few good action scenes, but there is really no reason this book should exist. It’s not a bad book by any means, but it’s not as good as the first book. Saying that, if you enjoyed the first book and just want to read a similar story, this book might be enjoyable to you. I personally was a bit bored by it.
  • Jane by April Lindner (2010)
  • Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Chronicles #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1984)
    • So, apparently this book is based on Dungeons and Dragons. Because of that, it has an almost “level-based” organization to the plot. There is a group of highly underdeveloped characters (most of them only given one or two definable character traits). They go to one place, fight something and learn something, and go to another place. The world is interesting, but the plot feels meandering and pointless. I found the characters bland and merely there to project your own personality on. Tanis is the brooding one. Tas is the light-hearted, mischievous one. Raistlin was the mysterious mage. It felt as if the plot was moving along the characters, while they themselves had few goals. I was constantly comparing this book to Lord of the Rings. In LotR, the characters have a clear goal (destroy the ring), whereas in this book, it feels as if the characters travel from point A to point B either because they are being chased or someone told them to go there (they do eventually get a semi-goal, but it is resolved rather strangely). I know this is a very popular book series, and I’m definitely not the demographic this book is geared towards (I prefer character-heavy fantasy), so it is difficult for me to critique this book without being unfair to it. If you are a teen boy (or girl) who loves Dungeons and Dragons, you’d probably enjoy this book. But I simply couldn’t.

3 Stars

  • “The Nameless City” by H. P. Lovecraft (1921) (short story)
    • This is a fantasy series, about a man who walks through a strange city. Saying that, there isn’t really any plot or story. It is simply a character making observations of the city. It’s an interesting, creepy place, don’t get me wrong, but I kept hoping something more would happen.
  • Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (1831)

4 Stars

  • Murder Lo Mein (A Noodle Shop Mystery #3) by Vivien Chien (March, 2019)
    • I really liked the first book of the series, but the second book was just okay. I almost stopped reading the series, but I’m glad I stuck with it, because I really enjoyed this book. The mystery was fun and interesting, and I was totally in the mood for the quirky cast of characters. I can’t wait until the 4th book of the series comes out!
  • Death of a Dapper Snowman (Stormy Day Mystery #1) by Angela Pepper (2014) (Indie book)
    • I really enjoyed this book, and I wasn’t really expecting to. I think what stood out for me was the quirky humor, both in situations and in dialogue, which you rarely see in cozy mysteries. Yes, I enjoyed the mystery and Stormy was an…eccentric protagonist, but it was the random scenes of Stormy talking to the cat, or the random humorous coincidences which had me laughing. I’ve read more cozy mysteries then I can count, but rarely do they have this laugh-out-loud humor I found in this book. It was refreshing, to be honest, and a nice break from more serious books.
  • Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan B. Peterson (1999)
    • Where do I start in reviewing this book? It is highly dense, covering topics from mythology, to ancient story-telling tropes, to 19th century philosophy, to the Gulag camps of Soviet Russia, to modern psychological theories. In many ways, it’s a meandering book with little organization. It is difficult to follow, especially if you have little knowledge in philosophy, psychology, and history. I have at least some knowledge in all three, so I can say I understand many of the concepts Peterson discusses. Saying that, if you asked me what the topic of one of the chapters was, I could not tell you because of the lack of organization. Even though it is just over 500 pages, because of how much information is jam-packed in so few words, it makes for a difficult, sometimes tedious read. Even with my criticisms of this book, however, it is fascinating to read, comparing similarities between creation stories and mythology from around the world. I won’t say I agreed with all of Peterson’s interpretations of certain concepts, but I can say that this book made me think and for me, that’s the highly compliment.
  • Salvation of a Saint (Detective Galileo #5) by Keigo Higashino (2008)
    • Similar to its prequel, The Devotion of Suspect X, this book gets into the twisted mind of a killer, understanding them to a level rarely found in the average thriller/mystery. However, I did not find it quite as interesting as the former book. I didn’t hate it, and I liked the added conflict between the two detectives Kusanagi and Utsumi, but it’s a step down from Suspect X. It is also a bit sad, making you sympathize with the killer while also understanding the evil in their actions. If you liked Suspect X, I can easily recommend this book.
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis (1961)
    • I recently read The Problem With Pain, enjoyed it, and was immediately recommended this book. Even though Lewis’s books tend to be short, this is perhaps the shortest I have ever read. It is fascinating to get into the head of a brilliant man reeling from grief after the death of his wife, and examines how he dealt with that grief. Saying that, I have never lost a spouse, though my father did die when I was fifteen. My experiences with grief are very different from Lewis’s, who struggles with blaming God for his wife’s death and considered grief to be similar to fear. It is an interesting way to grieve, but it is more concerning a specific case of grieving as to opposed how different people grieve.
  • The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein (2014)
    • This book gives a very different perspective to that usually seen concerning fossil fuels, and that of energy advancement itself. On one hand, I found this book really interesting. I appreciate that Epstein backs up all his arguments with carefully sourced studies, so anyone more curious about the topic can follow his trail. There was also a lot of things I learned that I had never heard before, like that plants need higher CO2 levels to survive, so more CO2 emissions would thus be better for the natural world (how crazy is that). He also breaks down complex chemistry explanations into topics which even the average reader can understand, and I never felt confused about what he was talking about. I only had a slight issue with the book. Even at only 250 pages, it feels repetitive. In fact, he could have probably made the same detailed argument in about 100 pages without losing any of the information. However, I can easily say this is a very informative book, especially for someone like me, a college student, who has heard a lot of conflicting information about fossil fuels for years.
  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (The Squire’s Tales #3) by Gerald Morris (2000)
    • This is another book I loved as a teen, combining Le Morte d’Arthur and YA fantasy. There is something fun and light about it, looking at old British mythology as well as humor and modern ideals. It’s a very interesting book to read, especially now as an adult after I’ve read Le Morte d’Arthur (I hadn’t read it when I first read this book). It’s certainly a bit frustrating at times with the silly characters, who are meant to be more humorous than realistic, but it is still a fun story filled with knights, fairies, and romance.
  • The Good Earth (House of Earth #1) by Pearl S. Buck (1931)

5 Stars

  • “Sweet Ermengrade” by H. P. Lovecraft (1943) (short story)
    • …What even is this story? Where did Lovecraft’s horrifying tales go, replaced with…humor. This short story is filled with cliches (even a literal mustache twirling villain) and is meant to make fun of them. It is strange to imagine that the horror legend himself would create a strangely Shakespearean-type comedy mixed with a fairy tale. I was not expecting it, but it so perfect!
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)
  • The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayak (1944)
    • This book is a thoughtful read, examining the Nazi Germany (as well as Soviet Russian) organization of government, especially where it came to socialism and economics. In many ways, this book is a warning that what happened in 19th century Germany should never happen again. It’s a quick read, and doesn’t delve especially deep into the details, making it more of an overview of the dangers of collectivism instead of a dense, intellectual work. In this sense, it can be read even by those who have little patience for studying philosophy. It’s a fascinating and important read, even now nearly eighty years after it was published.
  • The Devotion of Suspect X (Detective Galileo #3) by Keigo Higashino (2005)
    • This is my second book by Keigo Higashino, after Malice (which I loved), and I adored it. I love that it is a murder mystery, but instead of focusing on the plot, it focuses instead on the characters. In many ways, the mysterious parts (like in Malice) are not what the story is about, but instead trying to truly understand the characters and their motivations. Even if you know the murderer early on, there is always that inclination that more is going on, which keeps you entranced. It is similar to The Silence of the Lambs in that way, where you watch the detectives try to catch the killer, as opposed to you yourself trying to figure out who it is. I look forward to reading more books in this series, and my only regret is I can’t read Japanese, and thus can only read the few installments of this series which have been translated to English.
  • I, Claudius (Claudius #1) by Robert Graves (1934)
    • This is a fascinating blend of fiction and history. I love fictional stories told from the perspective of real people, especially those that really work hard to understand the people and era discussed. It was strange reading a book which was set during Ancient Rome, written in the 1930s, and yet I felt as if it was commenting on issues in the modern age in the West. One of the reoccurring themes is lack of morality and disregard for human life. The culture during Claudius’s time sees marriage as unnecessary and politics is highly corrupt (how does that sound familiar?). It was fascinating to read this book, both to understand that era and to see how we in the modern age are heading for the same collapse which Rome endured nearly two thousand years ago.
  • The Trouble With Kings by Sherwood Smith (2008)
    • This was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager, and I thought now that I am in my mid-twenties, I should give it a reread. I definitely see weaknesses in the story that I wouldn’t notice ten years ago, and yet it is still such an enjoyable and hilarious story. It’s that type of book you can sit down with a cup of tea and blast through in one setting. It’s got romance, friendship, adventure and, my favorite part, philosophical debates of good vs. evil. This is a book I highly recommend if you like high fantasy.
  • The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going (2007)
    • I have loved this book for years, and just finished rereading it. It’s a simple story from a child’s perspective, but deals with grief in fanciful ways. I first read this book just after my father passed away, and I remember how meaningful its themes were to me at the time. The idea that we can still go on, but still remember those who we love who have died. Even reading it now as an adult, I really enjoyed it.
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre (The Two Princesses of Bamarre #1) by Gail Carson Levine (2001)
    • Ella Enchanted is probably the most well-known Gail Carson Levine book, but this one has been my favorite since I was a young teen. And I finally took the time to reread it. It is much sadder than I remember, and I am completely willing to admit that tears came to my eyes at the end. This story is so much more meaningful to me than many of the YA novels released now. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia.

There you have it. I was happy to reread some of my old favorites from when I was fourteen or so, as well as checking off some books which have been on my TBR for years.

Have you read any of these books? Do you disagree with my thoughts? I’d love to hear your opinions down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

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