A Look Back at February 2020 – A Month in Review

I’m a bit behind in getting my monthly review posted for February. But without further ado, here is a look back at my reading last month.


The Iliad Read-Along

The Iliad Read-Along

For awhile, I kept my determination to keep reading this epic poem. But honestly, I just don’t like it. I was hoping I would maybe enjoy it more reading it a second time around with this read-along, but I just didn’t. Cleo’s posts and the discussion in the comments were still helpful for me getting more out of the classic work; so that was good. But I was dreading having to pick up the book every day to read. So I decided it just wasn’t worth weighing down my reading time with re-reading a book I just did not like reading. So I bowed out of the read-along and am happy with that decision. 🙂


War and Peace Read-Along

War and Peace Read-Along

I mentioned last month that I am enjoying this book more this time around…but that I hadn’t quite gotten into the war parts of the novel yet. Well, I have entered into the war chapters of War and Peace now. And while these are not my favorite parts of the novel, I still am liking this novel more this time reading it. I haven’t decided for sure if the pace of the read-along (one chapter a day for the whole year) has contributed to that or not. I typically don’t like to spread books out over long periods of time. And I must admit, I have been feeling a bit like I don’t know if I literally want to be reading this all year long. But I’m not changing the pace just yet. I want to keep at it a chapter a day for now and see how it continues to go.


Deal Me In Challenge 2020

Deal Me In Short Stories Reading Project

I read five short stories in February. Here’s a brief look at what I read:

  • “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather – I did not like this one at all. I was a bit disappointed too because I was looking forward to reading something by Willa Cather. I have the novel O! Pioneers on my TBR list. I am still looking forward to reading that novel though!
  • “The Failure of David Berry” by Sarah Orne Jewett – I thought this was a well-written short story that explores the topic of how people adapt to change, as well as exposing people’s tendency to remember the negatives over the positives. It also probes into the dynamics of generosity and selfishness.
  • “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett – I really liked this one! It is a quiet short story about the sanctity of nature’s life. The writing was excellent!
  • “A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry – This was the second short story by O. Henry I’ve read now. After having read “The Ransom of Red Chief” and not liking it, I was happy to find this to be one I really enjoyed. “A Retrieved Reformation” is a story of reformation and second chances.
  • “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain – I found this story to be mediocre at best. I felt it was a bit lacking in story-telling quality and had an unimpressive ending.

Japanese Literature Challenge

Japanese Literature Challenge 13

I kicked off the Japanese Literature Challenge in January by reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was a re-read for me. You can read my review HERE. In February, I read the following:

  • The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura – I found this book very interesting! You can read my review HERE.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro –  The only word that comes to my mind to describe this book is haunting. You can read my review HERE.
  • When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka – This book is about the experience of a Japanese-American family in the time of the Japanese-American evacuation to internment camps. It was a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. You can read my review HERE.
  • Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida – After reading When the Emperor Was Divine, I knew I wanted to re-read Journey to Topaz. This is a YA novel also about the Japanese-American evacuation to internment camps. I don’t often rate children’s novels that I read but this one is a solid 4 stars. It has a well-written, story-telling quality and it definitely pulls you right into the narrative very quickly.

Other Things I Read

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

The Canterbury Tales Retold by Geraldine McCaughrean

 


Books In Progress

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Mindfulness:  A Practical Guide by Tessa Watt


February Stats

7 Books Read
5 Short Stories Read
6 Books In Progress

Favorite Book Read in JanuaryJourney to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida
(All my favorites were from the books I read for the Japanese Literature Challenge. But if I had to pick just one, Journey to Topaz would probably be it.)

Most Visited Blog PostA Look Back at January 2020 – A Monthly Review


 

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine

Title When the Emperor Was Divine
Author:  Julie Otsuka
Length:  144 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
My Rating:  3.5 Stars


About This Book

This is a well-written historical fiction novel about a Japanese-American family who gets evacuated to an internment camp in Utah during World War II. The novel chronicles the events from before the family is evacuated all the way through when they return home.


My Thoughts

I’ve been trying to think of how to describe the way Otsuka writes this story. While we get a glimpse into what happened in this time in history, Otsuka mainly focuses on how the evacuation, internment, and finally the return home affect the particular family in the story. It’s not dramatized or overly emotional. It’s more like the author has laid out events of what happened with this family, letting the reader experience the story from a distance. As the narrative is built and told to the reader in a short amount of pages, the writing is succinct and precise.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go
Title Never Let Me Go
Author:  Kazuo Ishiguro
Length:  288 pages
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
My Rating:  3.5 Stars


I finished this book a few days ago and have been struggling to know how to write about it. I’m not doing this review in the format I normally do. To talk much about this book would be taking a chance on giving the plot away. It’s hard to talk about it without discussing what issue the book is dealing with – which is only really revealed towards the end of the book. So I’m going to first give you the publisher’s description then just share a few brief comments.

From the Publisher’s Description:

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special-and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.


In my opinion, the style of Ishiguro’s writing in The Remains of the Day feels very much the same in Never Let Me Go. It is slower paced and has some ambiguity. The only word that comes to my mind for describing this novel is haunting. Once again, Ishiguro writes an atmospheric novel. He slowly lays out the story and little by little reveals hints to what might be going on; yet you don’t find out with certainty until the next to last chapter.

I once again give this Ishiguro title a 3 ½ star rating. It earns that rating because whether I liked it or not (I haven’t been able to decide yet…..), it is very well-written and makes the reader think. It presents a scenario and does a good job showing the reader what it might be like.

After having read two of Ishiguro’s novels, I’m intrigued enough with this author’s writing style to want to read another title. Any recommendations of which novel to read next?

You Know You’re a Bibliophile When….

Vintage Open Book

You Know You’re a Bibliophile When….

…Your ideal date night with your significant other includes a trip to the bookstore.

…You just want to go buy a book. You may not know what that book is; you just know you want to buy a book.

…You may not use a flashlight to read under the covers now, but you have a Kindle with a backlight.

…You keep your book with you when you’re watching television so that you can read during the commercials.

…You don’t like to leave the house without a book in your purse/bag.

 

 

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

Title The Book of Tea
Author:  Kakuzo Okakura
Length:  72 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, Essays


About This Book

As the title suggests, this non-fiction book of essays is about tea; but it’s also about much more. While it takes a look at the history of tea, philosophic and religious influences and beliefs surrounding tea and the drinking of tea, the tea-room and tea ceremony, it also delves into other topics such as art and art appreciation, flowers, arranging flowers, Teism, and the differences between Western and Eastern approaches.


My Thoughts

While I did find this book of essays to be a bit dry at times; that didn’t put me off from reading it. I learned quite a bit actually. For instance, I knew that the tea ceremony was important in Japanese culture, but didn’t know just *how* important.

My favorite chapter by far was the one on the tea-room. I learned that great care and consideration are put into how the tea-room looks. You will see that reflected in one of the quotes below. It is my understanding, also, that the tea-room is like a haven; a place of peace and tranquility.

I also found the discussion of art appreciation thought provoking. My husband and I had a great discussion regarding some of Okakura’s comments regarding art and art appreciation. Teism is also discussed at length. But what really stood out to me was how Teaism taught simplicity.

My family loves to drink hot tea; and that is what drew me to read The Book of Tea. I’ve walked away from reading these essays with not only more understanding about tea, but also more knowledge about the Japanese culture. Not to mention the fact that now I want to go through various things in our home and simplify more. 🙂


Quotes

The use of the steeped tea of the later China is comparatively recent among us, being only known since the middle of the seventeenth century. It has replaced the powdered tea in ordinary consumption, though the latter still continues to hold its place as the tea of teas.

Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane.

A good tea-room is more costly than an ordinary mansion, for the selection of its materials, as well as its workmanship, requires immense care and precision.

True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete. The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth. In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself.

The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity make it truly a sanctuary from the vexations of the outer world. There and there alone one can consecrate himself to undisturbed adoration of the beautiful.

In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends. We eat, drink, sing, dance, and flirt with them. We wed and christen with flowers. We dare not die without them. We have worshipped with the lilly, we have meditated with the lotus, we have charged in battle array with the rose and the chrysanthemum. We have even attempted to speak in the language of flowers. How could we live without them?

A Look Back at January 2020 ~ A Monthly Review

I kicked off the year with participating in Cleo’s The Iliad read-along and the Japanese Literature Challenge 13. I also started a couple of year-long projects:  Nick’s War and Peace Read-along and the Deal Me In Short Stories project.

Also, I am trying to write more reviews about the books I read. And so I am happy to say that I wrote reviews for all the books I read in January except for one. For the most part, I typically don’t write reviews of children’s books I read. Mainly because I just read a lot of children’s books between pre-reading and reading aloud. However, every now and then, you might find me writing about them. 🙂 Anyway….I am excited that I did write 3 book reviews this month! Okay….now on to my January reading recap.


The Iliad Read-Along

The Iliad Read-Along

Welllll…… I guess this is going okay. I posted my thoughts on that so far HERE. I admit that things are running together at this point. But I am determined to keep reading and trying to work through this epic poetry work. I’m almost to the halfway mark!


War and Peace Read-Along

War and Peace Read-Along

This is a year-long project. It is a chapter-a-day read-along and my translation has exactly 365 days. I am on track so far with reading a chapter a day. So far, I am actually liking this novel more this time around. However, I am just now beginning to come across some of the war chapters. So……we shall see how it goes.


Deal Me In Challenge 2020

Deal Me In Short Stories Reading Project

I read four short stories in January. The one picked for this past week I actually read yesterday (Feb. 1st). So I’m counting it in February. 🙂 Here are the four short stories I read for January:

  • “Sieur George” by George Washington Cable – A man disappears then reappears. His landlord sees him initially carry in a trunk before his mysterious disappearance. When the man reappears, the landlord obsesses over what could be in that trunk. There’s a turn of events and then the story ends kind of abruptly. I thought the writing quality was good; the story was somewhat odd though.
  • “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving – The classic story of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman. I thought the writing was very descriptive and I wanted to keep reading it. This was my favorite of all the short stories I read this month.
  • “The Wife of His Youth” by Charles W. Chestnutt – A man is preparing to marry when another woman comes to him seeking her husband whom she hasn’t seen for many years. There’s a turn of events and it has an ambiguous ending. This story was just okay. But I really think another read of it would be beneficial. I read that this is Chestnutt’s most anthologized work.
  • “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry – Two men decide to kidnap a boy in order to get the ransom for money that they need. I didn’t care for this story at all. I thought the plot line was thin and it just wasn’t that good.

Japanese Literature Challenge

Japanese Literature Challenge 13

I kicked off the Japanese Literature Challenge by reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was a re-read for me. You can read my review HERE.

I am currently reading The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura and have just started reading Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro.


Other Things I Read

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan – Review HERE

Still Life by Louise Penny – Review HERE

Turn Homeward, Hannalee by Patricia Beatty


Books In Progress

The Iliad by Homer

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt


January Stats

4 Books Read
4 Short Stories Read
6 Books In Progress
Favorite Book Read in January:  Still Life by Louise Penny
Most Visited Blog Post:  The Evolution of My Reading Journal


2020 Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up Graphic

This is my first time joining in on this monthly wrap-up round-up. Nicole hosts the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up, which is a Month In Review Round-Up where you can link your monthly recap posts.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Still Life by Louise Penny

Title Still Life
Author:  Louise Penny
Length:  293 pages
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Content Notes:  Some language (including some strong language)
My Rating:  4 Stars


About This Book

In the quiet little town of Three Pines, Jane Neal is a retired school teacher who seems to be liked by everyone. One day, though, she is found dead in the woods. It was known that hunters often hunted in those woods and sometimes accidents happened. Was Jane’s death an accident or was it murder? But who would want Jane dead? Inspector Gamache is called on to investigate and find out just what happened. What secrets lie hidden in the peaceful town of Three Pines?


My Thoughts

Still Life is the first novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. I’ve heard a number of people say that this first novel in the series is slow. However, I didn’t feel that way at all. Sure, it’s not a high-paced, full-speed-ahead action adventure on page after page. But it is plot-driven and kept me turning the pages. 🙂 I thought the story was really written well. The mystery is intricately woven from the very beginning and the author kept me guessing all the way until the end. The characters were developed well and the culprit of the crime was hard to pinpoint. The author’s descriptive writing was excellent; I could picture in my mind’s eye the quiet little town of Three Pines and it’s quirky inhabitants.

Everyone I’ve talked to said this is a series you need to read in order. And so I’ve started at the very beginning with this first one. Still Life introduces us to Inspector Gamache and we already begin to get a feel for the kind of person he is. As he conducts his investigation, he is thoughtful, observant, wise, respectful, and a keen listener. He is not quick to make assumptions and he carefully examines matters before him. I also love that he has a good marriage. He has a close relationship with his wife and remarks how he shares everything with her.

I look forward to learning more about Inspector Gamache and his team in the upcoming novels. I have also heard that Three Pines and its residents show up again as well!


Quotes

‘…Life is choice. All day, everyday. Who we talk to, where we sit, what we say, how we say it. And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful. So when I’m observing, that’s what I’m watching for. The choices people make.’” (p. 81)

Living our lives was like living in a long house. We entered as babies at one end, and we exited when our time came. And in between we moved through this one, great, long room. Everyone we ever met, and every thought and action lived in that room with us. Until we made peace with the less agreeable parts of our past they’d continue to heckle us from way down the long house. And sometimes the really loud, obnoxious ones told us what to do, directing our actions even years later.” (p. 241)

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day
Title The Remains of the Day
Author:  Kazuo Ishiguro
Length:  245 pages
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
My Rating:  3.5 Stars


About This Book

It’s the 1950s and Stevens is a butler about to embark on an automobile holiday to the west country of England. During this holiday, we learn about what’s presently going on, as well as Steven’s past as a butler and various events that occurred in that time. Stevens also relates his own thoughts, feelings, and impressions about a variety of things; but principally, his thoughts on dignity and his job as a butler are foremost along with what he thinks greatness is.


My Thoughts

This book is definitely what I call a quiet novel – what some may call a slow read. What I call a quiet novel doesn’t typically have a fast-paced plot, nor is it usually plot-driven. That doesn’t mean it has no plot though; just not driven by the plot. Oftentimes, what I consider to be quiet novels are character-driven; and The Remains of the Day is definitely a character driven novel.

I think Ishiguro does a fantastic job of setting an atmosphere and drawing the reader into the world of a 20th century English butler as well as the character Stevens as a butler. He also leaves an element of ambiguity in this novel. Events that are told and/or actions of characters are elements that Ishiguro presents the reader with but leaves it open-ended. In other words, as readers, we don’t receive answers to all our questions.

Ishiguro also gives us the story without making judgments. There are events that happen that leave the reader wondering and speculating what they think about it. Ishiguro presents the situations, takes the reader into the lives of his characters, lets his character Stevens ruminate over his life as a butler, and leaves it at that. (Now, that doesn’t mean Stevens doesn’t make his own judgments though. He certainly has his own opinions!)

I do have to mention that there’s a humorous part in this story that has to do with bantering; bantering meaning, in this case, light-hearted and maybe sometimes funny or sarcastic conversation. Stevens has never been used to bantering with his employer. He’s all about being absolutely, 100% professional; and bantering feels unprofessional to him. However, his new employer seems to enjoy having this style of conversation with Stevens and that completely catches Stevens off guard. He doesn’t know what to do! I chuckled when he shared how he would be in his private room and would study bantering by listening to a radio program that had some bantering that he deemed was in the best of taste. I can just picture Stevens pacing his bedroom floor, practicing various witty comments and dialogue. 🙂 I don’t want to say too much, but in the end we see Stevens change his mind about this idea of bantering and begin to realize that this style of conversation actually has its merits.

I give this book 3.5 stars because while I do think it was good, it just wasn’t quite on the level of a 4 star read for me. It’s okay  for a character-driven novel; but this second time around reading it, it felt a wee bit lacking for some reason. I think Ishiguro’s writing style was good though and look forward to reading another title by him. I have another one of his books, Never Let Me Go, on hold at the library and it should be available any day now.


Quotes

‘What do you think dignity’s all about?’ The directness of this inquiry did, I admit, take me rather by surprise. ‘It’s rather a hard thing to explain in a few words, sir,’ I said. ‘But I suspect it comes down to not removing one’s clothing in public.’” (pg. 210)

Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.” (pg. 244)

 

My Recent Book Finds (Hint: I hit a goldmine of good deals!)

Yesterday, I went to one of our local bookstores to look around. Whenever I go to bookstores, I always look at the clearance tables/shelves. Sometimes, there’s not much on clearance that interests me. Other times, there are multiple books I want to buy. Today was a goldmine day full of good deals —no, not just good deals…EXCELLENT deals. Look at this stack!

Book Finds 1-22-20

Ok. So for awhile I have been debating whether or not I wanted to attempt reading a Louise Penny book. I have had one of her books sitting on my shelf for a long time. It was a bargain priced book on the clearance table of a local bookstore and I bought it. But I had heard that you really need to read the Inspector Gamache series in order. So it’s just been sitting on my shelf and I haven’t been able to decide if I wanted to take the plunge and try this series. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I am usually pretty hesitant to read crime novels and murder mysteries. For quite a few months now, I’ve been asking others what they thought of the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache books (they are wildly popular) and what the books are like. Yet, I still couldn’t decide if I wanted to try this series. Emma at Words and Peace finally convinced me to give them a try. And I am now reading the first book Still Life. So far I love it! Well, imagine how excited I was when I found not one, not two, but THREE hardback edition Louise Penny books in the Inspector Gamache series on clearance yesterday at the bookstore! I snatched them up rather quickly and bought them. 🙂 Add those to the other hardback book I already own and I now have the following 4 Louise Penny books in hardback!

Yes, I am just a wee bit excited about this…..I know that I’m just getting a handful of books in the series. But I was tickled to get any of them for such a cheap price because I looked into checking out several of the first few books in the series at my local library and a number of them had at least a 6 month wait. Eeeek! In fact, the copy of Still Life I’m reading is the ebook. The library wait was 6 months for it and Amazon had the ebook for $2.99 the other day. So I bought it.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Also in my stack of book finds is Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. My husband and I are fans of the current PBS series “Victoria” and so I thought this might be a book I would enjoy reading.

Celtic Tales of Magic and Enchantment by Liam Mac Uistin

Finally, the other book in my stack of book finds is Celtic Tales of Magic and Enchantment by Liam Mac Uistin. My husband and I both have Celtic roots in our heritage. We have read a lot about the land and culture. And we listen to a lot of Celtic music too. So I thought this little book would be fun to read!

All of these books in my stack of book finds are hardback editions and they were all $3-$5 each! $3-$5!!! Yep, I’m just a tad bit excited about that!

Now….where to put the books…hmmm……

I guess it’s time to rearrange the bookshelves to see if I can fit all these books somewhere. 🙂

 

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The 39 Steps

Title The Thirty-Nine Steps (#1 in the Richard Hannay Series)
Author:  John Buchan
Length:  136 pages
Genre:  Adventure/Spy, Mystery, Classics
My Rating:  3.5 Stars


About This Book

Richard Hannay has just returned to London and is bored with life. Before he knows it, an interaction with an man named Scudder propels him into the middle of an assassination plot. His life is jeopardized as he finds himself smack dab in the middle of political intrigue. This novel is listed on The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels Written in English.


My Thoughts

This is the second time I’ve read this book and I remember enjoying it the first time I read it. This time around, it didn’t feel as adventurous. And actually, I remember thinking it wasn’t as adventurous as the movie version when I read it the first time even though I did like it. The thing is, though, I saw the BBC 2008 movie adaptation of it before I actually read the book for the first time. Honestly, I think the movie is better. Still, the book is written well for what it is. I gave it 3.5 stars because I thought it *was* good both times I read it; but just not quite on the level of a 4 star book for me. I plan to read the next in the series and it will be interesting to see if my reading experience will be different since I will not have seen a movie based on the book first. 🙂