Confuzzledom

Just a place for me to gather my thoughts


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Peony in Love by Lisa See

I read this book ages ago as part of the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge. This one was for the category “Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe”, which earned me 15 points. I chose to read this book having previously read Snowflower and the Secret Fan by the same author, which I found absolutely fascinating!

The plot:
Peony, the sheltered daughter of a wealthy Chinese family, is betrothed to a man she’s never met and is obsessed with a play called “The Peony Pavillion”. For her 16th birthday, her father plans to host a performance of said play. To maintain proper standards, women have to watch from behind a screen, but through the cracks, Peony manages to catch sight of an elegant, handsome man who she immediately falls in love with. Thus begins Peony’s story of love, desire and destiny.

My review:
First of all, I need to say something that some may consider to be a spoiler. However, it is important for me to mention it for the rest of my review to make sense: The majority of the story is told by Peony after she’s already dead. I don’t know about anyone eles, but I would have liked to know that before starting to read. I was expecting a book that would allow me to learn more about Chinese customs, history and belief, instead what I got was basically a ghost story. If I’d wanted to read a ghost story, I would have chosen a ghost story to read!! I also didn’t really like the character of Peony. I know she was supposed to be young (and therefore naive), but her love-sick ramblings just annoyed me. Even after she’d been dead for years and we were given the impression that she’d matured in some way (at least she’d managed to start thinking for herself) she reminded me of a love-struck teenager. And yes, I know she was supposed to be 16, but if the story hadn’t made that clear I would have guessed more like 13! Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was beautifully written… this one felt amateurish and clichéd. I did learn a little about Chinese death rituals and their beliefs about the after life, which was interesting, but honestly that couldn’t make up for the incredibly boring, sickly love story. Very disappointing! I might still give this author another chance, but if I’d read Peony first she would have gone straight to my “do not read” list!


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Summer Reading Challenge 2014 – final check in

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything new to add for the summer reading challenge. I had one category left to complete, and I failed to finish reading the book I had chosen for it, so my first Semi-Charmed Kind of Life reading challenge remains incomplete. Better luck next time! Here’s a finally summary of all the books I read for the various categories, just so that everything is in one place.

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 200 pages long.
The Night She Disappeared by April Henry – 229 pages. A young-adult crime thriller. I have no idea how I came across this book, but I’m glad I did. This was a quick read but an enjoyable one.

10 points: Read a book that was written before you were born.
Flowers for Algernon by David Keyes (published 1966) – 311 pages. I loved this book and am glad I read it!

10 points: Finish reading a book you couldn’t finish the first time around. (You must have at least 150 pages left in the book.)
The 1312 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers. I started re-reading this book and got as far as Chapter 6 (compared to Chapter 3 last time), but I just couldn’t get it finished in time…

10 points: Read a book from the children’s section of a library or bookstore.
The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root by Christopher Pennell – 215 pages, for age 9-12. Another great book. I would have adored this as a child! Read my review here.

15 points: Read a book that is on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List when you start reading it.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 313 pages. Number 1 in the Young Adult Fiction category at the time of reading.I thought this book was quite good, but nowhere near as brilliant as everyone kept saying. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t heard all the hype about it beforehand. As it was, I ended up feeling slightly disappointed and wondering what I’d missed.

15 points: Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe.
Peony in Love by Lisa See – 387 pages. I LOVED Snowflower and the Secret Fan by the same author and was hoping for more of the same. What I got was basically a weird ghost story. I wish I’d chosen a better book for this category!

 15 points: Read a book another blogger has read for the challenge. (That means you have to wait till the first check in in June to see what other people have read already.)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton. Before seeing that aother blogger had read this book, I had no idea that the Disney film was based on a book… or that the author of The Borrowers books had written anything else! This was a quick, fun read. Not as good as The Borrowers, but pretty decent. Here’s a review by the blooger who I got the idea from.

20 points: Read a book with “son(s),” “daughter(s),” or “child(ren)” in the title.
The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers – 307 pages. This book had been on my Amazon wishlist for ages and I was looking forward to finally reading it. The idea for the story was great, but in the end the book was just okay. Disappointing.

 20 points: Read a book that will be/was adapted into a film in 2014.
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby – 256 pages. Again an interesting idea for a story, but ended up being just okay. Most of the characters annoyed me! Read my full review here.

25 points: Read a book by a blogger.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I adored this book, but I already knew I would based on the blog. Read my review here.

 25 points: Read a biography, autobiography or memoir.
Captain James Cook by Richard Hough – 445 pages. A thoroughly enjoyable book! Well written and interesting, and also quite entertaining. No dry facts for this author. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in Captain James Cook and/or the history of discovery/navigation.

30 points: Read a pair of books with antonyms in the title.
The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell – 309 pages and Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien – 360 pages. (Antonyms: Birth and Death). I absolutely loved The Death of Bees and am really glad I chose this one! Review here. Birthmarked started off brilliantly but ended up being slightly disappointing. I’ve read better teen distopian-future novels! A review of that one is here.

And that was that. A few disappointing books, but also some interesting ones that I may not have read without the categories for encouragement. I’m excited for the next reading challenge!


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Summer Reading Challenge: Month 3

July is over, which means it’s time for my third monthly check in for the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge with Megan over at Semi-Charmed Kinda Life. I’ve read a lot of books this month, but only two for the challenge. Every little helps, though, right? Here are the categories I completed in July:

25 points: Read a book written by a blogger
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I loved this book! But I knew I was going to because I adore the blog and a lot of the stories were from there. I’m still sad that the Alot was missing, though. You can see my full review on this one here.

25 points: Read a biography, autobiography or memoir
Captain James Cook by Richard Hough – 445 pages. Another book that I really enjoyed. Usually I’m slow at reading non-fiction books, even if I find the subject interesting. I have to take them to work with me so I’m forced to read them on the train (it’s that or be bored for the entire commute), but with this one I got through pretty fast. I think it’s because it’s written more in the style of a story about someone’s life, so it’s less dry. I’ve been interested in Captain Cook ever since I went to a museum (somewhere in Yorkshire) about his life and voyages when I was little, and it was nice to find out even more about him and fill in the gaps where I’d forgotten some of things I’d learned when I was 10. If you’re interested in Captain Cook’s voyages, I would certainly recommend this book.

So, that’s another 50 points, meaning I’m now up to 190. I have just one more category to complete – read a book you didn’t finish the first time. I’ve chosen The 13 and a Half Lives of Captain Bluebear and I’ve already got further than I did the first time (Jan and I were reading it together before and we managed the first two chapters… I’ve now read four!). Unfortunately, I can’t take this one too work as it’s too big for my handbag, so I’m having to find time for it at home, in between everything else that needs doing around here! I have all month though, so hopefully I’ll make it. I’d hate to fail the first ever reading challenge I take part in ;-)


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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I read this book as part of the 2014 summer reading challenge with Megan at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life. This book was for the category “Read a book written by a blogger” which is worth 25 points.

book5The plot
If you’ve read the Hyperbole and a Half blog, then I don’t need to tell you what the book is about. And if you haven’t read the blog then why not? Have you been living under a rock? ;-) Basically, both the blog and the book feature anecdotes from the author’s life complete with hilarious cartoon-style pictures. The book has some stories that have featured on the blog plus some new ones.

My review
I knew before this book even arrived that it was going to be a good one. I love the blog, so I was fairly confident that I was going to love the book. And I did. Simple blog is my favourite character, and Allie’s post on depression should be a must read for everyone (here’s a link, go read). This book gets ALL THE STARS! (If you don’t get that, go read the blog!) Allie is very, very funny – even when talking about serious topics – and I love her drawings. The only disappointing thing in my opinion was the lack of Alot in the book. The Alot is my absolute favourite blog post by any blogger, ever! Also, some of the later stories weren’t quite as good. But overall, the book is amazingly excellent and definitely gets 5 out of 5 stars from me.


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Friday letters

It only seems like two minutes since I came back from Vienna… and yet next week I have more time off! I’m working Monday then picking my brother up from the airport that evening, after which I have the rest of the week off. So far plans include a trip to Basel and a trip to Frankfurt (we’ve discovered there’s a Dialog im Dunkeln there too, so we’re doing that, and also going to the German Film Musem). What else we do will be up to my bro. But before that it’s the weeeeekend… and also about time I reintroduced Friday letters. It seems to have been a while.

Letters

Dear Deutsche Bahn. I realise technical errors happen and it’s not necessarily your fault, but having to take a regional (aka slow!) train to work the other day after every long-distance train going in my direction was delayed by 30 minutes and more would have been much less annoying if you’d just provided some information! I assume you know what’s going on, so tell people! Trust me, it will make your staff’s lives a lot easier. Oh, and while I’m at it, I do agree that air conditioning is a wonderful thing on a hot day, but if I need to bring a cardigan with me just for the train you’re probably overdoing it a bit!

Dear Good Reads. I was told you were fun, so I joined up. But nobody mentioned that being on your site would be very bad for my bank account. I get enough temptation from Amazon without your newsletters being added to the mix!

Dear Germany. Well done on your World Cup win! It’s nice to have a good team to fall back on since England are obviously never going to get their act together!

Dear weather. Pleeeeease stay exactly as you are and don’t return to the endless rain of last week. I want to actually do stuff outdoors while my brother is here!

Dear boyfriend. Thanks for buying teabags before I even realised we were almost out. You’re obviously a keeper ;-)

Dear brother. Can’t wait to see you on Monday!

Happy Friday everyone! Hope you have a great weekend. I have plans to go with a friend to an event of an English-speaking meetup group tonight. I don’t often go out of my way to meet English speakers so we’ll see what happens there…

p.s. If you like writing/receiving snail mail, check out Charlotte’s new project.


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Summer Reading Challenge: Month 2

BooksI am going to start telling you all about Vienna soon, but right now it’s the start of a new month and time to check in with the Summer 2014 Book Challenge over at Semi-Charmed Kind of Life. I’ve been useless at writing reviews recently, but I have been reading and I’ve managed to complete another four categories of the challenge.

As a reminder, here is my check-in post from last month: The Summer Reading Challenge: Month 1 when I completed 5 categories for 90 points.
And now here’s what I read in June 2014:

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 200 pages long.
The Night She Disappeared by April Henry- 229 pages. I have no idea how I came across this book, but I’m glad I did. I do want to write a proper review on it, so I won’t say too much here, but basically it’s a young adult mystery/thriller/crime novel. Having swapped shifts with co-worker Gabie, Kayla goes out to deliver a pizza and never comes back. When Gabie finds out that the caller originally asked for her, she’s plagued with guilt and, convinced Kayla is still alive, becomes determined to find her. I really enjoyed this book and though April Henry did an excellent job of getting inside the teenage characters’ minds. The various emotions they went through (guilt, fear, etc.) all rang true. You even got the occasional glimpse into the kidnapper’s thoughts, which was pretty creepy. This was a short read, but a good one. I’m just sorry it wasn’t around when I was a teenager! 5 stars (rating books is difficult! I really want to give it 4.5, so I’m rounding it up…).

15 points: Read a book that is on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - 313 pages. I had to change my book for this category because the one I had originally intended to read was no longer on the best seller’s list by the time I got round to it. The Fault in Our Stars in at number 1 in “Young Adult”. I’m just assuming any category of the best seller list counts to get the points! And now, to the book…

The way everyone’s been raving about it, I expected to love this book, but I’m afraid I didn’t. I liked it, I read it all in one sitting and, of course, I cried…. but nowhere near as much as I was expecting to. I cried a lot more at P.S. I Love You! I did like Hazel. She was occasionally mean, argued with her parents, and you could feel her desire to be a normal teenager shining through. Gus, on the other hand, was way too perfect. Always knowing exactly what to do and say in every situation. He just didn’t feel real to me, and I couldn’t identify with him (okay, I’ve never had cancer, but I have been a teenager and I have been in love… I should have been able to relate to him on some level). It’s still a good book, but despite what everyone else thinks I’m afraid, for me, it just isn’t a great book. 3 stars.

15 points: Read a historical fiction book  that does not take place in Europe.
Peony in Love by Lisa See – 387 pages. I LOVED Snowflower and the Secret Fan by the same author, so I was really excited to read this book. Sadly I ended up being very, very disappointed. I am planning to write a full review of this one at some point so I won’t say much here, but let’s just say it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I wanted to get an insight into Chinese history and customs (as I had from the other book), instead I got a few glimpses into Chinese culture but mostly a weird teen love story.  2 stars for this one.

15 points: Read a book another blogger has read for the challenge.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton – 189 pages. There were a few books other partcipants had read that I found interesting, so I decided to order a few and see which arrived first… this one was the winner. The copy I read was actually a compilation of two books: The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks. The first omnibus edition (released in 1967) was called Bed-Knob and Broomstick, but I got the newer copy which was named after the Disney Film. Before I saw this title on the first check on for the challenge, I had no idea that the Disney film was based on a book… let alone one by the author of The Borrowers, one of my childhood favourites! I got very excited and had to order a copy straight away. The book is actually completely different to the film, and this is one of very few instances where I actually liked the film better (although it’s an unfair comparison because the only things the film seems to have taken from the book are the idea of three children meeting a witch and getting an enchanted bedknob that then causes their bed to fly). The war effort is a big theme in the film, whereas it isn’t even mentioned in the book. The children do wonder at one point whether it would be fair to use magic in wartime, and Carey (the eldest) has the idea that magic could be used to help with the war, but is promptly shushed with a warning about everything that could go wrong (“imagine if all the soldiers were turned to white mice!”). Generally, the book is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some good parts, but the first book seems to end rather suddenly before it really gets going. I would have liked one more adventure! It is a children’s book though, so maybe the author was thinking of short attention spans. There’s more action in the second book, and a bit of a gentle history lesson ;-) Overall, this a fun little read with some interesting characters (I liked everyone but Charles, the middle child, who was boring and a bit flat – probably because his sister and brother got all the good lines – Paul was the only one who could work the magic bedknob and Carey makes all the decisions and isn’t afraid to stand up to the adults in the book). I think I would have liked it better if I’d actually read it as a child though… the “scary bits” just aren’t as scary when you’re in your 30s! Also, this book was published before The Borrowers (1943/1945 for the Bedknobs books vs. 1952 for The Borrowers) and I would venture to say that Mary Norton’s writing improved somewhat in that time. From what I remember, The Borrower’s was better written. I’ll still give this one 4 stars though. If you’re interested, here’s the review by the blogger who inspired me to read this book (click on the purple writing).

So, that’s 50 points for month two of the challenge. Added to last month’s 90, that makes a total of 140 points. I still have 3 categories to complete: A book I failed to finish the first time I read it, a book by a blogger (I’m waiting for this one to arrive) and a biography/autobiography/memoir (I’m almost finished!).


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The Mysterious Woods of Whistleroot by Christopher Pennell

Another book review for the Summer 2014 Reading Challenge with Megan from Semi-Charmed Kinda Life. I read this one for the category “Read a book from the children’s section of a library or bookstore”, which is worth 10 points. Depending on the source, the age range is given as 8-10 or 9-12. Either way, it fits into the category.

book4The plot:
Eleven-year-old Carly Bitter Bean is an orphan. Since birth, she has only ever been able to sleep during the day. No matter how hard she tries, once the sun sets she just cannot sleep. Understandably, this has led to having a rather lonely life – it’s difficult to make friends when you’re only awake when everyone else is sleeping. All that changes when she meets Lewis, a talking rat who appears at her window one night asking her to join his band, and is then befriended by a mysterious boy at school, Green. Together, they set out to find out why the owls – who had previously enjoyed listening to the rats’ music – have suddenly started killing them instead…

My review:
I wish this book had been around when I was a child! I would have devoured it right around the time I was in my Faraway Tree/Wishing Chair/Narnia phase. But that’s not to say I couldn’t enjoy it as an adult. I really liked how the characters were drawn, and that the aspects that weren’t obviously fantasy (like talking rats) were realistic. In so many children’s fantasy books, the protagonists don’t seem to have any connection to real-life activities, or they manage to miss school for days on end and nobody even asks why. I liked that Carly still had to go to school (where she was constantly in trouble for falling asleep and also teased by her classmates for being “weird”. Not that I’m advocating bullying, but a girl who was constantly falling asleep in school and never came out to play (because after school she had to use the remaining daylight hours to sleep) would be teased). Also, when Green missed a few days of school, he returned with a note for the teacher explaining his absence… just like in real life! I also like the fact that, although Carly’s aunt (who she lives with) wasn’t a particularly likeable character, she wasn’t portrayed as some charicature of wicked with no redeeming qualities. Yes, she neglected Carly and made no effort to stay awake with her, but she did leave food out and make sure she went to school. The plotline was interesting, fun and adventurous. It wasn’t exactly a challenging story, but that’s hardly surprising considering the age range it’s actually meant for! Many adults would probably find it a bit childish, but personally I would see that as a good thing in a children’s book! I would recommend this one for fans of The Faraway Tree series, Narnia and any other stories that involve talking animals or fairytale folk come to life.

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