Friday, August 3, 2018

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

I don't think I've really seen this book mentioned much of anywhere since it was published last year (and was a NYT bestseller) so I just wanted to get The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland back on the radar. I personally put it off for a while because it is like 750 pages long and I had no idea if it would be a slog. But then it was summer and, well, what else did I need to do but read a massive book that I only remembered picking up because it sounded like exactly my kind of story? It turns out that it was exactly what I needed to do. It was a perfect summer vacation read and was TOTALLY my kind of story (and it cleared a huge spot on my TBR shelf that fit like two or three new books). I flew through this tale of time travel and history and technology and witchcraft with eagerness and joy.

This alternate history story is mostly told by Melisande Stokes, a story she rushes to get onto paper as she waits in 1851 for an unlikely miracle to get her back to the present day before she gets stuck in the past forever by the end of magic. Because, in this history, magic exists until some event in 1851 causes it to end, leaving witches powerless and the world irretrievably changed -- or is it?! Linguist Melisande is approached by Tristan Lyons (of the mysterious organization D.O.D.O.) and asked to translate specific historical documents in an attempt to find out what magic was and if it could possibly be restored. The rest of the book is part adventure, part moral tale, and all amazing.

I love time travel and I love magic and I love science fiction tech and they all worked together so well in this book. I actually keep picking up time travel books this summer for some reason (and I haven't even gotten to To Say Nothing of the Dog yet!) and each leaves me thinking about something different. This one made me wonder what subtle nudges we could have given our society to be in a better place right now. Maybe convince Trump's dad to donate that first million to a worthy cause instead of giving it to his loser son? Who knows where we would be now.

Wishing for a science-fictional world,

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Resorting to Murder

I've finally read my first book from the British Library Crime Classics! Considering that I own seven books in the collection already, it was definitely time to get reading. Luckily, I'm in a classic mystery mood all of a sudden and a short story mood to boot so I decided to start with Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards. The juxtapositions of holiday towns and trips with murders and disappearances was unique and the book kicks off with a Sherlock Holmes mystery so, really, how could it go wrong?! Edwards did a great job digging up some rare finds to pair with the better known authors. Out of 14 stories, I really enjoyed 11 of them and plan to search out some other works from a few of the lesser-knowns. And now that I've broken the BLCC seal, I'm sure I'll devour the books I have and spend way too much money on even more.


Monday, July 30, 2018

New Release: The Dante Chamber

I don't know how I found Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club (2003) but it made such a big impression on me that I became a lifelong fan of Pearl and even loaned the book to my mom. (She will still bring up a particularly gruesome part every once in a while.) Now he has written a sequel of sorts to that dark tale, The Dante Chamber.

While the first book focused on Dante's Inferno, this book takes us into his Purgatory, accompanied by a new cast of historical figures -- poets Christina Rossetti, Robert Browning, and Alfred Tennyson. We not only watch them as they frantically seek for Christina's missing brother, artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but we also get a glimpse into their lives and times.

First of all, yes, this book can absolutely be read on its own. Pearl has kindly given enough information to the reader to get them up to speed on the horrifying influences of Dante in New England while guiding them through his new and equally horrifying influences in old England. As I didn't know much about any of the protagonists of this story, I was also glad that Pearl spent almost as much time with their stories as he did with the main plot. I ended up doing a lot of Googling when the book was over! His books are always so well researched and authentic that it's sometimes hard to believe that these strange happenings are not actually historical. I am already eagerly awaiting his next tale.


Friday, July 27, 2018

New Release: Abridged Classics

I know that many of us could use a bit of added levity in our lives these days and, as we are bookish people, Abridged Classics by cartoonist John Atkinson is probably a good place to find some. Although the subtitle will be inaccurate for most of us--Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read But Probably Didn't--since we don't dodge the classics, we can find these very brief comics funny because we are, in fact, in the know.

With one or two page spreads on over 100 books, this is a fun read that even Z (who is heading to high school and will be expected to read a couple of these) enjoyed.

Very briefly,

p.s. I received this book from the publisher.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Classics Challenge 8: Three Men on the Bummel

One of the luckiest categories to show up on this year's Back to the Classics Challenge was "A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction" because I have had Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel (1900) sitting on my shelf for years. I had heard it wasn't quite as good as Three Men in a Boat and so I was a bit nervous about it. I shouldn't have been, of course. While JKJ takes some strange tangents and has some oddly prescient thoughts about German politics, it still had tons of laughs and scenes that felt all too familiar, even 118 years later.

So, bummel -- JKJ says "A 'Bummel' ... I should describe as a journey, long or short, without and end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started." This description is literally given in the last paragraph of the story, almost as if the characters could only describe their journey once they had finished it. What was that journey? A trip by boat, bicycle, and train for the three friends--J, George, and Harris--as they escape their wives and children in England and explore eastern Europe.

I definitely think this book makes more sense if you read the previous one first. Boat spends more time establishing the personalities and tendencies of the characters than Bummel and therefore enhances the humor. I still liked this book slightly less but mostly just because I am more interested in the Thames than I am the Black Forest.

Have any of you read anything else by Jerome K. Jerome? All of his works seem to be available but I wouldn't even know what to try next!

On the couch,

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

I had seen Theodora Goss' The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter around for a while but was on the fence about whether I wanted to read it or not. I used to really love new stories with historically or fictionally-based characters but, recently, I've found many of them to be annoyingly inaccurate or badly constructed. But then I saw a glowing mention of this and decided to give it a shot anyway.

The story starts with Mary Jekyll, simultaneously mourning the death of her mother and also finding out a huge secret that her mother had been keeping. The secret leads her to meet Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and other daughters of famous, well, mad scientists. They join forces to try and figure out what motives joined their fathers and to discover whether they can trust each other as they have each been betrayed by their "creators". Oh, and did I mention Holmes and Watson are there too?!

So, basically this was a Wilkie Collins novel of orphaned women trying to keep their heads above water, but with the wonderful added elements of horror and science fiction that other Victorians did so well. I really cared about these characters and loved the reminders of each of their original stories. The sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, is out today and I can't wait to dive into it. I wouldn't even mind rereading this one so soon!

Avoiding madness,

Sunday, July 8, 2018

10 Years or Something

Grizzly Bear at Woodland Park Zoo

Unbelievably, today is the ten year anniversary of We Be Reading. Wow. I certainly never thought I would be blogging for this long. In fact, when I put this placeholder post into the queue a few months ago, I intended it to be my announcement that I was calling it a day and ending the blog. I was feeling demoralized and uninspired and just couldn't see what the point was in continuing besides hosting DWJ March and rocking the RIP Challenge. But then something happened over the last few months and I started enjoying the process of sitting down and writing again. My posts haven't been works of critical brilliance or deep exploration but that was never my goal. It has always been to share both lesser known books and also ones that I truly love. So, with that in mind, I am going to keep blogging for now, allowing myself to pick and choose which reads to post about and to hopefully keep inspiring readers to pick up a story that they may not have found or considered on their own.

I sincerely thank each and every one of you who reads my posts, leaves a comment, and/or picks up a book that I have mentioned. It means the world to me.

With friendship,

Friday, July 6, 2018

Classics Challenge 7: Three Men in a Boat

I was planning on reading the sequel to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (1889) for the Back to the Classics Challenge and decided to reread this as well and count it for "Re-read a Favorite Classic" because 1) it's short, 2) it's funny, and 3) it led me to Connie Willis, whom I adore.

Based on a quick look back through my posts, I was reminded that I first read this book in 2011 when Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog was recommended to me by Teresa of Shelf Love and I wanted to read this first. Basically, it's the story of a fictional J, two friends, and a dog, who take a small boat up the Thames from London to Oxford. I found the exact same things to be true this time -- the book is ridiculously quotable, it's quite an easy read, and it is much funnier than Jerome's intended travel guide would have been. I'm glad that I will finally be reading his about his German bicycle adventures soon!

(And yes, I will be rereading Willis again this summer too. Too bad it's not a classic yet!)

With mirth,