Month: April 2014

Monthly Review – April 2014

Posted April 30, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

The MagiciansApril has been an interesting month; I expected to get heaps of reading done and, to one extent, I have done just that. But also, I got rather sick during my time off and that did limit some of the reading time I was so excited about. Overall April was a great month, with plenty of books read and some extra time off work. I hope everyone else’s April was just as fruitful without any illnesses.

This month our book club read was The Magicians by Lev Grossman as part of our fantasy challenge. This was an interesting selection, more coming of age than fantasy, check out my review to find out what I thought. Next month we are going to dive into The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is a classic novel and is part of our children’s literature theme; I can’t remember what this is about so this will be a new experience for me and I will also be using the novel for The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. If you’re not aware, the book discussion and everything else will be happening over on the Goodreads forums, so feel free to join in there.

I read some decent books in April included the first Veronica Mars novel The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line plus others along the lines of The Fever by Megan Abbott, The Wives of Los Alamos and Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. The biggest highlight will have to be The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which will probably get read over and over again. What have you been reading this month and what were the highlights?

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Posted April 29, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Book of the Month, Fantasy / 4 Comments

The Magicians by Lev GrossmanTitle: The Magicians (Goodreads)
Author: Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians #1
Published: Thorndike Press, 2009
Pages: 691
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Quentin Coldwater is about to graduate high school; his future is catching up with him.  Suddenly an offer to a very exclusive private college has become a real possibility, but this is no ordinary university, this is a school of magic. Not only will Quentin have the normal college experience of sex, love, booze and friendship, he will also discover his magical abilities. Not just a coming-of-age novel, Quentin will also discover that the world of Fillory from a children’s fantasy series he obsesses over is very real.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians on the surface reads like a cliché fantasy novel but there is something deeper here. If you think of The Magicians as a homage to series like Harry Potter, The Golden Compass and Narnia, you can focus on the coming-of-age element of the novel. I found similarities to The Neverending Story but if I looked deeper I would say this is more of a magical version of The Catcher in the Rye. Quentin Coldwater follows the Holden Caulfield archetype, full of angst, self-loathing and all the normal teenage boy awkwardness, almost to the point where he could be considered an antihero.

Quentin not only has to work through his new found magical abilities, this only takes a side plot to what is really happening in The Magicians. The novel depicts and often amplifies the prototypical teenage boy experience, the depression, angst and emotional carelessness. The idea of magic being a gift turns out to be more a curse for Quentin. Unlike Harry Potter this novel looks at the magic being a curse, choosing Brakebills to get an education was possibly a downfall in his adolescent life, or at least that would be how Quentin will view it.

This is not an escapist novel; in many cases The Magicians is anti-fantasy. Viewing magic as a curse was an interesting way to view life and the fantasy genre. While it does this in a very interesting way, the homage to children’s fantasy novels was a bit over the top, while trying to avoid being a cliché; it ended up falling face first into the formulaic. I would have liked to explore the ideas of education and growing up with a gift/curse more than the actual fantasy elements but that might have risked alienating the target audience.

The Magicians is not without its flaws; in fact this novel could have been so much better if it took a more focused approach. The coming of age elements were interesting, the homage and Fillory parts of the novel were annoying and I think it would have worked out better without them. If the next books in the series continue to explore magic as a curse, I will gladly read it but I’m not interested in the Fillory story arch.


What I Hate about Book Blogging

Posted April 26, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 12 Comments

As much as I love book blogging and have no desire to slow down anytime soon, there is one thing that annoys me. It is not exactly a huge problem and I think this falls under the category ‘First World Problems’ but it has been coming an increasing annoyance for me. I’m not talking about the lack of commenting (I know I’m guilty of this) or the struggle to be part of the crowd of first readers, who boost about all the wonderful ARC’s they read. I’m even not complaining about the lack of male book bloggers or the excess of blogs talking about the exact same thing, this is something completely different.

I started book blogging in April 2012 as a way to track my reading journal. I have an autodidactic blog where I previously discussed literature, but I found myself losing focus on what that blog was all about. I transferred most of my literary posts onto this blog and started blogging passionately about the books I’ve read, loved and hated. I love the way this blog documents my reading journey but the problem is the fact that it only covers my journey from 2012 onwards.

I started reading in 2009 when the reading bug hit me hard; in that time I read some fantastic books but they don’t show up on my blog. I’m at a point in blogging were I want to make reference to books I read before I started blogging but I have no post to link it to. This isn’t a huge problem but it is something that has become increasingly annoying.

I’m now at a stage in my book blogging where I want to go back and re-read a lot of those great or interesting books just so I can blog about them. This also means if I ever want to write a blog post on every book that is on the ‘1001 Books you must Read Before you Die’ list (a life goal of mine) then I will have to re-read over 50 of the books on the list. I was just wondering if I’m the only one who feels this way or if anyone has gone to the extreme of re-reading most of the books from their past just to blog about them?


Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson

Posted April 25, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Boardwalk Empire by Nelson JohnsonTitle: Boardwalk Empire (Goodreads)
Author: Nelson Johnson
Narrator: Joe Mantegna
Published: Plexus Publishing, 2002
Pages: 312
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Atlantic City has quite a history, from the rocky beginnings to its colourful characters like Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson (subtitle: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City) tells the history of this US city. While this book inspired the current HBO series of the same name, this is not a reason to read this. The HBO show tells the story of a fictional character based on Nucky Johnson (called Nucky Thompson in the show). If you were to base a show on this non-fiction book it would turn out more like House of Cards.

There was a big chapter of Boardwalk Empire devoted to Nucky Johnson, who was an interesting guy. If you know the plot of the HBO series you might be aware of the type of character Nucky was, despite being only loosely based on him. His rise to power came thanks to the Volstead Act, but he wasn’t just a mob boss, he was a political powerhouse. Corruption never seemed so complex and scary; using the Republican Party to control the city all the while using extortion to fund the party. This technique helped control Atlantic City, keeping it corrupt well into the modern era.

While the history of Atlantic City is fascinating, it is sad to see just how big of an impact organised crime had on a growing city. I have an interest in the Volstead Act and how prohibition helped organised crime get a foothold in America. Boardwalk Empire shed some interesting insights into the cultural impact it had on a large scale.

I have started a new phase in my reading life where I’ve become very interested in non-fiction. While Boardwalk Empire wasn’t the greatest book, there was a lot to learn about politics and organised crime. This period of time interests me and I plan to read a whole lot more reading on the Volstead Act and organised crime, so I need recommendations. If you know good non-fiction books on these topics let me know.


The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Posted April 24, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 1 Comment

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von GoetheTitle: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goodreads)
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Translator: David Constantine
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1771
Pages: 160
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that has influenced the Romantic Movement. Often known as the original ‘emo’, a term that I hate, this novel is a semi-autobiographical novel that brought huge success to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The novel is a collection of letters written by Werther to his friend Wilhelm. These letters are an intimate account of his attraction towards the beautiful Lotte; a young woman he meets in the village of Wahlheim. Despite knowing that she is already engaged to a man 11 years her senior, Werther falls for her and attempts to develop a friendship between the two in an effort to get closer to Lotte.

You can probably guess how this story goes; Werther, an artist of highly sensitive and passionate nature heading down a road that can only lead to heartbreak. I’m not one to enjoy a novel that revolves around a love triangle but when it is done properly it can be an effective plot device; I’m thinking of books like those mentioned in this post. There is no denying the cultural impact The Sorrows of Young Werther has had on the world; unfortunately the ‘Werther effect’ is the most common reference to the novel nowadays.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to read this novel because Frankenstein’s monster finds this book in a leather portmanteau along with Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost which gives you an interesting insight into FrankensteinLives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of biographies of famous men to illustrate their common moral virtues or failings, while Paradise Lost is an epic poem on creationism and the fall of man. The Sorrows of Young Werther embodies the Romantic ideals; Werther being a sensitive intellect with an obsession of nature and values emotion over reasoning. All three novels represent different themes that Shelley wants the reader to explore when reading Frankenstein.

While this may sound like a morbid and depressing novel, Goethe shows the beauty behind the tragedy. One thing I loved about this book is the wording, and permit me to post a few quotes from the book to just show you the beauty in the novel.

 “Sometimes I don’t understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!” 

The major theme obviously is love; a look in how it can defy all logic. Werther can’t stop his heart from falling for Lotte, even if he knew it would lead to pain. The idea that the heart has more control over someone’s actions than their head is often evident in life and The Sorrows of Young Werther captures it perfectly. For me, that is what makes this novel spectacular and significant.

“I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness & misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own” 

However, you can look at this novel as something other than love; the idea that Goethe is portraying the decline in Werther’s mental health is also a vital angle that needs to be considered. The reason I hate the term ‘emo’ I won’t go into at this time but Werther’s overly emotional journey could also be symptoms of a bi-polar depression, though not a known diagnosis of the time. We have to consider the idea that his joy and sorrow is not just unrequited love but a deeper issue. The love triangle would have added fuel to his depression and we cannot ignore that this could be the root cause of Werther’s sorrow.

For such a small novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther packs a huge punch. This is the type of book I can see myself reading again and again, not just because of the Romantic ideas but what it has to say about love and mental illness. I can’t help but think that The Sorrows of Young Werther is just a better version of The Catcher in the Ryein the sense that is a journey of a self-absorbed protagonist, but maybe too difficult for high-school student. The Sorrows of Young Werther is an important book, not only did it influence the greatest literary movement we’ve seen but it still relevant today, almost 250 years later.


My Plans for the 24 Hour Read-a-thon

Posted April 23, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Bloggers Event / 9 Comments

The Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon is a mini reading challenge that happens twice a year in April and October. Traditionally I’m never prepared or often hear about a reading challenge like this too late. This time I made an effort to participate; I want to be more involved in the book blogging community. As this is my first 24 hour read-a-thon I’m not sure what to expect and how much I need to prepare. I may have gone overboard, but I’m planning on focusing on cleaning up my NetGalley list. I’m not going to get through all these ARCs but it would be good to clear of a few of these books. The read-a-thon starts at 11pm Saturday here in Australia, who what I’ll finish but here is a list of the books on my reading list in order of priority.

  1. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
  2. The Fever by Megan Abbott
  3. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
  4. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
  5. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
  6. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  7. Constance by Patrick McGrath
  8. Celebromancy by Michael R. Underwood

Top Ten Tuesday: Great Femme Fatales

Posted April 22, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Top Ten Tuesday / 8 Comments

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Great femme fatales. I love a good femme fatale, they are mysterious, seductive and often deadly.

  • Brigid O’Shaughnessy – The Maltese Falcon by Dashell Hammett (without spoiling the story, Brigid is the ultimate femme fatale)
  • Phyllis Nirdlinger – Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (like Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Phyllis embodies the perfect archetype of a femme fatale)
  • Cleopatra – Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare (Cleopatra is possibly one of the original femme fatales)
  • Dolores – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (while we may not want a 12 year old femme fatale. You can’t deny she doesn’t embody the characteristics of a femme fatale)
  • Vivian Sternwood – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (I can’t over look Chandler and Vivian is his best example of a femme fatale)

  • Daisy Buchanan – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (no explanation needed)
  • Rebecca – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (just because she’s dead doesn’t stop Rebecca from being a great femme fatale)
  • Joan Medford – The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain (Cain is the king of the femme fatale and I struggled to only name one of his characters in this list)
  • Laurel Gray – In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (sassy, strong minded with a little mystery to her)
  • Veronica Mars – The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham (if you’ve seen the TV show you’ll know how great Veronica Mars is; part hard-boiled detective part femme fatale)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Posted April 20, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 8 Comments

The Goldfinch by Donna TarttTitle: The Goldfinch (Goodreads)
Author: Donna Tartt
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2013
Pages: 771
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
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Carel Fabritius was a talented Dutch painter who was considered Rembrandt’s most gifted pupil. His paintings often featured delicately lit subjects against a light coloured background. He moved away from Rembrandt’s renaissance focus and developed his own painting style, with a strong interest in the technical. In 1654 he was injured in The Delft Explosion; 30 tonnes of gunpowder exploded destroying most of the city. Fabritius soon died from his injuries at the age of 32. Possibly one of the last paintings he ever painted, The Goldfinch depicts a goldfinch (a popular pet of the time) on light background. This piece shows his control over a heavily loaded brush as well as demonstrates his interest in lighting and texture.

Donna Tartt’s new novel The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker, who survived a terrorist attack on a New York museum. Moments before the explosion his mother was pointing out Fadritius’ painting and telling Theo why she loved it; in all the confusion Theo manages to take the painting. Orphaned and alone, Theo struggles to find his place in this world while also trying to avoid being taken by the city.

While The Goldfinch is essentially a coming of age story, there are some interesting social observations being played out with the help of the stolen painting. On one hand, the painting represents Theo’s love for his mother and his need to hang on. I also feel that the painting represents that part that you keep hidden from the world; the secrets and shames that you tend to think will destroy friendships if revealed. This also serves a purpose when it comes to Theo’s friendship with Boris further in the novel.

While this is a novel about art and its seedy underbelly, I found myself a little disappointed in the lack of art history, art forging or art heists (technically there is a heist but that wasn’t thrilling). When I discovered my love of literature and learning, I also discovered an interest in art and art history, an itch that I’ve not scratched. I was hoping that Tartt’s novel would give me both entertainment and art history lessons but I was left disappointed. I expected Desperate Romantics but all I got was a bulky Catcher in the Rye.

I’m not saying that I didn’t like The Goldfinch, my expectations for the novel was different to what I got. Donna Tartt spends a lot of time looking at the idea of terrorist attacks and the lasting effects they have on the families of the victims and survivors. This grief serves as a baseline for Theo throughout the novel. Often it can be forgotten about but then you catch glimpses of the scars that remain and while they don’t justify his behaviour it really serve as evidence of the emotional rollercoaster he is stuck on. Tartt’s character development is the key to this book; she has created richly complex and flawed characters that feel so real. Theo, in particular, serves as both the narrator and protagonist; his voice throughout the novel manages to be both direct and reflective.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is complex but over padded; there is a lot that could be cut out to make this a shorter book. I can appreciate the way she captured the life of Theo Decker; making this a sweeping saga, packed with emotion and growth, still would be achievable with a hundred or more pages removed. This is a tragicomedy in every sense of the word but my biggest problem was that there were some situations where things resolved themselves a little too conveniently; it happens but not that often.

 In the end, I found myself sitting on the fence with The Goldfinch. On one hand the characters and development of this novel was spectacular. The other hand is the fact my initial expectations weren’t met and the novel dragged on too much. I know that expectations should never get in the way of a good book and my head is telling me that I should jump on the bandwagon, however my heart just isn’t in it. I’ve heard good things about The Secret History but I have reservations about it now.


Where is the Overall Story Arc in a Crime Series?

Posted April 19, 2014 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 2 Comments

One thing that annoys me about reading a crime series is the lack of an overall story arc. I’m not saying that this is the case with all book series but it seems to be for the majority of them. Within crime fiction especially, the overall story arc is often very basic and often feels like a crime of the week format. This isn’t the case with romance, science fiction and fantasy they are more likely to have a continuous story line and have huge success with it.

When I read a series it is more than often a crime series and I wish the ‘new novel, new crime’ wasn’t the norm. When I watch TV, I often enjoy a series with an ongoing story; Veronica Mars is a prime example on television of what I want in a crime novel. A case that needs to be solved in every book but a bigger mystery that lasts over a couple of novels. Why can’t they do that in a novel series? I know a book is a bigger investment but I often read one book in a series and never continue because there is nothing to keep me reading.

The problem is that everything seems to be a series at the moment; I like the idea of returning to a great character but I need more. I like hard-boiled and noir crime novels but I find myself reading them less and less. I don’t want to read a series if there is nothing to keep me reading. A character has to be amazing to keep me reading, or they could just give me an unanswered mystery. Does anyone know of a good crime series that develops characters over a long period of time and also has an overall story arc?  Let me know. I wish I could write, I have been developing a concept in my head but I have no idea how to put it onto a page.