H. G. Wells: Collector’s Book of Science Fiction – A Review

The H. G. Wells Collector’s Book of Science Fiction, by H. G. Wells, has been on my shelf for far too long waiting to be read. The 2016 Reading Challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to make this book a priority. It joined the list as selection #11, “a book that intimidates you.” Though I started reading this before NaNoWriMo interrupted me last year, I didn’t finish it until this month. Therefore, I felt justified in adding it to my 2017 Reading Challenge also as a collection of short stories.

Why did this book intimidate me? It’s H. G. Wells! Only one of the top names in science fiction writing. Ever! Plus, it’s a rather large, hardbound book containing 500+ pages of double columns of text. It includes three of his novels and sixteen short stories as they were originally published in magazines from the 1890s-1900s.

Wells was all over the science fiction map, writing about space travel, alien invasion, mad scientists, ghosts, man-eating plants, sentient ants, prehistoric fables, biological terrorism, miracles, future dystopias and more! If there is a science fiction sub-genre not included in this collection, I’m not sure what it might be.

In many of these stories Wells takes the stylistic approach of writing as if the narrator of the story was an observer, or someone relating a story told to him by another. Other stories, such as The First Men in the Moon, were written as the narrator told his own story. I found this second style much easier to engage with and enjoy. In fact, for being more than a hundred years old, I discovered I could enjoy Wells’ stories quite a lot. Some, more than others.

“The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost” was probably one of my favorites of the stories included in this anthology. Even though it was written in the “as told to” style like so many of the others, I found myself engaged in this story to the end. The suspense is well done, and even though I anticipated the ending, I still read it impatiently, eager to see just how the ending came about.

The “Empire of the Ants” on the other hand, was one of my least favorites. It tells the story of a man from Britain traveling in the Amazon region of Brazil. While there, he encounters, along with a local military captain, a plague of ants. But these are no ordinary ants. The British traveler accompanies the captain as he goes to investigate and eradicate the ants and together they learn some remarkable truths about these strange insects. The story ends abruptly, however, with the British man returning home with no resolution to the ant situation.

I was delighted to find that I could be instantly sucked into some of these stories, such as The War of the Worlds. Others were difficult, even painful to get through. I think of all the stories, my favorites were a series of related stories titled Stories of the Stone Age, fable-like tales relating the adventures of Earth’s earliest humans.

This collection of stories by H. G. Wells serves as an excellent primer on the realm of speculative fiction. Going in, I had no idea of the wide range of Wells’ writings. Labeled as a science fiction author, I was prepared for the likes of The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon. But I was surprised by many of the others like the stone age fables and the political dystopia, When the Sleeper Wakes.

Though it was difficult at times to wade through, overall this was a fascinating read, one that sparked curiosity and ideas that may one day fuel my own writing. If you have any regard for science fiction and have never before read anything by H. G. Wells, I would recommend this collection as a great place to start.

Beowulf: A Review

I discovered audio books last year, and listening to books has become my favorite way to survive my daily commute. Beowulf joined my 2017 Reading Challenge because I’m currently writing a novel that features a bard. Bards and epic poetry go hand in hand, so this was research.

The version I listened to was published by Audio Connoisseur in 2005. It was translated by C. W. Kennedy and narrated by Charlton Griffin. It also includes a brief introduction which reviews literary and cultural discussions of the poem.

I was grateful for this introduction, for without it, I likely would have been horribly lost at a number of moments as I listened. The poem tends to digress in places, to fall into side stories and historical exposition of the various people groups surrounding the story of the hero, Beowulf. Even with the introduction, it was at times difficult to follow.

The poem relates the adventures of the title hero, Beowulf, defeating monsters and dragons. I won’t detail the plot for you here, I’ll let you read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of fighting, daring adventures and treasure.

Overall, I enjoyed this presentation. I ended up listening through it twice, and will likely do so again. Although I hope to read a print version of the poem before I do that.

Even if it was a little hard to follow, it was still a fun read. Over the top exaggeration, to be sure, but still fun. I find myself now wanting to read more epic poetry. There may be some Gilgamesh or Homer in my future, or anything from this list.

While I listened, I couldn’t help but think of J. R. R. Tolkien, and his created realm of Middle Earth. I could see where he’d clearly been influenced by Beowulf, and borrowed from its imagery. Later, in researching more about the poem as I sat down to write this review, I learned that indeed Tolkien was heavily influenced by this poem. In fact, he translated the poem himself and lectured on it in 1936 at the British Academy.

I also learned that this book exists, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. I think I found the print version of this poem I intend to read!

Party Time!

One thing I love doing for my kids’ birthdays since the very beginning is to create a fun party centered around a theme. I probably go a little overboard with the cake, decorations, snacks and hand made invitations. I’ve done bug-themed parties and lion-themed parties. Dump trucks, monster trucks and fire trucks. There was Batman, the Avengers and the Flash. Most recently it was a Pokémon/Minecraft party.

When my boys were really little, I had freedom to choose the themes for their birthday parties. Now that they’re getting older and have distinct interests of their own, I let them choose the part theme. Then, I go searching online for ideas. I prefer to keep things simple, but I also want them to be fun.

The next birthday comes up in early March. The theme this time is pirates. Or, more important – treasure! My middle son is obsessed with tiny things—figures, cars, coins—that fit inside his fist. Sparkly things are especially attractive to him. A treasure hunt birthday party wasn’t a hard sell.

First I went looking for the perfect cake. There are some seriously talented bakers and decorators out there. I’m no professional cake decorator, but I love making cakes for my boys. I found treasure map cakes

and treasure chest cakes

and even this amazing pirate ship cake

Again, I’m no professional, but my children think I can work miracles. My version will not look nearly so cool as one of those. But I’ll have fun with it.

Before I can make the cake, and before I go all crazy with pirate-themed food and games, I’ve got to make the invitations. It will be a pirate’s treasure chest, complete with gold coins and sparkly gems. They might look a little bit like these invitations, but not nearly as adorable.

I’ve got some work to do. Sometimes I get a little carried away with the birthday parties. But it’s about having fun. And making memories for my children.

2017 Reading Challenge, Reprise

When I didn’t find a fun reading challenge list like I used last year, I finally went ahead and built my own list. I was quite content with it, and really, I still am. But then, I ran across this 26/52-book 2017 Reading Challenge, and it just looked like too much fun. Especially when I realized all seventeen books on my original list fit very neatly into this one.

I confess, I took the entire list of 52 and arranged it to my own liking, choosing which categories I liked best, and narrowing it back down to 26, rounding out the original seventeen books to fill in the gaps. I added in some books I’m already working on, or have queued up to read. After all, if I’m going to push myself to read more, I might as well really make it interesting.

And so, without further ado, here is my new and improved reading list. (Books marked with a * were not included on my original reading challenge list.)

1. A book from your childhood – Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis
Book two of the Chronicles of Narnia, this is a continuation of a series I began reading last year. I started reading the Narnia books when I was younger, but never moved past the first book. I’ve enjoyed reading this one with my boys. (Find my review of this book here.)

2. A book published last year – The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher
Okay, released September 29, 2015, it doesn’t quite qualify, but I’ll go with it anyway. This book came recommended to me by a Twitter friend when I asked for a place to start reading steampunk, a sub-genre I’ve been curious about. I’ve heard good things about Jim Butcher already, having learned about him and his other book series from my book club group. (Read my review of this book here.)

3. A non-fiction book – *The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay
I’ve been thinking it’s time I put my history degree to work and do a little research. I’ve been curious to read these and other writings from the early period of American politics. I don’t know if I’ll actually get to this one this year, but I would like to try.

4. A book that became a movie – The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
I first became intrigued by this series of books when I saw the first movie. When I found out it was based on a book, I immediately wanted to read them. Still, it took some time before I finally picked up the books and added them to my TBR pile. (Here is my review of this book.)

5. A book published in the 20th century – Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
There weren’t many books on my list written before 2000, and though not the oldest one, it is one of the few. This first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series, published in 1996, has become the basis of a very popular television series, though I haven’t watched it. I don’t typically like to start reading a series before it is completed, but perhaps it is a bit of morbid curiosity that finally led me to check this one out. (Read my review here.)

6. A book set in your hometown/region – *Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling
When I ran across this category on the reading list, I went looking for a book set in Oregon. I found this one and remembered this is another book I first heard about through my book club. So, even though I really don’t need to add another series to my list, I made an exception for this one.

7. A book with a number in the title – I Am Number Four, by James Frey
This one was easy, the only one already on my list that fit the category. (Find my review of this book here.)

8. A book someone else recommended to you – City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
As I mentioned in my last post, my sister strongly suggested this series to me. She took me to see the movie when it came out, and I enjoyed that. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for awhile. (Here is my review of City of Bones.)

9. A book with over 500 pages – Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams
Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors, so picking up another series of his was easy. This isn’t the only long book on my list this year, fantasy novels have a tendency to be long. I like them that way!

10. A book you can finish in a day – *A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle
This is another book on my fantasy book “must read” list. When I found it on my nephew’s bookshelf, he kindly allowed me to borrow it. Can I read it in a day? I guess I’ll find out.

11. A previously banned book – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling
This is the only series on my list that I have read before. Since it was first published, the Harry Potter series has been controversial in school libraries. In fact, the series made the top ten most frequently challenged books from 2001-2003. I’m not afraid of a little controversy.

12. A book with a one word title – Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
I’ve been eager to read this series by Brandon Sanderson since I finished reading the Wheel of Time books early last year. He did a great job finishing a series I really loved, and I can’t wait to see what he’s created for himself.

13. A book translated from another language – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
This series, written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, wasn’t published until after his death. Of all the books on my list this year, this one might be the most unique, a crime novel rather than fantasy, and certainly not YA. (Find my review of this book here.)

14. A book that will improve a specific area of your life – *Boys Should Be Boys, by Meg Meeker
I’m a mother of three boys. I can use all the help I can get in raising decent kids. This book is subtitled 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons. There’s little I want as much as for my boys to be happy, healthy, normal boys. If I can learn something from this book, I will be grateful.

15. A play – *The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
I discovered audio books last year, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. So far, I’ve chosen to listen to classic books I might not otherwise pick up. My latest pick includes a selection of famous plays including this one by Shakespeare. (Here is my review of this play.)

16. A book of short stories – *H. G. Wells, Collector’s Book of Science Fiction, by H. G. Wells
This one might be a bit of a cheat. Technically, this is part of last year’s reading challenge, but since I haven’t finished reading it yet, and it is a collection of short stories, I figured why not include it here again. (Find my review of this collection here.)

17. A trilogy or series – The Selection, by Kiera Cass
I’ve already declared 2017 as the “Year of the Series.” Therefore, filling this category was merely a matter of which series to list here. Turns out, it was an easy “selection.”

18. A bestseller – The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Last year, The Name of the Wind was on my reading list. I quickly came to appreciate why this series of books has received such high acclaim. I have been looking forward to reading this second book of the series, and I’m not at all surprised it has achieved bestseller status. The only reason I haven’t already read this one is that book three hasn’t been released yet, and I don’t look forward to waiting for the conclusion.

19. A book you own but haven’t read yet – The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
I’m ashamed to admit that I could almost close my eyes and grab any book off my shelf and it would fit into this category. However, since I already had several chosen to read this year, my choices were a little narrower. I’ve been eager to read this one, hoping it would be one I could interest my boys in reading with me.

20. An epic poem – *Beowulf, translated by C. W. Kennedy
I decided I needed to read this one because I’m writing a novel about a bard. Epic poetry is the realm of a bard, and familiarizing myself with the form would be useful. I decided to listen to it instead, so right now, this is what I’m listening to during my commute to work. (You can find my review of Beowulf here.)

21. A book of poetry – *Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
I found this book at a used bookstore and picked it up for my boys for Christmas. We’ve started reading it, but so far, I think I might be enjoying it more than they are. (Read my review here.)

22. A book with a color in the title – Red Rising, by Pierce Brown
I think I discovered this book through Twitter, or more likely, a newsletter from the publisher I learned about via Twitter. I was intrigued immediately, and I can’t wait to read it. (You can read my review of this book here.)

23. A book with an appealing cover – Windwitch, by Susan Dennard
I was first drawn to this series last year when I found the first book, Truthwitch, on Twitter. The cover drew me to it instantly, and I decided I had to read it. I did, loved it, and now, I’m excited to read the second book which also has a beautiful cover. As well as an intriguing premise. (Find my review of Windwitch here.)

24. A self-published book – *Necromancer Falling, by Nat Russo
This is yet one more book I discovered through Twitter. I read the first book, Necromancer Awakening and was intrigued by the idea. After a slowish start, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one. (My review of this book can be found here.)

25. A book by an author you haven’t read before – Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas
The Twitter marketing scheme seems to be working, at least on me. This is another book I’m sure I first encountered through Twitter. The books are beautiful and intriguing, and look to be exactly the kind of book I love. But I better start with book one, so here goes.

26. A book set in a country you’ve never been to – The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
I was a little hard pressed to find a book that fit this category. Most of the books on my list are fantasy novels set in their own fantasy realm. Another is set on another planet! Of those that are set on Earth, most take place in the United States. This one, however, is apparently set, at least in part, in England, a place I’d love to go, but have never been.

 

I didn’t intend to write a second reading challenge post for 2017. I didn’t intend to try and read quite this many books. But you’ve got to admit, this list is a whole lot more interesting than my original list. I still plan to focus first on my “rainbow” of books lined out in the original post. The other books I’ll read (listen to!) as I can, and hope for the best. Now if only I didn’t need the day job, and could get paid to read books…

Gender Roles in Fiction: An Introduction

I’ve been doing a good deal of reading lately. Several of my recent reads were written a hundred years ago, or more. I’ve enjoyed the books, for the most part, but I’m running across interesting ideas. Ideas that make me want to know more.

The more I read, the more I find myself looking at how men and women are portrayed in stories. Including my own. And I think each time, how much of our concepts of gender roles are merely a cultural construct that has no real meaning.

Gender “norms” are only normal, because society has accepted them as such. If they truly were normal, and defined, they wouldn’t change from culture to culture and across time. Gender roles would simply be set like the laws of physics.

Clearly, this isn’t the case. Gender norms change across cultures and by generation. The only aspect of gender that seems to me to be truly a biological imperative are those centering on procreation. This is dictated by anatomy. Men are designed to impregnate while women are designed to carry and deliver new life.

I don’t believe biological differences should serve to lock men and women into set roles. Nor should they preclude anyone from pursuing what interests them. As a woman, and the mother of boys, I’d like to see both men and women treated fairly. One gender should not gain at the expense of the other. I have no wish to vilify men in order to glorify women.

Women are capable of an endless variety of activities outside the traditional mother and homemaker roles. Women are kind and cruel, intelligent and average, strong and weak, funny and sober. They are good at math and good at art. They are bad mothers and terrible musicians. The fact is, no one woman can be defined by the simple fact of her womanhood.

This is, of course, equally true of men. Men are protectors and they are abusers, leaders and followers. They are businessmen, athletes, nurses and cooks. They are sensitive and clueless. There is no single definition of “man” aside from anatomy.

I am curious now as to how gender norms have changed through the years, and how they are portrayed in fiction. As a writer of fiction myself, I want to be able to approach this subject with sensitivity and fairness, and not perpetuate the same, tired stereotypes.

I’ve started researching this subject to see where it might lead with my own fiction. I have some ideas I want to pursue. For my next post on gender roles I hope to present a comparison of a fictional work from a hundred years ago with a more modern example.

I am only just beginning to study this in detail, and I would welcome any input. I don’t have all the answers, and I’ll likely get some things wrong. Please feel free to contribute to the conversation. What are your thoughts on gender roles? Do you have any recommended reading to offer on the subject?

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy: a Review

I listened to Anna Karenina on audiobook. This was my first audio experience, and it was quite a doozy. More than thirty hours. I probably could have chosen something a little easier, but I thought, why not just go big.

This is one of those books that appears on a lot of those “must read” lists. Tolstoy frequents the top works of world literature lists. As such, it’s been one I’d like to read someday. Listening to it on audiobook, in some ways made this easier. It wasn’t exactly an easy book to follow along with, however.

Though she’s the title character, Anna Karenina isn’t the main character of this novel. That honor falls to Konstantin Levin, a Russian aristocrat who prefers the rural, country life to the city life of the wealthy nobility. The story follows him as he proposes to the woman he loves, suffers her rejection, then later pursues her again, this time successfully.

Levin struggles with issues of faith and with the meaning of life. Or the meaninglessness of it. He watches his brother die from a prolonged illness and begins to question his own mortality, sinking into a depression. After the birth of his son, Levin has a major crisis of faith, finally reaching a personal decision of what that should be.

The story also follows the progression of the love affair of Anna Karenina, detailing her passionless marriage, her doting affection for her son, and the deterioration of her relationship with her lover. There is a sort of parallel between Anna’s affair and that of her brother, Stepan Oblonsky, who is married to the sister of Levin’s wife. This serves to demonstrate the double standard between faithless men and faithless women.

I really struggled with writing this review, not quite sure how to convey my thoughts about this book. To be honest, I had a some difficulties with the book. The large cast of characters and the vastness of the story line weren’t easy to keep up with when listening to the story in twenty to thirty minute segments, sometimes days apart.

Overall, the book is amazing, and no doubt deserves to be on all those lists. There are some really beautiful passages, I wish I had made note of some of them. The book was difficult for me to relate to, however, and I’m not sure I really enjoyed it that much.

This distance could be due to a number of factors. One, the book was written more than a hundred years ago, first published in 1877. It was written in a language other than that which I read it, in a country who’s history I’m not familiar with. Also, several passages of the dialogue were read in French rather than English, making it impossible for me to understand. Unfortunately, I don’t speak French.

One thing I took away from this experience is that Anna Karenina is a maddening treatise on the state of marriage and the gross inequalities between men and women in such relationships. While much has changed in the hundred years since this book was written, much still has not.

I’m glad I experienced this book. My negative impressions haven’t impacted my new found love for audiobooks. Nor do I think they will keep me from someday picking up Tolstoy’s other, perhaps more famous novel, War and Peace. Maybe next time I’m feeling ambitious.

2017 Reading Challenge: The Year of the Series

I began this blog with a list of books I had chosen to read in response to a reading challenge that gave me twelve categories to fill with a book to read. Thus, it seems the appropriate thing to do to begin my second year of blogging with a similar post. It’s a new year, and I’ve put together a new list of books I intend to read in the coming months. If things go at all the way they did in 2016, this will not be all that I read. My goal is to read even more than I did in 2016.

Finding this 2016 Reading Challenge was a brilliant stroke of luck at just the moment I was trying to start this blog. It gave me something to focus on for an entire year, so I always had a least something I would be able to write about as I tried to determine my place in the blogging world. It also gave me the chance to practice writing book reviews, and to learn to think critically about what I was reading.

The list also provided a challenge for me, making me stretch my reading abilities and push myself to read even more. While to many readers, a mere twelve books in a year would be nothing at all, but for myself, having read only eleven books in 2015, this felt like a good goal to pursue. And, as it turns out, twelve books was only the beginning of what I would read in 2016. I did, in fact, double that goal, reading twenty-five books.

I ended up reading some interesting, and often surprising books. Most of the books I chose for the Challenge came off my already impossibly long “to be read someday” list of books. So in that respect I accomplished something I might not otherwise have done.

As 2016 wound to an end, I began looking for a new reading challenge list for 2017. I didn’t run across one that I thought would work for me, at least not in the same way the list for 2016 did. So instead, I looked at my book shelves and I began pulling out books I’ve been collecting for too long unread. It turns out, a large number of my books are a part of a series, and so, I have declared 2017 to be the year of the series. I have chosen seventeen books that I’ve been meaning to read, or in one case, reread. All of which, are part of a series of at least three books.

A couple are by authors I’ve read before, Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson. Three are a continuation of books I read in 2016, C. S. Lewis, Susan Dennard and Patrick Rothfuss. I decided to reread the Harry Potter series after binge watching the movies. And the others are books that in one way or another drew my attention and sparked my curiosity whether by their popularity, good reviews, by the movies that were made from them, or by some other means.

Having narrowed my choices down to seventeen books, I now had the dilemma of what order to put them in. I want to read all of them. Now. But, since I have to start somewhere, I sought input from my sister. She suggested I start with the Shadowhunter series by Cassandra Clare, as it’s one of her current favorites.

So, beginning with City of Bones, I put the books on my shelf in a sort of rainbow order, for lack of any other order that made any sense. The colors aren’t quite right to make a true rainbow (see the photo above), but it’s close enough. Here’s what I came up with:

City of Bones – Cassandra Clare
Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
I Am Number Four – Pitticus Lore
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher
The Maze Runner – James Dashner
The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
The Selection – Kiera Cass
Shadowmarch – Tad Williams
Prince Caspian – C. S. Lewis
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J. K. Rowling
Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
Windwitch – Susan Dennard
Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

The real challenge for me in reading through this list, will be not getting caught up in the series. I can see myself not wanting to stop with just the one book, but needing to finish the entire series before moving on. In some cases that will be impossible as the series isn’t finished yet. But it will be interesting to see which ones I can set aside after one book, and which ones will demand I read everything available.

This then, is my reading list for 2017. Seventeen books. All part of a larger series. Five by women authors, twelve by men. Most were published since 2005, a little more than half of them in the last ten years. It’s an ambitious list, as it in essence contains upwards of sixty books.

At first glance there doesn’t seem to be a lot of variety in the choices I’ve made. Most of the books are in the fantasy genre, and more specifically, young adult fantasy. Still, a list that contains authors such as C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin certainly won’t be boring. I’m excited to get started on this list. And I can’t wait to see what surprises come my way as the year progresses.

With that, let me say, Happy New Year! Happy 2017! Happy reading!