Weekly Roundup: February 3, 2012 by Matt Burkhardt

It's difficult to believe it's February already. It seems like only yesterday I revitalized this blog by transitioning it from being about writing to reading. I'm extremely pleased with the results.

It's been an interesting week for me. I finished and reviewed John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. I also listened to P. G. Wodehouse's Right Ho, Jeeves. Although I did thoroughly enjoy Right Ho, Jeeves, it didn't seem to have the momentum of the other Jeeves novels I've read. Even though I understand how funny it is to let Bertie screw things up only to force him to swallow his pride, I found myself getting antsy in parts and just wanting to get to the next thing. It was the third Jeeves novel I'd listened to in a rather short span and maybe that was a little too much for me. But, I soldiered through and, in the end, I really did like it.

When I finished Right Ho, Jeeves, I downloaded Veronica Roth's Divergent. I remember reading Grace's review of this book over at Feeding My Book Addiction and thinking it sounded interesting.

Imagine my surprise when it began calling to me, much like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I think it's been nagging me for a while, to be honest, in a "you really want to read me" type way. So I caved, bought it on Kindle, and tucked in.

I'm not finished with it yet. I'm about 70% through, but it gripped me from the opening pages and has never really let me go. I don't want to go into detail yet because I want to do the book justice in my review when I finish it. Suffice it to say that this book has a fierce young female protagonist who is a fish out of water in a dystopian version of Chicago.

The energy of the writing and the strengths (and weaknesses) of the characters combined with the obstacles they face is like holding lightning in the palm of your hand. If you like: strong female protagonists, dystopian literature, fish out of water stories, coming of age stories, or just a damn good read, get thee to a library or bookstore and check out Veronica Roth's Divergent. If that hasn't enticed you enough, my review of the full novel should be along in the next few days, but I suggest you take my word for it, or check out Grace's review (linked above).

I'd like to give you an idea of what's coming up on my reading list, but I'm so enthralled by Divergent that I can't think about other books right now. Perhaps Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks, maybe I will finally sit down and read Stephen R. Lawhead's Hood, though I'm really digging first-person narrators right now so I might continue in that vein and start The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Time will tell.

Are you reading Divergent yet? If not, what precisely are you waiting for?

Review: Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse by Matt Burkhardt

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Audio version read by Jonathan Cecil

Description (courtesy of Goodreads.com):

Has Jeeves Finally Lost His Grip? When Jeeves suggest dreamy, soulful Gussie Fink-Nottle don scarlet tights and a false beard in his bid to capture the affections of soppy Madeline Basset, Wooster decides matters have definitely got out of hand. Especially when it comes to a disagreement over a certain white mess jacket with brass buttons. Taking Jeeves off the case, he embarks on a little plan of his own to bring Madeline and Gussie together. But when things go disastrously wrong who can Bertie turn to in his hour of need but Jeeves?

My Thoughts:

This is another adventure featuring half-wit Bertie Wooster and his canny manservant Jeeves. In this tale, Bertie has spent two months in Cannes with his Aunt Deliah and cousin Angela, during which he purchased a white mess jacket that seemed to him all the rage but which, upon returning home, he learns that Jeeves feels is not fit for someone of Bertie's station. It is this incident that causes Bertie to think that Jeeves has lost his touch.

Bertram decides he must take matters into his own hands where it concerns solving the problems of his friends and relatives. Thus, engagements made and broken and made again, Aunt Dahlia's supreme cook, Anatole, resigns, and many other mishaps ensue as Bertie presses ahead advocating his own misguided (if well-intentioned) advice rather than consulting Jeeves.

I think this is another great romp with the characters of the Wooster universe. Wodehouse made me feel sympathetic for Bertie who, having employed a brilliant manservant whom people always approach for advice, feels insignificant and tries to assert himself to less than desirable, but quite funny, results. At the same time, however, I wanted to shake some sense into Bertie, who should know better than to spurn Jeeves' advice.

One thing leads to another and things escalate in this comedy of errors until it falls to Jeeves to save the day.

Month in Review: January 2012 by Matt Burkhardt

At the end of my first month of focusing on reading and reviews rather than writing, I must say I'm pleased with the progress I've made I've pushed myself to read more and managed to review seven out of nine books that I read.  Here's a look at what I accomplished on the reading front in January 2012:

The first thing I finished in January was George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, book five of his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.  I was overjoyed at finishing this book, though mostly because I'd been listening to all five audiobooks more or less straight through.  I'm glad I read it but I'm also happy to wait however long for the next installment while I immerse myself in novels with fewer characters and more plot.  For now at least.  When I finished that one, I went on to read the following nine books:

2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King:
3. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
4. Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
5. The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
6.  Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
7. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
9. Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

What's Coming Up?

In February, I plan to continue reading as much as possible and may even try and read ten full new books.

Here's a look at a few things I've got my eye on:

Feed by Mira Grant (as part of the Feeding My Book Addiction Horror readalong in honor of Valentine's Day.)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Mistery by Stephen King

Those are just seven possible books I may review.  Perhaps I'll toss in another P G. Wodehouse novel, as there are several left I wish to read.

If you've read something lately that you think I should check out or have read something on my reading list you have an opinion on, please feel free to hit the comments!

Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green by Matt Burkhardt

The Fault in Our Stars

 by John Green

Description (courtesy of Goodreads.com):

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

I had heard about this novel from someone I follow on Twitter who had hyped it quite a bit.  I normally am allergic to hype and tend to run the other way when something is proclaimed as A Book You Must Read.  This applies to films, plays, musicals, most things, really.  You may wonder, then, why I picked up this book.  Simply put, I trust writers.  Twitter allows me to interact with other writers and I"ve yet to be steered wrong when a fellow writer has recommended a book, either directly to me or to the masses.

Although the book gets off to a great start with Hazel Grace as an endearing narrator and her family as believable people who have been to hell and back, I struggled a little bit in reading this.  I think this was partly because I knew it was about a young girl with cancer.  I think in the back of my mind I was afraid of how real this book might get.  Despite, or perhaps as a result of Hazel being a funny narrator who's making the best of her situation, I worried how bad things might get.

Everything did not turn up roses for everyone in the end, but I thought that John Green did an amazing job of maintaining an appropriate distance between the reader and the most intimate details of living with (or dying from) cancer.  His prose is effective without being gruesome, so that you get just enough of an impression to feel for the characters without it getting grizzly and/or uncomfortable.

I think this is a fantastic book.  John Green did an exemplary job of bringing characters to life and gave them obstacles that, regardless of the outcome, they could not shirk from.  As a reader, I cheered their successes, rallied in their respective corners during their setbacks, and grieved for their losses.

In an interesting coincidence, at the end, when I could see whole picture, this novel reminded me of something Ann Lamott related in Bird by Bird (which I reviewed here).

Ms. Lamott was relating the story of how, six months before her friend Pammy passed away due to cancer or related illness, she had called a doctor looking for what she called "a positive spin on some depressing developments."  The doctor, she says, was unable to provide solace, but instead gave advice.  "Watch her very carefully right now," the doctor said, "because she's teaching you how to live."

Through the stories of Hazel, Augustus Waters, Isaac, their families, and friends, John Green delivers a sobering but, ultimately, uplifting story about young people with the deck stacked against them, battling to survive, armed with the understanding of what's truly important in life.

Weekly Roundup: January 27, 2012 by Matt Burkhardt

Another week has gone by and February is nearly upon us.  It's a little hard to believe, but there it is.  This past week, I had set the goal of finishing John Green's The Fault in our Stars and listening to two Jeeves audiobooks by P.G. Wodehouse.  I did manage to finish Thank You, Jeeves, but the second Jeeves book I intended to listen to, Right Ho, Jeeves, just didn't seem to want to stick.  I kept losing track of things, so I decided to put that on hold and instead read Anne Lamott's fantastic book on writing, Bird by Bird which, as I describe in my review, had a profound impact on me.

On Thursday, I went to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square in Manhattan, looking to kill some time before work and get some ideas for books I would like to read.   Miraculously, or because most of the books were only available in hardcover, I managed to walk out without buying any of these enticing books, though they've been added to my to-read list on Goodreads:

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why
Fellowes, Julian. Snobs
Helitzer Mel. Comedy Writing Secrets, 2nd Edition
O'Malley, Daniel. The Rook

I will also be taking part in the Feeding My Book Addiction Horror Readalong in February, during which I'll read one of the following books:

Grant, Mira. Feed
King, Stephen, Misery
Koontz, Dean. 77 Shadow Street
Stoker, Bram. Dracula
Whitehead, Colson. Zone One

Lastly, I must say I'm pleased with my productivity this month so far and I look to end the month on a strong note by finishing The Fault in our Stars and possibly one more book.  So far this month, I finished one book I'd started in 2011 (A Dance with Dragons) and I read seven more.  I should have no trouble whatsoever with meeting my goal of reading fifty books this year.  I wonder if I can make it to one hundred.

For the time being, I'll concentrate on finishing The Fault in our Stars and digging into Stephen R. Lawhead's Hood.