A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms book coverI recently read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway because for the first time in a long time I didn’t have my next several books lined up to read and I impulsively felt like reading something old. This book was first published in 1929 (nearing 100 years) and is often mentioned as one of Hemingway’s best books or most often discussed at least. I picked it up and surprisingly had it finished in just a few days. I felt as if I could have finished it in a day or an afternoon if I was inclined to do so. It reads easily and quickly and perhaps that is simply Hemingway’s style though I can see how some people may struggle with his form.

The ease of his prose may be the best part of the book. The story is written well enough that you can get through quickly, but the story itself is a bit lacking when it comes to characters. Granted, this book was written in a time when women were still often treated as objects (which is a bit distracting within the book) and men made all decisions, but there is little that makes you care for either Catherine Barkley or Lieutenant Henry.

The story takes place during World War I and follows an American who is an ambulance driver for the Italian army and who enters a relationship with a nurse. This brief oversimplification of the story may lead you to believe it is a romanticized wartime novel, but I must warn you that is absolutely not the case. The merit I found in this book is the description of the war and the return to simpler times which may sound contradictory, but what I mean by simpler is a world society that wasn’t connected 24/7 through technology and people lived their lives, even through a war, in a way that was much simpler than what we know today. I will admit simpler doesn’t translate to easier. It was just a much different world 100 years ago. Sometimes it is nice to see glimpses into that world through novels like this one. It is also interesting to read a book about World War I that was much closer to the actual event and not clouded by how history views the war, and was not written by someone who was not alive during the war.

I know Hemingway is known to have a machismo complex within his writing, and throughout his life, and he is considered a master of literature. However, I think his name has become an icon of something other than what he was or has been placed on a large pedestal and glorified for both good and awful reasons. I also think that many people have not actually read his work, and younger generations would not read it given a choice. I assume that most who read Hemingway today do so in an educational setting. I could be wrong. His is a also name that likely gets invoked by people who claim to have read his work without actually having read it. The same is probably true for Fitzgerald and Dostoevsky and other literary giants who wrote what are considered classics today.

Regardless of the good and bad centered around Hemingway as a name, and the good and bad present within A Farewell to Arms, I am writing this as a book recommendation because I think it was worth reading (for me at least despite having both liked and disliked portions of the book). Perhaps you have not read Hemingway yet and want to give his work a shot. Or perhaps you’ve tried his work and prefer to stay away. Maybe you have always known of Hemingway and stayed away because of his large presence in literature and deem him overrated without actually knowing why you think so. All are valid reasons to make your choice. I only wrote this post because I read the book and found some merit in it. Only you can decide whether or not you want to give it a chance.

Happy Reading.

House of Many Ways

House of Many Ways Book CoverHouse of Many Ways is Diana Wynne Jones’s sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. However, much like the companion novel Castle in the Air, this book spends the first half following a new character without any connection to the world of Howl’s except where magic is involved. It is really just before the halfway point that we get to see the connection, which is primarily Sophie.

Our main character for this book is Charmain Baker, who I must admit is not a very likeable character (despite the fact she is an avid reader herself). She is tasked with watching over her great uncle’s magical house while he is away receiving medical treatment from the elves. She does grow throughout the book, as good characters should, but she is a bit self-centered in a way that doesn’t leave much room to connect. The overall story and magic are fun much like the previous novels so it is definitely worth a read, and it is always good to see more of Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer.

I am glad I decided to read the three Howl books in order of publication because the events of Castle in the Air take place roughly two years prior to House of Many Ways and a few characters show up in this final installment. Though it is not necessary to read Castle in the Air to understand what occurs in House of Many Ways, the experience is enhanced having read the companion novel first. In all honesty, I would dare to call this book a companion novel as well instead of a true sequel because it focuses on new characters and events quite outside that of Howl’s Moving Castle. Some of the locations and the magic are similar, but the same could be said of Castle in the Air. They are all linked but none are truly cohesive in a way you would expect of a continuous story. Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer are more support characters and the overall story has little to do with the first book.

House of Many Ways was first published in 2008. This is 18 years after Castle in the Air and 22 years after Howl’s Moving Castle (and 4 years after the Howl’s Moving Castle film). Despite the time between publications, these stories are all magical in their own way and read as if they could have all been written at the same time. Diana Wynne Jones was truly a gifted and magical writer.

Happy Reading.

Castle in the Air

Castle in the Air Book CoverCastle in the Air is another magical, wholesome story by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1990 and is considered a companion novel (not a sequel) to her book Howl’s Moving Castle which was published in 1986. I wasn’t sure how it related to Howl’s because it had no real connection until about halfway through the book. The entire story has elements that reminded me of Aladdin, with a flying carpet and a genie, but then the second half enters a realm similar to Howl’s Moving Castle. Fans of both will likely love this book, as I did.

Overall, it is a fun read that gets better as you go along. I felt there was a slower period in the middle when things begin to transition, but the action ramps up and all the pieces fall together in the end. This is one thing I really enjoyed about this book. Things that occur in the first few chapters either persist or reappear in the end to show their impact on the overall story. Some of it is whimsical, sure, but there is never anything superfluous, out of place, or unexplained in a Diana Wynne Jones novel (at least from my experience). Though I expected this book to be entertaining, I was yet again surprised how much I enjoy Diana Wynne Jones’s work.

I must admit that I plan to read this book, and many others, to my kids as they get older. I think Diana Wynne Jones weaves incredible stories that children will love and us adults (aka physically grown children) also enjoy. I will be reading the true sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle shortly to complete the Howl’s “trilogy” and I will discuss that book here as well.

Happy Reading.

July & August Reading Lineup

I ended up finishing my May reading lineup in June, so I figured I’d just give myself some extra time to get through these books. Luckily, I am finishing my current graduate courses and will have a six week break before my next few classes start up, so I should have some more time to read.

Castle in the Air Book CoverI am currently reading Castle in the Sky by Diana Wynne Jones and hope to finish it up soon. This is a companion novel to Howl’s Moving Castle which is a favorite of mine. I am about halfway through and there haven’t been any connections to Howl’s yet, so I’m not sure how it is considered a “companion” novel just yet.

House of Many Ways Book CoverMy next read is actually the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle which is titled House of Many Ways. I decided to read Castle in the Sky first because it was published before House of Many Ways and I just decided to read these books in order of publication. I will likely write a recommendation for these books and, if I do, I may do one post for both books dependent upon how much they have in common.

After these, I’m not entirely sure what I will read next. I typically pick up whatever I am in the mood for, but I think I may begin the Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman. I recently acquired the omnibus editions of this series, and I have been meaning to check it out. I don’t often read comics (which is somewhat surprising considering my interests), but I have heard a lot about this series and know many people who really enjoy it. I honestly don’t know much about the overall story. I am a fan of Neil’s work though and I’m certain it will be great. I may even begin this series alongside the Diana Wynne Jones books. I typically don’t read more than one book at a time. I’ll sometimes read one fiction and one non-fiction book simultaneously, but I like to focus on one story. For some reason I don’t think it will bother me since Sandman is in comic format. We will see.

Sandman Omnibus Editions

I hope your are having some fun reading adventures this summer. I am actually volunteering for my local library’s annual book sale next month which I am looking forward to especially since it was cancelled this past year. I’ll likely acquire many more books that will sit on my shelves for a bit before I get to them.

Happy Reading.

The Library at Mount Char

Library at Mount Char book coverThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins was first published in 2015, and I must say I am surprised I don’t hear about this book more often. Honestly, the one and only time I heard about this book was a few years ago. I put it on my list to read and recently got around to actually reading it. This book is by far the best book I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved it. This is one of those books, for me, where you wish you could discover it again for the first time.

I went into the book knowing nothing about the story. It has been some time since I started a book without any notion of what to expect or having little knowledge about the premise. This may have added to my thrill of discovering what happened next and learning about the universe the story inhabits, but it is overall a great read that was right up my alley of interests.

I’m going to provide just a glimpse, or feeling, of what this book contains so hopefully you can discover it in a similar manner. The best word I can use to describe this book is “ancient” because there are elements that lead you to believe there are forces at play within our world that have been around since time began. The main story centers around a handful of characters, a dysfunctional group of people with strange powers, and a mysterious “father” figure. The basic relationships somewhat remind of me The Umbrella Academy but less familial. There are supernatural elements but nothing feels out of place. I believe this book is typically shelved under fantasy fiction, but it also includes science fiction elements. All of which are reasons I like it so much.

This book is definitely for mature readers, so I don’t recommend it to younger audiences. I was engrossed in the characters and events of the story from the start. Again, I’m not sure why I don’t hear about this book more often, but I hope this recommendation will introduce this story to new readers and help spread the word.

Happy Reading.