BeSerene's 2009 Book Challenge
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#1: Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling
Like others I've talked with, I felt that the best part of this companion book -- the collection of fictional "wizarding fairy tales" referenced in the Harry Potter series -- was the "commentary" by Dumbledore. Even so, the tales are clever and bright, and I now have the urge to reread the series (yet again) to see just how well they tie in. Great. More books to read. :)
Actually, I am thinking about doing that devotional over again this year, but journaling along with it in an attempt to actually retain and reproduce the information. Given the volume (and, one would assume, speed) of books that you read, how do you retain and recall all of what you consume? Any tips? :)
Hope you are feeling better. Being home sick is the perfect opportunity to get ahead on your reading!
#2:Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I really enjoyed this book, which was about the only book by Neil Gaiman that I hadn't read... oh, wait, I just thought of one -- I haven't read Interworld, darn it. Wait, not darn it -- woo! More! Anyway, moving along... Everyone already knows how much I like Neil Gaiman's work, so I'll skip the gushing. I think you can tell that 'Neverwhere' was an early piece, and was originally a different medium all together, but the story falls together nicely and is, expectedly, very visual, even cinematic both in its descriptions and its level of, frankly, grossness. It fits neatly into the "underworld"-type subgenre of sf/f, but also does a few different things. The villains, bloody as they are, happen also to be excessively and occasionally ironically verbose, which was entertaining. The mystery of who is on who's side is compelling and the twists are unexpected, so I suppose I would call it a page-turner, much as I hate to use that. Altogether, though I can't call it my very favorite of Gaiman's work, I found it to be both thoughtful and amusing, which equals a good book to me.
#3: Looking For Alaska by John Green
I heard John Green speak at a teen literature conference a couple of years ago and bought this book there (got it signed -- yay!) but had let it languish on my TBR mountain since. When I saw it on some "best of" lists on the LT Read YA Lit group, I thought that I should move it up the pile and I'm glad I did. It's a sad book, but also a redemptive one. Though it is YA, and the characters are teenagers, the vividness of the process of grief as Green has written is can speak to anyone, as can the idea of seeking one's 'Great Perhaps'. I actually dog-eared a couple of pages (hold those gasps, book-respecting people) because I felt the philosophical statements therein were things that I needed to consider for my own life. The best thing, though, is that all this philosphy and life-affirming advice is not overly didactic -- it seems to happen naturally, as the characters work through their own stories, and sometimes accidentally, as insight often does, and so one does not feel preached at. Green has avoided one of the great pitfalls of writing for 'young people' by treating the lives of sixteen-year-olds as lives, not merely vehicles for a lesson. Consequently, the lesson affects us even more profoundly. This is remarkable stuff.
And now I'm going to go amp myself up on decongestant. Yup, we're starting the year off right around here.
Neverworld has been ordered and is on the way, hopefully, so I will see if I like it as much as many of the readers in this group do.
I did read it last year and loved it too, I really love your review!
The title of the Dutch translation is "The Great Perhaps".
#4: Sounder by William Armstrong
Reading this as an adult, I realize that this is one of those "a dog and his boy" books that is not really about the dog at all. If I had read it as a child, I think I would have fallen into despair, because even in other books where -- SPOILER ALERT -- the dog dies, there is at least some redemptive, hopeful moment, as with the fern in Where the Red Fern Grows (which still makes me cry). The matter-of-fact realism of Armstrong's window into the situation of black sharecroppers in our not-so-distant past provides no light of hope; the reader, looking back, must bring her own to the book, and that is a difficult task. This is a short book, ostensibly for children, and it has beautiful moments, but read it only when you are prepared to feel real sadness.
Decided to read some grown-up books for a change.
#5: Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson
So the cover blurb claims that this Shakespeare biography is vivid, fast-paced, and witty. And the fact that it's written by Bill Bryson does, at first glance, support that ambitious claim. But in the world of dead people biographies, Shakespeare is the king of dry, vague, and interminable, so I still had some pretty strong doubts when I sat down to read this volume. I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised. I will admit that, if you compare its vivacity to Bryson's travel writings, this piece will seem dull indeed, but compared to the vast reams of cotton-mouth-inspiring scholarship on Shakespeare's life, this version is downright cinematic (in a good way). The biography is relatively slim, as it should be, considering how few facts we have on Shakespeare's life. Bryson takes an admirably pragmatic view of the entire production -- he delivers the facts, and then takes an amusing gander at some of the non-facts that others have offered up to academic eternity over the years, all the while pointing out just how non-factual these tidbits are. While there are a few moments where Bryson drifts into some minor speculation, the vast majority of the book is crisp, quick, and frank about exactly what we know, and think we know, about Shakespeare's life. There are comparatively few laugh-out-loud moments here, but who was really expecting hilarity? Still, the fact that there were any (and there were, what with Bryson's dry wit and all) was a delight and made an interesting read all the more enjoyable. Academics will find this book good clean fun, and those who have a passing interest in Shakespeare, but not a consuming passion for his overpicked history, will appreciate it as a solid introduction to the man behind the bard. Heartily recommended.
#6:The Gathering by Anne Enright
Oh, Anne Enright, how I wish I could hate you. Let me share a little story: about two or three years ago (well before she won the Booker prize), I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Anne Enright when I arranged for her to speak to a class of study abroad students in Dublin. My professor, who as part of the study abroad course was teaching an Irish women's literature section, was particularly interested in Enright's perspective as, whaddyaknow, an Irish woman writer, but apparently this label offended Enright to no end. When she arrived, after a short train ride from Bray, she was the surliest, most unapproachable cow I have ever heard speak. She sat at the table, barely willing to articulate more than a few words together, and alienated the students that we were paying her several hundred euros to enlighten (for heaven's sake, even in some minor way). It was, at a word, frustrating, and so this summer, when I met her again at a larger and more formal function, I was loathe to allow myself any enjoyment at the occasion. I rolled my eyes as she spoke about the newly discovered burden of fame and felt quite satisfied when she gave evidence of being, if not so surly as before, at least solidly antagonistic toward much of the world. It was enough, at least, to perpetuate my particular understanding of her a little while longer.
Actually, I would have been content to heartily dislike the woman for the rest of my life, if she weren't such a damn genius on the page. I say this, so you can believe it, with the full weight of a grudge long held -- I wish I could consign this woman's work to the bin, at least verbally, with some erudite critical lashing, but the fact is, the fact remains, that she is a bloody genius. This book, The Gathering, for which she won the Booker prize, is the sort of novel that clings to you. Just as its characters do within the story, the book itself gets under your skin. You find yourself looking out of windows, or neglecting the whistling kettle, not so much thinking, not coherently, about reading one more chapter, but feeling an indistinct urge to return to the narrative -- to see the finish of these lives, as much as you will ever see it. There is a certain magic to her first-person style that feels so intimate, it's almost as if you, the reader, are becoming tangled in the narrator's emotions. And these are not happy emotions. This is no romance novel where one delights in the happy bubble bursting in your chest as the love ripples out of the page. One does not want these feelings and yet there is no escaping them. "Drawn in" is a phrase we use when we speak of good books, of favorite plots and fantasy epics, but it is not quite right here. It's more like being hooked, and struggling to be free.
The prose is occasionally complex, occasionally even slightly incoherent, which is where Enright seems to excel even in comparison with the rest of her writing. Inside the narrator's head, things are a jumble, and so we are jumbled along with them, and even clarity is not quite clear, in the end. I cannot say that this book is charming, or delightful, or any of those bright, easy words that describe so many of the books I like to read. I don't really know that I liked to read this book at all. But I was compelled to, and it was brilliant, and as much as I would rather tell you that this whole thing was a stinking pile, I can't -- if you are a reader of literary fiction, or a connoisseur of prose, or even just an emotional type, then it is for you that I admit Anne Enright's brilliance. Surly thing that she is.
I am happy -- well, happy might be too strong a word, but what else have I got? -- to have encouraged others to read Enright's book. It would be nice if, instead of being grumpy, she appreciated that her fame and its accompanying living is a direct result of the "little people" who did things like, say, assigned her books to undergraduate classes back in the good ol' days, but maybe that is asking too much. The artistic temperment is, perhaps, the price we all pay for genius. :)
#8: Super in the City by Daphne Uviller
For some reason the touchstone keeps linking to some Spider-Man book and doesn't give me any "others" options. Weird.
Anyway, moving on. This was my most recent (December?) Early Reviewer book. Unlike the two books I read previously, it is, in fact, an indulgent piece of fluff -- a very entertaining piece of fluff. Realistically, that's all I really need to say, but I suppose since it was sent to me for free, I should repay the obligation with a few details.
The novel has pretensions toward mystery, and in fact feels a little bit like the first in a sleuth series, so I won't be surprised if a few months down the road the early reviewers list features a "Zephyr Zuckerman, P.I." sequel. The problem here, however (and this is not unique to Uviller's book, but happens frequently in various ways to many "first" books) is that the novel isn't quite sure that mystery is what it wants to be when it grows up. It also quite likes the idea of being a modern romance novel, and spends much of its time developing in that direction. On the other hand, it feels obligated, having introduced the idea at the beginning, to develop its "Sex and the City" -esque homage to urban female foursomes (in this case, occasionally a fivesome) and its love affair with New York City (occasionally feeling like "The Local's Guide to the Village"). While I am a fan of both genre crossover and thinking outside of the box (and have no inherent issue with the concept of an urban chick-lit romance mystery), the trouble here is that the novel never quite finds its balance. It becomes so focused, often for chapters at a time, on one aspect of its multi-faceted nature that it and the reader forget about, say, the mystery that's supposed to be unfolding; the shifts to the next facet are therefore awkward and feel ill-timed.
Beyond its genre-identity crisis, the novel has other balance problems. Few would expect originality in a piece with such a title, and the general lack of it here doesn't trouble me -- I'm all for Renaissance-style poetic license and a little artistic "borrowing" can make a story satisfyingly familiar -- but there are moments when the writing treads painfully near the tired and the cliche. Some of the moments are obviously deliberate (or so one hopes), as with the opening, which includes one hopeless gem ("Gregory.... who wound up saving me in ways I didn't even know I needed to be saved.") that is thankfully, if you will forgive me, redeemed by the words immediately following: "(I don't mean saved in a Jesus way. This is not a Jesus-saving kind of story.)" Yeah, I laughed at that too. There are some snappy, funny moments here, but there are also moments where Uviller seems to forget that the uber-cheese needs to be cut with a healthy dose of wit or sarcasm, lest the reader be injured by excessive eye-rolling.
Still, unbalanced as it is (not unlike some people I know), Uviller's debut entertains with a quick pace and a light story that, even in its awkward moments, is pretty enjoyable. I don't anticipate that this one will be heaped with literary awards, but if you are in the mood for an urban chick-lit mystery romance, you could do a lot worse.
There are few things more enjoyable on a bitterly cold winter day than to stay in bed with a good book. Inkheart is a very good book, and so today has been a very enjoyable day. I've read the novel a couple of times now -- this most recent reading was prompted by the film version, which I saw last night -- and it hasn't disappointed me yet. Funke has earned and even exceeded comparisons to J.K. Rowling and other acclaimed YA fantasy authors, and this first-of-a-trilogy page-turner demonstrates why. Tighter, richer in detail, and more thoughtful than many other fantasies written for younger audiences, Inkheart gives even the die-hard fantasy reader more than she expects.
Here the familiar elements of fantasy -- magic, fairies, evil villains and sharp, stalwart child-heroes -- present themselves but do not dominate the stage. Instead, the central figure is the book, or the idea of the book, itself; that dream that so many of us have had, that wish that we could encounter the characters we read about, or pop into the books ourselves, gets a uniquely envisioned airing in Inkheart. Funke's vision reminds us -- in fact, the book tells us directly -- that adventures (and villains) are much easier to deal with when we only read about them. There is a reason why the dark forces of our imagination do and should remain imaginary, but Funke asks the reader to confront that wonderful "what if" -- what if villains like the Forty Thieves of the Arabian Nights or Captain Hook, or other, even more sinister characters, were drawn into our world through words read aloud?
Of course, as in any good novel, adventure ensues and good and evil confront each other, and you can probably guess that, for the most part, good comes out on top. The thing that truly makes this tale stand out, though, is its constant, self-reflexive awareness of the power of a book, and even more importantly, the power of the reader. Wonderful, in every sense of the word.
Oh, and regarding the film: Of course it cannot really hold a candle to the book, but I think they did a fair job with this one. It has been Hollywoodized, obviously; the characters are paler, less vivid versions of their book-selves -- Dustfinger is a little less two-faced and more appealing (oh how I love Paul Bettany!), Meggie a little less stubborn and significantly less active, Capricorn a little less inhuman -- but are generally true to their conceptions. There are unavoidable changes, as well as some that simply make more cinematic sense -- for example, the conclusion to Dustfinger's side of the story is very different in the film, but very satisfying in that context, considering the changes they built into the character throughout (although it does make me wonder, without giving too much away, whether the movie company has any intention of filming the sequels, a difficult task given the choices made). I suspect that one of the big reasons why the film reproduces much of the spirit of the book is that Cornelia Funke was one of the producers, which I was pleased to see. Of course, I did feel a twinge of irony as I sat in a dark theater and watched a film that was all about the power of reading. :)
I love my myth courses. It was the first class I got hired for after I finished my Master's actually, so I'm doubly fond of it. (I'm still an adjunct, but that's okay -- at least I get to teach cool stuff.) :)
I'd be delighted to hear what you do in yours.
-- edited to correct spelling (sometimes I get so geeked, I miss letters).
It's fun to teach the myth course, but, as with all in-translation/service courses, I find it exhausting.
I am glad to see that primary sources are being used elsewhere. I think that using them makes the subject matter so much more immediate. Just my 2 cents.
Finished this last night, and this morning started the third in the series, Inkdeath, which I'd not read before.
As with many "second in a trilogy" books, Inkspell has an unfinished feel. The last lines, instead of concluding the story, simply stop. One is left with a "to be continued" rather than an ending, and that affects the impression of the book, especially when Inkheart felt so beautifully self-contained (though it does leave room for a sequel, obviously). Adding to the effect is that Inkspell is set mostly in the Inkworld, rather than the real world in the previous volume, and (SPOILER ALERT) the location hasn't changed -- the characters haven't gone home -- by the end. The total effect of this is that Inkspell is not as satisfying as the book it follows.
That said, it is still a beautiful book. The vivid Inkworld is an intriguing and complex place, the characters are still likable, if perhaps a little simpler than in the previous book (particularly Dustfinger, who leaves behind his two-faced nature when he crosses over, and that makes him a bit more ordinary than he used to be). Because the attention has shifted to the Inkworld, this feels a little more like a standard fantasy, but the focus still includes the power of words and reading.
Overall, this is an enjoyable follow-up, but -- as is common -- not as remarkable as its predecessor.
#11: Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
Oh my good gracious me, this was quite a book. It had adventures, including several into Death and back (a bit of a revolving door, that whole Death thing), young love (and it's not quite who you think it is), parenting (all over again), giants and fairies and Night-Mares, oh my! In short, Funke crammed pretty much everything in here, and surprisingly enough it never feels a bit crowded. Seriously, this was a rollicking and, for the most part, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. There are only two problems that I have, and actually they are mostly the same problem, just looked at two ways: first, the fact is that the sequels are really rather different animals from the first book, Inkheart, which is the one that I truly love -- they are both a bit more traditionally fantasy, even though the wonderfully lush descriptions, the brilliant awareness of words, and the cleverly original spins on some fantasy tropes make them very, very good fantasy; and secondly, because the series and its characters have come so far from where they started (WARNING! SPOILER -- sort of -- AHEAD!), they can't get back there, on any level. It leaves one -- okay, me -- feeling a little bit conflicted at the final conclusion. Perhaps I was only a bit uncomfortable because, had it been my story (not my story to write, but my story to live) I think I would have been much wimpier. Still, self-estimations aside, this series is a delight, even if the delight declines by an infinitessimal degree in the sequels.
This came highly recommended, and I could see why. It isn't every day that a book narrated by an autistic boy manages to avoid the treacle of overly dramaticized pity and become a truly ascendant piece of literature on its own cleverness. This is just such a book.
But let's not get all mushy about it. The best literature, not just in sci-fi but across genres, asks the audience to consider a "what if?" -- what if your quiet neighbor really was an ax-murderer? What if a fairy flew out of a book that someone was reading out loud? What if we could actually get inside the head of a someone whose brain operates on a different level than our own? -- and this book asks its reader to immerse herself in a pattern of thinking -- and a style of narrative -- that is decidedly different from the average. It is the narrative style -- which is by turns simple, visual, erratic, chaotic, and clear -- that sets this novel apart. The plot itself is average enough, but the progression of the narrative, with its hint of post-modernity (though, fortunately, none of that post-modern nihilism), is entrancing. There is something not quite comfortable about the novel at first, much the way that, for most of us (and I'm simply making an observation here) there is something not quite comfortable about meeting someone who is considered mentally challenged (we have, in my experience, a similar reaction when we perceive someone to be mentally unstable). Fortunately for us, this is fiction, and it is written from the internal perspective of the character we have just so uncomfortably met, so the initial discomfort is brief. After the story has concluded, however, a certain amount of it returns. Is it the gentle prompting of the real-world scenario? Is it the reminder that we still can't quite handle "people like that"? One feels a strange combination of entertainment and guilt, I suppose, though I don't think Haddon was out to provoke guilt. While you read, it seems impressively free of judgement, but the book, intentionally or not, needles without you noticing. And that is part of its brilliance as well, because even as quickly as we pass through the narrative, the reaction we have to it sticks with us. I'm still not totally able to articulate the full measure of my reaction, but this novel is remarkable and, what's more, it's an enjoyable read.
I never felt the discomfort as you describe reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time maybe because I am "mentally not very stable" myself and more used to people reacting that way towards me.
Re #50: I know you did, dear. Thanks for never hesitating to say 'I told you so' -- you are so often right. :)
Regarding Jonathan Lethem, I've never found him to be appropriate for kids, but in terms of, I don't know, dealing with challenges in a different way, Lethem's writing might be perfect for your friend. He definitely doesn't pull any punches, but he can be disturbing. His stories in Wall of the Sky, Wall of the Eye were pretty gut-wrenching at times, but he is brilliant. He burns himself out a lot (he once taught at Clarion, shortly before my time there, and I heard that he was so intense and threw himself into the work so hard that they thought they might have to take him to the hospital to prevent him making himself ill -- he never came back after that). He also got the MacArthur fellowship (the "genius grant") a while back, so you know he does some remarkable work.
Let me say this right off the bat -- I am a Jane Austen addict, though not as obsessed as some, and so am naturally inclined to enjoy this book. If you are not a Jane Austen addict, however, you will probably spend much of it scratching your head (if you bother to pick it up in the first place).
Though this probably has broader appeal than Austenland, a novel on a similar though more realistically grounded theme (and one that I found, frankly, rip-snortingly hilarious -- Rigler's novel isn't nearly as funny, even though it sometimes tries to be), it's still not going to win many fans who have never heard of the Jane Austen Society of North America. That said, it is worth a read -- there is a lot of "what would you do?" enjoyment to be had here as we watch a 21st century woman struggle with the literal and figurative confines of a 19th century woman's life. The faux pas and missteps that the main character makes are, one hates to admit it, the same that any modern Austen fan would stumble over, right down to the babbling fan-girl moment (it's really cringe-worthy) that occurs when Miss Austen herself makes a brief cameo appearance.
The novel's weakest moments are at the end, when the author is obviously forced to figure out how to resolve the "I've-woken-up-in-someone-else's-body two-hundred-years-in-the-past" scenario that she has set up. The result is a new-agey lesson in self-actualization that, while earnest and good-intentioned, falls pretty flat, particularly as an ending. Still, for anyone who has ever dreamed herself into Elizabeth Bennett's shoes or Elinor Dashwood's bonnet, this is indeed a fun, fluffy romp.
Edited for typing weirdness -- oops.
I've planned to go several times, but missed it, so trying to get up to speed for next year!
If ever you go, you have to tell us all about it. :)
By the by, I was so in the mood for Austen after that last book, I decided to reread Sense and Sensibility. It's a Jane Austen sort of week!
The Speed of Dark sounds interesting as well.
#14: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
When, for a long while, one has not read much of Jane Austen other than Pride and Prejudice, it is easy to imagine that all her works are alike. In reality, though, each is a very different animal, as I was reminded this week when I reread Sense and Sensibility. In comparison with the other Austen novels, S&S has a more measured pace and a subtler satire. Rather than eager laughter and an overflow of emotion at the romantic conclusion, one feels a slow satisfaction that builds throughout. There is no literary heroine to equal Elizabeth Bennett of P&P, but here the Misses Dashwood together, a sort of Regency yin and yang, are as bright and winning, and as deserving of the great sympathy and delight any Austen fan must feel at their fates. It is impossible to praise Jane Austen in any new way or any more than she has already been praised; I cannot help but acknowledge, however, her work and her genius as formative influences on my library and my life.
What more can I say?
#15: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I'm afraid the combination of seeing the film and immediately sitting down to reread did a bit of damage to my view of the book. I remember, upon first reading this slim novel (with remarkable, sharp and disturbing illustrations by Dave McKean), being completely creeped out, even after I had concluded it. This time, perhaps because I knew what was coming, perhaps because I had just watched a blue-haired puppet performing the described tasks, I did not feel the intensity of the original reading. That said, this is still a remarkable book and, if you have not read it, do. But leave the lights on.
Instead of doing something productive last night and this morning, I read this lovely children's book. I wanted something sweet, not-creepy, and not-stupid, and this fit the bill entirely. It's definitely a children's story -- fairy-tale tone, simple yet effective prose, and that satisfying predictability common to books that are actually appropriate for young chapter-book readers (as opposed to just being labeled as a kids book in order to sell more copies) -- and it's a darn good one at that. Ibbotson plays with some of those icons of fantasy that I love so well, softening the ogre into a Bavarian gentle giant, subverting the hag into a girl who is wishes she was a bit more "different", and making the old wizard actually old (complete with ear trumpet); though these changes often soften types that in other stories might have an unpleasant edge, Ibbotson does not insult your intelligence or lapse into cliche. Some of the most amusing moments in the story, in fact, come from the conflict between the readers idea of what "should" be, and the story's idea of what is. Ibbotson's books are, I believe, an inspiration to other fantasy authors -- you might see an early model of Dudley Dursley here, or even Dumbledore -- but even with similarities to a dozen other authors, this fine little book never felt tired or trite. Just a pleasant read and a perfect reassurance that sometimes happy endings happen. :)
>69 loosha: So nice to know, loosha. Thanks.
ETA: One of the issues with autism is that it really does seem to be a different way of looking at the world, instead of a "wrong" or "sick" way of perceiving it, and in that case, SHOULD we force a person with autism to change, or should our focus being on helping them to adapt to us? And vice versa?
I was in such a jolly mood after the Ibbotson that I decided to carry on in the vein of children's fantasy -- a favorite genre of mine anyway -- by returning to this classic. I was a little surprised by the book -- which makes me think that I didn't actually read it as a child, or perhaps it's just that I'd forgotten it -- on a couple of levels. I hadn't expected it to be quite so spiritual, although my perception of its spiritual focus was probably heightened by scribblings in the margin of the '70s vintage paperback which feature frequent brackets around sections that mention God or the Lord or, in one memorable moment, Jesus, and exclamations like "angels!" Divine themes notwithstanding, the story was compelling enough that I was almost late to work because I simply HAD to finish the book before I left the house. That's a sign of a good book, I think, and though many of the icons here have become, well, iconic, L'Engle's text still feels fresh and intriguing and the ending is as provokingly abrupt as ever, which means that my next read will be... A Wind in the Door and the rest of the Time series. Put on your surprised face! :)
I think I have to start conditioning myself to hit the 'back' button FAST when I see people have been reading stuff I loved as a child. I am dangerously close to abandoning new books and spending the rest of the year immersed in re-reads.
I have now read two more of the series, so here's what I think...
#18: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
With all apologies to Flossie, I really did not like this -- not nearly as much as the first of the series, as well as not so much at all. David, I think your use of the word detached (>74 tapestry100:) was right on -- I felt detached, but also it seemed that the characters were more distant from each other, emotionally, and that the story seemed to stretch for its points more than in the previous one. I did appreciate the message that everything is connected, but I didn't get lost in this book, in fact I was both conscious of myself and conscious of how odd the whole thing felt as I was reading it, which is a definite sign of a not-so-good read for me.
#19: A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
I did, however, like this one, and I think it's because it felt so different from the previous one. Rather than focusing on weird little biological sub-cellular organisms, we return to the theme of time, which is where I think L'Engle works well, and a question that a lot of more "traditional" time-travel literature has been working with for ages (pardon me): can we alter the present by going back to make changes in the past? Here, of course, we have L'Engle's quantum-inspired theories of non-linear time, which is something that I like to think about on occasion, and an accepted premise that there are in fact "Might-Have-Beens" that can be worked with so that the world comes out one way or the other. I liked the fact that Charles Wallace figures out that he can't control things -- which is one of those human messages that I think good literature teaches better than reality does -- and I also liked the changing historical perspective, which as narratives go, was a very post-modern way of telling the story. (Post-modern in a good, stylistic way, not in the annoying nihilistic way.) Overall, I enjoyed this one enough that I think I've finish the quartet volume I have by reading Many Waters next, before I move on to something different.
I finished the all-in-one-volume quartet yesterday. This last book was an odd fit. In fact, the parts of the book that tried to connect to the rest of the series (the frame setting in the family home at the beginning and the end, the occasional mentions throughout of tessering or quantum leaps, as well as mitochondria) seemed forced and out of place. The retelling of the story of Noah was enjoyable, though -- I enjoyed it as a piece of historical fiction, and as a humanizing (and re-feminizing) of a myth from a text that tends to force female characters into anonymity. Had this not been a part of the Time Quartet, it might actually have been more successful, but I think it was worth the read just the same. :)
I'm enjoying your posts re. Madeleine L'Engle's books. I met her years ago. She was a friend of a friend. She was a delightful person!
Based on a 20-page manuscript by Charlotte Bronte that was written before her death, this book is something of a puzzle to be put together. I think Boyland has made some bold decisions here, starting with wanting to finish Bronte's unfinished manuscript. I enjoyed the story, and its sympathetic characters. The only moment where I was less than satisfied came at the end of Bronte's chapters, where the transition from one author to the next is a little disjointed. It seemed like the novel was starting over from that point, with monologue and background on the narrator rather than continuing in the past ways.
My eyes are closing now -- I'm going to have to stop, but I'll try to add a bit more later.
This is #2 in the Cronus Chronicles, and most of the things that worked in the first one are working in this sequel. The series is different from the 'Percy Jackson' series in the fact that it has a human girl, rather than a demi-god boy, as its hero. The narrative in this sequel seems a little choppy, perhaps thanks to the nearly half-a-dozen different perspectives through which it is told chapter-by-chapter, but still manages to be entertaining. I'm looking forward to the third and final volume.
Cushman does the best realistic Medieval setting I've ever seen in a children's book. Though this was not as absorbing as some of the others of hers that I read previously, I have not a qualm about recommending it to you. It's particularly good for kids who want to be reminded of just how stinky the Middle Ages were as well as for adults who have been looking for a genuinely good children's novel.
Didn't write much, I know, but I'm so sleepy!
edited for spelling, which I woke up enough to correct. Oy.
Jim Hines lives the next town over and I've connected indirectly with him over the years, but never have actually met him. This particular volume came from a reading at which my good friend met Jim, without me. It makes me laugh -- not just the fact that the author essentially inscribed my copy with "catch you sometime", but also the book itself. This is funny stuff, occasionally laugh-out-loud stuff. Jim Hines has taken the traditional fairy tale princesses and turned them into butt-kicking action heroes, a change which anyone who has ever wanted to scream at the passive Disney 'heroines' will appreciate. There is nothing here that is too challenging or too deep -- even while reading, one is always aware of being in the shallow end of the pool, so to speak -- rather, this novel should be appreciated as an entertaining frolic through fairyland as perhaps it should have been. Like an old-school comic book (without the pictures), The Stepsister Scheme treats us to camp and cleverness, action and melodrama -- and we rightly eat it up. I will definitely be seeking out the sequels. :)
Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman looks great. I'm on a mission to read a lot of YA books this year.
I don't read straight-up historical fiction often, so I may not be the most qualified judge, but I found this to be quite a good book. There were some woo-oo-oo-oo references (Eleanor of Aquitaine is spiritually connected to an ancient/mystical/mythological southern forest) especially at the very beginning and the very end, which one expects from Ball, but not enough to pull this truly into the realm of fantasy. In the beginning, such references are unexpected and seem out of place, but by the end one has grown accustomed to their occasional appearance and sees how they relate to the character more clearly. The only other jarring moment comes nearer the end of the book, when the narrative jumps three years into the future without so much as a heads-up, and then refers back to the events of the intervening three years briefly -- a paragraph is all that is needed to sum those years up. Though the choice makes sense -- to narrate all those additional years would have added length but not meaning, substance, nor even plot to the book -- it is quite sudden and it takes several pages for the reader to settle back down into what otherwise is a steady narrative pace. Things do settle down, however, and the conclusion to the book is satisfying, yet certainly open enough for Ball to easily return to the character of Eleanor and continue her story in a sequel. Overall, I found Ball's novel to be entertaining, but not shallow, and entirely worth reading.
I will note two things -- first, that the cover art is by K.Y. Craft, which is why I ended up with the book in the first place (Craft is my favorite illustrator), and so this is worth picking up just to stare at -- second, that it took me quite a while to get through the book (about a week), which may mean that the years of reading YA books and terrible student essays have finally taken a toll on my reading level, or that I have been much too addicted to Facebook recently. Take that as you will -- as either a heads-up about the book, or a warning to avoid Facebook. :)
And, I laughed out loud at your witty comment about goals.
Though this does raise further questions about the state of my reading level, I will admit that it was a pleasure to pick up a YA book again this week -- #26: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer -- which I devoured in the space of 2 days.
Farmer's book is a science fiction novel about cloning, and so is quite a common thing, but it is also a science fiction book about family and about greed, about emotional development and our connections to each other, which elevates it beyond the common. Add that to the fact that it is readable, intriguing (the inevitable looms around every corner -- one feels compelled to look for it, only to have it pulled back to the next corner each time -- it's wonderfully motivating), and seems (because really, how would I know?) scientifically sound, and you really have here an example of what science fiction should be. My only complaint about the book is that the ending seems sudden and glossy in comparison with the rigorously detailed previous chapters -- even sudden as it is, the ending does satisfy. Overall, highly recommended (though please be warned not only that this book deals with controversial scientific issues, but also that there are several medically graphic or disturbing descriptions in various places -- this is definitely YA rather than children's).
I've learned ever so much from reading YA books, many deal with complex emotions and subject matter. I would never raise questions about the state of reading level when reading YA books. In my opinion, YA books are undiscovered diamonds waiting to be mined.
Thanks for the mention of Nancy Farmer's works. I imagine three Newbery Honor awards is quite an honor. I'm trying to systematically go through the list of Newbery award winning books and thus it is good to know about these three.
I'll try to add real reviews later, since I am still at work and need to go home, but lately I've read:
#27: Ever by Gail Carson Levine
An interesting fairy-tale romance for young women, typical of Levine's genre, but different because it was set in ancient Mesopotamian culture, if I read it right.
#28: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
A new take on 'Alice in Wonderland', with emphasis on WAR -- very fast-paced, pretty violent, but still intriguing, imaginative and compulsively readable.
#29: Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
Sequel to above, but with more violence and bigger battles. Still intriguing, but I liked the first one better, which focused more on Alyss (Alice) and her development (speedy as it was) rather than her as defined by her romance with Dodge.
#30: A City in Winter by Mark Helprin
Helprin worked with Chris Van Allsburg to create this, the sequel to their Swan Lake. Apparently I have been in a violent mood, because this also features war, but is very fairy-tale in tone and image. I loved the first of this trilogy, and this one is good, if not quite so captivating.
#31: The Veil of Snows by Mark Helprin
The final in the trilogy, sequel to above. This one toys with your emotions and the happy ending is SUCH a long time coming that one seems heartbroken when it's not really an ending at all, but then again, one should have known since it was 'Swan Lake' they started with. Consistency, at least. ;)
That's it for the minute, though I feel like I've forgotten something... hmm.
Would you believe that I am STILL reading The World Without Us and STILL haven't finished it. The semester is ending, so I'm busy, but a month on one book is almost unprecendented. I will say, though, that the book is fascinating. Highly recommended. But more about that anon... :)
As I mentioned, it took me a long, long time to finish this book. There was so much in it -- it seemed like I could only take it a piece at a time and then I would have to spend time absorbing and considering before I could move on to the next topic -- and I learned facts, figures, and features of our world that I would never have thought to ask about. Some are depressing -- as many as 1 billion birds die each year because of plate glass windows -- some are simply interesting -- bronze statues will probably the last surviving human artwork -- but all are engaging. Weisman uses the expertise and perspectives of literally hundreds of scientists, historians, laborers, engineers, and other experts in a variety of fields, so this is not one man's rant, but it does impress upon you the damage that human excess has done the environment. Some things we can't undo, and ultimately, even more than what might happen without us, this book is about the world as it is now, as it works with us in it, and as we have made it. A necessary and fascinating book, though not for those who can't handle having their personal worldview challenged.
#33: Midnight Magic by Avi
This is a medieval ghost story/whodunit in perfect Avi style. Nothing of his seems to live up to The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, but this was pretty close. It's fun to figure out -- and one does eventually -- and even more fun to watch the characters and details unfold in this children's mystery.
#34: The Wave by Walter Mosley
I had not read Mosley before -- though I had heard of his Easy Rawlins mystery series time and again -- so I was unprepared for the relaxed and, yes, easy style of his writing. I enjoyed it very much, particularly the first half. I get the impression that Mosley works better outside of science fiction (as this is) because the first half -- which deals with personal relationships rather than focusing on the scifi adventure -- is more engaging than the second, but this is such a quick read that one is through the climax and to the unlikely ending before one notices the change. A fun free-time read.
#104: Midnight Magic sounds fun. I will see if I can get hold of it. Thanks for the recommendation.
As far as Mosley goes, I read one of his books last year and it disturbed me so much, I am not sure I will ever read anything of his again. It was not one of his Easy Rawlins books, it was a stand alone called The Man in My Basement.
Lots more to come soon, I swear!
#35 (not 105, as I wrote above for no good reason): The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips.
This novel was an Earlier Reviewer book for me, even though it took me months to get around to reading it and and more months to get to reviewing it, so it’s not exactly “early” anymore. I liked this book – it has characters to care about, music allusions that are “on the inside” but don’t feel alienating, high-level emotions that feel experiential and real – but not enough that it really stuck with me after I finished reading it. At times it did feel like someone’s personal therapy sessions; of course, that’s part and parcel with having a “real” quality to written emotion – things can get carried away, even to the point that the reader gets frustrated with the people he or she is reading about, and there was more than once that I wanted to tap the main character a smart one on the top of his head. Still, even for those readers who aren’t personally familiar with the extraordinary grief that is the subtle center of this novel, the strange journey that we travel with Julian feels familiar, which is part of the magic of a solidly written novel. Not magnificent, but not bad.
#36: The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
An interesting combination of Greek myth and ghost story, this YA/kids novel was a bit of a hidden gem. We found it in a bargain box, tumbled in with the self-help throwaways and the broken activity books. Frankly, I didn’t expect the book to be as good as it was – don’t get me wrong, it’s not life-changing, but as a modern take and a different approach to the “Orpheus and Eurydice” myth, it’s fresh and intriguing. The parallel to the myth is there, but it doesn’t show up in the ways you might expect – you think you know the end, and in a way you do, but the book misleads and tempts in such a way that the supposedly predictable comes as a surprise. Ultimately, the major theme in the book (as in the myth) is grief, and ghosts and death, obviously, abound, so this might not be for everyone, but despite the seriousness of the theme, I enjoyed the experience.
#37: Thirsty by M.T. Anderson
Truthfully, I don't remember if I read this before or after the two above -- it's been awhile, and it might even have been the one I forgot to list months ago -- but I know I read it because it was in the "just read" stack when I put those away and I remember the ending, which colored the whole book. I don't wish to give everything away, but keep in mind that M.T. Anderson does something radically unexpected in every book he writes -- and this book is his take on vampirism, which here is a real, brutally affecting disease. It's a YA novel, and chock-full of the teen angst that Anderson plays so well, but it's also a darn good read and one of the best vampire "redux" novels I've seen. (And, no, the vampires don't sparkle, thank heaven.)
And then I went to Ireland...
#38: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
There isn’t much to say about this that wasn’t said years ago. ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ is John Buchan’s slim, fast-paced thriller, one of the original “spy” novels that later inspired the birth of more familiar heroes like James Bond. Some of the attitudes and references date the book rather noticeably, but anyone who has watched Indiana Jones will recognize and sympathize with the British-German conflict (though this is the earlier, WWI version). It’s a quick read, but a must for anyone who enjoys today’s bulkier thrillers – you should always know who to thank for the things you love. :)
#39: Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
And now for something a bit, but not quite completely, different. Catherine Jinks has given us an anti-hero with a touch of Artemis Fowl, but has added a greater measure of consideration and development (this is definitely more of a grown-up book – not that I don’t love Artemis Fowl). Cadel Piggott is a genius, one whose heart isn’t of gold, just very, very human. Like many geniuses, he feels completely apart from society, peers, and people in general, and that alienation drives the progress of the novel. Jinks has given us a lot of meat on the bones of a story that has, at least partly, been told before. Familiar elements include not just the anti-hero, but also the “special school”, the older mentor/wise old man archetype, the sidekick, the uncomprehending and unsympathetic parents, the computer nerds who run the world, and the “hey, guess what, you actually have tons of money” fantasy. Fortunately for us, by the end of the novel, every one of those presumably predictable elements has been turned on its head, or at least tilted a bit, and combined in brilliant little twists that make reading this book even more fun.
In addition, there is a level of realistic internal development that is unprecedented in all the young hero/anti-hero epics that have been manifesting out of the ether lately. Cadel is not inherently noble, nor is he naturally evil. His is a mind that struggles with the reality of the world and his own place within it, with his exceptional intelligence but also with his incredible naivete (which is so realistic that, in fact, the reader does occasionally feel like shouting “Sheesh, kid, don’t you get it yet?” at the page). The details and insights as we really get to know Cadel are what feed the reader’s urge to turn the next page and the next. I had a great time reading this and I look forward to the inevitable (like I said, not quite completely different) sequel.
#40: The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson #5) by Rick Riordan
Oh, Percy Jackson, how you do entertain! This, the final installment in the “first” Camp Half-Blood series (yeah, we find that out at the end, but it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that there is more to come from Rick Riordan) was as much of a top-speed romp as the previous four. It is, as expected given the series development, very dark and occasionally brutal. Its central event (again, fully anticipated throughout the series) is a major celestial/terrestrial war. Lots of people, including some characters that we like, die. In other words, this is not the party installment, though there are occasional moments of levity. I still miss the hectic hilarity of the early volumes, back when our hero Luke/Harry/Percy was a somewhat light-hearted youngster, but I do feel that this was a fitting conclusion to the series. There is a certain inevitable progress that all such young adult epics follow, so the pattern here works and is familiar. The reader (and by that I mean me, but I do find that I am not alone in this) does not get as worked up over Percy as with some of those other “Chosen One” heroes who shall remain nameless (*cough* Potter! *cough*), but I would still recommend this fantasy series for anyone who likes the genre, likes Greek myth, and/or likes imagining him/herself as the hero. :)
#41: Rainy Day Rescue and #42: The Quarter Horse Foal (Saddle Wise series) by Inda Schaenen
The problem with Inda Schaenen’s horse-and-girl series is that it can’t really decide what it wants to be. The first book, ‘Rainy Day Rescue’, starts with the premise that the main character, a girl named April, has been terrified of horses her whole life because her parents were killed in a horse-riding accident when she was just a toddler. 'Okay,' the reader thinks, knowing by the cover and the series title that this is a horse-and-girl book, 'this will be interesting to see how she progresses through her fear and overcomes it by the end.' But then the book resolves April’s fear in just a few more pages, making references to her being a “natural” with horses, and suddenly that lifelong fear, and its plotline, have disappeared. Wait, what? That was my reaction. Still, there is more book to go, so the reader carries on. 'Okay,' the reader thinks again, 'the expected didn’t happen – that can be a good thing – so perhaps this will be about the girl struggling to get her horse, or to build a relationship with it, or maybe to achieve some horsemanship challenge.' But these issues are also resolved quickly and easily.
In fact, “easy” pretty much characterizes each new plot point in this slim book – every time the reader anticipates a challenge, it turns out to be no big deal. And that really becomes the disappointment of the series (because the second book, ‘The Quarter Horse Foal’ is more of the same). Most of its time is spent on overt didacticism – April reflecting on herself and her relationship with her aunt, with occasional diversions to teach unsubtle lessons about patience, tolerance, etc. – and the ins-and-outs of daily horse care, which is necessary, but not necessarily thought through here. If this is a series for girls who already love horse-and-girl books, for those who started reading Marguerite Henry’s Big Book of Horses at the tender age of 4 (okay, that would be me), then the instructions in horse care are old hat, and spending so much time on them (and those all-too-convenient lessons) is, frankly, boring. If, however, this is a series for girls who are not already acquainted with horses, or even for those who are a little afraid of them, then the details are good, but the instant-cure approach to that fear and the easy horse-and-girl heroism that so quickly follows will probably leave them somewhat alienated. I think this is a case of trying to be all things to all people (or at least all girls) and unfortunately falling somewhat flat.
There are some redeeming moments, of course. The interactions between April and her aunt, including their inside joke of “sometimes all a person can do is…” are sweet and several of the side characters are quite charming (though there are a couple of characterization inconsistencies between the two books, especially with Mr. McCann). The horse trailer accident at the beginning of the first book is vividly and cinematically written, and there are other moments of wonderful description which allow the reader to “see” the world that Schaenen has envisioned. There are also fun allusions to the classic horse stories that have gone before – Black Beauty, National Velvet, and others. Unfortunately, mentioning those brilliant classics, while obviously intended to direct girls to read those books (again with the unsubtle didacticism) or to cozy up to those who have, also sets up an inevitable comparison: those are great novels; this is not. It seems like this series was written as a prescription for a struggling reader who likes horses but doesn’t have the consuming passion of most horse girls, or in the line of 19th century girls books that aim to instruct more than entertain. If those are your intentions (and good luck with them), this series is fine, but there are better horse-and-girl books, including chapter books and series, out there.
#43: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Last year, as I was doing my research and reading in preparation for teaching Science Fiction, I ran into a lot of apocalyptic and nuclear paranoia texts that I had not before encountered. Here is one, however, that I missed even then. ‘Alas, Babylon’, published in 1959, is the most gripping book of its kind, as far as I am concerned. I use the word ‘gripping’ with some trepidation, since it reminds me of cheesy film adverts, but I think that in this case it is the perfect word. This book had a hold on me, not only as I was reading it, but even after I put it down. If I read a chapter before bed, my sleep was invaded by images of a town under siege, by lists of supplies to stockpile for nuclear emergencies, by ordinary night noises amplified into ominous thunder… The novel is thick with the atmosphere of paranoia, so much so that it leaks out of the pages and infects the reader.
One of the greatest things about Pat Frank’s novel, however, is that it’s not really about the anticipation or the paranoia of nuclear weapons (funny, that); instead, it’s about the characters – about people and how they deal with disaster, how the everyday becomes different but is still everyday. Instead of cold science being the major character, Frank has given the reader real characters to care about – ordinary, flawed people who both luck out and work hard, enabling them to survive amidst nightmare. I was completely impressed by this novel. Certainly, if one looks at it from a 21st century perspective, there are some distinct flaws, but allowing oneself to be gripped by the period atmosphere softens those edges and turns this into a remarkable science fiction experience. Highly recommended.
#44: Installing Linux on a Dead Badger by Lucy Snyder
This is really a book that is dedicated to and written for the short-sleeve-button-down-shirt-wearing, Linux-running, hardcore computer geek. It also happens to be damn funny, even if you don’t get quite all the jokes. There are zombies. Read it.
#45: The Big Book of Grimm by Jonathan Vankin
‘The Big Book of Grimm’ is a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales told in black-and-white comic book style; each story is illustrated by a different comic book artist, some of whom are very, very good at what they do (Charles Vess is the big name here) and some of whom are respected by virtue of being different. As a result of the variety of artistic styles and the generally tongue-in-cheek narration from Jonathan Vankin, the book taken in total feels uneven. There are some gems among the individual stories, however, and the implications and innuendoes Vankin and the artists bring to the front are entertaining, sometimes funny, and usually on par with what recent fairy tale readers, scholars, and retellers argue is the “correct” interpretation of Grimm. This is not a text for those who are picky about “authenticity” or even consistency in their fairy tales, nor is it the first fairy tale volume I would give a child, but older children and “tweens” will probably be delighted with the restored violence and literally graphic gore that pops up in most of the tales, while teens and adults familiar with these traditional stories will be intrigued and amused. Fun stuff.
This memoir-in-disguise pretends, in a lot of ways, to be a Cliffs Notes version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but is more accurately a life-in-facts, a member of that rising club which has recently produced lives-in-food and lives-in-books, among other ideas. On one hand, I quite enjoy this subgenre; I would much rather read someone's memoir if the memoir is focused or organized around something other than the person (funny, right?) -- but on the other hand, sometimes when reading this particular type of memoir, one does wish the author would quit interrupting with these ridiculous facts and just get on with it already.
Fortunately, that only happens a few times in A.J. Jacobs memoir-in-facts. Most of the time, I thoroughly enjoyed the asides, the tongue-in-cheek selections, and the sheer randomness of the A-to-Z facts that form the structure of Jacobs' reflections. I even learned a few things -- that 'erythrocyte' is another word for 'red blood cell', that mussels (or is it clams?) have five buttholes, that one should not attempt to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in one year unless one already has no life -- but, obviously, the facts are fading even a mere 24 hours after the conclusion of my own brief reading.
The crowning achievement of the book, though, has got to be the index. Where else could one possibly find a listing such as "Picard, Jean-Luc, baldness of -- 48" alongside other oh-so-typically indexed figures such as "Marx, Karl -- 126"? And you know that when the five-page index is a joy to read, the book itself has been a lot of fun. I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who has a love for information of the random kind (or anyone hoping to get on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?').
That's it. Forget about us going to the movies tonight, missy. I need to stay home and read like a madman until Monday to try to get ahead of you again!!
Just kidding. I'll be by to pick you up in a little bit. =)
Avatiakh -- Genius Squad is now totally on my list. Let me know if you have a chance to read it -- I'd love to hear another opinion.
Just finished last night -- #47: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
This is a mystery. But there is a catch: the investigators are sheep. No, really, sheep. Exceptional Irish sheep, actually. And they are investigating the apparent murder of their shepherd, George. And it just gets odder from there, if you can believe it. I quite enjoy odd books (obviously) but this one did surprise me a couple of times. On occasion, but not as often as I expected to, I laughed out loud. More often, I simply smiled a whimsical smile. The story here is surprisingly complex, made more so by the naive, child-like perspective of the sheep, and even though the ending doesn't completely satisfy (but that may be a matter of translation), I was very, very glad I had read this offbeat delight of a novel. Try it. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised. :)
I felt really compelled to keep reading once I got into this book, which surprised me because it's not the top of my list for Colfer's books -- I like the Artemis Fowl series, but didn't expect to find myself so thoroughly engrossed in a steampunky YA novel about flying machines and espionage. Then again, now as I write this, steampunk, flying machines and espionage sound pretty good.
Well, it turns out they are. Above all, this novel has sheer strength of story -- you just want to find out what happens so you keep turning pages -- and even though it owes a lot to the Young People's edition of The Count of Monte Cristo, I think it stands up well on its own, even against Colfer's more popular books. The ending isn't blindingly original, but the action sure is satisfying. :)
Finally read Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, which we will call #49. Haddon, of course, is the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which was so brilliant and unique. With this book, one realizes just how good Haddon is at expressing the internal machinations of the human mind. He represents the perspectives of his delineated cast of characters vividly and faithfully, and the collective brush with insanity that they all experience -- especially the central character, of course -- is so literary and at the same time so real that the reader feels quite caught up in all the bother, so to speak. This is not to say that one feels insane -- there have been other books where I have felt in as worse a shape as the characters, but this has a lighter touch -- but when one surfaces out of this book, from time to time, there is no choice but to be impressed with the language, with the characterization, and with the sheer power of emotion that pervades it.
I don't know if it is "as good" as his previous work -- we have a little bit of apples and oranges here, in many senses -- but I will definitely be reading more of Mark Haddon.
edited for touchstones
But I still read.
#50: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
I've been meaning to read this for years, ever since I heard of Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog and realized that the title came from Jerome's book. It is exactly what it advertises itself to be: dry British satire that lampoons the silly self-centeredness of the upper and middle classes at the turn of the previous century. Ostensibly, it's about a boating trip, but the real meat is the commentary and, of course, the antics of not only the three men, but also the dog. Great if you like its antecedents -- Wodehouse, later British sitcoms, etc. -- but worthless for anyone who can't appreciate that kind of humor. Thank heaven I watch PBS.
#51 is Little Women, but I am (re)reading it in the two-parts version, just for fun, and will post a review after I have finished Good Wives.
ETA: >126 alcottacre: Martin Jarvis is fantastic at English humour. He's recorded the whole of Richmal Crompton's Just William series, and they are hysterically funny. I think my kids believe I only laugh to humour them... but they're wrong.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I must maintain proper order.
To get back to where we left off:
#51 and #52: Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott (the original two-part format)
I don't have time to fully express my love for these books, that will have to wait, but I bonded with them when I was nine and so, despite the preachiness that would in any other text annoy me to death, I relish every word of these and cry several times throughout each rereading. Favorite. Book. Of. All. Time. Yeah, it really is.
#53: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman
A 180 degree flip from the previous read, this collection of comics/graphic novelettes put together much of the work that Neil Gaiman has done on Batman over a span of years, crowned with his recent take on the death of Bruce Wayne. It wasn't at all what I expected, and some of the pieces here are not at all up to Gaiman's usual polish, but the focal piece has been growing on me. I bet it gets better with subsequent readings and with better context (I am way behind on the Batman series), so I may give it another try.
#54: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Wow. Everyone who reads this is impressed with it. It carries our attention with the sheer power of story. There are some awkward emotional moments that could have been written more smoothly, certainly, but the gravitas of what happens blows you past those little quibbles. At the end, I found myself, mouth agape, crying out for the true resolution, which apparently won't come until the next volume of the series. Disturbing, powerful, and remarkable stuff.
#55: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
This first of Connie Willis' time travel books is incredibly well-written, remarkably researched, and absolutely wrenching in its visceral detail. What would really happen if a time traveler revisited a key turning point in the Middle Ages? Willis leaves you in no doubt. Excellent read.
#56: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
I already said what I thought above, but I reiterate: jolly good stuff.
That's all for now -- am reading Genius Squad and picking my way through Gaiman's M is for Magic, so I will try to update faster when I have finished those. Cheers!
#57: The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
This is a short collection of stories by the Gaiman-esque author who brought us Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If that novel's length and loquacity drove you crazy, you are in luck here -- Clarke revisits the same magical world vision and uses much of the same neo-victorian tone as in the novel, but none of these stories is overwrought or over-long. If, on the other hand, you didn't care for the novels tone or characters or style or perspective, you may as well pass on the stories, because not only do we have the same world, etc. but some very familiar characters pop up here as well. For those who really enjoyed the novel, I suspect you are the target audience. There are some inside nods and some satisfying plots here. While not a collection to be read at one sitting -- one does need some time in between each piece to consider and savor -- I think this is well worth the read.
This book is equal but opposite to its predecessor. In Evil Genius, it wasn't until I got all the way through the book that I truly enjoyed it (in retrospect) -- the act of reading it was fraught with frustrations as I wanted to smack even the main character; the sequel, on the other hand, was a rollicking joy ride of a read, but I'm not sure it held up as well once we got to the end. The end, in fact, is predictable and slightly cheesy. It's good cheese, but it is definitely cheese. Taken as a package, this is fun stuff -- but I am curious to know if there is a third and how it will affect the current balance.
And #59: The Secret School by Avi
This is one of those slim children's paperbacks that populate classroom bookshelves in gradeschools, but since it is by Avi, you know it is made from good stuff. This was different from some of the other Avi books I've read -- we all know The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is one of my favorites -- in the fact that the adventure is a little more subdued, a little more ordinary. It is still adventure, however, and it's of the educational kind, which teachers will appreciate. And, just because your teachers like it, doesn't make it a boring book. :) It may not appeal to the short attention spans of speed-craving 21st century youths, but it's a pleasant book none the less.
edited for grammar idiocy. :)
So glad you enjoyed the Jerome/Willis pairing! I read the Willis book the first time or two before I got around to getting the Jerome book, and then again immediately after reading Three Men in a Boat, and I got so much more of the humor in To Say Nothing of the Dog as a result! I love the scene where they see the TMiaB characters on the river.
>135 ronincats:: The meeting on the river was great -- and the dogs! I so enjoyed the comparative commentary on the dogs. I loved how Willis got the style so perfectly -- as at the end (spoiler alert -- read no farther, you who have no knowledge of this book!), when it's apparent that Baine is hoisting the girl up and smooching her, but it's all sidelong and the narrator is so laughably confused. So many great moments that echo Jerome's oblivious narrator and characters!
#60: Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton
Okay, so let it be said that I am generally against posthumous sequels and never more so than when it comes to Jane Austen. I like an honest homage (like Hale's Austenland, which was hilarious), but those overblown romance novels that have recently been capitalizing on the good name of Darcy annoy the crap out of me, and the past several years of increasing Austen-trendiness have only increased the number and decreased the quality of such bodice-rippers-in-disguise (not that there is anything wrong with a good bodice-ripper -- it just bothers me when they pretend to be anything like Austen and then those lofty literary aspirations turn out to be mere marketing). When it comes to Brinton's sequel, however, I made a conscious exception for particular reasons: first, because this is not a recent sequel -- it was published in 1913, the centenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice and was recently reissued; second, related to earlier statements, is that this novel actually attempts to write in the style and within the parameters of Jane Austen... it actually tries to be a sequel in her spirit, rather than a reader's wet dream; and finally, that this novel doesn't just follow the marriage of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy -- the chosen fantasy premise of most nouveau-Austenites -- but instead takes characters from all six of Austen's completed novels and interweaves them into a new story of matchmaking and -breaking.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Brinton achieves the shimmering brilliance of Austen's style -- many moments in the text seem too forced, rather than simply echoing the natural formality of the era, though others are bright and enjoyable, especially once things get rolling -- but the fact that she gives it a genuine try enables the reader to gloss over the moments where she falls short. Also apparent is Brinton's great and sincere love for Austen's work and her intent to do justice to the author who has inspired her; as a reader and a fellow fan, I appreciate her appreciation, as well as her authenticity.
Along with the style, the action of the story offers much to satisfy an Austen fan. Some of the lesser characters of whom we wanted to know more in the original texts are expanded here. Some of the character changes are a little unlikely and may jar with modern audiences used to Austen film adaptations -- Mary Crawford, for example, is a great deal more sympathetic here than I think she ever could have been within Austen's world -- but generally the characters consistently reflect the attitudes and attributes with which their original creator endowed them. Those who are matched, even across previous textual borders, fit well and many will make the familiar reader smile with some satisfaction.
Overall, I truly enjoyed the book, even with its limitations and even as a posthumous sequel. Brinton, from her now distant 20th century milieu, reaches out with a measure of humility and a pleasantly frank sense of joy to offer up this continuation of an experience she enjoyed so well herself. I can appreciate her motivations and their result equally well.
One addendum: I would be curious to know how the novel comes across to those who have not read Austen extensively -- there were times as I read that I got distracted thinking back to Austen's original novels, trying to recall a detail or action, and it was a little bit of a struggle to pull myself back to the story at hand. Would those who were not huge fans of Austen have as difficult a time? Would the novel stand on its own without the context of the originals? The world may never know, since those who have not read Austen are utterly unlikely to pick up this book. :)
#61 (which is probably more like #67): Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson
I posted on a SFF thread that, at the beginning, this novel feels exactly the way Peter Jackson's movie "King Kong" looked. The premise of the novel is that, in 1912, the entire European continent and some of its surround is, overnight, transformed into a steaming jungle which, of course, is populated by various types of giant, often lethal bugs. Yeah, that last detail should ring some bells (urgh -- the giant bugs in "King Kong" almost made me lose it). We are introduced to a young man who is fascinated with 'Darwinia', as the newly transformed continent is nicknamed, and when the novel moves forward to him joining an expedition into this untamed, transformed land, we, the readers, think we know what to expect.
We expect the novel to develop as a speculative history, where the familiar events of our known early-20th-century are somehow distorted or transformed along with the continent; in many ways, the novel fulfills this expectation. But we also expect an adventure novel -- when our hero crosses the sea and then the channel and then the river, the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (alluded to several times), Daniel Defoe, and even Joseph Conrad rise up to greet us. We anticipate, if not quite buckled swashes, then at least machetes ripping through jungle, the clash of man and nature and, perhaps, primitive culture, the manly imprint of boots upon virgin earth. This is the great colonial vision given us by writers of the past.
But we live in a postcolonial and postmodern society. Expectations are rarely fulfilled in the way we think they ought to be anymore. What we think is a good scifi adventure yarn at the beginning could turn into anything by the end. This is the joy and the frustration of literature in the current age.
So when Wilson's novel, about halfway in, takes a turn toward astronomical tech-theology and abandons man vs. nature for god vs. demon, we shouldn't really be surprised.
We are, but we shouldn't be.
We are, and so the shift -- which really isn't a shift, we realize, but more of a reveal, since the 'new' themes have been there all along, disguised and biding their time -- is a bit of an adjustment. The reader must reevaluate the novel's priorities.
The whole text ends up being significantly more epic than it first appears. It takes up a much grander scale -- an astronomical scale, as a matter of fact -- and deals with speculations about the nature of existence, the existence of gods, and the god within man. Wilson handles the move from "new world" to "worlds within worlds" deftly, but not subtly. His interludes -- the space between sections of the book wherein the larger significance is revealed -- are at first irritating, and then confusing, and then, toward the end of the book, finally revealing. The reader, in fact, feels much like the main character as this progression unfolds -- this deliberate (one assumes) connection between reader and character is a gorgeous act of creative craftsmanship.
The book feels a little lopsided, once one has a chance to appreciate the whole; the first sections of the book (the adventure-y part) are significantly longer than the bits where the 'celestial war' is laid out. Even so, even with all its unexpected choices, this novel is a strange and wonderful beast. It's not an "easy" read, but it is a worthwhile one.
#62: M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
This collection of short stories (plus one poem) is nothing new for Gaiman fans; anyone who has read Fragile Things will have encountered virtually all of these selections before. The stories collected in this volume are intended to appeal to a younger audience and some of these are gems – the early short story that eventually fledged out into The Graveyard Book stands out here. The one that I connected with most, though, was “The Price”, a dark vignette that makes one feel shivery on the first reading and every one thereafter. Gaiman’s powerful stories remind you to be afraid of the dark.
#63: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I’ve heard raves about this book for ages and I just got to it. I wish I’d read it earlier – it really is wonderful, as so many people have said. Strangely enough, it wasn’t what I expected – given the reactions of others, I had expected the whole thing to be much more melancholy, and in some ways it was, but much more of it was hopeful, enlivening, and even, on a few occasions, darkly funny. Lovely.
#64: Rodzina by Karen Cushman
Another kids book from Karen Cushman, who has a great sense of history and an even better eye for detail; this one is about the orphan trains that took “unwanted” American children west in the late 1800’s. Though it’s not as enchanting as some of her medieval stories, this book still had Cushman’s trademarks: the endearing, diamond-in-the-rough main character, the slightly wacky supporting cast, and the gradual enlightenment that helps along the happy ending. A solidly enjoyable read.
#65: Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
The first in the “Peculiar Crimes Unit” series is a classically-styled mystery with a decidedly post-modern narrative. We start the novel at the end of our fine detectives’ – Bryant and May – careers and jump back to the very beginning of their partnership after the novel apparently kills one of them off (this is not a spoiler – it happens very early on, but doesn’t turn out as you think it will, which is the mark of a solid mystery). The intermittent flashback – we move back and forth between the two periods with some regularity throughout the novel – presents us with not one but two mysteries to solve, as we are also getting to know the key characters of the series who, if we intend to read further, will no doubt become more significant as the books progress.
The text was a little drier than I expected; I like dry British humor, which – given the series title – I had hoped to find here, but I did feel much of the time, especially at the beginning, like I was missing the joke. Eventually, though, I got used to Fowler’s patterns and syntax to some degree and felt more comfortable, to the point that the second half of the book was significantly more enjoyable. Whether that says something about the book, about the nature of mysteries (since we know more as we get closer to the end, it make sense that we would like it better), or simply about me as a reader, I leave for others to decide. All I can say is that I do plan to read more of the series, but perhaps not right away.
#66: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer et al
You have to love an epistolary novel. Writing a novel in letters is something that went out of fashion well over a century ago, and seems – given the nature of interpersonal communication these days – unlikely to come back in again, but every once in a while, someone (Helene Hanff comes to mind here) dusts the style off and does it so well that one wishes one could find more of it. Such is the case with this book. It is full of remarkable characters, it has a sense of tragedy and an even greater sense of joy, and the structure leaves room for the reader’s imagination to create as much as the writers’ imaginations have already. Description in this sort of novel is different – there are fewer parameters to guide the way we “see” the characters in our minds, so we have more freedom to see them as we wish. Perhaps that is the nature of an epistolary novel – perhaps the volume of white space allows us to construct the characters in our minds even more than we do with an ordinary novel, and thus to feel a connection with them that is greater and more genuine. I cannot say for sure, but I do know that, reading this sweet novel, I felt not only that I knew those neighbors and friends living on Guernsey but that I wanted to be among them, come suffering or come joy.
#67: The Fair Folk
This collection of novellas has some brilliant writers in it, including my personal favorite, Patricia A. McKillip. There are only six pieces here, which means there is greater depth than one finds in the usual themed collection, though of course the disadvantage is that less variety means you may not find what you like. Luckily, McKillip is brilliant, so one can pretty much count on her to deliver and she does here. I quite enjoyed 5 of the 6 stories, but I might be biased in my favorites. :)
I'm forgetting a book, but it will have to wait until I can go home and check. Oh well.
A woman in the group lived in England for many years and she said the personalities in the book were similar to people she met while living in England. We discussed that Guernsey is closer to France than England. There were people in the group, like me, who had uncles who served in Europe during WWII and that some of these brave men either were obsessed with telling their story (my uncle) or were so traumatized that they did not want to discuss it (until the very end of their lives.) We compared the way in which Americans treated and respected WWII veterans, unlike the way in which Viet Nam veterans were treated upon their return. And, someone in the group had eaten a Potato Peel Pie and said it was exceedingly starchy.
All agree that it was a wonderful, wonderful book.
I teach literature, so of course I like to talk about books, but I think this is the sort of book that could be really useful in connection with a course or with just learning about that time and place, what things were like for people in a broader sense. Lots of context connections to be made. There's a lot of good WWII literature out there, but I haven't found too much fiction that handles occupation as gently (but frankly) as this one does.
I am a lover of potatoes..any kind of potatoes...exceedingly starchy is wonderful!
#68: Incantation by Alice Hoffman
Quite quick, thin on details, but never the less, powerful... but I will have to add more later.
#69: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
HOLY COW. Super excited for the next book. Need I say more? :)
Must dash. Still at work and I want to go HOME.
#70: The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going
I'm not sure that this is really a kid's book -- not in the sense of appropriateness, but in the sense that there is not much there that, in my opinion (which, granted, doesn't count for much) would really appeal to the younger set. I appreciate that this is a story about grief, but (and this is kind of terrible to say) it all seems rather... counterproductive. The whole book has a heavy, melancholy tone, the symbolism is as thick as molasses and, while the events are unusual and occasionally exhibit a flash of originality, there isn't much that is really compelling about the plot. It seems like perhaps the author was too busy constructing a secularized Old Testament allegory of redemption to actually write a good book. Interesting, but only mildly so (although, I must say that I love the cover illustration).
#71: Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godsister by Liz Kessler
Liz Kessler wrote the Emily Windsnap series, which I had heard was quite popular, so when I saw this book -- not a part of that series, but also by Kessler and with a strikingly characteristic cover -- I thought I would give it a try. I can't say that I am radically impressed, but it was the cute, early-adolescent girl's book that I thought it might be. I like Kessler's play on the idea of the fairy godmother (though the consequences of failure for FG's seem added purely for drama, rather than a logical part of the system she has worked out within the narrative's world) and I think Philippa Fisher is a pleasant character with enough variety on the outcast-type that many young girls will relate to her. Fun, flippant, and pretty successful for what it is.
I'm currently tumbling around in Lost in Austen, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure for Austen-philes by Emma Webster, which is fun but slightly annoying. I'm starting to suspect that, unlike the old Choose-Your-Own's from my childhood, there is only one "right" way to play this game which, if true, sort of makes the whole structure moot. If this turns out to be just a crappy 2nd person version of Pride and Prejudice (where one either marries Mr. Darcy or fails), I may just throw this book in the bin. Shocking behavior, I know, but there it is.
But if anyone else has a contender in that contest of shame, please feel free to share. :)
What else did you get?
Actually, you should be glad I spared you -- it was a Scholastic Book Fair, so it wasn't the cheapie used stuff like at the library sales -- I spent too much (surprise).
In addition to the K.L. Going book and the Kessler book mentioned above, I got a library-bound copy of Crispin: the Cross of Lead by Avi for $5, Palace of Mirrors by Haddix, Dragon Slippers by George, and Pillage by Skye, each for a dollar or two less than the bookstore price, and that Owl's Nest picture book for Sandy. I think there was one more, but I can't remember what it was. Typical.
The actual library sale at the college is usually in November, I think, but I haven't seen any notices, so maybe they aren't doing it this year.
I think I'm going to stop by the Book Burrow at CADL one of these weeks -- it's a perpetual library sale, but I think it's open more than the Friends shop on my side of town. I'll find out the hours -- maybe we can start going there. :)
#72: Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
This turned out to be way more epic than I thought, at first glance, it would be. I mean, sure it starts out with a girl and a dragon, but it's also about shoes -- yeah, dragons don't hoard gold, they hoard stuff like windows and puppies and shoes, which I thought was rather a brilliant take on the old mythic ideas -- so one might expect a girly story with a valiant hero and love squishiness and a lesson on understanding those who are different than yourself. Okay, so that's kind of true... but the sort-of-valiant hero is the girl, the love squishiness is quite minimal and beside the point, and the delivery of the lesson doesn't at all take away from the plot, as we see happen with less careful children's books. In fact, the plot ends up with wide-scale destruction and some serious dragon battles (fun). Unexpected, given that this not only isn't a trilogy (thank you) but also isn't all that long of a book. Standard juvenile size, couple hundred pages, that's it. I read it in a day.
It's a quick read in style, and the narrative pace is quite fast, but it never feels thin. There is enough detail to help the reader visualize the world and enough relatively subtle exposition to allow us to know how it works. The main character, Creel, is likeable and pretty realistic in the sense that she has doubts and gets overwhelmed and confused just like a normal person. George is on familiar ground, of course, what with the princes and dragons and exotic bodyguards running around, but I really like how she plants the seeds -- taking an average idea and turning it around so we see it from another angle. Overall, I would recommend this one to a variety of ages -- there is definitely more violence, as well as more serious consequences, in the end than one might initially expect from the cover and blurb, but I think kids who enjoyed dragon/adventure books from the likes of Robin McKinley or (it kills me to even mention this on my thread) Paolini's Eragon are going to find a pleasant read here. (Okay, I have to say it: George's book is a lighter treatment, but also a flat out better book than anything Paolini has written. There.)
Now you know how I really feel. :)
edited because I left out some words. Oops.
I think I was cranky yesterday when I talked about Lost in Austen, the choose-your-own Austen Adventure. I finished the book, sort of (I haven't explored all the threads yet, so I'm still working on it, but I got the end of the main P&P thread) and, frankly, there is a redemptive moment at the end, which I shall not give away, which really reveals the possibilities and purpose of the text. So, Webster is not my new literary villain at all, and I shall not dump the book in the bin. It is, in fact...
#73: Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster
Webster is an Austen scholar, which one learns directly (author blurb) and indirectly (some rather informative notes) at the end of this book. She is also an Austen fan and fantasist, which the reader fully appreciates when she gets to the end of the main thread (primarily modeled on Pride and Prejudice) and finds that there isn't one right answer to the story.
The prospective reader should be aware, despite my change of mood, that there are some annoying bits in this choose-your-own-adventure-style book: the point system, which basked in the shallow pool of my patience for all of 5 minutes before I tossed it out, is really only there to set up the main end; the ways in which one fails (and there are many) occasionally go so far afield that they simply seem like products of laziness (or, to be fair, exhaustion); and I still HATE the illustrations, especially the cover. There is also, however, much to enjoy about the book. The bold asides throughout "your" narrative are often quite funny and one can imagine a modern Elizabeth Bennett thinking just that sort of thing. The opportunities for wish fulfillment for the Austen-phile (and you know who you are), though more limited than they could have been, are never the less satisfactory, especially to anyone who ever fell in love with Knightley or Darcy (Wentworth gets rather shoddy treatment here, I'm afraid, which is a pity).
So, this is a lark -- as it is meant to be -- as well as an implied commentary on Austen, her fans, her work, and the unceasing popularity it has enjoyed over the last 200 years. It isn't for anyone unfamiliar with Austen, but can be fun for those who get the jokes in Austenland. It's total success as a whole is somewhat limited, but not nearly as limited as I thought when I was stuck in the middle, having failed several times already. :)
Though that opinion does occasionally get me into trouble...
Glad you are adding Dragon Slippers to your list, luna -- it's worth the read.
My local library has a book sale at the beginning of November.....I'm saving my $ for the great accumulation of books I'll buy but don't really need. I'll rationalize and tell myself it is an early Christmas present.
Seriously, though, "need" is such a relative term. For book people. ;)
>168 alcottacre:: Happy to add to the gravity well. :)
Oh, and I am currently reading an enjoying the second in Jim Hines' revisionist fairy tale adventure series, The Mermaid's Madness. Hines is a local author around here, so I often wonder how many other people have heard of/read him, but his books are a lot of fun -- perfect fantasy larks for when you are in the mood for unusually talented princesses, awkwardly magical pirates, and lots of sexual innuendo (but not much actual sex -- sort of like a comic book novel). Fluffy, but fun.
I'm becoming famous, in a very limited fashion, for missing Jim Hines. We've lived in the same town for years -- he does tons of local readings and signings -- yet every time he pops up, I seem to be elsewhere. Perhaps the lack of face-to-face contact makes me more inclined to enjoy his work (some sayings about absence may apply here), but I really am fond of Hines' particular brand of fun. This novel, the second in Hines' fairy tale adventure series, is rollicking and swashbuckling and all the sorts of adjectives one might expect from a fairy-tale-princesses-meet-high-seas novel. It was a great lark to read.
Interestingly enough, I think it was a little more serious (on its soft, tender underbelly, of course) than its predecessor -- there are some real questions about mental stability and the nature of love here -- but Hines knows that his novel's main purpose is about entertainment, so at no point does it become preachy or overwrought.
I'll be the first to admit that our dear local boy is not the next Tolkien (thank heaven, frankly), but he has found his niche and works it well. Someday, I'll be quite pleased to (actually) meet him, shake his hand and say "hey, I like your stuff."
Okay, so it's not much of a goal, but I didn't meet it last year, so I'm excited.
Now, all I have to do is decide which in the teetering stack of "To Be Read Sooner-Rather-Than-Later" deserves to be the 75th book.
And then I can read it fast, so as to move on to #76... and #77... and #78... :)
And I also love Robin McKinley and am meh about Paolini's books.
I'm also not that fond of the two Hines books I've read so far. Although the first of the goblin books was redeemed by its climax, his characters have a lot of whiny angst that doesn't attract me. The second book I read was The Stepsister Scheme, and his pop psychology spoiled that one for me as well. He deals with serious psychological issues--but he doesn't do it well, very much on the surface. It irritated the heck out of me. Same as the first Kris Longknife: Mutineer book did. I guess that can be an occupational hazard if your profession is psychology.
#75: Pillage by Obert Skye
This was not exactly the noteworthy text with which I wanted to crown the achievement of my goal, but it wasn't terrible either. Pretty standard premise: orphan goes to live in rambling old mansion with eccentric relative, only to discover that both house and family have a secret. Yeah, not much is new here. There are a couple of clever turns, but they aren't enough to elevate this beyond the ordinary.
So, woo -- goal is met. :)
>172 ronincats:: ronincats, you have just totally burst my bubble by telling me that George's book is a part of a trilogy. Dang it. Well, I suppose I should read the rest of them.
And I can understand your frustration regarding the "pop psychology" practiced by Hines and other authors -- I suspect it is an occupational hazard, much the same as my own literary pet peeves, like Jane Austen sequels, which make me, and my fellow English instructors, cringe.
I do try to remember when I read or encounter a peeve, though, that those texts are fluff, as are Hines' books, and meant for entertainment, not scholarship (or, in your case, diagnosis). It's a lame excuse, I know, but not everyone can be a psychologist or, for that matter, an English professor. We must let them slide. :)
I'm not ranting against Hines' books, but I personally find it irritating when he structures the books around...never mind! I don't care if others enjoy them, I just can't. And I have the same problem with the Jane Austen sequels, and with Regency romances that aren't Heyer--but I like LOTs of books, really I do...really!
Currently working on McCarthy's Bar, but did just read...
#76: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab by Gideon Defoe
Okay, so this hardly counts as a book, but since I hadn't actually read one of these odd little book-bites before, I thought I would give it a try. And, yes, it is just as silly and ridiculous as the title seems to indicate. There is excellent pirate hilarity, pirate hijinks, and pirate piraticalness afoot. And there is ham. Worth the hour or so it takes to read, just for the giggles, but more of a conversation piece than an actual novel. Unless you really like pirates.
Actually, I like pirates better than zombies -- pity that zombies are now all in fashion and pirates are "so five minutes ago" -- pirates have much better fashion sense. And "Pride and Prejudice and Pirates" would have been way better alliteration, if one had to make a Quirk classic, anyway. Just saying.
Just imagine how many books you will have read by the end of the year when you finish getting through that last stack that you brought home from the library sale!! Let alone the stack from the sale before that!!! lol ;)
>185 FlossieT:: Okay, so 'Persuasion and Pirates' you might actually get me to read. I have not yet read the Quirk classic Austen + Monster books -- can't seem to get over the instantaneous reaction of violent nausea that occurs when I see one -- but I probably will eventually, and an addition to the series that included pirates would do a lot to help.
>186 tapestry100:: Shush you. If buying 60 books for 25 cents a piece at a library sale is wrong, I don't want to be right. ;)
Novel Destinations, which is a dip-and-drop book for me and probably won't ever be "finished"...
Road to McCarthy? (if that is the right one, and I'd have to go home and look)...
The Folk Keeper, which is yet another kids/YA book, but one that I am really enjoying so far...
and there might be another one I'm forgetting. Honestly, if only my memory were operational, I think I could rule the world.
#77: Salt by Maurice Gee
This was an early reviewer book for me (though I have not officially posted the review yet, since I haven't added the book to my library -- must get on that) and, as a YA series-opener, it works pretty well, particularly since it was free. That might sound harsh, but I'm really not sure that I would have picked this up in a bookshop -- not because it's terrible, but because it doesn't have the instant "grab" of a lot of YA fantasies.
That being said, I did enjoy the read -- I wasn't mentally composing my review as I read, which is a sign of a solid story. I found the prose particularly spare, even for a YA adventure; Maurice Gee may have wanted to be Hemingway in his earlier writing life, so the short, stark sentences could simply be authorial style. They do suit the tone of the story to a certain degree -- Salt is set in a world that is harsh, unfair, and dangerous to its inhabitants, including its protagonist (a half-feral boy whose main instincts are to fight and kill) -- but they also make the latter half of the book, which is a bit more philosophical, feel empty, like the reader can only understand a portion of what's happening. In fact, that feeling that we lack some significant understanding is a dominant tone here -- at first it works, as the reader is puzzling out the parameters of the world Gee has created and as the characters are coming to grips with each other, but the longer we have that feeling, as readers, the less we like it.
I do think that there are some truly striking images here: the ideas of Deep Salt (a place where, the text implies, radioactive material is mined) and the extreme social divisions (Burrows vs. City) imitate our own society while making it different enough that the reader is intrigued. The philosophy of harmony (represented by the "native" tribe of Dwellers, who do things the right way, according to the book) is valid for the audience -- this is a book with a message, but it doesn't strain too much to over-impress -- and lends color to an otherwise dark and grim reality. The novel is ultimately realistic -- even within its semi-positive conclusion, there is an acknowledgement that the world goes on much as it always has, and one change does not alter the nature of humanity or society -- but that realism does as much to alienate as to appeal, and how you react to it will depend on how much reality you can take. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but I'm not yet sure whether I will seek out the sequels.
edited to fix touchstone
To be honest, everything he writes is good so other children's and YAs of his worth a look are: fantasy The world around the corner about a young girl finding glasses with special powers in a secondhand shop, sinister The Fat Man which is set in Gee's boyhood suburb of Henderson during the 1930s and The Champion which is about a boy whose family billets an American soldier during WW2. The Fire Raiser is another of his which was made into a tv series.
He's mainly known for his adult writing including Crime Story and In my father's Den, which have both been made into movies. The raves are for his Plumb trilogy which I really should read. Check out this link to his children's books. http://www.storylines.org.nz/author_details.asp?author_id=60
And there's a nice article about Gee here that FlossieT might enjoy
Glad to hear from someone who has read Gool -- I was under the impression that this was meant to be a trilogy, so is there still room for more if the story is quite wrapped up with the second? Curious to discover... perhaps I will be reading more of Gee's series after all.
I first encountered Billingsley when I read Well Wished and was enchanted by her simple, yet imaginitive fairy-tale style. The Folk Keeper, while darker than I recall the other Billingsley book being, is equally charming. The folklore origins are a bit more obscure in this book, but the ideas are recognizable enough that those who enjoy folk and fairy tales will be satisfied, and those who aren't on such close terms with the subject will not be lost. Even more delightful -- as far as I know, Billingsley's books are not series, but stand on their own as quick, thoughtful, and pleasant reads.
That's the blurb. Must dash. And, I checked, it is McCarthy's Bar that I am reading. The more I read, the more I like it. More later.
The only other Billingsley book I know of is Big Bad Bunny, which is illustrated, but I haven't read it yet. If anyone has, I would be interested to know if it is the basic picture book it appears to be or if it is something more.
Okay, so I ended up really enjoying this light travel memoir. McCarthy, as has been said, is reminiscent of Bill Bryson and, though I don't think he has quite achieved Bryson's panache, he does a fine job with Ireland, a country I am attached to in a big way.
There are a lot of chuckles to be had here. There is also some blushing involved -- McCarthy is English (or, Irish-English, if one wants to be ironic about it) and has a very dry perspective on the fat Americans who invade Ireland in a loud and intolerant way at all times of the year. Being a fat American myself, there were moments during the reading of this book when I hung my head in shame. There were also moments where I gritted my teeth and made a mental note to send Pete McCarthy a stern word (like "xenophobia"). Not all of his portraits are flattering and some aren't even accurate (though most are), but this is the advantage of writing travel memoir rather than travel guides -- one doesn't have to be nice.
The only real disadvantage to this particular volume is one I noted in previous discussion: it is showing its age. Written nine years ago, this book is now participating in the "Ireland that has been" construction -- Ireland has changed so rapidly in the last decade that much of what is here in the book would no longer be there or be true in Ireland.
A bit of age not withstanding, this is a fun and funny read for anyone who has been to Ireland, has dreamed of being in Ireland, or has found themselves issuing the words "well, actually, I'm Irish myself" on more than one occasion. Worth the time.
#80: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
...and now wish I hadn't because I really liked it and want the rest of the trilogy to be available NOW.
But more about that later.
TWIMC: I am almost finished with my early reviewer from, um, October? (Was it October? Gosh, I don't remember -- it did take almost eight weeks to arrive and has taken a fair few days to read.) Anyway, will soon be posting on The Coral Thief.
I did take a break in the middle of reading that to read this...
#81: Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
A very dear friend of mine didn't much care for this book -- left him with a genuine sense of "meh" -- but I really enjoyed it. Gaiman wrote it for World Book Day UK, which means that -- like the JK Rowling "textbooks" written for similar occasions years ago -- this is a slim little volume, rather than a conglomeration of Gaiman's usual depth. In fact, those who are in love with Gaiman's usual dense prose will find this mythic tale quite sparse on both details and believability -- but that's sort of the point. Gaiman has not written a novel here -- he has written a myth, and done rather an excellent job at it. Using the figures from Norse mythology -- shades of those more elaborately characterized individuals from American Gods and Anansi Boys -- and a boy-hero who is a little left of ordinary, Gaiman has spun a skinny tale that might be better aloud than on the page. On the other hand, the illustrations by Brett Helquist -- illustrator of the year, apparently -- make the words on the page visually effective, so perhaps it works on both levels.
As I mentioned, I quite like it, but the only way to know for sure is to try it for yourself -- since it takes hardly an hour to read, there's nothing to lose. :)
#82: The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott
This was an early reviewer book for me and I enjoyed it, though I did not devour it. It has quite a sedate pace at first, but it does pick up. I was impressed by the level of research Stott incorporated -- the historical facts were detailed without slowing down the progression of the plot. It's been a while since I read it and it hasn't really stuck with me, but overall I would call this a beautifully crafted historical novel.
#83: Undertow by Elizabeth Bear
This science fiction novel is a participant in the classic "anti-colonial" sub-genre (not unlike the recent film "Avatar"), but does some original things with the details. The world in the book exist almost entirely on water and has a Deep South sensibility alongside the smooth tech talk. While it's neither mindblowing nor intensely original, it does avoid the common pitfalls of "The Chosen One" and other overdone genre fallbacks. A nice, clean scifi adventure with an intelligent political component.
#84: Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede
#85: The Grand Tour by Patricia Wrede
These two volumes are delightful, funny fantasies. Think what would happen if Jane Austen's manners were applied to JK Rowling's imaginative magic and combined with the craftsmanship of two experienced fantasy writers (which is the case, as these books are a collaboration between Wrede and C. Stevermer). The first, which is a true epistolary novel, is the best -- funnier and more clever than its sequel -- but the second is worth reading (though watch out for excess lovey-dovey-ness).
#86: The Maze Runner by James Dashner
This YA scifi novel might appeal to those who enjoyed Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games because of its similar plot of placing children in dangerous isolation and forcing them to fight (though this time they fight the environment rather than each other) to survive. In this case, there is more of a mystery -- instead of explaining the circumstances, Dashner drops us in the middle of the action with no background knowledge -- we are limited to the understanding of the kids, which is itself very limited. This "blindered" view drives the movement of the story, since both we and the characters are trying to puzzle out what's really going on until the end. As with Collins, the story is the real power here. The writing is occasionally inconsistent in its level of detail -- it's sometimes hard to maintain one's mental picture of the Maze and its threats. Also, there is a little awkwardness to Dashner's emotional moments, though since the bulk of the characters are teenage boys, the awkwardness almost works with the context. Overall, the novel is worth reading for its sheer power of story, its cleverness, and the solid twist at the very end -- enjoyable, even in its imperfection.
Thanks to LTer tapestry100 and his lovely book blog, through which I won this book. Yay! :)
So, that's it for 2009. I exceeded my goal -- hooray! And I read some darn good books. I know a lot of folks do a year-end wrap up, analyzing trends, etc., but I am lazy, and perpetually late, so I think I'd better go get my new thread started. :)