Sunday, December 30, 2007

Something About Me Challenge Wrap-Up

Challenge summary: Lisa from Breaking the Fourth Wall hosted this fab challenge, complete with its own blog. Participants chose 5 books that they felt said something about them and then everyone chose from those lists.

My books: Here are the ones I'd planned to read. I can't believe I picked 25, but every time a new list came up, I'd find another one I couldn't resist.

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (Athena)
So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson (Vasilly, A Book in the Life, Sally)
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Kristin)
Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter (Stephanie)
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Wendy)
The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (Nattie)
Sixpence House: lost in a town of books by Paul Collins (Nattie)
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth (Raidergirl13)
Evening Class by Maeve Binchy (Raidergirl13)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Christina)
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (various lists)
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Margo)
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Soleil)
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (Booklogged)
Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand (LibraryLady)
An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance (LibraryLady)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (SheReads)
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (SheReads)
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Valentina)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Juli)
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (Faith)
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Kelly)
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (Historia)
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Vasilly)
Marley and Me by John Grogan (Lynne)

The best book?: I can't pick just one! I can barely narrow it down to half a dozen, but here they are:
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Thirteenth Tale
The Polysyllabic Spree
An Inconvenient Wife
Evening Class
84 Charing Cross Road

Books I could have done without:

The Neverending Story, The Little Prince, and Inkheart - It's not exactly true that I could've done without them, because I did want to add add them to my children's librarian repertoire and I'm glad I did. But for me, they were pretty mostly chore-like and a struggle to get through.

Sixpence House - While I liked bits of the author's wit, I really didn't see the point of this book.

Books not finished:

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading - From the introduction and table of contents, I could just tell her reading tastes were way too estoeric for me. She had a section titled something like What I learned from Catholic nun stories. As I wasn't even aware that was a genre, I figured we should part ways.

Marley and Me - Several things kept me from finishing this one - I'm not a large-dog person, I'd been reading a lot of non-fiction and needed a break, and I figured it would have to end with Marley dying, and I just didn't want to get invested only to have a sad ending.

The Historian - I just couldn't get into it, it seemed so very large and dark. And while I enjoy vampire stories, I'm not actually very interested in Dracula.

(Technically I didn't finish East of Eden for the challenge, unless I finish the last half by tomorrow night, but I am reading and enjoying it.)

What I learned from this challenge:

1) That there's a wonderful community of book bloggers out there! I guess I already knew that books can be a great common denominator for people, but it was cool to see it play out in cyberspace among (mostly) virtual strangers who all came together because of our love of reading. And I learned that that community is a wonderful source of recommendations - I liked most of the books and I loved a lot of them.

2) That I seem to need the "excuse" of a challenge to read things that have been on my TBR list for ages. East of Eden is one of my husband's all-time favourites and I've been meaning to read it since we met, but I hadn't tackled it til now. Same with the 3 children's books mentioned above and also Rebecca. I've joined a ton of challenges for next year and organized my TBR list on LibraryThing, mostly as a way to whittle down the list.

3) As with past challenges, I expanded my reading horizons. In particular, I read more nonfiction in the last half of this year than I've probably read in the last five years, combined.

Review: Maniac Magee

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Summary (from Amazon): Maniac Magee is a folk story about a boy, a very excitable boy. One that can outrun dogs, hit a home run off the best pitcher in the neighborhood, tie a knot no one can undo. "Kid's gotta be a maniac," is what the folks in Two Mills say. It's also the story of how this boy, Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee, confronts racism in a small town, tries to find a home where there is none and attempts to soothe tensions between rival factions on the tough side of town.

My thoughts: This was my final book for the Newbery Challenge. I've always meant to read it - it's one of those fairly rare books that's an award-winner and also actually popular with kids. I can see why, it's a great story and one that would appeal to both boys and girls (especially boys, which is always welcome!). It had a lot packed into its short length - humour, fun, sadness, joy... Maniac is one of the most interesting kids' book characters I've come across in quite a while - smart, athletic, funny, resourceful, rather naive and very kind.

The only thing I didn't quite get is when it was supposed to be set - like Shiloh (which also confused me on the time front), it was published in the early nineties and appears to be set in that time, but the small-townness and the racism seems to belong to the 60's or 70's.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Review: There's a (slight) chance I might be going to hell

There's a (slight) chance I might be going to hell by Laurie Notaro

Summary (from Publishers Weekly): When Maye Roberts's husband, Charlie, gets a tenure-track job at prestigious Spaulding University, childless, 30-something Maye leaves her tight-knit group of friends and job as a Phoenix reporter to move to the school's eponymous Washington State burg. While Charlie fits in easily, Maye, after a faculty dinner run-in with Dean Spaulding's wife, Rowena, feels lonely and bored. When she learns about the Sewer Pipe Queen pageant, a local tradition that guarantees the winner a town full of friends, she enters with her singing dog, inflaming Rowena further. As tensions thicken, Maye's rather notorious pageant sponsor, Ruby, may hold the key to Rowena's continuing rage and to the decades-old incident that sparked it.

My thoughts: Like Swim to Me, this is just a great, quick read - lots of fun. There are some truly hilarious parts, particularly Maye's disastrous attempts at making friends. My favourite is her joining a "gothic book club" that isn't interested in the Brontes and their ilk at all and turn out to be complete loons. I actually really felt for Maye - one of my fears is having to move away from my lifelong home some day and being incredibly lonely because I can't make new friends, and that's exactly what she experiences when she moves to Spaulding. Speaking of which, the town,
with its blend of old timers and new agers, is a much character as much as any of its quirky residents (of whom there are quite a few).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Review: The Shepherd, the Angel....

The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry

This is a funny, quick Christmassy read from Dave Barry, who always makes me laugh. I'd read some of it before, in his column (who could forget the description of why it's better to be a shepherd than a Three King because you get to wait for your cue in the church belfry closet filled with bat poop?), but it's the story of Doug Barnes who, in 1960, is playing a shepherd in the Christmas pageant. His family's beloved dog Frank is about to die, his dad gets a flat tire on Christmas Eve (and their car is infested with red ants), and the shepherds keep giggling instead of solemnly walking towards Bethlehem.

It's illustrated with great 60's ads and photos and opens with one of Santa endorsing Lucky Strikes, which I thought was hilarious. I think this could be a great family read-aloud. Barry does a great job of telling it from his younger self's point of view (even though, officially, any similarity between people he knew growing up is "frankly, a bewildering coincidence"). A funny stocking stuffer!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blog Advent Calendar

Welcome to my entry in the blogosphere advent calendar!

I love Christmas, although I confess this year we're very behind. I've been loving people's descriptions of their traditions. Here's mine - I collect ornaments! My mom gave me my first one when I was about six. I was going to post a photo but I haven't even unpacked the ornaments yet, I'm sad to say. But it's one of my most prized possessions - she's a little plastic angel with an adorable face and gold foil wings. Every year her velveteen and paint wear a bit thinner, but I still adore her. There are pictures of me at that age with her clenched in my little fist. I took her off the tree at night and made her a little bed on the shelf next to mine. No matter how old I get, unpacking her brings me great joy every year.

My mom gave me an ornament every year until my late teens and even now she'll often give me one, especially if she and my dad have been on a trip. And now I buy them! Ohhh boy, do I buy them. I try to limit myself to one per year, but that rarely happens. This year I've gotten two. Here's the second one, I just couldn't resist her (the rest of her body is sticking out the back!):

I'm not normally a big Disney fan, but I have a soft spot for Peter Pan and especially for Tinkerbell. Oddly, I seem to be having a Tink sort of year, she keeps popping up. So I took spotting this one as a good omen and scooped up the last one in the store.

And now, for some Christmas music! It's an a cappella band called Tonic Sol Fa. We saw them this summer and I thought they were super. The house with the lights is apparently in South Dakota and each year they sync up their lights to music.

And another YouTube find, a little slideshow set to the ever-excellent Brad Paisley's Christmas song, James Penguin.

And please do check out the last 5 days of holiday blogging cheer! I'm sorry, I can't figure out an easy way to post the list here, so please click on the banner.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Review: An Inconvenient Wife

An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance
4 stars

Summary (from Booklist): Mrs. Lucy Carelton, who comes from one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in 1880s New York City, has been completely undone by her nerves. Her ambitious husband, a nouveau riche stockbroker, drags her from one doctor to another in search of a cure that will allow her to fulfill her many social obligations without giving in to hysteria. They think they have found the solution in charismatic neurologist Victor Seth, a champion of a relatively new procedure called hypnotism. Seth sets about freeing Lucy from the social constraints that have made her so unhappy, encouraging her to pursue her artistic talents and explore her sexuality. Seth convinces himself that his techniques, including his handy way with an electrotherapy wand, are all in the name of science, but even he is unprepared for the new Lucy who emerges - a passionate, calculating, amoral creature of large appetites.

First line: "An asylum!" William said. "Is there nothing else we can try? Nothing at all?"

What I liked best: I really enjoyed how this book kept changing - at first it seemed like it was going to be an exploration of women's submissive role in 19th century society, then it got into Seth and his ambitious quest for recognition by the medical community and it looked like he'd be a Svengali, then Lucy became her own person, so it looked like it would be about her new life, and then there was a major plot twist!

More thoughts: At first I was concerned that it was just going to be about Lucy and her hysteria, a fairly simple historical fiction, and I wasn't sure if I'd like it. But, as you can see above, it kept me very interested. It was well-researched, with lots of interesting details about New York society and early medicine (apparently what I'd heard about vibrators being used to treat hysteria is indeed true!). Often the way Lucy's husband and father, and even Seth, treated her made me very angry, so I was glad when she emerged from their suppression as her own woman. The discussion of the power of the unconscious mind was also interesting, especially since it's something that's still being explored today.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Review: Swim to Me

Swim to Me by Betsy Carter
4 stars

Summary: Ever since she visited Weeki Wachee Springs with her (now separated) parents, Delores Walker has wanted to be a mermaid there. At 16, she boards a Greyhound bus bound for Florida, leaving the Bronx behind. The roadside attraction is in danger of closing with the opening of Disneyland not far away. But when Delores joins a group of other aquatic hopefuls in this City of Live Mermaids, she reinvents herself Delores Taurus, Florida's most unlikely celebrity and heroine. Along the way, her family gets a chance to start over in the Sunshine State, with the help of the mermaids and a circus (particularly the elephants).

My thoughts: I was so excited to read this book - like Delores, I was enchanted by Weeki Wachee and spent at least a year around age 10 pretending to be a mermaid in any watery area I could find, particularly the bathtub. When my friend Vidalia recommended it to me, I had a flash of them swimming in the tank at the park - I could still even hear the mermaids' theme song!

This is a great book - the mermaidization of Dolores and her love for her little brother are lovely to read about and the stories of her parents' development since their parting fleshes the book out. It's just fun - the Florida setting, the mermaids, the circus.... I just really enjoyed it.

Apparently Weeki Wachee is still in trouble - they seem to have been in danger of going under since the 70's, when this book is set. Read about the park at I hope it doesn't close, I want to visit again, hopefully with my own kids some day!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Review: The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Summary: "Bastian embarks on a wild adventure when he enters the magical world of Fantastica, a doomed land filled with dragons, giants, and monsters, and risks his life to save Fantastica by going on a very dangerous quest."

My thoughts: Oh gosh, this is one I should be careful with, because I know it's a beloved classic. But honestly, the title really summed it up for me - quite often I felt like it was literally never going to end and I really wanted it to. I'm just not a fantasy girl, that was the main problem. I did enjoy some of the descriptions of the places in Fantastica - the many-coloured desert and the silver city, for example. And, rather like Inhkheart, I liked the idea of it - who hasn't wanted to be transported into a favourite book, especially when life isn't treating you very well? But it just kept going on and on with another place and weird character and another and another. Telling the whole story up until Bastian entered it and then starting over again was bizarre to me - I'm sure there was lots of deep meaning I didn't get, but the "Fantastica has always existed/nothing existed until you wished it" thing didn't really make sense to me. And I found Bastian very irritating, although I was happy that he got a good ending (and not just because it was the end :-) ).

It's funny, because I adore The Phantom Tollbooth, which I've just realized is quite similar - rather annoying boy enters a story and meets all kinds of weird characters and goes on a quest. I don't know, I guess it has a lot more humour (I found very little in this one) and it's shorter. Part of my problem with The Neverending Story could also be because it's translated - I seem to sometimes have trouble with translated works (I didn't really like The Little Prince, either, as you may recall).

Oh well, I'm still glad I read it, I've been meaning to for years, to add to my children's librarian repertoire.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Review: Sixpence House

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins

Summary: An account of Collins' attempt at moving his family to Hay-on-Wye a small Welsh town with 40 antiquarian bookstores (and not much else).

My thoughts: While the town of Hay sounds like a book-lover's dream vacation destination and Collins has a pretty good sense of humour, the point of this book was rather lost on me. Collins and his wife decide they can't afford to live in San Francisco any more and are craving a rural setting so they move not to a small town in the US, but across the Atlantic to Wales (with their baby son and hundreds upon hundreds of their own books). They'd visited Hay on vacation and liked it, so they try their hand at living there. But the town is a bit too weird and they can't find an affordable, non-deathtrap house, so they come back (apparently to live in a small town in Oregon or Vermont, which would have made sense in the first place). They don't even live in the titular Sixpence House, they just try to buy it before realizing it's a deathtrap. Collins peppers the book with passages from obscure books that he finds in Hay and there are some interesting characters in the townsfolk (particularly Richard Booth, the "King of Hay," who turned it into a bibliophile's mecca), but overall, I didn't find it particularly gripping. I'd certainly like to visit Hay some day, though!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Review: Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Summary (from Barnes and Noble): "Last Night I DreamtI Went To Manderley Again."
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past ther beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley.

My thoughts: I've always meant to read this one, so I'm glad the Something About Me Challenge gave me the chance. I recall seeing a PBS miniseries about it when I was a kid, but don't recall much beyond Mrs. Danvers being really creepy. While I didn't race through it, I enjoyed it and the plot twist came as a surprise and then I found it really picked up. I enjoyed all the descriptions of Manderley and wanted to live there.

I spent a lot of time being annoyed with both Maxim and the narrator, too - he had no business marrying such a young, unsophisticated girl and dumping her at Manderley with all its baggage. He does nothing to help her settle in, just leaves her at the mercy of Mrs. Danvers and expects her to know how to run a huge house. And it really did seem as if any young girl he'd picked up in Monte Carlo would've done as the second Mrs. De Winter - for all the protestations of love in the novel, I didn't buy it. She loved him in a puppy-dog way, he loved her because he needed a new wife. After the circumstances of Rebecca's death came to light, they did seem to develop an actual relationship, but it was still sketchy to me. Still, it's an excellent example of gothic suspense and I'm glad I finally read it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tis the Season!

Ho, ho, ho, fellow book bloggers! The Written Word blog is presenting...

Check out the featured blog each day from now (well, yesterday) until Christmas for some holiday cheer. I'm so excited, it's such a fun idea! (I'm signed up for December 20th.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Summary: A collection of humourous essays "which mines poignant comedy from his peculiar childhood in North Carolina, his bizarre career path, and his move with his lover to France."

My thoughts: Wow, the Sedaris family is sure...interesting! I read his sister Amy's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence earlier this year and it was one of the most bizarre books I've ever read (funny, but gosh-darn weird). And apparently it runs in the family! I enjoyed the first essay on being forced into speech therapy in elementary school for his lisp (where, he says, there should have been a Future Homosexuals of America sign on the door of the speech lab, since none of the popular jock boys had lisps). Sedaris Sr. sounds like quite the dad, from his desperate desire for his children to form a band, despite their lack of musical talent and interest all the way to the final chapter, which discusses his hoarding of rotten food. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about trying to explain Easter in French to a Moroccan woman, as well as the other French class ones. I don't think Sedaris will top my favourite humourist ever, Dave Barry (and, recently in second place, Billy Bryson), but I enjoyed the essays and laughed out loud a few times. I have a feeling he'd be even better in audiobook format, but my library is very scant on them, unfortunately.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Review: The View from Mount Joy

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik
5 stars

Summary (from Publisher's Weekly): Landvik's latest light drama opens as Joe Andreson transfers into a Minneapolis high school as a class of '72 senior. Like everyone else, Joe has a major thing for head cheerleader Kristi Casey—a version of Reese Witherspoon's character in Election. Joe gets some action, but is estranged from Kristi by graduation. As the years pass, and they stay in touch sporadically, Joe, who narrates, can't quite let go of his infatuation. He becomes an innovative grocer, still unmarried at mid-book, and Kristi transforms into a Bible-thumping radio/televangelist. Joe builds solid relationships with his mother and her new husband, and reconnects with high school friend Darva Pratt (who returns to town with her daughter, Flora), while Kristi sets her sights on the White House.

My thoughts: Yay, Lorna Landvik is back! Well, she never really left, but her recent Welcome to the Great Mysterious didn't quite live up to Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons and Patty Jane's House of Curl (which gets a mention in this book, which was fun), in my mind.

I'm sometimes skeptical when female writers write male characters (and vice versa), but Joe is excellent - he's sensitive and funny, and though life has handed him quite a few lemons and things don't go as he planned, he ends up with a truly wonderful life. Kristi is the classic mean girl and the leopard never changes her spots. In less deft hands, I think Joe would've given in and had an affair with her, but he manages to resist, even though he's still fascinated by her decades later. I loved Joe's fun grocery store concept - random contests and musical performances. I'd definitely shop there.

PW describes him as "a man with real family values" and he is - his extended family includes his mom and stepfather, his lesbian aunt and her partner, his best friend (Kristi's brother) and his family, Flora, Darva, and some surprises along the way. This makes a very good contrast to Kristi who, despite her supposedly Christian ways, treats her own family dreadfully.

I loved it all - Joe, his story, the supporting characters (especially tres French Flora when she's a tiny child), and, as always, the Minnesota setting (I'm always way too excited to read about things I recognize from our visits there). Despite a lot of sorrow in Joe's life, he manages to find great joy and remind us that it's out there even when we can't see the view right now. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Google Images Meme

Wendy had this up and it looked like fun. I'm not going to do all the questions, but here are a few. The instructions were to enter the answers into Google Images and post them.

Place you'd like to visit - Ireland

Favourite object:

Favourite Food:

Favourite colour:
(I loved my pair of these when I was a kid and keep meaning to buy big-girl ones)

Name of past pet:

Screen name:

Grandmother's name:

Major in college:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

2 quick ones

Going Dutch by Katie Fforde

Another cosy bit of chicklit from Fforde. Dora has just left her since-school boyfriend and needs a place to stay. Her friend Karen's mom, Jo, is staying on a barge belonging to a friend because her husband has dumped her for a young, blonde floozy. They end up travelling to Holland with cute jack-of-all-things-boaty Tom and master skipper Marcus when it turns out the barge needs to go to drydock. Nothing surprising, both women end up with the guys and there's the usual Fforde-ish element of living/working in an odd place. I liked all the barge bits - it used to be my dream to live on a houseboat. Nice easy comfort-food type reading.

Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler

I hadn't realized this was a sequel to Vegan Virgin Valentine when I picked it up. I found it a disappointing one. I remember really liking VVV and for me this just didn't do it justice. I think my main problem was that it's self-centred, badly-behaved V's sequel and I was more interested in her older cousin Mara, who's a very secondary character here. Guyaholic seems like a nice way of saying slut, though her trampy ways are supposed to be justified by V's feelings of abandonment by her mother and her mother's clinginess with men. When V finally meets a fab guy, Sam, she messes it up and ends up fleeing to her absent mother in San Antonio despite the fact that the woman has let her down her entire life. Thanks to a helpful waiter V sees the error of her ways just in the nick of time.There are some good bits (for example, she meets Sam when a hockey puck hits her in the head and knocks her into his lap) but overall this didn't really do it for me. But teens who either related to V or wondered what happened to her may enjoy it and it's a very quick read.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Summary (from Booklist): Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian "whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens." At 16, she loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab, to be strong enough to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even if she confronts insults from some at her snotty prep school, and she is refused a part-time job in the food court (she is "not hygienic"). Her open-minded observant physician parents support her and so do her friends, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular. Her favorite teacher finds her a private space to pray. The first-person present-tense narrative is hilarious about the diversity, and sometimes heartbreaking. . . .Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen's conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere.

My thoughts: I agree that this goes beyond the usual second-generation immigrant story, which was good. I liked that Amal was such a typical teenager and that her strong faith was just one part of her life. I think it's really important for people, especially kids and teens, to be able to read about themselves, and despite some strides, there's really not much contemporary fiction for "ethnic" teens of any stripe. Indian and Latina girls are starting to appear, but this was the first book I've seen about a Western Muslim girl just trying to be a teenager.

While it wasn't preachy, I did think it tried really hard to cover all of the stereotypes about Muslims (and in some ways immigrants in general) - there's Amal's friend Leila whose Turkish mother is basically the Muslim equivalent of a hillbilly - all she knows to do is to try to keep Leila away from bad influences and get her married as soon as possible. Amal's aunt and uncle have given themselves and their children English names, wear Western dress and dye their hair, and try, to a rather painful degree, to be ultra-Australian. There's also an elderly Greek neighbour who represents the whole "old country" stereotype. But stereotypes usually become stereotypes because they have some truth and overall the supporting characters were well done, if a few were a bit over the top.

One thing that was interesting is that several people assume Amal's parents are forcing her to wear the veil, which I admit I've thought a few times when I've seen teen girls wearing it. So I obviously needed to be reminded that teens are capable of having their own strong religious beliefs (whatever the religion). I also thought that Amal's obsession with getting her hair right underneath it and selecting the right colour scarf to go with her outfit was a great illustration of being devout while still being a teenager like any other girl.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quirk Factor

There are definitely people who know how weird I am... :)

Your Quirk Factor: 40%

You have a few little quirks, but you generally blend in well with society.
Only those who know you well know how weird you can be.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Young Adult Challenge

Yes, another one! But with the crazy number of YA books that I want to read, with more coming into the library every week, this will be an easy one.

And here is the list (subject to change):

1. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

2. Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

3. 10 Things to do Before I Die by Daniel Ehrenhaft

4. The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

5. Aurelia by Anne Osterlund

6. Derby Girl by Shauna Cross

7. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

8. Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling

9. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

10. Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

11. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

12. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Review: Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
4.5 stars

Summary: Sixteen year-old Miranda's normal life of swim team, friends, a crush, and life with her divorced parents and two brothers comes to a halt when a meteor crashes into the moon, throwing the earth's forces of nature off course and causing earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Her diary details her family's struggle to survive.

My thoughts: This one has been getting a fair bit of good press and one of my colleagues is simply crazy about it, so I thought I'd give it a go. Survival stories aren't usually my bag, but this one was really well done. I thought it was a pitch-perfect account of what life would be like - the dwindling food, fear, cabin fever, finding joy in small things, alternating between optimism and despair and between loving and hating the people you were trapped with. School Library Journal rightly describes it as "frighteningly plausible." It also blew my mind that a change in gravity would cause all of those disasters - what do we take for granted more than gravity?

The only off-note for me was a few references to an "idiot President" on his ranch in Texas who, it seemed to me, was obviously meant to be George Bush. I didn't think they were needed and they actually took me out of the book by being references to the present rather than this disaster in the (near) future. I think they might date the book a little in a few years (although there will always be people who think any president is an idiot, I suppose).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Quill Awards

Via Sam Houston's Book Chase blog. You should visit him because he's a book-related news-collector extraordinaire!

But I started to comment on his blog and then found I had a lot to go on and on about, so I moved back here.

So, here's the blurb about the Quills (which were last month, I'm behind): "The Quills, an initiative launched with the support of Reed Business Information and NBC, is an industry-qualified “consumers choice” awards program for books. The Quills celebrates the best adult and children's books of the year in 19 popular categories, ranging in everything from biography to general fiction to cookbooks and graphic novels."

This came as something of a revelation to me - awards based on books people actually enjoy reading! Not just "worthy" titles that always seem like punishment-reading to me. I realize that it's probably too "commercialized" for literary artistes and I'm sure they're not all great works. But it's refreshing to see a list of books that I've a) heard of and b) actually read and enjoyed. Well, some of them. AND that there are categories other than "Worthy, Depressing Literary Fiction." Romances - gasp! Humor - oh my stars!

The complete list of nominees is here. I was impressed to find that I'd read:

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (romance) - it was indeed a charmer.

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris (humor) - definitely funny; one of the most different and bizarre books I've ever read (It's also nominated for audio book, which I find weird, since it's got tons of illustrations and recipes scattered throughout, though it would be cool to hear her read it.)

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (current events/politics) - one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while.

Flotsam by David Weisner (picture books) - his usual stunning artwork.

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett (picture books) - one of my fave picture books of the year, adorable and deceptively simple. (I loved her Monkey and Me, too!)

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA) - Just finished this one, it was amazing! (Review coming soon).

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (debut author) - a fabulous debut, and I know lots of book bloggers agree!

Of course, that scary The Road won in General Fiction. I must say that one will never be for me. But others have really thought it was wonderful, I know, so I'm sure it deserved it. There are a few "worthies" on the list, but overall, I must say it's a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Review: The Off Season

The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
5 stars

Summary (from Booklist): D. J.'s junior year starts off promisingly: she has finally been accepted as a valuable player on the football team, and Brian Nelson, quarterback for a rival school, is still coming around to see her. Storm clouds gather, though, as her close friend is bullied for being gay, money problems on the farm increase, and an injury forces D. J. to choose between football and basketball, which could net her a college scholarship. She also begins to wonder why Brian makes out with her but never wants to take her anywhere. Then brother Win is seriously injured on the football field, forcing her to gain some much-needed perspective.

My thoughts: I don't often like sequels as much as their predecessors - I tend to fall hard and then judge the next one by that initial thrill. They usually pale in comparison, even if I still like them. But this one broke that trend, it was just as excellent as Murdock's Dairy Queen. She's just an astonishingly good writer, I can't even quite put my finger on why - everything's just right, the words, the characters, the story.

Having a soft spot for Minnesota, I loved that part of it took place there (even if the reason for it was tragic). DJ is just such a great girl, mainly because she's real. She's so self-conscious (often hilariously so) and she comes off as a very real teen, yet she manages to deal with great family hardship, even when she doesn't want to or thinks she can't.

A girl in my teen book club loves these books and I was so excited that she did - I love it when kids find these great books amidst the crappy ones. She's mainly in it for the making out with Brian scenes, but that's okay.

Murdock's realistic characters, rural setting, sports backdrop, and family struggles are an excellent antidote to the Hollywood Hills/Mean Girls genre of YA fiction that's all the rage at the moment.

(Sorry, this one's way overdue, I read it in the summer, yeesh.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What people aren't reading

Via 3M.

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but couldn’t finish, and strike through books you hated. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your tbr list.

Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice*
Jane Eyre*
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of Cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A clockwork orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
A confederacy of dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The unbearable lightness of being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion

Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's in a Name? Challenge

Oh my stars, another one! This is really getting out of control...

But Annie came up with this one and it sounds like fun. And heck, it's only 6 books...

So far my list looks like this:

1. A book with a color in its title
by Cecil Castellucci

2. A book with an animal in its title
Dear Sad Goat: a roundup up truly great Canadian tales and letters (with Triple 8 Challenge)

3. A book with a first name in its title
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

4. A book with a place in its title
Looking for Alaska by John Green

5. A book with a weather event in its title
Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

6. A book with a plant in its title
Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes by Cathy Holton

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
5 stars

Summary (from Library Journal): Before Henry VIII ever considered making Anne Boleyn his wife, her... sister, Mary, was his mistress... The sisters and their brother George were raised with one goal: to advance the Howard family's interests, especially against the Seymours. So when Mary catches the king's fancy, her family orders her to abandon the husband they had chosen. She bears Henry two children, including a son, but Anne's desire to be queen drives her with ruthless intensity, alienating family and foes. As Henry grows more desperate for a legitimate son and Anne strives to replace Katherine as queen, the social fabric weakens. Mary abandons court life to live with a new husband and her children in the countryside, but love and duty bring her back to Anne time and again.

My thoughts: Right after I finished it, I had this very un-courtly, modern reaction to this 16th century-set blockbuster: "Man, that was a crazy-good book!!" :-) It kept me on the exercise bike twice as long as usual so I wouldn't have to stop reading and also up into the wee hours last night.

So, I loved it. I'd enjoyed Gregory's The Queen's Fool earlier this year, enough to give the author another go and boy, am I glad I did! It had all the scandals and sex of a soap opera but was well-written and very well-researched. I've always been quite interested in Elizabeth I and this was a fascinating look at her mother and her mother's family. I hadn't realized how long it took Anne Boleyn to actually get Henry VIII to marry her - I thought he divorced Katherine of Aragon very quickly, but Anne actually had to keep him interested without bedding him for 6 years, quite an amazing feat considering he was so selfish and fickle. And I had no idea that her younger sister had had him first! It was quite a portrait of a complex sisterly relationship - the Boleyn girls seem to have a had love/hate relationship where they alternately hated and really needed it each. I found it interesting but sad that they kept alternating between being "the other Boleyn girl" and that their family really didn't much care which of them was doing what, as long as the family was advancing. So it was also a very interesting look into court life and how high-born women were nothing but pawns in men's plans, even after if they were Queen of England. After reading this, I can see even more clearly how incredibly smart Elizabeth I was to avoid marriage and remain queen in her own right.

The Tudors sure are hot these days and I'm on the bandwagon! I'd better get to the Elizabeth sequel and I'm looking forward to the movie based on this book. And I've only seen one episode of The Tudors so far, for shame, especially since it seems to be set at exactly the same time as this book, when the Boleyn girls first came to court. And I might just finally check out a biography of Elizabeth I, which I've been meaning to do for some time. And, ooh, I almost forgot, there's her newest book, The Boleyn Inheritance! I see a Tudor binge coming on...

Review: Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day

Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day by Toni McGee Causey

Summary/review (from Booklist): Bobbie Faye Sumrall is a one-woman demolition derby, a certifiable spitfire with a mean mouth, meaner attitude, and a head-bashingly awful streak of luck. The one good thing in her life is her tenure as the reigning queen of Lake Charles, Louisiana's Contraband Days festival, an exalted title bequeathed to her by her late mother that entitles her to wear the tiara made by her great-times-four grandfather. It's a tacky thing, to be sure, but still the most precious possession she has. So when her lowlife brother is kidnapped and the tiara demanded as ransom, Bobbie Faye must figure out how to rescue him without relinquishing the crown. General mayhem ensues: banks are robbed, hostages taken, trucks shot, buildings blown up. Pretty much a normal day in the life of Bobbie Faye. For erstwhile Ya-Ya Sisters and readers who like their heroines hot-blooded, Causey's feisty and foul-mouthed but lovable party queen is a welcome new addition to the parade of plucky good ol' southern gals.

My thoughts: That pretty much sums it up. It's very over-the-top, but in a fun way. Bobbie Faye is quite the dame, as my mom would say. Her love for her family, despite that fact that they're nothing but trouble for her, is touching and admirable. I loved the whole Contraband Days Festival thing and that she was the Queen - it helped her out a few times, being recognized as such. Trevor the "hostage" and Cam the cop are both hunky book-crush material. It was my commuting book, so I read it in bits and pieces - I think it's probably a book best devoured at once, so you don't lose the action. Pick this one up for a funny, fast-paced adventure with a hell of a heroine.

(There's already a sequel planned for next year!)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Review: Shiloh

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Summary: 11-year-old Marty Preston lives in the West Virginia hills with his parents and 2 sisters. He's pretty content to roam the hills along or hang out with his couple of friends. But one day a scared Beagle puppy follows him home and he sure looks scared. When Shiloh (as Marty's named him) keeps appearing, Marty decides not to let him go back to his owner, mean Judd Travers. Marty is sure he mistreats his hunting dogs and that's why Shiloh ran away. Marty hides the dog, but can't stand lying to his parents. When Shiloh is badly injured and word gets out that the Prestons have him, Marty gathers up his courage to keep Shiloh but discovers it's sometimes hard to separate right from wrong.

My thoughts: I spent the first third of the book sure I'd read it before and I'm still not sure whether I had or not. But it could be I just know about it because it's now a classic or that it's such an archetypal boy-and-his-dog story. I'm not a big dog-story person, but I can certainly see why it's so well-loved, as a dog is often at the top of a kid's list of desires. And it is a good kids' story, I can see why it won the Newbery.

The one thing that bugged me was that I felt (rather like Inkheart) that it should have been set in the past. The book was written in 1991, but the rural setting and dialect, in addition to the fact that there's no money to be had to keep a dog (even though Mr. Preston is a postman - hello, government employee! - and they seem to have a fair bit of land), really made it feel like it should have been set during the 30's or 40's. Now, maybe it's an accurate contemporary West Virginia dialect and I know nothing about the hardships of small, rural counties, but I found it quite jarring to read that the Prestons had a TV (yet couldn't afford a phone?) and Marty's friend David had a computer.

I was impressed that the book really showed that right and wrong can be shades of grey. Often in kids' books there's the one very clear right thing to do. But while Marty knows that saving Shiloh is right, he also has to deal with lying and with the fact that he's stolen another man's property. Plus in order to save Shiloh once and for all, he has to stand by while another animal is hurt. I thought the final words really summed it all up, "...I'm thinking how nothing is as simple as you guess - not right or wrong, not Judd Travers, not even me or this dog I got here. But the good part is I saved Shiloh and opened my eyes some. Now that ain't bad for eleven." I'd say it's not bad for people 2, 3, or 4 times 11, Marty! :-)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Review: Literacy and Longing in LA

Literacy and Longing in LA by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack
2 1/2 stars

Summary (from Publisher's Weekly): Dora, at 35, is a twice-divorced former young reporter on the rise at the L.A. Times. . . Dora's depressed, and she only leaves the house to stalk [2nd ex] Palmer and buy more books. At the bookstore, she meets elegantly scraggly comp lit Ph.D. Fred, and they begin an unlikely courtship. Dora is soon surprised by Fred's invitation to meet his mother, Bea, whom Dora likes instantly, all the more so when she learns Bea is also raising Harper, the six-year-old daughter of Fred's troubled sister. The bond between Bea and Dora gives Dora something she never had with her own, alcoholic mother, and helps her make decisions that bring her life back into focus.

My thoughts: I wanted to like this book more than I did. On paper, it was perfect for me - iblioholism and chick lit! And I didn't hate it, it did have some good bits. But I just couldn't really get into Dora. She deals with her depression by going on "book binges"- retreating to her bathtub with a stack of books and a bottle of wine for a weekend or longer. It sounds wonderful to me and, apart from the wine, a very non-harmful way to cope. If I could bring myself to take books into the bath, I'd give it a try. But her family and friends think it's terrible and they all seem to focus on books as the bad part, rather than Dora's obvious borderline-alcoholism and actual depression.

Throughout the book, Dora often seems to blame reading for her state of mind. I was amused by her zealous conversion to "popular" literature like Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel, finally realizing that not every book has to be a weighty tome. It seems like she's turned a corner, but a later scene where she realizes that reading hasn't been helping her deal with reality (which I'd say was her fault, rather than books themselves) will horrify any book-lover.

And yet, I had to check backwards in the book to see why she was depressed - oh yeah, the divorce and quitting her job. She struck me as a spoiled woman who was stuck in a rut (she lives in a great apartment and lives on a - dwindling - trust fund) rather than someone who was really in pain. She's also a literary snob and an appearance snob (in one scene she's quite shocked by how her sister Virginia, who has a baby, doesn't weigh 80 pounds and dress like a model, like everyone else in LA).

Harper and Bea were delightful - I'd have wanted to adopt them, too. They bring warmth and reality into Dora's life and, with the help of her sister, she's able to discover that she actually wants to be much more conventional (that is, bourgeois) than she realized. Fred is a complete snot and often a heartless jerk - he basically serves to show Dora that Palmer is actually a really great guy. The fact that Palmer seems to have had no problem flirting with Dora and then dumping his live-in, almost-fiancee lowered his great-guy status a bit for me, but it was in the name of a happy ending, so okay.

The "Book List" at the end was very strange. I fully expected to have a bibliography in such a bookish book, but this lists every author, artist, poet or songwriter mentioned, starting with the very first quotation before the title page. It seemed really weird to me that, having already included the citation for the poem by Ted Kooser (including mentioning that he's the Poet Laureate) they then feel the need to put "Ted Kooser, poet" in their list. They even include Mother Teresa, "nun/author"! And will it come as a shock to me that Cinderella is a "children's tale"? There's no extra information, just the title and author of a book or a person's name and their vocation. I can't figure out if it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, if they think we're all really stupid or if they just thought it would be fun to make a list.

Final grumble (which isn't really their fault and it's part of the story) - apparently Dr. Seuss wasn't very fond of children, which Dora finds out when she takes Bea and Harper on a trip to his hometown. I didn't need to know that. :(

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review: Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Summary (from the publisher): Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens...But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

My thoughts: Wow, a book that wasn't for a challenge! How novel. At first I didn't think I'd get into this one, it seemed very similar to Holly Black's Tithe, which I'd already read and enjoyed and I'm looking forward to Ironside, the sequel. But I started it on Friday, read it into the wee hours last night (partly due to my recurring bouts of sleeplessness, but also to find out what was going to happen) and finished it this afternoon.

The gorgeous cover and cool title, along with the faerie theme give it huge teen appeal, which was one of the reasons I wanted to read it. I think it might be a good one to recommend to girls who are suffering from Twilight withdrawal. While not as gripping or with as many new twists on an old legend as that one, it was nice to see that Marr had done her faerie research - each chapter opens with a quote from actual 19th and early-20th century books about the fey. Apparently there are enough books set in this century coming out to warrant a sub-genre called Urban Faery. I have seen quite a few lately, though vampires still seem to be ruling in the supernatural teen book arena.

It's not a towering piece of literature and, as I said, at first I didn't think I'd finish it. But the idea of both a Faery King and a Tattooed But Sensitive Mortal vying for one's affections leads to tempting daydreams and the idea that there are faeries of all sorts around us is great fodder for the imagination. Of course, I'm the girl who always wants to clap or chant to keep Tinkerbell alive. :)

Review: A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Summary: A humorous and well-researched account of Bryson's attempt (with and without his friend Katz) to hike the Appalachian Trail.

My thoughts:
I've always wanted to read Bill Bryson, having heard that he was very funny. But I'm not much of a non-fiction girl, so I never got around to him. But now I think I can safely say that I think Bill Bryson is an amazing author because he got me to read about (and be interested in) something that is in fact my definition of HELL.

Yes, hell. I hate camping (a fully-equipped luxury campground in an RV is about as much as I can take and even then it's way down my list) and I don't understand the appeal of hiking, particularly not for days on end in the mountains. I found myself wondering many times why he was doing it when he was so clearly miserable so much of the time and really, by his own admission, not cut out for it. I can't imagine hiking in mud, snow, sweltering heat and being miles from civilization with only open-fronted shelters to sleep in and a privy if you're lucky. Hell, I'm telling you.

I enjoyed his anecdotes about the people they met on the trail (both amazingly nice and amazingly annoying) and about the often ridiculous Katz who kept throwing equipment away because it was too heavy. Even many of the tales of the perils of the trail were amusing, particularly the many, many about bears (a running theme). I did start to glaze over during the longer passages about particular flora and fauna, but even so, I was impressed with his research about all areas of the trail. The constant reminders about how much of that flora and fauna were nearing extinction and the uselessness of the National Parks Service got a bit wearisome, but I'm sure having experienced it up close, it's very upsetting to see such an often-cavalier attitude towards nature.

I'll definitely read more Bryson and will hopefully get to Notes From a Small Island soon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: The Polysyllabic Spree

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

5 stars

Summary: A collection of columns Hornby wrote for The Believer about the books he read (or didn't read) each month.

My thoughts: I want to have Nick Hornby over for dinner! I loved this book!

I had the same kind of kindred spirit reaction that I did to 84 Charing Cross Road. I'd assumed I'd like it, as I've liked his books, and I was right. This is what I'd hoped So Many Books, So Little Time would be like. It seemed to be more about the books, somehow, even when he was talking about what had happened in his life, SMBSLT seemed like the other way around. He discussed the books he'd bought, the ones he'd read (often not the same ones at all) and how some books led to others - an author's work might lead to a biography of that author, or vice versa. But he did it a a funny (so funny!), approachable way. One month he read just David Copperfield and found it hard to get back into lesser novels. Even though I think I'd only read one of the books he did, I still enjoyed each column and how life either got in the way or enhanced his reading - becoming a father for the third time and football season meant he read less those months, for example. I was impressed that he'll read just about anything, from biographies of sports heroes to the letters of Anton Chekhov, with lots of novels in between. I was very curious to find out his opinion of one of the books he bought, Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willet. Maybe it'll be in the sequel, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt. (I didn't like it at all and my book club wasn't too impressed, either. We really didn't get why it was described in the blurb as "witty" when it wasn't, it was confusing and rather icky.)

One bit that struck me was that he, like me sometimes, is able to be put off a book by a little thing. In Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal (the only book I think he and I have both read) he notes that no-one has ever said "Arsenal won Liverpool 3-0." after a football match, as her young character does. ("Trashed" or "thumped" are examples of what people do say.) And then his "dismay and disbelief led me to question other things, and the fabric of the novel started to unravel a little." I thought it was an interesting and true point, that such a small thing really can distract you from the rest of the book.

My favourite sentence was: "...after a lifetime of reading, I can officially confirm that readers' writers beat writers' writers every time." Right on, brother!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
4 stars

Summary/review (from School Library Journal): Lily at 80 reflects on her life, beginning with her daughter days in 19th-century rural China. Foot-binding was practiced by all but the poorest families, and the graphic descriptions of it are not for the fainthearted. Yet women had nu shu, their own secret language. At the instigation of a matchmaker, Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a larger town and supposedly from a well-connected, wealthy family, become laotong, bound together for life. Even after Lily learns that Snow Flower is not from a better family, even when Lily marries above her and Snow Flower beneath her, they remain close, exchanging nu shu written on a fan... As the years pass, the women's relationship changes; Lily grows more powerful in her community, bitter, and harder, until at last she breaks her bond with Snow Flower. They are not reunited until Lily tries to make the dying Snow Flower's last days comfortable. Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten.

Reason for reading: The Something About Me Challenge and also I'd heard so much about it. Actually, someone even recommended it to me as a children's book! No, no... (But I know some of the teens at my library have enjoyed it.)

My thoughts: I agree with the statements above. Despite the far-off setting, I found the book enjoyable and it really does cover all of those emotions, particularly love (and the longing to be loved) and self-absorption. That the breaking of Lily and Snow Flower's decades-long bond is caused by a single misunderstanding, is quite tragic, but I'm sure it still happens today.

I thought it was very well-researched. I learned a lot about 19th century China, particularly about foot-binding. I had no idea they actually broke and permanently deformed the foot - I thought they just bound it so it stayed child-small. Eeeyugh!!! I had had no idea Chinese women had had a secret language, although I do think it's rather funny they thought it was a "secret" from the men when they sang and chanted in it at every special event and even wove it into clothing and shoes.
As Lily finally realized, the men knew about it, they just didn't think women had anything important to say. I was also really intrigued by the formation of the laotong friendships that were almost like marriages and in many cases there was much more affection and devotion involved.

(As an aside, not long before reading this book, I'd read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the foot-binding brought to mind the female circumcision in that book. It really made me pause in horror at the things that have been done (and are still being done) to women in the name of things like beauty and "purity.")

Monday, October 22, 2007

Review: Inkheart

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Summary: One night when she is very small, Meggie's father Mo reads aloud from a book called Inkheart and their lives are never the same. Years later, Meggie and Mo find themselves in the middle of an adventure straight out of a storybook - literally. Villains escaped that night and Meggie's mother disappeared. Now only Meggie can change the course of the story and bring about a happy ending.

My thoughts: I really, really liked the premise of this book - reading characters out of a story. Who hasn't wanted to see their favourites in the flesh? I liked Meggie and the other characters, I wanted to know what would happen, I enjoyed the quotes at the start of each chapter and liked that Meggie enjoyed classic books. The only thing was that at 560 pages, it seemed realllly long to me for a kids' book (yeah, I know, enormous Harry Potters, etc...). I found myself wishing it would end and feeling that it could've been condensed. There seemed to be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that I could've done without. But it was a big hit with young readers, so I have to say that the kids are better readers than I am to not feel tired partway through. Still, it's a very imaginative and intelligent book - perhaps my brain just wasn't up for it this month.

(There were quite a few quotes from non-children's book The Princess Bride and a few times I found myself wishing I was reading it instead. Apparently I need to dig my copy out of storage and immerse myself in Westley and Buttercup.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review: Rain Village

Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon
3 stars

Summary (adapted from Booklist): Tessa is a very small girl and, to her family's bewilderment and ridicule, she isn't cut out for farmwork. Instead, Tessa gets a job at the local library, where the enigmatic librarian, Mary, with her stories of the circus and potions for the lovelorn, takes Tessa under her wing and teaches her the art of trapeze flying. When life gets difficult at home and she loses Mary, Tessa escapes to the circus. Over time, Tessa finds a home among the circus performers, falls in love with a wonderful man, and becomes a mother. However, when a stranger comes around talking about Mary, all of Tessa's old feelings bubble back to the surface. She must decide between the life she knows or risk it all to follow this stranger, who can lead her to the place that may hold the secret to Mary's death.

My thoughts: I really liked this one at first. The cover's gorgeous and it's about an enchanted librarian who drives men wild and tells women's futures? Woo hoo! Turgeon has a gift for descriptions, particularly of scents (Mary is always associated with cinnamon and oranges), the dazzling sights of the circus, and the mysterious, magical Rain Village. I was so glad that Tessa found a new, happy life with the circus people, but when she risked it all and went away with the stranger, I was mad at her. I'm finding lately that I have very little patience for characters who make what I consider to be stupid decisions and I have a hard time forgiving them. While I guess that her search for Mary's past provided closure for Tessa, I didn't feel that it revealed any great secrets, which was a disappointment - the building up to the discovery of the village and then not much happened (unless I missed something).

However, if you're feeling like a bit of magic, I'd still say it's worth a read, particularly for the early parts in the library and the circus.

(Final ranty note: I got tired of the constant references to Tessa's "starfish hands" - I couldn't visualize them. Were her fingers abnormally far apart? Did her thumb and pinkie start near her wrist? Were her fingers all the same length?)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Review: So Many Books, So Little Time

So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson

This is a hot topic in the book blogosphere right now, thanks to the Something About Me Challenge and the Bibliography Challenge. If you want to hear any more about it from little ol' me, read on...

First off, I have to say that I reacted to Nelson like a character in a book, rather than the author. So I'm just going with that - I do know she's a real person who has the right to read and write and think whatever she likes.

- Overall, I liked the book well enough - I got through it quickly and was kept pretty interested. It was interesting to see how the books were affecting her, what thoughts they brought to her mind or how they related to what was happening in her life. But it didn't really seem like a chronicle of a "year of passionate reading." Several of our Something About Me-ers mentioned the passion in the "passionate reading" didn't come through and I agree. Becky summed it up really well: "...if it had been called "Thoughts on the Books I've Read This Year" instead I would have thought it delivered just fine."

- I also agree with About Me-er Alisonwonderland who says she didn't feel very engaged with Nelson - "a couple of times i found myself thinking that many of the book bloggers i know could have written this book at least as well, if not better." (Note - I do not include myself in that category!)

- Quite a few times Nelson reminded me of that Booking Through Thursday question about being a "Goldilocks reader" - she couldn't get into the book if things weren't just right. For someone who is a "passionate" reader, she seemed awfully picky. I didn't understand her Rule #1 that "location, location, location" applies to books as much as real estate. To me, if you really want to read a book, I don't think it matters which living room/state/weather zone you're sitting in. In one of her first entries, she ended up reading the only English book in the house - a biography of a Russian author whose family owned the place - during one vacation because she couldn't get into the one book she'd brought along because she felt it didn't match the Russia-like setting of the ski lodge. I found that really extreme and almost a kind of self-punishment for bringing the "wrong" book with her.

- Nelson claims (quite a few times) that she's not much of a re-reader: "And life is short, why waste time on something you already know, when you can discover something exciting and new?" This is how I feel; I have a few very beloved books and some that I've read a couple of times, but most of my books go right back to the library and that's the end of them, though I thank them for their company. But for someone who claims not to be much of a re-reader, she does it a lot in just one year of reading - I lost count, but I think there were at least 8 books that she'd read before. I think she needs to just admit she's a re-reader - it's not like there's anything wrong with it, it's good to have beloved books. And if you own as many books as she does in her cherry-shelved library, it seems odd you wouldn't re-read them. (But then, I'm not much for owning books, but I think I'm in the minority there.)

- She's a bit of a snob - in one of the appendices, she mentions trying out a Mary Higgins Clark mass market paperback and has to justify it by saying she was on a plane and didn't really remember much about it. I don't know anything about Mary Higgins Clark, but the disdain for mass market paperbacks and a hugely popular author irked me.

- She puts her planned reading list for the year in one of the appendices and no wonder she barely read any of them (2, I think)! They were almost all things she clearly didn't enjoy reading - poetry, short stories, and nonfiction (all of which she admits to not particularly enjoying) and a bunch of classics she hadn't gotten to yet. With a list like that, she was bound to "fail" (in the sense of not reading what she planned to read, I don't think she really did fail). I think we all have lists of "worthy" titles we'd like to get to, but to think you're going to do them all in a year seems like a lot of pressure.

- I was totally with her on this statement: "I have to read and read and read, all the while knowing that the more aggressively I pursue my passion, the sooner it will end and then I will be bereft." I've put off finishing books I'm loving so that I can keep that bereft feeling at bay a while longer.

- I do agree with her Rule #2 - timing. There are certainly books that you can't get into because you're too young, there's too much going on in your life and you're distracted, they're too close to something you can't face right now, or they're heavy and you need fluffy or they're fluffy and you want solid.

- I'm definitely a "double-booker, " too. I pretty much always have one book in my bag for the commute and errands and one by my bed, and fairly often another one somewhere in the house. She mentions being careful they're separate enough to not get them mixed up in your head. This happened to me earlier this year - I was reading 2 historical novels set in the Maritimes for 2 different book clubs. I picked up one and couldn't figure out where the narrator's many siblings and drunk father had got to and why they were dirt poor and lived in the city all of a sudden. (Not to mention that the narrator was now a boy instead of a girl!)

- I agreed with her about not really liking "publishing phenomena" - the books that are currently the talk of the town. It's nicer to either discover them first before you hear too much about them or to read them many years after the hype has died down.

- Not liking Mitch Albom and his touchy-feely pseudo-spiritual drivel (though I had to read The 5 People You Meet in Heaven for book club and she tried Tuesdays with Morrie after a friend suggested it.)

- I loved The Crimson Petal and the White and Slammerkin, too!

- One thing that I found quite funny - she really got into A Million Little Pieces and actually found it helpful to her marriage. I wonder how she felt when she discovered it was a sham? (Maybe the message still stayed the same, which was all that mattered.)