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.)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Review: Nantucket Nights

Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand
3 stars

Summary (from Booklist): Kayla, Antoinette, and Val are a trio whose unlikely friendship was formed 20 years ago when they each rented a room in the same house. Val and Kayla were fast friends, but, despite Kayla's persistence, Antoinette kept her distance--until one night when her desire for a midnight swim inaugurated an annual ritual and cemented their bond. On a remote point on the island of Nantucket, the three women spend one night each Labor Day weekend drinking champagne, eating lobster, skinny-dipping, and baring their souls. One of the secrets revealed during their twentieth get-together launches a chain of events that changes them all forever. Antoinette swims out to sea and never returns, and as they search for her, wondering if she is alive, a complex web of deceptions (both intentional and unintended) begins to unravel.

My thoughts: I chose this book because I'm quite fascinated by those New England islands. I went through quite an obsession with the Hamptons, but didn't know much about Nantucket (besides it being the home of the man in that limerick). The first page describes Kayla doing her Christmas shopping on Main Street I was instantly drawn in and wanted to visit Nantucket in the winter - charming little shops all handing out snacks, filled to the brim with Christmas cheer. I also enjoyed reading about the beaches and generally about island life.

The actual story is definitely soap opera-ish, but would make a good beach read (especially given the beachy setting). It dealt with women's friendships in a non-typical way - not a whole lot of loving support going on at all. Harsh, cynical Val tells Kayla that's because they couldn't handle being caring all year round - that's why they only share things with each other once a year. Val and Antoinette were supremely unlikeable and Kayla seemed quite naive at times (though I think she can be forgiven having faith in her friends, she didn't realize they were complete bitches). But even Kayla is far from blameless and she comes very close to ruining her marriage. The twists and turns kept me reading and most of the time I liked Kayla, but the lack of any human feeling in the other two was pretty off-putting.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Banned Books

Happy Banned Books Week! My library isn't really doing anything for it and I don't usually pay much attention, but I came across this list of the most challenged books from 1990-2000 and see how much of a reading rebel I am by how many I've read.

Red= have red
Purple = I think I might have read (shows how damaging they were to my psyche, can't even recall them for sure)

1. Scary Stories (Series) ~ by Alvin Schwartz (kids love these, can't keep them on the shelf)
2. Daddy's Roommate ~ by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ~ by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War ~ by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ~ by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men ~ by John Steinbeck (high school English)
7. Harry Potter (Series) ~ by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever ~ by Judy Blume (definitely not for tweens, though, which is how old I was, I remember not quite getting a lot of it)
9. Bridge to Terabithia ~ by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) ~ by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
11. Heather Has Two Mommies ~ by Leslea Newman
12. My Brother Sam is Dead ~ by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
13. The Catcher in the Rye ~ by J.D. Salinger (read as an adult, never really understood the hype)
14. The Giver ~ by Lois Lowry
15. It's Perfectly Normal ~ by Robie Harris
16. Goosebumps (Series) ~ by R.L. Stine
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die ~ by Robert Newton Peck
18. The Color Purple ~ by Alice Walker
19. Sex ~ by Madonna
20. Earth's Children (Series) ~ by Jean M. Auel
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins ~ by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time ~ by Madeleine L'Engle
23. Go Ask Alice ~ by Anonymous
24. Fallen Angels ~ by Walter Dean Myers
25. In the Night Kitchen ~ by Maurice Sendak (one of my all-time fave picture books!!!)
26. The Stupids (Series) ~ by Harry Allard
27. The Witches ~ by Roald Dahl
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex ~ by Charles Silverstein
29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) ~ by Lois Lowry (I really liked this series when I was a kid.)
30. The Goats ~ by Brock Cole
31. Kaffir Boy ~ by Mark Mathabane
32. Blubber ~ by Judy Blume
33. Killing Mr. Griffin ~ by Lois Duncan (I looooove Lois Duncan! Some of my fondest elementary school reading memories are of her books.)
34. Halloween ABC ~ by Eve Merriam
35. We All Fall Down ~ by Robert Cormier
36. Final Exit ~ by Derek Humphry
37. The Handmaid's Tale ~ by Margaret Atwood
38. Julie of the Wolves ~ by Jean Craighead George
39. The Bluest Eye ~ by Toni Morrison
40. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters ~ by Lynda Madaras
41. To Kill a Mockingbird ~ by Harper Lee (high school English)
42. Beloved ~ by Toni Morrison
43. The Outsiders ~ by S.E. Hinton (high school English)
44. The Pigman ~ by Paul Zindel (high school English)
45. Bumps in the Night ~ by Harry Allard
46. Deenie ~ by Judy Blume (had me very worried about getting scoliosis)
47. Flowers for Algernon ~ by Daniel Keyes
48. Annie on my Mind ~ by Nancy Garden
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face ~ by Louis Sachar
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat ~ by Alvin Schwartz
51. A Light in the Attic ~ by Shel Silverstein
52. Brave New World ~ by Aldous Huxley (high school English)
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy ~ by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up ~ by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo ~ by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach ~ by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook ~ by William Powell
58. Boys and Sex ~ by Wardell Pomeroy
59. Ordinary People ~ by Judith Guest
60. American Psycho ~ by Bret Easton Ellis
61. What's Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons ~ by Lynda Madaras
62. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret ~ by Judy Blume (no girl should grow up without it)
63. Crazy Lady ~ by Jane Conly
64. Athletic Shorts ~ by Chris Crutcher
65. Fade ~ by Robert Cormier
66. Guess What? ~ by Mem Fox
67. The House of Spirits ~ by Isabel Allende
68. The Face on the Milk Carton ~ by Caroline Cooney (one of my all-time favourites, hands-down)
69. Slaughterhouse-Five ~ by Kurt Vonnegut
70. Lord of the Flies ~ by William Golding (high school English, my least favourite book ever)
71. Native Son ~ by Richard Wright
72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Fantasies ~ by Nancy Friday (very, very steamy indeed)
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells ~ by Daniel Cohen
74. Jack ~ by A.M. Homes
75. Bless Me, Ultima ~ by Rudolfo A. Anaya
76. Where Did I Come From? ~ by Peter Mayle
77. Carrie ~ by Stephen King
78. Tiger Eyes ~ by Judy Blume
79. On My Honor ~ by Marion Dane Bauer
80. Arizona Kid ~ by Ron Koertge
81. Family Secrets ~ by Norma Klein
82. Mommy Laid An Egg ~ by Babette Cole
83. The Dead Zone ~ by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ~ by Mark Twain
85. Song of Solomon ~ by Toni Morrison
86. Always Running ~ by Luis Rodriguez
87. Private Parts ~ by Howard Stern
88. Where's Waldo? ~ by Martin Hanford (what the heck??)
89. Summer of My German Soldier ~ by Bette Greene (elementary school English, I think)
90. Little Black Sambo ~ by Helen Bannerman
91. Pillars of the Earth ~ by Ken Follett
92. Running Loose ~ by Chris Crutcher
93. Sex Education ~ by Jenny Davis
94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones ~ by Bette Greene
95. Girls and Sex ~ by Wardell Pomeroy
96. How to Eat Fried Worms ~ by Thomas Rockwell
97. View from the Cherry Tree ~ by Willo Davis Roberts
98. The Headless Cupid ~ by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
99. The Terrorist ~ by Caroline Cooney
100. Jump Ship to Freedom ~ by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Some thoughts:
- A very large number of the ones I've read were assigned to me in high school English classes! I had no idea my moral fibre was being corrupted.
- Can we please have a shout-out to Judy Blume for having so many books on the list?? I love me some Judy Blume!
- What on earth is wrong with Where's Waldo and How to Eat Fried Worms?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Review: 84 Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
5 stars

Summary: This slim volume reproduces the 20-year correspondence between Hanff (a script-reader and later scriptwriter/author) in New York and Frank Doel of Marks & Co. Booksellers at 84 Charing Cross Road, London.

My thoughts: What an utterly charming little book! It made me curious to know more about Helene Hanff and I must get my hands on the semi-sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, where she finally makes it over to England. I was very sad that she didn't make it there while Frank Doel was still alive and the shop was still open. That's how you know it's nonfiction - no fiction author would have let that happen! :-)

I could really relate to Hanff wanting to see the England that she'd read about - I've been to London twice and I still want to go back! I love reading British novels and coming across so many famous places in their pages. I also feel the same way about New York City.

Hanff had a great sense of humour. I particularly enjoyed the letters where she was raging at Doel over some book or other that she considered sub-par (the one that sticks out in my mind is a rant against an abridged version of Samuel Pepys' diary). Despite her bluster, she was so kind to the people at the shop, sending them care packages during post-war rationing.

The book belongs to another time that seems much kinder and gentler (whether it really was or not, we could still use a dose of it) - actual written letters, amazing customer service, a 20-year friendship. It's also a time capsule of England during and after WWII, all the way up to the 60's (Frank remarks that he quite likes the Beatles, if only the fans wouldn't scream so much).

I think I might even read it again, it was such a quick one and such fun. And I've requested that my library buy the movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
5 stars

Oh, I don't want to give anything away! Briefly, it is the story of Vida Winter, England's most prolific and popular novelist. It is also the story of Margaret Lea, a solitary woman employed in her father's antiquarian bookshop and an amateur biography. Miss Winter has told fans and reporters alike different versions of her life for years (she is, after all, a master storyteller) but now that her life is coming to an end, she wants Margaret to tell the whole truth for her, at last. Margaret is skeptical of Vida's ability to tell the truth, so she does some research on her own. Between Miss Winter's recollections and Margaret's research, a thrilling, incredible and tragic story of sisters is revealed. And along the way, the story of Margaret's past is revealed, too.

Favourite quote: This book is chock-full of great writing, but I particularly enjoyed this one about the joys and perils of reading:

"I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now.
Reading can be dangerous."

My thoughts: This was an amazingly entertaining book - suspenseful, shocking, with wonderful language. I was hooked from the very beginning, with Setterfield's description of the way light came through a window onto the doorstep. I sometimes found Margaret just a bit tiresome - I wanted to get on with Vida's story instead of Margaret's agonizing over her past and relationship with her mother. Jane Eyre, one of my favourites, plays a big part in the novel, although I confess I didn't always make all of the connections. At one point Margaret had figured out all of the clues and I still hadn't, this one kept me guessing til the end!