Thursday, November 27, 2008

Weekly Geeks #26

Here are the instructions for Weekly Geeks #26 - fun, I like getting to know new bloggers!

1. Using the WeeklyGeeks category here in my blog, find 5 Weekly Geeks you don’t know. The easiest way is probably to look at the Mr Linkies in my weekly Saturday posts.
2. Visit each of your 5 new blogpals and snoop around their blogs to find at least one thing you have in common.
3. In your blog, write a post, linking to your 5 new blogpals, about what you have in common with them.
4. Come back and sign Mr Linky.
5. As you run across other Weekly Geek posts (or deliberately seek them out) if you see anyone mentioned who has something in common with you, pay them a visit.

So, I visited...

Jessi at Casual Dread - we're both fans of the hilarious Carl Hiaasen, woo!

Melanie at the Indextrious Reader - we are both Canadian librarians and fans of the blogbrarian Miss Information

The BookDads - know, as I do, that Todd Parr writes great picture books about all kinds of families.

Edgy at Books Are King - is a Young Adult fiction fan, like me.

Icedream at Reading in Appalachia - we both loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Young Adult Book Challenge 2009

J. Kaye is hosting next year's Young Adult Book Challenge, hooray! You can sign up here.

The rules:
  • Read 12 Young Adult novels. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.
  • Challenge begins January thru December, 2009.

Here's my current list, subject to changes. The problem was picking just 12...

1. Jars of Glass by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler
2. Death by Bikini by Linda C. Gerber

3. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
4. Suck It Up by Brian Meehl
5. Masquerade by Melissa de la Cruz
6. Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
7. Envy: a Luxe novel by Anna Godbersen
8. Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
9. Paper Towns by John Green
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
11. Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Elizabeth Gehrman
12. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: Silk

Silk by Alessandro Baricco
2.5 stars

Description: "In 1861 French silkworm merchant Hervé Joncour is compelled to travel to Japan, where, in the court of an enigmatic nobleman, he meets a woman. They do not touch; they do not even speak. And he cannot read the note she sends him until he has returned to his country. But in the moment he does, Joncour is possessed."

First line: "Although his father had pictured for him a brilliant career in the army, Hervé Joncour had ended up earning his crust in an unusual career which, by a singular piece of irony, was not unconnected with a charming side that bestowed on it a vaguely feminine intonation."

My thoughts: This book seems to have gotten raves all around the world. And it's quite an interesting book - it's like a haiku of a book, really. Very short, each chapter rarely longer than 3 or 4 paragraphs, if that. As they say on my favourite British real estate show "Small but perfectly formed." (I confess, as I started reading it, my reaction was "Yay! It's really short!' - I'm running out of time to finish all my reading challenges before the end of December.)
Unlike the other books I've read for Orbis Terrarum, I didn't see any hints of the author's Italian background. At first I thought this was strange, but then thought about all the historical fiction I've read that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the author's country of origin. It's just that this happens to be the first book of the challenge that didn't contain anything like that.

Overall, the book just wasn't for me. I'm not really a novella person, I like more meat to my stories. The historical bits about the silk trade were fairly interesting, but about 1/8th of the text is repeating the lengthy trail of Joncour's journey to Japan each year, with barely any change in the paragraph from one year to the next. And I found the no-touching, no-speaking love affair a bit hard to believe.

But for someone willing to be carried away on the silken path, it could be just the thing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: Piece of my Heart

Piece of my Heart by Peter Robinson
4 stars

Reasons for reading: been on the TBR list for a while because of a long-ago good review; Mystery for the Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "The novel opens in 1969. Yorkshire’s first outdoor rock festival has just finished, and the psychedelic pastoral band the Mad Hatters and other top British groups have departed. Even the last of their fans has gone, leaving behind only a muddy field, littered with rubbish. Volunteers are cleaning up when one of them finds the body of a young woman inside a sleeping bag.Stanley Chadwick, the straitlaced detective called in to find her killer, could not have less in common with — or less regard for — the people he now has to question: young, disrespectful, long-haired hippies who smoke marijuana and live by the pulsing beats of rock and roll. And he has almost just as little in common with his own daughter, who lied to him about her whereabouts and slipped off to the festival.More than thirty-five years later, Inspector Alan Banks is investigating the murder of a freelance music journalist who was working on a feature about the Mad Hatters for Mojo magazine. This is not the first time that the Mad Hatters, now aging rock superstars, have been brushed by tragedy, and Banks has to delve into the past to find out exactly what hornet’s nest the journalist inadvertently stirred up."

First line: "Monday, September 8, 1969 - To an observer looking down from the peak of Brimleigh Beacon early that Monday morning, the scene below might have resembled the aftermath of a battle."

My thoughts: This is the 16th Inspector Banks novel - I had no idea when I picked it up. While there are some references to previous events, such as the death of Banks' brother and his former involvement with a female colleague, I didn't feel as though I needed to have read the others in order to understand this one.

And I really enjoyed it! It's a great mystery and, as The Times remarked, it, "Brilliantly interweaves past and present." At first I was a tiny bit confused when it jumped to 2005, but I soon got the hang of it. I thought the 60's were painted very well and it made me remember I keep wanting my husband to teach me more about Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. (I have a pretty big hole in my classic rock knowledge, sadly.) I thought both mysteries were interesting on their own and couldn't figure out how they were going to intersect, which added to the suspense.

There is a theme of fathers and daughters running through the novel, particularly how fathers want to protect their daughters and don't always manage it very well. I thought the supporting characters were well-done, particularly Banks' colleague Annie Cabbot and Winsome (isn't that a great name?), a Jamaican beauty in the department. While I often don't like side plots, the one Banks and his colleagues having to come to terms with a new, ambitious and not-particularly-friendly boss.

The only slight con? I've had Janis Joplin's "Piece of my Heart" running through my head on and off since I read it! :-)

I don't know if I want to go back 15 books, but I think this series could be really interesting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
3.5 stars

I've been putting off reviewing this one because it's such a crazy-hot book that everyone's already talked about and I don't think I have much that's new or interesting to add to the discussion. I'm also amibivalent about it - I enjoyed the series but had some reservations about the writing in the last few books. But when I did the Weekly Geeks ask a question about a book I haven't reviewed thing, I got a couple of questions, so I'll just go with those.

Heather J asked:
Breaking Dawn - how does it compare to the other books in the series (I haven't read them yet, but I'll get around to it!)?

Hmmm.....well, I found the books, like the Harry Potter books, got longer and less entertaining as the series went on. I loved Twilight - 5 stars, thought it was really fresh and really something that teens would love reading. And while I wanted to find out what happened, I found them getting harder to slog through. Meyer really loves flowery prose and repetition, I find. She won't use one paragraph if she can use several pages. And by the 4th book, at 754 pages, I thought she really needed a good editor. I felt there were a lot of sections she could've left out and, without adding a spoiler, some parts were really creepy in a not-good way.

Lightheaded asks:
What do you think of the Volturi resolution? I ask because it's the thing that disappointed me :)

I agree, it was rather disappointing. It felt like there had been sooooo much waiting around for them to show up and then there just wasn't much action. I was glad of the happy ending, but something a bit more climactic would've been good.

Final verdict? I don't think we need another book in this series, but apparently there's going to be one. I honestly don't know if I'll end up reading it, I feel really OD'd on Edward and Bella and their forever perfect love. The series definitely has its moments and has turned into a phenomenon, but just because the characters can live forever, it doesn't mean the series has to. I am looking forward to the Twilight movie, though! :-)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Private Peaceful

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Remembrance Day book for Holiday Challenge; Historical fiction for Triple 8 Challenge; heard the author speak recently and was amazed

"As the enemy lurks in the darkness, Thomas struggles to stay awake through the night. He has lived through the terror of gas attacks and watched friends die by his side. But in the morning, Thomas will be forced to confront an even greater horror. As the minutes tick by, Thomas remembers his childhood spent deep in the countryside with his mother, his brothers, and Molly, the love of his life. But each minute that passes brings Thomas closer to something he can't bear to to think about--the moment when the war and its horrific consequences will change his life forever."

First paragraph: "They've gone now, and I'm alone at last. I have the whole night ahead of me, and I won't waste a single moment of it. I shan't sleep it away. I won't dream it away either. I mustn't, becuase every moment of it will be far too precious."

My thoughts: I was really impressed and touched by Morpurgo's storytelling and how passionate his is about the subjects of his books. After hearing him speak, I knew I had to read one of his books, and since I'd seen him just before Remembrance Day, this one fit the bill very well. While the subject is very sobering, I'm glad I read it and would recommend it.

The book was inspired by a telegram in a museum in Ypres that bluntly informed a mother her son had been shot for cowardice. With some research, Morpurgo found that almost 300 soldiers had died this way, with barely a trial, rarely any representation, and with no consideration for the effects of war on their minds and bodies. Outraged, he wrote this book. And apparently he saw the surname Peaceful on a gravestone in Ypres, which I think adds the perfect touch.

There is a lot of bird imagery in the book (and, from hearing him speak, I think this is a central theme with the author) - birds representing the spirits of the dead, birds bringing joy and hope, the absence of birds indicating despair. There are little pictures of butterflies separating the paragraphs and also on the cover, but I think they should have been birds.

I think this is an excellent war-themed book for teens, as it's not just about the war - a lot of time is spent revealing Charlie and Tommo's life before the war - their close relationship, the hardships their family has endured, their love for the same girl. The scenes in France are very realistic, with many details about life in the trenches. The ending is a surprising twist and I found that it made an already well-written story even better and more poignant.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime

Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime by Diane Leslie
3 stars

Reasons for reading: read a good review of it long ago so it's been on the TBR list for a while; Historical Fiction for Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "Tucked away in her parents' lavish Beverly Hills mansion, young Fleur de Leigh has all the benefits of a privileged and glamorous upbringing. Or so she is frequently told. Fleur's mother, a flamboyant, ambitious B-movie actress and eponymous star of The Charmian Leigh Radio Mystery Half-Hour, and her aloof father, currently reduced to producing the TV game show Sink or Get Rich, casually entrust their daughter's welfare to a procession of nannies, cooks, and character actors. Surrounded by falsies, false eyelashes, and lust for fame, Fleur seeks to learn from her eccentric caretakers the difference between genuine love and its many imitations."

First line: "We'd been studying Bedouins in my fifth-grade class, how they carried only what they needed or loved on the backs of ornery camels, and how other, territorial groups kept them hopping."

My thoughts: Weirdly, I'd thought this was a mystery. I had to switch it from the Mystery to the Historical Fiction list at the last minute.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this one (I seem to be saying that a lot lately!). It was witty and I enjoyed the old Hollywood setting (Fleur sneaks into the grounds of Pickfair and the Barrymore mansion). I liked the structure - each chapter lasts the length of the stay of one of Fleur's nannies or other transient adults in her life. Some of the nannies are very funny indeed and some are scary. And I was pleased by the ending, where Fleur learns to stand up to her truly odious parents. But I seem to have read a big bunch of (admittedly very different) books involving bad parents in the space of a few weeks, so that might have affected my reaction - though I'm sure the Leighs are meant to be parodies, they're so terrible I found them really hard to stomach.

I also have a feeling maybe I didn't get below the surface enough. For example, there are discussion questions at the end of the book and one of them is "The word crime in the title is used as a metaphor. What crimes take place in Fleur's household? What is Fleur's crime?" Well...her parents are walking crimes against parenthood and there are some actual crimes (like theft) that take place, but I have no idea what Fleur's crime was. I actually shouldn't read questions at the ends of books, they make me feel dumb. :-)

To me, the whole tone of the book felt cold, I think that was the problem, and so it left me a bit cold. When I read the author's note and discovered the book was fairly autobiographical, I thought "Aha, that explains it, there's a lot of bitterness there." But overall, it seems to have warmed reviewers' hearts, even leading to comparisons to my beloved Eloise at the Plaza, so perhaps I missed something.

(But honestly, what is up with that hideous cover??)

Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Maria Lewycka
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: recommended by a friend; German author for Orbis Terrarum Challenge; New-to-Me Author for Triple 8 Challenge

Summary (from Booklist): "Vera and Nadezhda have not spoken to one another since their mother's funeral two years ago. But the news that their eccentric 83-year-old father, Nikolai, wants to marry a 36-year-old woman from Ukraine so that she can stay in England causes them to work past their differences to save the old man from himself. Despite their efforts, Valentina moves in with Nikolai and begins to demand the good life the West is supposed to provide her, from a "civilized person's Hoover" and a "not-peasant-cooking" stove to a Rolls-Royce. As Valentina's demands become more ridiculous, the sisters band closer together to get her out, while Nikolai begins his laborious work on the history of the tractor and its effect on society. While the sisters and Valentina spar, Nadezhda struggles to put together the pieces of her family's past in Ukraine and Germany during World War II."

First line: "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcee."

My thoughts: The last line of this book's review in Publishers Weekly is ""I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," Nadezhda says at one point, and though she is referring to Valentina, she might also be describing this unusual and poignant novel." And that really sums the book up. And I think that was the problem, I didn't want a tragedy. There are some really funny parts, I think it would probably make a great movie. Valentina's pidgin English and heaving bosom make for some great laughs. And the saga of how Nikolai buys her not one but 3 cars is hilarious (one of them earns the name Crap car). Perhaps if I'd listened to it on tape, as the friend who recommended it had, I'd have gotten more out of it, rather than struggling with the Ukrainian names and words. But the pathetic father, the feuding sisters, the scheming and often cruel Valentina and the sad family was too much for me at times. I often found it very sad.

And, I have to say, the long passages from the tractor treatise were pretty boring. (Funny aside, I told my dad the name of the book and he, clearly not thinking much of Communist engineering, said, "What is that? They make them and then never repair them?") There were a couple of parts where it mirrored what was happening in the book and a few that were amusing, but overall, I skimmed over them.

As an aside for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge, it clearly reflects the author's heritage, both her Ukrainian background and her current life in England.

So...I have a feeling maybe this was the wrong book at the wrong time for me. I was reading On Beauty at the same time and it also features a totally self-centred father, so I was a bit OD'd on that aspect. But it definitely has some funny moments. If you're an audio book fan, I'd suggest maybe checking it out that way. Or just make sure you're in the mood for some tragedy with your comedy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Top 10 Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress

Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: been on the TBR list for a while; Number Title for Triple 8 Challenge

Description: Sophomore year, Nicolette Antonovich was dumped two days before prom by the hottest guy at school. As a result, she became the proud owner of one unworn, perfectly magical pink vintage dress. But Nic is determined to put that night behind her for good. She's a junior now— older, wiser, and completely overwhelmed by a new set of problems: (1) The bank's ready to foreclose on her childhood home. (2) Her father's too busy with his "replacement" daughter to care. (3) Her best friend's brother is an eternal thorn in her side. (4) Her best friend isn't exactly the rose attached to that thorn. (5) Rumors are flying around school that could get her kicked off the volleyball team, which would (6) ruin all chances of a college scholarship. (7) She still likes the boy who dumped her in the first place. (8) And what in the world do you do with an unworn prom dress, anyway? Strangely, it's getting to the bottom of this last dilemma that just might hold the answer to all Nic's problems.

First line: "A heavenly floral scent surrounds me as the zipper of The Dress magically closes against my back."

My thoughts: This was a cute little book. I enjoyed the descriptions of The Dress - I had a pink dress I loved, myself. :-) I liked that Nic was short and still able to be a great athlete. One weird, sad thing is that Heath Ledger is mentioned twice as an uber-hunk. Alas.

I did find that for me there were a few too many problems squeezed into a short book - the mortgage, her mother about to lose her job, her father's distant behaviour, the rumours, the friend and boy trouble... A few too many things going on at once. I liked Jared, the love interest, with his root-beer brown eyes and kindness. The situation with her best friend Alison seemed weird - Alison seemed like not a particularly great friend, really. But it had some funny bits and a nice ending, I think teens looking for some light chick lit reading would enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
5 stars

Reasons for reading: liked the sound of it; it's one of those It Books this year; book club selection; New-to-Me Author for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever."

My thoughts: The word that kept running through my head as I read this book was "charming." It also reminded me a lot of 84, Charing Cross Road, which I really enjoyed last year. I'm wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars, but I decided to go for 5 because I really enjoyed it. The only thing that would make it lose 1/2 a star is that towards the end I found it, for lack of a better word, wobbled a bit - I wasn't 100% sold on the part Isola's notebook played in the ending,for example. But that's a fairly minor quibble.

Heather J asked: Did the letter writing format work for you? Does it live up to all the hype I've been hearing about it?

Yes, I enjoyed the letter format. But I've always been a fan of epistolary novels. One of the women in my book club said she found it a bit hard to follow at times. But I thought it was really wonderful the way Juliet could communicate and become friends with the Guernsey folks through letters, before she'd met them. And also, it fits the time period. Obviously, there was no e-mail, but even phone technology wasn't all that advanced in the 40's, plus I'm sure the war had knocked a lot of it out. The older British folks I know still treat the phone as an expensive luxury, actually. It also works as a way to bring together all of the characters - I think a Juliet chapter, then an Isola chapter, then a Sidney chapter, etc. would've been rather boring. The letter format really makes it seem like things are unfolding in real time.

I do think it lives up to the hype. We were trying to decide at book club why it has such hype, and came up with some theories. I think it's that the title really stays in your memory and that it's about the love of reading and bookish people like bookish books. Another club member pointed out that Eat Pray Love's Elizabeth Gilbert did the blurb, which is pretty huge. As I said, I found it charming and also feel it has a bit of everything - lots of humour, interesting characters, romance, history, and some tragic tales to go along with the lighter ones. I think also that people (like me!) don't know much about the German occupation of the Channel Islands, so that makes it even more interesting than other novels set in the same period.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Off for a bit

I'm off to a conference and then a bit of vacation - see you next week!

Review: The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
3 stars

Reasons for reading: assigned it to our kids' book club at the library (without reading it first, oops!); Lois Lowry = children's lit queen; sounded funny

Description: Abandoned by their ill-humored parents to the care of an odious nanny, Tim, the twins, Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and their sister, Jane, attempt to fulfill their roles as good oldfashioned children. Following the models set in lauded tales from A Christmas Carol to Mary Poppins, the four Willoughbys hope to attain their proscribed happy ending too, or at least a satisfyingly maudlin one. However, it is an unquestionably ruthless act that sets in motion the transformations that lead to their salvation and to happy endings for not only the four children, but their nanny, an abandoned baby, a candy magnate, and his long-lost son too.

Heather J asks:
Would an almost-7-yr-old boy enjoy this as a read with mom book?

My first thought was, probably not. But then, I think that it depends on your son. If he's got an amazing vocabulary and has already enjoyed longer stories - classics, Roald Dahl, and/or Lemony Snicket, for example - he might. But I found it to be one of those books that's actually aimed more at adults. It is a funny book with kid appeal in that Snickety sort of way, but it's definitely a parody of old-fashioned children's stories like Heidi, The Bobbsey Twins (which I enjoyed - I sneered at the BT's when I was a kid), Anne of Green Gables and many others, including a few I'd never actually heard of, from the 19th century. There are tons of ten-dollar words and even the glossary at the end isn't overly helpful (though it is funny). We haven't had the meeting of my library's 10-13 book club yet, so I'n not sure what their reaction will be, but one girl did tell my assistant that it had too many big words. It was a quick read and I did enjoy it, but I was so conscious of the parody aspect that I found it hard to see as a children's book. But I think that the right, 9-12 year-old reader who gets the joke and who has maybe read a few of the books referenced will get a kick out of it. But I'd say that most almost-7's that I know would be too young.

Here's a post from someone else who found it rather adult-aimed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Review: On Beauty

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
4 stars

Reasons for reading: it's been on my TBR list for quite a while; Orange Prize winner for the Book Awards Challenge; English author for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Summary (from Booklist): "The Belsey family is multicultural as well as multinational. Howard is English, teaching art history at liberal Wellington College near Boston. His wife, Kiki, is from Florida, and as practical as her husband is intellectual. Although they love each other dearly, Howard's waning career and wandering eye have caused a strain. Their children follow their own paths: Jerome is a Christian; Zora is a socially concerned intellectual; and Levi is trying to be a black man of the streets. When Jerome falls in love with the daughter of Howard's archrival, Monty Kipps, the two families are thrown together in a personal and cultural battle. Although the romance sours, Howard and Monty's rivalry kicks up a notch, while Kiki and Mrs. Kipps develop an unlikely bond. Intermingled with the analysis of family and marriage are commentaries on affirmative action, liberal versus conservative, and prejudices in many forms."

First line: "One may as well begin with Jerome's e-mails to his father"

My thoughts: There's a lot going on in this book! Family, marriage, friendship, nationality, gender, race, class, education...the characters are brought together and pushed apart by

Smith acknowledges EM Forster as one of her influences and says this book is an hommage to him. I confess, it's been a really long time since I read any Forster, probably at least 15 years ago, when I was an undergrad. So those references went completely over my head. Given the role universities play in the book, I might have gotten more out of it had I read it back when I was attending one. But still, the book had so much going on, it would be impossible not to get something out of it.

What I liked best about the book was the humour. Smith has some great turns of phrase. One of my favourites was of a chaotic house that had "too many knicks and a dangerous density of knacks." I really enjoyed her description of the Belseys' house, too, with its one stained glass window that casts a colourful patch on the floor that no family member will walk through and the parade of family photographs that follows the staircase down all 4 floors. There's also a great scene where Howard reacts to a hilarious glee club performance.

I found the differences between the black, white, American and British characters very interesting. While they're both black women, Caribbean-British matriarch Carlene Kipps is conservative, religious, and traditional and Southern American Kiki Belsey, who is a feminist and portrays herself as a big, sassy black woman, are very different in many ways, yet they find common ground and become friends. Howard and Monty Kipps are both British academics, yet not only are they different racially, they have completely different views on politics and life in general. British-born Jerome and Zora Belsey seem to enjoy their privileged, academic upbringing, while American-born Levi Belsey tries to hide his private-school education and pretends to be the epitome of "street" and longs to fit in with the local Haitian refugees (despite his iPod and $120 sneakers). The black/white and liberal/conservative angles were quite interesting to read about in the days leading up to the US election, actually.

The central character, it could be said, is Howard and he's a stunning study in self-centredness - he's a liberal academic who doesn't believe in anything. While he does love his family, he basically refuses to let them care about anything other than academic or theoretical matters. Anything that goes against his "beliefs" is met with mockery. He can't admit he's wrong or apologize. Even his life's work, the study of Rembrandt, has basically been to discredit anything good other scholars have said about the painter's works.

Beauty obviously plays a role - having it, not having it, losing it. Kiki was once very beautiful, but is now very overweight - the beauty is still in there, but it's buried. Howard is described as having been beautiful in his youth, yet it's hard to see in the middle-aged curmudgeon he's become. Victoria Kipps is stunning and knows how to use it. Zora Belsey is not and it frustrates her - she alternates between trying too hard and not trying at all.

This book took a lot of reading and sometimes, especially with the references to art and poetry, I felt like I wasn't quite getting everything I could out of it. But it has humour, it raises some thought-provoking issues, the two rival families are filled with interesting characters, and it ends with hope. I can definitely see why it won the Orange Prize and was short-listed for the Booker.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Number Title for Triple 8 Challenge; sounded interesting

Book description: "Clay Jenkins returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers 13 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list."

First line: "'Sir?' she repeats. 'How soon do you want it to get there?'"

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. The premise is really a good one - it gets you hooked from the start, wondering what the deal is with the tapes.

But I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to find Hannah stupid for her decision or truly hard-suffering. Or something in between. That's probably the point - her decision will resonate differently with different readers.

I don't want to give away too much, but I have to say, as someone who has found themselves in the pit of despair and someone who didn't have a fab time of it as a fat, weird girl in high school, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for her. Part of it could be that it's a bit hard to keep track of the timeline - the compressed nature of the taped storytelling makes it seem like weeks, yet the events seem to have taken place over two years. Hannah refers to similar events happening in the previous town her family lived in. So, I guess she's meant to have been suffering for years. Yet...some rumors, a couple of bitchy girls, a mean jerk, a creepy jerk, and one really bad guy just don't add up to suicide for me. But then, I guess that's the point - we often never know what leads to suicide and Hannah decides to try and rectify that.

Near the end, Clay says, "Some of us will be too angry at Hannah for killing herself and blaming everyone else." I'm one of those people. She could have turned one jerk in to a teacher, turned the creep over to the police, sucked it up about the bitchy girls like we all have to do... While a few of the people on the tapes really did behave terribly, most of them didn't. Kids endure sexual abuse, horrific bullying in school and online, racism, orphanhood, poverty... Hannah's problems weren't much beyond garden variety, it seemed to me. If she had endured real hardships, the tapes would be understandable, but all she's really doing is making life miserable for 8 people who may not have used the best judgement and weren't as kind as they should have been and one who really tried to help her but she refused the help. Only 3 people really deserved true punishment. Plus, Hannah herself allows a horrible thing to happen to someone else, much worse than anything she's experienced, so she shouldn't be throwing stones. But again, some things do seem to be left out of her story, so perhaps she only told the "relevant" parts to the people on her list.

Overall, though it was a really interesting book. Heavy, but thought-provoking. I hope it shows teens the importance of treating other people well and also that suicide isn't the answer.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge

Melissa the Book Nut is serving up the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge.

Here's how it works:

Rule #1: The challenge runs from January 1 to March 31.

Rule #2:
You must read at least three books.

Rule #3: The books must:
have a food name in the title
be about cooking/eating
have a place name in the title
be about one (or more) person's travel experience
be about a specific culture
be by an author whose ethnicity is other than your own

Rule #4: They must be middle-grade on up, but can be either fiction or non-fiction.

Here's my list!

Food in title:
By Bread Alone by Sarah-Kate Lynch

About cooking:
Dishing With the Kitchen Virgin by Susan Reinhardt

Travel experiences:
Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion

Weekly Geeks #23

The theme this week is to pick a theme and repeat it!

I'm going to combine two of them: #19 - catch up on something (in this case, reviews) and #12 list books you haven't reviewed yet and invite readers to ask questions about them (I confess, I may have missed a few from last time, I'm sorry - I must really not have had much to say about those books).

So, here they are:
1. Rumors: a Luxe novel by Anna Godbersen
2. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
3. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
4. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - done!
6. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry - done!
7. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

So, if you have any questions about any of these books (or comments about them, yourself!), please post a comment and I'll do my best to answer!