Whitewavedarling's First Year in the 100 Group...

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Whitewavedarling's First Year in the 100 Group...

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Dez 25, 2013, 8:42 am

Hi, all! Many of you have probably seen me around in the category challenge group and in the 75ers group, but just in case (or for a reminder!)...

I was a member of the 50 books a year group for years (and usually passed 100), but stuck around because of the folks there. Last year, I joined the 75ers group, but quickly got overwhelmed, especially once summer hit and I got overwhelmed by work (which was followed by a concussion, when I disappeared from the group almost completely!). This year, I thought I'd join the 100 group, which I heard was much more manageable to keep up with, so here goes...

I read pretty much everything. My fiction choices tend toward non-genre literature, horror, and suspense/crime, along with a few fantasy, though I'm hoping to add in more books in the sci-fi and ya lit categories this year. My nonfiction tends to be about politics, ngos, or wildlife and conservation--I was focused in on illness and nonfiction about literature because of a dissertation, but while those books may still creep in because of interest, I'm mostly planning on leaving them behind this coming year.

And, I love poetry, and plan to read more drama as well this year.

In any case, I won't do much planning ahead, so I'll just post books here as I read them, probably with reviews since I try to review everything I read.

As for my non-reading news/particulars: I'm living in Pittsburgh with my husband, three cats, and a very anxious hounddog, but we're hoping to leave Pittsburgh this summer, so we'll see what happens. I WAS working on a dissertation, and recently made the huge decision to leave it behind and move on; a lot went into the decision, but it came down to the fact that I've become more and more jaded with academia, more and more each day, and the reasons I began it no longer apply. So, I'm leaving, because it makes me happy! I'll still be working at the school for the rest of the year, but we'll see what happens after that. Meanwhile, I'm focusing more on my poetry, about half way through writing a horror novel, and gearing up for my ongoing summer gig teaching creative writing and drama in New Hampshire. I also want to pick up more biographies/memoirs--and I've got a giant one waiting for me, courtesy of the Early Reviewer Group!

Once the year is fully done, I'll post a list of my 2013 reads (I'm at 97 right now, so we'll see if I reach 100...) and you'll see just how varied my tastes are! Meanwhile, I can't wait to see what everyone is reading and get to know everyone over here!

Dez 26, 2013, 9:51 am

Yay! Welcome! I always loved your threads, whenever I could find them.

And this may sound a little odd, but congrats on making the decision to ditch the dissertation and be happy (as opposed to sticking it out and being miserable - sadly the far, far more common option).

Dez 27, 2013, 2:39 am

Hello, and welcome to the group!

Dez 27, 2013, 3:53 am

Thanks, to both of you :) And, no, from my perspective, congratulations doesn't sound odd at all!

Dez 31, 2013, 4:31 pm

Well, 2013 is almost over...so, as a quick wrap-up, the list of my favorites from 2013, loosely in the order I read them. Reviews are written for all of them, but you can also find all of my 2013 reads, and reviews for these, on my 2013 thread at http://www.librarything.com/topic/146983

1. Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman (Fiction)
3. What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It edited by Trish Wood (Nonfiction)
5. Blue Eyes, Black Hair by Marguerite Duras (Fiction)
18. At Risk by Alice Hoffman (Fiction)
20. The Best American Short Stories 2003 edited by Walter Mosley (Fiction/Short Stories)
21. If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting by Anna Journey (Poetry)
29. Don't Call it Night by Amos Oz (Fiction)
34. Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Authors by Mark Bailey (Nonfiction with recipes, excerpts, anecdotes, etc...)
37. Waterland by Graham Swift (Fiction)
38. The Republic of Poetry by Martin Espada (Poetry)
43. Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (Fiction/Short Stories)
50. 666 Park Avenue by Gabriella Pierce (Fiction)
54. Satellite Convulsions: Poems From Tin House edited by Brenda Shaughnessy (Poetry)
73. Under the Dome by Stephen King (Fiction)
80. Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival by Anderson Cooper (Nonfiction)
85. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Fiction)
90. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa (Fiction)
92. Over Autumn Rooftops by Hai Zi translated by Dan Murphy (Poetry)
96. Fear Itself by Jonathan Nasaw (Fiction)
102. Seek My Face by John Updike (Fiction)
103. Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan (Fiction/Short Stories)

Jan 2, 2014, 6:03 am

Well, the first read of the new year was a bit of a disappointment, but at least it was a quick one! ...

1. Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip

On the whole, this book was just disappointing. The writing and characters both left much to be desired, and some of the plot points verged on the ridiculous. One cringe-worthy moment I won't forget is when a character photographs some few pages from a diary that just happen to tell her all of the old history of a character, perfectly answering her questions. Especially in the beginning of the book, when the author attempts to convince her audience that Camilla is a strong female character and a notable spy, the writing and style of the work is fairly...well, horrendous. Later in the book, there are many unbelievable moments, and many more awkward ones, but the writing itself is less hampered by overwriting and out-of-place explanation and exposition.

Yip's other works may or may not be so drenched in melodrama, sentimentality, overwriting, and flat unbelievable characterizations...but I doubt I'll take the time to find out.

Not recommended, to anyone.

Jan 2, 2014, 6:05 am

By the way, Happy New Year, Everyone! And wishes for good reading!

Jan 2, 2014, 7:25 am

Happy New Year, and a post so I can follow your thread :D

Jan 2, 2014, 4:40 pm

Hey divinenanny! Thanks, and Happy New Year to you, as well!

2. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Built as a detailed portrait and character study of a woman recovering from a difficult and abusive marriage, Doyle's novel is beautifully written, woven as it is from past and present to create a full illustration of suffering. But, in its effort to create a full picture, the novel also presents a character who is, for the most part, unsympathetic and unlikable. The details of her childhood and teenage years make her nearly impossible to like, and give the impression that the book's primary goal is a character study moreso than a complete story or exploration.

On the whole, I appreciated Doyle's style and writing, and I wanted desperately to be more touched by the work and the story...but I wasn't. More than anything, I wanted to know more and engage more with the children in the book, but they remain minor characters throughout the story, barely present as more than shadows but for their mother's abstract concern. There's no doubt that this is artful and smart...but that said, I don't think I'd feel any need to reread it or pass it on to others.

Jan 3, 2014, 2:30 pm

Hello whitewavedarling. And yes indeed I have seen you around L.T. for years. I also began in the 50 book gig, moved up to the 75 book gig where I got very, very lost. So many on that one. And as I normally read around 100 books a year this was the perfect place for me. It's not intimidating here. The people are very nice and one can be as social as one wants or doesn't. Welcome!
And a Happy New Year to you Jennifer & good luck with your 2014 reading challenges. I look forward to following you.

Jan 5, 2014, 12:53 pm

Thanks, rainpebble--and, ditto on the well-wishes for the new year and challenges! By the way--I love your name!

Jan 5, 2014, 10:32 pm

I too have followed you on various threads, so it is nice to be formally introduced :-) Looking forward to following your reviews.

Jan 6, 2014, 10:52 am

lol, I'm glad! Everybody's names (and so many introductions, too) blend together for me without having faces and in-person interactions to go along with the online, but I do enjoy keeping up with everyone :)

Meanwhile...a short book of poetry in the midst of all the novels I'm reading... Not one that's easily found, but for readers who enjoy poetry that's spiritual or philosophical in nature, maybe worth looking up from Cooper Dillon Books.

3. This Kind of Knowing by Susannah Sheffer

A quiet collection of poems with spiritual undertones, the poems here are well-crafted, if overly abstract. On the whole, I enjoyed the reading experience, but didn't find many of the poems memorable. There are a few I might come back to for re-reading or teaching purposes, but this probably isn't a collection that will stick with me for long.

Jan 7, 2014, 9:13 am

4. Saint by Christine Bell

On a Side Note: Heavens, how I wish I had a scanner. The only cover on librarything, or that I can find anywhere online, is pretty average, and not horrible, but the cover of my older edition? It's a drawing of a curly-haired blonde with blue eyes in daisy-duke-short shorts and a lacy negligee style top, a halo over her head (yes, a halo), lounging provocatively under a full moon in the middle of a jungle. The cartoon nature of the cover paired with the angelic face of the center of it makes it surprisingly proper (as opposed to sexy), so you know you're not walking into a porno...but it is incredibly confusing. And hilarious, even moreso once you read the actual book.

Short Review:
A spectacular brilliant read that I absolutely recommend and adore.

Full Review:
Too real to not be funny, and too wonderfully written to not be clever, this is a wonderful read. Though the synopsis makes the book sound incredibly boring, and the most popular cover of the book doesn't really help, Bell's writing is a treasure, and the story is wonderfully hilarious. And in the midst of the poetry of Bell's language, and the humor of the situations spun by an American woman dropped into the middle of an extended South American family, there's also a poignant and worthwhile story of a woman in the middle of her life, unsure of her marriage and her direction, and fighting what seems like absurdity on all fronts.

Bell's protagonist, Rubia, is utterly believable, and hugely entertaining. The backstory: as a college student from New York, she fell in love with a man from South America, and followed him back to his hacienda after they got married. Bell's novel picks up the story fifteen years later when Rubia is smack in the middle of her husband's huge and quirky family, living on the outskirts of a small city in South America, known mostly for its saints. If not for her ill mother-in-law, she might have already left her husband, but then again, maybe not. If not for her business, she'd probably be going crazy, but then again, maybe not. And then, there are those miracles...

Simply, the book jacket synopsis makes this sound mundane at best, boring or absurd at worst, and the primary cover of the book doesn't do much better--though, on a side note, my old used edition has a much more entertaining cover which has an opposite (though no better) effect on potential readers. But, only a page in, I was hooked, and found the whole read unspeakably brilliant. It's possible that readers with no familial connection to large South American families won't be quite so entertained...but I think they will, though readers with some direct exposure to families blended from very different cultures will probably get an added kick from it all.

In any case, I can't recommend this highly enough--consider it the reality-based version of Christopher Moore, or think of Modern Family set in South America, slightly dated and slightly less loving, and with an ironic eye toward religion and progress. All together, this is just a wonderful read.

Highly recommended.

Jan 7, 2014, 9:14 am

5. The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas

Intensely clever and original, this will stand as one of my favorite vampire novels along with Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and Jonathan Nasaw's The World on Blood. Charnas' work has all of the play and suspense you might expect of a novel built around a vampire, but moves forward with more humanity and introspection that you'd usually find, and paces itself with such surprise that it's a wonderfully unique and surprising read.

I'll admit: it starts out slowly, so slowly in fact that I wondered if the full work would end up being dated or so basic a vampire tale that I'd be bored throughout. Still, having read endorsements from Peter S. Beagle and Stephen King, I read the beginning straight through...and suddenly couldn't put the book down. After the first part (which is about fifty pages, of the 286 in my edition), I found that I was totally wrapped up in each page, each successive part moving more quickly than the last. And yet, it kept surprising me nearly until the last.

Simply, I loved it, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a good "vampire read", or just an engaging book that wavers between suspense and horror.

Absolutely recommended

Jan 7, 2014, 10:20 am

Do you have an iOS device? Scanner Pro is free this week and works pretty well as a scanner. Although I see what you mean, when my scanner breaks down (as they do, because I use mine several times a day) I buy a new one immediately. I cannot live without mine.

Jan 7, 2014, 4:14 pm

lol--I'm not even sure what an iOS device is. When it comes to technology, I'm one of Those folks who just barely get by, and won't own a smart phone until they stop selling the dumb ones, if ever... :) I am going to see if our office at school can scan color copy when I get a chance, and if so, I'll get a picture up!

Jan 7, 2014, 6:45 pm

An iOS device is an Apple smart phone, an iPhone or iPad. So you don't have one of those. :)

But thanks divinenanny, I'm downloading Scanner Pro now!

Jan 8, 2014, 3:42 am

;) Thanks wookiebender for explaining :D

Jan 8, 2014, 11:36 am

lol, thanks all. Meanwhile, another good read...and admittedly, not one I ever thought I'd pick up, let alone end up enjoying!

6. The Way of the Fight by Georges St. Pierre

Part memoir and part personal philosophy and manifesto, this is a fast and interesting read from a driven athlete and champion. GSP's book focuses on what drives him and what allows him to succeed at such a level in MMA, especially focusing on the psychology and the philosophy around all of it. The book gets a slow start and feels almost like a self-help book as GSP introduces his thoughts on survival, fear, and health, but it quickly moves beyond those moments and goes quickly into his journey toward becoming a professional athlete. At its heart, the book is about personal dedication to one's passion and chosen path--and finding that path--and in that way, any reader might benefit from it.

Oddly, I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to. I went into it hoping to learn a little about MMA (and I did), but while I was skeptical of the work (based on the beginning), I ended up really appreciating the dedication and belief behind the work and the lifestyle. As someone who's slowly making a move toward putting my own passion above all other concerns/priorities (but for family), I could relate to many of the discussions here, especially toward the end when GSP starts discussing the feelings of isolation he experiences before a fight, and the manner in which he has to be careful of the people he surrounds himself with.

Simply, this is a fast read, and entertaining. It's also an interestingly formatted memoir, and a work that testifies to the fact that a journey is what most matters, far more than any end result.

Overall, recommended.

Jan 9, 2014, 11:17 am

7. Dallas Noir edited by David Hale Smith

This was my first venture into the Noir collection from Akashic Books, and I liked it well enough that I'll probably try a few more. That said, I probably won't read the next one straight through. Most of the stories here revolved entirely around drugs and sex, with crime and atmosphere a far few steps behind all of the exotic dancers and rich players. There was little of the atmosphere that I'd expected, and at least one story that wasn't nearly at the level of the others and probably should have been left out completely. But, that said, there were three or four authors I wrote down to search out more work from, and stories as well from two writers who I already search out, neither of whom disappointed here.

All together, it was a quick read with fast-paced stories, though I'm hoping for more from the other Noir works on the Akashic list.

Jan 14, 2014, 11:15 am

8. Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative by Patricia Wald

Wald's examination of outbreak narratives is a fascinating journey through discussions of contagious disease, history, media, pop culture, and scientific developments. Throughout the work, the evolution of what is now recognizable as an outbreak narrative comes clearly into focus. One of the most powerful aspects of the work rests in the fact that Wald uncovers various feedback loops in the ways in which we understand and document disease. How film and literature have influenced our understanding and documentation of actual disease, and the way we write about it...how historical experiences with diseases and contagions have influenced the ways in which we now move forward with both research and documentation...how the language we use to document disease has been influenced by pop culture and subsequently influences political and research decisions...how a movie like Body Snatchers reflects and reinforces the (wrong) way we so often analyze and attempt an understanding of disease.

The outbreak narrative, as a form of narrative, is part fact and part fiction, but it has very real consequences in today's society. Wald's work attempts to trace the evolution of this narrative, delving into pop culture, history, film studies, politics, media and journalism, and scientific developments in order to not only follow the convoluted feedback loop created by different narratives related to contagions, but to analyze the various ways (good and bad) that these narratives have influenced, in turn, politics, science, and popular understanding of disease.

For a carefully researched work of nonfiction, Wald's work is incredibly readable, and her endnotes are perfectly balanced--what's there is useful and interesting, but also somewhat tangential...just what belongs in an endnote (as so often seems to Not be the case when it comes to works like this). Her writing is also clear and detailed, and a useful analysis in the ways science and technology have influenced societal perception, and vice versa.

Overall, absolutely recommended for anyone interested in the subject of contagions or in the ways in which popular narratives have influenced political and scientific developments, or in the ways in which film and literature, as a group of texts, reinforce or influence popular understandings (or misunderstandings) and media.

Editado: Jan 14, 2014, 3:02 pm

>21 whitewavedarling::
I definitely need to hit the library after I get tuned up & read my way through my initial hitters to find some 'noir'. Love it in the old movies so I am sure I would love it in book form even better.

For your "faces to go along with names":

taken last year around Easter time.........

Jan 14, 2014, 4:36 pm

Yay! I do love to see faces with names--and your glasses look exactly like mine!

Jan 14, 2014, 4:48 pm

P'raps they are exactly the same. 'Only our optometrists know for sure'. lol!~!

Jan 17, 2014, 11:50 am

9. Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music by Neil Powell

As a composer and as a voice for the arts, Benjamin Britten was a monumental figure for music and for the Arts in England during the 20th Century. His compositions, lasting provisions for musicians, and his operas are all enduring legacies, as is the simple goodness that all who knew him seem to attest to. Coming into this biography, I knew him as a sometime contemporary of W.H. Auden who was also the composer of the operas based on James' Turn of the Screw and Mann's Death in Venice, and somewhere I had a passing memory that his compositions often fed off of poetry, such as that of Thomas Hardy, Whitman, and Shakespeare.

Powell's biography, though, is ambitious. Moving through Britten's entire life, it undertakes a study of how his life fed off of music, and fed music in return. With constant quotations from Briten's own journals (especially in the first half of the book when his life was not so well documented by others), and with constant attention to what was being written and performed when, Powell's book is many things. It is biography. It is also a monument and a catalogue and a celebration.

In truth, there were sections where I found this work to be incredibly slow-moving--the constant attention to what was being written and performed, for who and when and how, and the constant attention to names whose lives intersected with Britten's, however briefly, was sometimes tedious--particularly in the middle portion of the book when Britten's life revolved entirely around his compositions, many of them shorter works, so that the biography sometimes felt like a listing or a cataloguing exercise moreso than prose. (Though, no doubt, this is an impressive bout of research on Powell's part.) And, these sections were probably all the more tedious for me because I am not a musician, or even really versed in the language of orchestras and music theory. Certainly, these sections would have been far more interesting for readers more knowledgeable about these areas or Britten's work in particular. And yet.

The beginning of the work so fascinated me, even so detached as it was, that I couldn't help but keep going through these middle reaches of the text, and the final sections of the work more than made up for those few sections where I found myself struggling with any desire to continue. In the end, I so appreciate Powell's careful objectiveness, and his care in staying away from the more media-driven scandals which were sometimes associated with Britten's name in the press (primarily because of homophobia and/or suspicions regarding his pacifist nature) which, really, had little to no basis in Britten's reality.

On the whole, this work does have its faults, but it is also a fascinating study of a leading composer of the twentieth century and a man who, very simply, ensured that his life revolved around music, from beginning to end. For those interested, it will be a worthwhile read.

Jan 17, 2014, 4:21 pm

10. The Cherries of Freedom: A Report by Alfred Andersch (English version available from Toby Press)

As much philosophy and personal review as it is memoir or history, this short "report" by Andersch has some truly great moments. As he moves through his experiences living in the years of the Third Reich, and then finally fighting (or at least traveling with) and then deserting Hitler's forces, Andersch' pre-occupations are philosophical, revolving around personal freedom, justice, and art. The introduction notes that readers will be doing Andersch a disservice to read him as a hero, and that the power of the work comes only when one overlooks his presentation of self. Yet, truly, Andersch doesn't make any attempt to present himself as any sort of a hero. In fact, he speaks instead of what it might mean for him to be heroic, or act heroicly, where instead he constantly carried both cowardice and courage with him at all times, and veered toward cowardice...because cowardice could mean freedom (in life).

This is a short read, and one which is impossible to describe. It speaks honestly of the justice and injustice accompanying non-volunteer armies, citizenship, and even politics, but does so in such a poetic and commonplace language that the words are artful and lasting. Whether it should be considered memoir, philosophy, or history is for each individual reader to decide. It should, however, be read.


Jan 18, 2014, 9:52 pm

The Britten book does sound interesting, although probably more detail that I'd like/need! :) I sang some of his compositions when I sang in a choir many years ago, and always enjoyed his works.

Jan 19, 2014, 2:56 pm

You might enjoy it, then. The beginning was really fascinating (by beginning, I mean the firs 100-150 pages), and then it was that next 100 or so that got bogged down in specific compositions and performances. If you were familiar with his music, you might get a lot more out of it than I did! Either way, I'd recommend the early portion to anyone, I think--my only reservation is that I'm one of those people who can't put a book down and simply decide not to finish it, and I tend to forget that others are comfortable walking away from books if they get bogged down!

Jan 19, 2014, 5:58 pm

Oh, I'm not good at putting down books either. Matter of fact I'm in the middle of any number of books, that I put down but fully mean to go back to. Even if it has been years since I put them down - I just can't admit to myself that I'm not going to finish them!

Jan 19, 2014, 9:57 pm

lol; that's where I am with both Golden Notebook and Independence Day at the moment. One of these days...

Jan 19, 2014, 10:27 pm

Ah, I actually returned The Golden Notebook to the library unread. That's one of the rare ones I gave up on. (Sorry to those who loved it, but I was so bored.)

Jan 19, 2014, 11:33 pm

Yep :( I got about a third of the way through and stalled out. I'll finish the Ford work in the nearer future--I began it for a class, and didn't Quite get it finished. Since there are only fifty or so pages left, and it was such a simple book that I remember it clearly enough, I will get to it... We'll see about the Lessing...

Jan 20, 2014, 11:58 pm

Tonight I am trying to catch up with our "100" group, and am so enjoying your reviews! I have added Saint to my list. Look forward to reading more from you as the year progresses!

Jan 21, 2014, 8:36 am

Thank you! And, I hope you enjoy Saint--it really was a wonderful find, and I'm going to hunt down the author's other work sooner than later :)

Jan 21, 2014, 10:50 am

And, pure fun...

11. The Dark Glamour by Gabriella Pierce

The second of the 666 Park Avenue Novels, this is the perfect follow-up to the first. It picks up where the first left off (and is probably more enjoyable for readers who've read the first, though Pierce does make some attempt to fill in readers new to the characters), and follows Jane through the maze of witches and socialites that has come to the point of threatening her life. Like the first, it's filled with glamour, suspense, danger, and romance, and it's incredibly quick moving. Though it took me some time to pick this one up once I'd read the first, I was once again so wrapped up in the stories and characters that I couldn't stop reading, and finished in only a few sittings.

Simply, this isn't like the dark horror of the tv show that spun off from the series (and eventually brought me to the books), but these books are wonderful fun all on their own. I suppose you'd call them a sort of suspenseful chic-lit series revolving around a reluctant witch--they're certainly not horror. One way or another, though, they are fun, and I hope Pierce keeps with the characters...

I'll be reading the next one soon. Highly recommended.

If you're interested, the first in the series is just called 666 Park Avenue...so far, there are only three. (And, yes, I loved the first one too once I got over the disappointment that it was so unlike the tv show--disappointment because I was hoping for some more detail or closure as related to the quickly cancelled show.)

Jan 21, 2014, 8:50 pm

12. Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Not particularly even, and somewhat overwritten, this is still an interesting read despite the ways in which it attempts to get in its own way. The structure is cumbersome and actually works against any element of suspense or inertia the narrative might have had otherwise, but the character's voice is also one which can't be ignored, unlikable as it may often be. On the whole, the beginning sucked me in so much that I wouldn't have been able to put this down for any length of time, but the rest of the work didn't live up to that beginning.

Did I enjoy much of it? Yes. Was I just wading through much of it? Yes. In the end, I suppose that I wanted more from this work in general. The dialogue was sometimes unbelievable, and that added to the awkward structure made this a less enjoyable read than it would have been otherwise.

There was so much promise here, and the characters were mostly believable, if unlikable...I think I'd look into the author's other work if given the opportunity, but this one needed more time, I'm afraid.

Jan 23, 2014, 12:39 pm

13. Storm Warriors by Elisa Carbone

Inspired by the rescue crew based in the Pea Island Life-Saving Station in the 1890s (located in North Carolina Outer Banks region), this work revolves around a young (fictional) teenager and his family, along with his interactions with the rescue crew of Pea Island. Along with documenting numerous actual rescues that the crew performed, the work also draws an eye to racism and race relations in the region and time of the work.

Both believable and fast-moving, Carbone's work is engaging and interesting, and the young narrator's voice is perfect for the narrative and developed situations--it does a marvelous job of capturing the mix of comedy and drama that wraps up the life and viewpoints of a young teen. And as a young adult work, it does work well, though my one related critique might be that there is so much seriousness based around the family, and it's almost too much seriousness (in my opinion) for a book meant for young readers. I'd understand if all of the drama surrounded the rescues, but I felt as if that suspense and seriousness was more than enough for the novel, and I would have preferred the focus remain there more consistently (when it came to the serious moments in the book, at least).

On the whole, this is a great young adult example of a work that usefully mixes "real" history and a fictional narrative, and it is a fast and often suspenseful read. On the other hand, there's much seriousness here, and not just related to the rescues and to civil rights. At the least, I'd recommend parents read it before passing it on to young readers. Certainly, the reading level is appropriate to fourth or fifth graders and up...but the material itself might be more serious than some parents would expect, in many respects. Personally, I doubt I'd directly pass it on to any readers under an eighth grade level unless I knew them well and/or they had a specific interest in the subject.

Jan 26, 2014, 11:09 am

14. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Coming into Life of Pi, even having read and enjoyed Martel's other work, I was skeptical. The work sounded so simple, I couldn't imagine how it would stay engaging for such a long narrative. And, I'd heard that the heart of the tale "would make you believe in God", so I also expected a work heavier on religion than what I normally read. All told, I expected wonderful writing, and a somewhat boring or theological story. And I'm so glad I was wrong.

Martel's Pi is so wonderful and believable that his voice carries the work along without any effort on the reader's part. After thirty pages or so, I could barely put the work down. Perhaps I wouldn't have been quite so drawn in if I didn't love animals, but as it was, I enjoyed this read more than I've enjoyed any novel in ages. Martel's descriptions were lovely, and for such a serious work, there was so much humor that the story's emotion never felt overbearing.

So, yes, this is the story of a boy on a liferaft with a tiger, and it is a simple story. It also deserves every page and ever reader it finds.

Absolutely recommended.

Jan 26, 2014, 11:56 am

15. The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett

From the beginning, this book pulled me into the world of Patchett's magician's assistant and left me entranced with the various landscapes and characters. Boomeranging gently between horrifyingly mundane tragedies and magical scenes of dreams and magic, the book explores the aftershocks of a man's death as those who loved him most learn about the life he experienced when not with them, and about each other.

Full of humor and beauty, the work is still one of the most transporting and realistic depictions of grief that I've seen, and Patchett's writing is wonder-full. I've seen reviewers note that the symbolism is too heavy, but I would say that, no, it's realistic to the way symbols appear and are interpreted in our everyday lives. Simply, you might not find that this work changes your life, or even provides any sort of an escape from reality. For me, though, it shows a sort of hope and a beauty in the world we all know, and in the experiences that we so often say we'd rather forget, however much they make our futures.

When I was younger, I wouldn't have appreciated this. Now, I can simply say that I find it perfect and worthwhile in every way, and that I'll be a fan of Patchett from here on out.

Absolutely recommended.

Jan 28, 2014, 6:04 am

Oh, I loved Life Of Pi too! And good review of The Magician's Assistant, I'll have to check that one out.

Jan 28, 2014, 11:37 am

Thanks :) I hope you enjoy The Magician's Assistant--a lot of the reviews were middling, but I really did love it. And, meanwhile, I couldn't resist stopping by Barnes and Noble today to see if they had any works by Patchett or Martel that I didn't already have on hand--I ended up picking up The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett and Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. Of course, I found two others as well, that I hadn't gone in for...The Secret of Happy Ever After (a dalmation attracted me to the cover) and Before They Are Hanged (a gorgeous edition of a work that's the sequel to one sitting by my bed and soon to be started).

Jan 29, 2014, 4:54 am

I read The Patron Sant of Liars a while back, and I remember liking it.

Jan 29, 2014, 8:49 am

I'm glad! I saw an iffy review of it just after entering it into LT, but the complaints sounded like the remarks I heard against The Magician's Assistant, which I of course loved. Meanwhile, I started A Trip to the Stars a few days ago, which is going to be a longer and slower read than some of these others. I should finish up some smaller books in the meanwhile since I read those on the bus to and from work, but it'll be at least a week or so before I can get to the new ones!

Jan 29, 2014, 11:50 am

16. Wild Oats and Fireweed: new Poems by Ursula K. Le Guin

These poems are probably of the most interest to readers who already enjoy Le Guin's works of fantasy. Many of the poems are grounded in the natural world, but have an otherworldly tone that gives an impression of the supernatural. Feminist themes also run throughout the word, and the most successful poems in the collection fuse a sense of the elements with feminist voices, creating a lasting impression of permanence that serves to strengthen the work as a whole. For the most part, this is also one of those collections where the poems work together to create a greater whole, but would not necessarily mean so much when taken separately.

Jan 29, 2014, 12:32 pm

17. Adult Head by Jeff Tweedy

Many of the poems here are interesting, but meaning often gets lost in an exploration of sound, and too often, the poems seem to be jotted off and unpolished. There are a few (maybe three or four) that I enjoyed enough to pass on or revisit, but for the most part, this isn't a collection I'll remember or recommend.

Fev 2, 2014, 4:36 pm

18. Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey

In the beginning, I felt like I was getting whiplash every time I picked up this book...later on in the reading, I'm afraid I just felt a bit bored. The book was packed with interesting scenes and interesting characters, but there was just too little time spent in any one place. By the time I got interested, Dorsey was moving on to something else, and the only characters who held any sort of focus were just a bit too crazy and immoral to be likable. Honestly, at any point in the book, any of the characters could have been killed, or Dorsey could have started over entirely, and I wouldn't have been either saddened or surprised.

Perhaps the nature of this book made it a more fragmented read than others, so I'll look at some reviews of other Dorsey works before I write him off entirely, but I really didn't enjoy this work. The writing was fine, and a few of the jokes and situations made me smile, but on the whole, I found the book more silly and overwritten than enjoyable, in any way at all.

I wouldn't recommend this one, and honestly, I doubt I'll be trying any of Dorsey's other worse any time soon.

Fev 2, 2014, 7:32 pm

I really enjoyed Bel Canto and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, so The Magician's Assistant is now on the wishlist. And I will be interested to see what you think of Beatrice and Virgil which also received mixed reviews. I liked it a lot.

Fev 2, 2014, 10:19 pm

Good to know! I'll get to it sooner than later...

As an update, for February, I plan to finish: Don't Shoot (my reading for free moments at work), A Trip to the Stars (the book I put down temporarily while taking cold medicine this last few days, but am loving), Garden of Eden (my bedside night-time reading), and whatever I pick up by Amos Oz to fill out the GeoCat challenge...

I'm sure there'll be others, but for now, these are the definites and the in-progresses!

Fev 9, 2014, 2:01 pm

19. Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's creatures--his books and his characters--are so complete, whether you like them or not, that reading even this unfinished work is a bit like falling into another world, or even many worlds in the case of this Garden of Eden. And reading this work by Hemingway, in particular, is a bit like exploring his notebooks simply because there are aspects of so many of his different works, and the style here is both undeniably him...and wholly a bit foreign in some strange way. Perhaps that foreignness might have been edited out, had he lived to finish the work to his satisfaction, but as it stands, this book is something else entirely, and rather wonderful. It feels ahead of its time, and yet timeless; matter-of-fact, and yet decadent; lovely, and still undeniably crude.

Simply, there's something about this work that I couldn't help but sink into, and I rather adored the thing--and yes, I call it a thing--in its entirety.

Fev 12, 2014, 11:22 am

20. Lord of All Things by Andreas Eschbach

Eschbach's Lord of All Things is a weave of nearly every major genre you could search out--though a science fiction novel at heart (at least by the end), it includes elements of romance, mystery, drama, horror, suspense, adventure, and even some small element of the supernatural. Probably, the book will lose some readers exactly because of this variety, but for many readers, I think it is exactly this variety that makes the book so impossible to walk away from. Perhaps because I read so little science fiction, this mix was especially effective for me, and might be most appealing to readers who have truly eclectic tastes...but one way or another, I'd expect any reader to find some entertainment here. And, importantly, the book is also a careful and believable exploration of day-to-day struggles--crazy as some of the events are, and extraordinary as some of the characters are, Eschbach never forgets that normal struggles and fears are at the base of any individual, and he does an admirable job of allowing those concerns to make his work all the more powerful and believable without ever losing the drive that comes from dipping into the genres noted above.

Following the lives of a man and woman whose lives boomerang against each other time after time, and taking its seed from a young boy who lives in poverty and dreams of fixing the world and, most importantly, eliminating poverty, the novel is magnificent in scope. Moving across the globe and landing in such settings as Boston, Tokyo, Scotland, the Arctic, and Buenos Aires, as quickly as the novel moves, it never becomes tedious or predictable--or rather, when you think it might be predictable, Eschbach takes an unprecedented turn that, in hindsight, fits perfectly, even as much as readers wouldn't have seen it coming.

On the whole, this is one of those works which, long as it is, can barely be put down for sleep once a reader has really begun, and there's something here for nearly everyone. True, it has some faults. Some scenes seem more tangent than necessity (especially in the first portion of the book), developing characters and motivations that only become clear much later and giving time to perhaps one too many subplots. And, really, only the two primary characters in the book are fully fleshed out and developed as much as one might hope for all of the characters. But, while some readers may end up seeing Eschbach as attempting too much...I have to say that I'll read anything else of his which I can find in translation. Whether you read this and become fascinated by the scientific drive, the politics of achievement, or the simple drama of living, there'll be something here to keep you involved.

Absolutely recommended.

Fev 12, 2014, 7:30 pm

Ack! I took a book bullet!!

Fev 13, 2014, 8:45 am

lol--I'm glad to hear it! That last one was such a wonderful surprise! And don't let the length put you off--it goes insanely quickly!

Fev 15, 2014, 7:07 pm

21. The Beasties by William Sleator

As silly and jokey as the cover might look, this is actually a pretty serious work of horror. Much as it's designed for young adult readers, the ecological overtones and possibilities of danger are so constant--and striking--that the book ends up being far more horrific and serious than first seems possible. Older readers might well find this work even more disturbing and memorable than will middle and high school readers who come across it, but one way or another, this is a dark and humorous work with believable characters and real-world commentary. Like it or hate it, it won't be easily forgotten.

Fev 15, 2014, 11:44 pm

And on to the wishlist it goes.

Fev 16, 2014, 2:11 am

#20 - Lord of All Things sounds fascinating. Wishlisting.

Fev 16, 2014, 10:55 am

:) Glad I could help add to your lists--so far #20 was the good surprise of the year on my end :)

Fev 18, 2014, 9:44 pm

22. A Raft of Grief by Chelsea Rathburn

While Rathburn's language is graceful, and most of these poems were published in journals before being collected here, I have to say that this was something of a disappointment. The first section in the book is by far the strongest, but that makes the rest of the book that much more of a let-down. The middle section, especially, is built more of short scenes that read more like poetic prose than polished poems, and many of them come across as attempting to be more clever than they are, and simply falling short. All together, I'm afraid the collection is somewhat boring with few stand-out moments. I don't expect to want to come back to and re-read every poem in a collection, or even most, but I do generally expect to find a few poems that will draw me back over and over again, for the language if not the content. Here, there wasn't a single one that I felt the need to mark (as I normally would) as one to come back to at a later date.

Simply, I'm afraid I was incredibly disappointed with this one, and wouldn't recommend it. It's not that the poems are bad...but they're also not particularly memorable or striking. They're just well written and thematically smart, which simply isn't enough--at least not for this reader.

Fev 21, 2014, 8:33 am

I hope your next read is more satisfying!

Fev 22, 2014, 12:19 pm

They shall be :) I've been out of town the last few days, so I haven't been reading much at all (thought I did get some writing done), but I'm closer than not to finishing up two different reads I'm really enjoying. Both are long--Plum Bun is around 400 pages and A Trip to the Stars is around 500--so they've taken a bit more time, but they're both really wonderful :) Reviews to come as they get finished...

Fev 24, 2014, 5:47 pm

23. Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset

Written at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, this is one of those novels that isn't nearly as widely read as it should be. Fauset's novel is so readable as to often seem casual, but the heart of the story is a detailing of psychology related to racism, sexism, and the question/process of "passing". By focusing on a young African American girl who wants nothing more than to be a free woman and artist, Fauset tracks her young protragonist through Philadelphia and then New York with a constant eye toward the politics of her life. Because the focus of the novel is on the personal psychology of characters, as opposed to larger politics affecting society, the book and protagonist might come across as deceptively simple, or even selfish. Instead, the novel works to provide a picture of simple, and even realistic, survival.

In the end, Fauset's subtitle, "a novel without a moral", is both important and careful. As prolific and involved as Fauset was during the Harlem Renaissance, there's no question that this work is never without thought, but it is also incredibly engaging and readable, maybe so much so that its very readability has allowed it to be overlooked when we look back at the serious literature of its time. Plum Bun: A Novel WIthout a Moral is, though, a pointed critique of anyone who would attempt to call "passing" a simple matter of morality, pride, or confidence--it is a serious work of fiction, worth reading and considering, that sheds real light onto race and gender politics of the early twentieth century.

Simply, this may be a book you haven't heard of...but it shouldn't be.

Absolutely recommended.

Fev 25, 2014, 11:07 am

24. The Book of Common Betrayals by Lynne Knight

Poetry readers, I hope you'll search out this book...there are only four copies listed on librarything, but this is one of the best contemporary collections of poetry I've read in ages. My review doesn't come close to doing it justice, but I hope some of you will look it up.

A Five Star Read...

Full Review:

This is one of those rare collections where each poem is an intoxicating piece on its own, and yet, when placed in the midst of all of the others, the poems have that much more power. Knight's works are graceful narratives and meditations that weave a full study of questions of hope and betrayal, sometimes in the sweetest and most surprising ways. From the woman who watches her neighbor lovingly allow a family of deer to eat their way through his beautiful garden to the couple who contemplate whether death is a form of betrayal, the subjects of these poems are raw and beautiful, and the collection is one worth reading for any lover of poetry or writing in general. This will remain a favorite of mine, worth re-reading in whole.

Absolutely recommended.

Fev 25, 2014, 9:02 pm

25. With Rommel's Army in Libya by Laszlo Almasy

Though his name was only relatively recently made famous by Ondaatje's The English Patient and the film that followed, Laszlo Almasy was a dedicated explorer of the African deserts who was recruited by German forces because of his knowledge of the Sahara. This book is his most famous, and was at one point falsely held against him as proof of his loyalty to Hitler. In reality, the book did more to prove the falsity of this claim, even after it had been banned in Germany as a forbidden book, when the defense attorney was finally able to find a copy.

Through this book, Almasy's utter love of exploration and travel both come across on nearly each page. While war serves as a very real backdrop to the text, what is most striking is the author's love and knowledge of many very different cultures and languages, and his clear appreciation for the same, as well as his love for the Sahara and the untouched landscapes he travels through. The book is engaging not just as a relic of history, but as the record of a real and engaging man who was caught up in a war because of his love for the African landscape. His love of people and cultures makes the text nearly heartbreaking in its outright celebration of life and diversity, even moreso when readers consider the context in which it was written and the false reputation and associations which eventually cost Almasy his life.

In truth, this is a short read, and it will disappoint readers who are interested more in WWII than in military logistics of movement and travel. But for readers who are interested in men caught up in war, in travel writing, in personal accounts of travelling with a military force, and in the Sahara, this will be as engaging as it is documentary and humorous. And, probably, for readers of the English Patient as well, this is a surprising and detailed look backward into the associated history.

For readers who are interested, searching out this book won't be wasted time. Recommended.

Fev 26, 2014, 8:10 pm

> 63 Another one goes on my list.

You guys are corrupting me, you know. I actually have a TBR pile right now. I never have a TBR pile.

Fev 26, 2014, 9:25 pm

I'm so glad! Add 62 too...even if you're not a poetry fan, it'll make you one...

Fev 27, 2014, 11:36 am

>65 whitewavedarling:
Actually I'm already a fan of dramatic/narrative verse.

Alright, I have added The Book of Common Betrayals to my list also. But the list it keeps growing, so don't expect me to get around to it anytime soon. Okay? :)

Fev 28, 2014, 7:21 am

Plum Bun sounds definitely worth a read, I read Nella Larsen's Passing a few years ago, it was fascinating too.

Fev 28, 2014, 2:32 pm

LShelby, I'm glad :) Let me know what you think when they do make it into your hands!

wookiebender, I've heard of Passing, so I may have to look that one up. I think I was shocked that I've taken so many courses in African American lit., and only heard about Fauset casually, and mostly in regard to her critical work. I'd never been all that interested in passing narratives before this one, but I may have to look up Larsen's now. Thanks for the reminder!

Editado: Fev 28, 2014, 8:10 pm

Well, I had every intention of finishing A Trip to the Stars today, but an old friend of mine ended up being desperately in need of a favor when somebody else flaked out on her, so I spent the morning with her...and once I was out, I decided to run errands, and then the day just got away from me. So much for this being my day off to read quietly at home! I've only got about fifty pages left, and this book has been such a wonderful journey that I really want to finish it in one sitting, but it looks like it will have to wait til tomorrow night, or more likely Sunday.


Running errands, I couldn't resist stepping into the local Barnes and Noble where I picked up the new book by Alice Hoffman,Museum of Extraordinary Things, as well as Kraken by China Mieville. I've been meaning to try Mieville for ages, so I think this one will probably end up being read first once I finish A Trip to the Stars and Cakes and Ale, which I've been anxious to get into and will probably start come Monday or Tuesday. Kraken sounds really fascinating, though, so I've got high hopes for it!

Fev 28, 2014, 11:22 pm

Hope you enjoy Kraken, if you do Mieville's Railsea and the bigger, deeper Perdido Street Station might be worth reading.

Editado: Fev 28, 2014, 11:31 pm

And, the month-end update...

Well, I just looked back to the end of January, and found I didn't do very well as far as finishing up the books I actually Planned to finish...so, we'll see how March goes. My definite plans include...

Trip to the Stars (in progress)
Utopia (in progress)
Prayers for the Stolen (in progress)
Love and Treasure
Cakes and Ale
Bel Canto

Mar 1, 2014, 9:56 am

Always more important to be a good friend than almost anything else, but I sympathize with watching reading days slip away!

Mar 1, 2014, 10:04 am

lol---yep, so true. The book has been so good that I was looking forward to finishing it all in one stretch while my husband was at work...now we're both on vacation, so we'll see what happens!

Editado: Mar 3, 2014, 5:44 pm

I read a novel by Christopher a few years ago, and loved the writing enough (and enjoyed the story enough) that I always planned to get back to his writing. I discovered his poetry, which I enjoyed just so much, and then I saw that this novel was included on a list of "The Ten Best Novels You've Never Heard Of", which kicked it off of my tbr pile and into my hands....thank goodness.

26. A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher

Christopher's work is always hypnotic, but in this case, the work is nothing short of intoxicating. Woven of a labyrinthine hotel, exotic jungles, and ordinary passions, it moves forward with a sort of supernatural momentum that has the potential for leaving readers breathless and out of touch with their own realities, lost in the novel's passages and grace.

Beginning with the separation of two unique characters, A Trip to the Stars works as a web of personalities and subplots, all as frighteningly believable as they are fascinating. The novel's unique tandem of science and fantasy is entrancing, a masterful journey of passion and hope in every guise imaginable. While Christopher's writing is poetic and clever, the story here is, in itself, worth falling into over and over again.

This isn't a book so much as a journey, and it is wonderful.

Mar 3, 2014, 5:43 pm

27. Property Of by Alice Hoffman

Even though this early work of Hoffman doesn't ring with the same depth or poetry as her later work, the story itself is still engaging and urgent. The simplicity of the story and the voice add a sort of telescoping focus to two forces which themselves tend to carry their own intertia: obsessive love and drug addiction, told on the foreground of gang involvement and coming of age. Spinning out from one act of violence that barely has a chance to begin, the narrator's story moves forward with barely any awareness of choice or free will, innocence and a crush giving way to love, obsession, and finally addiction.

At the center of Hoffman's novel is a meditation on the idea of property--the sense of belonging that can itself be addictive and the emotional feeling, wrong or right, that being in a relationship leads also to a sense of proprietary (and reciprocal) holding on another human being. Here, slavery is not the question, but being beholden to another individual, and similarly having responsibility for their person, is a question of honor and survival that is inescapable on nearly every page of the text.

This is a quick read, and while it isn't Hoffman's best, the promise and the talent in this early writing of hers are clear, and still far more engaging and graceful than much of the published writing out there.

On the whole, recommended.

Mar 3, 2014, 6:07 pm

28. The Utopia of Sir Thomas More Including Roper's Life of More and Letters of More and His Daughter Margaret edited by Mildred Campbell

Campbell's edition of More's Utopia includes the original edited text of Utopia with extensive footnotes, a detailed introduction to the text, Roper's text on the Life of More, Erasmus' biographical letter about More (still a preferred biography of More, and a wonderful piece of writing in itself), and the letters More and his daughter Margaret exchanged while he was imprisoned prior to his execution in 1535.

Although Utopia was first published in 1516, it's still an astonishingly relevant read, and well worth the time. As both a critique of 16th Century England and a detailed study of an apparently ideal society, the text is so readable as to feel far more recent, and a fascinating journey in itself. While some of the material Campbell includes in this edition is fairly cumbersome, and clearly dated as far as the writing goes, Erasmus' letter about More, and More's own letters to his daughter, are both telling and transporting, well worth the extra time. What emerges from the text and collection as a whole is a careful critique of the ways of 'civilized' humanity and a visit with an intelligent and caring man who was also a clever citizen and a wonderful writer.

Absolutely recommended--and, while this edition may be more difficult to find than others, the included letters make it well worth the effort.

Mar 9, 2014, 3:48 pm

29. Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

Focused around a rural community on a mountain in Mexico, Clement's novel is written out of heartbreak, but surprisingly full of humor. The young narrator at the center of the work is a girl whose days revolve around trying to be ugly and mediating the world for her alcoholic mother. Both their lives revolve around fear--for one another, for their friends, for the real possibilities of being stolen by traffickers or simply forgotten by the world. As short as the work is, though, Clement's writing is full of a grace and sense of humor that make the situations and fears bearable, and even beautiful.

In the end, I wanted the work to keep going, and that is the one fault of the work, that the ending is simply an ending, and perhaps too easy to be fair to the story or the communities they attempt to reflect. Still, this was well worth the reading, and a journey in itself.

Overall, recommended.

Mar 9, 2014, 10:14 pm

30. Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham

A sweet and nostalgic read, this is one of those transporting novels that leaves you amused and relaxed, lounging and quiet as if you've had a longer than usual conversation with an old friend. Maugham's characters are real enough that you'll think you recognize them from your own life, and his stories have the same tinge of familiarity that makes them so memorable, even where apparently mundane.

On the whole, this novel is a lovely escape, full of both sensation and beautiful language. Simply: recommended.

Mar 11, 2014, 10:48 am

Well, I think I might be about to slow down...

I just started both Bel Canto and Love and Treasure (because I seem unable to read a single novel at a time) and work is also going to be pretty busy these next two weeks since I'm hosting an art show on March 25th, and that's taking up more and more of my attention. We'll see how the books go. Unfortunately, Love and Treasure is an ARC that has nearly onion-skin type pages, and it's also paling in comparison to Bel Canto...

Meanwhile, even if I'm not appearing to read, I'll be haunting threads!

Mar 12, 2014, 10:26 pm

31. Hurts so Good edited by Alison Tyler

I generally expect an anthology of stories to be fairly varied--even with a theme within a genre, this usually holds true. Here, though, the stories started to bleed together pretty quickly. For erotica, it isn't badly written, but with the exception of a few stories that stood out creatively in regard to style or psychology, there's just not much depth to the collection as a whole. Obviously, this already isn't meant as a collection for everyone...but I really expected more, in terms of variety especially.

Nearly all of the stories here deal with a man and a woman in a committed relationship (or on their way to one) where, in nearly all cases, the woman is the dominant force within the relationship and the characters are flat at best, stereotypical at worst. Over and over, the characters in different stories do the same things and think the same things, nearly identical in psychology and class and temperament. Simply? Even reading it occasionally over a period of many weeks, I got bored each time I picked it up.

In the end, I was fairly disappointed with this collection, and of the numerous authors included, there's really only one who I'd potentially bother to look up in the future.

Mar 13, 2014, 8:35 pm

This, I have to share: Today, I finally finished drafting my first novel! I've been working on the second draft of the first portion along the way, so I'm about 2/3rds of the way through a second draft, but somehow, coming to the end of the first is the most amazing thing in the world :)

Mar 14, 2014, 10:30 pm

The first draft is always the one I celebrate. Revisions and copy edits and all those other needed activities just don't have that, "I finally reached THE END!" moment.

Mar 14, 2014, 11:12 pm

Thanks :) I've primarily written shorter works in the past, and never felt the need to celebrate til I was nearly finished, to the extent that anything ever is. With this one, though... :)

Mar 14, 2014, 11:45 pm

32. Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

As a piece of historical fiction, particularly one that deals with lesser discussed aspects of history related to WWII, this is an impressive book. On the other hand, as a piece of original fiction which simply serves as a worthwhile read in itself, history interests aside, I'm less comfortable recommending it.

My largest concern with the book is that it seems incredibly derivative of The White Hotel, though Waldman's work is far more concerned with art. The structure especially reminds me of Thomas' work, a few large separate parts coming from narrators of different genders, backgrounds, interests, and experiences, with Freudian psychology as a centerpiece of one (and coming from the analyst), even though Waldman's work is certainly less experimental and sticks to straight prose. Odd as it is, because of that association, the book ended up coming across as formulaic when I reached the third part of the novel where psychology comes in, and I lost considerable interest because of it--and, I suppose I have to say, I lost some amount of respect for the work as well.

As an entertaining read, associations with Thomas aside, there were other issues. Waldman's handle of history and intrigue is admirable, but her writing of romance and familial relationships verged on the sentimental whenever conflict wasn't central to a scene. In fact, the first very short part was so incredibly sentimental that I probably wouldn't have read beyond its brief dozen pages if I hadn't received the book through a first reader program and been expected to write a review. After that first part, the book did pick up, but sentimentality and romance were still serious downfalls within the work, partly because they were simply overly sentimental, and partly because they were just not as well-written as other portions--most portions--of the novel.

And yet. There is material worth admiring here. Waldman's handling of history regarding Hungarian Jews in the aftermath of World War II, and Hungarian women in the years preceding World War I, is graceful and clever, as is the intricate way in which she connected numerous sub-plots and characters across a full century of time. For the most part, the book is well-written, if occasionally over-written (a good example being the first part, which I think the book would be stronger without).

In the end, I don't see myself recommending this book on to any but readers specifically interested in aspects of history dealt with in the novel, such as Hungarian Jews, the Gold Train, and/or the state of Hungary directly following World War II. I truly wanted to like this book, and I'm sure I would have liked it more had I not read and appreciated D.M. Thomas' The White Hotel in the past...but, of course, I did read that work, and the associations are impossible to ignore.

Mar 17, 2014, 4:30 am

I'm a few days behind in reading but have to add my congratulations on finishing your first draft! I hope you are still patting yourself on the back, it is a wonderful accomplishment.

Mar 17, 2014, 12:16 pm

Thank you! And, yes, I am!

Mar 17, 2014, 5:49 pm

Playing catch-up here. Putting Plum Bun and With Rommel's Army in Libya on my list!

Congrats on finishing your first draft. That's a huge achievement!

Mar 18, 2014, 10:56 am

Thanks :) And, yes--those were both worthwhile reads!

Meanwhile, though, I read a Hardy Boys book as part of my ongoing attempt to read more YA now that I'm teaching middle schoolers in the summer. This one didn't stand the test of time I'm afraid. I'm hoping I'll enjoy/re-enjoy some of the Hardy Boys Casefiles more since those were always my favorites anyway...

33. Wipeout by Franklin W. Dixon

A short and fast read following the Hardy brothers when they start investigating a windsurfing competition, this isn't one of the best of the adventures in terms of either writing or excitement, but it is an entertaining enough diversion. Unfortunately, the Hardy Boys books just don't stand up as well when re-read in adulthood--too many little bits and pieces that stretch believability or betray rushed writing/editing in terms of writing and phrasing.

Mar 18, 2014, 11:29 am

Well, I plan on reading a flood of haunted/haunting house stories in the next few weeks...this was (supposed to be) the first...

34. Dream House by Valerie Laken

Dream House presents itself as a suspenseful ghost story or horror novel--from the cover, to the jacket blurb, to the tone of the opening chapters. Sure, there's a question of whether you're going into a piece which is more horror or suspense, more creepy or supernatural, or more about a house or the ghosts within...but there's no question for a reader who comes directly to the book that some of these elements are in play. So, what's the problem? They're not.

Even though the book's first 50-100 pages push for a spooky tone, the cover looks like a horror novel, and the cover blurbs mention ghosts, there's very little suspense here, and no element of a mystery, a ghost, or any supernatural element. At its heart, this is simply a family drama that branches out from a young couple to tell the stories of men who've also had some history related to their new fixer-upper house. I'm not sure how much of this is off marketing and how much might be the book taking a different turn than the author expected once they got half-way through the book, but the fact remained: the book feels like it's having an identity crisis, and my guess is that this book will never find the readers who would really enjoy it. Those readers (other readers in my family for instance) would read the first few chapters and think that the book is going in a supernatural direction, and too dark for their tastes. In reality, readers like me who are looking for that darker read will end up being disappointed with a work that built us up to expect something...and then disappeared into a mundane collection of adults trying to survive normal crises of direction and relationship.

All this considered, it's hard to objectively review this work. I know that I would have enjoyed it more had I not been misled about what to expect (and I would maintain that the marketing AND the tone/direction of the first 75 pages at least are actually misleading). The details here (in terms of home renovation and family dynamics) are believable and engaging, as are the characters. The downfall in the writing is that there are themes and subplots in the first half of the novel that are totally forgotten in the second half, some of them having received so much attention early on that you can't help but feel that the author just got bored of them and moved on.

On the whole, I'm not sure whether or not I'd read another work by Laken or not; this was disappointing, and not remotely what I expected when I picked it up.

Mar 18, 2014, 9:57 pm

35. Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa

Perhaps more than any of Komunyakaa's other collections of poetry, Magic City is grounded in his experiences coming of age in a Louisiana town that was at one time a center of Klan activity, and at a later date, a center of Civil Rights activity. Centering on questions of adolescence and race, the book resounds with the rhythms of blues, basketball, and southern living. Many of the poems here will stop readers in their tracks--they are just that powerful and ring with that much truth--and others feel almost documentary in nature. All together, it's a smart and worthwhile collection, and one to be discussed.

Overall, recommended.

Mar 18, 2014, 10:36 pm

Magic City sounds amazing. One more for the list.

Mar 19, 2014, 11:31 am

>91 wareagle78: Komunyakaa's work is great. Some of his works take more effort than the poets you'll generally find me recommending to everyone, but only because the poems are so packed with meaning that they take a bit more concentration. I hope you get time to enjoy it!

Mar 20, 2014, 10:41 am

The title put me off of reading this for ages--I'm so glad I finally got around to it, and if you're reading this, I hope you'll seriously consider picking it up. The most powerful piece of nonfiction I've read in ages.

36. Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David Kennedy

More than anything else, this book is about the struggle to recover communities previously considered lost--to violence, drugs, guns, etc. Kennedy's work to help unite these communities WITH law enforcement, and against violence, instead of against members of their own communities, is a revelation. Bringing together lawyers, community activists, police, churches, gang members and their families, and community members who have been affected by or frightened by the violence around them, Kennedy's task forces have cut violence in cities across the country even as individuals from across these groups have underestimated the simple logic behind the group's approaches. Leading eventually to the National Network for Safe Communities, and to bettered communities around the country, the work detailed here (in arguments, in fights, in community actions, in violence, in confrontation, and in untold discussions and political maneuvers) lays groundwork for understanding what is wrong in our communities, and working to fix it now instead of continuing to implement plans that don't work or will take decades for any improvement.

The title sounds specific, but realistically, this is one of those rare books which, in all honesty, everyone should read. Simply, it is about understanding the fragmented world we've managed to create, and about working to fix it. The accounts here are specific because that's what's necessary, at this point, before any further step can be taken. And yet, the people behind the events in this book are, without any doubt, changing the world around us--the statistics back that up. Detailing that fight can only lead to smarter decisions, and reading this book can only speed that fight, and speed the fixes yet to come.

Absolutely recommended.

Mar 20, 2014, 2:59 pm

37. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

A gracefully built novel driven by art, suspense, and desperation, this is one of those stories which weaves together so many characters and lines of thought that you must read it quickly, or simply be left behind. Patchett's prose is as masterful as ever, and this story of a doomed birthday party brings together terrorists and socialites in a manner that is, very simply, breathtaking. The book is worth reading for the fascinating characters alone, but the way that they come together is truly a story worth falling into and experiencing, particularly considering the climate of politics and current affairs we find ourselves attempting to survive with every day that passes.

Absolutely recommended.

Mar 21, 2014, 7:28 pm

38. House of Windows by John Langan

If Jane Eyre were a horror novel, or Poe were transmitted into this century, or Lovecraft attempted his own version of a novel-length domestic drama...well, you might end up with this strange strange ride of a novel.

In the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft, Langan's novel is a beautifully crafted work of the supernatural. His meshing of literary awareness and technique with some use of conventions of horror does take some getting used to, but the result is fairly entrancing. This can't simply be called a haunted house story, a ghost story, or even just a work of horror--it is all of these things, and clearly descended from authors such as Poe, Lovecraft, Hodgson (his House on the Borderland especially), and even Dickens. In many ways, it feels like a much older work, made contemporary only because of the brief mentions of technology and its relation to the Iraq War, and readers of the authors I've just mentioned will feel strangely familiar with what Langan has created.

All this said, the writer's style and the fragmented nature of the narrative do take some getting used to, and I'm not entirely convinced that a few more scenes were needed to fill in some holes which might have made for a smoother read. Because of this, readers who are used to breezing through horror may be frustrated early on--this is a horror version of a Victorian novel made contemporary, truly enough, with a few too many references to literary knowledge along the way.

Still, on the whole, I'm so glad that I powered my way through the beginning...once I was a few short sections in, I couldn't have stopped reading this book if I'd wanted to.

Recommended, especially to lovers of Poe, Hodgson, and Lovecraft.

Mar 22, 2014, 5:48 pm

39. The House by Sebastiana Randone

This is an incredibly awkward book.

Claiming itself as a fairy tale (and perhaps it is--I'm not sure what it is), it seems to waver between being a haunted house story, a time travel story, and a bit of a soap opera style drama...all in around 150 pages. To add to the plot confusion, there's also a dramatic twist (supposedly) which the main characters get incredibly upset over...but which, in reality, isn't a twist at all because, with all of the twists and turns, the author seems to have everyone believing that two characters are related...when a careful reader will realize that, no, they're really not. Twists for the sake of twists? Absolutely. And while this may sound like a major spoiler, really, it's not--it takes up perhaps a page or two in the middle of the book, and you'd see it coming a mile away anyway.

And then there's the writing. Many of the sentences are painfully awkward, and the dialogue is often pretty frightful. To make things worse, though, the author seems to firmly believe that big words make the book big. Whether she was writing with an SAT or GRE vocab book beside her or not, I haven't a clue, but many of the sentences are incredibly convoluted, and with "ten dollar words" (as my grandfather would have called them) sprinkled in every other sentence, reading this book is more an act of acrobatic brain candy than anything else. I'm all for big words, but if any book ever proved it was possible to overdo it...well, yeah. Those crazy words combined with unbelievable characters make the writing a HUGE drawback in this particular story.

On the whole, if you haven't already guessed it, I can't see how I would recommend this book to any reader, unless they were simply bent on reading every time travel or strange house story out there (and honestly, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to the second group either).

Mar 23, 2014, 10:37 pm

40. Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi

Nearly from the first page, this book took me in and held me in thrall, keeping me reading long past the point at which my eyes were needing a break. For a horror novel, this book is frighteningly believable, and the characters are just so flawed and believable as to make you ache for each of their missteps and difficulties. Malfi's smooth writing and smart pacing are the added bonuses that make this book a wonderfully engaging read.

All together, any reader of suspense novels or ghost stories is going to fall headlong into this book, only to be able to surface days later.

Absolutely recommended.

Mar 24, 2014, 7:41 am

Your reviews are so consistently excellent, white wave darling! Thank you.

Mar 24, 2014, 9:57 am

>98 wareagle78: Thanks for reading them :)

Mar 27, 2014, 9:51 pm

I've never before read a book and thought that it would likely be my least favorite of the year. Until now, unfortunately...

41. After the Storm: Book 1 in the Storm Series by M. Stratton

Let's put aside the fact that this so-called novel is heavily propelled by the suspense of a confrontation which is eventually given only a few pages before being postponed until the next book in the series, making this one of the most anti-climactic reads I've come across, essentially the first half of a novel instead of a complete work in and of itself. Let's even put aside that the primary characters are stereotypical clichés who have little to no depth, in any respect.

And then, let's talk about all of the reasons that this book, very simply, needed another three or four rounds of heavy drafting and editing before being close to ready for publication...if we're being generous.

First, on a content level, there are horrendous holes in the plot, in reasoning, and in the psychology of the characters. Any reader who has a basic feel for believable human nature or the basic psychology surrounding and following trauma will cringe over and over again while reading this book--it's that simple. Without giving anything away (in case you are tempted to read this, for whatever reason), suffice it to say that the main character, Lexi, is supposedly haunted by a traumatic event in her past, and that even heavily contributes to all of the tensions and suspense in the novel. The problem? Even though much of her lifestyle is due to this event's haunting her memory, her actions and reactions don't make any sense in terms of that trauma. At the author's/plot's whim and convenience, she overreacts or doesn't react at all--and, before you ask, the event is far enough in the past that she should, at the very least, be settled into a behavior pattern that is either stable or totally unpredictable, if it is that haunting. Instead, sometimes (many times, in fact), it's as if it never happened, whereas it's as if it happened yesterday when it suits the author. Unless she's suffering from a severe mental illness (and there's no reason to suspect she is, contextually), there's no way that her behavior is believable or that everyone around her should be acting as if she's acting rationally. Along the same lines, the male protagonist is nearly as unbelievable, if not as drastically or unpredictably. Holes in the plot are a similar problem--realistically, parts of the book simply don't make sense. In some cases, the characters ignore behavior that would push most of us to call the authorities, even as we're being told that they're terrified something is wrong. In other cases, things are simply too easy or too ridiculous to take seriously. So much for reality.

In the long run, the story and characters are so unbelievable and predictable (at least up until the point at which the book simply stops) that I had no problem putting this book down in the middle of scenes which should have been gut-wrenching, or at least emotional. Instead, I couldn't bring myself to care about any of it, and just hoped to be done with it sooner than later. I can say that for it, at least--it was a quick and easy read, if you ignore the annoyance at errors/silliness.

(And yes, I do believe a love story can be believable, well-written, and/or realistic, not to mention well-written and interesting.)

Because, as you guessed, the next problem with the book is the writing. Besides the unbelievable characters and dialogue, and besides the constant clichés, there are basic problems that any half-way decent editor would have caught and eliminated. For the most part, the book is in third person...but, there are some few random shifts into first person. For no reason, and with no indication that the author realizes they're a jarring break from the rest of the writing. No italics to suggest they're internal thought, either--they're simply random sentences in first person, thrown in with the rest of the third person narration. And then there are the grammatical problems--especially in the first fifty pages, there are constant run-ons, fragments, and sentence structure errors.

If this hadn't been a goodreads first reader giveaway for which I was expected to write a review, I never would have made it past the first twenty pages or so, if that.

Simply, this is one of those books that made me wish self-published work had a warning label, even though I know that there's great self-published material out there. This, though, was nowhere near ready for publication.

Mar 27, 2014, 11:36 pm

And then, a book that I've read pieces of, over and over again, but only now got around to reading all the way through:

42. Poets Against the War edited by Sam Hamill

This book made me cry on the city bus as I rode in to work. This book inspired me to begin a poetry reading series. This book, at turns, left me inspired, heartbroken, melting, angry, satisfied, learned, ready to fight, and hopeful. This book is worth reading for anyone who cares about the diversity of voices in and around America, for anyone who reads poetry, for anyone who writes poetry, for anyone who thinks poetry is outdated, crestfallen, or not enough.

In 2003, First Lady Laura Bush planned to host a White House Symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice", and she invited a number of poets to speak to "the voice" of American poetry. Poets declined, protesting the White House's actions in their rejection of the invitation, and Laura Bush cancelled the symposium. Her spokeswoman said, "While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum." Sam Hamill was one of the poets invited to speak, and he declined. "Having only recently read George Bush's proposed 'Shock and Awe' attack plan for Iraq, which called for saturation bombing", his response was to instead address a letter to "Friends and Fellow Poets", asking for poems or statements of conscience. Over 13,000 poems were sent. This anthology appeared in the place of Laura Bush's symposium, and still stands as well worth the reading, returning to, and sharing.

One of the beauties of this anthology is that well-known poets (among them, notably, are Adrienne Rich, Hayden Carruth, Robert Bly, W. S. Merwin, Rita Dove, and Jane Hirshfield) appear alongside unknown names, some of them children. In this collection, the simple joins forces with the heavily allusioned and political, the documentary with the lyrical, the heartbroken with the angry, the young with the old, and the historical with the new. The juxtaposition of voices is not only powerful, but necessary and remarkable. In some cases, the poems were written in response to Hamill's call for poems, and in other cases, poems were written years before by veterans of WWII and the Vietnam War--and yet, they speak to the historical moment of this book, and to the respective quests for peace and war that are seemingly unending.

Simply, this book is both inflammatory and necessary, and it is worth reading and sharing.

Mar 28, 2014, 4:05 pm

43. House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker

A thrill ride of a book, Dekker and Peretti's House gains momentum quickly, and then doesn't slow down for more than three hundred pages. This might, though, be the biggest problem with the novel--action, horror, violence, and conflict are so incredibly constant in the work that there's never a chance to savor any suspense or horror. Instead, the pace is kept frantic, ever moving forward--it's no exaggeration to say that I was using so much attention and energy to keep up with the plot that I never really had time to feel any fear or worry, or to get that creeping sensation you find when a horror novel really takes hold of your own reality. Am I complaining that the book moved too quickly to really keep me up at night? Yes, a little.

On the upside, the characters here are frighteningly believable, and the authors' descriptions are as brutal as they are visual, making this book one heck of a thrill ride. It may well be that they simply tried to fit too much in, though, because this book does have a little bit of everything, and tying it all together in the end felt something like a stretch, even for a horror novel.

All in all, it was a bit messy and chaotic, and it didn't give me the chills I associate with my favorite horror novels, but it was a great piece of entertainment, and more than enough to make me curious about these authors' individual efforts.

Mar 28, 2014, 5:25 pm

Ooh, thanks for reminding me about Poets Against the War! I remember hearing about it when it was new but had completely forgotten. Certainly a necessary addition for my poetry shelves.

Mar 29, 2014, 10:55 am

I'm glad I served as a reminder :) I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading it straight through, myself!

Abr 1, 2014, 2:02 pm

44. Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry by Jim Daniels

This is a fast and readable collection, and there are a few striking moments, but for the most part, I found myself reading it simply to read it. There were no poems that begged for rereading, and few pieces (if any) that really struck me as especially entertaining or poetic. For the most part, in fact, the poems read more like fragmented prose, the most entertaining among them being notable more for their cynical jokes about academia than their poetic merit. On the whole, this probably isn't a collection I'd recommend.

Abr 2, 2014, 5:49 pm

A first quarter update...

I'm ahead at the moment by quite a bit, so hopefully, I'll stay on track. Last year, I finished maybe two books in all of June, July, and August (though, admittedly, August was shot because of a concussion more than my schedule). I'll be just as busy, if not busier, in June and July of this year, straight up til August 10th or so, so I'm really not expecting to finish more than two or three books in those two and a half months. My husband and I are also hoping, hoping, and hoping some more to move this year, but that will depend on whether he gets a job offer. Obviously, if that does happen, there'll be a lot more time off the reading schedule!

So, we'll see what happens. I have a short stack of further books I'm determined to get through this year (some haunted house books, some books that have just been in progress for forever, and a few giveaways), and even though I'm slowing down now as my writing and work picks up more, I'm hoping to stay on track to read 100-112 books this year.

Meanwhile, I'm currently reading Starter House (just started) and The Korean Word for Butterfly, which I'll likely finish tonight. I'm wandering my way through two large collections of poetry, too, but those will be ongoing reads since one of them is 500+ pages and the other is 400+, even if it is going quickly (the second one anyway).

We'll see. Based on the first quarter, logic would have me finishing 170+ books this year, but considering my schedule this summer, there's no chance of that!

Abr 3, 2014, 5:12 pm

45. Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works by Lorine Niedecker

In the past, I've enjoyed Niedecker's poetry in bits and pieces, here and there as I came to it, so it took me quite some time to get around to this collection. As a whole, though, the collected works read quickly and serve as a majestic and provoking journey through her years of writing. I'm not sure how often I'll come back to many of these poems, but there are many moments here that I'll remember and revisit. And, though I've only been aware of Niedecker's poetry in the past, I truly enjoyed the other works in this collection. Her essays are historical and transporting, utterly worth the read, maybe particularly for readers interested in character sketches or writing about their own families or surroundings. The gem of the collection, however, is the radio play that Niedecker based off of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if I hadn't read the novel--my guess is that I wouldn't have been anywhere near so affected by it, though I may be wrong--but as it stands, even though I haven't read Faulkner's novel in at least five years, I found this one of the most powerful pieces of writing I've read in ages. Only about twenty very small (and doublespaced pages) in the collection, the radio play is packed with power--every word counts. Absolutely amazing. If you're a fan of Faulkner, honestly, whether you like poetry or not--this collection is worth your time and energy just for her prose and radio plays.

Simply? There's something for most readers here. Recommended.

Abr 3, 2014, 5:39 pm

46. The Korean Word for Butterfly by James Zerndt

A pleasant and strange surprise, this book ended up being a lovely escape, and a really engaging story--in the end, it's one of those books that proves there are some really worthwhile self-published works being created and looking for an audience. I likely wouldn't have found it if it hadn't been offered as a Goodreads First Reader Giveaway, but I'm glad it found me.

At first, I had a difficult time engaging with it--the book cycles between three narrators, and while I was really interested in one of them, I found another incredibly annoying. I had an easier time once I realized that my least favorite narrator was quite a bit younger than I'd originally thought (giving a bit more reason for her voice), and it really wasn't long before I was interested enough in the book that that one complaint was a distant memory. As a complete work, the book moves quickly, and the interweaving of characters is both clever and natural, making the work as a whole more and more engaging as it moves forward.

There were moments that stretched believability, but these were few and far between. Age was along the same lines--one character sounded a bit younger than I would have expected, and another sounded a bit older, but this may actually have been intended based on the way the story evolves (though, as you've guessed by now, it didn't entirely work for me personally). Beyond this one fault, I'd only say that it ended a bit too quickly and easily for my liking--I felt as if one storyline was really forced closed because two others were coming to their natural ends, and I wasn't thrilled with that.

In general, this was an enjoyable read, if more fragmented than narratives I normally get lost in.

Abr 6, 2014, 10:01 pm

47. The Best American Short Stories 2009 edited by Alice Sebold

Just a mediocre collection. All of the stories are well written, but they blend together...few of them take risks, and fewer of them are really interesting or striking. By far, the best of the stories are "The Briefcase" by Rebecca Makkai and "Magic Words" by Jill McCorkle. The most interesting and unique is "Modulation" by Richard Powers.

Overall, though, this isn't a collection I'd recommend. I've read some "Best Of" in this series where every other story begs me to search out more work by the respective authors. Here? Not one.

Abr 9, 2014, 11:47 am

48. Starter House by Sonja Condit

This is a unique and beautifully written haunted house story, if a somewhat predictable one. As a blend of literary family drama, mystery, and horror, it brings together a number of different subplots with grace. The downside to this blending is that the book is harder to hold together, particularly since it cycles between focusing on two main characters who have very different concerns.

This disjointed nature is hard to move beyond at first--Lacey is concerned with a haunting, and her husband Eric is concerned with money and work. The third focus on one of Eric's clients, and for much of the book, all sections that don't deal with Lacey come across as an entirely separate work from the haunted house story that likely brought readers in, and which also drives all of the suspense. Adding to this disconnection is the fact that most of the characters are somewhat one-dimensional, and difficult to relate to in more than minor ways--it took most of the book for me to really become engaged with any of them, as opposed to the mystery of the story and the writing.

On the whole, this is an interesting and engaging work, but readers who go into it looking for a focused haunted house or horror story (as I did) will be disappointed, as would readers who went in looking for a reality-based family drama. For most of the book, there's no telling whether any one chapter will bring comedy, suspense/horror, or simply drama, and as a result, the book ends up being far less creepy or engaging than it might be otherwise. Simply, there's no time for any one mood or quality to be maintained because of the novel's style. On the upside, unless you're pregnant and about to move into a new house, I can't imagine this will give you nightmares.

Recommended for readers who enjoy literary fiction AND stories about hauntings...which aren't creepy enough to keep them up at night.

Abr 11, 2014, 11:22 am

49. Push-Push! and Other Stories by Sindiwe Magona

Magona's depictions of poverty and family are striking, each of her stories focusing on the ways in which political and cultural forces tangle individuals in situations they never would have foreseen for themselves. Yet, in each of her stories, there is also humor, and there is also kindness, her characters coming to life on every page so that it truly seems that each story is a world in itself.

What Magona can create and express in 10 or 15 pages is truly remarkable, and her understated style is worth reading and sharing.

Absolutely recommended.

Abr 13, 2014, 2:27 am

Just catching up on your thread, so firstly let me say congratulations on your writing. A real achievement!

You always have so many interesting and unusual books on your thread and your reviews are a pleasure to read.

Abr 14, 2014, 10:36 am

>112 judylou: Thank you :)

Abr 14, 2014, 12:16 pm

Oh--and, Judy's comment just reminded me that I haven't given a "my-book" update in ages, so here it is...

I finished! I worked like mad during the last half of March, and got through a semi-final fourth draft; it's as good as I can make it without feedback, I think. I then sent it off to a small group of friends who like horror and had volunteered to read it and give me some feedback...I'm hoping to hear back from somebody soon, because as of yet, all I've heard is from one person who's really enjoying it and is about a fourth of the way through. Unfortunately, it was bad timing on my part since most of them are finishing up classes with final exams approaching in a few weeks, so we'll see. I also sent out some first query letters last week because I realized how long a process it could be to find an agent. One got back to me immediately and asked to see the full manuscript, which got me really excited because it's generally supposed to be a month, at minimum, before you hear anything one way or the other. Unfortunately, it was a pass ultimately, but he read in just a few days and said he "read it with great interest", but just didn't fall in love, which is what has to happen for him to take on a new horror book. In any case, a promising start, so I've got my fingers crossed...

And, as I play the waiting game, I'm reading:

The Secret Life of Lobsters
Dark Eden
Down the Mysterly River (during my bus commute)
The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (in my spare time at work)

Abr 16, 2014, 2:26 pm

50. Identity: A Novel by Milan Kundera

With the intermingling of two individuals in love, identities change, and any love has an identity all in its own right. In this novel, Kunera has written the nightmare that that individual love would have, could it dream.

Identity is a short compelling tale of a man and woman, in love and in panic. As powerful as it is brief, the novel begins slowly and then begs to be read in one sitting, touching simply on everything that makes a love story so fearful and surreal.


Abr 16, 2014, 2:34 pm

51. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

There are things to admire about this work. The world Beckett creates is interesting, and from the beginning of the novel to the end, I was always hoping to learn more about it. And, the book is ambitious and imaginative on many levels--the linguistic developments Beckett illustrates are both creative and sensible (given the situation). And, yet.

These two highlights of the work are two of the problems. For a book to truly create a new world, there needs to be some description--here, that was nearly entirely absent. Yes, the animals and flowers and trees and features were all given interesting titles...but did I have any idea what they were meant to look like? Rarely. I was left to imagine them for myself in nearly every instance (though I did eventually learn that one of the featured creatures has six legs). On a most basic level, we know that the world is lit by organisms' natural luminescence, and is never completely light in the way we think of day (on earth). Do I have any idea how light the world is, though, or what amount of visibility is normal where the characters generally live? Not a clue. Truthfully, most of Beckett's descriptions, few as they are, are given to temperature and the appearance of characters...but only those characters who look truly human. Those characters who evolved as what they call "batfaces" and "clawfeet"...well, I can guess, but does he describe them? Nope.

Based on my gripe with description bringing up the terms "batface" and "clawfeet" as descriptors for newly evolved features in humans, you might have guessed my next complaint. While it's nice to see a book make an effort at being linguistically creative in syntax and terminology (beyond naming), most of Beckett's attempts at linguistic innovation come off as comedic. If it were just the kids who used these terms, it would be one thing, but it's not. And the other central linguistic innovation is the fact that "very" is replaced by word repetition. So, rather than saying "very boring", characters say "boring boring". Or "silly silly" or "amusing amusing" or "hard hard" or "quiet quiet". Etc. As you might guess, this gets old quickly quickly quickly (and, yes, words are occasionally written three times instead of only twice, for that extra emphasis).

Unfortunately, there are other problems. The characters are mostly one-dimensional, and many of them are unlikable (including the two main characters of the work). And, though the chapters are written from different perspectives, the voices are nearly identical, to the extent that readers will have to glance back to a chapter heading to see who is actually speaking whenever character sympathies/emotions aren't involved (since those are quite distinct, if stereotypically so). Beyond the lack of character development and the stereotypes, the plot is also predictable--frighteningly so if you've given even a rudimentary study to anthropology, ancient civilizations, or sociology. Or Bible stories, for that matter. Sure, there's a question of where the book will end...but there's little to no wondering involved in figuring out how it will progress from one scene to the next.

All in all, this was a disappointing read, and it's hard for me to see how/why it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Yes, it is ambitious...but for the most part, it is also boring and unengaging. As a side note, I'm also not so sure that I'd willingly label this science fiction, if pushed. Yes, generations ago, the men and women of Eden came to the planet on space ships...but that technology is long gone, and we're essentially given a civilization that has started over from the base of two individuals with no access to technology, old or new. So, while this happens in the future if we're to take "earth time" as the base, the world we're given could be at any time, and the only technology we see is that of developing societies. In the scope of the book, there is no space travel, science, etc., in the way we'd generally think of it appearing in a science fiction novel. Honestly, this is more what I expect from fantasy--which isn't a complaint, though it does lead me to a further questioning of how it was labeled and then awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

So, in the end, this obviously isn't something I'd recommend. I got it from the Librarything Early Reviewer's Program...and if I hadn't, I likely would have taken far longer to read it or left it unfinished for ages. Luckily, much as it does try to do, it is still an incredibly quick read.

Abr 21, 2014, 8:55 pm

52. Black Chalk by Christopher Yates

Original, twisting, and suspenseful, this is one of those novels that pulls you in and keeps hold of your imagination until the end. Built from memorable characters and too-believable twists, the book itself is a beautifully structured game of intrigue that weaves together past and present in a graceful give-and-take of information, emotion, and fear.

My only critique of the book is that it may be too suspenseful--Yates builds up the pressure of the plot masterfully, but the torturous suspense reaches such a level that nearly any end would be anticlimactic. As a result, while I enjoyed every moment of the suspense, I had a feeling early on that whatever was coming couldn't quite live up to the dangerous tone of the novel. Along the same lines, I have to say that there may be too much ambiguity in the way things are wrapped up. I hesitate to say that Yates got lazy in finishing out rationales and plotlines, but then again, I did expect more closure since there's no indication (from what I see) that there'll be a sequel.

On the whole, this was an engaging and suspenseful read, well worth the time, and the humor sprinkled throughout the work made it that much more addictive. Without a doubt, I'd pick up the next work by Yates, and I'm glad I managed to snag this one out of the GoodReads First Reader Giveaways.


Abr 24, 2014, 10:39 pm

Well, I finally got around to trying out Margaret Atwood for the first time! I did enjoy it...certainly enough to read more...though I'm not sure that it lived up to my expectations considering how many of my friends rave about her work. In any case, a four star read, and well worth the time--I'll probably go out and find the sequel this weekend...

53. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Addictive and winding, this is one of those books which will suck you in within pages, leaving you unable to stop and still wondering why. Atwood's winding structure is a labyrinth of grief, discovery, and the dangers of technology and so-called progress, and while her characters may be difficult to fully engage with or relate to, they are as believable as they are realistic to the world she creates. All together, this novel is a stunning journey into a future which seems all too possible, humorous and heartbreaking as it may be.

One warning: as the first book in a trilogy, this novel doesn't hold as much closure as many readers (including myself) would hope for. The writing and the story are enough to pull me in for the second work in the series, but I'm not thrilled that the story here didn't end on a clearer note or hold a more insular narrative. It may be worth noting that, were the second book not already in stores, I'm not sure how long the story would stick with me and pull me back in after a wait for publication.

Abr 27, 2014, 9:05 pm

54. Singin and Swingin and Getting Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou

Another installment in Maya Angelou's series of autobiographical works, this installment chronicles Angelou's first steps into show business and fame, as well as further discoveries and adventures in her personal relationships. Though it may be a step less emotional and dramatic than the two earlier works in her series, it is just as poetic and telling. Readers of her earlier works will find it a worthwhile read, and a fast one.


Abr 27, 2014, 9:28 pm

55. The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

In this fascinating mix of science and anecdote, Corson balances the habits of lobsters with the lives (and habits) of those fishermen and scientists whose lives revolve around the waters off of Maine and the lobsters within. Built from humor and science, the work nonetheless reads as something like a mystery novel, remaining compulsively readable throughout. Whether readers find this work because of interests in conservation or dinner menus, they'll find themselves entertained and amused, and learning far more than they thought there was to know or retain.

Absolutely recommended--there's something in this book for everyone, and it's nothing less than a readable roller coaster of ecology, politics, and humor.

Abr 28, 2014, 11:02 am

56. Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham

I've got incredibly mixed feelings about this one, much as I was looking forward to reading it.

This should have been just up my alley, and story-wise, it certainly is. Fantasy adventure, talking animals, suspense...whether adult or young adult, this sounds like just my sort of story. And I loved the story, and many of the characters. And, yet...

The main character drove me a bit crazy, and was far too much of a know-it-all for me to enjoy following his adventure. Even though his character made a bit more sense by the end of the story, I probably wouldn't have gotten that far if I weren't someone who finished every book I start, regardless of how much I'm annoyed or entranced. Additionally, the writing put me off. In passages which should have been full of suspense, the writing and the scenes were too abrupt and too brief to really bring in any suspense at all. Also on a writing level, tone was a problem for me. At times, the novel felt too silly (no other word for it) for young adults, let alone adult readers, and at other times the book felt too serious for young adults, with death too present a force. Characters were the same--at times, they were so silly as to be unbelievable, while at other times they were too serious and there was too much at stake for a YA book, in my opinion. In a word, both the story and the characters were inconsistent.

On the whole, I think I'd give the author another try, but much as I should have loved this book...well, I just didn't.

Abr 30, 2014, 8:30 pm

57. The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser by Muriel Rukeyser

Though Rukeyser isn't one of my favorite poets, her works shine with moments of power, insight, and wisdom, and there's no denying that she was "ahead of her time" in terms of politically and socially engaged poetry. As a collection, this has many highs and lows, and her strongest moments are within the many poetic sequences she wrote. For poets, though, and for all those readers and writers interested in socio-politically engaged writings (or writers) and/or feminist writers, Rukeyser can't be ignored. And, in the end, there are enough moments in this collection which I'll return to and treasure that the reading of the full collected works was well worth the time.

I wouldn't ever recommend this for the casual poetry reader, but it does have its moments, and many readers will absolutely find it worth their time.

Maio 1, 2014, 2:31 pm

58. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Bound together by harsh truths related to poverty, disappointment, and climate change, Kingsolver's Flight Behavior moves forward with her signature lyric prose, weaving worlds that are both foreign and familiar. As always, her characters are not just believable, but engaging and, if anything, too realistic and familiar for comfort. In this novel in particular, the children and the odd mix of central characters are the heart of the work, illustrating the heartbreaking disconnect between devoted naturalists and a community which is necessarily held outside of that world by economic concerns and personal crises of their own.

Even though it took some time for me to engage with Kingsolver's narrator here, I ended up not being able to put the book down once I'd moved through maybe a quarter of the novel, and the compelling story that evolves in the work held me in until the end. My only complaint, in the end, is with the ending. The wrap-up felt not only rushed, but unbelievable on some levels of plotting and character, and after such a wonderful tale, I really expected more. Despite the ending, though, the book was well worth reading and passing on.

Overall, recommended. The ending is the only thing that will hold this off from remaining a favorite of mine.

Maio 4, 2014, 12:09 am

59. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri's lyric prose is built from attention to detail and emotion, revolving around immigration and coming-of-age stories that ring true with readers across cultures. The first part of this novel will ring familiar to readers already accustomed to Lahiri's work, and may even come across as repetitive or less striking. Yet, in the second part of this collection, all of her beauty and power strikes through.

In the first part, each story is separate, the characters reminiscent of those she explored in Interpreter of Maladies, her first collection. The stories are lovely in and of themselves...but they are not so unique or powerful, maybe particularly to readers already familiar with her work since these stories pursue the same themes already so often explored in her works.

Yet, the second part of this collection is a trio of linked stories which are as unique, powerful, and disarming as anything else she has written. I admit: in the first portion of this work, I wasn't bored...but I wasn't so sure I'd seek her work out in the future. In the second portion, I couldn't bring myself to put the work down. As when I first discovered her work, her characters and her prose disarmed me and brought me near to tears, striking as anything I've read in recent years.

Read the first part for her lovely attention to detail, to characters, to emotion, and to polished writing. Read the second part for her unique power, and for what we look for in fiction with each story we escape to.

Recommended, absolutely.

Maio 8, 2014, 4:49 pm

60. Bitter Milk: A Novel by John McManus

All things considered, it's almost absurd that this book is as unfortunately uninteresting as it is. The characters are unlikable and unengaging, the point-of-view seems to be undertaken primarily as a game with the reader, and the flow of the narrative is nothing less than jarring.

Moments of the book are fascinating, and the characters and plot are believable...but this one was a struggle that I simply can't imagine recommending on. Unless you're curious what happens when you attempt a primary narrator who could be many things, but is probably a not any version of a real person in the lives of other characters, and is also not a traditional narrator.

As an experiment, I suppose this book might have some interest...to someone...but I wouldn't recommend it. How this book ended up being So uninteresting is really the only thing that I found engaging about it.

Maio 8, 2014, 5:25 pm

I think I read this one in highschool, but it was long enough ago that I appreciated it quite a bit more now. If interested...

61. The Amityville Horror: A True Story by Jay Anson

Focused on what may be the most famous haunting episode in American history or culture, this book serves as the original definitive account of what happened to and in the Lutz home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Long Island in the mid-1970s.

Written as a journalistic account, the book is surprisingly creepy--more so, in fact, for this stylistic choice. Written objectively, the events and dialogues within the book are both frighteningly believable and horrific, carefully documenting the 28 days in which the Lutz family lived--or attempted to live--at 112 Ocean Avenue.

Readers familiar with tales of horror or haunting will still be chilled by this work--Anson's journalistic focus in documenting the events gives each page the feeling of documentary fact instead of narrative, and the details are impressive.

In the end, whether you're looking for fact or fiction of this nature, you'll find this work worth picking up. It's a fast and entertaining read...and a scary one, as well.


Maio 13, 2014, 12:40 pm

62. The Barkeep by William Lashner

At the heart of this book, there's an interesting story, and it moves quickly enough, but it really needed a bit more work writing-wise. Even aside from the fact that it's incredibly over-written, both the characters and the writing are heavy on clichés, stereotypes, and bits that are simply unbelievable--the only word to use is cheesy, which isn't something I'd ever search out in a novel. At a certain point, I was plodding through the novel because of my dismay at the writing (his heart sings? really?) and my growing frustration with how flat the characters remained. The story itself had plenty of twists-and-turns, enough to keep me guessing until the end did, finally, become entirely predictable, but the book really suffered from a lack of character development and a lack of attention to editing.

All in all, this is more mystery than thriller, and probably not something I'd recommend unless you like a lot of cheesiness mixed into your entertainment.

Maio 14, 2014, 11:49 pm

63. The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman

Built from powerful and believable characters, frightening magic, and day-to-day struggles such as love and addiction, this is one of those books that surprises readers at regular turns and still packs a surprising amount of emotion...far more than you'd expect from suspense or horror.

At the center of this book is Andrew Blankenship--a recovering alcoholic, a man just past(?) mourning, and a recluse...who also happens to be a powerful necromancer. Making the book what it is, there are other witches (one of whom Andrew is falling slightly in lust with, even if she doesn't care for men), villains to haunt readers as well as witches, and scenes that will make you cringe with nearly every word. There are also moments of heartbreak and regret drawn from the obstacles we all face in moving forward with our lives, and monsters who you'll be torn between hating and adoring.

And somehow, Buehlman pulls all of this into a solid and coherent novel, all of it unique and masterful. You can call this horror or suspense, or simply take it for what it is--a unique and creepy adventure of a novel, perfectly envisioned and wonderfully original.

This will be too strong and violent for some readers, and give others nightmares...but for many, it will be a horribly perfect story.

Absolutely recommended.

Maio 22, 2014, 2:40 pm

64. Ruby by Cynthia Bond

Bond's Ruby centers around characters whose lives are littered with the many violences accompanying racism, prejudice, and extremist thought. With legacies of violence and misunderstanding dictating paths forward, the novel is somewhat predictable, frightening as it is, but Bond's writing and level of detail manage to make the read a new experience, despite familiar landscapes. As quickly as the book reads, though, it may be that Bond pulled together too many trails of plot together in this one work, with depth and characterization suffering some as a result, lovely as the writing is.

Readers should be warned ahead of time, though, that Bond takes this novel to darker (and more detailed) territories than even the jacket blurb or the above notes suggest, integrating both devil worship and forced prostitution into the overall plot. These aspects end up overtaking the more subtle (and more widely realistic?) themes of the novel, making it a more memorable read, but also one which may end up suffering for their inclusion.

Bond's writing, however, is something like a meshing of the poetry of Morrison and the clear plotting and plain-spoken characters of Gaines, and as a result the writing is compelling. Much as I think Bond tried to bring together too many ideas in order to make her story ring as something new, the dark twists of the novel do work to drive the narrative.

In the end, it's hard to know what to make of this novel. It is far less subtle than works by writers such as Morrison and Gaines, but then again, the horror of what is not so widely realistic here pales in comparison to the horrors that are realistic...and, as a result, the novel ends up being surprisingly powerful for such a fast read.

Recommended for mature readers who are ready for a darker story than what the book blurb suggests.

Maio 22, 2014, 6:38 pm

A general update...

I spent most of the last week either at my family's house or at my husband's family's house (they only live about an hour apart from each other, or a slight bit more, conveniently). It was a stressful week, but I did get some reading in--most of The Thirteenth Tale, which I've just now finished, and I'm also most of the way through Year of the Flood, which I left here since it's not so much of an escape as I thought I'd need.

Meanwhile, though, my mother-in-law is helping with an estate sale, and I got to take a peak at the books, many of which are pretty old. If the prices don't go beyond the few dollars they're currently listed at, I asked her to pick me up a few this weekend at the actual sale, if possible. I've really got my fingers crossed for:

-a first American edition of Baudelaire's poetry, Flowers of Evil
-a lovely old copy of The Decameron

and, because I couldn't resist the price (and might sell them if I get them):
-a first edition of Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas
-a first edition of a short story collection by James Thurber with illustrations by the author
-a numbered limited edition copy of Charles Dickens Mystery of Edwin Drood--maybe a first American edition, though I don't remember the details at the moment

I'm excited about maybe getting these books :) Otherwise, the trip home was about as expected, and I'm looking forward to a few days at home to relax and read...and, of course, cuddle with our animals who missed us!

Maio 22, 2014, 6:50 pm

65. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

A lovely and engrossing tale built from family history and a love of words, and told with a sense of mystery, this is a book to sink into and enjoy. Setterfield tells a wonderful story, full of twists and lovely language. There were many points when I wished I felt more connected to the characters (most of whom felt a bit too convenient to the wishes of the story, and not quite believable), but on the whole, the book was a lovely escape. I should note that most of my fascinations with the book, and what kept me reading, were the stories within the story--the subtext and slighter characters and ambiguities--as opposed to the more central characters, who I didn't find all that engaging. But, regardless, I enjoyed the book more and more as I kept going, and ended up finishing it with quite a bit more satisfaction than I'd expected. On the whole? Something I'd recommend, particularly to lovers of the classics.

Maio 23, 2014, 6:06 pm

66. Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

As the follow-up to Oryx and Crake, this is both a disappointment and refreshing. Rather than begin where the first book of the trilogy left off, this one explores entirely new communities and characters that intersect only briefly with those from the first book. On one hand, this is incredibly frustrating for readers who jumped from book one into book two, expecting some version of continuation or closure (which was entirely absent from Oryx and Crake). On the other hand, it's not entirely negative for readers (like me) who failed to feel any real belief in or sympathy for the characters of Oryx and Crake.

Unfortunately, while the characters in The Year of the Flood are both more interesting and more believable than those in the earlier book, the book makes use of numerous interludes that may make the universe more complete, but do nothing for the story itself. I have to think that many of them would be more suited to another book, a lengthy appendix, or even just being set aside as pre-writing. At the very least, there are too many of them, and they are too similar to remain of interest, numerous as they are. Really, they simply highlight the fact that this book would be far more compelling were it a hundred...or a hundred and fifty...pages shorter.

There's no denying that Atwood is a fascinating universe-builder and a wonderful writer, but this just isn't a particularly compelling book (or series) and the characters are generally unsympathetic and one-dimensional. If I hadn't already found the third book at a bargain price and picked it up, I wouldn't be searching it out. As is, I don't feel any hurry to get to it.

On the whole, I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend this series. There's nothing wrong with it...there's just not enough right, either.

Maio 29, 2014, 5:27 pm

67. Mother to Mother by Sindiwe Magona

At the center of this novel is the straightforward story of one mother reaching out to another, out of grief and poverty, attempting to understand her own son's actions and the world which has proved so unfair to her own family, as well as the family of the woman she writes. Where the actions, and even immediate circumstances, are understood, she struggles with the chain of events that have led to the ruin and heartbreak she sees around her, and Magona's simple and poetic style bring the full world of this confusion to life.

Magona is at her best when writing character-driven fiction that explores intersections of socio-political chaos and individual experience--this novel is no exception. Moving quickly, and maneuvering between past and present in the midst of a short and heartbroken letter, the novel is a masterpiece of smart and moving fiction. Magona's work isn't easy to find, but it is worth searching out.

Absolutely recommended.

Maio 30, 2014, 9:24 am

68. Equus by Peter Shaffer

Brilliant and clever, Shaffer's play revolves around a give-and-take of innocence and violence, belief and insecurity. Even though the play is obviously meant to be seen on the stage, it comes across nearly as smartly on the page as the characters spiral forward. Few characters make for an easy reading experience, and the abstract nature of the effects--when you take the time to imagine them as originally created and directed--may be nearly as powerful as Shaffer envisioned them if given real attention.

Not for young readers, this is a powerful and thought-provoking work well worth any reader's or audience-member's time and attention.

Absolutely recommended.

Maio 30, 2014, 2:31 pm

69. Astoria to Zion with a foreword by Ben Fountain

Grounded in place, many of these stories are both unique and transporting, strong statements to the quality of fiction presented in Ecotone issues. It may be, though, that they're a more enjoyable representation when read occasionally instead of straight-through. All literary and of a similar tone and length, the collection starts to feel repetitive about two thirds of the way in, and I have to admit that I found myself getting bored at various moments as I read the last portion of the anthology. I don't think that this is a statement about those last stories so much as it is an acknowledgement that 400 pages (exactly) of similarly toned (with rare exceptions) literary stories (of the type polished out of MFA programs) is simply a bit too much, particularly when all are chosen out of a similar aesthetic.

All in all, this is a collection worth wandering through if you enjoy literary short stories grounded carefully in location, or if you just want a collection from which you can read the occasional story in between other reads. Without fail, all of the stories are worth reading and worth exploring, and that in itself is admirable.

Jun 1, 2014, 9:34 pm

I'm caught up on threads!!!!

Meanwhile, though, being caught up reminds me how much I enjoy seeing what everyone's reading, and also reminds me of the fact that that's going to be impossible pretty soon. From June 16th-August 7th, I teach a one week creative writing day-camp for highschoolers here in Pittsburgh, and then I immediately head off to New Hampshire, where I'll be teaching (drama & creative writing), helping with activities, and keeping busy as a dorm parent at a boarding camp. All of this comes together to mean that my reading will suffer a huge drop-off (I think I finished two books last July!), and I won't be around very much, though I'll be trying to occasionally drop in for updates and glancing over threads. So, looking ahead, if you're wondering where I am a month from now...

Meanwhile, I'm in the midst of American Psycho and A Question of Freedom, and still wandering through the anthology of The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. With any luck, I'll get through these and maybe two more before I head off to New Hampshire on the 23rd...

Jun 5, 2014, 9:12 pm

70. A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison by R. Dwayne Betts

More an informal collection of recollections than memoir, this work reads something like a selection of blog entries related to reading and prison, only the very beginning and the very ending standing out as clearly ordered. As such, this comes across as too half-hazard an attempt at broaching questions related to youth in prison and the justice system, falling far short of the clear subtitle for the work: "A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison".

The biggest problem I had in reading this, however, wasn't one of organization. It was the question of coming of age. More often than not, the book fails to make prison-life sound like anything more than an extended solitary stay in a library or retreat for reading, violence and injustice (or justice) on the outskirts. Beyond acknowledging that his views are wider because of what he's read, which he may have read in or out of prison, Betts also doesn't seem to (or claim to) mature as a result of his sentence. Reading this work, it's easy to forget that he's guilty of a crime, and while I don't begin to think that the nine years he served were actually deserved (at that length) for the crime he committed, any attentive reader has to at some point wonder: In all those nine years, shouldn't you be able to say why you committed the crime? After those nine years, shouldn't the resulting memoir speak to its supposed subjects of survival, maturity, and justice, moreso than the constant theme of trying to find ways to pass the time?

It's possible that a clearer or more linearly organized narrative could have done Betts' story more justice. As the book stood, though, I didn't feel like the focus of the novel had any weight whatsoever beyond the close focus on Betts' personal experience. Certainly, there was little questioning or discussion of justice or maturation, beyond, again, passing time.

On the whole, this was a disappointing read, and though well-written, probably not something I'd expect anyone to learn something from, or even find truly thought-provoking. Based on the writing and the experiences behind the work, I have to think that Betts would have been better served writing a novel.

Unfortunately, I can't recommend this one.

Jun 5, 2014, 9:32 pm

71. The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm

Timm's story of curried sausage begins in Germany, when a German woman meets and takes in a young soldier--a soldier who is so suddenly taken in by the peace he feels in her presence that deserting seems like the only option. As WWII ends and the woman attempts to keep her young soldier satisfied and unaware, Timm's story becomes one of history, lost innocence, and impossible hope, as well as an improbable end.

Told with a masterful voice and perfectly paced story-telling, Timm's novella is part history, part hope, and part wonderful story. It is all spice and wonder.


Jun 8, 2014, 9:43 pm

72. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

As disturbing as it is clever, this could never be mistaken for a book that will appeal to all readers--graphic sex and violence make it difficult to stomach at many points for various reasons, and long catalogues of designer clothing and inane conversation mean that the book becomes something of a roller coaster between bored amusement and shocked horror.

While Ellis' work is a brilliant achievement and masterful diatribe, it is also shocking and awful. All together, I'd be careful about recommending this to other readers--I love dark reads, but this was difficult for me to take, and I often had to put it down and move to something else.

If you want a dark and graphic read, read this.

Jun 10, 2014, 8:46 am

Oh, I did enjoy The Invention of Curried Sausage too! Such an odd title, but a great read.

Jun 10, 2014, 7:49 pm

>140 wookiebender:, It's true! I don't know that I ever would have pulled that off of the 1001 books list if not for the GastroCat challenge, but I'm very glad I did!

Jun 13, 2014, 2:08 pm

73. Mrs. God by Peter Straub

Straub's Mrs. God novella is a strange story, moving from what seems to be a commonplace drama (if one with a creepy setting) to a fast-moving horror story centered around an apparently devolving narrator. In fact, you can nearly cut the book in half to find that the first portion is decidedly unhorrific, and the second is nearly unfollowable it contains so much and moves so quickly. All together, the book is interesting, and the writing of atmosphere and descriptions is absolutely stunning. Those descriptions, though, are what I'll remember moreso than the story. I have a feeling that, really, this idea needed to take on a longer form in order to do it real justice and give clarity enough to the horror for it to be really scary.

Jun 13, 2014, 2:23 pm

74. The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

Known as one of Heinlein's classics, this adventure is fun and compulsively readable, full of humor and great characters. It is hilariously dated, as the character jumps forward from 1970 to 2000, and Heinlein's vision of 2000 isn't any more accurate than you'd expect, but this is still my favorite of the time-travel novels I've wandered through. Heinlein's plots and characters are perfectly balanced, and the narrative is fast-moving without losing any of the character depth that comes with a great story. While the ending of one sub-plot made me cringe a bit, it didn't come near ruining the novel, and I'd recommend this on to any readers curious about Heinlein's work or just looking for a fast-paced good story.


Jun 15, 2014, 10:02 pm

75. No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal

This is the other side of the story.

With determined objectivity, Gopal does just what he claims: he tells the story of the War on Terror and the last fourteen years--particularly 2001 through 20010--of war and distrust in Afghanistan, "through Afghan eyes". The focus is not on the military or on the people in power, but on the men And women who are, very simply, attempting to survive in a climate of terror, poverty, and confusion. And Gopal begins on September 11, 2001, but in a fitting way for a book that is both troubling and all too believable: he begins in a town where everyone understands the Taliban as a failing force, and nobody knows of the attacks already occurring in America. He begins in a world where men and women are seeing their world beginning to make sense, where fighting has been ongoing since 1979 and is finally, seemingly, coming to an end, and where America is of no concern whatsoever.

This is a difficult book because it is so very believable and so very simple. It makes sense of the news stories and the world which Americans have seen portrayed in nonsensical inflammatory terms, and it makes understandable--to the extent that terrorism and death can be understood--the ways in which a small extremist force overtook an entire world through what amounts, sadly, to gossip and confusion gone mad. For men and women in America who want to understand the war that has been ongoing for more than a decade, this is required reading, not telling the whole story, but telling the parts of the story which are too often glossed over or ignored. It is difficult reading because the entire book--and the entire forces of Afghanistan and America, as a result--are essentially operating in a mist of gray where there is very rarely a good or a bad, or at least not one of either which can be easily apprehended. There is, more than anything, confusion, and an imperative to survive.

Gopal's work here is, very simply, disturbing and straight-forward. And it is two-sided. It should be required reading.

As a side-note, it's worth noting that his writing is superb, and his history-telling is absurdly clear considering the quagmire of a subject he's taken on. Whether you read this for the narrative, for the writing, for the history, for the politics, or for the telling of the other side, this is worth your time.

Absolutely recommended.

Jun 18, 2014, 9:13 pm

76. The Day That Eazy-E Died by James Earl Hardy

More of a rambling dramatic monologue than a carefully crafted novel, this is a piece of entertainment that isn't badly written, but isn't particularly engaging either. The drastic level of slang in the narrator's voice is nearly unbelievable, especially when paired against his lover, who speaks in an overly formal voice which is itself unbelievable. Those distractions were tough for me to overlook, as was the lack of tension. Supposedly, the book is built around the narrator's worry about taking an AIDS test and then waiting for the result, but that so-called worry disappears for most of the book, though early on (and later on) he claims that it consumed his life. Theoretically, HIV/AIDS is at the center of the work, but if anything, the book argues that there's really no need to worry after all since both characters had indisgressions, neither got tested, and neither worries all that much about it or faces any results, judging from the narrative.

In all, I have to say that I found this an easy read, but a frustrating one. There wasn't much to it beyond a rambling narrator who varied between being incredibly immature and the wisest one in his circle, and much of the plotting and characterization here just wasn't believable.

Unfortunately, not anything I'd recommend.

Jun 22, 2014, 9:35 pm

Another dud, I'm afraid...

77. Islands Out of Time by William Irwin Thompson

This book attempts a great deal, but it falls far short of the author's lofty goals. As a reader who's always enjoyed reading about theories of Atlantis and also enjoys novels of all kinds--including both fictional memoir and fantasy--I thought this book would be right up my alley. Instead, I'm afraid I found the first half fairly boring--a sort of new age theory laden narrative that seemed to have little direction--and the second half somewhat more interesting, but not nearly enough. With flat characters, and little touchstone to reality that could make this more interesting in, at least, regard to theories of Atlantis, this book simply didn't have enough drive or narrative to justify the reading experience, let alone make it enjoyable.

Not something I'd recommend, I'm afraid.

Jul 4, 2014, 8:49 pm

78. The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet edited by Kelly Link

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is one of those rare journals which is always fresh and surprising, and well worth watching. If you like the weird, the original, the speculative, the original, the strange, or even if you simply like good writing, it's worth taking note of. As a result, this is simply a fun anthology of work. Filled with an odd assortment of poetry, fiction, observation, and note, the book is incredibly entertaining. There's little doubt in my mind that any reader will find something worth re-reading and sharing, just as other things won't be in line with their tastes. In the end, though, the book is worth searching out.

To my own taste, the best tales are "Pretending" by Ray Vukcevich, "Bay" by David Erik Nelson, and "You Were Neither Hot Nor Cold, But Lukewarm, and So I Spit You Out" by Cara Spindler and David Erik Nelson. But, that said, I was never bored by this collection, and LCRW is one of those rare journals which is not only spilling over with talent, but incredibly varied.

Recommended, absolutely.

Jul 8, 2014, 10:22 pm

79. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon

This was entertaining enough, but I'm afraid I was just never taken in by either the plot or any of the characters. The ideas were interesting, but the execution and lack of suspense just left me feeling unengaged. I could read the book, or not, and I mostly read it as a time-killer. I might try Weldon again if a blurb really sounded up my alley, but I'm afraid this wasn't anything in particular that I'd recommend on to other readers.

Jul 18, 2014, 9:11 am

80. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

This is an incredibly artful, and beautifully written, work of historical fiction. Centered around WWII, and moving gracefully between the present and the past, the work looks over a half century of time in the terms of one woman, her siblings, and the undeniable impact of single events and memories from the past.

Admittedly, for me, the book took quite some time to become engaging--even though the narrator's voice was well written as both a child and as an adult, I had a hard time believing in her fully. It may be that her motivations weren't clear enough, or that I needed more context, but either way, I simply couldn't connect with her or her story enough to get really invested in the book--she felt too artificial, or too perfectly created, perhaps. By 2/3rds of the way through the book, I was truly engaged and interested in the plot, but I never did grow to believe in the characters as fully formed entities. As a result, the book likely isn't one I'll remember for the long term or be all that likely to pass on. If you're a big fan of historical fiction, this might very well be right up your alley, though.

Recommended for readers interested in literary historical fiction related to WWII, or fiction that gracefully moves between two drastically different time periods.

Jul 28, 2014, 8:24 pm

81. Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino

Filled with the gothic and the grotesque, this is an interesting tale, if somewhat old-fashioned stylistically. Unfortunately, so much attention is placed on detail that it begins fairly slowly, the characters and the plot both taking a backseat to a rather over-embellished writing style and a slow build. While I think that space was meant to allow readers to get closer to the characters and the story, I'm afraid that both always felt somewhat surface-level. The twists of the plot, and the grotesque details, made it an enjoyable-enough read, but not one I'll remember. This should have been a much more powerful read, for me at least, and instead it ended up just being a temporary enjoyable escape that I could pick up or put down at any given moment.

I'd recommend this to readers who enjoy traditionally gothic tales or the original gothic novels, and who won't mind a bit of added gruesome detail.

Ago 9, 2014, 10:22 pm

82. Welcome to the Monkey House: The Special Edition by Kurt Vonnegut

Wonderfully world-building, the stories in this collection are varied and thoughtful, and as clever as they are entertaining. While I'd only read Vonnegut's longer prose pieces in the past, this collection contains what are now some of my favorite short stories, and I'll now think of this wonderful work first when I think of Vonnegut. With sympathetic characters, graceful trajectories, and fascinating premises, the stories here are simply unforgettable, and I've no doubt that I'll be passing this collection on to anyone interested in short stories, as well as sharing some of the stories with my writing students.

To my mind, my favorites will likely remain "Who Am I This Time?", "The Euphio Question", and "The Kid Nobody Could Handle", but there are too many great stories here to list each one. Additionally, for writers, the ending essay on "Welcome to the Monkey House" is a fascinating look at Vonnegut's journey toward producing what is now one of his most widely known stories. Discussing numerous and wildly changing drafts, Gregory D. Sumner discusses Vonnegut's methods of world-building and writing, including numerous excerpts from various drafts. While this essay might not be of interest to every reader, it will absolutely be of interest to Vonnegut lovers and writers.

On the whole, this is a marvelous book. If you like short stories OR Vonnegut's other works, it's well worth the read, and now takes the place as my favorite work by Vonnegut.

Recommended, of course.

Ago 12, 2014, 11:39 am

83. The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

Filled with atmosphere and detail, this historical fiction is transporting. Taking place in Cambridge in 1786, the novel moves fluidly between personal drama and mystery, centering on believable and flawed characters who may well draw any reader into the story.

The disconnect actually occurs in the novel's description being a far match from what the book explores. Readers basing their choice off of the book jacket will expect, at the least, suspense, and potentially a wander through the supernatural. Instead, the book moves fairly slowly, and with little suspense--wandering through the story, I was entertained, but I was rarely compelled to keep going in the manner that a good suspense story would sustain.

In closing, I'd recommend this to readers who enjoy historically set mysteries, or historical fiction that balances between personal drama and mystery, but it's probably not something which would draw me back in for more of Taylor's work or suggest that I keep on passing it on to friends.

All together, not a bad read, but not something I'll particularly remember either.

Ago 12, 2014, 10:10 pm

84. Carry Me Across the Water by Ethan Canin

Delicate and ponderous, this is a strangely fast read that spans decades and moves in a non-linear exploration of the major moments in one elderly man's life. Without becoming maudlin, or even necessarily predictable, the book acts as an in-depth character study of a single man's response to war, independence, love, and aging. The problem is simply that there is more character study than plot, and more examination than sympathy. In the end, I was left wanting far more, as engaged as I'd been with various moments and characters in the novel.

Ago 18, 2014, 12:13 pm

85. Three Kinds of Asking For It edited by Susie Bright

Of the three novellas presented here, two are really wonderful.... The works of Eric Albert and Greta Christina are both entertaining and original, each presented with a perfect dose of humor and eroticism. With believable characters and fast-moving writing, both of these works are fast and enjoyable reads, and in all honesty, this collection is worth searching out for them alone.

On the other hand, the third novella simply isn't up to the level of the other two. Told from the point of view of an immature 14-year-old who comes across as being unbelievably ditzy and unlikable, the work simply wanders. Where I read each of the other novellas in a single respective sitting, I couldn't stand the annoying p.o.v. of this novella for more than a few pages at a time, and while I finally powered through the last twenty pages of it today, just to be done, it simply wasn't enjoyable, or even particularly well-written. This may be the view some individuals have of teenagers, but most teenagers actually aren't quite this dumb and unthinking, not to mention inconsistent.

Simply, the first two novellas in the collection are well worth the read, funny and original and clever. The last one is one to skip.

Ago 18, 2014, 6:04 pm

86. Likely to Die by Linda Fairstein

Heavy on the details of a prosecutor's daily responsibilities and variety of cases, this book took a while to get started--and, truthfully, some of the less-than-believable dialogue is a clear indicator that this is an early book in the series (I note this in the hope that they get better). Still, the fast-moving action ended up making this a nice diversion, and a fast read. There's a good balance of legal work and police work, and while Fairstein goes a bit overboard with legal details, over-explaining matters and laws in various instances, the book as a whole is an engaging read. It is heavier on mystery and detail than on suspense, so readers looking for a thrill might better look elsewhere. On a last note, Alex Cooper veers a bit too much between being a capable and intelligent woman, and a damsel in distress with rather stereotypical reactions--I'm hoping later books in the series straighten out this flaw and do a little more showing versus telling, but we'll see. One way or another, there was enough here to lead me to look into a later book in the series and see how things develop.

Ago 21, 2014, 4:24 pm

87. God's Fool: The Life and Times of Francis of Assisi by Julien Green

In intermingling biography and lore, culture and history, and sympathy with academic examination, Green accomplished a beautiful and impressive biography of Francis of Assisi. In short straight-forward chapters, Green examines Francis' short life, from beginning to end, bringing to life the world he lived in at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The end result is a beautiful examination of a man and his belief--not only in God, but in the wonder of the world around him and in the goodness of people. More related to simple goodness than to religion, the book explores what belief means by centering on the transformation that occurred in Francis' life, and whether the book finds readers who believe or disbelieve in the possibility of miracles, it will find a way to touch the spirit of any reader through this straight-forward and careful depiction.

Touching, smart, and detailed, this book is, very simply, worth reading.

Absolutely recommended.

Ago 23, 2014, 5:41 pm

88. Nevirapine and the Quest to End Pediatric AIDS by Rebecca J. Anderson

Anderson's examination of Nevirapine is actually an account of quite a bit more than a single drug's creation. Beyond the scope of the title, Anderson also examines the tangle of research and researchers that began attempting a combat against AIDS from the very beginning of the disease's stranglehold. Discussing the full range of researchers, clinical trials, setbacks, and false starts, Nevirapine and pediatric AIDS are far in the background of the book for much of her examination. Details, throughout, are instead made the focus. On one hand, this puts much needed attention on the complexity of not only HIV/AIDS, but on the difficult process of finding a cure or treatment for any illness. Readers interested in this process will find a lot to admire in Anderson's early chapters, particularly if they're interested in the details of the science behind what has to happen in order for any treatment to reach an adequate stage of presentation and use. Unfortunately, readers uninterested in the science, or without any background in medical literature, HIV/AIDS research, or science may well find themselves left behind and unable to follow Anderson's text without outside support. As a result, the book simply isn't for every reader. Without an interest in science or a background in similar texts, this would be an incredibly difficult read.

That said, this book does take up the challenge of exploring what other texts on HIV/AIDS have left uncovered. Especially in the second half of the work, Anderson devotes real attention to examining the specific challenges (and differences) associated with combatting pediatric illnesses as opposed to adult illnesses, including a close look at why so much more attention is often focused onto adult treatment. Just as impressively, Anderson focuses real attention on HIV/AIDS in Africa, both on the political and social ramifications of the virus and its treatment, and on the specific difficulties of complicated medical treatments in developing countries. Here, especially, Anderson's research and discussion excels, for most books which have taken a similar look at HIV/AIDS have steered clear of a close look at HIV/AIDS' proliferation in other countries.

In the end, though the work is more detailed than many readers would wish--especially in terms of science, research, and politics--and also far larger in scope than its title would suggest, it is also a worthwhile read for interested readers, particularly those who want a larger look at the long-range path toward sustainable HIV/AIDS research and associated difficulties. Unfortunately, readers who do want a specific look at particular aspects of the text will have to search for the relevant material. Though the book reads something like a textbook, it set up as more of a narrative, and chapter titles don't do much to suggest each chapter's focus. Research is an important thread throughout the work, but it's worth noting that the first third of the book pays little focus to the specifities of pediatric treatment, and that the last third of the work is where Anderson closes her attention on treatment and HIV/AIDS in Africa, as well as on pediatric treatment alone.

All together, this isn't for the casual reader. But, for readers like myself who already have a familiarity with the history (scientific and cultural) of HIV/AIDS and its treatment, the book does hold something new to offer in terms of detail and focus.

Ago 23, 2014, 5:55 pm

89. Hell House by Richard Matheson (8/23/2014)

A classic haunted house novel, this is a fast and well-paced read. Matheson balances tension with the supernatural, and moves smoothly between psychological terror and gruesome horrors. The one drawback of the novel is that the characters simply aren't all that sympathetic. It may be because they need more depth, but regardless, the book would be far more frightening if readers were drawn in to care more for the specific characters at the heart of the book. Instead, the plot and the suspense drive the book by themselves, and while that's plenty of drive to keep a reader engaged...it isn't necessarily enough to keep a reader scared. Simply, I expected to be scared by the book, and while I was interested and sometimes disgusted, I was rarely given any level of a scare.

Honestly? It was worth the read, but I expected a lot more.

Ago 25, 2014, 10:10 am

90. The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Clever and compelling, this is one of those books that sneaks up on you. In the beginning, I was barely interested, just reading to read. A few chapters in, however, I couldn't put it down. Bledsoe's characters are striking and interesting, not to mention believable, and his plot carries off a perfect balance of tension and description. I'm honestly not sure whether I'd classify this as general fiction, fantasy, or magical realism, but whatever your reading interests, it's a fascinating and fast-paced read.

Absolutely recommended.

Ago 26, 2014, 8:47 pm

91. Pig Island by Mo Hayder

Mo Hayder has a talent for darkness, and for building compelling tales around characters who flirt with mystery before falling headlong into that darkness she draws so well. With Pig Island, the horrors come from surprising places in a way that jolts readers away from expectations and into a far heavier narrative than expected. It's only fair to warn potential readers that the violence here is graphic--as has been the case in Hayder's other works--but one of the wonders of the book is that even such violence as she creates never comes across as gratuitous. Simply, this is world where an average journalist goes wandering into a story to disprove a horror, and finds other horrors entirely beyond what he'd been prepared for.

In the end, this is as clever as it is surprising and disturbing, and that's wonderful.

Absolutely recommended.

Ago 29, 2014, 8:21 pm

92. The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein

When I began this book, I wasn't drawn in, but I was interested enough in the premise that I was held by the story. As the book went on, though, this grew less and less true, and I grew more and more annoyed with what had become an overtly predictable--and sometimes unbelievable--story about characters that were, more and more, not much better than stereotypes. By the time I reached the novel's finish, I was glad to be done, and ready to avoid this author in the future.

It's also important to note that this should be an incredibly touching book. Given the premise and the situations of the characters, this book should bring readers through a range of emotions cycling from grief to humor, and back again. It took me a while to pick up this book, in fact, specifically because I expected to be emotionally affected by the protagonist's situation. And, yet. I can honestly say that I never felt real emotion drawn out by the narrative, which is a damning statement to begin with. It occurred to me last night, when I put the book down with only forty pages left to read, and no desire to continue, that Grodstein might have written with a view toward making the protagonist's narrative overtly objective in tone, discouraging emotional connection. I don't know whether this is giving her too much credit or not--I'm inclined to think it is simply because I was so disappointed with so many aspects of the novel--but should this actually be the case, it was a failed experiment. The result was an emotionally disconnected narrative that came across as fairly disinterested and boring, centered on stereotypical characters and situations which felt only half-drawn.

By the end of the book, as you might by now realize, I was extremely frustrated. While the book attempts to examine individuals struggling with crises in believe and faith--in science, in God, in personal philosophy, and in morality--it ends up making light of faith itself. By portraying characters whose lives have centered on a specific type of faith, and then showing them not just questioned, but fully doubted and reversed, over and over again, faith becomes little more than a mockery of itself within the book, and the characters end up seeming unbelievable as a result. Simply, while crises of faith do happen--in science and in faith and in any other area--they do not happen so simply or painlessly as the writer depicts. And, certainly, they are not full of the cliched questions her characters center their doubts on. Most of the questions which center the characters' struggles are questions which any mature individual would have moved through, or come to, far earlier in their lives. The fact that they face them suddenly at these junctures is just short of laughable, cruel as that may be to say, and suggests that the writer is exploring a struggle that she herself hasn't truly experienced. I'm not someone who believes that a writer must necessarily write about what they know...but, in terms of emotions, that may be true, at least in this case.

Simply, this book much left to be desired, in terms of both believability and depth. It had some clever and funny moments, but most of the moments which could have distinguished the book as having real character, or being truly original, were given and then left behind in the span of a paragraph, leaving this reader (at least) both disappointed and wondering--why are the interesting moments constantly left behind in favor of returning to the cliched?

I expected far far more, and I wouldn't recommend this. So far, I write in August, this is the disappointment of the year for me.

Ago 30, 2014, 7:15 pm

93. The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey by Linda Greenlaw

Covering the trajectory of one full fishing trip, and intermixed with memorable (often disastrous) moments from other trips, Greenlaw's work is both honest and fascinating. From concerns about crewing a swordfish boat to the day-to-day actions and reactions of a captain of the same, the work maneuvers around a world that most readers will find entirely unfamiliar, and it does so with both humor and humanity in mind. By balancing between this fishing world and the social world of a nearly month-long trip built for swordfish and six very different individuals on a relatively small boat, Greenlaw moves the narrative at a fast pace.

Whether you're interested in fishing or not, this really is a marvelous look into a world that, for most of us, is simply foreign and all but unimaginable. Greenlaw makes it wonderfully real in this quick-moving memoir. If you love the ocean or, very simply, love a good story, let alone the science of fishing, you might very well find this worth your time.


Set 1, 2014, 9:41 pm

94. Into the Great Wide Open by Kevin Canty

Canty's greatest strength here is also the novel's greatest weakness. Writing unironically about teenage love, and from a first person point of view, he manages to transport readers right back to high school, and to those incredibly strong feelings enmeshed in the center-of-the-universe-and-knowing-it-all-feeling that comes from being seventeen. The problem is that he's writing about an incredibly average love between two frighteningly average people in a sadly average situation. Yes, they've got serious problems at home, like so many teenagers. Yes, they're got emotional problems, like so many teenagers. No, they don't know what comes next and they're worried about it, like so many teenagers. Yes, they take risks, and no, they don't think too much... All like so many other average teenagers.

In the end, this made me remember the feelings of highschool, and some of my friends, with a clarity I hadn't experienced with those years in some time. Yet, could I have had that clarity without the book, had I just sat back and remembered? Yes.

And because the book was so driven by those voices and that teenage angst, I was more than glad to finish it and leave it behind, only sorry that there was no non-anti-climactic ending to give it a little more heft. Simply, teenagers won't appreciate this, and adults will likely be bored by it sooner than later, if not actually annoyed.

Not recommended, I'm afraid, unless you simply want a fairly good example of a novel told from the point of view of a believable, and average, fairly unthinking highschooler.

Set 6, 2014, 12:33 pm

95. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

It wasn't until I lived in a college town that I really got interested in football, and even then, it was a slow process. Had I come across this book earlier, I might just have found my way to being a fan a bit faster. I also might have really attempted that Italian study abroad...

Following the story of a disgraced NFL player on his journey to play football, this is far from Grisham's usual tale. And yet, it is also a wonderful read.

Grisham strikes a perfect balance of writing about the life of a professional athlete against writing about culture in Italy. For football fans, there are just enough play-by-plays to make relevant sections of the book fast-paced and let you visualize the important parts of those important games. And yet, for readers who won't be as interested in that aspect, there's really not enough of it to detract from what is otherwise, very simply, a good story with believable characters. The book moves quickly and gracefully across a number of settings, and it does so with a natural evolution and change which makes it a fast-paced read, and likely a journey away from what you know, regardless of what that is.

All told, the only downfall of the book is that it will make you hungry for a good Italian meal and desperate to go off to Italy to, of all things, see a football game.

Absolutely recommended--this is just one of those fun reads worth reading and passing on. And, if you've got someone who you Want to like football? Give them this.

Set 7, 2014, 4:41 pm

96. Confessions of a Gambler by Rayda Jacobs

In a balance of humor and heartbreak, and addiction and hope, Jacobs' exploration of a Muslim mother's look at the world is a graceful movement between a past and a present, all so interwoven as to condense each moment with another. With a son dying of AIDS and personal addiction becoming heaver and heavier, Jacobs' protagonist is one to remember, and is created so strikingly and believably that the novel is simply compelling.

Written with an eye toward painful self confession, and with a focus on hard truths, the book is a serious one. Yet, the community at the center of the book is what ensures a read which is not only powerful, but beautiful, and full of hope.


Set 8, 2014, 10:36 am

97. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Fast-moving and graceful, this is worth reading for any writer or artist. Dillard's meditations on her own way of life, and on the choices involved with living as a writer, are so insightful as to push readers toward examining their own choices and paths. With her humor and honesty, the book ends up being full of revelations and humor.

Set 12, 2014, 5:53 pm

98. The Lotus and the Storm by Lan Cao

Centered around a family's drama as pushed forward by the social upheaval built by the Vietnam War, this is a book filled with fascinating characters and subplots. With history and conflict and the heart of the book, Cao's portrayal of a complicated family is balanced against both the present in America (of 2006) and the time of the Vietnam War in Vietnam, culminating in the fall of Saigon and the difficult aftermath.

While the material of the book is fascinating, the downfall is that so very much is attempted. The drama and suspense of the war are overshadowed by the drama of the family's interactions and day-to-day difficulties, and while most of these are directly or indirectly related to the war, many of those connections aren't uncovered until very late in the novel; as a result, readers are torn between sympathizing with the family and gaining insight into history, and neither focus is given real power. So much is built into the work that, though the characters are believable, they aren't fully sympathetic and engaging for readers. Similarly, discussion of the war and socio-political difficulty is so broken up by family drama that that history is not as engaging or narrative-driving as it would be otherwise.

Simply, it felt as if the book was being torn in various directions, and while I appreciated what the author was working for, I often found myself half-bored by what I was reading, as interested as I would be if I were reading history or biography related to something I'm interested in, but no more. Generally, I didn't find the emotion or the entertainment that I expect from a great novel.

So, yes, I appreciated the art of the work, and I enjoyed many passages of Cao's lovely writing. Did I appreciate or enjoy the story? Well, that's a more difficult question, but is perhaps best answered by the acknowledgement that I wouldn't be very likely to pick up more of her work.

If you are interested in family dramas played out on the background of history, or in multi-generational narratives told in complex and politically-aware narratives, this might well be up your alley. If you pick it up because of an interest in war-related literature, however, or expect a novel pulling you forward from page to page with a real suspense...well, this may be too quiet a novel for you to fall into, because on the whole, I'd say it attempted too much, and was perhaps a hundred pages too long for what it did accomplish.

Set 13, 2014, 10:35 am

99. True Stories, Well Told edited by Lee Gutkind

Gutkind's collection of some of the best essays from the journal, Creative Nonfiction, this is an eclectic mix of transporting essays. While all are beautifully written, the stand-outs are those which are as informative as they are personal. As a collection, the whole will appeal to any reader who wants a better feel for creative nonfiction or personal narrative essays, and also to readers who want a fast taste of many honored nonfiction writers.

That said, I have to admit that I found many of these essays to be rather over-written and self-involved. In some cases, I was simply bored, and glad to be done with a given essay. More often, I did enjoy the short engagements with different worlds and different authors, but I have to say that reading this didn't make me feel more likely to pick up the journal itself. I expected a better feel for creative nonfiction, and a bit more respect for the genre, along with entertainment. We'll just say that I got some enjoyment, and some entertainment, but not nearly as much understanding or entertainment as I expected in any case. I think my nonfiction reads will continue to be lengthier reads instead of essays like this.

Set 13, 2014, 7:04 pm

100. Rhyming Life & Death by Amos Oz

In a dramatic telling of a single night, Rhyming Life & Death is something of a story, and something of a demonstration of a story's genesis, exploring the wonders and twists of an imagination.

Working from the mind of an author, our narrator for the duration, Oz wanders through his imaginings about an assortment of characters, bringing them together into a world that is hardpressed to be called either imaginary or real. In the end, it doesn't matter. Oz has explored the process and wonder of creation, and given us a story and a show in the process.

Absolutely recommended.

Set 13, 2014, 10:11 pm

101. Oblique Prayers by Denise Levertov

Smart and graceful, Levertov's poems are meditations on what is possible in a world of compassion, and what comprises darkness in the same. As ever, her language is drenched in lyrical grace, and seemingly effortless. Some of the poems here are spiritual, some concrete. Some of them are difficult and striking, others straightforward. All together, though, the collections rings with soulful engagement with the world, and any poetry reader will find something to love here.

Well worth the read.

Set 14, 2014, 7:05 am

Well done on hitting 100, and sounds like a good one to hit the target as well.

Set 14, 2014, 9:22 am

Thanks :) I have to admit that I picked up these two last short ones because I expected great reads, and didn't want my #100 to be a dud or an enh...!

Set 20, 2014, 3:40 pm

102. The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda

Mda's The Whale Caller is so rich that it's difficult for a reader to distinguish between fantasy and reality. The characters are so flawed and distinctive, and their story so sweet, that the world becomes something almost idyllic, despite its downfalls and poverty. Centered in off-kilter romances and fantasy, the book is something of a lovesong to what imagination can accomplish for its characters, and of course for the reader.

Yet, for me, I have to admit that the ending very nearly ruined the book for me, and certainly ruined the world of the book. Having read it, and been so shocked by it, I couldn't really recommend the book to other readers unless they could commit to neglecting those last few pages. I adore Mda's writing, but that ending... well, it would be enough to put me off of his work if I weren't already a fan, not for the believability, but for the too-easy horror, that is all to believable, just as much as the rest of the story is surprisingly believable.

I don't know what to say beyond the fact that Mda's writing and world-building an character creation are marvelous. And that I now hate him, just a bit, for writing this ending.

Set 21, 2014, 5:56 pm

103. The Oath by Frank Peretti

If this book were much shorter, it might have some chance of success. As is, though, the heavy-handed nature of the book, and the easy predictability of it all (from very early on), end up making it somewhat tedious, and far from frightening.

The plot of the work, and the downfalls/stereotypes of the respective characters, are so easily pinpointed and predicted early on that there's not much here to find compelling, aside from the short sections of narrative and the relatively fast-paced plot. Those things manage to drive the book forward for perhaps half of it, but at that point, it becomes obvious that the characters have little to no depth, and the book itself is written toward such a single and heavy-handed theme that there's just not much to be entertained by.

In the end, I didn't find this scary, or particularly interested once I realized where everything was going (around page 50 or 75, perhaps, of a 550 page novel). I won't be reading anymore of Peretti's writing.

Set 22, 2014, 9:25 pm

104. Bringing Down Gaddafi: On the Ground With the Libyan Rebels by Andrei Netto

Netto's account of the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi is both extensive and detailed, coming together as a complex history and a compelling feat of journalism.

Beginning with the actual capture of Gaddafi and the surrounding chaos, Netto then moves backward to the beginning of his own journey crossing the border into Libya illegally and traveling with the rebels to tell their story. Yet, despite his obvious sympathies as expressed in his reasoning for being in Libya at all, Netto does an impressive job of giving an objective view to the entirety of the conflict and politics surrounding the revolution. Throughout his narrative and history, Netto never backs off from calling attention to faults in reasoning, humanity, and understanding...on both sides. As a result, Netto's work looks both forward and backward in history, examining the path which led to the violence he witnessed and the ongoing rebellion, and managing to look forward to the faultlines already being laid for future attempts at peace-keeping.

If there is a real fault to the work itself, it is Netto's attention to detail. Names and individuals and places are constant, and unfamiliar readers will struggle to keep up with who's who and where's where, as quickly or carefully as they read. Still, the story and the meaning comes through. As a help, Netto includes at the back of the work a careful timeline of "Gaddafi's Libya", detailing notable political and socio-cultural happenings going back to September of 1969. It's in any reader's interest to take a look at this timeline before reading the book.

All told, this is a compelling and detailed read, and Netto can only be applauded for his journalism and his efforts. Considering world events, reading this book is in anyone's best interests at this point in time. It sheds a careful look on the political difficulties and rebellions in the Middle East, and it gives a smart look to a situation and history which may otherwise seem incomprehensible.

Is this an easy read? No. Is it necessary and compelling? Absolutely.

Set 29, 2014, 8:44 pm

An end-of-the-month update...

Well, as I probably mentioned last month, I withdrew from academia (at least for this year while my husband and I are hoping to move, and don't want to be tied to an academic schedule) and I'm now free-lancing full time, doing everything from copy-editing to transcription to tutoring and serving as a book coach. The latest cool news is that I've been hired on as a part-time book editor on an on-going basis. Not only does it mean that I'm being paid to read and help with unpublished novels, but it also means that my husband and I will be able to repay our savings and stop worrying about meeting basic bills, by the end of October if not before. By no means will we be rich, and I'll still be doing other random jobs and projects, but I'll be making a little bit more than I did working full time for my university last year, which is both a surprise and a relief (we were expecting to have to get by on a lot less, even as we attempt to plan for a move at some point).

The downside...I'm constantly online, or at least at my computer, for work! I feel like I'm tied to my computer, which means that it's harder and harder for me to spend real amounts of down-time anywhere near it, including catching up on LT... And, even though I've got less time free than last year, I'm still hoping to participate (and succeed) in NaNoWriMo again, so November's going to be a crazy month once I get there.

Still, I'll be around, lurking if not participating, and hopefully completing reads I can enter here!

Meanwhile, good reading, everybody. I'm still hoping to finish The Dead Whisper On and Hollow Earth before October hits, both of which I'm really enjoying, so we'll see how that goes...

Set 29, 2014, 9:02 pm

Ooh, congrats on the book editing job! I never wanted to do that when I was younger, but now that I've been reading so so much for the last five years I feel like I would be very good at telling writers what they're doing wrong now! Haha.

Editado: Set 29, 2014, 9:10 pm

Thanks :) It's more time-consuming than I expected, and frustrating at times, but I'm enjoying it. Truthfully, I did want to do it, but I thought I had to live in New York or LA or Chicago to really make a go of it. Now, so much happens online, that I can really do it anywhere :) I'm sure I'll go back to teaching once my husband and I get moved to wherever we end up, but I'll enjoy it for this year and maybe one or two more...

Set 29, 2014, 9:27 pm

I managed an independent bookstore with my sister for a couple years, and that was always my sweet-spot in the book industry. Sending someone home with a really quality book (especially when they were shopping for children) was the greatest joy of my life.

It seems like a really handy thing to get a foothold in. If you have periods where you ever need a break from teaching then hopefully it wouldn't be too hard to get another job editing for a while.

Set 29, 2014, 11:12 pm

>179 mabith:, Now that I'm getting a solid profile/resume of novel-editing, I think that's true. I'm also seriously thinking that I may just end up doing part-time everything. I'll enjoy teaching much more if I'm not pulled between 120 college students and essays, and since I'm going to keep teaching kids in summers, it'll be easy to keep a toe-hold in both worlds for a while. Either way, I was so sick of dealing with academia that this is a pretty wonderful change...and, just as good, the work can follow me when my husband and I move!

Meanwhile, I think my dream job would actually be working at an independent book store part-time and writing part time! My only worry in the current set-up is that my own writing will get short-shrift, so I've got to make sure to manage that carefully the next few months.

Set 30, 2014, 10:23 pm

105. Hollow Earth by John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman

Built from art and adventure, and full of fantasy and magic, this is one of those YA fantasies that will have you searching out the sequel moments after you've read it. The Barrowmans have created such engaging characters, and such an intriguing and fully built world, that it's difficult to believe this is only the first book in the series.

Centered on twins with a mysterious set of parents and abilities they're still learning to maneuver, the book takes on a compelling landscape, full with questions regarding responsibility and loyalty. Yet, there's such depth--to both the story and the ideas involved--that there's no doubt the Hollow Earth series will entrance adults just so much as it will appeal to young readers.

I don't remember a first fantasy book ever flowing so fluidly and clearly to build a wholly new understanding of the world, and this is certainly my new favorite YA series.

Absolutely wonderful.

Set 30, 2014, 11:49 pm

106. The Dead Whisper On by T. L. Hines

I'm new to the genre of 'spiritual thrillers', and I'm still not entirely sure what to think about them, but this one was a far cry better than the last one I came across. The characters are believable and engaging, and the first half of the book especially is wonderfully creepy. Further into the book, things begin to get more predictable and didactic (which has, admittedly, been my problem with spiritual/christian fiction and thrillers in the past), so the book lost some of its momentum for me. As characters figure things out in this genre, the reader invariably figures out which characters are going to be fine, and the basics of what's going to happen, along with why...this might be unavoidable, but it does slow down the story and make it fairly predictable. If the characters had had more depth, they themselves might have compelled me more fully, but if there is one downfall to the book outside of predictability, it's that the characters could be far more interesting and complex than they are. Right now, all of their complexities are tied up in things which directly relate to the story, and with everything so perfectly neat and logical...well, it takes away what reality the story could otherwise hold.

On the whole, I loved the creepiness of the first half of the book, and even when I knew exactly what would happen (maybe 75 pages from the ending on page 314), I was still entertained enough to want to continue reading. And, really, it was well written--I just would have preferred a bit more depth to characters, and a bit less predictability. When you tie a supernatural thriller's plot to faith, however, my fear is that the end will always end up being rather predictable, along with climaxes and explanations. They may be surprises to the characters themselves, but no smart reader will be surprised by end results.

Out 5, 2014, 11:17 pm

Congratulations on reaching (and exceeding!) 100 reads already!

Out 6, 2014, 11:47 am

Ooh, yes, congrats!

Out 6, 2014, 1:00 pm

Thanks :)

Out 8, 2014, 12:37 pm

107. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

In many ways, this is a great read simply because it's an entertaining book full of strange and interesting tidbits of knowledge. The problem is just as clear, though--there are so many interesting stories and directions which the book is pulled in, that in the end, none of them are given the depth a reader really wants. Whether you're most interested in the creation of the OED or the friendship between the two men at the heart of the book's title, or even trivia surrounding both, the book explores so much territory, and is so short, that I doubt any reader will be fully satisfied. Still, it is a fun and fast read with plenty of interesting trivia, if not the depth or full story that the book's title and blurb seem to promise.

All together, I'm glad I read it, but I wish it had been a bit more substantial.

Out 8, 2014, 9:29 pm

108. Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan

Built from childhood humor and skepticism, this is one of those books which can transport readers back to a child's version of the world, as wonderful and horrible as that may be at different turns. Although it pulls together in what feels more like a series of sketches and anecdotes and understandings than a single full story, the work as a whole revolves around a boy's attempts at understanding love...as a result, the work ends up being surprisingly cohesive, surprisingly touching.

Nordan's worlds are memorable, and constantly believable, as are his characters. While he may not write about easy subjects, his books are easy reads, and lovely journeys into a world that can at least work toward helping us understand the craziness of the world around us.


Out 12, 2014, 8:05 pm

109. The Mexican Murals by Cynthia Kraman

Made up of prose poems and short essays on art, along with two or three non-prose poems, this a collection built from fragments and images, philosophies and colors. While Kraman's self-styled experiments (as explained in her essays) are scattered and heavily grounded in concrete images, they are also so personal as to come across as more meditation than meaning. There are many wonderful moments--in language, in music, in image, and in thought--but the book as a whole rather blends together, and I'm afraid that, in the end, I won't find it particularly memorable compared to other poetry collections that have all but forced me to reread the, share them, and think on them long after they were closed. This one will stick with me because of some of the ideas, and because of its set-up, but not particularly because of the poems or the power of it all, which is what I'd prefer from a collection of poems.

Out 20, 2014, 11:48 am

110. The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Irving's Cider House Rules is an intelligent and entertaining story, balancing controversy against good will, and debate against simple storytelling. Irving's style is straightforward, and his characters are so engaging and so real that the story ends up being a superb read--reading it is like taking a step into another world, one which feels very real, if even too real at times.

Absolutely recommended.

Out 24, 2014, 1:05 pm

111. Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

This is one of those odd books that has the power to surprise a reader with how much power it entails. The story, the characters, the language...every piece picks up more and more inertia as it works forward, until in the end you can barely put it down, and you're sorry to see it end.

Truthfully, in the very beginning (nearly before reading), I was disappointed. This book had been recommended, so I'd read Bledsoe's The Hum and the Shiver first, since it was the first in the Tufa series. When I turned to this one, I realized from the jacket that it wouldn't pick up the stories of the characters I'd read in the first book, something I'd been counting on. Instead, this would take place in the same world and community, but follow a different story entirely. So, I left the series for a few months instead of picking it up right away, and came back to it once the other story was further in the background.

Even now, I have the instinct to recommend this book more than the first, but in all honesty, I don't think any reader is going to enjoy this nearly as much without having read the first--there's more background there since this one is told from an outsider to the community. This one, though, has more feeling.

Bledsoe's writing is sometimes heavy-handed, and the descriptions occasionally border on the cliche'd, but his depiction of a strange Appalachian mountain community where the people aren't quite your average people is simply wonderful storytelling. The characters are strangely believable, and the book is a whole isn't, I think, going to be easily forgotten.

Yes, I absolutely recommend this one, but I also recommend you read the first one first, give the series some space, and then come back for more. If there's a third installment, I'll be reading it as soon as it comes available.

Out 26, 2014, 9:21 pm

I've never gotten around to buying books to celebrate my Thingaversary in the past, but I did today! Celebrating 8 Years on Librarything with the 'new' purchase of 10 used books :)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Edward Adrift by Craig Lancaster
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Tel Aviv Noir from Akashic Noir
The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Ignorance by Milan Kundera
The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
A Shiver of Light by Laurell K. Hamilton
Magic for Beginners: Stories by Kelly Link
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Editado: Nov 2, 2014, 12:38 pm

112. Tweeds by Clayton R. Graham

This is one of those rare books that sneaks up on readers, becoming more believable and more powerful as it moves forward. Centered around an incredibly formal, awkward, and uncomfortably self-conscious character, the narrative follows Corey as he slowly and painfully comes to accept himself as a gay adult who is, amazingly, head over heels in love. More than a romance, though, this is a story about a man who slowly grows to accept himself, and the people he loves, as individuals, and as true.

Clayton Graham's depictions of slow acceptance, self-conscious worry, and paranoia regarding homophobic reactions, are all masterful, and as Corey's story collides with realities of HIV/AIDS, Graham's narrative becomes a sort of coming-of-age story which is compelling.

The book does, undoubtedly, have faults. Corey's character is so awkward and self-conscious as to be more annoying than engaging, particularly while readers are still getting used to him. Similarly, the dialogue in much of the book is stilted, only more so when combined with Corey's over-the-top formalities. Still, as a sort of coming of age tale focused on the psychology of a man who can barely admit to himself who he is, let alone to others, the book shines with a simple beauty and appreciation for life.


Nov 2, 2014, 12:39 pm

113. The Burning Season: The Murder of Chico Mendes and the Fight for the Amazon Rain Forest

Revkin's examination of Chico Mendes is far more than the story of his murder, or even his legacy on the workers in the Amazon rain forests. By taking a broadview look at Mendes' life and work, Revkin also tells the story of a debt slavery system and its slow undermining, and how the story of the rubber tappers and workers in the Amazon began as a human rights story which only later became a question of environmental or global concern.

Chico Mendes began his fight out of his love for the people in the rain forests; when informal education led him to encourage unions, organize workers, and fight for conservation, his eventual legacy was always rooted in his straight-forward desire for sustaining a way of life he'd always known, ideally in more livable conditions than imposed by the debt slavery which forced so many of the workers he knew to live without any options and all but starving.

Revkin's work examined every aspect of this story--the humans involved, the science involved, the history involved, and, of course, the money involved. Any reader who wants a look into the Amazon rainforests, or into struggles for human rights (moving out of debt slavery and poverty), will find a great deal to admire in this work.

Whether you come to the book for a look at the history, the conservation, or the story of Mendes and his legacy...it's worth your while.


Nov 11, 2014, 5:47 pm

114. Jumper by Steven Gould

Gould's Jumper is hard to resist. Built from suspense and engaging characters, the novel moves quickly and really resists easy categorization. Much as I came to this novel because of enjoying the movie, Gould's original exploration has more depth and immediacy than what ended up portrayed on the screen (much as the synopsis doesn't particularly reflect that difference). From page to page, I was as much compelled by the characters as the plot, and Gould's writing mixes humor and suspense easily.

All together, I'd recommend this to anyone interested.

Nov 15, 2014, 9:54 pm

115. The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Grenville's depiction of daily life in London and unsettled South Wales is impressive, detailed, and filled with a clear appreciation for both nature and history. In fact, once the story moved to South Wales, I sometimes felt I was reading a piece of nature writing more so than a novel. This, essentially, ends up being the problem with the text. While the story is certainly realistic and detailed, the characters are mere silhouettes from history for the vast majority of the novel. Absolutely, they are believable, but they are also simply drawn, and incredibly flat considering the scope of the novel.

At the climax of the work, well into the novel, the characters come more into focus, Grenville's writing of plot and action excelling as she writes what is, fairly clearly, at the heart of the book (and perhaps the reason for the book in its entirety?). Afterward, however, the characters move back to the background, their story only important as it stands as a frontal lens for history.

Readers who want the history more than a great read will, most certainly, appreciate the book, and it certainly does give a view to a little enough discussed piece of history. That said, as a novel and as a story to explore for story and character...it's not something I'd recommend, lovely as the writing may be.

Nov 17, 2014, 11:02 pm

116. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Like so many others, I first encountered this work when I was in high school--and, to be honest, I don't remember having any particular reaction...if anything, a vague sense of boredom accompanies my memories of the book. At that age, I didn't particularly like it or hate it,and years later, I remembered little of it beyond some of the major themes and characters. Pushed to reread it this month, I did so out of duty instead of desire or interest.

Rereading it as an adult was both a journey backward and a revelation. Harper Lee's writing is near perfection, bringing to life characters who are as believable as they are flawed and wonderful. Her depictions of innocence and hypocrisy are wide enough to draw tears, and well worth revisiting as an adult. Indeed, I think the best viewing of this text is going to come with reading the book as a young reader and then again as an adult, feeling the growth in yourself even as you read the growth of character on each page. It moved quickly, and the humor was wonderful, leading me to enjoy each page, and only wish there were more, or perhaps another side from the voice of Atticus.

As a high schooler, I didn't appreciate this--and, looking back, I can't imagine how I would have. Still, I see why teachers and the school system think it worth teaching. Reading it through this time, I've been in conversation with a high school student I'm tutoring, and I can hear in his voice the boredom I felt when I first approached the text. If he's to learn about civil rights and the hypocrisy of racism, he'd just as soon read nonfiction. Like I was, he's an advanced reader who has already moved on to writers like Stephen King and Ursula K. Le Guin, and Lee's realism doesn't hold much interest. Working with him, I can see him learning to appreciate the text, but he's not going to see the beauty in it for years to come, as is the case in my own experience.

The solution? I'm not sure. I don't know that I'd bother passing this on to teen readers, but I would recommend it to any adult.

Nov 18, 2014, 4:32 pm

I read this first as an adult and I agree with you that it's an excellent read - but one my teenaged self would probably never have appreciated.
Did you feel it is dated now? The courtroom scene was, I imagine, shocking at the time because the jury took time to come to the guilty decision (it wasn't immediate). I think now we're shocked that they come to the guilty decision at all. Or is that me indulging in wishful thinking?

Nov 18, 2014, 4:45 pm

I think it depends on the teenager and their school and a lot of factors, but it's still worth teaching. We seem to develop greater empathy from reading fiction than non-fiction. Teens are more likely to understand that book than say, The Good Earth (I hate that they sometimes assign that in high school, since it leads to people disliking Buck, who I love, because they were too young and inexperienced to get more from it).

I actually have an essay my mom wrote on To Kill a Mockingbird for school in the early 1960s, though I've been a bit nervous to read it for the reasons you point out (not being able to appreciate it).

Nov 18, 2014, 9:49 pm

Hey guys, I'm glad you stopped by! I've been neglecting visiting threads because of NaNoWriMo, and I have to get back to it...

>197 Helenliz:, I was actually surprised that it didn't feel more dated... Though, I was reading it with a high school student who I'm tutoring, and I found that I was explaining a lot of non-history-related matters. I remember lessons on Shakespeare and Conrad being infuriating because our high school teachers had to spend so much time translating the text, and there were times when I've been wondering how much that ends up needing to happen (and not happening) with books like this. There were some outdated words (britches being one that came up today) that he'd never heard and had just skimmed over. Southern expressions that were known to me went entirely over his head (we're in PA.). All in all, I'm not sure his class has gotten much out of the book, though at least I know I helped him gain some appreciation for it that he wouldn't have had otherwise.

And, yep, now we're shocked, but I think that's tempered by Scout and Jem being shocked. I think the reader ends up expecting that verdict because of the tension in the text and the time period--or at least, from an adult perspective. Of course, I'm also reading an extremely cynical essay by James Baldwin at the moment...

>198 mabith:, I think you're right that we better develop empathy from fiction... I just wish schools would make more of a point to teach writers who students haven't otherwise been exposed to, or writing they'll be able to engage with. I remember a lot of the reading we did was interesting, but totally outside of anything we could relate to. I also remembering reading the same short stories and poems, over and over again. I swear, I still have a gut reaction against Emily Dickinson and and Robert Frost specifically because I was forced to read the same poems by them over and over and over again. Sometimes, I'll tell my creative writing students we're going to look at a poem, and if they don't know me yet, they immediately guess we'll be looking at either of them, or else Shakespeare, as if there are no others to choose from!

I do sympathize with being worried about reading that essay, though. I recently discovered that my mom absolutely hates (from high school, she still remembers and hates it) one of my all-time favorite short stories. I'd just as soon never have found that out, and I have a feeling I'd really rather not know how older members of my and my husband's family would have reacted in high school to texts like this.

(And, by the way, The Good Earth is now going on my to-read list...

Nov 18, 2014, 10:34 pm

And, though I didn't mean it to be timely, this next read was all the more powerful to read while I was engaged with the last half of To Kill a Mockingbird.

117. The Evidence of Things Not Seen by James Baldwin

Baldwin's exploration of a deeply faulted criminal trial and the surrounding issues is a scathing and widely-scoped picture, one which examines a very real portion of American history, civil rights, and racism. Baldwin's essay, sometimes sarcastic and at many points infuriated, examines a guilty verdict which is, at best, questionable, and the essential forgetting of more than twenty murders. Examining evidence, action, and report, as well as wider-reaching issues of poverty, psychology, economics, and race relations, Baldwin delivers what amounts to a dissection of supposed justice and legality.

Tightly delivered, there is no way to parcel out pieces of this essay into different sections or expect some version of easy organization to come across. Weaving each issue with the others, and weaving the single story of multiple murders and an ensuing trial in with larger issues of race and psychology, Baldwin's work is nearly overpowering in its intricate (and yet, frightfully straight-forward) delivery of information and analysis.

Very simply, this book should be read by any American who cares where the country has come from or has any interest in civil or human rights, let alone history. The book is frightening and exploratory, but it is also entirely impossible to ignore or forget.

Highly recommended.

Nov 19, 2014, 9:31 pm

Here you are Jen. I lost track of you this year. Always enjoy your capsule reviews. Got you starred now.

great news on your book editing job.

Nov 20, 2014, 10:41 am

Hi, and thanks :) It's keeping busy, but it's certainly enjoyable!

Nov 20, 2014, 12:57 pm

The Good Earth is a great one to re-read as an adult. I re-read it 6 or 7 years ago - just before I joined LT perhaps and really appreciated much more what it was all about. Clearly exceeded my expectations as a mature adult. I read the sequel Sons shortly thereafter. Not as good but still worthwhile.

Nov 21, 2014, 6:45 pm

>203 RBeffa: I didn't find Sons to be quite as good either, but I thought the third was back up to standard, A House Divided (I think).

Nov 22, 2014, 3:31 pm

I haven't read any of them, so I'll have to pick up The Good Earth and go from there!

Nov 28, 2014, 2:48 pm

118. Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch

Bausch's characters are both believable and engaging, and the quiet weaving together of their stories is masterful in Thanksgiving Night. From the comical to the heartbreaking, the mundane to the crazy, the book creates a peak into another small world, and it becomes more and more compelling as it moves forward. For some, the book's subjects might be too ordinary, too centered on the day-to-day living of people who may as well be our neighbors or even ourselves, but Bausch's powers of language and description are beautiful enough that this becomes one of those books which uncovers the extraordinariness of emotions we might otherwise overlook as too average for thought, if not our own. He is a master of prose and creation, and this book is a wonderful excursion.


Dez 9, 2014, 2:57 pm

119. Miss Chopsticks by Xinran

Xinran's Miss Chopstics is as much an exploration of culture and new discoveries as anything else. Weaving together the stories of three young Chinese women who've ventured into the city to seek work, all three based on real persons she's met in her past, Xinran explores the avenues of choice and identity taken by each young woman.

In whole, this is probably a somewhat optimistic and simplified view into a girl's journey from country to city, self-doubt to self-worth, but the characters are nevertheless believable and engaging, and the book is a real view into the psychological background and surroundings of girls who are otherwise viewed by their culture as little more than burdens.

Absolutely, I recommend this. It is smart and careful, and well worth the read.

Dez 11, 2014, 10:58 am

120. The Afterlife and Other Stories by John Updike

Updike's stories are beautifully written, and the details of life presented here are touchingly real. That said, the characters in many of the stories are similar enough, and the themes similar enough, that it wasn't as compelling as his other work which I've read, and there wasn't enough variety as I'd like in a short story collection, even one from a single author. I did enjoy many of the stories, but I think each might have been more powerful if stumbled across in the midst of other authors or as narratives within a larger framework/novel. Real as they were, I was often left wishing for more.

Dez 17, 2014, 11:14 am

121. The Book of the Lion by Michael Cadnum

Cadnum's details of the time period are impressive, and smoothly placed, but his focus on detail and history ends up overshadowing any potential depth in character or plot. Even though the book is narrated in first person, and it seems pretty clear we're supposed to see Edmund grow as he becomes a squire, gains responsibility, and travels, there just doesn't seem to be much depth here, and if you're not engaged with the history itself, you're not going to be engaged with the book.

I read this while working with a ninth grade boy who was reading the book for a book report, and it really should have been right up his alley based on his interests in history (this branch of it, in fact); yet, both of us were left less than engaged and, in the end, disappointed. When reading it, I thought perhaps it would engage him in a way it didn't reach me--because of my student's interests, specifically. Instead, I'm only left wondering if this was made a National Book Award Finalist solely based on Cadnum's flair with historical detail.

Well-written and historically detailed? Absolutely. Interesting and engaging as a story with a plot and characters? Not so much.

Dez 21, 2014, 11:22 am

122. 58 Degrees North: The Mysterious Sinking of the Arctic Rose by Hugo Kugiya

Kugiya's exploration of the Arctic Rose's disastrous end is a comprehensive look at the men who worked aboard her and the circumstances that might have led to her destruction. Through looks at character, at science, and at the accepted dangers of commercial fishing, the book comes together as both a case study and a look back in honor of the fifteen men who died in April of 2001, likely before anyone realized something was wrong, let alone attempted to move forward in rescue.

The story is heartbreaking, but told with careful attention to detail, to respect, to history, and to the realities of the fishing industry, as it stands. For anyone interested in knowing more about how the industry works, the dangers and the realities and the pleasures and the difficulties, this is a must-read. For anyone simply looking for a real story of the men of the Arctic Rose, or an attempt at untangling the loss and the mystery of all of it, this is also a must-read.


Dez 21, 2014, 11:40 am

123. Summertime by J. M. Coetzee

What a strange and wandering story, amounting to something both pedestrian and fascinating, and somewhat unnerving. Coetzee's picture of (himself? a fictional version of himself? a writer who only shares his name?) as told through interviews and snippets of events is a balancing act of art and memory and defense.

All told, this isn't as compelling as some of Coetzee's other novels, but it is strangely engaging, and more and more disturbing as it moves forward, amounting to a more and more jarring picture of the disconnect between a writer, a person, and the world that views him up close.

Altogether, I do have to recommend this, especially for fans of Coetzee and for artists or writers.

Dez 27, 2014, 11:29 pm

I read Summertime a few years back, and it's part of a loose autobiographical trilogy, and I have to say I liked the first two better, they were very different from the third.

Dez 28, 2014, 11:33 am

I'll have to try the others--I didn't Not enjoy it, but it certainly wasn't what I was expecting after reading some of his other works...

Dez 28, 2014, 11:45 am

124. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Yanagihara has crafted a frighteningly believable, and an incredibly strange, story with this novel. Maybe more than any other novel I've read, it truly reads as the piece of nonfiction/memoir it is meant to represent--what I mean by this is that you'll have to remind yourself, over and over again, that you are reading fiction. As such, the reading is sometimes dry, and it might not come together in the fashion you'd expect of a novel, but it is a strange journey in and of itself.

Questions of ethics, of personal and professional responsibility, and of health and science are interwoven into nearly every page of the novel, creating a web of situations which are as difficult for the reader to approach objectively as they are for the scientist/narrator to approach from a more public subjectivity. In the end, readers read about his actions through a film of horrified fascination, finding his beliefs and actions all too possible, all too reminiscent of how a scientist might move in an unknown world.

Is this horrifying and uncomfortable and strange? Yes. Are the descriptions and built worlds as beautiful as they are foreign, as believable as they are new? Yes. Does this piece of fiction read like nonfiction, built true to life? Yes. Is it hard to read, hard to accept, and frightening to contemplate, expertly crafted and carefully considered? Absolutely, and that's why it's just so terrible as it is wonderful.

Recommended for anyone interested--this one won't be for everyone, but it is worth the journey, oddly enough, and it won't be easily forgotten.

Dez 28, 2014, 12:02 pm

Wow, The People in the Trees definitely sounds worth a read just from your review.

Dez 28, 2014, 8:23 pm

>215 mabith:, I definitely thought so, for interested readers. It really is a book that reads more like a memoir or autobiography of a scientist, so I think it will most appeal to readers (like me) who read a fair amount of both fiction and nonfiction, but I thought it was excellent...

Dez 29, 2014, 11:05 am

Congrats on hitting (surpassing?) your goal!

Dez 29, 2014, 12:15 pm

>217 SouthernBluestocking:, thanks!

Meanwhile, if any visitors like superheroes...or zombies...

125. Hungry Gods by J.D. Brink

Brink's writing is full of adventure, humor, and enough suspense and action to keep you reading until the book is done. If you've never thought about reading a book about a superhero instead of a comic or a movie, this is the change you'll want to take.

Spitball is your average mostly-unknown superhero, ready and waiting for his opportunity to save the world, so when the country's most well-known superheroes are missing and his government comes asking for help, he can't help but jump at the chance. What follows is a fast-paced adventure built from too-believable situations and hugely engaging superheroes.

If you or someone you know is a fan of action/adventure books or superhero stories, you'll want to pick up Brink's work the first change you get...

So, yes, absolutely recommended!

Dez 31, 2014, 8:13 pm

126. The Sexy Librarian's Big Book of Erotica edited by Rose Caraway

Unlike most of the erotica collections I've come across, this one is filled with stories which are both varied and wonderfully written, stories that are worth reading and engaging on a human level, and not just included to balance out others or on the basis of particular scenes. All told, even the stories here which were (far far) beyond anything I'd find erotically interesting were still so well-written and so cleverly executed that I didn't have any desire to skim over them or skip them entirely, as has always been my instinct with some stories in other (similar) collections. Rather than seeking out a best-of collection the next time in the market for a collection like this, I'll look instead to works edited by Rose Caraway.

If you're looking for a collection of erotica, or want to know whether erotica can be literary as well, this might just be worth your while.

For what it is? Recommended.

Dez 31, 2014, 8:38 pm

The Brink novel sounds excellent, I don't think I have read any superhero stories outside of comics, so that's definitely intriguing.

Anais Nin is always a great literary erotic read, too. Smart stuff.

Happy New Year!

Jan 1, 2015, 9:01 am

>220 wookiebender:, You should definitely look Brink up then :) He's got quite a few other novels also, which I haven't gotten around to, but this one was a lot of fun! And, yes, I adore Nin also!

Meanwhile, around 11:20 last night, before the new year hit, I fit in just one more finish....

127. The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton

Hamilton's details of Mayan history, archaeology, and artifacts are interesting and beautifully woven into the fabric of the mystery, but that said, they rather overshadow everything else (and this is coming from someone who truly has an interest in those details!). In comparison, there was just too little attention to characterization but in the opening pages, and actual action (as opposed to thought or discussion) was so rare and quick that it might be slipped into the space of a paragraph, until the very end...and even then it was rushed.

All told, anyone coming to this for the discovery of a new mystery writer or a bit of suspense will likely be disappointed. The focus is on the interwoven details, and I'm afraid I wasn't pulled in enough by the character to try the next book in the series.