Sunday, December 30, 2007

Update

I've been slacking off, but here's the update:

Finished:
Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Guardians - Ana Castillo (review is here)
The Plague Year - Jeff Carlson



To read by February:

Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

unless I come up with two alternates :-)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Challenge Wrap-Up

I finished early, but I thought I would post my wrap-up while it is fresh in my head. Thanks to Sycorax Pine for hosting!

The challenge: Read at least six books by authors you had never read before, from September to February.

My finished challenge books are:

A Woman in Jerusalem - A.B. Yehoshua
Girl in Hyacinth Blue - Susan Vreeland
God Is Dead - Ron Currie, Jr.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Eragon - Christopher Paolini
Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan

The best book: That's really hard to say. I really enjoyed quite a few of them for different reasons. Esperanza Rising was a great children's/young adult book; but Jonathan Strange, God Is Dead, and A Woman in Jerusalem were all quite good as well.
What book could I have done without: Eragon. I am not a fan of Christopher Paolini's writing. I was also not impressed when I saw that he wrote the forward to a new release of John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights. I debated picking up Eldest, but couldn't muster the energy.
Any new authors? They are all new to me, that's the point of the challenge!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Laura's Review - The Art of Mending


The Art of Mending
Elizabeth Berg
237 pages

First sentence: It is a photograph of a staircase that I took with my Brownie camera over forty years ago.

Reflections: Laura Bartone, a 50-something married mother of two, returns to her hometown for an annual family gathering with her parents, brother, and sister. When Laura's younger sister Caroline asks for a meeting with Laura and their brother Steve, the reunion begins to take on a different tone from past events. Caroline surfaces emotional events from their childhood, which differ greatly from Laura and Steve's experiences.

The Art of Mending explores family relationships; specifically, how children's views of past events affect their journey to adulthood, and the nature of adult parent-child relationships. Its title is a metaphor for healing, taken from a passage discussing the domestic pleasures of ironing and mending:
...there's an art to mending: If you're careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth (p. 14)

Berg writes lovely descriptive prose. Yet while this book held promise, it did not live up to my expectations. The characters lacked depth, and none were particularly likeable. The plot was formulaic and predictable. Worst of all, this book was manipulative, blatantly tugging at the reader's heartstrings. I can do without that ... ( )

My original review can be found here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Emporer's Children - Wendy's Book Review

"Well, then." Ludovic sat up against the headboard, cleared his throat. "As parents, we visit our complexes, whatever they may be, upon our children - our neuroses, our hopes and fears, our discontents. Just the way our broader society is like a parent, and visits its complexes upon the citizenry, if you will." - From The Emperor's Children, page 205 -

The Emperor's Children is an intellectual miasma about the superficiality of the privileged classes - and the subsequent collision of values between the haves and have nots. Set in New York City in 2001, the book explores the lives of five major characters: Marina - a rich and spoiled pseudo-journalist; Julius - a gay, confused free lance critic; Danielle - a television producer with attitude; Frederick "Bootie" Tubb - an idealistic and slightly creepy college drop out; and Murray Thwaite - a middle aged, liberal "emperor" who has made a name in journalism. The novel is narrated in alternating points of view and spans a period of half a year, tying together (with an artistic flair) the rather superficial threads of each character's motivations and lives. None of these characters is especially likable, but all are compulsively readable.

Messud creates a novel about the upper classes: their attitude of entitlement, their petty betrayals, their focus on power. In doing so, she reveals some interesting truths about humanity. I enjoyed her observations about higher education:

The Land of Lies in which most people were apparently content to live - in which you paid money to an institution and went out nightly to get drunk instead of reading the books and then tried to calculate some half-assed scheme by which you could cheat on your exams, and then, at the end of the day, presumably simply on account of the financial transaction between you, or more likely your parents, and said institution, you declared yourself educated - was not sufficient for Bootie. - From The Emperor's Children, page 55 -

...about raising children and giving them everything their hearts desire:

Murray Thwaite had little patience for this. He suddenly saw his daughter as a monster he and Annabel had created - they and a society of excess. - From The Emperor's Children, page 66 -

...and about high tech, computerized corporate America:

The company, it seemed, engaged in middle man activity, the procuring of rights - of abstractions - that permitted, elsewhere, the actual trading of information (also abstract) for huge sums of money. Which was, of course, itself abstract. It was a though the entire office were generating and moving, acquiring and passing on, hypotheticals, a trade in ideas, or hopes, to which value somehow accrued. - From The Emperor's Children, page 60 -

Messud has written a sharp, witty expose that intrigued me. Her writing is observant, her characters complex and well developed. Although this is not the type of book I usually enjoy, I found myself unable to put it down.

Rated 4/5; Recommended.

Slay Bells - Kate Kingsbury

This covered Christmas Challenge and Unread Authors Challenge. I hope to find the others from my list for this challenge, 'honor bound' to keep to my Christmas books this month. January and February will be for the new ones. I can only hope to find those under the tree, even if it's in giftcard form.
Slay Bells - Kate Kingsbury was okay. A holiday themed cozy mystery, it was what it was and not much more. If she has written any other holiday themed for this series, I wll read them, but not any of the rest of it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Challenge Complete (SuziQ)

I'm officially done with the Challenge - thanks for the fun. Here's a copy of my Wrap-Up post.

This was my original list:
· Tess Gerritsen - The Surgeon
· Erica Spindler – Forbidden Fruit
· Linda Barnes – A Trouble of Fools
· Chris Bohjalain – Buffalo Soldier
· Cory McFayden – Shadow Man
· Robert Crais – The Monkey’s Raincoat

But I ended up substituting the two Hometown Challenge books for the last two on the list so I could wrap up this challenge this month – so these two were included instead.
· April Henry - Circles of Confusion
· Chelsea Cain – Heartsick

The best book: Hard to choose because the genre differences make them hard to compare

What book could I have done without? Forbidden Fruit was my least favorite.

Any new authors? All were new authors by definition of the challenge

Books I did not finish: Finished them all. Even though I changed my original list, I still plan to read both of those books soon.

What did I learn? That I’m enjoying the fact that these challenges are making me actually pick up and read some of those books that have been languishing on my TBR list for far too long. A Trouble of Fools, The Buffalo Soldier and The Surgeon have all been on my list for a long time and I was glad to finally read all three of them.

Thanks to Por of Tor for the kick in the TBR

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain - SuziQ's review

Published: 2007
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Pages: 324


I already knew of Chelsea Cain from reading her weekly column in the local paper. I had missed the fact that she’d written this book till
Joy clued me in about it. This was certainly not the same as her newspaper columns!

This thriller grabbed me in the first few pages and I hated to get off the train and go to work because I wanted to keep reading. Fair warning – it’s a bit gruesome in places.

Two years ago Detective Archie Sheridan was kidnapped and tortured for 10 days by the very serial killer he’d been hunting for years. That killer, Gretchen Lowell, is safely tucked away in prison, but Archie is called back from his medical leave to head up the team investigating a new serial killer in town. This time, hoping to fend off media criticism, a newspaper reporter is assigned to profile Archie and the investigation. Susan Ward is a pink haired smart mouthed young reporter who doesn’t necessarily do what she is told.

The story of Archie’s previous ordeal with Gretchen is interwoven with the present time investigation. There are plenty of familiar local references for Portlanders without being too insider-ish for folks not from this area.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian - SuziQ's Review

Published: 2002
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 420

Two years ago Laura and Terry Sheldon’s twin 9 year old daughters died in a flash flood. Now they are foster parents to a 10 year old African-American boy named Alfred. Terry and Laura are still dealing with their grief and guilt over the loss of their daughters. Alfred is a child of the system who has lived in too many households in his young life. He is a quiet loner who has never really felt like he belongs anywhere. Paul Hebert, the retired professor who lives next door to the Sheldon’s takes an interest in Alfred and they find a common interest in the story of The Buffalo Soldiers Cavalry unit.

This book is told in several different voices – Laura, Terry, Alfred, the neighbors and also the woman whose involvement with Terry threatens what remains of the Sheldon’s marriage. It’s not just about the foster care system, nor is it about a couple dealing with their grief, guilt and marital tensions. It is about each of the characters and their fears, doubts and needs in terms of what family means to them.

There is sadness in the loss of the Sheldon girls and the impact that has on their parents as well as people who knew them and even Alfred, who never met them. There is joy in the relationship between Alfred and Paul Hebert. There is heartache in many of the characters as their relationships are tested.
. . . and every minute he felt like he was walking on glass. You moved slow in this house, as if everything – and that included the people – was just about to break.
I thought this was a very good book. I found it to be touching in many places and thought provoking for many reasons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On Strike for Christmas - Sheila Roberts

Finished this last night. It makes for a super bedside book as it let me go to sleep with a grin on my face.
http://iyamvixenbooks.blogspot.com/2007/12/on-strike-for-christmas-sheila-roberts.html

Friday, November 30, 2007

Circles of Confusion by April Henry - SuziQ's review

Published: 1999
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 333

This one was added to my list when I was looking for Portland authors and settings for the Hometown Challenge. Since it’s also a new author, I’m substituting it in for the Unread Authors Challenge too.

Claire Montrose is leading a predictable life in Portland, Oregon. Although her job is unusual (approving or rejecting vanity license place applications for the Dept. of Motor Vehicles) she's been there long enough to be bored with it. When Claire's Aunt Cady dies and leaves everything to Claire, things become less predictable.

Aunt Cady didn't have much more than a trailer filled with junk, but under the bed, Claire finds an old suitcase containing a bracelet, her aunt's diary, some pamphlets from Nazi Germany and a small painting that takes her breath away. Claire's boyfriend is sure the painting is junk, but her roommate (an elderly survivor of Dachau) and a local antiques dealer are not so sure.

When Claire decides to take the painting to New York to research it's history and how her aunt came to possess it, she soon finds herself in the middle of a mystery and apparently in some serious danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a light cozy style mystery, but one that kept me entertained and turning the pages. I will most definitely be looking for and reading more of April Henry's Claire Montrose series.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck - Wendy's Review

Moving together in perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return to earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together - together - producing the fruit of this earth - speechless in their movement together. -From The Good Earth, page 31-

Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth was published in 1931 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. It has been surrounded by controversy (mostly in China where Buck's work was banned for many years because of the perceived vilification of the Chinese people and their leaders). Having arrived in China as the child of missionaries, Buck grew to love the country. In 1935 she returned to the United States with hope of one day returning to the Orient...but this was never to be. She was denounced by the Chinese government in 1960 as "a proponent of American cultural imperialism." Later, just nine months before her death, her visa to return to the country of her childhood was denied. In 1938 she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature. More about Buck's life and work can be found in this excellent article published by Mike Meyer of the New York Times.

The Good Earth is the saga of Wang Lung, who is a poor farmer dependent on the land for his survival, and his extended family. The novel begins with this complex character as a young man when he marries a slave girl, and then follows him as he grows into a man with a family and wealth beyond his imaginings. Wang Lung is a man with a compassionate heart. I was touched by the love of his children, especially that of his developmentally delayed oldest daughter who he calls "the poor fool." In one scene, the family is faced with starvation and Wang Lung gives up his own food for his daughter...something that would have been highly unusual at that time in China.

Only a few of the beans did Wang Lung hide in his own hand and these he put into his own mouth and he chewed them into a soft pulp and then putting his lips to the lips of his daughter he pushed into her mouth the food, and watching her small lips move, he felt himself fed. -From The Good Earth, page 85-

Later, as he gains wealth, Wang Lung loses his path - and his inner goodness is challenged.

Wang Lung's pragmatic wife O-Lan represents the strength of the Chinese women during a time when women were considered to be a man's possession and slave. Throughout the novel, the idea of the cyclical nature of life is repeated, establishing a natural rhythm for the story.

Buck writes in simple prose which reads more like the oral tradition of story telling than a novel. Her understanding of character is evident throughout - and no character is all good or all evil.

I immediately was captivated by Buck's story; and even though at times the abuse and mistreatment of women was hard to read, I found I could not put the book down for long.

Buck wrote two sequels to The Good Earth: Sons (1931) and A House Divided (1935). I have put both on my wish list for future reading.

The Good Earth is a book I can highly recommend for its insight into Chinese culture during the early part of the 20th century, and for its high readability. Rated 4.5/5.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Coldheart Canyon -Clive Barker

Listened to my first, and likely my last, Clive Barker book. Coldheart Canyon was an uneven humdinger. I was introduced to some interesting characters who were alternately crapweasels or heroes. I became exhausted at some of the sexual acrobatics of some (and I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination) and felt the need to fastforward through sections at times. I was tempted to stop listening and return it unfinished to RecordedBooks, but I persevered. I had Thanksgiving week to rest from it and that likely helped. I am glad I stayed with the book until the end, the last tape was probably the best.

Favorite characters Katya: (EVIL) and Tammy (strong) and Maxine (tough broad)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Doctor Zhivago - Wendy's Book Review


It snowed hard throughout the month
Of February, and almost constantly
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned
-From the poems of Yurii Zhivago-

First published in Italy in 1957, Boris Pasternak's sweeping epic Doctor Zhivago stirred controversy in his native Russia. Set in Moscow and the Ural Mountains, the novel tells the story of a poet-physician whose life is defined by the Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath. The novel's underlying criticism of the Bolshevik party led to it being banned until 1988 in Russia. When Pasternak was chosen for the esteemed Nobel Prize for Literature, his native Russians protested so much that the author declined the honor. Felt to be largely autobiographical, Doctor Zhivago reveals much about its author's philosophical ideology and personal life.

The novel opens with the suicide of Zhivago's father just before the Russian Revolution when Zhivago is still a young boy. Pasternak reveals early on that the novel will be about truth and sacrifice; about one man's beliefs and how he lives with his choices.

I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats - any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death - then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But don't you see, this is just the point - what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the powerful attraction of its example. -From Doctor Zhivago, page 42-

As the story develops, the reader is pulled into the life of Zhivago, who matures into a young man, loses his wealth, marries his childhood sweetheart, becomes embroiled in the fast accelerating revolution and finds Lara, his true love. The overriding theme of the novel is the importance of the individual vs. the rules of the state and the terror inflicted on the masses in the name of a political ideal.

Everything in Yura's mind was still helter-skelter, but his views, his habits, and his inclinations were all distinctly his own. He was unusually impressionable, and the originality of his vision were remarkable. -From Doctor Zhivago, page 64-

Pasternak writes prose like the poet he was - painting the chaos of the times on wide brush strokes of beautiful description.

Everything was fermenting, growing, rising with the magic yeast of life. The joy of living, like a gentle wind, swept in a broad surge indiscriminately through fields and towns, through walls and fences, through wood and flesh. Not to be overwhelmed by this tidal wave, Yurii Andreievich went out in the square to listen to the speeches. -From Doctor Zhivago, page 141-

Throughout the novel, the idea of fate - of being swept along with the tide of the times - is often repeated. Characters re-emerge in unusual ways, seemingly by coincidence - and yet we are left with the idea that some things cannot be chance and nothing is coincidental. The characters seem to be victims of the Soviet ideology.

"Let's try to think. Though what is there that we can do? Is it in our power to avert this blow? Isn't it a matter of fate?" -From Doctor Zhivago, page 409-

Most people think of Doctor Zhivago as a love story. The love between Lara and Yurii spins throughout the novel, and reminds the reader again about the power of the individual even during tumult and upheaval. But, calling Doctor Zhivago merely a love story would be undervaluing its bigger messages. The novel is full of wonderful passages and beautiful prose; and defines a generation of Russians during a cataclysmic time in history.

Certainly a classic and one which will stand the test of time - Doctor Zhivago is a must read for anyone who strives to better understand the Russian Revolution and who has a love of great literature.

Highly Recommended; rated 4.5/5.

Hissy Fit - Mary Kay Andrews

http://iyamvixenbooks.blogspot.com/2007/11/hissy-fitwhat-fun.html

An inadvertant choice for Unread Authors, but it fits. I have never read Mary Kay Andrews and I will definitely be looking for and adding more of her work.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Wrong Man by John Katzenbach

What would you do if you find your daughter met an obsessive stalker who wouldn't let her out of his life? And how far would you go to save her before everything is too late and someone will be hurt? You will probably ask these questions if you read The Wrong Man.

Scott Freeman thinks her daughter has a secret admirer when he first picked up an unsigned note that read: No one could ever love you like I do. No one ever will. We were meant for each other and nothing will prevent that. Nothing. We will be together forever. One way or another. Being a college professor, he always tell himself to be rational, but the contents of the notes made him uneasy, so he decided to seek the truth with the help of his ex-wife, Sally and her partner, Hope.

Before this, Ashley supposed to have a wonderful life. She is a beautiful and bright history art student, but she made a mistake of having a fling with an attractive blue-collar bad boy one night and from then onwards, her life becomes a nightmare.

Michael O'Connell thinks he is in love with Ashley after the day he has met her. He wouldn't leave her alone and claims to make her his despite she has told him many times that their relationship wasn't anything but a one-night stand which didn't mean to be happened. He would make anyone's life miserable if one gets too close to her. Desperate, Ashley has no choice but to seek help from her father, whom in turn asked Sally and Hope for advice and opinions.

But they had underestimated Michael, for he is a clever and cunning young lad and has a vast knowledge of computer skills and others such as picking locks and so forth. Soon, they find themselves getting into serious trouble as Michael finds several ways in messing up their work life.

And when everything fails and they couldn't find enough evidence pointing towards Michael, that is the time that they decide to take things into their own hands and they will do anything to drive Michael out of their life, even though if it means someone has to die.

I felt I was riding on a roller coaster when reading The Wrong Man because I wouldn't know what to expect next. Although I find the story chilling, yet I was drawn to the intrigue and the excitement and can't wait to find out what would happen in the end. And the best part is, nothing beats the ending because it ends with a twist, and I didn't see it coming.

John Katzenbach has left me a deep impression with this book. I will definitely keep a look out for his other books in future.

(My original review can be found here.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

An Acquaintance With Darkness - Ann Rinaldi

It's YA and a great premise, but I was getting fed up with the spoiled brat main character. Glad to be done with it and moving on to something else.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Laura's Review - Wide Sargasso Sea


Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys
266 pages

First sentence: They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

Reflections: Wide Sargasso Sea is well-known as the "prequel" to Jane Eyre. Rhys tells the life story of Antoinette Mason, a Creole who becomes the mad woman in Jane Eyre. The story itself is quite short (113 pages). My copy, a Norton Critical Edition, contained considerable supplementary material. Relevant excerpts from Jane Eyre helped refresh my memory and made the necessary connections between the two books. An essay by Rachel Carson described the natural phenomenon of the Sargasso Sea. There were also several essays of literary criticism analyzing this work, and numerous letters written by Jean Rhys.

As the supplementary material indicates, this book has received considerable acclaim, and been the subject of widespread analysis. Although I found Wide Sargasso Sea to be a mildly interesting read, and enhanced certain aspects of Jane Eyre, it fell short of my expectations. It was interesting to consider how Mr. Rochester and Antoinette came together, but their relationship was poorly developed. The reasons for Antoinette's descent into madness were unclear, and I found it difficult to identify or sympathize with the characters. ( )

My original review can be found here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Trouble of Fools by Linda Barnes

Published: 1987
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 203
Challenge:
Unread Authors Challenge #3

Carlotta Carlyle is a 6’ 1” tall redheaded former Boston cabdriver and ex-cop turned private investigator. Business has been slow, so when the elderly Margaret Devens shows up wanting someone to find her missing brother, Carlotta decides to take the case. When two thugs beat up Margaret and Carlotta finds out there’s a hidden pile of cash involved, it’s clear that this isn’t a run of the mill missing persons case.

It’s not that I’m scared. I can take care of myself. I grew up in Detroit and compared to the kids of the Motor City, most of the punks around here don’t know what tough means. I’m not scared of the streets. Maybe I’m afraid of the great I-Told-You-So. You know how it goes: “Gee, Carlotta, none of this would have happened if you’d had the sense to stay indoors.”
Carlotta is a fun character and I look forward to reading more of this series. This first book introduces us to characters from both of Carlotta’s former jobs – the cab company and the Boston police. There’s also a bit of a side story involving a young girl that Carlotta mentors through the “Big Brothers/Big Sisters” organization. It’s a quick and fun read.

Halfway - by SuziQ

I just joined the blog so here's a status report. I've read 3 of my 6 books for this challenge:

This was my original challenge post - I've linked my reviews for the first two books and will post a copy of my third here:


So – here I am with the Southern Reading Challenge recently completed and nearing completion of the Summer Mystery Challenge – that means there’s room for new challenges on the TBR list.

The Unread Authors Challenge is being sponsored at Sycorax Pine. It runs from September 1, 2007 through February 28, 2008. Participants need to read six books by authors they have never read before. I’m choosing to read six new-to-me authors (one a month for the duration of the challenge).

I’ve got a few unread authors already scheduled for other challenges, so rounding out the list with a few more from my ever-growing TBR list wasn’t difficult at all. One thing I can count on from my fellow bookbloggers is a never ending supply of new authors I want to read.

Books I’m planning for this one:
· Tess Gerritsen - The Surgeon
· Erica Spindler – Forbidden Fruit
· Linda Barnes – A Trouble of Fools
· Chris Bohjalian – Buffalo Soldier
· Cory McFayden – Shadow Man
· Robert Crais – The Monkey’s Raincoat

Song of the Sparrow


Sandell, Lisa Ann. 2007. Song of the Sparrow.

Song of the Sparrow is a wonderful verse novel that retells the story of Elaine the Lady of Shalott. While the literary tradition has her as beautiful but essentially weak and desperate, Sandell's Elaine is strong, brave, and while she, for a time, is lovesick on Lancelot, she is not too desperate or clingy. (Not, I'll die without his love desperate.) Meet Arthur, Elaine, Gwynivere, Lancelot, Tristan, and Gawain in this new telling of love and war. The poetry is powerful and quite effective in communicating the behind the scenes emotions as well as capturing the senses--especially the sights and sounds of battle camps and war.

Here is a snippet from the tenth chapter:

I wish I could go back to that time,
when my mother would smile
the gentle smile that told me,
all is right and well.
Back to that time when I was
young
and loved
and safe.
When we were all safe.

That things change,
that people change,
and die,
that we grow older,
that life brings the unexpected,
the unwanted,
oh,
some days it feels me with
a measure of lightness, for
I will be a woman soon.
But other days,
the very thought
of growing older,
of not being that small girl
who danced over river rocks,
whose brothers held her hands,
whose mother lived,
the very thought of it
crushes me,
till it is stopped,
by the world
outside
my memories.

Total Constant Order

Chappell, Crissa-Jean. 2007. Total Constant Order.

Frances Isabelle Nash (Fin) is a teen under pressure. Within the past year, she's moved from Vermont to Florida, her parents have divorced, and she's feeling overwhelmed with urges to count and draw. These 'strange' compulsions to flick light switches, to draw objects with a certain number of points, or draw things a certain number of times, have been increasing over the past few months. Fin is also finding it more and more difficult to sleep.

Under much duress, Fin starts seeing a therapist who prescribes Paxil. But Fin discovers that prescription medications can sometimes have side effects that just aren't worth it. Around the time that she's trying to come to terms with having obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), she meets a boy who changes how she views everything: Thayer.

To read the rest of the review where I discuss how much Thayer impacts her life....visit The Edge of the Forest October/November edition. If you're reading this posting later...after the fact...then look for it in the Edge of the Forest archives.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect


Urban, Linda. 2007. A Crooked Kind of Perfect.

I read this book initially for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. Now, less than a week later, I have reread this little gem of a book. It's a book that I would describe as practically perfect in every way. (I don't know if Linda Urban would want me to stress the near-perfect part since the message of the book seems to be that nobody can be perfect, that life isn't perfect. But even the message seems perfect to me.) Our heroine, Zoe Elias, is ten-going-on eleven. She has one dream--a very big dream. She wants to play the piano. In what could be one of the best openings of all times we read about "How It Was Supposed To Be" versus "How It Is."

I was supposed to play the piano.
The piano is a beautiful instrument.
Elegant.
Dignified.
People wear ball gowns and tuxedos to hear the piano.
With the piano, you could play Carnegie Hall. You could wear a tiara. you could come out on stage wearing gloves up to your elbows. You could pull them off, one finger at a time.
Everybody is quiet when you are about to play the piano. They don't even breathe. They wait for the first notes.
They wait.
They wait.
And then you lift your hands high above your head and slam them down on the keys and the first notes come crashing out and your fingers fly up and down and your foot--in its tiny slipper with rubies at the toe--your foot peeks out from under your gown to press lightly on the pedals.
A piano is glamorous. Sophisticated. Worldly.
It is a wonderful thing to play the piano.


The next chapter...Zoe's reality...

I play the organ.
A wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ.
The Perfectone D-60
.

That's it. The entire second chapter. What a statement! But I better watch my exclamation points in this review, just in case Zoe (or her creator) is reading. Zoe really doesn't like the excessive and unnecessary use of exclamation points.

Zoe's life isn't perfect. She wants to play piano, but she's stuck with the Perfectone D-60. She wants to be playing real music. She's stuck with beginning level songbooks like Television Themesongs and Hits from the Seventies. And her social life? Well, she's been recently dumped by her best friend because her friend's interests are changing--lip gloss, tv, music, clothes, and boys. That leaves Zoe with no one to sit with at lunch, doesn't it?

Enter Wheeler.

Usually, Wheeler Diggs is a mess.
Except his hair.
On anybody else, his curly hair might look goofy, but on Wheeler Diggs it looks just the right kind of wild. And it's dark, which makes his blue eyes look even brighter. And his smile, which is kind of lopsided, looks like he's trying not to smile, but he can't help it.
Which is why, sometimes, every once in a while, somebody will smile back. And sometimes, most of the time, those people will get punched in the stomach. Which is why even the kids who sit with him at lunch are a little bit scared of him and why, really, Wheeler Diggs doesn't have a best friend, either.
(58-59)

Wheeler and Zoe are the unlikeliest of friends. But when he follows her home from school one day--to get his hands on some more of her dad's cookies--it's the beginning of an odd but satisfying friendship. Though Zoe doesn't admit this for the longest time. In this book, the reader sees if practice really does make perfect. . .and if wishes really can come true.

The characters, the relationships are about as perfect as can be. I've never seen family dynamics so well captured, so well displayed. Linda Urban has created memorable, authentic characters. The book has it all--moments of happiness, frustration, disappointment, loneliness, and joy. And plenty of humor!

It kind of goes without saying, but for the record...this is one that I love, love, loved!

Linda Urban's website is great too! (I better watch those exclamations.) You can find the recipe for Bada-Bings cookies. You can read her thoughts on writing 'the perfect' book. (She writes in part that: "There is no perfect book. But there is a novel to be written that is perfectly you.")
And of course, you can find out more about Linda Urban on her bio page. She also has a livejournal page where you can read her latest thoughts.

Before, After, and Somebody In Between


Garsee, Jeannine. 2007. Before, After, and Somebody In Between.

This book is a good book. But it is essentially the story about a young teen girl with an identity crisis. Her name is Martha. Martha Kowalski. Never has a teen girl hated her life more. Her drunk and neglectful mother. Her mother's abusive mother. Her equally impoverished neighbors living in the tenements. Her school. Her classmates. Nothing at all is going right in her life. She has one or two friends. But their lives are equally messed up. One has a mother dying of AIDS, one has been abandoned my a mother addicted to drugs. The last one also lives in an abusive environment where they beat a toddler. So who would want to be that girl if given another option. Certainly not Martha. When Martha is given--through dire circumstances--the opportunity to transform into Gina Brinkman, she jumps at the chance. Gina lives in a nice neighborhood. A rich neighborhood. Gina goes to an elite school. Gina has nice clothes and a bathroom all her own. (If I recall correctly.) Gina is a material girl. She can have a thousand luxuries that are new to her. And most of all, she feels like she's escaped the harsh realities of her life. But life is never that easy. Never that black and white. Never that clear cut. Who is she really deep down inside? What kind of girl is she?

This book has many ugly sides to it--the alcohol, the drugs, the physical and verbal abuse, sex, violence, etc. Martha is a character that doesn't really embrace the truth if she can get away with a lie. She lies. She lies a lot. Sometimes to other people. Sometimes only to herself. This is another book that shows that actions have consequences. Big consequences. And that life is full of hard choices. Choices you'll have to live with the rest of your life.

Overall, I liked it. It was well-written. This is a very human, very frail, sometimes cruel, sometimes naive narrator.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Blackwater Lightship - Wendy's Review

The Blackwater Lightship. I thought it would always be there. -From The Blackwater Lightship, page 192-

Colm Toibin's novel The Blackwater Lightship was shortlisted for the Book Prize in 1999. Set on the coast in Ireland near Dublin, the novel centers around Declan, a young homosexual man dying of AIDS whose sister, mother and grandmother come together to care for him. Declan's sister Helen narrates this tale of heartache, loss, redemption and healing.

Toibin's simple, luminous prose captures the discomfort and estrangement between the family members. Helen's voice is at once sad, angry and contemplative as current events bring up memories she has worked hard to forget. After years of estrangement, her brother's impending death brings them back together and forces them to deal with the past.

She did not know how her grandmother would respond to their arrival. She realised that for the first time in years - ten years, maybe - she was back as a member of this family she had so determinedly tried to leave. For the first time in years they would all be under the same roof, as though nothing had happened. She realised, too, that the unspoken emotions between them in the car, and the sense that they were once more a unit, seemed utterly natural now that there was a crisis, a catalyst. She was back home, where she had hoped she would never be again, and she felt, despite herself, almost relieved. -From The Blackwater Lightship, page 106-

Toibin's slowly evolving novel looks at the fragility of family relationships and the desire to return "home" when we are most vulnerable. Lighthouses are commonly symbolic as beacons of safety or, in dreams, as beacons of truth - and so it is no surprise that The Blackwater Lightship is about both finding a safe haven and uncovering the truth.

This novel is melancholy and moody, but in the end I felt a sense of satisfaction and hope; the feeling that even in the face of death, healing and redemption are possible.

Recommended; rated 4/5; read my original review on my blog.

The Historian (Mo's review)

I have just finished reading Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel and a 2006 Book Sense Award winner, “The Historian”, which was my fourth selection in for the Book Award Reading challenge, and because it has taken me an unanticipated three weeks to complete this tome, I am also going to include it as my third selection for sycoraxpine’s Unread Author challenge as well.

(you can read my complete review here)

Eragon - Christopher Paolini

Title: Eragon
Author: Christopher Paolini
Country: America
Year: 2003
Rating: C
Pages: 509

First sentence: Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.

Challenge book? I read this for the Unread Authors Challenge.

Short summary: Farm boy finds strange stone under strange circumstances. Stone is actually a dragon's egg, it hatches, and a dragon is born. Boy and dragon set out on an adventure to help save their world from evil.

What did I think: This one was just okay. Not bad, not great. This may sound weird, but I felt as if Eragon read like a King's Quest video game; all the plot points felt too pre-determined, as if he was going on a series of tasks to get to the next level and eventually "win". The plot was incredibly predictable, which is disappointing in any genre, but especially fantasy. The characters felt somewhat flat, especially Eragon. The writing, well, it was obvious that it was written by a teenager who may lack some life experiences, and the book screamed for better editing. I can see why how Eragon could be popular with kids, but as an adult, I will not be picking up the second book in the trilogy, as I had originally planned.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Scott Westerfeld Novel



I decided to read Pretties, the second book in the Uglies trilogy - which somehow now has four books - as my second book for this challenge. (I've posted a very brief review here.) I am enjoying Westerfeld's work and plan to finish the Uglies series as part of this challenge.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Completed 6 books, but still going... (3M)

I finished this challenge with 6 books of new-to-me authors. I'll continue to post links to reviews here, though, of new, unread authors until the end of February. I should have most of the list below completed by the end of December, with even more new-to-me authors through February.

1. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
2. Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather by Gao Xingjian
3. Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
4. History of Love by Nicole Krauss
5. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
6. Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Alternates/Extras:

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller FINISHED
Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis FINISHED
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad FINISHED
Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright FINISHED
Middlesex--Eugenides FINISHED
Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie FINISHED
Never Let Me Go--Ishiguro
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol Vol. 1 FINISHED

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another book finished!

Keri Arthur. Full Moon Rising
Date read: 10/5/2007
Rating: 3* = good
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Fantasy

My thoughts:

This was a good mix of paranormal mystery and romance. At times I worried that Riley's urges would hinder her, but she was able to use them to her advantage or resist them when she needed to. I also liked many of the characters, specifically Riley, Quinn, Rhoan, Jack and Liander. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, Kissing Sin.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thirteen Reasons Why


Asher, Jay. 2007. Thirteen Reasons Why.

Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo...No return engagements. No encore. And this time absolutely no requests...I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why....I'm not saying which tape brings you into the story. But fear not, if you received this lovely little box, your name will pop up...I promise. (7)
Before Hannah Baker ended her life with an overdose of pills, she wanted to leave behind a message. She recorded seven tapes--thirteen sides--that revealed bit by bit her drama and why she, in the end, felt like she had no other options. Clay Jensen is one of the tape's recipients. He is our narrator or guide through this listening experience. We hear Hannah's words alongside his thoughts and words. Hers are italicized. His aren't. He came home from school one day to find this package--a shoebox wrapped in paper and mailed--on his front porch. And from the time he first hits play...his life will already never be the same.
I wish I'd never seen that box or the seven tapes inside it. Hitting play that first time was easy. A piece of cake. I had no idea what I was about to hear. But this time, it's one of the most frightening things I've ever done. I turn the volume down and hit play. (9)
Clay Jensen at first feels like it's some kind of mistake. He never did anything to Hannah. He worked side by side with her at the movies. They made small talk. And one night--at a party--they made out. That's it. Why would he be to blame for her death? He couldn't, could he?

As the story unfolds, the reader learns that some actions have unforeseen consequences. A bit of gossip here or there, a rude word there, etc. Some were quite malicious--like her first boyfriend whose imagination got carried away with him. He ruined her reputation after their very first date. And why? Because he liked to talk big with the guys. Or how about the guy who labeled her the hottest a** in class? From then on, guys who were practically strangers tried to get away with grabbing her butt. Or how about the peeping tom who stalked her outside her bedroom window? Some people on the tapes are evident creeps and jerks...others seem more shocking.

Thirteen Reasons Why is without a doubt one of the best books of the year. Why? It isn't because it's sad. It isn't because it's about suicide. It isn't because it's dramatic. It's because it's well-written; it's real. The characters--from Hannah and Clay through all of the minor characters that come up as "reasons" such as Justin and Brent and Jenny--are so real, so well-developed, so human. The story is haunting and it's easy to understand why Clay's life will never be the same. How Hannah's death and life have changed him. Clay couldn't stop until he'd heard the tapes; I couldn't stop from reading til her story was through. It was very gripping, very haunting.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke


Title:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Country: UK
Year: 2004
Rating: A-
Pages: 782 pgs.

Review can be found here.

This is my third book for the Unread Authors Challenge, halfway there!

Girl in Hyacinth Blue - Susan Vreeland


Title: Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Author: Susan Vreeland
Country: America
Year: 1999
Rating: C-
Pages: 242 pgs.

First sentence: Cornelius Engelbrecht invented himself.

Review can be found here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Moving Right Along

I have two challenge books under my belt. So glad I chose both of them.

The Tunnels - Michelle Gagnon is a debut novel and a very well done thriller. I cannot wait to read everything else she writes.

Better Than Chocolate - Bruce Golden surprised me. I expected to like it, but I really liked it. I like science fiction from time to time and I love mysteries. This one was a super combo of the two and funny to boot. The author emailed me after he saw my blog comments. I thought that was pretty nifty.

I am looking forward to my other choices in the very near future. Lord help me, I hope I kept my list somewhere.....it's so much fun to be blonde.....

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kristen' Review -- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on Amazon
by Muriel Spark :: Everyman's Library :: 2004 :: 512 pp. :: $18.69

I don't know what I was expecting from this novel. Something prim and old-fashioned, from the "Miss Jean Brodie," something long-drawn-out and Dickensian, from "Prime"; really, I sort of expected to be bored. This was why Spark had remained on my list of authors to be read for so long.

In any case, I was very much not bored. The novel does take place at a prim, old-fashioned boarding school and spans a long period of time, but it's far from prim or old-fashioned itself. Rather, it reads like (what it is:) a New Yorker story stretched out into a novel. Spark tells of the five girls who make up the "Brodie set," a group of young women being educated by a woman named Miss Jean Brodie, who is in her prime, and who is, essentially, the school nutcase. The mystery of the novel is which of the girls betrayed Miss Brodie.

Really, though, far from a mystery, this is a sort of group coming-of-age novel. The girls' minds are opened by Miss Brodie to all sorts of insights about life -- particularly love and sex -- that they are not quite ready for. At first Miss Brodie is their absolute hero. Then, as they grow older, they learn to be skeptical. They learn to judge for themselves. And it's never quite clear whether Miss Brodie herself got crazier, or whether the girls just couldn't recognize it before.

The voice is quiet and sure and graceful in its quirkiness. It describes the five girls of the "Brodie set" in terms of what they are famous for, repeating each often -- whether they are famous for sex, stupidity, mathematics, etc. -- and this is certainly one of the most memorable stylistic tics of the book. In general the narration is distant and playful, not quite omniscient, but close to the girls' perspective, drawing closer, later on, to the mind of one of them without quite entering it.

I don't want to describe this book too much for fear of giving it away, and yet the only way I think I can tell why I loved it is to... give it away. Let me leave off the review with a quotation, one of the most memorable passages in the book. It describes the death of one of the girls years after the main events of the novel (we find out the futures of the other girls, too, though not quite as memorably as this).

"...[She] never again referred her mind to Miss Brodie, but had got over her misery, and had relapsed into her habitual slow bewilderment, before she died while on leave in Cumberland in a fire in the hotel. back and forth along the corridors ran Mary Macgregor, through the thickening smoke. She ran one way; then, turning, the other way; and at either end the blast furnace of the fire met her. She heard no screams, for the roar of the fire drowned the screams; she gave no scream, for the smoke was choking her. She ran into somebody on her third turn, stumbled, and died. But at the beginning of the nineteen-thirties, when Mary Macgregor was ten, there she was sitting blankly among Miss Brodie's pupils."

It's this kind of thing, this strange telescoping through time, that made the novel so magical. As if all the things that happened in the girls' lives, though completely separate and not causally related, were still, somehow, contained and made meaningful within each moment of their childhoods.

In Summary: Highly recommended when you're in the mood for something different.

My original review is here.

Laura's Review - When the Emperor was Divine


When the Emperor was Divine
Julie Otsuka
144 pages

First sentence: The sign had appeared overnight.

Reflections: Imagine that a member of your family is taken away in the middle of the night, wearing only his robe and slippers. When the Emperor was Divine tells the story of a Japanese-American family immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Each chapter is written from a different point of view: the mother who, after reading a public notice, systematically packs belongings and hides beloved family treasures. The daughter, travelling by train to the internment camp. The son, coping with daily living in the camp. And both children, upon returning to their home, school, and town:

We used to try and imagine what it would be like when we returned home. Our phone would ring off the hook. (How was it?) Neighborhood ladies bearing angel food cakes would line up at our front door to welcome us back (Yoo hoo, we know you're in there!). ... We would accept all invitations. Go everywhere. ... But of course it did not happen like that.

Julie Otsuka's slim novel captures the emotion and trauma of this dark period in American history. The country was reeling from an attack on its own soil. Those resembling the attackers were considered evil spies. Citizens of specific ethnic origin were rounded up and sent to camps -- prisons, really -- ostensibly to protect the American people.

Is this really any different from the country's response to the events of September 11, 2001? Will we ever learn? ( )

My original review can be found here.

My first review..


This is the first one on my list that I completed. Wow! I have never read any thing by John Connolly and this was a wild ride. I also never really read books of this genre but I had given the book to my husband for Christmas last year and he kept urging me to read it. It was very gruesome at times but the plot had me hooked from the get go.
A young English boy loses his mother to a long illness just as WWII begins. His mother has passed on a love of books and books become magic to him--magical books that he can hear whispering all around him in his room. To escape a terrible relationship to his new step-mother and step-brother he enters a secret portal in to a different world...a world where famous fairy tales play out, but with little twists. David must find a way back home and along the way he learns lessons in bravery, loyalty and honor.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jailbird (Kurt Vonnegut)

Hi everyone! I just finished my first book of the challenge, Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut, and my review is up at my blog. My original list is here and I had listed Cat's Cradle for Vonnegut, but it was checked out of the library, so I ended up with this one, which I enjoyed but wasn't 100% impressed by.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Plague Year - Jeff Carlson

My review is up at my regular blog. Next up: The Guardians.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

I’ve recently finished reading Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz as part of a round-robin in which I’m participating, and opted to use it as my second selection for Pour of Tor’s Unread Authors reading challenge as well.

you can read my full review, here

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Two-thirds done!

So far, I've read 4 out of 6 books:


Patrick Suskind. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Date read: 9/9/07
Rating: 3* = good
Genre: Historical Fiction/Thriller

My thoughts:

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille - human or monster? Both? Just when I found myself feeling sympathetic to this young man who grew up without human kindness, the monster side of him would emerge and I could sense his scorn for people he fooled with his pretense of humanity. This was a beautifully written book about the importance of smell that we all take for granted and how one man with an incredible gift took advantage of people.


David Sinclair. Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land That Never Was

Date read: 9/21/2007
Rating: 3* = good
Genre: History/Biography

My thoughts:

This was an informative account showing how one persuasive man with a well-written, descriptive document exploited people's greed and gullibility. Other major topics include the independence movements in Central and South America in the early 19th century and the eagerness of Europeans to help militarily and financially. Sinclair wraps up the book nicely in his analysis of how MacGregor started becoming caught up in his own fantasy towards the end.


Gena Showalter. Awaken Me Darkly
Date read: 9/22/2007
Rating: 3* = good
Genre: SF

My thoughts:

This book was a good mix of police procedural and science fiction. It had a futuristic setting featuring aliens alongside humans with a nice dash of romance. I liked learning Mia's history along with her as her powers are gradually revealed.


Emma Bull. War for the Oaks
Date read: 9/29/2007
Rating: 4* = great
Genre: Urban Fantasy

My thoughts:

This is a beautiful written book that is both poetical and fantastical. liked the mix of music and magic. All the characters were well defined, and I especially liked Eddi, Willy and the phouka.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The White Road by John Connolly

My first selection for this challenge was John Connolly’s “The White Road”, and while I found it to be an intensely interesting tale, I would not recommend that others who are unfamiliar with Connolly’s writing begin with this one.

You can read my review, here

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Woman in Jerusalem - A.B. Yehoshua

Title: A Woman in Jerusalem
Author: A.B. Yehoshua; translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin
Country: Israel
Year: 2004
Rating: A
Pages: 237 pgs.

First sentence: Even though the manager of the human resources division had not sought such a mission, now, in the softly radiant morning, he grasped its unexpected significance.

A Woman in Jerusalem, a novel by A.B. Yehoshua, takes place in Jerusalem around 2002. An immigrant woman is killed by a suicide bombing at her local market. Her body lies unidentified for a week, the only clue to her identity a bloody pay stub from a local bakery. After a tabloid newspaper article is written about the bakery's callousness towards her death, the human resource manager is sent on a mission to identify the woman and return her body to her family.

The complete review can be found here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

This wasn't on my original list, but I did add it later as an alternate, and naturally read it first. The review is here.

Catching Up

I've finished Long Ago in France and reviewed it here. Also finished Season of the Witch and posted my review.

Started Emily Dickinson is Dead, but I didn't like it at all, so it has been discarded. I'd looked forward to this mystery, but found it just plain silly.

Still reading The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher, but this one will take a while to complete since it contains 5 of Fisher's books in one volume.

I'm making progress, but will have to make a substitution for Emily Dickinson Is Dead.
  1. Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon M.F.K. Fisher (finished)
  2. The Art of Eating M.F.K. Fisher
  3. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales Marie-Louise von Franz
  4. Emily Dickinson Is Dead Jane Langston (discarded)
  5. Dissolution C. J. Sansom (finished)
  6. Season of the Witch Natasha Mostert (finished)
I'm enjoying checking out everyone else's books. Leading to more Unread Authors!

My list::

I am joining a bit late but am finally getting my act together and my list!
Here it is:

When Light Breaks














the Dandelion clock

















The True Story of Hansel and Gretel













The Book Of Lost Things













One Hundred Million Hearts













The Yokota Officers Club













A Fall Together

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Laura's First Two Books: The Yacoubian Building, and Ex Libris

I just finished my first two books for this challenge:
  • The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al-Aswany. This was an interesting account of contemporary Egyptian culture. I recommend it for a more balanced view of middle eastern people. You can read the full review on my blog.
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman. This is a "book about books," a delightful collection of essays which I thoroughly enjoyed. Here's my review.
It's unlike me to read more than one book at a time, but it worked for me with Ex Libris. As a collection of essays, I found it more enjoyable to read just a few at a time and really savor them, and contemplate them for a day or two, before reading more.

Dracula by Bram Stoker


No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and how dear to his heart and eye the morning can be. (46)
I chose to read Dracula for many reasons. But here are the top two: 1) My friend, Julie, is directing Dracula at the local community theater this October. She's been talking about it for weeks. (This is her first time to direct in this community.) And she's been telling me how wonderful it is...and how much I'd love it. How the writing, the language, the imagery, is just incredible. And I do want to be a supportive friend and all. And she's never disappointed me before when she's recommended a book. 2) It is one of the 'perils' in the R.I.P. II Challenge.
All men are mad in some way or the other; and inasmuch as you deal discreetly with your madmen, so deal with God's madmen too--the rest of the world. (115)
Let me say this now, it was SO good and SO different from how I expected. I'll admit that the first chapter didn't hook me. The format--letters and diaries--took a little bit of getting used to. (I'm not used to suspense being dispensed in that way.) But soon enough, I was hooked. I had not realized this story was told through so many narrators--and each one is unique and well-developed. I read most of it on Saturday afternoon/evening in fact. I didn't want to put it down. But I couldn't finish the last hundred pages or so until the next day. But I did finish it last night, Sunday, and it was just incredible. It was so intense, so suspenseful, so teasing, so memorable, so haunting, so tragic, so good. It was just a WOW book for me.

We have been blind somewhat; blind after the manner of men, since when we can look back we see what we might have seen looking forward if we had been able to see what we might have seen! Alas, but that sentence is a puddle; is it not? (300)

Tamar by Mal Peet


Peet, Mal. 2007. Tamar.

This book is the WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL. It says it right there on the front cover. So I won't feel too badly for being honest in my review of it. It's already won an award. It is already being talked about as a good--if not great--read of the year. It's not that I hated Tamar, which is "a novel of espionage, passion, and betrayal." It's that I felt uncomfortable with it. Two young men are working undercover in Nazi-occupied territory. Tamar is the story of what happens when they both fall in love with the same woman. Also what happens when insanity takes control of a person. Not just one of the main characters, but in some of the minor ones as well. I suppose it falls under the heading of 'war changes a man and makes him do things he never thought he was capable of.' Tamar is the code name for one of the men. So decades later, when the son of one of these two men is expecting a baby, the father makes a request...to name the baby (if it's a girl) Tamar. This causes a very strange reaction from the soon-to-be-grandmother. Though it's not quite apparent to the readers why.

The big secret is revealed slowly and suspensefully within both timeframes. The undercover spies provide the narrative in 1944-1945. And the grandaughter Tamar provides the narrative in 1995 and 2005.

Mal Peet's Carnegie Medal-winning masterpiece is a story of violence and resistance, love and deception, loyalty and betrayal.

If violence, deception, and betrayal sounds like a good way to spend the afternoon....then Tamar may be the book for you.

S
P
O
I
L
E
R

Reading about murder--even if it is belatedly related to a crime of passion--has never really been my cup of tea. So to watch this plot unfold chapter by chapter was just painfully uncomfortable for me. It wasn't that it was poorly written. It was that I didn't want to go where it was taking me. It was well written. The characters were well developed. I just had a hard time liking most of them.

Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah


Abdel-Fattah, Randa. 2007. Does My Head Look Big In This?

I have mixed feelings about Does My Head Look Big In This? My enthusiasm for the novel was not particularly consistent. (I liked the first third, I really liked the middle third, and I loved the last third.)

Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim is both your typical and untypical teen. As a Australian-Muslim-Palestinian, she feels she got "whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens" (5). To question one's identity is fairly typical--very standard--in YA literature. To deal with questions of race, prejudice, and faith is again fairly typical. But in most cases the race and faith in question is not Muslim (and Middle-Eastern). Hence why she is both typical and untypical. This makes the book good, but at times difficult to evaluate. Amal is a character that at the same time wants to be like everybody else, but she wants to be seen as special, unique, and one-of-a-kind. She wants to not stick-out in a crowd as being 'the Muslim' yet she is very proud of her culture, her religion, her faith. She wants to have it all. She doesn't want people to point, stare, and laugh. But she wants to be noticed. She wants to stand out. Again, I think that all teens--all people--go through a stage where they feel that the whole world is looking at them, staring at them, evaluating them, critiquing them, judging them, laughing at them, etc. I think every teen has the feeling that everyone is noticing them--watching for all the little flaws, waiting for them to make a mistake, etc. This sense of heightened awareness and the feeling that everything they do is more important that what it actually is. It is like going through life--your whole day, your whole week--like every moment could potentially be your most embarrassing moment ever. [Does that make any sense at all? What I'm trying to say is that they might be *imagining* the world is laughing at and judging them when really...no one is really paying that much attention.]

Amal is ready to wear the hijab. Inspired by an episode of Friends, where Rachel braves the crowd to perform Copa Cabana after an embarrassing walk down the aisle, Amal has made her decision. Her first day of school--in what is essentially her junior year in high school--will be the first day she'll wear the hijab (and be covered) in front of her classmates at McCleans Preparatory School. What the book does not mention until halfway through--and what really makes a difference in appreciating the novel--is that this school year is 2002. It has only been a year since the 9/11 attacks in America. (That anniversary is covered in the novel.) So this is when tension--global tension--is at an all-time high. This attack is still fresh, the wounds still on the surface. There has been no healing. So prejudice is in many ways more out in the open than one would naturally expect.

Amal doesn't know quite what to expect from her classmates--boys and girls--she doesn't know if she'll be teased, laughed at, ridiculed, called-names, etc. For the most part, her close circle of friends accept her. They're proud of her. Embrace her with open arms. It takes the rest of the class a few more days--to get used to this new image--before they're minds are made up one way or the other. But let's just say her circle of friends expands through the year, it is not that they're not kids who give her a hard time--there is the typical bully who likes to slander and ridicule and mock all the lowly students she deems unworthy--but she finds a great support system.

But this book is about more than being a Muslim. It is about being a teen. It is about being not quite grown-up and having growing pains. Of wanting more freedom than parents are willing to allow. It is about friendships. Amal hangs out with her friends. All the time. Friends are what her world revolves around at times. And the book does a great job in fleshing out these characters and their families.

So the issues faced are in many, many ways that of a typical teen. She is a teen with problems and issues that most kids can relate to and understand. But she is unique too. It's all a balancing act between being 'just like everyone else--especially your friends' and 'being yourself.' Which again I think is fairly normal stuff. At times Amal seems mature, and at other times immature. Sometimes she seems wise, sometimes she seems foolish.

Anyway, what annoyed me at times was Amal's behavior. At times she was disrespectful to her parents and to authority figures in general. And the same things that annoy me about other teen heroines--such as Georgia Nicolson--annoy me about Amal. She can be at times a bit whiny in spots. She can be disrespectful and sarcastic in her narration. But overall I do like her. And I did enjoy this book.

Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey


Carey, Janet Lee. 2007. Dragon's Keep.

I loved Dragon's Keep. It was just so good. Rosalind is a princess. That means her life must be perfect, right? Doesn't royalty bring with it perfection? Doesn't being a princess make you entitled to having EVERYTHING you ever wanted? Not if your Rosalind. Rosalind and her mother, the Queen, are keeping a secret. A big secret. Rosalind's 'wedding finger' is a dragon claw. It's a shameful secret hidden behind golden gloves. Rosalind has more than the pressure of a shameful secret weighing her down though, her mother reminds her constantly that she is the one--Rosalind is the one--that will fulfill Merlin's six-hundred-year prophecy about bringing peace to the kingdom and restoring everything--everyone. Her destiny--her future--may just be tied up with her left hand--though she doesn't know it. The Queen is always searching for cures, for healers--even if those "cures" come from whether dark and creepy sources like the mountain witch. But the cures aren't working, and at times Rosalind feels she's being punished for her mother's crimes. Rosalind's destiny weighs heavy on her. Because of it, men--good men--are sent to war AND sent to fight and kill the dragon.

Rosalind is a princess with a heavy burden and some difficult choices. Her story is exciting and one-of-a-kind.

This book reminds me of The Last Dragon by Silvana de Mari, Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley, and Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.