The Youth Services Corner is hosting a YA Through the Decades Reading Challenge. Though I'm not a teen librarian myself, I love reading teen/YA books. I thought this would be a fun challenge to see if writing for teens has changed over the decades, and if so, how.
I'll be reading a book from each of the following decades:
1930s or before
And just for fun, I'll throw in another book published in 2010 - this decade. I haven't decided yet what I'll be reading for any given decade. Feel free to make suggestions!
Lucy Honeychurch is visiting Italy with her cousin, Charlotte, who as an older single female has come along as a chaperone. While on the trip, she meets an "original" older woman, Miss Lavish, who is writing a novel; the stuck-up clergyman Mr. Eager; and the Emersons, a father and son duo whose forthrightness and political leanings rather shock some of the more orthodox crowd. Her time in Italy affects Lucy greatly: she sees a man murdered and experiences her first kiss. Upon returning home, she must decide between living up to the expectations of tradition, as embodied by her cousin Charlotte, or following the desires of her heart.
Perhaps it's because I read A Passage to India as an English major, or maybe it's the many layers to E.M. Forster's classic story that made me feel, when reading it, that I could write a paper about his use of inside and outside, of old and new. Class distinctions are still important, particularly to the older characters and city dwellers, while less so to the younger and country folk. Lucy's fiance says at one point that Lucy pictures him inside a room, which seems connected with his repression of her spirit and independent thought, hugely in contrast with George Emerson and Frank Honeychurch's behavior outdoors in the Sacred Lake. The layering of metaphors and brilliant characterizations made this a real pleasure to read, and I would not hesitate to read it again knowing that I would get just as much - if not more - out of it with multiple readings. At the same time, the story is accessible and compelling, with witty commentary by the narrator and a dash of romance.
Just have to add - I really have to thank the LibraryThing Monthly Author Reads Group for prompting me to read Forster's work and introducing me to Elizabeth von Arnim this year. This and The Enchanted April were among my top books of 2009, and I never would have discovered them had I not been pushed outside of my reading comfort zone a bit.
Somewhere alongside a river lives a Water Rat and a Mole, two friends who take pleasure in the simple things, like taking a ride in Ratty's boat and having a picnic. Their friends Toad, Otter and Badger, living near the river and in the Wide Wood, join them in various adventures throughout the seasons.
Somehow, when I was young and reading The Chronicles Narnia and all the Thornton W. Burgess tales, I missed this children's classic featuring Mole and the Water Rat, pompous old Toad and the sturdy Badger. I would have loved it as a child, but I still enjoyed it as an adult. I especially loved Toad, his faddish delights and mood swings from deepest despair to puffed up self-display. This was a truly charming read, by turns familiar (due to a movie I saw as a child) and new. The episodic chapters and long, meandering sentences lend themselves to a read-aloud.
*This review refers to the uncorrected proof that I received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I receive no compensation for reviews other than the opportunity to receive more free books in the future, and a positive or negative review has no affect on this.*
This book is due to for publication in February 2010.
In 1890, Henry Oades sets sail from England with his wife Margaret and their young family to New Zealand. His post should only last a few years, and they will return home. But tragedy strikes: Maori Indians set fire to his homestead, killing Margaret's friend Mim, and abducting his wife and children. Henry believes them to be dead. He mourns them deeply, but leaves for America and the start of a new life.
Based on a true story of a man brought up on charges of bigamy (I'm giving no spoilers beyond the title, mind), the book's foundational premise intrigues me. Especially in a time when divorce and illegitimacy carried much more of a stigma than perhaps today, what would a decent man do if, remarried after believing his first wife dead, she and his children turn up on his doorstep? I felt compassion for all involved, especially since the third-person narration is primarily conveyed through the point of view of the Mrs. Oades, Margaret and Nancy. I did sometimes wish that the family dynamics were explored more completely, perhaps telling me more about the first three weeks after Margaret shows up or fleshing out aspects of their relationship that seemed rather quickly and neatly summarized. That and the lack of details about New Zealand or California at the turn of the century made me wonder if even at 347 pages the book was a little too short. Still, Johanna Moran exhibits quite a bit of talent in her debut, particularly in making her characters feel like real people and drawing a reader's sympathy for each of them.
This is the sixth in the Codex Alera series, so this review necessarily has ***spoilers*** for the preceding five titles.
See my review of the first book, Furies of Calderon.
Gaius Sextus is dead, killed in a final act of defiance against the vord Queen at the battle for Alera Imperia. The Citizens and refugees of Alera are banding together to make a final stand. Octavian is on his way home with the Canim and Kitai. The final battle for all of Alera is about to begin.
This book is the climax of the entire series, building tension until the last sixty pages are a perfectly placed hold-your-breath conclusion to the series. And Jim Butcher is an absolute master of pace. You almost don't realize in the midst of it that such themes as sacrifice and love and the fact that some things are worth killing -- and dying -- for are finely struck throughout the story. A fitting conclusion to a fabulous series that I recommend to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy.
Just out of college, Billy gets a job as a definer for the Samuelson dictionary in sleepy Claxton, Massachusetts. When looking through the citations files (commonly shortened to "cits") in answer to a letter, he and his co-worker Mona stumble upon a rather unusual citation. Taken from The Broken Teaglass, the cit is longer than normal and seems to be a story that takes place at Samuelson. What's going on?
This is a rather unusual mystery, not merely because of its setting but also because it doesn't have the building pace that mysteries generally have until you reach the denouement. Being dialogue-heavy, the book read fast even when the pace wasn't flying along. I was often a step ahead of Mona or Billy, and figured out the ending early.
My favorite parts, though, were the premise and the setting. I loved the details of lexicography and the eccentric nerds/geeks that populated the dictionary staff. It made me want to work on a dictionary! I want to find cits and put them together and, and, and. Yeah, this book definitely brought out my inner word geek. I was a little disappointed to read in the acknowledgments that the author had taken some liberties with the lexicographical process but didn't explain which parts. I wanted to know! For those like me that liked the dictionary and lexicographical information, I'd also recommend The Meaning of Everything and The Professor and the Madman, the books Simon Winchester wrote on the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Walter Hartright is a drawing teacher whose friend suggests a position for him out in Cumberland, teaching two young ladies. On the road home one night, he suddenly encounters a young woman who is dressed all in white. She asks him the way to London, and he points it out to her. After she leaves, he discovers that she was escaping from an insane asylum. Soon afterward, he meets his pupils, Miss Halcombe and Miss Fairlie. But the mystery surrounding the "woman in white" are numerous. Who was she? Is she really insane? Why was she so afraid that Walter might know a certain man of property?
This story is complicated and impossible to summarize fully without giving away numerous spoilers. One of the disappointments for me reading was that the particular edition I read had footnotes that did so with regularity, so I've tried to avoid spoilers here. The format of the book is interesting: several people's accounts tell the events in a semi-chronological order. I enjoyed it at times, but was often frustrated with how very long the narrator (particularly when it was Hartright) took to tell me something very simple. Identity is a major theme in the novel: Who is the woman in white? Who is Sir Percival or Count Fosco? And once someone's identity is stolen, how can it be restored? I liked Marian Halcombe, but Hartright struck me as very like young David Copperfield and less aware of his own melodramatic tendencies. Laura Fairlie was very childlike and never seemed very real to me. The Moonstone was more to my taste, though I'm happy to have read this as being the first in a long line of "sensation fiction."
Han, former streetlord, spends much time with the clans of the mountains, and his friends Dancer and Bird. He and Dancer encounter wizard boys on the mountain, which is forbidden, and he takes a strange amulet from the leader, Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard.
Princess Raissa chafes under expectations. Do this, don't do this. Learn manners but not diplomacy. Marry for political reasons. She will one day be queen, but knows little of the true state of the queendom.
Moving effortlessly between both characters points of view, Cinda Williams Chima creates a complex world completely independent of The Warrior Heir series. The Seven Realms are governed by the Naeming, an ancient agreement that brought peace and a separation of power, particularly between the clans and the wizards. This place is rich with its own history and legends, full of well-realized secondary characters, and the writing generally self-assured and smooth. I stayed up late finishing this one, and can't wait for the next in the series.
The day young Lucy Entwhistle's father died, she was only able to stand, staring, feeling nothing. Along came Wemyss, a man of about forty-five, who had just lost his wife. This shared bereavement brings he and Lucy together: Wemyss makes all the plans for Mr. Entwhistle's funeral, they spend much time together comforting each other, and they soon become engaged. Lucy's aunt, Mrs. Entwhistle, is rather perplexed by the whole turn of affairs, but she determines to like Wemyss for Lucy's sake, even though he shows all the character of a spoiled brat.
Vera was Wemyss's former wife, who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, yet whose memory permeates much. At first, I thought the story was going to be headed in a similar direction as Rebecca, but even though I didn't particularly like Max de Winter, he had nothing on Wemyss. Everard Wemyss has made my top five list of most hated characters in literature. His behavior made me want to slap him, shake him, finally to punch him. I loved Miss Entwhistle's standing up to him, and wished Lucy was more able to assert herself. But like many in an unhealthy relationship, she's quick to forgive and forget. Reading about them as they progressed from engagement into marriage was like watching a car crash - you know it's going to be terrible, but can't help continuing.
I read this after reading and loving The Enchanted April, the book that was, incidentally, written directly after this one. Vera was much more sobering, though it did have moments of humor, such as when Miss Entwhistle thinks that Wemyss's courting is "not vegetarian," and the one-word pronouncements of the widow whom Miss Entwhistle takes as an oracle. I am thrilled to have met a new author this month, and look forward to reading more of Elizabeth von Arnim's books.
Foot-the-ball is one of the most watched and dangerous games played in Ankh-Morpork. Lord Vetinari is said not to like the game, but a brilliant tyrant like he must know he'd have a riot on his hands if he tried to stop it. When Ponder Stebbins discovers that the Unseen University will lose some trust funds if they don't field a team, Lord Vetinari brilliantly maneuvers to help them and to get the game under control.
So now the Discworld series has grown to 30+ books, including a few teen titles. Too late to jump in? Not at all! Characteristically of Pratchett's stories, this has a mix of fantasy, satire, and slapstick that suits my weird sense of humor. Trevor, Glenda, Juliet, and Nutt are fun characters to spend time with, and I liked seeing their relationships change (with more than a nod to Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure) and each of them grow over the course of the book. This one stands with Lords and Ladies as one of my favorite in the series.
This delightful tale introduces four women - Lotty Wilkins, Rose Arbuthnot, Mrs. Fisher, and Lady Caroline Dester who come away on holiday to Italy for the month of April. None of them had spoken to each other before making these plans to rent San Salvatore. They are together out of convenience, merely to share expenses. All of them have their own private reasons for coming to San Salvatore. Their internalized thoughts, dreams, and loneliness make up the majority of the plot, as their stay in Italy works its magic on them. The warm and languid tone of the writing matches their ideal Italian holiday of rest and relaxation, and is infused with humor. It made me want to take my own holiday, though spending some quiet time reading about these women and their lives was a wonderful second choice.
This book was a half-planned, half-whim choice because the LibraryThing group Monthly Author reads decided to read Elizabeth von Arnim in November. This was a bit of a whim for me because I knew absolutely nothing about the author, had never read any of her books before, and just picked The Enchanted April on a whim because there were several copies available on interlibrary loan. It was a truly enchanting introduction to this author, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her works.
Full disclosure: I didn't want to read this book. I'd requested it from the library on a whim after hearing Philip Gourevitch on Nancy Pearl's "Book Lust" podcast talking about his work selecting the "best of" author interviews from The Paris Review for this collection series. The book came in along with a bunch of other interlibrary loans, and as the due date approached, I picked it up. I hadn't read many of the featured authors, and those that I had were not really to my taste. So I started reading it with the plan that after the requisite 50 pages, I would be able to return it to the library and thus whittle down my stack.
Then I read the first interview, featuring Dorothy Parker. She was a hoot! I've never read any of her stories, but after so enjoying her sense of humor, I was ready to check out her complete short story collection from my library. Still not entirely convinced to keep reading, I approached the next interviews with some trepidation: Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway. Both men had such intriguing things to say about their writing. Alright, so I probably won't read any Hemingway besides The Old Man and the Sea which I read for school, but it was awfully encouraging to see him poking a little bit of fun at the folks who saw a symbol in everything. Now in the full thrall of these interviews, I started taking my time, reading two or three interviews a day, spacing it out so I didn't get my authors confused or crowd out a particularly satisfying one with the next.
Two in particular stand out to me: those featuring Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Gottlieb. Vonnegut's impressed me because it helped me to understand his writing a bit more. I read Slaughterhouse-Five last year, and didn't really like it. I could appreciate what he was doing, but had trouble following and making sense of the narrative, and I had the sneaking suspicion that the author was dangling the story in front of me with the taunt "I know something you don't know." As he talked about his experience in World War 2 during this interview, especially the bombing of Dresden, I started to realize that much of this was what he knew from the war and began to wonder if part of the challenge with the form of the story was that he didn't really know how to make sense of it either. Though it didn't change my personal opinion of the book, it gave me a bit more insight into what went into it. The second stand out was the discussion with Robert Gottlieb. Rather than a traditional interview, it was more like the transcript of a documentary in which not only he himself but several of the writers whom he had edited talked about working with him in the editing process. This method gave me a very fleshed out, holistic impression of him as an editor and reader, and I really enjoyed the fresh approach.
So from reluctantly picking it up with the plan of abandoning it, I've transformed in the reading to not wanting to return it to the library. My wishlist has grown by three books, because I'm certain I'll want to read the other compilations in this series as well.
Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson
Have you ever wondered about the origins of Americanisms such as "lunch" and "cafeteria"? Or maybe you're interested in words that originated from the movies or sports. Bill Bryson gives you a whirlwind tour of all this and more in his "informal history of the English language in the United States."
Beginning with the Pilgrims and making his way through both chronologically and thematically to recent times, Bryson has a way of highlighting the humorous aspects of history and linguistic quirkiness of our language. Some of interesting tidbits (note: a word that was originally "titbits" and changed in order to be less offensive) I learned included:
Englishmen bemoaning Americanisms entering the language is nothing new
the Pilgrims had three or four different names and types of mush
during the American Revolution, people were not unconcerned with spelling, but merely had more variants to choose from (and even argue about!)
I'll have as much fun recommending this book to family and friends as I did reading it!
I'm always intrigued by a glimpse at someone's immediate "read" list. It's a sort of slice of life that lets me see a snapshot of someone's interests at the moment. So I thought I'd share my own current reads and (hopefully) soon-to-be-reads:
The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1 edited by Philip Gourevitch
The book I started most recently. A bit unfairly, I started thinking "I've barely read any of these authors, so maybe I will want to abandon it soon and I'll get some of these library books home." But no, even the author of a book I dislike was extremely interesting in his interview. I've been so enjoying the collection that I've spaced it out and have only read about one or two interviews a day. So much for decreasing the library pile.
Made in America by Bill Bryson
The subtitle succinctly sums it up: "An Informal History of the English Language in the United States." I love books about language and I love Bill Bryson's humorous writing style, so this one is right up my alley.
13 Things That Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks has been the audiobook on my MP3 player for the past few days. It's enjoyable and fairly light science in comparison to some of the books I've read this year (Brief History of Time, I'm looking at you).
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I've been meaning to read this ever since I read and loved The Moonstone as a college student. I finally decided it was time, as well as being an appropriate October read. Strangely, it's the only fiction I'm reading at the moment.
A few more books are on my nightstand calling out to me, hoping not to get returned to the library before I read them, but I'll have to finish at least two of these first.
Reduced Shakespeare: The Attention-Impaired Reader's Guide to the World's Best Playwright (Abridged} by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
So, you've watched The compleat works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and wanted to learn more. Oh. You haven't watched the Reduced Shakespeare Co.'s play that hilariously combines, yes, every play that Shakespeare wrote (or at least refers to them)? Well, get thee hence and do it, otherwise this book will not make any sense at all. There. You've seen it? Good.
Right, so after watching the Compleat Works, you now need to read the Compleat Guide to Shakespeare: his life, his works, his movies. And in this hysterical (yet surprisingly informative) guide, you will be treated to one of the most irreverent biographies and literary criticisms you've ever read. They include a short criticism of every play, and then go through movie versions and tell you which versions they think are the most notable (if any exist at all), rating each on a scale of 0 to 5 Bards. In the movies section, they also include those movies that are somewhat loosely based on Shakespeare's plays, such as 10 Things I Hate About You. They're not afraid to tell it like they see it, and I was somewhat gratified to see that they disliked the same two versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I detested in college. In fact, the movie section is worth the price of the book, and I'm holding onto my library copy a little longer so I can make a note of the ones I want to see. 4.5 stars.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold Category: Recommendations
Susie Salmon recounts her murder and over the ensuing years, watches from heaven over her family as they deal with their grief. Having Susie as the narrator gives the reader a semi-omnipotent view of events, as Susie knows who her killer is, can watch the action in two places at the same time, and can tell us the thoughts and emotions of the other characters. Though disjointed at times, some passages of narration are lovely and thought-provoking.
My brother recommended this to me, warning me that the beginning might be a little much for me. It was gruesome, but not as violent as I'd anticipated. As might be expected, the story is a little sad and even though the setup was a little surreal to begin with I found a few elements stretching my ability to suspend disbelief. A really intense read that will stay with me for awhile. 4.5 stars.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens Category: Recommendations
David Copperfield is the narrator of his life from boyhood through young adulthood, an account that in some ways mirrors Dickens' own life. It begins with David's own birth and his Aunt Betsey Trotwood's disappointment that he was not a girl. David's father was already dead, and his mother eventually remarried a man who believed in "firmness." So begins Master Copperfield's tale.
This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years, those classics that I enjoy but only seem to get a chance to read over the summer - and indeed, I spend much of June and July reading the book. The length is daunting and the story starts slowly, which was much of the reason the book took me so long to finish. It was well worth it, however, as I was introduced to some of the most memorable characters - Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, Mr. Dick, Uriah Heep, and my personal favorite Miss Betsey Trotwood - that I have ever encountered. I'm sure I will read it again. 4.5 stars.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare Category: New-to-me authors
Clary lives with her mom; her father died in a car accident before she was born. At least, that's what she's always been told. But when she and her best friend Simon go to a club and she sees some people - and something - that Simon can't see, she knows something's up. Finding out the truth will turn her world upside down.
Cassandra Clare's imaginary world, set in New York, is really well-realized with vampires, werewolves, demons, and more. Clary meets the Shadowhunters (also known as Nephilim), a group of people dedicated to killing demons. The characters are wonderfully complex, so much so that even the "good guys" sometimes seem a little nefarious. The fast-paced plot kept me up reading late into the night, and I immediately put the next two books in the trilogy on hold from the library after finishing. 4.5 stars.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson Category: Award Winners and Honors
If you have not read Volume I: The Pox Party, please note that this review has **spoilers** for that title.
This second volume in the Octavian Nothing series begins right when the first left off, with Octavian and Dr. Trefusis running away from the College of Lucidity. Their flight through the rain and mud-flats leaves Dr. Trefusis with a terrible fever, and Octavian must find a place for them to stay and a way to pay for lodgings - not an easy task for a runaway slave in Boston, a city under siege during the Revolution.
This is merely the beginning of a long (560 p.) continuance of the story begun in The Pox Party. As the first, it is well-constructed from the voice of the characters to the rough-cut pages and old-fashioned title page and type. The story is an intelligent, complex look at the ideals of liberty and the hypocrisy of those who would cry "liberty" for themselves while condemning others to slavery. Though not for the fainthearted because of length, vocabulary, and descriptions of war, for those willing to persevere the story provides much food for thought. 4.5 stars.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll Category: Lost Book Club
Before starting the audiobook with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I couldn't remember if I'd read Through the Looking Glass before or not. As I listened, I realized I had. I'm even decently sure that I finished it (twice now, counting the audiobook). But I still have no idea what happened. Like the dream it is, the action jumps from place to place and from person to person, and is only loosely connected by the story of Alice crossing a chessboard to become queen. I've tried to like this books, I really have, but it's a losing battle... 3 stars.
Note: Regarding the connections to Lost, interested parties might like checking out Lostpedia.com. They have a rather extensive article "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" that lists more connections that I ever made reading the books (for example, Charlie's wearing checkerboard shoes when they go to the Looking Glass station).
Apologies for a very late post on this - I had scheduled it 'way back in June and now can't find the post.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery Category: Lost Book Club
The unnamed narrator crashes his plane in the desert and comes across the little prince, an alien boy visiting earth from asteroid B-612, who has a lot to say about a child's faith and matters of "consequence."
This is a rather strange little story, and I'm afraid to say to much about it without giving out spoilers, since it's only 91 pages long. Imagination, faith, and the inability of most grown-ups to see what is truly important are recurring themes. 4 stars.
In all fairness, this may be stretching the "Lost" category. Though there was an episode entitled "The Little Prince," the book doesn't show up on abc.com or on the lostpedia.com list of Literary works, so take from that what you will. :-)
Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff Category: Books about Books (Category Complete!) For more about my categories and the 999 challenge, see this post
The third in a set of memoirs by Helene Hanff begins before the others, when she had to drop out of college during the Depression. Visiting the library, she found a set of books - the lectures of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch - to teach herself about writing and English literature. With the success of her memoirs, 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Helene had no idea how far-reaching indeed his influence would turn out to be.
I love these books for Helene's sense of humor and quick wit. She has excellent timing for both comedy and poignancy. Her delightful descriptions of Q's lectures made me want to read them, too. Though 84 Charing Cross Road is forever my favorite of her three memoirs, Q's Legacy is a lovely capstone of her memories of both books and her tribute to the man who taught her to write through his published lectures. 4.5 stars.
OK, not really. That would be tedious. I will merely say by way of update that on my original 999 challenge, I'm now up to 76 books out of 81 and have completed five categories. If you want my full reviews, check out the link above or the 999 challenge blog. I will shortly be updating reads for the months of May and June, and will link to those posts instead of repeating reviews here.
I've decided to go for it in my 999 x 2 Challenge. I don't know if I'll really be able to finish it, but it will be fun to try. The new categories are as follows:
1. Everything Shakespeare 2. Author Revisits (Books I haven't read by authors I have) 3. From the library "new books" shelves 4. From my "tbr" shelves 5. Fantasy 6. YA/Children's 7. Nonfiction 8. Lost Book Club 9. Grab Bag
Here's how I'm doing so far -
1. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce Category: YA/Children's
The third book in the "Song of the Lioness" series is a fun, quick read. It was fast-paced and ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I finished it anxious for the next book. 4.5 stars.
2. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon Category: Author Revisits
This read suffered by comparison because Shadow of the Wind was one of my absolute favorite reads last year. It has a Gothic feel, but I didn't find it as compelling or satisfying as the first. 3.5 stars.
3. Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce Category: Fantasy
I may have liked this book more if I had waited a bit longer between books 3 and 4. All the things that slightly annoyed me about the story so far annoyed me a lot more in this one (for example - Alanna has three lovers in as many books). 3.5 stars.
4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith Category: From the library "new books" shelves
The first half of the book was funny enough to make up for a somewhat tedious second half. A lot of the original book is retained, nearly word-for-word, and in the end I found I preferred those parts over the changes or additions. 4.5 stars.
Yet another read that doesn't fit into my 999 Challenge categories. I'd be more worried, but I've read 60 out of 81 books already...
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
After his ex-wife's husband of 24 years dies, leaving her with nothing thanks to a pre-nup that stipulated the marriage had to last 25 years, Henry Archer sends her a sympathy card. He has, for the most part, gotten over any heartbreak, and in fact has made peace with his homosexuality. He decides to reconnect with Thalia, the daughter from Denise's first marriage that Henry adopted but hasn't seen in two decades. Meanwhile, Denise has no idea about this, and is clinging to Henry as her last lifeline...oh, and wants to set him up, too.
Lipman's newest novel is set in New York City, a departure from the other books that I've by her so far. The dialog kept the pace fast and funny, though the story is primarily about the characters and their relationships. A light read that was fun, and would have gotten a higher rating if I had been in a different mood. 3.5 stars.
As They See 'Em by Bruce Weber 999 Challenge Category: Nonfiction See more about my categories and the 999 Challenge here.
Baseball has its fair share of books, but what about books about the umpires? This is what reporter Bruce Weber sets out to write, starting with his stint at an umpire training school in Florida, and following with interviews with umps in the minor and major leagues. In between, he fills it out with some history (the changing strike zone, for instance) and recent events like the 1999 struggle between Major League Baseball and the umpires' union.
My dad has umpired Little League since I was very young, so maybe I'm a little biased when I say I thought this was a fascinating account of a part of baseball that's largely overlooked. As Weber makes abundantly clear, if umpires are noticed at all it's usually the shouted profanity type of notice, and little credit is given to them for keeping the game running smoothly and making good close calls. His conversational style makes the book run by fast. 4.5 stars.
Taylor Markham's mother left her at the 7-11 on the Jellicoe Road. Six years later, Taylor is the House leader at her school and the school leader in the "territory wars" against the Townies and the Cadets. It doesn't help that the leader of the Cadets, Jonah Griggs, is someone Taylor has something of a history with. On top of all this new responsibility, Taylor freaks when Hannah, the woman who found her at the 7-11 and took her in for a time, suddenly disappears.
This well-crafted story is told in two parts - Taylor's first-person, present tense narration and another story, interspersed here and there, about the survivors of a car crash on Jellicoe Road 22 years before Taylor's story. Though at first confusing, seeing the two narratives come together was a lot of fun, even after I'd figured out much of the connections. The story and characters will stay with me for a long time. 5 stars.
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan 999 Challenge Category: YA/Children's
In this fifth and last installment of the "Percy Jackson" series, Percy's 16th birthday is fast approaching - and with it, the fulfillment of the Great Prophecy. When he returns to Camp Half-Blood, Percy finds a lot of things changed. Campers are gearing up for war with Kronos, and the Ares and Apollos cabins are at odds. Percy finally hears the Great Prophecy in its entirety, and is weighed down with its implications: Will his decision spell the end of Olympus?
I've so enjoyed this series of humorous Greek myth set in the United States and told from a boy hero's perspective. This one didn't disappoint, and though I'm sorry to see Percy go, the end seemed to leave open the possibility of more stories coming from Camp Half-Blood. 4.5 stars.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi 999 Challenge Category: Graphic Novels
After leaving home to go to school in Vienna at the end of Persepolis, Marjane moves from one home to another, all the while trying to fit in with classmates. Beginning when she was fourteen, she recounts rooming in a convent, her first love, and finally living on the streets before returning to Iran.
Her story of adolescence and young adulthood is heartbreaking. Much of the story is the theme of fitting in - or not - among others. Too Western here, too Eastern there, and feeling separated because of the vast differences between experience of war or love or what have you. Though the particulars may not seem familiar, the universal themes are completely relatable. 4.5 stars.
Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim 999 Challenge Category: Graphic Novels
On Grace's eighteenth birthday, she is suddenly visited by...herself. At the ages of six, twenty-nine, and seventy-something, to be precise. These doppelgangers may just change her life, if she can keep them out of trouble in the meantime.
This is a story all about character, as we learn about Grace and exactly what she could teach herself at each of these ages, from love to friendship to sibling rivalry. There's humor (Grace has to keep her 29-year-old self from hitting on the hot young English teacher) and more serious elements. Directly after finishing it, I would have given it 3 stars - a quick, light story that I didn't love, didn't dislike. But the next day, I was still thinking about some of the connections between the title and the construction of the story and upon further reflection I give it 4 stars.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley 999 Challenge Category: Award Winners and Honors
When Harry Crewe's (don't ask her real first name) parents die, she has to move closer to her brother Richard and become the ward of Lady Amelia and Sir Charles. She falls in love with this wild Hill country and becomes embroiled in the political climate when Corlath, king of the Damarians, comes to parley with Sir Charles. Corlath's magic won't let him forget her, so he kidnaps her knowing only that she has some sort of part to play in the coming war with the Northerners.
I have no real complaints about this story: the characters were interesting (I especially enjoyed reading when Corlath was on-scene), the story well told. But I never felt fully invested in the story, nor did I feel compelled to read if the book were not already in my hands. Really more a case of mood than of any failing of the book, I give it 4 stars.
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott 999 Challenge Category: YA/Children's See more about my challenge categories at this post.
Sophie and Josh, fraternal twins living in California for the summer, walk in on a magical fight between none other than Nicholas Flamel and Dr. John Dee. Flamel is the keeper of a book called the Codex, which Dee has been trying to steal for his masters, the Dark Elders, for ages. Now, Dee has the book and Nick's wife, and Sophie and Josh suddenly find themselves in a world where magic exists and legends live.
Definitely a fun read, pretty fast-paced throughout, with all sorts of creatures and myths re-imagined. Set in modern-day U.S., my only real complaint is that references to "modern" movies, like when there's a reference to Sophie seeing Titanic, seem to be a bit old for her age. I'm not saying she couldn't have seen the movie, just that it seems to be an outdated reference since she would have been about one year old when it came out. But a small complaint about an overall enjoyable story - I've requested the second book from the library already. 4.5 stars.
Slow Reading by John Miedema 999 Challenge Category: Books about Books/Reading/ This book was received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
Based on the title, I assumed that Slow Reading would tell me all the things I'm doing wrong. I read at a fairly fast pace, averaging about two books a week, and often chose teen books over Literature. I expected that, while having an interesting premise, I would ultimately disagree with the author if he told me I should slow down and read only "good" books.
That's not what this book is about. "Slow reading" is less about pace (though that tends to be a factor) that it is a deliberate mental shift from task-oriented purpose to pleasure: "The most obvious sense of slowness in reference to quality is temporal - we stop racing against the clock to better appreciate a meal or a book" (43). In five short chapters, Miedema calls for a return to this pleasurable savoring of books, Literature or no. He draws on such diverse subjects as the connection between religion and slow reading, the innate differences between online and from-the-page reading, and neuroscience to make his points. Besides agreeing more than I thought I would, I found myself slow reading his book as I stopped to ponder my own reading experiences, talk back about a point that struck me, or looked through the thorough list of references in the back to follow up an intriguing idea. I appreciated the thorough citations that allowed me to look into more books or articles regarding the subjects I was most intrigued by. 4.5 stars.
Because I may find that I really like them! Like Till We Have Faces, which I've owned for years, and only read a few days ago...
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
The oldest daughter of the King of Glome, Orual, writes her complaint against the gods. She loves the youngest, Psyche, almost as a daughter, especially since Psyche's mother (Orual's stepmother) died in childbirth. Orual's world begins to crumble when Glome is threatened by famine and the possibility of war - the priest of the goddess Ungit tells the King that the only way to prevent both is for Psyche to be sacrificed to the goddess.
While writing her complaints, Orual says the gods hate her. She demands and justifies herself and ultimately reveals herself more honesty that even she expected when she first began. Retelling the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Lewis weaves a tale similar in theme to The Chronicles of Narnia, but more mature both in terms of audience and writing style. Having read many of C.S. Lewis' fiction and nonfiction, I'm surprised it's taken so long for me to read this one. It was definitely worthwhile and I'm sure I'll read it again. 5 stars.
As promised, here is an update with only this month's reading of my 999 Challenge categories. My previous progress report was far too long, covering three months. Once again, links are to my reviews and I've included dates for when I finished each book.
Award (and Honors) Winners -
The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Reimagining Shakespeare for Children and Young Adults, edited by Naomi J. Miller Category: Nonfiction
This collection of essays discusses various adaptations of Shakespeare for children, critical viewpoints of Shakespeare's plays and adaptations, and pedagogy in teaching Shakespeare to grades K-12. Because this book is primarily and plays and teaching methods, I decided to put it in my Nonfiction category rather than Books about Books. Probably most useful for teachers (though part 1 about adaptations could also be of interest to parents and librarians), I found in reading these essays that I had a definite opinion about my own approach to Shakespeare, story, or really any sort of convention that becomes ingrained. Each author has his or her own unique perspective, but agreed most with those who would "play" with Shakespeare's words or story, arguing that this is exactly what Shakespeare himself did when he rewrote the works of those who came before him. If his work is not entirely original, do we really have to hold his work up as untouchable?
I enjoy reading and watching Shakespeare's plays, and I've enjoyed historical fiction with Shakespeare as a character or stories that play with Shakespeare. So this exploration of Shakespeare and teaching was a fun read for me even though I am not a teacher and would not find the pedagogy portion of this useful in any practical way. I still managed to add a handful of books to my TBR list, from young adult novels like King of Shadows to more academic works like Shakespeare, the Movie. 4.5 stars.
The Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett 999 Challenge Category: Audiobooks
Polly Perks runs off to join the army, disguised as a boy, in an attempt to find her brother. Her country of Borogravia has been at war since nobody knows when and appears to be on its last leg when this group of recruits starts its journey. Pratchett explores serious subjects of war and gender relations while telling a story with his trademark humor and wit.
I'm having trouble summarizing the book and describing my thoughts, mostly because it took me almost a month to complete it and I can't remember how far along in the story certain things were revealed. I enjoyed the story, even in its goofiness and even when I could see where things were going. This seems to be another standalone in the Discworld series, though the three books I've read have all been parts of different mini-series, so unrelated to each other. I might try reading them in order now. 4.5 stars.
Krakatoa by Simon Winchester 999 Challenge Category: Nonfiction
In 1883, the volcano on the island of Krakatau shocked the world by literally blowing the island apart. In this detailed account that starts with trading and the Dutch control of the area, describes the science of plate tectonics (which wasn't fully understood until some 80 years after), and then gives various eyewitness accounts of the eruption itself.
It's a fascinating account, and there is a lot of information packed into this book. I was rather surprised by the breadth of topics covered (trade, plate tectonics, even some biology) over a couple of hundred years (1600s-1900s). Still, Winchester writes engagingly without many technical terms, and there are ample pictures and graphs to aid as well. 4.5 stars.
...I read another book that didn't fit into my 999 Challenge categories.
It was Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher
Two years after Furies of Calderon ends, we find Tavi at the Academy under the patronage of Gaius, the First Lord himself. Bernard is now Count, and his sister Isana is finding herself caught between a rock and a hard place because of Gaius' appointment of her as the first woman Steadholder. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing for Alera from without and within.
My cousin recommended this series to me, and I'm enjoying it a lot. As the series progresses, I'm getting to know the characters more, and the pace of the plot builds until I don't want to put the book down until it's finished. I can't wait to read the next one! 4.5 stars.
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister Category: New-to-me Authors
Lillian, now the owner of a restaurant, knows the magic of food. She discovered it for herself as a child, and now she shares it with her cooking classes, "The School of Essential Ingredients." The Prologue sets of the story like so: "Lillian knew that whatever their reasons for coming, at some moment in the course of the class each one's eyes would widen with joy or tears or resolution -- it always happened. The timing and reason would be different for each, and that's where the fascination lay. No two spices work the same" (3).
The story hinges on description and character, as we follow the course of the class and see each character's "moment" through his or her point of view. The descriptions are sometimes awkward but never boring or cliched. The tastes and smells of the kitchen are lovingly rendered. The characters are unique, and I enjoyed their back stories and internal growth. Like the food described, the story has a light flavor that doesn't bole you over with plot but asks you to savor and enjoy. 4.5 stars.
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder 999 Challenge Category: Nonfiction
Dr. Paul Farmer devotes much of his life to caring for the poor in Haiti, where diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS run rampant, made much worse by the abject poverty in which many Haitians live. Dr. Farmer is an absolutely driven man who keeps a crazy schedule, constantly advocates for his patrients, and expects a lot of himself and others. His story is both challenging and inspiring.
I read this for a community group read in my hometown. Kidder takes a very personal approach in writing this story, even showing up as a "character" from time to time. As a result, he emphasizes Dr. Farmer's personal approach to medicine and shows Dr. Farmer in a very human light. I thought it was neat that he loved The Lord of the Rings, and especially liked the story about how, as a preteen, he asked a librarian to find another story "just like this one." Fantasy didn't work, but War and Peace did (I can only wonder how she came up with that - did she make a connection between the stories, or was she just frustrated?). 4.5 stars.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking Category: Lost Book Club
The theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and the search for a unified theory of the universe are the subjects of this mind-boggling explication of physics (I found I could read about 5 pages at a time without my brain hurting). Perhaps I was even more at a disadvantage for never having taken physics, though I did feel a little better when an engineer friend of mine told me that quantum mechanics is covered in Physics 3. Even so, it's ultimately a rewarding learning experience investigating the universe as we know it. I'm interested in learning more, and daresay I'll understand more in whichever book I choose next for having persevered in this one. 4.5 stars.
Walden Two by B.F. Skinner Category: Lost Book Club
A behavioral psychologist imagines a utopia based on principles of positive reinforcement and training peopl eto act in a way that benefits the community. Professor Burris narrates for us when he and some friends visit his old colleague Frazier, the founder of Walden Two. Each character is on varying levels of acceptance, as Frazier expounds on his Utopia; Castle, in particular, remains a determined skeptic, while Burris finds himself mediating between Castle and Frazier.
I was rather disappointed by this book. It was a fictional way of promoting Skinner's ideas, and there's no story outside of that, only Frazier promoting while Castle digs his heels in further. I remain unconvinced that it could work, and found myself getting annoyed that ultimately Frazier's reasoning was, "Well, you see it working before you" as he led his charges around Walden Two, when I don't know of any such successful community. Also, Skinner is a strict behaviorist and doesn't give much credence to the "nature" or genetic side of psychology. 3 stars.
Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher 999 Challenge Category: Recommended Reads
Amara, ready for her graduation exercise as a Cursor, travels disguised as a slave, hoping to confirm rumors of a renegade legion. Tavi is an orphan with no fury in a land where furycrafting (using a being called a "fury" to communicate, heal, fight, etc.) is as common as breathing, but when he makes a discovery when trying to recover his sheep, the safety of his people suddenly rests on his shoulders.
A character-rich, in-depth world is introduced in this first book of the Codex Alera series. There's a lot of political maneuvering, and the point of view changes (primarily between Amara and Tavi) mean that the reader knows more than the individual characters. After about sixty pages, the pace quickly builds and never lets up. 4.5 stars.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson 999 Challenge Category: Award Winners and Honors (National Book Award Finalist, 2008)
The year is 1776. Isabel's owner, Miss Finch, has died. She left a will freeing Isabel and her sister Ruth, but Miss Finch's nephew is in a hurry and the lawyer is in Boston -- unreachable given the current unrest. He sells the girls to a couple who live in New York. Upon arrival in her new home, Isabel meets Curzon, a fellow slave and Patriot who claims they can contact the lawyer if she'll spy for his side.
The narrative weaves a convincing tale in which even the side of liberty is not all that interested in the plight of slaves. Each chapter is titled by the dates it covers (which could be a day or nearly two months), followed by a quote from historical writing -- a letter, a journal entry -- that also highlights the exploration of liberty and justice in the Revolutionary War. I look forward to the sequel. 4.5 stars.
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon 999 Challenge Category: Books about Books
Well, I heard about this from some other LibraryThing readers and could hardly pass up the chance to read something about Jane Austen! This is about an aunt who (much like Jane Austen before her) corresponds with a niece interested in writing novels. The niece, Alice, is a fictional girl of green-and-black colored hair who can't imagine why Jane Austen would be considered relevant today.
The blend of fiction and literary criticism threw me for a loop at first. The first few letters talk about Jane Austen's life and times, then move on to talk about each of her novels in turn; all are peppered with advice about reading, writing, and listening (or not) to critics. In fact, this struck me as much more about the writing itself than about Jane Austen in particular. At times witty, and other times confusing, sometimes I agreed and at others I wholeheartedly disagreed. But that, as I'm sure "Aunt Fay" would agree, is one of the joys of visiting the "City of Invention" that is made of books. 3.5 stars.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett 999 Challenge Category: New-to-me authors
Aibileen is a black woman working for Elizabeth Leefolt taking care of Mae Mobley. Minny is Mrs. Walters' maid, constantly at odds with her employer's daughter for speaking her mind. And Eugenia Phelan (more commonly known as "Skeeter") is an educated white woman who didn't really think about "the help" too much until her own family's maid disappeared. These women at first appear disparate, but find that they are alike where it truly counts.
This historical fiction set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962 is surprisingly hopeful in tone, even while depicting tragic and horrific events in history. The narrative voices of Aibilieen, Minny and Skeeter tell us most of the story, each with a distinctive voice and point of view, and the characters feel very real. An emotional but overall uplifting read. 4.5 stars.
Please forgive me. I didn't have Internet access for a couple of weeks, so as a result over the next two days, I'll be posting, um, all the books I read for my 999 challenge in the month of April. I'll also be redundantly recapping the month at the end of this week, because if I didn't the list at the end of May would be too long.
Watchmen by Alan Moore 999 Challenge Category: Graphic Novels (uncounted because I decided to count series together)
What if there once had been masked vigilantes, humans inspired by superhero comics, roaming the streets of New York City to keep the world safe? In this dystopian vision of just such a world, such activism has been outlawed since 1977 and most of those who participated have retired. But then one of them is murdered, and no one knows why or if the killer will strike again.
I'm glad to be able to say I've read this title, but I didn't particularly enjoy it. It was gritty and violent and depressing and just not the kind of story I like. It's a complex story that I read much slower than I expected to, and very well-crafted. Recommended for fans of dystopian/apocalyptic fiction, maybe even hard-boiled mystery fans who want to read something a little different. Just not my cup of tea. 2 stars.
Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear 999 Challenge Category: New-to-me authors
Matthew is a magician in New York City, a member of the Prometheans, who works to protect humans from the Fae that would steal them into their world as changelings. Elaine is a human bound to the Faerie world by the Mebd, one of the Queens of Faerie, and by her loyalty to her son, Ian. She is also the Seeker, one who prowls shadows looking for Fae children. A collision of their worlds seems inevitable, and as players are drawn into events beyond their control the morality of either side becomes ambiguous.
This urban fantasy is a bit different from my normal fare -- darker, more sensual than the fantasy I usually choose to read. I kept going because I wanted to see what would happen to Elaine and the other characters, if their fates were truly predetermined or if they could choose a different outcome. Bear throws readers into her alternate universe and leaves them to discover along with her characters (a knowledge of Arthurian legend and the ballad of Tam Lin would be especially helpful, but I got along alright knowing only basics). I'm interested in seeing where the series heads from here. 4 stars.
It's been fourteen years since the end of Something Rotten, and SpecOps has been disbanded. Thursday is now working for Acme Carpets (at least, that's her story), and Friday is a slothful sixteen-year-old that has shown no interest in joining the ChronoGuard, which rather unnerves his parents as he was supposed to join 3 years ago. Will his reluctance spell the end of time as we know it?
Once again, another fun, unpredictable story about Thursday Next and the BookWorld. One difference from the others seemed to be that there was no one book that was referenced throughout (or if there was, I missed the reference). These are hard books to describe or put in a box, so suffice it to say that I enjoyed it as much as the others, especially the parts about the stupidity surplus. This doesn't fit at all in my 999 Challenge Categories, but it's the 40th book I've read this year. 4.5 stars.
My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse 999 Challenge Category: Audiobooks
I seem to have been hearing a lot about the Jeeves and Wooster stories lately, and they were also a big part of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I thought I should give the series a try. My Man Jeeves is a collection of short stories, most of which are narrated by Bertie Wooster, about the scrapes he and his friends get into and how his servant, Jeeves, always brilliantly saves the day. The middle stories were narrated by a guy named Reggie, who didn't have a servant to save the day, but were much the same otherwise (I was a little confused by this interlude, and wondered if there was an error in the audio file).
The stories were amusing but repetitive. I often found myself confused about where I'd left off, so it took me two weeks to finish even though it was a fairly short book. Simon Prebble was a good narrator who did an admirable job of using both British and American accents for a variety of characters. I think this is the first in the Jeeves and Wooster stories, but if these stories were any indication of the books as a whole, they can be read in any order. 4 stars.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson 999 Challenge Category: New to Me Authors
(Explanation of the Challenge and my categories can be found here.)
Ruby Lennox knew almost from conception that she was unwanted. Her mother Bunty, father George, and sisters Patricia and Gillian live Above the Shop that George and Bunty grudgingly own and run. Ruby insightfully narrates their lives, inserting "footnotes" between each chapter that detail the lives of her ancestors.
I'm finding it difficult to summarize my impressions. The story that unfolds of an ordinary family kept me reading primarily because of Ruby's voice rather than my interest in the characters (I was often annoyed with them) or the plot (internal and retrospective even while being narrated in present tense). At times beautifully descriptive, it was an often unsettling story that I found compelling even when I didn't enjoy it. 3.5 stars.
Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris 999 Challenge Category: Young Adult/Children's
Christian ran away from home when he was six. Living with his foster father in the forest for eleven years, Chris doesn't regret it for a minute - he has a happy (if isolated) life with his two dogs and distantly watches Princess Marigold through a telescope from outside his house. But now it's time for him to leave the life he's known and seek his fortune.
Though I enjoyed several aspects of this story, Once Upon a Marigold was clearly written for readers younger than me. The seventeen-year-old protagonists often seemed a bit young in their thoughts and actions and the narrator had a habit of making pronouncements in a way that irritated me. The direction of the plot was clear early on, though it was entertaining to see how it all came together. Edric the troll was a great character, and I enjoyed his merged sayings that seem to almost make sense. A quick, fun read that I would've enjoyed more fifteen years ago. 4 stars.
In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce 999 Challenge Category: YA/Children's
*Spoiler warning* if you haven't read Alanna: the First Adventure.
The second in the Song of the Lioness quartet starts a few months after Alanna: The First Adventure ended. Alanna, now Prince Jonathan's squire, is traveling when a storm forces her to seek shelter. That night, she meets a new friend - a cat with eyes as violet as her own - and the Goddess herself, who gives her advice about what is to come.
I read the book in one evening. The plot seems meandering, but is really more of a journey, as Alanna prepares to become a knight. A couple of years go by very quickly, which sometimes makes events that were probably a bit slower to occur in the internal chronology happen very quickly. All my favorite characters - Alanna, Jonathan, George, and the rest - were back in this entertaining tale. 4.5 stars.
Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox 999 Challenge Category: YA/Children's
*Spoiler warning* if you haven't read Dreamhunter.
The second book in the Dreamhunter Duet starts before the first ends - there's about 15-20 pages of overlap told from a slightly different perspective. From there, we learn where Laura went to hide after delivering a horrible nightmare that had been used to keep convicts in line to a large number of people in order to bring awareness to what Cas Doran and his Regulatory Body has been up to. Rose soon finds out that this isn't the only thing they're up to, so the fact that nobody seems to care that this nightmare is used on convicts quickly moves to the background.
Like Dreamhunter, Dreamquake starts a little slowly, but steadily builds momentum as the reader and characters discover just what is going on with dreams and the Place. I grew a little frustrated that I figured out a lot before the main characters did, but overall it was an enjoyable read. 4 stars.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman 999 Challenge Category: Award Winners
Nobody ("Bod") Owens, orphaned by a man Jack who killed everyone in the family but failed to kill the toddler, lives in a graveyard. The many residents of the graveyard have a hand in raising him, particularly his foster parents, the Owenses, and his guardian, Silas. Somewhere out in the wider world, however, Jack still wants to finish his job.
This year's Newbery Award winner is pretty much as odd as you would expect if you've read any of Neil Gaiman's other books (I mean that as an observation, not a criticism). I liked the premise and the details of life in the graveyard, such as the lessons that teachers long dead taught Bod and the addition of dates and inscriptions after the mention of various inhabitants. Some readers may enjoy the nods to The Jungle Book, but you don't have to be familiar with Kipling's work to enjoy this one. 4 stars.
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce 999 Challenge Category: Audiobooks
Alanna and her twin, Thom, are not happy with their father's plans for them - Alanna to be trained as a lady and Thom as a knight. So Alanna cooks up a plan to switch places (their scholar father will never notice) so they can follow their dreams: Alanna to become a knight and Thom, a sorcerer. But what will happen if she's discovered?
I'm having a hard time talking about the story without giving spoilers, especially since it's such a short story. I usually take a long time on audiobooks, but this had only 4 tracks and was such an interesting story that I had a hard time falling asleep to it. While I found the story mostly predictable, I liked Alanna and the friends she makes, and enjoyed the stories about her training. I look forward to continuing the series. 4.5 stars.
16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber 999 Challenge Category: Audiobooks
Cecelia Randall, grieving from the death of her daughter, decides to divorce her husband, Ian, who was unable to be with her when the baby was born, lived, or died because of his Navy obligations. This is one of several story threads that run through 16 Lighthouse Road, which also follows the stories of other Cedar Cove residents, including divorced judge Olivia and her friend Grace, over the course of several months.
I'm not really sure why I pushed through to finish this book, since it just wasn't clicking for me. I had trouble following all the different characters - while I could keep track of them all, the story shifts made it hard for me to care about one or the other because when I was getting close, the story moved again. Furthermore, these shifts meant that sometimes changes in a character that happened over weeks were summarized in a paragraph instead of shown through changes in attitude or behavior. A story I may have enjoyed more in a different mood. 2 stars.
Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby 999 Challenge Category: Books about Books
The last in his collection of article written for The Believer, Shakespeare Wrote for Money is just as funny as the first two. The dates on the articles are from August 2006 to September 2008, and include a wide range of books read from YA titles to a biography of Shakespeare.
I love getting the perspective of someone that's intelligent and interesting and humorous and feels like a real reader telling a friend what they liked or didn't like about the books they've read lately. That's the main reason these books appeal to me. Even when I'm not all that interested in the books he's talking about, I enjoy reading about his experiences as a reader instead of reading a more objective, professional review that tells me lots about a book but little about someone's experience reading it. This was an immediate birthday list add. 4.5 stars.
Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde 999 Challenge Category: Recommended
Thursday Next has been the Bellman for a couple of years now, but she's ready to go back to the real world. Along with Hamlet (who's concerned about the outside world's perception of him as a ditherer), Thursday returns determined to get her husband Landen uneradicated and to send Yorrick Kaine back to the Bookworld where he belongs.
For months, my mom has been begging me to read this book, the fourth in a series that I first recommended to her. So she was pleased when I finally got to it, laughed at loud on several occasions, and promptly finished it only to revisit some favorite parts with her. I recommend reading Hamlet first, as it will make the bookish humor that much more enjoyable. 4.5 stars.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford 999 Challenge Category: New-to-me Authors
In 1986, the current owner of the Panama Hotel begins remodeling, and finds possessions of several Japanese families who left Seattle in the 1940s when they were sent to internment camps. This discovery makes the news, and reminds newly widowed Henry Lee of his experiences as the son of Chinese immigrants in 1942. "Scholarshipping" in an all-white school, he makes a friend when Keiko Okabe transfers to his school and works alongside him in the cafeteria.
The narrative shifts between 1942 and 1986, and we see past and present from Henry's perspective. Ford evokes a rich sense of place in his descriptions of Seattle neighborhoods and the jazz scene in the 1940s. More a story of internal discovery than external events, the story and its characters insinuated their way into me until I found, to my surprise, that I cared enough to cry. 4.5 stars.
Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox 999 Challenge Category: New-to-me Authors
Laura and Rose have been inseparable since birth. They are cousins, both the daughters of dreamhunters, and expect to soon be allowed into the Place to catch dreams themselves. Only certain people can enter the Place, and even fewer of them have the ability to catch dreams that can then be shared with the populace - exciting dreams like Wild River or healing dreams like Convalescent One. But there seems to be something inexplicably sinister about them...
This first book in the Dreamhunter Duet takes awhile to get going, but once it does it's a compelling read. The story sometimes gets sidetracked into history of dreamhunting or other explication, but the world Knox creates is rich as a result. Mostly told from Laura's perspective, we see her change from a young teen who follows her cousin's lead to someone who takes action. I look forward to seeing where the story goes in Dreamquake. 4 stars.
Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman 999 Challenge Category: Audiobooks
April Epner, adopted daughter of two Holocaust survivors, never really thought much about her birth mother. When her mother Bernice, local TV celebrity and drama queen extraordinaire, shows up out of nowhere, April's fairly quiet life as a single Latin teacher of 36 will never be the same.
By turns sweet and hilarious, this was a fun story set in Boston. The characters were great: I could sympathize with April's mixed feelings towards Bernice (who was sort of annoying but such a funny, wonderful character, too) while they get to know each other. The narrator, Mia Barron, did a fabulous job interpreting the characters and made the dialogue that much more enjoyable.
As an aside, this was my first time using a Playaway. Has anyone else had experience with this format? What was your experience with it? I found it a little frustrating because the sound quality was not great, and I couldn't bookmark at all. Each track was a chapter, I listened to the beginning of the one chapter that was 30 minutes long several nights in a row because I fell asleep without hitting pause and turning it off. Rating for format: 2 stars. Rating for story: 4.5 stars.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart 999 Challenge Category: Award Winners
(For more about the 999 Challenge and my categories, see this post.)
Family and friends still see Frankie as "Bunny Rabbit," a good girl going to a good school who follows the rules and still needs to be protected. But Frankie doesn't see herself that way at all, and she's out to prove that she can think for herself and blaze her own trail. Frankie is a really likable heroine, and her relationships with schoolmates are believable and sympathetic. I found myself rooting for her even when I didn't 100% agree with her. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.
The Disreputable History has been on several shortlists for awards, receiving a Printz Honor, National Book Award finalist, and made the Amelia Bloomer list. It also recently received the Cybil Award for young adult fiction. I can see why it would win awards, as it has a strong female lead and is a well-constructed story. But this is also one of those books that I think is just generally appealing, filled with fun pranks and true-to-life friend/boyfriend struggles. I could definitely see myself recommending it to teen readers. 4.5 stars.
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan 999 Challenge Category: Graphic Novels (may change to Lost Book Club)
A phenomenon causes all men on the planet to die, except one. Yorick Brown, son of an English professor and a congresswoman, and his monkey Ampersand are apparently the last males living of any species. Nobody knows why. But maybe they can keep the human race from dying out - as long as none of the crazy gangs kill Yorick first.
I thought this set up a great "what if," and had a convincing way of exploring what could happen if most males died. Yorick is an interesting guy - escape artist, English major, and surprisingly well-adjusted for being named after a skull in a play. For you other Lost fans out there, this is the comic that Hurley brings on Flight 316. If I read the whole series (10 volumes), I may consider moving it over to that category. Recommended for fans of science fiction; I would rate it R, primarily for language and violence. 4.5 stars.