Monday, March 30, 2009

999 Challenge - Progress Report

Here's an update on how I'm progressing in my 999 Challenge categories. I've included the date the book or audiobook was completed. Each link is to my review post.

Award Winners:
  1. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde (1/27/09)
  2. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson (2/13/09)
  3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (3/3/09)
  4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (3/15/09)

New (to me) authors:
  1. The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman (1/17/09)
  2. Wicked by Gregory Maguire (2/1/09)
  3. Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox (3/6/09)
  4. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (3/8/09)
  5. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (3/24/09)

Books about books, reading, or writing:
  1. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die edited by Peter Boxall (1/15/09)
  2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1/23/09)
  3. The Pleasure of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser (2/4/09)
  4. Housekeeping vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby (2/17/09)
  5. Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby (3/12/09)

Other nonfiction:
  1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (1/5/09)
  2. Things I've Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi (1/16/09)
  3. Levels of the Game by John McPhee (1/17/09)
  4. The Cross by Arthur Blessitt (2/12/09)

  1. Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery (1/6/09)
  2. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson (1/22/09)
  3. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (2/26/09)
  4. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman (3/4/09)
  5. 16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber (3/12/09)
  6. Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (3/14/09)
  7. My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (3/28/09)

Graphic novels:
  1. Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman (2/6/09)
  2. The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (3/2/09)
  3. Y: The Last Man by Brian Vaughan (3/2/09)

  1. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde (1/1/09)
  2. The Shack by W.P. Young (1/4/09)
  3. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde (3/11/09)

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney (1/20/09)
  2. The Last Knight by Hilari Bell (2/5/09)
  3. Rogue's Home by Hilari Bell (2/14/09)
  4. Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox(3/18/09)
  5. In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce (3/20/09)
  6. Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris (3/23/09)

Lost Book Club:
  1. Bad Twin by Gary Troup (1/19/09)
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (2/28/09)

Total books read - 39

Wow! I can't believe I'm nearly halfway there! I'm going to start updating my progress monthly so I don't have a huge amount of listing and linking to do every time.

Category 5, Book 7: Audiobooks - My Man Jeeves

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Category 2, Book 5: New-to-me Authors - Kate Atkinson

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 8, Book 6: YA/Children's - Once Upon a Marigold

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 8, Book 5: YA/Children's - In the Hand of the Goddess

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 8, Book 4: YA/Children's - Dreamquake

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Category 1, Book 4: Award Winners - The Graveyard Book

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 5, Book 6: Audiobooks - Alanna: The First Adventure

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.

Cross posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 5, Book 5: Audiobooks - 16 Lighthouse Road

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 3, Book 5: Books about Books - Shakespeare Wrote for Money

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Category 7, Book 3: Recommendations - Something Rotten

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Category 2, Book 4: New-to-me Authors - Jamie Ford

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 2, Book 3: New-to-me Authors - Elizabeth Knox

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 5, Book 4: Audiobooks - Then She Found Me

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 1, Book 3: Award Winners - The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 6, Book 4: Graphic Novels - Y: The Last Man

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Category 6, Book 3: The Sandman

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
999 Challenge Category: Graphic Novels
(More about the 999 Challenge and my categories can be found here.)

While trying to summon Death, the leader of a mysterious order inadvertently captures Dream, imprisoning him for years. This wreaks havoc on the world as we know it, as Dream's tools are used by humans who have no way of coping with their power, and several people become infected with a "sleepy sickness." All Dream can think about is getting free - and then getting revenge.

The first in the Sandman series is a little uneven, very creepy ("24 Hours" was downright scary), and I liked Dream and some of the other characters introduced. I'm definitely going to read the next book in the series to see how things develop. 4 stars.

Cross-posted on the 999 Challenge.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Category 9, Book 2: Lost Book Club - The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
999 Challenge Category: The Lost Book Club

Fyodor Pavlovich has three sons: Dmitri (Mitya) Fyodorovich, Ivan Fyodorovich, and Alexei (Alyosha) Fyodorovich. Each have been affected by their father's "sensualist" nature - dear daddy is a drunkard and carouser, and pretty much left the boys' upbringing to the servant, Grigory. Now adults, Dmitri similarly follows his father in lifestyle and currently has an argument with him regarding his mother's inheritance, Ivan the intellectual has rejected the idea of God and figures he can do whatever he wants, and Alyosha is training in a monastery. Soon events unfold that will affect the brothers for the rest of their lives.

This story is incredibly hard to sum up. A lot goes on, and much of the action of the plot occurs in the second half of the book. It definitely had its dull moments; to be quite honest, I may have given up during Book 5 if it weren't for a group read and the fact that the book was referenced on Lost. Once I made it through the tougher parts, however, I found it a compelling study of people driven by guilt, suffering, and more virtuous motives. I'm glad I pushed through the slower chapters and finished it. 4 stars.