Friday, May 22, 2009

Uncategorized Read: The Family Man

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.

Category 4, Book 8: Nonfiction - As They See 'Em

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 1, Book 8: Award Winners - Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
999 Challenge Category: Award Winners and Honors
Jellicoe Road was this year's Printz Award Winner.

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 8, Book 7: YA/Children's - The Last Olympian

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Category 6, Book 6: Graphic Novels - Persepolis 2

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 6, Book 5: Graphic Novels - Good as Lily

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 1, Book 7: Award Winners - The Blue Sword

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 8, Book 6: YA/Children's - The Alchemyst

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 3, Book 7: Books about Books - Slow Reading

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why I Should Read More of My Own Books

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.

Monday, May 4, 2009

April in Review - A Progress Report

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 -
  1. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
  2. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
  3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  5. Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox
  6. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (4/11/09)

New-to-me Authors -
  1. The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
  2. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  3. Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox
  4. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  5. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
  6. Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear (4/5/09)
  7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (4/9/09)
  8. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (4/19/09)

Books about Books/Reading/Writing -
  1. 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall
  2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  3. The Pleasure of Reading, edited by Antonia Fraser
  4. Housekeeping vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby
  5. Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby
  6. Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon (4/10/09)

Nonfiction -
  1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  2. Things I've Been Silent About by Azar Nafisi
  3. Levels of the Game by John McPhee
  4. The Cross by Arthur Blessitt
  5. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (4/16/09)
  6. Krakatoa by Simon Winchester (4/27/09)
  7. Reimagining Shakespeare for Children and Young Adults, edited by Naomi Miller (4/28/09)

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

Graphic Novels -
  1. Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
  2. The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
  3. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
  4. Watchmen by Alan Moore (4/7/09)

Recommendations -
  1. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
  2. The Shack by William P. Young
  3. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
  4. Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher (4/14/09)

YA/Children's -
  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
  2. The Last Knight by Hilari Bell
  3. Rogue's Home by Hilari Bell
  4. In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce
  5. Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

Lost Book Club -
  1. Bad Twin by Gary Troup
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. Walden Two by B.F. Skinner (4/15/09)
  4. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (4/16/09)

Category 4, Book 7: Nonfiction - Reimagining Shakespeare

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 5, Book 8: Audiobooks - The Monstrous Regiment

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 4, Book 6: Nonfiction - Krakatoa

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.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Just Because I Wanted to...

...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.