November 23rd, 2009

did you know you could fly?

(no subject)

Book #85 -- Justin Richards, The Death Collector, 293 pages.

A mystery set in late 19th-century London that is almost steampunk - the combination of early mechanics with living flesh is a major theme. It's quite a fun read.

Progress toward goals: 327/365 = 89.6%

Books: 85/100 = 85.0%

Pages: 21487/25000 = 85.9%

2009 Book List

cross-posted to 15000pages, 50bookchallenge, and gwynraven
  • cat63

Book 55 for 2009

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Brick Lane is the story of Nazneen, who at 18 enters an arranged marriage with an older man who takes her from her home village in Bangladesh to Tower Hamlets in London. It also tells, through letters, the story of Nazneen's sister Hasina and, obliquely, of their parents' marriage.

Somehow, I feel I should have liked this book more than I did. There were long passages that seemed to drag badly even when things were actually happening and the author seemed to keep the reader remote from events rather than making them immediate and touching. Even at the most painful moments in her characters' lives there seems to be little or no emotion in the writing, so I found it hard to empathise with them. Much of what happened was implied rather than spelled out, which isn't always a bad thing, but at times I felt I was scrabbling to understand what was really going on.

I usually enjoy stories about different cultures and I'd been looking forward to reading this one, but I found it rather disappointing.


Book Review No. 45 features Sam Walton: Made in America. In previous years, I've offered reviews of How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First-Century Capitalism, works that recite grievances about the corporation. Mr Walton, not surprisingly, offers a different perspective, offering inter alia the advice that a business that fails to treat its employees and customers well is unlikely to be a success story. In passing, he offers the real story of the famous greeter at the store door. There's a lot of standard success-in-retail stuff for the aspiring entrepreneur, and people whose comparative advantages lie in presenting goods in an inviting way can learn a lot to bring up at the Saturday morning meeting. What struck me, though, about the early days of the company, was that the business model was Railroad Salvage with better presentation of the merchandise and hence less of the reek of poverty in the store. Perhaps there's still some of that thinking at work. It's often wise for a Wal-Mart shopper to pick up that bargain item now, as it might not be available again.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books 82-85

82. Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. 2008 Teen Buckeye Book Award, second place. Not just a charming coming-of-age story, but a pretty good look at how grueling and tough life on a farm can be. D.J., who lives on a dairy farm with her family, is reluctantly drafted by a coach and family friend to help train her rival school's quarterback. Their resulting interactions have their ups and downs: D.J. is quiet, preferring to work in the background, while Brian is used to getting his own way and is far more outspoken. Communication -- or lack thereof -- is a big issue in this story, with this silent family. The summer changes everything for D.J. as she slowly unpeels the various secrets and wishes of her family, discovers something about her best friend and realizes after all the training that she wants to try something for herself: try out for her school's football team. The story is told from D.J.'s point of view, and the readers get to meet a funny, smart girl who's a bit overwhelmed at times with what is expected of her.

83. Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan. 2009 Alex Award. It's hard to believe reading this that "Mudbound" is Jordan's first novel. It skillfully weaves an interesting story, told from several different points of view. From the very first chapter, we realize something bad has happened -- the not-so-accidental death of the father-in-law of a married couple. The rest of the story goes back in time, leading the reader through the events that lead to the murder. The cast of characters -- from Laura and her husband Henry, to Henry's brother Jamie, to the sharecroppers on the Mississippi farm -- are well rounded. All of them have their flaws -- some of them quite deep -- but all of them, even the bigoted father-in-law, have moments of redemtion and humanity. Although in the case of the father-in-law, those moments are very brief. The story is hard to read at times due to the overt rascism expressed, even by the more "tolerant" characters, but this seems reflective of the time: during and just after World War II. Trouble starts when Henry decides to buy a farm in Mississippi. His wife Laura, a city-bred genteel lady, struggles to adjust to living in a house that can be most kindly described as crudely provincial. Tensions heighten when Jaime and Ronsel, the oldest son of a black sharecropping family on the farm, return from overseas. Both of them had experienced the more tolerant Europe, and Ronsel especially has a hard time adjusting to the racism in his community, and his parents' attitude of just putting up with it. The friendship that develops between Jaime and Ronsel starts a chain of events which leads to tragedy.

84. Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow. 2009 Alex Award. A werewolf story, with a few twists. One, the story is written (very effectively) in free verse. This makes for a powerfully told and rapid-paced read. There are a lot of interlacing stories, along with an intriguing mystery. First, there's the gentle dogcatcher Anthony who befriends a girl -- who happens to be a werewolf. There is Lark, the leader of one pack of werewolves who is trying to discover -- through intrigue and a network of undercover spies -- how many other packs there are and how big a threat they are. Then there's the mysterious small man, who is accompanied by a larger guy who is often referred to as The Samoan. Peabody, a detective, is trying desperately to connect all the clues -- the strange things with the dog pound, the dog sightings and the list of deaths. This is a dark, grim story with, at best, a bittersweet ending.

85. The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Dracula, by Mark Dawidziak. I love vampire lore, and this book was a lot of fun. It concentrates a lot on the various vampire movies, using Brahm Stoker's famous novel as the centerpoint. The book includes information on the author, the various movies and actors who have portrayed various incarnations of the blood-sucking count, comics, television and more. The writing style is very conversational and full of dry humor (not to mention the occassional pun, all in good humor). A great source for vampire fans.