February 25th, 2010

did you know you could fly?

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Book #9 -- Sheila Solomon Klass, Soldier's Secret: The Story of Deborah Sampson, 215 pages.

An incredible story based on the life of Deborah Sampson, a young woman who served in the Patriot army in the Revolutionary War for eighteen months dressed as a boy.

Progress toward goals: 56/365 = 15.3%

Books: 9/100 = 9.0%

Pages: 2186/30000 = 7.3%

2010 Book List

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

Book 22: The Reincarnationist by M. J. Rose

Book 22: The Reincarnationist.
Author: M. J. Rose, 2007.
Genre: Mystery/Thriller. Reincarnation
Other Details: Paperback. 472 pages.

Photojournalist Josh Ryder survived a terrorist's bomb though now finds he is haunted by what seems to be memories of a past life. In these hallucinatory episodes he is Julius, a pagan priest in 4th century Rome, facing the destruction of the temples as Christianity is established as the official and only religion. Julius is in love with Sabina, one of the last Vestal Virgins. Theirs is a forbidden love and if caught they will both be put to death.

Sixteen months after the explosion Josh has become involved with The Phoenix Foundation, an organisation engaged in collecting evidence of reincarnation from children using past life regression. Although they don't work with adults, one of the prominent members, Dr. Malachai Samuels, offers to help Josh deal with his episodes in return for his services as a photographer. When a tomb is uncovered near Rome, the scientists studying it believe they may have found the fabled Memory Stones, which are reputed to hold the key to accessing past lives. Josh accompanies Malachai to Rome to visit the dig. He becomes convinced that the mummified remains of the woman found within the tomb are those of Sabina.

As to be expected in this kind of novel, sinister parties desire the stones for themselves and naturally are prepared to go to any lengths to obtain them. Interwoven with the present day intrigues is the story of Julius and his forbidden love for Sabina. There is also another past life connection, based in the 19th century, that surfaces in Josh's and another character's memories. The interweaving of present and past is done with great skill and Rose also incorporates information about the belief in reincarnation and research in an accessible way.

It was the subject matter that drew me to this novel as it has been an interest of mine for many years. M. J. Rose openly states her own interest and the reading list that she gives at the end of the novel reflects my own bookshelves.

Although I enjoyed the novel it did have some flaws. Sometimes the frantic pace and bouncing about from place to place that seems typical of this genre became a little wearing and I felt characterisation suffered for it.The book also ended in a rather abrupt way leaving me with a feeling of incompleteness. Still, I felt that overall the premise of the book was so original and the storyline was engaging enough that I could live with this ending. As this is the first of a series, perhaps Rose will return to some of these characters and address threads that I felt were left hanging. I shall certainly be reading them as they become available in the UK.

M. J. Rose's Page on 'The Reincarnationist' - includes links to excerpt and promotional video.

Books 41-47 2009

Didn't quite finish the challenge last year, but I got pretty close, which was more than I expected with the heavy courseload and piling-up family obligations I had towards the end of the year. Catching up on reviewing them now. ;)

41. Richard III by William Shakespeare (play) - 29 Oct 2009
The foreword to my copy of this play talks about how it shows that this play is earlier than Macbeth, and how the latter is a much better play in every way. This may or may not be true when comparing stage performances of the two, but just reading the script, I personally enjoyed Richard III a lot more. There was something quite likeable about Richard shouldering the mantle of villain and speaking with a cloven tongue which lets the addressee hear what he wants to hear and the audience guess at what Richard's real plans are. If this play is crude compared to Macbeth, Macbeth is a crude villain compared to Richard.

42. The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, edited by Geoffrey Tillotson (poetry) - 8 Nov 2009
This epic poem interested me mostly for its backstory, as it is intended to highlight just how preposterous and blown out of proportion a certain court scandal at the time was. I think my favorite part was the absolutely epic description of a game of cards, complete with war metaphors piling up, as well as the classic line "where the Queen sometimes council takes, and sometimes tea" (or something along those lines).

43. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - 19 Nov 2009
Pip is an orphan raised by hand by his cruel older sister and her kind-but-not-too-bright husband Joe. His fortunes seem to be starting to turn when he gains the attention of the rich but tragic and eccentric Miss Havisham and falls in love with Estella, the girl Miss Havisham has raised as her own. These fortunes continue to turn up, and as they do he meets some amazingly unique characters as well as some truly sleazy individuals. Throughout, however, he's left guessing as to the nature of his benefactor, and this continues to bother him as he enjoys an easy life he never dreamed he would have.
I found Pip to be an unsympathetic character at times, though at other times he acted in a wonderfully kind-hearted manner. Some of the supporting cast, however, including Miss Havisham, are incredibly intriguing, and Joe is nothing if not heart-breakingly loyal to the boy he's raised as kindly as he's dared.

44. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - 23 Nov 2009
Another Dickens orphan, Oliver had a much harsher start in life than Pip, though their lives (and the natures of the people around them) still hold some minor similarities. Again there's a very eccentric cast of characters, and even those who seek to help rather than harm Oliver sometimes do so in the most roundabout and nonsensical manner imaginable. This book also has the rather interesting trait of containing several no-good characters, who are all bad in so distinctly dissimilar manners as to make it difficult to say who's the most rotten apple. Nice deep read.

45. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (detective) - 30 Nov 2009
I must admit I'm rather fond of Sayers's Lord Peter Wymsy. He's not a perfect man by any stretch, and sometimes his name seems to suit him a little too well, but he has a very special appeal to him, and seems for the most part to be aware of his failings, which is something that can't really be said for most story detectives. A very interesting mix between murder mystery and Lord Peter's struggles to deal with his family, all of which he's not terribly fond of. One of those characters that should be unlikeable but isn't. Also contains some pretty interesting literary references, both in works quoted by the lord himself and in the narrative.

46. Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie (detective) - 9 Dec 2009
The only book I've read by Christie which I genuinely liked, without reservation, was And Then There Was None. This book was much better than the previous Poirot mysteries I've encountered, and I did enjoy most of it — until that stuck-up Belgian entered into the story. The family secrets and intrigue surrounding the murder are very engaging, but I just cannot stand that little man who's supposed to be the hero of the day. I still might re-read it, but I doubt Poirot will annoy me any less if I revisit the mystery. That said, it spawned some good discussions in the class I read it for, since this is one case where virtually all of the characters in the story might have a motive — including the victim.

47. Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English by Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad & Geoffrey Leech (textbook) - 10 Dec 2009
On the plus side, this book was a lot more comprehensive to me than the grammar book we used in first-level English. On the minus side, it was still a grammar textbook, and for those of us not terribly interested in theorethical grammar, it was still a bore.

Book 2 - Bag of Bones

book 02Title: Bag of Bones
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Horror

Plot: After his wife's death, a widowed novelist discovers a mystery in the summer cottage they'd shared and finds himself wrapped up in a stranger's legal troubles.

My Thoughts: I found this book interesting, but it took a while before the story finally truly gripped me. I did find it difficult to empathize with the characters in this story. They seemed, as was repeated in the story itself, like so many "bags of bones", not quite fleshed out enough to have me on the edge of my seat through all the drama. As I've come to expect with King, parts of it were truly funny, parts were wistful, and parts were horrific. But I found very little of it particularly "gross", as I've found some of his books. Perhaps it's my own emotional dampening; too many years of horror movies and crime television shows has left me distinctly unimpressed by fictional gore. Perhaps this was a book light on the gore. I do know that the few places where gore did catch my attention, I didn't find it particularly glamorized. The plot trucked along, the gore fell away, and we were back in the story at large.

Would I read this book again? Probably in a few years, once I've forgotten most of it. I don't think it will ever be one of those books that makes me feel as though I'm returning to an old friend, but I did enjoy myself while reading it.


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Book #10: I Was Told There'd Be Cake

Book #10: I Was Told There'd Be Cake - Sloane Crosley (2008, 230 pages)

I won't lie. I have a fondness for humorous essays, whether it's writing or reading them. I picked up Sloane Crosley's debut based upon the quote by Jonathan Lethem on the cover which compares her to David Sedaris.

Crosley's book passes along interesting tales such as her love of the Oregon Trail computer game, working with the boss from hell, being locked out of both her old and new apartments on moving day and the time she was reigned in to play Maid of Honor for a Bridezilla.

What I will say about Crosley's essays is that they definitely are unique, and written with an eye for euphemisms. Unfortunately, I just didn't find her as funny as I wanted to. A few of her stories made me chuckle, but for the most part, I found myself wincing as the stories were told just a bit too painfully and with little to no humor. In short, I have to disagree with the comparison to Sedaris, as he is able to make you laugh while wincing with pain. It was a nice effort but just not good enough for me, which is why I can only give this two and a half out of five locksmiths.

Total Books Read: 10 / 50 (20 percent)
Total Pages Read: 3,225 / 15,000 (22 percent)
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Book 15 for 2010

White Night by JIm Butcher

Another outing for Harry Dresden. This time someone is killing female magic practitioners. The deaths are set up to look like suicides, but there are messages left with the bodies that only a wizard can interpret. Harry is determined to stop the killings, but as he digs deeper, clues start to implicate Thomas....

Another complex, neatly plotted adventure for Harry , with lots of familiar characters popping up and new developments in the ongoing plot.

I keep saying this, but it's true - this series just gets better and better as it builds on its mythology and history. Roll on the next installment!

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 I haven't been tracking this for a while now, so I am going to have to guesstimate reading since the beginning of the year, knowing that I am likely to underrate how much I have actually read.  

I've made my page goals pretty easily in past years, so I'm doubling it this year, from 15,000 to 30,000 pages.  

So, to begin again. . .

Shaman's Crossing - Robin Hobb

I have been completely in love with her work since reading Assassin's Apprentice (yay for free books on my Kindle) several months ago, and this book does not disappoint.  Hobb continues to be one of the premiere wordsmiths in her genre, or in any genre for that matter.  Her writing is, in a word, effortless.  Her characters are, as always, fully-realized, three-dimensional, wonderfully flawed, and oh so gloriously human.  And the world she creates?  This is one of the most original and compelling fantasy world's I have ever encountered.  No easy re-telling of Tolkien.  No re-treads of one European mythos or another.  No, what Hobb provides is utterly original and completely compelling.

Thematically, Hobb does not shy away from complexity, nor does she fall into the trap of pre-packaged morality plays peopled by Black Hats and White Hats.  Varying shades of gray are the order of the day, and the end product is something truly marvelous.

Whether you read fantasy or not, give her books a try.  She transcends genre.

Truly, I cannot recommend her work strongly enough.

Books Read:  1/50

Pages Read:  624/30,000

Fifty Book Challenge: Book 3

X-posted to lovethecolorofitall.blogspot.com/

Title: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Author: Susanna Clarke

Year: 2004

Genre: Alternate history?

Pages: 800

Rating: 10 / 10

Summary: It's 1808 and that Corsican upstart Napoleon is battering the English army and navy. Enter Mr. Norrell, a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside and the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Susanna Clarke's ingenious first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has the cleverness and lightness of touch of the Harry Potter series, but is less a fairy tale of good versus evil than a fantastic comedy of manners, complete with elaborate false footnotes, occasional period spellings, and a dense, lively mythology teeming beneath the narrative. Mr. Norrell moves to London to establish his influence in government circles, devising such powerful illusions as an 11-day blockade of French ports by English ships fabricated from rainwater. But however skillful his magic, his vanity provides an Achilles heel, and the differing ambitions of his more glamorous apprentice, Jonathan Strange, threaten to topple all that Mr. Norrell has achieved. A sparkling debut from Susanna Clarke--and it's not all fairy dust. (from Amazon)

Thoughts: I finally finished this book! I checked it out two and a half years ago to take to the beach, which was an incredibly bad idea. Jonathan Strange requires serious concentration, which a good beach read does not make. My last boss loved this book so much he named all of our computers and printers after characters in the book – which explains why the laptops were such pains in the ass. (Names – Drawlight and Lascelles). I really enjoyed the entire mythology Clarke puts behind English Magic, and the footnotes! The footnotes were hysterical, as Clarke cited different “books of magic” throughout the novel. I can’t wait to read this again to catch everything I missed the first time.


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 Forest Mage - Robin Hobb

Second books are either the best or worst in any trilogy, and I haven't decided yet which is the case of Forest Mage.  It starts out far more slowly than Shaman's Crossing, or at least that is how it feels.  In the first book, there was always something happening in the world-at-large, some kind of outside interaction propelling the store.  The first half of Forest Mage is far more introspective, with deep character development being its principle concern.  And the development is utterly fascinating.  Nevare Burvelle is one of the more interesting characters I've encountered, and Hobb is merciless in putting him through the ringer.  It is not suffering for its own sake, however.  Every moment of pain advances the overall plot and takes the reader deeper into a world that is sometimes confusing, often troubling, but always compelling and thoroughly original.

And when the action does pick up, it picks up with a vengeance.  For the last few hundred pages, I literally could not put the book down.

Not as good as Shaman's Crossing, but still an excellent book.

Books Read:  2/50

Pages Read:  1,376 / 30,