June 9th, 2010


(no subject)

I've got a Bookmooch account and, every now and then, I'll put something on my wishlist there and, by the time it comes available, forget why I wanted it. Thus it was with Into that Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder by Gitta Sereny. By the time it arrived, I couldn't even remember what it was about, much less (once I looked it up) why I'd wanted a book about Nazi extermination camps but, nevertheless, there it was and, since I'd seen fit to put it on my list and since some poor sap in Japan had gone to the trouble to mail it to me, I settled down to read it.

I'm cutting, not so much for spoilers, but because it could be disturbingCollapse )

Ok, on to less serious things:
Then I read (or rather finished, I'd been reading it off and on for months) Miss Manner's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin. My godmother gave me this book on my thirteenth birthday (which upset me at the time; I thought she was hinting at something (she probably was)) and I'd found it immensely useful and fun to skim through, but had never read it from cover to cover. Miss Manners, let me tell you, is the FUNNIEST lady. I wish she would be my friend, only I am terrified of her. Her advice for how one can be excessively rude by being excessively polite is invaluable and, after finishing the book, I went straight out and bought thank-you notes and sent one to my future mother-in-law for the birthday present she'd sent me, the one I couldn't tell what it was. I really really think everybody should have this book. (For example, she explains that it is impolite to recognize children on one's doorstep on Halloween, but instead one ought to respond with fear, as if one is being mugged. To say "Why hello, Sally, don't you look cute," is rude, but to hand over the candy with a look of terror is appropriate.)

Then, because my landlady had lent it to me, I read In The Woods by Tana French which, let me tell you, is the BEST book I've read so far this year. It's, on the surface, your basic detective novel (a girl is murdered in the woods and two police detectives are trying to solve the crime), but it's also sort of a buddy adventure (the wonderful relationship between the two detectives often had me laughing out loud) and, best of all, underneath it all there ran a weird surreal sub-story which reminded me, more than anything, of Picnic at Hanging Rock. This book is so well-written, it was one of those I could SEE as I read, if that makes sense. I know what the characters look like, what the scenery looked like, but I never noticed any heavy-handed descriptions. Please please read this one. You won't be sorry.

The next two, I'm afraid, were mediocre, so you can skip the rest of the post if you like and I won't be offended. I read Your Wedding Your Way by Leah Ingram, which didn't really tell me anything new or mind-bogglingly useful. I also read Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived In That House by Meghan Daum, a memoir about her quest to define herself based on where she lived, which was entertaining and fun but nothing mind-boggling, again.

I also feel I should fess up that I didn't finish Wraeththu by Storm Constantine. I really really tried. I read about 350 pages of it but couldn't get myself to care and the idea of reading the other half of the book was painful. I realize it's got a very loyal fanbase, so please don't kill me, but these, as far as I can figure them, are my complaints:
1. I'm female, so I was a bit annoyed at a world where only the males evolve into a master race. It made it hard to immerse myself in that world. (There were hints that maybe females would be brought into the fold eventually, but I didn't get far enough to see if it happened)
2. The author generally seems to prefer telling to showing, which drives me batty, mostly because I keep involuntarily editing in my head.
3. There's only so much esoteric gay(ish... I realize they're hermaphroditic) sex I can read about before I get bored and wander off. This also connects back to #1, because I have no place in esoteric gay sex, so it's hard to get personally interested in it.

That takes me up to 49/105.

Books 21-25

21. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (young adult) - 30 Apr 2010
What made this book interesting wasn't primarily the book itself, but how it relates to other reading I've done lately. Specifically, a few features pointed out in another work about Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have a bit of resonance here — specifically, Snicket's storytelling technique providing definitions of words used every so often reminds me of Alice's encounters with the griffon and false turtle, and Humpty Dumpty, and the way they introduce new words to her. It's a cute little read, even if I felt it was kind of flat in some parts.

22. Secret Gardens by Humphrey Carpenter (nonfiction) - 15 May 2010
An excellent nonfiction work about the time period known as the Golden Age of Children's Literature, which started somewhere around the late 19th century and ended around the time of World War I. The book includes both some general information about the time and some more in-depth information about the more influential writers Carpenter counts as part of the tradition, both about their lives and about the works themselves. It was an interesting read and an excellent source for my degree essay, so I must say I'm very satisfied with it. It also proved to have some valuable information for the Modern Children's Fiction course I took this semester alongside my degree course, leading to me getting a lot more out of it. I definitely recommend this if you're interested in children's fiction, as it (in my opinion at least) makes a great background read. I want my own copy, now.

23. Dood in de Doos - Livlös i lådan by Dahlqvist - May 2010
This is a bilingual book published in Dutch and Swedish in the same volume; I read the Swedish section and intend to offer to loan it to a Dutch-speaking friend of the family. The story follows a boy who reminisces about his childhood, before he lost his mother and his family was uprooted, moving to Belgium where he keeps plotting how he might be able to run away and return to Sweden. The storytelling is powerful, reminding me of Vi kallar honom Anna by Peter Pohl in the force of the emotion showing through, and the ending was gripping and surprising. Editing-wise, there is the occassional language slip, but not enough to be terribly jarring.

24. Drakens Bok (original title: The coming of dragons by A.J. Lake (young adult, fantasy) - 26 May 2010
Edmund, who really is a prince with more than his fair share of pride and Elspeth, a sea captain's daughter who wants everything but to be the knight who will defeat the great darkness on the horizon become unlikely traveling companions as their ship is broken up by a storm, a great dragon watching the boat sink from overhead with glee. It soon turns out that the evil that's brewing can only be thwarted by (who else?) the two of them, after Elspeth is chosen by a magical gauntlet-and-sword and Edmund comes into mind-reading powers which he wants about as much as she wants the blade.
Unfortunately, I have to say this book suffered from everything just falling into place too neatly; the plot is all too pat for my taste. I realize it's aimed at a younger audience, but it can be done better than how Lake pulled it off. Pretty standard fantasy adventure fare, with two unwilling heroes who are forced into Doing The Right Thing by circumstance, but every single thing they do seems to fit perfectly into the plot, taking them a little closer to the final conflict, which I found somewhat distracting. Why can't a single side-plot be, well... just a side-plot? It gave me the sense that the main characters were stuck in a situation where regardless of what they did, they'd be in trouble. (Also, premonition is a pretty dumb power if all it's being used for is angst.)
I'll probably try to get the next book, but I'm not sure this isn't because I'm a sucker for punishment.

25. Uppvaknandet (original title: First half of Mystic Warrior) by Tracy & Laura Hickman (fantasy) - 9 Jun 2010
People with strange dreams are called mad and are taken away at the harvest festival, considered dead to the church and world, never to return. Gaelen is a blacksmith who has been able to fly under the radar despite his dreams and his unusual ability to hold conversations with inanimate objects, but his good luck can't last forever. When he's taken away, it seems to be setting things into motion in more worlds than just his own.
Pretty alright read; a bit duller than I'd have liked in parts, and the mindset ascribed to the faeries grates on me. I can't tell if that's just the translation or if there's more to it. I do like the portrayal of the dragon Vasska, and I think I'd like to at least read the "next" book in the series (ie the second half of Mystic Warrior). It does seem to suffer from bad publisher decisions in that the ending is very abrupt and the appendices don't entirely make sense as I believe they refer to events taking place later in the original work, but it's hard to tell without having read the source material. Minus points for not being the light read I was hoping for after all the hard work I've put into my degree essay the last month or two.
HP Kels writing

Books 46-50: young adult Civil War literature

46. Hoot by Carl Hiassen (295 pages) Reread for teaching.

47. Dear America: A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl by Patricia C. McKissack (183 pages) Clotee has learned how to read and write by listening in on her Master's son's lessons. This is her hidden diary about life under a cruel master, as a slave on a plantation, with no rights, no freedoms, and being witness to the horrible cruelties of the system. Mr. Harms, a tutor, comes to the plantation. Will he be Clotee's ticket to freedom or will he be her undoing? Tragic, inspiring, powerful, informative young adult novel that portrays the period with great accuracy and humanity. Grade: A

48. Dear America: A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin by Karen Hesse (167 pages) Amelia lives in the divided border state of Delaware during the beginning days of the Civil War. Her home life is just as stormy as both her country and the sea which surrounds her lighthouse home. Her father is an abolitionist and her mother believes in the institution of slavery. The book is full of beautiful mood and imagery, a lovely painting of the tensions of the period, but it lacks a story or characters to pull it together. Grade: B

49. Dear America: The Journal of James Edmond Pease, A Civil War Union Soldier by Jim Murphy (173 pages) Sixteen year-old James, a private in the Union army, is asked by his commander to keep a journal to record the history of his unit. Having joined for a warm bed and a full belly, orphaned James is thought to be the unlucky jonah of the unit. Regardless, James finds courage on the battlefield and a promotion to sergeant. Though the book is really just a vignette of life for a young Civil War soldier, it is marked by James' powerful, emotional, comedic, and real voice. Grade: A-

50. Dear America: When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson by Barry Deneberg (156 pages) Emma is a southern girl living on a plantation during the ending years of the Civil War. Her family, what there is left, is struggling to survive the collapse of their gentile, aristocratic, and wealthy world as the Yankee soldiers invade. The short novel does a decent job of capturing Emma's world, but never asks any big questions or shows any true depth of emotion. Emma's family are "good" slave owners; her father believes that abolitionists are evil and that white people must take care of blacks. Her love interest, meanwhile, is simply tired of the war. Though an accurate portrayal of the time period, it doesn't provide conflict or resolution. Grade: C

Kindle app

39-40 (Anita Blake should DIAF)


39. Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy, Book 5) - Mead, Richelle
I still like this series. I like the strong female lead, the examination of what makes a good mother and the sacrifices women must make in the line of duty. I like the tension between a relationship that's fairly (but not entirely) good for her versus what she wants (but not in the Edward vs. Jacob way). I don't like that they've made Adrian so whipped, though. But this series is still SO much better than P.C. Cast's House of Night series.

40. Bullet (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, book 19) - Hamilton, Laurell K.
I think she must have gotten a new editor/copyeditor because I don't think there was a single mention of "testing her understanding." There was, however, no mystery and instead a lot of boring sex with a lot of new characters that I didn't care about at all. Plus Jean Claude was boring. And Richard was behaving, and boring. And Asher was also behaving, and boring. Micah, too, though he always behaves. Oh, and even stripper Nathaniel with the lavender eyes was boring. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. I am done. I used to put up with the sexcapades and poor writing and lack of editing because at the heart there was a compelling enough mystery or interesting reflections on human behavior through were pack politics. But now it's just sex. And even Anita seems bored with it. WHATEVER. I AM SO DONE.

I think it might be time for a real book. Thomas Hardy, maybe. I must atone for the abysmal books I've been reading lately. On the other hand, I was hoping to hit 50 by the end of the month. ... Maybe I'll do light reading until then and try for 25 real books in the second half of the year. Hmmmmm ...