June 14th, 2010

Crow - Graveyard Snowglobe

Books #16 and #17 for 2010

16. Peter Straub, Magic Terror: 7 Tales, 335 pages, Horror, Hardback, 2000.

These seven stories are all very disturbing, definitely horrific if you think about them for any length of time, and say just enough so that what you put together is even more terrible than what is actually written.

17. Charlaine Harris, Dead in the Family, 311 pages, Vampires, Hardback, 2010.

Sookie Stackhouse is still recovering from being tortured during the Fae War of the last novel. But she’s feeling well enough to let the local Weres use her land for their monthly hunt, which leads to all sorts of trouble as rumors of fairies walking the woods frighten her, as well as someone trying to frame her with a body buried back there. To make matters worse, Eric’s maker shows up. This novel is not as action-packed as the previous books, as if the novel needed as much rehab as Sookie did after her injuries. Even so, it was enjoyable for the sheer fact that the characters feel almost like friends after 10 books together; I like reading about their lives just as I enjoy reading friends on LiveJournal.

Book 59: Defiance by Nechama Tec, 1993.

Book 59: Defiance: The True Story of the Bielski Partisans.
Author: Nechama Tec, 1993.
Genre: Non-fiction. History. WWII. Holocaust.
Other Details: OUP 2008 edition with foreword by Edward Zwick, 392 pages with preface and foreword.

While the prevailing image of European Jews during the Holocaust years is one of helpless victims who did not fight their consignment to the ghettos, camps and gas chambers; there were many who did struggle against the terrors. This work focuses on one such group: the Bielski partisans, who managed to establish a community deep within the forests of western Belorussia during 1942-44 and gave sanctuary to Jewish fugitives including women, children and the elderly. Aside from their efforts to survive in this hostile environment and avoid the German troops sent to eliminate them, the book also details of the group's uneasy relationships with the Russian partisans, who were also living in the forests.

Nechama Tec is a Holocaust scholar as well as a Holocaust survivor who had been hidden by a Polish-Catholic family for the duration of the war. Her writing seems to have focuses on challenging perceptions about the passivity cited above with works such as Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust. This is a well-researched account of inspiring people and events, which draws on Tec's interviews with surviving member of the Bielski group including its leader Tuvia Bielski, who Tec was able to interview only weeks before his death in 1987. However, it is also a very academic work; dry and matter-of-fact. This made it hard to engage with as more than a series of dates and episodes. In some respects the scale of the horrors recounted made me glad to be able to read it in such a manner.

This was a reading group selection though the person who had suggested it had believed that it was a novelization of the film or a fictionalised account of the real events rather than what it was. Most of the group had also assumed this from the back cover blurb and cover art, which is an image from the film. Due to this, many in the group agreed that it was well-researched but that it had been not quite what they had expected it to be.

Overall I am glad that I read the book and learnt of this story of resistance and survival even though it lacked the emotional intensity of works such as The Pianist (my 2008 Book 72).

Book 1 (and a Hello!)

Firstly, hello everyone! This is a new idea to me, but seems a great one.

I've found while being a student I've read less and less, and also that I have a bad habit of re-reading books and going with the same old authors. With that in mind, I've set myself two goals:

1) To have read by my next birthday (7th June 2011) 50 books at least. This is obviously most important; last year's been the final year of my degree and I think I've got through about ten to fifteen non-History related books. Which is somewhat depressing.

2) At least 25 and preferably more of those should be new books to me, hopefully by authors I haven't read before. I'll be using the usual metrics to judge what I'm going to read - award winners & nominees, book lists, recommendations from friends and family, and probably the odd recommendation here.

If I get above 50 (and I'm hoping I might at least push a little above it), I'm going to try to keep the ratio at at least half & half.

So here goes. Notwithstanding everything above, starting off with a classic I last read about 8 years ago.

Book 1 - Slaughterhouse 5
Author - Kurt Vonnegut
Genre - Science Fiction, War

Not much to say about this that hasn't been said elsewhere much better put. For my money one of the best anti-war novels ever written, and so successful because it's such a hard novel to pin down. The science fiction elements and the non-linear structure while initally confusing really get across the absurdity and futility of war in a similar way to Heller's Catch-22.

The character of Billy Pilgrim is so sympathetic, a complete innocent as adrift in the chaos of war as he is in time. Juxtaposed against the cynicism of Vonnegut's narrator, the novel manages the quite difficult trick of being utterly fatalistic without being depressing.

I know Vonnegut's prose isn't to everyone's taste, but I personally enjoy it. The structural chaos is saved from being distracting by the terseness of the description and the sparing use of the refrains to return to the novel's core ideas. It's still not an easy read, but certainly easier than some authors who use similar devices but don't value succinctness quite so much.

Read: 1/50
New: 0/25
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YA books from an actual teen writer


41. In the Forests of the Night (Den of Shadows, Book 1) - Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia
42. Demon in My View (Den of Shadows, Book 1) - Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia
43. Shattered Mirror (Den of Shadows, Book 1) - Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia
44. Midnight Predator (Den of Shadows, Book 1) - Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia
45. Vampire High (Vampire High, Book 1) - Rees, Douglas

These are all extremely short books, even for YA. I read Vampire High on my 45-minute commute to work this morning plus an extended lunch. But I'd rather have a well-written short book than, say, Twilight. At this rate I'll definitely finish 50 by the end of the month. I hope I can stick to my plan to read more adult literature in the second half of the year.

The Den of Shadows books were actually written by a teen, though I probably wouldn't have known that just from the writing, even if the love stories are a bit simplistic.

Holy crap, Vampire High was hilarious. I think it would take me longer to explain why I loved it than it would for you to read it. It's $4.44 for Kindle right now. Just go buy it already. I'm definitely preordering the sequel.

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