July 15th, 2010


Books 33 through 36

Having no Internet (and not using my computer earlier due to the heat and dog-sitting) for several days allowed me ample time for reading. I have four books this time, all with one thing in common: depressing. I think I need a Janet Evanovitch chaser...

33. 1984, by George Orwell. A classic that deserves that overused title. Winston Smith lives in a world where people are monitored constantly, where even thoughts against the status quo and Big Brother can be considered criminal. He begins to question how well things are in his world, and wonders what things were like before the current regime. His duties in constantly rewriting history -- something he is very good at -- begin to gnaw on his conscious. Orwell creates a scary and believable world. It's sad, too, because even the "sheep" (my term) aren't always safe from the rigorous Thought Police. The ironies run thick, such as calling the main enforcing body The Ministry of Love. The final third is a brutal read and shows the extent of how far those in power will go in retaining power and exerting control.

34. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Incredibly layered and nuanced. Clay one day finds a box of cassette tapes. He discovers they are a recorded message from Hannah, a girl from his class who committed suicide. She left 13 stories for 13 people, each who were tied to her reason for wanting to end her life. There are few villains in this, just people being people. Hannah's reasons turn out to be her own guilt connected to a couple of tragic events as well as the actions -- often unknown -- of those she talks about. The story alternates from Hannah's narration to Clay's thoughts and feelings as he listens, but the story remains easy to follow (Hannah's dialogue is set in italics). The reader is drawn into the story as Hannah's narrative slowly unfolds. An excellent debut book from the author, and highly recommended for both teens, parents and teachers.

35. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch. A very depressing book. Ravitch, who once supported the concept of national testing and No Child Left Behind, speaks out against such philosophies in her book as time passed and they proved ineffective. She divides the issues -- testing, restructuring the schools, charter schools and how they are set up now, relying on grants and funds from a few powerful men to set educational change -- by chapter. The book is easy to follow and the data seems concrete and supported. There were few surprises in here, although the impact of the charter schools on the nation's Catholic schools was surprising to me. I guess the depressing thing is that the bulk of her arguments have been what educators and those who follow education have been saying for the past several years. I do have to give Ravitch credit for admitting she was wrong. Her solutions at the end make for a good start, but aren't anything concrete, beyond focusing on a range of topics, smaller class sizes and doing more hands-on activities. Don't get me wrong -- it's a must-read for those who follow education topics. The arguments are well-presented. For the most part, I agreed with Ravitch and the few times I disagreed were on minor points (I think at one point, she expresses concern that the effect of NCLB might be to privatize the bulk of the educational system. She mentions she is certain the legislators didn't mean for this unintentional result. Call me cynical, but I say baloney -- I think there are legislators whose aim is to do just that).

36. Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, by Nahoko Uehashi. 2010 Batchelder Honor Book. OK, this book wasn't so depressing, although it is serious. Balsa is back, and she heads to her native Kanbal hoping to lay rest her personal demons of guilt regarding her foster father Jiguro and her past. What she finds is a brain-pretzel of a political plot involving Jiguro, and the stories spread to discredit him. Balsa quickly discovers that not only is her life in danger, but the whole of Kanbal is in jeopardy. In this story, the reader finds out more about Balsa's past and her family. Balsa is a wonderful heroine -- tough, smart and human. The book is rounded out nicely by several secondary characters, including Kassa, a young spear-holder whom Balsa rescues early on, along with his sister. The details in this world are wonderful -- the history, the lands and the personalities there, the different people and creatures. The who's who at the end, along with the definition of the terms used, helps.
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

Yesterday, I managed to finish reading another medieval mystery novel by Paul Doherty, called Nightshade, dealing with murders and vengeance in Essex in the early 1300s. He evokes the period well in his descriptions. This is a book from a series, and to some extent the characters were described in the earlier books, and not defined as much here.

(no subject)

I've been putting off writing about House of Leaves by Mark Danielewsky because I'm not really sure how to talk about it. I'm told it's one of those books that run the cult-classic circuit, but I didn't get it that way. I just noticed that my pseudo little sister had it as the only book on her facebook profile and, as I was looking for insights into her psyche (that didn't involve playing all of the Kingdom Hearts games) I wrote down the title and wandered to the local library. The library computer told me they had two copies, but both had been lost. I clicked around to see if I could get it through inter-library loan and discovered that EVERY SINGLE COPY in the area had also been lost.

This sparked my interest enough to stick the title in my head and, much later, when I wandered into Borders and saw it on display, I bought it. The story is, ostensibly, about a family that purchases a house in a small southern town and discovers, much to their horror, that the inside is bigger than the outside. At first the difference is only about a quarter inch but eventually they end up with an endless corridor, branching off into infinity. The husband (a retired photo-journalist) becomes obsessed with exploring the endless house and mounts a few expeditions into its depths.

So that's the basic story, I suppose, but it's told, not directly, but by a young man who works at a tattoo parlor who has inherited and is compiling a trunk full of papers from an old man who wrote about a documentary about this family in the house. The young man adds long and wandering footnotes, bringing in his own history or complaining about women or just explaining (or contradicting) the old man's notes.

I'll be honest, it annoyed me at first. I really didn't like the younger man (though I was interested in the documentary about the house) and was vastly irritated by his pages-long footnotes about his unrequited love for a stripper he'd met at work. I'm not even sure, now that I'm done with the thing, if I liked it or not.

I certainly respect it, though. About halfway through I started to realize that it was more a gigantic concrete poem than a book. The spacing of the text is affected by what's going on so, in high-stress sections there will be only a few lines a page, which draws out the suspense. There's a part when everyone's lost and confused where the footnotes start going in different directions and sometimes appear in the middle of the main text and sometimes are backwards. It's very clever and this guy, Mr. Danielewsky, must have put so much work into it, not only in the writing and arranging of it, but also in convincing someone to print the damn thing. I went into it with no preconceptions (since nobody had talked to me about it) and came away feeling utterly impressed by the way this man managed to write a book in such a way that it WAS the house he described (and was in the house too, because the photojournalist, at one point in the documentary, is reading the book about the documentary in the middle of the house).

So, I guess, I respect it, I'm glad I read it, but I didn't particularly like it. Will that do?

(The story about being unable to find it at any library in the area was completely true, by the way, even though it sounds like something Mr. Danielewsky might have come up with.)

I has a stik

Books #21-30

So...it's been a while since I've posted my reading list. Stupid uni getting in the way of my reading! Luckily with my couple of weeks of holidays I've read half as much in the last two weeks as I have in the two and a half months before then! Some exciting (or-not-quite-but-almost exciting) reviews/summaries under the cuts! However, I'm saving my thoughts on Mildred D. Taylor and how much I love her until I've finished reading all her others books so I can do my love for her proper justice :)

21. Alyzon Whitestarr by Isobelle Carmody (YA/Urban)

22. The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld (YA/Urban)
Let The Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor (Real life fiction)
The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Fiction/sci fi)

25. The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin (Children/teen)

26. Heat Wave by Richard Castle (Crime)

27. The Road To
Memphis by Mildred D. Taylor (Real life fiction)
28. A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in
Rwanda’s Genocide by Linda Melvern (Non-fiction)
29. Greylands by Isobelle Carmody (YA/Urban)

30. The Boat by
Nam Le (Short story anthology/Fiction)

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Books 26 - 30

#26: The Water Room - Christopher Fowler (2004, 356 pages)

Something strange is going on in a London neighborhood, and it is up to John May and Arthur Bryant of the Peculiar Crimes Unit to figure out what exactly it is. An elderly woman was found in the basement of her home, sitting in her dry basement. Cause of death - drowning.

As the case unfolds, the story follows some bizarre twists and turns. The home's new owner is being stalked by a homeless man, neighbors are turning up dead in the most bizarre manners, and for some reason, people are obsessed with the system of rivers that run underneath the city.

I have to admit that I was drawn in instantly by the story synopsis, and the story wasn't bad. My problem was just that it was rather dry. The characters are unique and well-written, but the story just lags and drags. It's got exciting situations, but it misses the excitement that makes you want to keep turning the pages. I liked it, just not enough, which is why I can only give it two out of five oddities.

#27: No Reservations: Around the world on an empty stomach - Anthony Bourdain (2007, 288 pages)

Enjoy watching Anthony Bourdain's adventures on the TV show No Reservations? Well, then this is the book for you.

No Reservations is a photographic compendium of the places, faces and foods that Bourdain experienced while filming his show. The book does not retell the show. Instead, it reaches beyond to give you more about the trip and things that went on behind the scenes.

The photographs included in the book were taken by the show's producers, and they are absolutely brilliant. At times, your mouth will water. At others, you'll cringe at what you're seeing. And at others, you will find yourself absolutely amazed by the breathtaking beauty of it all. I loved every minute of this book. It made me want to share Bourdain's experiences and make a few memories of my own in the process, which is why I give this a strong four and a half out of five thalis.

#28: Twenties Girl - Sophie Kinsella (2009, 435 pages)

Lara Lington seems to be on a downward spiral. Her boyfriend has left her with no explanation. The business she opened with her friend seems dooms after her friend fails to return from vacation. And now she's stuck with the ghost of her fiesty great-aunt Sadie.

Lara agrees to help Sadie find a diamond necklace so the ghost can rest in peace. In the process, she finds her life turned upside down as Sadie starts leaving her influence on Lara's life.

I've read all of Kinsella's book, and I can easily say that this is her absolute best. The Shopaholic books are fun, Can You Keep a Secret? and Undomestic Goddess are unique and entertaining, but none of Kinsella's other books left me with such a positive feeling afterward. This book is beautiful, sweet and even inspiring. I can't see how anyone could read this and not be inspired to do new things and live as Lara learned to. I love this book so much it gets a super-strong five out of five familial specters.

#29: Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004, 472 pages)

Oskar is a 12-year-old loser. He's bullied and obsessed with death, to the point that you can easily see him becoming a murderer if things keep up. And then Eli comes along.

Eli inspires something new within Oskar. Not only does he have a friend who likes him for who he is, but he also has someone who makes him feel special. She offers him advice to stand up to his bullies, which he takes, making him feel powerful. But Eli has her own secrets, which Oskar comes to learn. And after her caretaker disappears, she needs Oskar's help to survive.

I loved the film, and it was only natural that I take up this book. It is such a great read. The film closely follows the book, with only a few changes. It's well-paced, and gives you new look at the vampire genre. It's refreshing in that respect. Lindqvist has written a very original story that pulls the reader along in a wonderful mix of suspense and curiosity, which is why I give this book a great five out of five blood-sucking fiends.

#30: The Walking Dead (Book One) - Robert Kirkman with art by Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (2008, 304 pages)

Zombies have overtaken the world, and very few humans appear to remain. A group of survivors, who were sent to Atlanta in the hopes of finding a safe place, are now traveling across the country seeking food, shelter and safety from the undead hordes.

The group consists of characters including Rick, a former policeman who was left in a coma during the zombie outbreak; his wife Lori and son Carl; Shane, Rick's former partner; Allen and Donna and their twin sons; sisters Andrea and Amy; retired traveler Dale; Carol and her daughter Sophia; and Glenn. Their journey for survival is harrowing at times, and not all characters make it through the relentless attacks by the undead.

The interesting twist about The Walking Dead is that the zombies are only secondary characters. The "meat" of the story is in the humanity that follows the downfall of civilization. I really enjoyed that, and I breezed through this book of graphic novel issues in two hours. It's a great and suspenseful read that I highly recommend, which is why I give it a zombtastic five out of five undead ghouls.

Total Books Read: 30 / 50 (60 percent)
Total Pages Read: 10,979 / 15,000 (73 percent)
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