October 5th, 2010

Caleb- snug as a bug!

Book 39: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella
Stephenie Meyer
YA fiction; fantasy; chick lit
178 pages

Fans of The Twilight Saga will be enthralled by this riveting story of Bree Tanner, a character first introduced in Eclipse, and the darker side of the newborn vampire world she inhabits. In another irresistible combination of danger, mystery, and romance, Stephenie Meyer tells the devastating story of Bree and the newborn army as they prepare to close in on Bella Swan and the Cullens, following their encounter to its unforgettable conclusion.

Surprisingly, I did enjoy reading this book a lot more than the Twilight series. I think that even if you didn't enjoy that series, readers may like this one. I think that Meyer should stick to writing novellas.

***Next read: I am not sure what to read next!
witch muse, hallow muse

Books 91-94: Toby Daye, Sookie and Queen Betsy

Book 91: Rosemary and Rue (October Day 01)
Author: Seanan McGuire, 2009.
Genre: Urban Fantasy. Crime.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.

Seanan McGuire quickly established herself as a new favourite with me with this début novel, which is the first in her October (Toby) Daye series of urban fantasies set in modern day San Francisco. The opening is rather stunning in terms of character development and it is one I don't want to spoil. It really does set the tone though for Toby's ambivalent relationship with Faerie. The book is narrated by Toby, a halfbreed Fae, and she quickly proves herself a able guide to the complexities of her world. In this first outing she reluctantly takes on the role of detective to investigate the murder of a powerful Fae and soon finds herself becoming embroiled again in the politics of the Unseen world.

The novel does suffer from the same problem encountered in a number of urban crime fantasies as its protagonist finds herself under attack from various beings with little respite. Still the strength of the world building, the appeal of its central and supporting characters, meant that I was happy to ignore this rather over-used formula and just enjoy. I could hardly wait to get my paws on others in the series and recommended it widely.

Author's Page on Rosemary and Rue' with sample chapter link.

Book 92: Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampires Book 10)
Author: Charlaine Harris, 2010.
Genre: Southern Gothic. Supernatural Mystery.
Other Details: Hardback. 320 pages.

This tenth outing for Sookie Stackhouse deals with issues associated with family, both of blood and heart, for Sookie and other characters.

After a number of books containing major events, this one had a change of pace allowing for things to settle down. Still there was plenty of foreshadowing for the future as well as the pleasure of just spending some time with a group of characters that I've come to love.

Book 93: Undead and Unwed (Undead/Queen Betsy Book 01).
Author: MaryJanice Davidson, 2002.
Genre: Supernatural Chick Lit. Comedy.
Other Details: Unabridged audiobook; Length: 9 hours, 13 mins. Read by Nancy Wu.

Betsy Taylor's week isn't going very well. She turns 30, gets laid off from her job, is killed by an SUV and then wakes up dead. Bummer. The local vampire community is convinced that she's their prophesied Queen. However, Betsy has more important things to do like buying shoes. Meanwhile, there is the local vampire big-wig who wants to ensure she meets the final death and another who rather fancies her.

This was perfect fluff for in-car listening. Comedic vampire chick-lit with a central character who lives (or rather is undead) for designer shoes. It had plenty of comic moments though rather a lot of effing and blinding that proved a wee bit off-putting.

Book 94: Undead and Unemployed (Undead/Queen Betsy Book 02)
Author: MaryJanice Davidson, 2004.
Genre: Supernatural Chick Lit. Comedy.
Other Details: Unabridged audiobook; Length: 7 hours, 26 mins. Read by Nancy Wu.

Three months after the events in the first book, Betsy gets her dream job selling shoes at Macy's though she finds that her employee discount is proving too tempting. Meanwhile, someone is staking vampires and Betsy is urged by her friends and allies to discover who is behind it.

Again, a slice of vampire fluff that never takes itself too seriously and proved an enjoyable in-car listen.

#1: Assorted fiction

Hello, 50bookchallenge! I've actually been doing the challenge all year (I did it last year, too), but my reading habits have been kind of iffy this year. I probably won't make it to 50, though I may make it to 40 or so. Anyway, here we go:


The World of Apples
by John Cheever
short fiction

Cheever is a legendary chronicler of middle-class, mid-century ennui (and is a big reason why to this day, so many short-fiction authors focus on the suburban experience). I hadn't really read any Cheever before, and I was expecting sober social-realism, so I was surprised at how vivid and how strange (and how funny) these stories are: hallucinatory imagery and bizarre scenarios, gracefully woven into relatable, mundane, east coast suburban settings (and some stuff in Italy, too). Cheever's tone can be overly condescending at times (and, for such a short book, there seems to be a lot of cruel or manipulative women in here), but a writer of his abilities can get away with such things...

Sum-up: Impressive


by Knut Hamsun
Translated from the Norwegian and with an introduction by Sverre Lyngstad
1890; translation and introduction from 1996

Hamsun is an innovative, influential Norwegian novelist; winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920 (he was also, towards the end of his life, an unrepentant Nazi sympathizer; I tried not to think about that too much while reading this book). This novel, Hamsun's first, concerns an emotionally troubled writer as he struggles to maintain his modest life, taken as he is by flights of delusional fancy, bolts of depression, spiritual confusion and, of course, hunger - you sense that Hamsun knows only too well what he's writing about (so well that he can effectively satirize it). It's a sophisticated work which, with it's decidedly non-heroic, introspective approach, must've been pretty weird at the time ("The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun," says I. B. Singer). But man, is it ever dull. The intriguing bits are separated by long stretches of relative aridity - true to life, I guess, but it makes the book something of a chore.

Sum-up: An important book, but I wouldn't really recommend it


Being There
by Jerzy Kosinski

I was expecting this short, satirical novel to have a didactic or essay-like tone - to be the sort of thing that strives mainly to prove some sort of point. It's not. There's certainly an air of remove to this book - it's aloof and cool-headed throughout - but there's a psychological depth to it, too. It's a satire of media culture (the plot revolves around an unwitting celebrity) that brings up a lot of ideas around human interaction, socialization and selfhood. In other words: don't let the aloofness fool you - there's a lot going on in here.

Sum-up: Worthwhile


by Imre Kertész
Translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
2003; translation from 2004

I know it's reductive and unfair to focus too much on the formative traumas that artists go through - we're more than just our suffering, after all - but it seems impossible to talk about Kertész's work without mentioning that he is himself a survivor of Auschwitz. From what I've seen (Kertész is one of my favorite authors), his writing all seems to relate to the ways in which the Holocaust represents a sort of total break, a schism between Before and After - in history, philosophy, morality, and even in friendships, families and romances. This book tells a fairly short, simple story (about a lost book and a love affair), while getting at huge philosophical themes - sometimes through subtle shifts and hints, and sometimes by addressing ideas directly. It was rewarding to read through this book once, but it almost seems like you could reread it endlessly and discover something new every time.

Sum-up: Both simple and complex; recommended


Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages
by Manuel Puig

Contrary to what some people think, Puig's most-remembered writings are novels, not plays: his novels are so heavy on dialogue that they lend themselves well to dramatic interpretations (most famously, the film and Broadway musical versions of his 1976 novel "Kiss of the Spider Woman"). "Eternal Curse…" is written almost exclusively in dialogues between the two main characters: a wheelchair-bound old man with an ailing memory and a mysterious past, and the relatively young, world-weary intellectual hired as his caretaker. It's engaging, evocative, and even suspenseful in an odd sort of way; it's also unlike anything else I've ever read - a unique book about power, interpersonal relationships, and the strange logic of the human mind. It's the first thing of Puig's I've read; I'd definitely like to read more, very soon.

Sum-up: Unique and compelling

Books read in August and September: #96-117

I forgot to post my August reads last month, so here are the books I read in August and September:


96. Elie Wiesel, Night -- Nonfiction. Extremely powerful.
97. Juliet Marillier, Wildwood Dancing -- YA, fantasy. Loved it!
98. Lynn Shepherd, Murder at Mansfield Park -- Historical fiction, mystery. Surprisingly enjoyable and should appeal to Austen fans.
99. Tanith Lee, Piratica -- Historical fantasy, YA. Delightful writing style, but extremely farfetched plot.
100. George Bernard Shaw, Arms and the Man -- Play. Impressively funny.
101. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged -- Political fiction. Worth reading but extremely didactic.
102. Nora Roberts, Savor the Moment -- Romance. Just okay, but worth reading if you're committed to the series.
103. Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels -- Historical fiction. Very good.
104. Janet Fox, Faithful -- Historical fiction, YA. Good premise, disappointing execution.
105. Juliet Marillier, Cybele's Secret -- YA, fantasy. Loved it -- just as good as Wildwood Dancing.


106. Franz Kafka, The Trial -- Modern classic. Somewhat disconnected and confusing.
107. Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists -- Historical fiction, parody. A quick, funny read.
108. Anatole France, The Gods Will Have Blood -- Historical fiction (French Revolution). Interesting, and very serious in tone.
109. Kate Ross, Cut to the Quick -- Historical fiction (Regency period), mystery. So good!
110. Aristophanes, Clouds -- Play. Not very funny, considering it's a comedy.
111. Ian Fleming, Casino Royale -- Espionage. A solid introduction to James Bond.
112. John Guy, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart -- Biography. A very interesting look at Mary Stuart and her historical context.
113. Anya Seton, Dragonwyck -- Historical fiction, gothic. An excellent autumnal read.
114. Julia Stuart, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise -- Fiction. Entertaining in some places, but tries too hard to be clever.
115. Margaret Buffie, Winter Shadows -- YA fiction. Decent, but would probably be more enjoyable for a younger audience.
116-117. Kaoru Mori, Emma vols. 1 and 2 -- Manga. Cute story and beautiful artwork.

(Cross-posted to 100ormorebooks and books.)
ASkars White

No. 39 for 2010

Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Rating: 2/5
Book: 39/50 (78% completed)
Pages: 545 pgs
Total Pages 14,584/15,000 pages (97.23% completed)
Next up: Last Night at Chateau Marmont

This book was a total disappointment. I kept hearing good things about it and a lady and Chapters raved about it so much that it made me want to read it but I just could not get into this book. I only read it because I bought it and felt like I had to read it. It is about 150 pages too long and in my opinion, not worth the read.

xposted to 50bookchallenge, 15000pages and bookworm84

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did you know you could fly?

(no subject)

Book #48 -- Jenny Downham, Before I Die, 309 pages.

An amazing first-person story of a 17-year-old girl dying of leukemia. Despite the seemingly depressing topic, this is a great book about someone trying to fit a lifetime of experiences into a year. Kind of like a teenaged Bucket List. It's sweet and funny and not nearly as depressing as it sounds.

Progress toward goals: 276/365 = 75.6%

Books: 48/50 = 96.0%

Pages: 13955/15000 = 93.0%

2010 Book List

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

#2: Feminist fiction


The Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Afterword by Elaine R. Hedges
1892; afterword from 1973
fiction/women's studies

This little book includes "The Yellow Wallpaper" - sort of a proto-feminist short story - and an informative afterword which places the story squarely in the context of mid-20th-century feminist thought. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is about a woman's descent into madness, aided as it is by the ridiculous impositions, limits and societal strictures placed on women's lives - not such a groundbreaking topic by now, but keep in mind that this story was first published in 1892(!). Anyway, it's a remarkable little piece of literature - a vivid and harrowing work of art.

Sum-up: Certainly worth reading


Woman at Point Zero
by Nawal El Saadawi
Translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata
1975; translation from 1983

Saadawi was already an accomplished doctor before she started writing novels: she served as the Director of Public Health in Egypt and was the chief editor of a medical journal; she lost these positions, largely because of her outspoken feminist politics, and eventually came to a career as an author, journalist and educator. Her own experiences, and the experiences of women she observed in her role as a doctor and researcher, compelled her to tell the stories of women marginalized by male-dominated institutions and structures of power.

As for this book: Saadawi is a strong writer, but the tale here is told with such unflagging intensity - and such a glut of callous, abusive male characters - that it becomes somewhat wearying. This story, in which a young woman stands accused of murdering a violent, powerful man, is clearly meant as a sort of indictment/exposé of pervasive sexism and misogyny in Saadawi's native Egypt; in pursuit of that goal, she seems to have let other aspects of the book fall by the wayside. Not that this isn't an impressive achievement - I just wonder what else could've been achieved.

Sum-up: Flawed, but important


Blood and Guts in High School
by Kathy Acker

Greek myths, sexually-explicit scatological screeds, discourses on classic literature, crude drawings of genitals, violent poetry, meditations on space and language… Acker's uniquely intuitive combinations of seemingly disparate elements - from lofty intellectual concerns to base, sex-addled rantings - create something remarkably akin to actual human thought. Even though it can get pretty arbitrary or indulgent at points, this book creates its own sort of awkwardly intimate relationship with the reader. FYI: it's not really a book about high school, but it is a coming-of-age novel, in a messed-up way.

Sum-up: Recommended for those with more, eh, 'extreme' tastes


Parable of the Talents
by Octavia Butler
fiction (science-fiction)

Last year, I read Butler's 1977 novel "Mind of My Mind" and I was amazed at how many ideas (political, cultural, moral) she was able to access without being blunt or heavy-handed about it. So, with that in mind, I was a little disappointed that the characters in this 1998 novel - her second-to-last book - are terrorized/antagonized by war-mongering, right-wing, pseudo-Christian fundamentalist types. Not that I think that was a bad thing for her to be writing about or anything like that - it's just maybe a bit too on-the-nose for a writer who got so much power out of subtlety and subtext. But, whatever. This gracefully-written post-apocalyptic (or, post-near-apocalyptic) story could be said to be about countervailing approaches to building community, faith and hope in the wake of tragedy and, as with Butler's other work, it contains a wealth of ideas bubbling just beneath the surface.

Sum-up: Strong work from a big talent