January 30th, 2012

book 1

Books 5 & 6

All links lead to longer reviews at my blog, so feel free to click yourself over there.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2011
Genre: Science fiction
Sub-genre: Dystopian, YA

 There's been some debate as to whether Wither qualifies as post-apocalyptic or dystopian, especially with the way "dystopian" has become an over-used word lately, particularly in YA fiction. You can make a case either way, and I debated the question for a bit before ultimately deciding that for me, it comes closer to dystopian. While the story takes place in a world that's come very close to being entirely destroyed by war, with entire continents being unlivable, that bit of world-building has very little relevance to the actual plot of Wither. It's a background detail, something Rhine never deals directly with. I'm sure this will change in the other two volumes in the projected trilogy, and maybe those books would fit more snugly into the post-apocalyptic category. But Wither itself deals mostly with the fall-out of "man tries to tinker with things to bring it closer to perfection but fails epically," the result of which is an environment of fear and in which young girls are a commodity instead of people. We don't see much of the society at large, but in the confines of the world Rhine has been unwillingly dragged into controlling the commodities is the name of the game, which makes me want to label Wither as dystopian, even if its sequels are less so.

If you're in the market for something action-y and suspenseful, this is not the book you want. Wither takes its time, focusing on character development more than anything. While trapped in such a limited space, Rhine gets to know the people around her quite well, including her "sister wives," her husband, her father-in-law, and some of the servants. At sixteen, she's in the middle of the wives, with the eager and pixie-like Cecily younger than her and the sedate and removed Jenna older. Both Cecily and Jenna are delightfully complex characters, and while readers might not always like them, they're interesting to read about.

Ironically, I felt like I got to know the two of them better than I did Rhine. She has a fairly well fleshed out backstory, but a lot of her actions seemed to take place in a vacuum of emotions. I could understand how Cecily and Jenna worked, what drove them, what they might do in a given situation, but Rhine stayed an enigma.

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale
Publisher: Sourcebooks, 2010
Genre: Romance
Sub-genre: Historical

Lessons in French is basically the regency version of "high school sweethearts reunite after many years." It's a really well done variation, sweet and fun and funny. Callie and Trev are flawed and likeable characters, and the relationship between them is wonderful. This isn't a relationship that relies on straight lust; they're friends first, and always have been. They connect on a number of different levels, and the romance between them feels like a natural extension of the solid friendship they've already built. I can't tell you how much I love when a love story has the couple start as friends and drift into romantic territory from there, perhaps because that's how the husband and I did it for no obvious reason at all. The thing is, friends to lovers isn't always easy to depict, since the author has to establish a history between the characters without making them feel like siblings. Kinsale makes it sing, though, and the relationship between Callie and Trev feels natural and effortless, the sort of timeless friendship where they can spend ten years apart and comfortably pick up where they left off.

There was an interesting subplot about Callie's suitors and the reasons they broke off their engagements, but the payoff on that one didn't live up to the buildup. While it didn't seem out of character for the guilty party to have organized something like that, it did seem rather impractical, making wild assumptions about several parties.

But that's one small misstep in an otherwise charming and funny novel. Kinsale put an afterword in the book that says she wanted this to be something light and happy, a story to make you smile. Mission accomplished.
Dead Dog Cat

#19

I was nearly finished with this book on Friday, but I finally did get through the last page yesterday.

This was Raymond Feist's book A Kingdom Besieged, set in his world of Midkemia, as well as dealing with other worlds, as is his tendency, including that of the demons. Very readable, but I have to wonder if it's even possible for someone to pick up the series at this point. I've been reading his books since medical school, and the saga contains an enormous amount of prior history. Still, I found it readable and enjoyable. I gather the sequel in this particular run is out very soon.

Book #7: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Light on Snow - Anita Shreve

This was a very good novel about a family who's ripped in half after a fatal auto crash - one preteen daughter and her father survive, move away from the city but have trouble moving on with their lives.  This story describes how one unlikely young woman brings them back together.  Written in the daughter's voice. 

I did feel like I was missing something at the end.  Ever read a book and feel like the author forgot to write the final chapter?  I would have liked just a few more pages forward into the future.  The end left me slightly unsatisfied.  I think authors do this not only to give the reader an opportunity to "end the book" in their own way, but also because they can't figure out the perfect way to do it, so they just stop writing.  Who knows for sure?  It's sort of irritating, but I loved the story anyway.

I thought the writing was excellent.  I was enchanted and disturbed.  Some of the Christmas decorations the girl describes, the macaroni wreath she made and painted glass apples - those are a part of my childhood as well. 

Overall, I found this book haunting and memorable. 
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Book #8: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Winter Garden - Kristen Hannah

Another goodie! 

About two sisters who are desperately trying to break down the walls inside of their cold mother's heart after the loss of their father.  How do they live without the man who held the family together with his love for all of them?  They've always longed for affection from this woman who refuses to give, the elderly woman they still know nothing about.  Why doesn't she love them?  Why is she such an awful bitch?  We find out why in this novel, and also give her a chance to make amends with her daughters before it's too late. 

What a page-turning experience.
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Book #9: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Nancy Drew # 25 The Ghost of Blackwood Hall - Carolyn Keene

Another classic Nancy Drew!  This time, she helps find a league of no-gooders who are defrauding innocent (and tremendously naive) people by pretending to be spirit mediums.  Would you believe Nancy is nearly drugged, and left to die again

Maybe that's why I'm enjoying these books so much.  I think I would've been more intrigued with the Nancy Drew collection as a girl, but as an adult, I'm at the very least amused by them.  Still entertaining.  And I love how she is still playing hard to get with Ned Nickerson.  I'm surprised he's still hanging around at #25!  He's swell!

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Book #10: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Winter Moon - Dean Koontz

This was pretty good.  A doorway opens in the woods.  (I always suspected this would happen!)    Something comes out, into this world.  An evil something.  Dean Koontz has especially blossomed in his writing since this book was published.  You especially notice if you read the Odd Thomas series, and then read this one.  It's good, but not the vivid, expressive page-turners you'll find in more recent Koontz work.


SEMI-SPOILER:


I loved how the kid saves the day in this one, and I love how he does it.  Even creepier:  You know at the end, the alien spawn isn't really dead.  Not really.  The immediate danger is over, perhaps, but you have the feeling it'll be back one day.  Good stuff!
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Book #11: 50 Book Challenge 2012

The Complete Cheapskate - Mary Hunt

Last year, I read quite a few books on frugality and ideas from self-proclaimed "cheapskates."  Most of them are garbage.  Unfortunately, this one is no different. 

I have some problems with this book:
  • The title.  This book has nothing to do with being a true cheapskate.  Most of it is advice on how to get out of debt.  And it's not complete.  Other than the debt advice, it's very vague.
  • The tips.  The ones found in this book are not only repetitive, they can be found anywhere.  The same tips found in magazines and all over the web. 
  • The few good tips.  Somewhat vague.  "Use less."  Okay, but most people don't know how to do that specifically.  Use less of what, and how?  "Cook from scratch."  Okay.  But what things should I cook or make, and what should i buy?  "Buy in bulk."  Where?  What?  Guidelines?  These tips are useless because they're too broad in scope, and can easily lead to overspending, unless you know how and what to do.

The best part of this book is in the back, where the author has included a section of specific tips provided by the readers of her newsletter.  Most of these are commonly seen tips, but there are a few good ones in there that not many people do, or know about.  Sad how the best part of the book wasn't even written by the author!

My advice?  If you're looking for awesome frugal tips that are detailed and can fit into any lifestyle, check out the Tightwad Gazette series by Amy Dacyczyn.  If it's debt relief you're after, Dave Ramsey's your man.  And leave this book alone.  It's not worth your time.
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Book #12: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Possum Living:  How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money - Dolly Freed
(The original edition from 1978)

Yeehaw!  I loved this.  Dolly was 19 when she wrote this very practical guide on living off the land.  Truth be told, I thought it was a hoax as I was reading.  Sometimes, I just couldn't believe a 19-year old girl with a junior-high education could've possibly come up with some of the stuff she says.  Just wild.  But she's real, according to what I can dig up on her.  And she's got advice, or an opinion, on just about anything you can think of.  Getting your own land.  How to make your own alcohol, even building a still!  Blood sausage.  Raising rabbits for meat.  Easy ways to keep hens for eggs.  Foraging for food.  Fishing.  Gardening.

Some of the book is sadly naive:  You can sort of tell in some places that her father had too much of an influence on her.  I got the impression that she loved but also idolized her daddy, although he seemed - to me - to be an extremist anti-establishment alcoholic who had no interest in getting a job and supporting his daughter or teaching her more about the world beyond their neighborhood.

Despite this, it's a good book with a good survivalist attitude, contains great tips on how to feed, clothe, and enjoy yourself without using much money at all.  I come away from the book feeling that if anyone could get blood from a stone, Dolly could and probably still does.
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Book #13: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Icebound - Dean Koontz

This was very good!  I think it would've made a good movie as well. 

The story is based in the future.  It follows a small group of world renowned scientists and engineers who are trying to blast free an arctic iceberg to help supply water to drought-stricken farmers.  A sub-oceanic earthquake disturbs their plans, however, and they quickly find themselves in danger.  The countdown that follows is tense and quite a thrill ride.  I love page turners, and this one did not disappoint.
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Book #14: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Fat Girl:  A True Story - Judith Moore

Abysmal.  While I could relate to some of her experiences, this book would've been more appropriately titled "Abused Girl:  A True Story." 

I believe most of her issues come from verbal and physical abuse in her childhood, not just from being overweight.  This memoir is dark and peppered with problems that go far deeper than the physical and emotional issues that stem from obesity alone.  Really, except for a few years in school, she was not morbidly obese, just overweight, seriously abused, and depressed (rightfully so).  Her mother and grandmother, smacking her around and calling her fat and ugly didn't help, I'm sure.
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Book #15: 50 Book Challenge 2012

Blackbird House - Alice Hoffman

This is a collection of fictional short stories that span many years, the stories of the tenants of Blackbird House in New England.  A glimpse into the lives of all of the tenants from the moment it was built to present day.  I would've enjoyed it more if it tied together into a novel, if it built to a climax.  There was no POW moment, no crescendo.  But it is a very neat idea and I liked the stories. 
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anemone
  • cat63

Book 7 for 2012

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. 307 pages.
If I had to pick a single word to describe this book, that word would be "heartwarming". It's the story of a shy, abused boy, Willie Beech,  evacuated to the countryside at the beginning of WWII, and Tom Oakley with whom he is billeted. The two develop a touching relationship and Willie blossoms under Tom's care. But then he is recalled to London and his tyrannical mother…
This is a story set in wartime, so there is sadness and hardship for many of the characters, and it made me cry at one point but overall it's an uplifting story of friendship and family. A new favourite. Thank you edith_jones for pointing me at it!
pacificparlour

UNLOCK THE HABITUS.

Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University are separated by two miles as the seagull flies, and something exceeding the legendary six degrees on the academic pecking order.  Their proximity allows sociologist Ann L. Mullen to interview fifty students at each university in order to structure Degrees of Inequality:  Culture, Class, and Gender in American Higher Education.  Book Review No. 4 suggests that the received race-class-gender framework of analysis is too mechanical and too divorced from reality to be useful in organizing serious analysis, although when Professor Mullen deviates from that framework, she sometimes identifies ideas that might be of use at Yale, at Southern Conn, and everywhere between, whether on the U.S. News pecking order, or under the flight of a drunken crow.

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A reader might consider the generalization of Degrees of Inequality to his or her own institution.  Change, for example, the founding date of a normal school to a different year in the 1890s, change the compass direction, change the state, and change the year it becomes a university, and you have Northern Illinois University.  Here we have students who begin at community college and transfer here, aided by articulation agreements apparently not in place in Connecticut.  Students begin here and transfer to Urbana or seek letters of reference for Northwestern for graduate programs, something that doesn't take place at Southern Conn, at least within the author's sample, although there might be Yalies that will do a graduate degree at Northwestern.  But listening to the Yalies talk about the curricular offerings, one might suspect that Horatio Parker is still standing in the way of creativity in music (no world music, one jazz class, p. 197).  Go here and pick the music calendar, and understand why my Wednesday postings might be skimpy or annulled for the next month.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
I heart books

Book #8 An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

An Abundance of KatherinesAn Abundance of Katherines by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is my very first John Green read, and I can see what the hype is all about! I love his writing style and in this case, I really loved the subject matter. Any books dealing with nerds wins me over pretty easily. I also enjoyed reading the footnotes that Colin leaves for us readers. This book has converted me and I am now an official John Green fan. I cannot wait to read more of his works!



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