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Monday, March 31, 2008

Reading By Candlelight and Other Inconveniences


I really don't know how people did it in the old days. Read by candlelight, that is. Tonight an hour-long power outage right at dusk had us pulling out the decorative candles for a much more practical use. But the thing about candles. They flicker. That makes reading a bit of a challenge, and a strain on the eyes. I did tough it out reading Speaker for the Dead by candlelight for almost an hour.

I was already reading when the power went off, and I might have stopped to do something else (the flickering made it really really hard to read) but here's my list of potential alternate activities:

  1. Watch TV
  2. Wash dishes
  3. Blog
  4. Write on the computer
  5. Balance checkbook (on the computer)
  6. Listen to iPod (not charged at the moment)
Hmm... I'm seeing a pattern... my shameless addiction to activities that require electricity catches up with me at last.

Okay granted I could have gotten real creative and played hide and seek with Rusty and Husband, but our condo only has so many places to hide.

And Hobbits....

If you remember me posting a long long time ago about what audiobook to listen to while on the road, you may recall I finally settled on Fellowship of the Ring. I finally finished all 20 hours (it only took two major roadtrips and three weeks back and forth to work of listening). I don't want to give a humongous long summary of the book, but if you haven't read the books or seen the movie, click here or here for a summary.

I have a love for LOTR that is hard to put exactly into words, but it started when my dad started reading The Hobbit to me when I was very young. I've read the books many times, so that map of Middle Earth feels as familiar to me as a map of Minnesota. The story has the feel of a bedtime story you ask your mom to tell you every night even though you know it by heart.

This time around, however, was a different experience for me, as I don't listen to many audiobooks. The narrator did a very decent job with all of the voices, and I could easily tell which character was which (no small feat with nine characters in the fellowship alone). The thing that was really different for me was experiencing all of the songs that Tolkien incorporated into the book in audio form instead of written.

I'm not going to lie, I have a tendency to skip over the songs in the book the way a Sunday schooler skips over the Zephaniah begat Hezekiah begat Turkiziah begat Philoziah's of the Bible. If not completely irrelevant to the plot, the songs are at least ancillary. But listening to them brought a whole new dimension to the book that I had never really appreciated before.

I haven't read the book since the movies came out, so I had some delightful reunions with characters and scenes I hadn't encountered in a long time. It was nice stay at Tom Bombadill's house, and perfectly lovely to eat dinner with Farmer Maggot (a truly delightful fellow despite his fierce-looking dogs). Merry and Pippin, the rascals, really conspired with Sam to follow Frodo on his adventure, and didn't just run into him while stealing vegetables (as the movie shows).

So, let me ask you: have you ever reread a favorite book after a movie is made out of it? Had you forgotten certain scenes or mixed them up with the movie?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nickeled and Dimed

Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation by Eva, In Their Shoes Reading Challenge

Poverty, especially in relation to Welfare is an uncomfortable topic. Get two people with different viewpoints going on the subject, and your carefully planned dinner party could quickly end in disaster.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who in normal life spends her time as a writer, decided to spend 3 months as a blue-collar worker to see what it was like to live on the wages offered by the likes of Walmart and other low-paying jobs of similar ilk.

The result is a fascinating first-hand account of the struggle to make ends meet on meager wages. Ehrenreich started as a waitress in Key West, then a maid and dishwasher in Maine, and finally as a Walmart employee in Minnesota.

She reports in the introduction that "The first thing I discovered is that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly "unskilled". Every one of the six jobs I entered into in the course of this project required concentration, and most demanded that I master new terms, new tools, and new skills."

Ehrenreich reports on the exhaustion of standing on her feet for 8 or more hours in a row, the humiliation of mandatory drug tests, having her first paycheck held (as is the custom in many low-paying jobs), the managers who spend all their time looking over everyone's shoulder to yell at the smallest mistake, the seedy rent by the week motels she stayed at, and the complete and utter inadequacy of $7 an hour to pay for all of the lodging, food, clothing, and payphone expenses.

Among her coworkers, those who are not lucky enough to have a boyfriend, parent or child to split housing costs with have found solutions such as sleeping in their cars or staying at cheap motels. While working as a maid, Ehrenreich reports a particularly harrowing story about a coworker who apparently eats next to nothing. When she trips in a hole and hears something snap, she refuses medical attention because there are no sick days, and besides, she doesn't have any insurance. Ehrenreich recalls reaming out their boss over the phone to let her coworker have the day off. The next day, she went to work, uncertain if she would still have a job.

At the maid company, most of her coworkers had injuries of some kind or another from the hard work, even though the pay is sparse. Reflecting on the toll exacted on the maids, Ehrenreich states:

So ours is a world of pain-managed by Excedrin and Tylenol, compensated for with cigarettes and, in one or two cases and then only on weekends, with booze. Do the owners have any idea of the misery that goes into rendering their homes motel-perfect? Would they be bothered if they did know, or would they take a sadistic pride in what they have purchased-boasting to dinner guests, for example, that their floors are cleaned only with the purest of human tears?

This book like this was a glimspse into a world I've never been a part of, not really. Personally, my closest brush with poverty came when I returned from a semester abroad and spent a desperate month with no money in reserve and grocery and rent to pay. But even then, I had advantages most poor do not. My fiancee (now husband) bought me groceries and an extra student loan came in just enough time to keep me from overdraft fees. The memory of how humiliated I felt at having to ask someone else to buy me groceries (even though it was my fiancee!) has made me very determined in life not to wind up in the same situation. But to be forced into that position not for a month, but for years and years, with little possibility of change.... it is truly beyond my power of imagination. Ehrenreich's story brings a much needed human element to the discussion on welfare reform and poverty. She is an excellent writer, and she weaves her own stories along with that of her coworkers into a compelling and moving read.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Library Lottery

I do feel lucky to live in a large metro area with many very excellent libraries. My city has a nice large library, connected to the YMCA. There are days I like to go to the library and just browse the selection.

Most of the time, however, I just don't have the time to look through all of the books, because my luck on finding good books is very hit and miss. So when I get recommendations from other bloggers or I want books for the next challenge, I hit up the website and put in requests. My requests are usually granted pretty quickly, then I make a library pit stop on the way to the gym.

Let me explain my love of the library this way: I haven't bought a single book this year. Not a one. I've been working on quite a few challenges this year, and so far I've gotten away with just borrowing from the library. I mean to get onto eventually for books I can't get at the library, but it hasn't happened yet.

There are downsides to the library. The law of supply and demand apply, of course, and some books I want to read are in high demand. When I'm number 237 in line to request the book, I just cancel the request, since that could be years from now. However, I have been wanting to read Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody for In Their Shoes Reading Challenge, and I just don't want to take the money to buy it. So when I was number 16 in line back in January, I decided to stick it out and see what happened. Each time I log in to the website, I move up little by little. Right now I'm at lucky #6, so I'm figuring in about 2 more months it might be waiting for me at the library.

I'm #9 for The Constant Princess and #3 for The Reluctant Fundamentalist. In fact, I kind of feel like I'm in a gameshow called The Library Lottery.

...And weeeee're back with The Library Lottery. Our contestants are you're too cheap to buy this uber-popular book, so they have to tough it out against the clock. How long will they last? Will they break down and pay money for the book? Or will they hold out until their ship.. er book comes in? Perils face our contestants, as they may be too late... by that time, will their teeth have fallen out and their chin hair overgrown their face? Stay tuned for more Library Lottery...

And so it goes. I have got four books waiting for me at the library, and I can't wait to get started on Gathering Blue, Rash, Speaker for the Dead, and Nickeled and Dimed. Thank goodness for the library! And time on the weekend to read.

The Looking Glass Wars

Author: Frank Beddor
Challenge: Royalty Rules Challenge, Once Upon a Time Challenge, YA Challenge (now how's that for hitting up the challenges?)
Rating: 4/5

This book provides a great example of what I was talking about yesterday in regards to book artwork. Thanks to Rhinoa's great review, I requested this book from the library without ever looking at the coverart. However, as I opened the book, the first few pages are a sequence showing how a card soldier unfolds from a harmless looking (if oversized) playing card to a lethal warrior. Beautiful pencil drawing precede each chapter. The cover is a bit plain in comparison, but all the artwork conspires together to make the book very appealing.

Let me refer you to Rhinoa's review for a fuller summary, but in brief, this is the real story of Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland Throne. When her murderous aunt Redd attacks Wondertropolis on Alyss' birthday, she is forced to run for her life, and winds up in 1800's England. No one believes her crazy story, but a friendly man named Lewis Carroll offers to write her story. However, as it turns out, he doesn't believe her either, because he twists her story into silly nonsense that we all of course know today as Alice in Wonderland.

Although they are NOTHING alike in tone or style, this book reminded me here and there of Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, a retelling of The Wizard of Oz. I think it was how both books made me rethink classic children's stories. In both of the orignal stories, the worlds they described were sort of silly, but the retellings build on the characters and ideas and try to convince us that they were real, serious places that were misunderstood by their authors.

Anyhow, I always found the Alice in Wonderland movies (the Disney versions) to be extremely creepy, and my mom actually got rid of them because I would always ask her to stop the movie anytime I was watching it. I don't honestly remember my opinions of the books, because I read them such a long time ago.

However, I did enjoy this retelling quite a bit. Alyss starts off as a selfish, somewhat mischievous child, and through the ordeals she goes through, turns into a polished, accomplished warrior, wielding her imagination as a weapon.

I enjoyed seeing how Beddor found ways to incorporate pieces of the Alice in Wonderland books into a cohesive society, and how he imagined the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts "really" were. (My favorite is his take on the Hatter, who is the head of an elite security force known as The Millinery. Guess what his weapon is! Guess! It's his hat, which turns into a deadly blade).

I've already got the sequel, Seeing Redd, checked out from the library, so onwards, now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

This week’s question comes from Julie, who asks:

While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback vs. mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

Do you want to know the one redeeming factor about Thursdays? On Thursday, you know that the next day is Friday. That and Booking Through Thursday. So I guess there's two redeeming factors.

But I digress...

And I disagree. If we didn't judge books by their cover, why on earth do publishing companies spend mucho dinero designing eye-catching art work? When we go to the bookstore or library to browse, I challenge you to honestly say you don't look for books that catch your attention. In my experience, anyhow, the title might catch my eye, yes, but the print or color of makes the title stand out, which makes the book stand out. When I pick up a book, even before I can flip it open to read what it says on the back, I'll notice the cover. Before I've read a word, the artwork lets me know what genre the book will be, and from that I can make a good judgement (usually) on how much I'll like the book.

Now that's not to say that book covers can't deceive. I've been fooled into buying books I ended up not liking by book covers that lured me in. But I'd be lying if I didn't say the artwork influences my reading choices.

Once I've picked up the book to read it, the design of the book still plays a part. A book thats too stiff to bend is annoying, since I like to read while doing activities not conducive to actually holding the book open (don't think dirty people! I'm talking about reading while eating or blowdrying my hair.)

A book that's too heavy might make my hands sore during a late night reading fest. (Its been known to happen).

But when I'm reading a book with good cover art (especially if you need to have read some plot point or another to understand the cover art) will make me flip back to the cover to look and think about it. I also really like when there are little illustrations at the beginning of the chapters, like in Harry Potter. The last time I reread the books, I spent extra time looking at those illustrations and thinking about the scenes that they alluded to.

So in answer, I guess I would have to say a resounding yes! The design of the book is very important.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Once Upon a Time...

Was there any way I could pass up this challenge? The answer is a big resounding no! Carl V at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting Once Upon a Time II Challenge. His Sci-Fi Experience is what drew me in to reading challenges, so could I really pass up the chance to read fantasy books, my other favorite genre.

You can read the rules here, and there are three different quests to take. I'll probably be taking Quest the First, reading 5 books that fit within the fantasy/folklore/fairy tale category.

I don't have my list finalized yet, but it's sure to at least include Seeing Redd or The Looking Glass Wars.

Update: Here's my list (so far)

Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Subject to change of course!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cat's Eye

Author: Margaret Atwood
Challenge: My Year of Reading Dangerously, YA Challenge
Rating: 4/5

This is my third Atwood in as many months, and I admire her style greatly, but it is kind of like admiring a modernist painting in a museum. Yes, its sharp, well-down, but its not real cuddly and cute.

In this book, Atwood delves into the secret cruelties that girls impose on each other. Elaine Risley, a middle-aged Canadian painter is coming back to her childhood city of Toronto for the opening of a new show. While she wanders along the vaguely familiar streets, she relives her memories.

We learn at the start the outline of her life; she is divorced and remarried, she had a friend named Cordelia who was important in her life, she had a brother who liked to talk about abstract philosophical concepts. The rest of the book is about filling in the details. We learn about her childhood, first wandering like nomads with her parents and brother. She and her brother are very close as children, they do not have any other friends to play with.

Until I moved to Toronto I was happy. Before that we didn't really live anywhere; or we lived so many places it was hard to remember them. We spent a lot of the time driving, in our low-slung, boat-sized Studebaker, over back roads or along two-lane highways up north, curving past lake after lake..."

When they finally settle into a house, Elaine learns, for the first time, the perils of female friendship. She makes friends with Carol out of practicality. They both need someone to sit with at lunch. Through Carol, she meets Grace, and Cordelia.

Ruthlessly Atwood dissects the uneasy relationship between the girls. Though before Cordelia joins their group, Grace invites one or the other friend over and feels sick as soon as they start doing something she doesn't want to, Cordelia is ruthless in her cruelty.

On the window ledge beside mine, Cordelia and Grace and Carol are sitting, jammed in together, whispering and giggling. I have to sit in a window ledge by myself because they aren't speaking to me. It's something I said wrong, but I don't know what it is because they won't tell me. Cordelia says it will be better for me to think back over everything I've said today and try to pick out the wrong thing. That way I will learn not to say such a thing again. When I've guessed the right answer, then they will speak to me again. All of this is for my own good, because they are my best friends and they want to help me improve....I can't remember having said anything different from what I would ordinarily say.

This passage is the very first time Cordelia tries out her power over the other girls. She learns quickly how to manipulate and control, soon Elaine is anxious and depressed all of the time, scraping the skin off the bottom of the her feet, biting her nails until they bleed. Oh this passage sent shivers down my spine, because how well do I remember a similar incident when I was younger. In my case, there was a teacher that I ran to for help. Elaine has no one. Reflecting back, Elaine knows that her mother must have been aware of the situation, but feels that her mother must have felt unable to help her.

This book is not only about girlhood cruelty. But that does take up a large chunk of the book. Inexplicably, once they are in high school, Elaine starts walking to school with Cordelia and they fall once again into a friendship. Though they call each other best friends, Elaine has become the confident one, the one with the smart, cutting remarks.

I have a denser, more malevolent little triumph to finger: energy has passed between (Cordelia and I), and I am stronger.

Elaine finds her way to art in college and her abstract, surrealistic paintings are of objects and people from her childhood. She falls in love with two very different men, but disaster tinges both relationships. She joins a feminist group, and watches her paintings become labeled "feminist" although she isn't quite sure she fits in.

These meetings are supposed to make me feel more powerful, and in some ways they do.... But these meetings also make me nervous, and I don't understand why. I don't say much, I am awkward and uncertain, because whatever I do might be the wrong thing. I have not suffered enough, I haven't paid my dues, I have no right to speak. I feel as if I'm standing outside a closed door while decisions are being made.... At the same time I want to please.

This is a slower-paced book, rather like The Blind Assassin. It is complex, introducing us to ideas, themes, then casually dropping them only to bring them up later. You could say the book is about gender, and you'd be right. You could say the book is about the interplay between our childhood and how we turn out as adults, or that it is a character narrative, and you'd be right as well. This book is about a lot of things. That makes it a hard book to summarize, but let me emphasize that if you have the time to sink down into her prose, this is a fascinating (if somewhat chilling) look into female relationships.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The House of the Scorpion

Author: Nancy Farmer
Challenge: YA Lit Challenge
Rating: 5/5

After some of the heavy reading I've been doing lately, it was nice to read a book that I didn't have to force myself to read. I'd run out of adjectives long before I'd fully describe this book, but let's start with engrossing, thought-provoking, and page-turning.

On the border between the US and what used to be Mexico is a vast region of drug kingdoms called Opium, where the powerful drug lords live on enormous sprawling estates and illegals that have been unlucky to be caught trying to cross the border toil away as slaves. The most powerful drug lord is El Patrón, and on his vast estate lives his extended family, friends, and also a young boy named Matt. Matt is different from the other children on the ranch. He was harvested from a cow at birth, and his foot bears the words "Property of the Alacrán Estate". He doesn't know why everyone in the household despises him, he doesn't know at first what it means when they call him a filthy clone.

Still, despite the malice and backbiting of the Alacrán family, Matt finds allies: his bodyguard, Tam Lin teaches him about the dirty reality of Opium that lies behind the manicured lawns and ornately decorated hallways. His caretaker, Celia, who spends all her energy keeping him safe from the schemes of the Alacráns.

Matt has a destiny. Matt rides through the opium fields, dreaming that El Patrón wants him to one day run the estate, but El Patrón had Matt created for his own selfish, life-prolonging purposes. After 140 years, his life is sustained by little more than a thread, and his next heart attack could mean the end for Matt.

Even though I was rereading this book, it was once again, unputdownable (is that a word?). I read it straight through in one sitting. It is a deceptively simple at first, just a story about a clone (not an unusual topic in scifi) but Nancy Farmer writes so beautifully and keeps us engaged in the Matt's story. It is a rarity in scifi to have an author who can write about concepts and keep the characters engaging, but this is that kind of book. Matt is a character that will stay with you. He has to fight, from birth, against impossible odds.

While very young, he lands in the care of a cruel housekeeper named Rosa, who imprisons him in a tiny room full of sawdust because she doesn't want the bother of caring for him. Nancy Farmer writes these chapters with an understanding of what a child might actually be thinking and feeling as they experience those horrors. They are not sloppy or sentimental, which makes them all the more powerful.

This is a book I recommend to you whether or not you read science fiction or YA fiction, because it simply transcends those labels. It is a breath-taking read, and I promise the story will grab you and not let go.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter Everyone!

I hope everyone had a good weekend! Husband, Rusty, and I arrived safely in Madison, WI on Friday night to spend Easter with my mother-in-law. Unfortunately, my wish to see House on the Rock couldn't be granted since we were driving in a practical whiteout.

There was such a snowstorm on Friday night in Minnesota, and as luck would have it, the storm was moving towards Wisconsin along highway 94, which happened to be the route we were taking.

We passed by at least three overturned semis and we saw one truck spin out behind us on the freeway, so we were happy to make it at all.

Fellowship of the Ring kept us from going crazy on the 4 1/2 hour trip.

Since we didn't really have any Easter candy or furthermore, any kids to do an Easter egg hunt with on Sunday, we had a Puppy Treat Hunt for Rusty and my mother-in-law's dogs, Nip and Tuck.

Nip and Tuck are older than Rusty, and a little more dignified. Rusty scrambled after the treats like his life depended on it with all the puppy energy in the world. He ended up getting or stealing almost all of the treats.

I actually did manage to squeeze in a fair amount of reading on the trip, which doesn't happen often on weekends. I read House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, and finished up Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. Reviews to follow later this week, after I've gotten a little more sleep.

Did anyone else travel or do something fun this past weekend?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another Roadtrip

For the second weekend in a row, I'm off on a roadtrip to Wisconsin. This time, though, my husband, Rusty and I are venturing off to Madison, to see family for Easter. I'm hoping on the way we can stop at House on the Rock, because after learning from American Gods that it is really a portal across the space-time continuum, I just have to see it, no matter how cheesy it is.

We will be taking the trip, that is, if the weather holds up. It's looking to snow quite a bit up here, which disappoints me bitterly because last week we had 50 degree weather for a few glorious hours. I had hoped (foolishly) that it would stay nice after that. Sadly Minnesota weather is often tricky like that, flirting with warm weather, then dumping snow on us.

I doubt I will be able to do much blogging this weekend with the roadtrip, so happy early Easter, everyone.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Is Firefly So Good?

Is Joss Whedon some kind of genius? Or am I just in the right mood for a western scifi TV show?

Either way, Firefly is amazing. It was a short-lived scifi series that suffered an early demise back in 2002. In the future, there's no aliens, but there are still bullets, cattle rustlers, smugglers and plenty of bar fights. At least when you are Captain Malcolm Reynolds. After winding up on the losing side of a civil war, he winds up in the smuggling business, off on the edge of space with his crew in a ramshackle but beloved ship called Serenity.

Only 14 episodes ever got filmed, but let's be honest here. In 1 short season, Firefly managed to elicit a fan response that hasn't been seen since the grand-daddy of scifi shows, Star Trek. And there's a good reason for that.

First of all, this was a series with great writing. Each of the characters, though modeled on archetypes from the Old West, become real people with histories we're interested in. Why does the preacher claim to be a peaceful man but know how to handle a gun? What happened to the troubled River to make her so... psychotic? Will the Captain ever admit he's in love with Inara? As far as the writing is concerned, being on the edge of cancellation was probably quite helpful; forcing the writers to remove the "fluff" from the series. (I'm talking to you, Heroes).

There is a wonderful mix of drama and comedy. My husband's favorite line is when the Captain tells a seemingly frightened girl who thinks she's soon to be killed, "Don't you take that. If someone tries to kill you, you try to kill them right back!"

Not to mention the filming. In Firefly, as in old John Wayne movies, the producers make use of the wonderful zoom lens. Considered somewhat shoddy in most of cinematography today, the zoom lens gives us true sense of being in the scene. Since the zoom lens forces us to "focus" on a scene it is similar to if we were being jostled around on a spaceship, constantly trying to refocus our eyes on what surrounds us. In addition, most of the filming is done by hand which increased the intimate feel of the shots. In space, there are no sound effects, just (realistic) science.

The low-tech and high-tech themes collide as they face down other spaceships, the Feds, and horse-riding, gun-wielding baddies. Laser guns exist, but as the wielder of one such toy learns, when the low-battery light starts flashing, real bullets are mighty fine to have instead.

The interplay of familiar themes in a sort of futuristic, sort of old fashioned setting made for interesting TV-viewing. While they do have a spaceship, Serenity has a primitive feel to it, not polished and perfected and full of transporters and research labs. The crew are likewise not a perfectly cohesive fighting machine. Their loyalties are divided and at times its all the captain can do to keep them together to earn money.

The series, due to its early death, has an unfinished feeling to it. I'm certainly not the first nor will I be the last one to watch the series and wonder what would have happened if only this series hadn't been ahead of its time. Of course, there's always the possibility it could have ended up like Heroes, dragged on far past a good ending point, devoid of any logical connection between plotlines.

A few years back, I saw the movie that was later created as a follow-up to Firefly, called Serenity. At the time, I hadn't seen or heard of Firefly, so the movie didn't stick with me. I'm looking forward to going back and watching it, this time understanding the backstory.

After watching Firefly over the last few days (my excuse for not blogging) I feel like I could not write a whole thesis on why scifi and western genres are really overlapping, but for now I'm going to spare you. Just watch the series, you'll know what I mean.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Negativity Meme

Does it ever seem there aren't enough hours in the day for all the things you want to do? That has been the last few weeks. And accordingly, my reading has slowed down (or maybe it just hasn't ever been very fast.) Accordingly, I'll post my answers to the negativity meme by Dewey. Thanks to Chris for tagging me.

1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?

I'll usually say that the book wasn't really my thing. I don't believe in decieving the readers of my blog by stating that I liked a book when I really didn't, but there's room for restraint. One of the things I like about book bloggers is that they don't tend to be mean and nasty the way some parts of blogworld can be.

2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn't like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?

Yes I temper my words, because no one likes constant negativity. My friends can tell you that I have a tendency towards snarkiness when I don't like a movie or book. Yes, I'm the one in the movie theater making the comments about The Notebook or Armageddon and other such classics. So I tone down my sarcasm on my blog, because, hey even though I might not have liked a book, I know other people may love the book, so I don't want discourage anyone from reading it. The book might be a great read, and I'm just not in the right mood for it. Besides, usually my sarcastic comments probably aren't as funny as I think they are. And there's nothing worse than unfunny sarcasm.

3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?

Everyone's entitled to their opinions, and I don't mind when they aren't the same as mine. If everyone thought the same as me, the world would be a scary place. Really scary.

Depending on the post, I might leave a comment, if there was something I felt was important worth saying.

4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?

If it's a blogger I read on a regular basis, I might make a comment based on what they said in their review. I guess I'm likely to just say I'm sorry to hear they didn't like the book or if I did like the book, I might say what I liked about it.

5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?

Hmmm... well if they left me enough to go off, I might leave a response to their comment. I'm all about diversity of opinion towards books.

6. What if you don't like a book that was a free review copy? What then?

If I get a review copy, I'm not the only person who is getting an early review copy, and I sure would hope that the author wouldn't expect everyone that reads the book is going to love it. So I'll put my honest opinion.

On the other hand, I don't want to completely slam an author, especially if they are up and coming. So I try to keep my comments friendly, and not disrespectful.

7. What do you do if you don't finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn't finish it?

I wouldn't put a post about the book if I didn't finish it. If I haven't finished it, there's a chance it could have gotten better at some point. I might post in passing that I started the book but just couldn't get into it. Now that would be deception.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Things that I'm Liking Right Now...

For the roadtrip I was saved from talking to myself by an old standby, The Fellowship Of The Ring. I checked out that along with Empire by Orson Scott Card, planning on listening to Empire, with FOTR as my backup.

I was expecting more of a scifi adventure along the lines of Ender's Game, but Empire turned out to be OSC's political views in a sort of fictional format. I just wasn't in the mood for the Iraq war, so I flipped to FOTR instead.

6 hours total of listening time during the roadtrip means that I'm still only about 1/3 of the way through the audiobook, which means I have company on my morning commute for quite a while.

On a completely different topic, am I the only scifi lover that hasn't seen Firefly yet? I borrowed it and while I was gone this weekend (it was only about 27 hours) my husband watched the entire 14 episodes. And when I got back on Sunday, he started rewatching them with me so I could see them too.

Despite my earlier post that expressed that I don't like Westerns, I take my words back. I actually do like Westerns, when they are a Western/scifi blend.

And finally, I'm working on Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. I have totally enjoyed the last two books I read by her, but they do get long and the reader has to absorb a heck of a lot of details before the plot starts to pay off. Hopefully this week I'll get back into the swing of reading, blogging, and going to the gym.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I'm Off To See The Wizard...

Or maybe I'm just off for an unplanned road trip to visit a friend in Wisconsin. When I'm driving by myself, I have picked up this bad habit of talking to myself. There are rules to my conversations with myself. I can't ever manage to "write out loud" and imagine stories I want to write, which would probably be the most productive use of my time.

I can, however, give myself imaginary lectures on diverse topics, I can give that really good comeback that I couldn't think of quickly enough earlier, I can answer imaginary interview topics, I can make small talk with myself.

But that only keeps me occupied for so long. Therefore, I am going to swing by the library today and see if they have any good books on CD to keep me from being that crazy lady who talks to herself. Any recommendations?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Suggested by John :
How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:
__________ would have been a much better book if ______________________.

Oohhh... great question. And this question has an excellent crossover appeal to movies. (For example: Transformers would have been a better movie if Michael Bay had taken up underwater basket-weaving instead of making movies. And if they had hired writers.)

First of let me start with my college textbooks. They would have been much better books if only they didn't cost $150 apiece and have chapters the length of a decent-sized novel.

Wuthering Heights would have been a much better book if it wasn't so dang long. And moody.

Silmarillion would have been a better book if there had been a plot.

A Walk to Remember would have been a better book if only the main character would have keeled over earlier in the book. Or maybe if the author could have worked in blood-sucking vampires somehow (hey vampires made the Gardella books interesting).

His Dark Materials trilogy would have been a better series if the momentum of the first book hadn't petered out by the second book.

Scarlett (the sequel to Gone With the Wind)... well the only thing that would have helped this one is if Margaret Mitchell had risen from her grave and written the thing herself.

Although I certainly don't like every book I read, I'm having a hard time coming up with books. I really think movies would be easier, and I may have to put some thought into a list of my own worst ever movies.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rises The Night

Author: Colleen Gleason
Reason for reading: For fun and because the library wants its book back
Rating: 3.5/5

Just finished compulsively reading this book. I felt... enthralled in its grip... Must not look it in the eyes...

As I explained before, romance is not my genre, but I did enjoy The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason. This sequel brings us once again into the world of Victoria Gardella Grantworth de Lacy, recently widowed thanks to a powerful vampire foe. She has been practicing her skills as a vampire hunter for almost a year when she learns about a new threat that could destroy the entire world.

In between staking vampires, there is just enough time for a bit of romance with an enigmatic man she isn't sure she really trusts.

Gleason writes an interesting heroine, and she pulls twists and turns that surprised me. I found it to be an enjoyable sequel to the first book, and if you are already inclined towards paranormal romances or vampire novels, you will no doubt enjoy this book.

I will probably pick up her next book The Bleeding Dusk at some point, after I've turned my attention to other challenge books.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Husband and I used to go to a movie almost every single weekend. Then we got Netflix, and a puppy, and we don't go out to see as many movies at the theater. We happened to have free passes to a local theater and Husband really wanted to see Jumper.

I tried my best to convince him to see Juno with me instead. I helpfully pulled up reviews of both movies to show him that Juno had much better ratings than Jumper. He read the reviews of Juno quietly then commented: "That sounds like about the most boring movie ever."

I won though, not on my logic, but based on the fact that Jumper wasn't showing at this particular theater anymore. (This backstory is relevant, I promise).

Anyhow, Juno is of course that one indie movie of the year that makes it big (Other examples of past such movies include Little Miss Sunshine and My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Juno MacGuff is bored one summer day and decides to enlist her best friend Paulie in an experiment: sex. At the beginning of the movie we watch her downing a huge carton of Sunny D as she works on her third pregnancy test of the day. "That ain't no etch-a-sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet." sneers the clerk (played by Rainn Wilson of The Office). They exchange a bit of dialog so clever and snappy I was a beat behind trying to figure out what they meant. Thankfully, people talked more normally from then on. Kind of. Juno has got a smart mouth that doesn't quit, and though the supporting cast is great, she carries many of the scenes with her snappy comebacks.

After accepting the fact that she is instead pregnant, Juno decides to go to the local abortion clinic to handle her problem, but finds she can't go through with it. On to plan B. Along with her best friend, she searches the local Penny Saver for parents "desperately seeking spawn". She finds a family, Vanessa and Mark Loring, and everything is settled (or so it seems).

The desperate-to-be-a-mother is played by Jennifer Garner, and her husband (practically a child himself) by Jason Bateman. At first blush, their polished, expensive suburban life seems as different from Juno's as could be imagined, but Juno strikes up a friendship with them, especially Mark. I have to stop there because if I go any further I'd give away the entire ending. Let's just say that the movie doesn't let you down.

Diablo Cody is from my great state of Minnesota, and I enjoyed the references throughout the movie to different Minnesota locations. She wrote a funny, moving script. However, the real hero of this movie is the casting director. There was not a bad actor in the bunch. Ellen Page, who played Juno, managed to carry off lines that would sound ridiculous spoken by anyone else. I believed in her character completely. Her parents were not only supportive, but hysterically funny. Juno's sex buddy was played by Michael Cera, who has mastered the art of awkwardness. The movie could have easily cast an actor who is smooth, polished and muscular, but the tall, skinny Cera fit the role perfectly.

If you need further endorsement, let me add that my husband laughed hysterically during the movie and walked out quoting his favorite lines. When we got home, he googled "Juno quotes" to remember the best ones. Here. Check them out. They are pretty darn funny.

A Non-Blogging Weekend

You would think that weekends would be the easiest time for me to blog, since I don't have work sucking up my time. Somehow, it never ends up being the case, and if I get blogging done, it's a struggle.

On the other hand, I usually get at least a little bit of time to catch up on some reading. Right now I'm in the midst of Rises The Night, the second Victoria Gardella book, and The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. So far, I'm not quite as involved in The Looking Glass Wars as I thought I would be, and vampires are just drawing me in... against... my... will...

I found that mailing my copy of Firefly Lane was more complicated than I thought at first. I was in a hurry, of course, which always makes everything take twice as long. I went to the Post Office, and it took me forever to find where they kept the boxes. Luckily, I could mail it using the Automated Postage Center, so I didn't have to wait in line, but I have the feeling that there has to be an easier way to mail books. So here's my question of the day: Have you mailed books out? Do you have an easier system than standing in line at the Post Office? Do you use padded envelopes or boxes?

Friday, March 7, 2008

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things...

I am kind of a book abuser.

I don't hardly ever remember to use bookmarks, I just leave the book spine up with the page open. I have left books outside or nearby windows where they have subsequently gotten soaked. I very often read while eating, so my books have their fair share of crumbs and spills. I sometimes read them while I'm drying my hair, so they balance precariously on the bathroom counter, and sometimes get sprayed with water.

I know. I should be nicer to my books. Knowing that I am not the best at taking care of them, I rarely spend much money on them. Garage sales, Amazon, whatever it takes to save a buck.

So I am not necessarily attached to the actual book very often (because I don't treasure them as I should). However, there are a few exceptions.

The first would be a book that is not technically mine. As a youngster, my Dad read The Hobbit to me, and I was hooked on LOTR for life. I remember very clearly the book was illustrated with pictures from the 1977 animated movie, which, every time we would reread the book, he would comment on. He didn't think much of the illustrations, because in his mind, the pictures weren't very good depictions of the Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield. However, I didn't really mind them.

I remember my dad teaching me what the word slope meant, and learning how big hobbits were ("About your height"). I have a deep emotional attachment to the whole series, of course, but between my dad and I rereading the paperbacks, we've gone through more than one set of LOTR. As far as I know, the illustrated edition of The Hobbit still sits on my parents' shelf, tattered, but hanging on.

Illustrations from the book. On the left, Bilbo smoking his pipe contentedly in front of Bag End. On the right, being talked into an adventure by Gandalf.

Another book I treasure (although again, still at my parent's house) is the children's book Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow.

This book is about the passing seasons. The little girl learns about special days during the year - Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and her birthday. She learns that there are special celebrations for each day, and that they will get to celebrate these same special days "over and over."

As a kid, I really connected to this book and I used to read it (you guessed it) over and over. I loved the illustrations of the little girl looking for Easter eggs, opening Christmas presents, and dressing up in a party dress for her birthday. Looking online, I don't even know if this book is still in print, but it is a beautiful little treasure.

It introduces a simple concept to children in a comforting way. (Time will pass, and we'll get to do this again!)

Though there are many other books close to my heart, those two top the list. Both are no doubt crumbling away to pieces from overuse, but like I already admitted, I'm hard on my books.

I got the lovely idea for this post from Chris. You can read his original post here, where he talks about some of his favorite books.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

You should have seen this one coming … Who is your favorite Male lead character? And why?

I've had a long standing crush on Aragorn. Viggo Mortenson's portrayal in the movie only intensified it. He's calm in a crisis, smart, knows how to be a leader, and he speaks Elvish. He's a pretty awesome. I mean, Arwen did give up immortality for him.

Its hard to just choose one! Another male character I really love is Spock. Yeah, yeah I know he's a TV character, but stay with me. I went through this phase where I read tons of Star Trek novels (if you're not a Trekkie, yes there are tons of Star Trek novels! On top of the comics, toys, trading cards, movies, and animated series). Since the books are written by all sorts of different authors who each have their own differing interpretations of the characters, the quality of the books varies quite a bit. However, pretty much without exception, all of the writers enjoyed writing Spock. He almost always figured prominently in the novels. The Enterprise might be able to be trapped in the seventh nebula of the Great Space Goblin, and Spock's strongest reaction would be something along the lines of "Fascinating. The Great Space Goblin actually eats star ships for energy. I estimate we have 3.45 minutes left before we're swallowed completely, Captain." He can disguise himself as a Romulan if needed, he can mind meld with rocks, his Vulcan strength makes him an essential player when a red shirt bites the dust, and he never misses a beat when sparring with McCoy. Seriously, read a few of the Star Trek novels and you'll know what I'm talking about. There are very very few that don't feature Spock prominently somehow saving the day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Six Word Memoir?

Stephanie tagged me for this meme, which is to sum up your entire life in 6 words. I overthink things. A lot. So I overthought this one. A lot. But at last, I remembered a truth about myself that is not dependent on my particular age or stage in life. So with no further ado, I present my 6 word memoir:

Finding wild amusement in the mundane

And since I'm an overthinker, I will add to that (though what else needs to be added, really?) that I have long been able to amuse myself on boring car rides with billboards. I can't explain why, but it's a talent.

Here's the rules:

1. Write your own six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4 .Tag five more blogs with links
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I don't know who has or hasn't done this yet, so I tag these people:
Chris from Stuff as Dreams are Made on
Love from Stay Talk
Melody from Melody's Reading Corner

And right now I'm too tired to dig deeper than that. If you haven't done it and want to, go for it!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Three Incestuous Sisters

Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Rating: 5/5
Challenge: Heck of it

I'm a fan of Audrey Niffenegger, having fallen in love with The Time Traveler's Wife, but this book has a rather off-putting title, in addition to being short on words. However, Dewey's review hooked me, and I figured I could use a break from reading overly wordy books, so I got it from the library.

Niffenegger describes the book as a visual novel, and you could think of it as a dreamy picture book for adults. The words are few, so the story is carried by the gorgeous pictures which are spare and imaginative.

The three sisters, Clothilde, Bettine, and Ophile live in a house by the sea. While Clothide lives in a detached world of her own, her two sisters gradually lock themselves into a battle over Bettine's suitor, Paris. Ophile becomes jealous, and when Bettine becomes pregnant, Ophile's desperation leads to tragedy to the family. Redemption doesn't come until many years later, when Clothilde is reunited with Bettine's child.

Does that sound like a weird plot for a visual novel? It's really not, because everything does work together. This book simply cements Niffenegger in my mind as a genius. Not only can she tell a story in words, she can tell one in pictures. I so wish I had talent at drawing, so I could write my own visual novel.

What is really great about this book is I will probably reread it once or twice more before I have to bring it back to the library, and I have the feeling it will be even more enjoyable.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Sister

Author: Poppy Adams
Challenge: Read for B&N First Look Book Club
Rating: 2.5/5

Although they were very close as children, Vivien and Ginny haven't seen each other in nearly 50 years. Ginny, the narrator, lives a very solitary life in her family's aging Victorian mansion, where she once made her name studying moths. Vivien has come back for a reunion with her sister at last, but as long-buried secrets come to the surface, Ginny's orderly idea of the world is shaken.

The story alternates between the present day reunion between the two sisters and Ginny's memories of their childhood and what led up to their separation all those years ago. This structure reminds me quite a bit of The Blind Assassin, which in my opinion remains a superior book.

Ginny is an interesting character, if not very sympathetic by the end of the novel. Having spent many long years as a scientist, she thinks of herself as a very objective. The largeness of the mansion, the clutter of furniture, the strangeness of other people all disturb her, so she has shut off most of the house, sold of most of the furniture, and cut off contact with most other people. She spent her professional life studying moths, and large portions of the book are given up to descriptions of how to collect, raise, breed, study, and kill moths.

The Brimstone is a shady brown caterpillar tinged with green, and spends most of its time clasping a twig with its back legs, sticking its body out in front of itself, rigid yet crooked, looking uncannily like the twisted twigs of the bramble it's most often found on. To complicate the general effect, it has two growths midway along its back that look exactly like a pair of buds.

Therein lies problem number 1 in my opinion. I certainly like learning more about science, but so much of the book is taken up by descriptions of moths. Maybe its just me, but I found some of those passages a little gross, as Ginny describes in detail killing and dissecting moths.

Secondly, the family secret that Ginny hasn't figured out in 50 years? I saw it coming miles back. We're supposed to believe that it is enough motivation for Ginny to do something really really horrible, but it doesn't really seem in character with what we learn of Ginny up to that point.

There are parts of the book worth reading. The flashbacks are the most interesting part of the book, because Ginny's childhood memories of her parents and Vivien are very descriptive and sometimes almost poetic.

In the present day sections, however, we are treated to long passages about Ginny's arthritis, descriptions of the ancient house (the house practically becomes another character in the book), and how she feels compelled to follow Vivien around in order to find out why she's finally visiting.

After reading though everything I've written so far, I'm changing the rating from 3.5 to 2.5. Poppy Adams is a talented writer with a knack for atmospheric writing that transports you right to the scene, but the plotting and pacing of this novel left something to be desired.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Weekend Fiction Break: A Lack of Darkness

There’s no true darkness here. The night is faded, like a washed out black sweater, at times faintly orange from the city glow. I don’t squint anymore to see the road, because the light of the billboards and the light poles and the buildings are my new constellation, brightly showing the way.

That’s not to say that it is ever truly light either. Once in a while, the sun peaks through the clouds and leaves a patch of sunlight on my bed. I curl up in it like a cat, but it fades away and I am cold again, wrapping myself tightly in a sweatshirt that reeks of cigars. Here I am, in a brand new apartment, and there is no overhead lighting, except for the bathroom and kitchen. My lamps don’t give off enough light, and the sun hides away, and I feel like a drooping sunflower that’s been brought indoors.

The cigars and the man who smokes them are my compensation. He didn’t promise me anything for following him here, but he did ask me to come. That’s something, I tell myself. Certainly, myself says back. We agree on that point.

I have a starter job that pays for the apartment where the man smokes his cigars on the balcony and forgets his toothbrush in my bathroom. I don’t visit his place. His neighbors, he says. I don’t inquire more, because I don’t want to nag. I know what happens to naggers.

Their skin gets wrinkly and their voices become high-pitched and they lose the ability to be heard by anyone else. They become the thing they hated the most when they were younger. Every day they wake up in the morning, and stare in the mirror at themselves and wish desperately that they had a different husband or a different child who would just shut up for one goddamn minute and listen to a thing they said. But they can’t. change. They are naggers. They will always be naggers. Until they crack and take an overdose of percoset or sleeping pills or something similar, not enough to kill themselves, just enough to be sent to the hospital and they wake up, with the will to live again, fully expecting their husband and child to rush to their side, full of regret that they never listened to her, and ready to listen to her from now on and never discount her. But the husband walks in and his wedding ring’s off and he tells her that he’s been seeing a secretary from work named Crystal and he’s sick of pretending, so if she’ll sign on the dotted line she’ll have the money she wants and he’ll have the woman he wants. The son never bothers to come at all, because he’s off getting high with his friends. The daughter comes, but she is silent for the majority of the time. It takes the daughter a long time to relearn how to talk again, the words come in fits and starts. She is with her friends, and suddenly she will realize that she has been sitting silently for hours. And no one seems to have noticed.

The man doesn’t notice my silences. When I met him, I talked all the time, and I felt so lucky to have landed a man who was witty, funny, and good at listening. But I started to wonder if he was really so good at listening; maybe he was just good at not talking. I tried talking less, to see if he noticed. I still haven’t decided yet.

Saturday! And the Winner is.....

Using a highly scientific process (slips of paper in a hat), we have a winner! The winner of Firefly Lane is Abookworm! Congratulations!!

Please email me your address at boldblueadventure at gmail dot com and I'll get your book to you.

Thank you to everyone for entering!

And for those who didn't win, there is a great contest over at The Page Flipper's blog. She's giving out 6 books. Check out her blog for details.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sci Fi Experience Wrap-up

The very first book challenge (or experience) I entered as a blogger was the Sci Fi experience, and it got me hooked into book blogging. So I have to say thanks to Carl V for hosting!

If I had all the time in the world, I'd probably read scifi nonstop, but real life intrudes, so here is how far I got:

I started with The Handmaid's Tale, a fascinating look at a dystopian future where women are kept in near slavery and reading is outlawed.

My next book happened to be scifi as well. Feed was a look into a future that, while not as bleak as The Handmaid's Tale perhaps, was sure not all sunshine and daisies. Everyone worth anything is connected to a feed in their brain which allows them to chat and access the next generation internet. But things are not always what they seem....

And finally, I found a new favorite author in Orson Scott Card. Ender's Game was a great read - thought-provoking, interesting, enjoyable.

Carl, I hope you host this challenge again. I could always use an excuse to read more scifi.