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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Recent Enjoyable

This Week's Question:

What’s the most enjoyable, most fun, most just-darn-entertaining book you’ve read recently? (Mind you, this doesn’t necessarily mean funny, since we covered that already. Just … GOOD.)

I really truly just reloved The Time Traveler's Wife, once again. It is one of those books where you really come to love the characters, and the writing, and the simplicity of the dilemma that Henry faces - he can't seem to stay in one place in time - makes the novel feel real despite the sort of science fiction element to it. It's a novel about characters and relationships and it's just an all-around good read. I think even my reading friends with extremely discriminating tastes will have trouble finding fault with it.

How about you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW!

I am way too swamped with school and other crap to participate much this year, but if you are like the last blogger on the planet and have not heard about Book Blogger Appreciation Week, then holy crap, you really should have heard about it! Because there's thing to win! And other bloggers to meet! And interviews to read! And did I mention, things to win?

Book blogging has become a big part of my life. I used to check out a book from the library upon occasion, and I used to wish I had someone to recommend good books to me, because I would have trouble finding books I really liked from the browsing method.

Now, I have like a gillion (yes, literally a gillion) book blogging friends whose recommendations have made my tbr stack so big the coffee table where I store them is threatening to collapse. I go to the library about every other week for new books that friends have recommended. When I go to the bookstore, half the book covers look familiar, and I already have an idea if I will like a book or not, thanks to my book blogging friends.

I've always loved to read, but book blogging has given a lot more focus and diversity to the books I pick. I'm humbled and amazed that there are awesome bloggers out there like Amy who are willing to sacrifice so much time and energy (and I'm sure no doubt money as well) to make an awesome event like Book Blogger Appreciation Week.

It's been awesome so far seeing who has won the various awards (congratulations to the winners!), and I've totally been drooling over some of the prizes.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Picky, Picky, Picky

This is the week in which I am extremely picky about my reading. So far I haven't been able to get into Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner or Fledgling by Octavia Butler and so the majority of my reading time has been spent looking over husband's latest copy of Popular Mechanics, which means that I am now proficient on how to fix my car if there is a leak in the radiator, and I have a deep and personal understanding of how to power all of my home tech devices with nothing more than a home wind turbine and a roll of duct tape, and when civilization goes kaput thanks to a nuclear holocaust or World War III, or even the zombie apocalypse, I know what the three essential tools to have on hand are. But alas, I don't have much to report for you Sunday Saloners about lovely books.

How about you? Any books you can't get into this week?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Audrey Wait! (review)

Audrey Wait! by Robin Bentley
Reason for Reading: YA reading challenge
Rating: 3/5

Summarize the plot: Audrey is an ordinary girl until her ex-boyfriend writes a song vilifying her that becomes an international pop sensation. Suddenly she's famous, but it means having her every move make national television, and everyone, it seems, wants to be her friend. No one cares about the actual Audrey anymore.

One sentence review: A breezy, fun read that doesn't really stick with you afterwards.

What I liked: Audrey is a strong-willed character, if a bit dense at times. She has some true, loyal friends, who help her navigate the treacherous waters of instant fame, and the book has a lot of humor to it. The writing style kept me engaged, because it was light, cute, and fun. Also, I really enjoyed the understated relationship between Audrey and her love interest. It was never too in your face, or forced, and it never detracted from the main plot point - Audrey coming to terms with her new-found fame.

What I didn't like: There is a reason this book has a large blurb on the front by Meg Cabot. I'm not sure if Cabot should really be promoting it though, since Audrey, Wait!, is almost a blow by blow copy of the plot and style of The Princess Diaries. I enjoyed this light-hearted book while I was reading it, but when I started thinking too hard, and realizing how the plot lined up exactly with my favorite Meg Cabot read, I started liking it less and less. Both Mia (the protagonist of Princess Diaries) and Audrey are so irritated by all this new-found fame... lame-0... but it seems like most teenagers would have found at least something to enjoy from being famous. They both go through almost the exact same journey with friends, family, and paparazzi, coming to the same conclusions at the end. For some readers, that might not detract from your enjoyment, but for whatever reason, it did for me.

Should I read it? If you liked The Princess Diaries and don't mind the fact this book doesn't break any new ground, you'll probably love this one.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Reading? What reading?

This hasn't been much of a reading week for me. Oh, I did read through the 40 page syllabus for my first grad school class, but after that I mostly wanted to cry.

Okay, not completely true. At the beginning of the week, I was working through rereading The Time Traveler's Wife, and discovering that I still liked it, but finding myself kind of stuck at the final bit at the end. I already know what's going to happen, and once again, I'm so emotionally involved in these characters, and I just want to stop while things are still going well.

Hmmm... other things I've been reading. I did finish Persepolis I & II last week. The two graphic novels are sad, insightful, and surprisingly funny. I felt like I had a new best friend.

I finally got to read the rest of the Emma manga novels, thanks to a tip from tanabata as to where to find some scans online. (I normally don't recommend reading scans of dubious legality, but in this case it looks like the actual novels may have gone out of print because they were retailing for $80+ on Amazon). I finally got to learn about the nefarious plots carried out against Emma and William and how their love conquered all.

In the upcoming couple of days, I can tell you that the reading I will be doing will be mostly business books for my upcoming class. Bleh. I'm going to try and sneak in something more exciting if at all possible, or else I'm going to wind up with a brain way too stuffed with facts and theories and education and stuff.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Howdy from the Minnesota State Fair

When you live in Minnesota around Labor Day, everyone's thoughts begin turning towards thoughts of deep fried cheese curds, pickles on a stick, chocolate chip cookies and all you can drink milk. Yesterday hubby and I took off of work for the express purpose of testing out how many State Fair activities it is possible to cram into a single day without dropping dead of exhaustion.

It may not have been our most sane experiment ever, but we did discover that there is a limit to human tolerance for walking, eating and simultaneously taking in entertainment.

Some old favorites:
*Crop art. Yes, people make art out of seeds. This year, for whatever reason, political art was really popular. Both of these examples won ribbons.


*Machinery Hill. Tractors. Engines. Okay, not necessarily my favorite, but hubby got to recall his days as a farmer.

*Free stuff. Hey, one of our local radio stations was giving away free air guitars. How can I resist a deal like that?

New favorites:
*Horse shows. This year, all the horse shows were free, so we watched some heart-pounding barrel racing

*Barn tour. A guide took us around all of the animal barns (for free!) and told us all sorts of fun and silly facts about the animals. Even my farmer hubby was impressed.

*Hearty breakfast at the fair. We had never gotten there early enough to get breakfast at the fair before, but it was pretty good.

*Gelato. I'm a bit of an ice-cream snob, and ever since sampling the real, true, Italian gelato, I've been in search of a good equivalent here in Minnesota. Surprisingly, the fair provided the most authentic gelato I've had since Italy.

When my stomach has recovered a little bit more from the excess I put it through, I'll be around to visit your blog!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Life, In Books

Stolen from Bloggin' 'bout Books. Answer each question using the title of a book you've read in the past year. I'm not tagging anyone, but let me know if you did this and I'll come visit!

Describe yourself:

How do you feel: Soon I Will Be Invincible (by Austin Grossman)

Describe where you currently live: Neverwhere (by Neil Gaiman)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Arabian Nights (And Days) (by Bill Willingham)

Your favorite form of transportation: The Road (by Cormac McCarthy)

Your best friend is: The Good Prince (by Bill Willingham)

You and your friends are: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (by Alan Moore)

What's the weather like: Storm Front (by Jim Butcher)

You fear: The Walking Dead (by Robert Kirkman)

What is the best advice you have to give?: The Rest Falls Away (by Colleen Gleason)

Thought for the day: Hurry Down Sunshine (by Michael Greenberg)

How I would like to die: I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (by Philip K. Dick)

My soul's present condition: Peace Like a River (by Leif Enger)

R.I.Pping good challenge

There really wasn't any way I could say no to R.I.P. IV, was there? I didn't think so. September 1-October 31, the goal is to read scary books and scary stories. Even if you don't "do" challenges, this is a great one to try. There are six categories: Mystery, Suspense, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural, and various levels of the challenge.

So far, I'm keeping my options pretty open on my reading list. I've got a few options, but I'm waiting to see what other people are recommending.

My book pool:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Horror)... classic tale about a horrifying monster
Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Supernatural)... something sci fi-ish with vampires.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carie Ryan (Supernatural)... something else with vampires.
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (Dark Fantasy)... nymeth has it on her list, and she rarely steers me wrong
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (Mystery). Something about the Spanish Civil War and the devil, and a cemetery of lost books. Delectable.

Any top recommendations?

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Invisible Man (review)


The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
Reason for Reading: In the tbr stack
Rating: 2.5/5

Summarize the plot: A mysterious stranger appears in the town of Iping. He never uncovers his face, his temper is ferocious, and it seems he is experimenting with some kinds of chemicals. What could be his secret?

One sentence review: Excessively moralizing plot makes what could have been a fascinating read a bit dry

What I liked: Since, like it or not, the Invisible Man has entered the pantheon of cultural icons, appearing in all sorts of movies, comics, books, and the concept having reappeared in all sorts of other places, it was interesting to see where it all started. The simple countryfolk that the Invisible Man takes advantage of are meant to provide comic relief, and I did find myself smiling at their innocent theories about what the strange man's secret was.

What I didn't like: I just could not understand how someone who was smart enough to figure out how to turn themselves invisible couldn't figure out how to walk quietly enough that he wasn't always being caught by everyone. People, even the simple folk of Iping, kept hearing mysterious sneezes and footsteps, and eventually connect the dots. Likewise, I think I would have found him a little more sinister if he was actually could at manipulating people or actually terrorizing them. Even at his best, he's not very good at scaring anyone. He seems to incite anger, rather than cowering. And once he finds a homeless tramp that he wants to turn into his lab assistance, his only method of control is to say "I'll kill you?" Meh. As soon as his "assistant" gets away, he's shouting for the police. The Invisible Man is clearly shown by the end to be insane, but I think the book might have been more interesting if it was more of a horror read or if the Invisible Man had succeeded at more than just turning himself invisible.

Should I read it? There are 1. better classics to spend your time on and 2. better H. G. Wells books to read.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Sunday Salon: So Edjamucated

I feel so edjumacated lately. I normally don't read much nonfiction, but I just finished Guns, Germs and Steel and actually liked it. I finished a business book (Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done) and liked it. Earlier this summer I read a book about the nature of evil and mostly liked it (The Lucifer Effect). Thank goodness for nonfic challenges to get me motivated.

My weekend has flown by. How 'bout yours? This weekend, in MN we had this insane cool weather (down to the 50s). Despite rumors that we have arctic weather year round, it isn't usually until mid or late September that we are supposed to have such cold weather. I've been out and about, visiting family, going to our city's annual festival, talking the dog for a walk. This week, I'm looking forward to a shortened workweek. Then I'm going to spend some time at the State Fair and the Renaissance Festival. OMG. I really can't wait until Friday.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Fluff

This week's question:

What’s the lightest, most “fluff” kind of book you’ve read recently?

That would definitely be Audrey Wait! Although it is light, breezy fun, by the time I got to the end, the whole thing receded from my mind because there wasn't much substance and ultimately it reminded me a little too much of The Princess Diaries. The comparison is both a good and bad thing. I loved The Princess Diaries, and Audrey Wait! had the same brand of humor, and lively characters. But at the same time, when I realized that almost every predictable event from Audrey Wait! occurred in some fashion or another in The Princess Diaries, I was less interested.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

After Five Solid Weeks of Shredding

After six solid weeks of dragging myself out of bed at 6 am to have my ass kicked by Jillian Michaels (evil 30-Day Shred), I finally have some progress to report.

The boots, the ones I bought when I was studying abroad in Spain, the ones that fit me back during the time period that I spent almost all of my days walking and had these amazingly toned calves, the ones that stopped fitting almost immediately when I got back to the US and haven't fit me for six years, the ones that I can't bring myself to giveaway because although I am not normally sentimental about items of clothing, but are the last clothing item I got in Spain and they still look terrific...

those boots, if I don't mind the circulation being cut off a little, fit my calves once again. Now I'm ready at last for the cold weather. BRING IT ON. I've got the boots to deal with it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Baklava!

For those who were wondering, here is the recipe for the baklava hubby and I made this weekend. It is so tasty, we were going to share at first, but couldn't bring ourselves to give any away. Mwuh ha ha.

Ingredients:
1 (16 oz) package phyllo dough (in the refrigerated pie section)
1 pound chopped nuts (the recipe called for this much, but 1/2-3/4 pound would probably work just fine. Also, it doesn't specify what kind of nuts, but we used pecans and they were delish)
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch pan

Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer shouldbe about 6-8 sheets deep.

Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into four long rows to make the diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.

Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. It freezes well, but should be left uncovered as it gets soggy if wrapped up.

My notes:
This worked well as a team effort. Hubby buttered each layer, I unwrapped the phyllo dough and laid it out, then ran around cleaning up dishes while he buttered. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Zombies and Such

I just recently finished The Walking Dead #9 and I haven't done a proper review of any of the previous graphic novels in the series, so today we're going to talk about zombies!
I usually try to keep my reviews concise, but I might have spend a little more time talking about The Walking Dead. I had this graphic novel series recommended to my by an uncle who's really into graphic novels. I checked out the first one to see if I'd like it. That was oh, June. It's been less than two months later, and I've completely gobbled up the next eight books in the series. For me that's really fast, especially considering I have to go to a different library to get these graphic novels.

The important thing to know about me is that prior to blogging, I didn't read graphic novels, nor did I read zombie novels. This one is both. And I love it. At first, I thought it might pale in comparison to World War Z, which is like the magnum opus of zombie novels (my review here). Both are about zombies, yes, but World War Z is a big, all-encompassing novel that spans the globe. The Walking Dead zooms in on a few characters and really develops them, so that I became really engrossed in the story of how they survive in a world over-run by zombies.

Rick is the main character. He's a cop, and while on duty one day he gets shot and winds up in the hospital. When he wakes up from a coma, he finds himself all alone. Then he tries opening the door to the cafeteria, and finds... living corpses. Surviving that, he discovers that he is all alone. His family has presumably fled, there's no government, TV, radio, and so he finally hits on the idea of heading to the nearest big city in hopes that he'll find his wife and son.

Rick eventually finds a group of people and because of his take-charge attitude, ends up becoming the de-facto leader of the group. He comes up with the survival plans. He ventures into a zombie-infested city to find weapons and teaches everyone how to shoot guns. He organizes everyone so that they are keeping watches, hunting for food, and, when living in the countryside becomes too dangerous, he convinces everyone to look for a more permanent home. Eventually, the group does find what they hope will be their new permanent home, and things start to look up. They have to clear out the zombies living there, but supplies are plentiful and there's a nice sturdy fence.

It's at that point that the series takes a decidedly dark turn. Rick has spent most of the time racing after one important thing after another without even taking the time to tell anyone where he's going. He's always sure of himself, and so far, his hunches and his dangerous missions have tended to end up well, but his tendency to play cowboy finally catches up to him. In the fourth novel (The Heart's Desire), the group spots a helicopter land nearby, and Rick sets off searching for it, hoping to find a hint that civilization has returned. He and two others from the group end up blundering into another encampment of survivors, similar to their own. While Rick has made some tough choices for his group, he's always managed to hold onto his moral compass. The leader of this other encampment, who calls himself the Governor, is the type of person who tends to rise to the top in crises. Strong, smart, sadistic, with the singular goal of survival, he calmly does whatever it takes to keep control of his people. Murder, rape, torture, and the complete destruction of Rick's group if it means he can take their resources. Books 5-8 deal with the fallout from Rick's encounter with the Governor.

The world of The Walking Dead is an unforgiving one. People die. Zombie attacks, fighting with other survivors, gun battles, freak accidents. Throughout the series, though, the biggest danger comes from other survivors. The zombies are an ever-present threat, but they're slow, stupid, and predictable. Humans are the ones who will kill you over a couple of supplies, or pretend to need help and shoot you in the back.

Despite the bleak tone, however, I couldn't help but notice that over all, the novel is optimistic (especially at first) about the capacity of people to work together for the greater good. Rick and his ragtag group do their best to help other survivors who find their way to their camp, and among the core group, there is surprisingly little competition for control. Loved ones are reunited. Babies are brought into the world. People find love again and get married. Friendships are made.

This is definitely an action-packed series, and it seems like every novel ends on a cliff-hanger that makes it impossible for me to not get the next novel. But what really makes this series worthwhile are the characters. I haven't gone into too much detail about them, but there are really quite a few supporting characters who all have different story arcs. Michonne, for example, is one of my favorites. She is a serious badass, fighting zombies with a sword. When she's being tortured by the Governor for information on their camp, she spends her time plotting revenge. Okay, so I wouldn't want to get on her bad side, but in the zombie apocalypse, she's the one I'd want in my group.

There's others: Andrea, once a blonde coed, now the group's best sharp-shooter; Tyrese, the former NFL star; Glen and Maggie, who manage to find love despite the desperate situation they're in, and many others. There's actually so many, I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters at first, but by the end, they all felt like familiar friends.

I'm at a point in the series where I am very nearly caught up with all of the books published so far, and I really don't know how I'm going to wait for more. I hope you will like this one as much as I do! (Oh, and P.S.: do not read these before bed. Heart-stopping action+zombies =/= good, restful sleep.

Novels in the series:

#1 Days Gone Bye
#2 Miles Behind Us
#3 Safety Behind Bars
#4 The Heart's Desire
#5 The Best Defense
#6 This Sorrowful Life
#7 The Calm Before
#8 Made to Suffer
#9 Here We Remain

Images:
From Bold. Blue. Adventure.


From Bold. Blue. Adventure.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Baklava Weekend

Here's how my weekend goes (as is typical):

Saturday
8am: Man I have the whole weekend ahead of me to catch up on all sorts of things I need to do. Blogging, writing, homework... tons of stuff!

9am: Okay, time to put the book down and get some productive things done

10am: Really time to get around to doing something productive

11am: Good, I've started cleaning. This is great. This is productive.

12pm: crap, lunchtime.

1pm: lunch done, dishes done, laundry started. Now I can start thinking about homework, blogging, all that other stuff I need to do.

2pm: Take a walk outside! Enjoy the weather.

3pm: Okay need to be productive again.

4pm: Man, that was an awesome nap.

5pm: Grocery store run, right.

Several hours later: I have not blogged. I have not done homework. But hey I made some baklava!

A few hours later: Oh man. I should not have eaten that much baklava. Oh well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Recent Best

This week's question:

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
(Tell me you didn’t see this one coming?)


Man, that is a toughie. I've been reading a lot of books I really like, and depending on how I quantify "recently" would completely change my answer to this question. So I'm just going to pick books I've read within the past few weeks, and my answer would be the Walking Dead series. It's a graphic novel series set during the Zombie Apocalypse and it manages to be dark, but not too depressing, action-packed, but full of little moments for the characters to grow and develop, and each novel ends on a cliff-hanger that keeps me gobbling up this series. I just finished book 9, and eventually I'll get book 10 from the library (I'm on the waiting list).

In other news, my book club's pick for our next meeting is The Time Traveler's Wife. I read this book about two years ago or so, before I started my blog and began tracking my reading habits. I really loved it back then, but now that my tastes have become more sophisticated, I'm curious if I'll love it as much, or if it will pale in comparison to other books I've read and loved lately. I did try pushing for Persepolis for next month's read, but I didn't have any takers. I guess TTW is pretty hot right now, with the movie and all.

And man, is it Thursday already? I'm totally unprepared for it to almost be the weekend. I've had stuff going on after work all week so tonight is the first time in a while I've had to sit down at the computer. How has your week been?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Saloning... Me? Like Non-fic? No way!

I don't hate non-fiction, but when I'm in the mood for comfort reads, the first thing I go to is definitely not non-fic. I typically pick up a sci fi/fantasy or YA read.

But I committed myself to reading Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, and so far I've really been liking it. I'm already a third of the way through the book, and so far I've been really fascinated by his explanation of why various human societies progressed at different rates and the ultimate consequences.

I did manage to find time to cram in some good comfort reading too. I have been trying for several months to check out Thessaly: Witch for Hire from the library, but it seemed like it would always take too long to get to the pick up library, then I wouldn't get the email in time, and they'd send it back. Finally on Saturday, I got to check it out, and I loved it. A great Sandman spin-off.

Other than reading, I've been busy this weekend shopping, and hubby and I went to see District 9 yesterday. With the extremely hot weather we've had lately (in the 90's, and the kind of humidity where you practically have to drink the air, not breathe it), the air conditioning was nice. And the movie? Not quite what I expected, but a solid sci-fi thought-provoking action flick, with a level of intelligence sadly lacking from most of the other summer action block-busters.

How was your weekend?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Links... randomosity ahead

I really love it when other bloggers post interesting links once a week. So I'm totally going to be a copy cat. Be forewarned, I'm easily amused, so I doubt any links I come up with will be very intellectually stimulating. As long as we've got that straightened out, I present, with no further ado, my Friday Link Collection:

**Neil Gaiman, who is of course already awesome, gets a little awesomer with a Hugo win.

**Just another reason why reading a map will continue to be a necessary skill in the age of GPS. Tourists trying to get to the Isle of Capri go 400 miles off course when they typed "Carpi" into their GPS by mistake.

**Sonograms and frosting... the perfect combination... or who doesn't want to eat a picture of your unborn child? (on CakeWrecks)

**On a related note, the world's first (and so far only) breastfeeding doll.

**Is it bad that I find STFU Parents wildly amusing? People I'm glad I'm not friends with, people that make me glad the internets weren't around when I was a kid, and people that just plain need help. (WARNING: threats to contented dining ahead, DO NOT proceed if there is food anywhere near you. Just sayin')

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

This week's question:

What’s the worst book you’ve read recently?
(I figure it’s easier than asking your all-time worst, because, well, it’s recent!)

Of books I didn't actually finish recently, Away by Amy Bloom was one I really didn't like. Obviously, it could have gotten better towards the end, but I did sit in on the book club discussion, and those who finished it didn't have that exciting of things to say either.

Of books I did manage to finish, I really, really didn't like Eclipse One, which was a collection of science fiction-themed stories. I say science-fiction themed because some of them really didn't strike me as being very science-fictiony at all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Storm Front (review)

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Reason for Reading: Sounded interested
Rating: 3/5

Summarize the plot: Harry Dresden is a wizard. He also solves crimes.

One sentence review: For some mindless escapism, this book didn't annoy me, but it didn't really make me keep reading the series either.

What I liked: Harry Dresden is an interesting character, and I liked the fantasy element in an otherwise pretty typical police procedural.

What I didn't like: I didn't hate the book. I didn't even dislike it. But it was such complete fluff that I can barely remember the plotline now that it has been a few weeks since I read it. I don't really like police procedurals very much, and despite the inclusion of fantasy, there isn't too much originality in this book. Yes, it's entertaining. My husband read this one after me, and in the past month has read like six more of them. But I just wasn't that into it.

Should I read it? Plenty of other people have really enjoyed this book. If the combination of fantasy and crime novel sound like your thing, you'll probably enjoy it more than me.

Other opinions:
1330V, stephanie's confessions of a bookoholic, Rhinoa

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brave New World (review)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Reason for Reading: My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge
Rating: 5/5

Summarize the plot: Welcome to the future. People are now created in test-tubes, and trained from birth via sleep-hypnosis to know their place in society. Sexual promiscuity and consumption are the highest societal values.

One Sentence Review: The classic dystopian novel is still thought-provoking, if not as horrifying as it was considered when it first came out.

What I liked: For being a relatively short novel with few characters, and very little action, Brave New World describes a unique dystopia, where families are considered pornographic, and "everyone belongs to everyone else". While I kept hearing the phrase "horrifying vision of the future" along with this book, I didn't find it horrifying. Maybe I'm influenced by some of the dystopian novels I've been reading lately, but this version of the future didn't seem nearly as bad as say, The Road. That's not to say it isn't a disturbing book. It doesn't paint a pretty picture of the future, that's for sure. The Savage, a character who lives more in accordance with our own societal values and is dropped into the Brave New World, finds himself unable to function in a world where no one is allowed to care too deeply for anyone else.

I found it interesting that none of the characters in the novel are especially likeable. Bernard, arguably one of the main characters, is petty, contrary, and cruel. Even the Savage, who the reader would probably identify with the best, says and does cruel things because of the tension between his upbringing and his life in the Brave New World. Lenina, the other main character, is just vacuous. Despite this fact, the book kept me interested because I wanted to know what was going to happen to them.

What I didn't like: This is an idea book. The characters, as I mentioned, aren't particularly likeable, and very little action occurs. This is the kind of book that if it had dragged out any longer than it did, would have gotten boring.

Should I read it? It's a classic

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Back to School Books

I recently went back to school. I don't think I've mentioned it here on this blog because to be honest I've been dreading it more than looking forward to it. I love learning, I think the degree I'm pursuing will help my career, but gosh-darnit, I'm going to have to cut back on my writing and blogging time.

It was a lot easier to handle when school was this far-off thing, but all of a sudden the summer ended and before I knew it classes were starting. So now my usual reading style is going to be a little more cramped by business books. I just got a stack of them in the mail and since I was kind of in a lull with my usual reads, I decided to try skimming through to see if any of them were worthwhile.

The first book I tried was actually a pretty nice, quick read with lots of practical advice. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, while geared towards the CEOs of large businesses, had plenty of good advice for leaders at any level of how to create concrete business plans that succeed.

It also included the one thing that keeps me reading an advice book: plenty of good examples. While I get lost when a non-fic author goes on and on about theories, if they can give good examples of their ideas in action, I'm a lot more likely to remember.

The second book I skimmed through was Strengthsfinder 2.0, which also included a test to find your strengths. The book was an okay reference, but I'm getting kind of tired of personality tests. Okay, really tired. Okay, I was ready to start telling the computer screen I really didn't care about whether I relate better to people or ideas and I sure don't care about whether I study the history or the future, whether I like organization or creativity, and so on and so on.

I really think my results were skewed by the fact I started talking back to the computer half-way through. Oh well. I've done two personality tests for school, and I've got another one to go. Sigh.

Other things I've been doing this past week include catching up on the final season of Battlestar Galactica. So far I'm ranging from just being grateful my most hated character, Gaius Baltar finally has less screen time to loving the action-packed episodes, to wondering if the writers ever even had direction for the Cylon plotline or if they made it up on the fly, to falling in love all over again with my favorite characters.

Two more discs to go and I'll finally have to say goodbye. I haven't decided whether I have the self-control to space them out so I can savor the end or whether I'll just gobble the whole thing up as soon as possible. We shall see.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This is Me, Three Years Ago Today


I'm the one holding the bouquet in the white dress, hubby is the one in the tux. Just to clarify.

Bluebeard (review)

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

Reason for reading: Literary crush on Kurt Vonnegut

Rating: 4.5/5

Summarize the plot: Rabo Karabekian is a retired painter, and he's been bullied into writing his memoirs by the incomparable Circe Berman. Like the Bluebeard of old tales, he keeps a secret locked in his barn.

One sentence review: Vonnegut's wizardry with words makes this character-heavy, plot-light novel completely and utterly readable.

Longer review: I completely gushed over my first Vonnegut read, Slaughterhouse Five, so I figured I would probably enjoy this book as well. I LOVED Bluebeard. Ordinarily, I would not get so excited about a book that jumps all over the place, and barely has a plot, but Vonnegut sucks the reader in with his uniquely enjoyable writing. He has a literary style, but somehow he manages to be so much more accessible than your typical literary novel. Okay, here's the opening lines. I mean, who wouldn't want to keep reading after this opening?
Having written "The End" to this story of my life, I find it prudent to scamper back here to before the beginning, to my front door, so to speak, and to make an apology to arriving guests: "I promised you an autobiography, but something went wrong in the kitchen. It turns out to be a diary of this past troubled summer, too! We can always send out for pizzas if necessary. Come in, come in!"
Rabo Karabekian is a fictional painter who came of age during the American Abstract Expressionist era. His great works of art were created with Sateen DuraLuxe, a paint so toxic and short-lived, his paints have crumbled to dust and no hazardous waste facility wants them. His wife and children are no longer part of his life, and he lives alone in an old mansion.

What I liked: I liked the format of this book. It is split into short sections, and Rabo skips between the past and present, completely nonlinearly, but somehow you never feel lost. I think it helps that he hones down on a few of the themes of his life that are the most important to him, and goes back and forth between how it was in the past and what actually happened.

Rabo's character hooked me in. All of the main characters in his life were vividly written. Although some were outlandish, they never felt unreal. Especially the violent relationship Rabo describes between his painting master and his lover, Marilee, who Rabo secretly loves too. The woman he can't have, the one who gets away. The majority of the novel is focused sharply on her.

What I didn't like: Duh, it wasn't long enough! No, I mean, it was the right length, but when I got to the end, I felt like I didn't really know much more about some of the other people who were important in Rabo's life, like his family or his best friend, a painter who shot himself in the head. By sheer amount of words dedicated to her, it appears that the only important person in his life was Marilee, which I suppose was the point.

Should I read it? In a word, yes.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Angels, gods, and steampunk

I just managed (quite recently) to finish Scar Night by Alan Campbell, which is all full of angels, gods, deadly assassins, a city suspended over an abyss on chains, and... steampunk? Yup, steampunk. Air ships and all sorts of fun stuff like that.

It rocked. I was totally caught up in reading all weekend, during every spare minute that I wasn't dashing around like a mad person seeing plays. Because here is the other awesome thing I got to do this weekend: attend the Fringe Festival!

Minnesota does have some pretty awful winters, but probably as a result, the Twin Cities has an awesome, vibrant arts scene. And a really awesome Fringe Festival. In eleven days, there are 160 performances at 22 different venues around the Twin Cities. Hard-core fringers can buy this ultrapass thingy and see as many plays as their legs can take them to, but hubby and I opted for a bit smaller of a dose.

We went and saw a madcap comedy sketch, a ballet, and a satire called Cigarettes for Jesus. All for about the price of two discounted tickets to a regular performance! My hubby, who loves theatre, but wasn't sure if he was going to enjoy so much of it at a time, is thrilled to go back and do the fringe again next year.

As for me? I had a crazy adventure with the husband, a nice dinner afterward that included a wine tasting, and now I'm settling in to enjoy the last remnants of the weekend. Life is good.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Beautiful Child (review)

A Beautiful Child by Matt Birkbeck
Reason for reading: Recommendation from my sister
Rating: 4.5/5

Summarize the plot: A Beautiful Child is the true life story of a girl named Sharon. In high school, she was at the top of her class, she worked as a Lt. Colonel in the ROTC, won a scholarship to Georgia Tech, and seemed to have everything going for her. But behind the facade, she was forced to hide a terrible secret about the man she called her father, a secret she kept so well even those who knew her best never guessed the truth.

1-Sentence Review: A tightly written book that examines a tragic young life, the man who took it from her, and the search to find out her true identity.

Longer review: A Beautiful Child was an interesting choice to read around the same time as another book I reviewed earlier this week, The Lucifer Effect. The latter is a lengthy academic contemplation on the nature of evil, and the potential for evil within everyone. A Beautiful Child, on the other hand, is a short, true-crime, journalistic look at a person who can only be described as pure evil.

Without giving away too much from the novel, Shannon Marshall, likely kidnapped as a child, was forced by a man named Franklin Floyd to live out a life with him that became ever more horrifying as his grip over her intensified. It is a tragic story, through and through, and yet because Birkbeck writes with a terse, journalistic style, I felt like I could handle reading it. I felt an emotional connection to the story, but I never felt that the book was emotionally exploitive, shoving my nose into a situation that is already horrible enough.

Shannon Marshall's life defies understanding. As Birkbeck unraveled the layers to her life, the lies she was forced to enact, and the sheer number of people who sensed something was wrong but didn't intervene in time, a huge question emerges that Birkbeck only briefly addresses. How could something like this happen? While giving a serious answer to a complicated question like that is outside the scope of this book, I think most readers will walk away from the book at the very least, contemplating that question. Hopefully it will be a wake-up call for anyone who encounters an exploited child to take signs of abuse seriously.

Should I read it? It is a quick, thought-provoking read, but be forwarned that the details are shocking and some may find them disturbing.

Visit MattBirkbeck.com

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Lucifer Effect

The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo
Reason for Reading: My Year of Reading Dangerously Reading Challenge, Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge

Summarize the book: If you have ever studied psychology, you've probably heard of the Stanford Prison Experience. Philip Zimbardo created a simulated prison in the basement of the psychology building to study the psychology of imprisonment, but ended up canceling the project a week in because the simulated prison had become real. The guards were acting in creatively cruel, abusive ways, and the prisoners were beginning to show extreme stress reactions to their confinement. Zimbardo spent the rest of his life studying the power of situational influences on human behavior and in this book, argues that evil situations turn good people into evil people.

One sentence review: Although the scholarly style makes parts of this book a tough slog, Zimbardo has an extremely important message about the nature of evil and the potential within all of us to commit evil deeds.

Longer review: I had studied the Stanford Prison Experiment extensively in college, so I originally intended to skip through the sizable portion of the book that analyzes the SPE. Except that I couldn't put it down. The stories are horrifying. Ordinary college students, purposefully chosen because they were as normal as possible, randomly selected to either be prisoners or guards. Each one slipping so deeply into their roles, by the end of the short-lived experiment, the prisoners were regularly subjected to mental, physical and sexual abuse and three prisoners had to be sent home.

Zimbardo makes a compelling argument from the SPE and other social psychology experiments about the power of situational influences on everyday behavior. When people are given masks, for example, to hide their identity, they have a strong tendency to act much more aggressively. If an authority figure tells a person to do something, they are likely to comply even if the authority is shaky, and what they are being told to do is to harm another person. From these lab experiments, Zimbardo extrapolates how an ordinary person put into a brutal ethnic conflict (like the genocide in Rwanda) can be persuaded to take up a machete against a neighbor they have known for years.

The most eye-opening portion of the book is Zimbardo's analysis of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and if I could force people to read one thing this year, I would make everyone read this. It is so important in light of the current political situation. Zimbardo started the book with the premise that despite the military's attempt to paint the soldiers who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib as a "few bad apples", it was a bad barrel that made the bad apples.

Zimbardo takes us inside the hell that was Abu Ghraib to show how the situation was set up for the prison guards to fail. The entire prison was under constant attack, rations were short, running water was rare, and military leadership was almost nonexistent. The guards were left pretty much on their own, with the vague directive that they should warm the prisoners up for interrogations.

While not excusing the soldiers who abused prisoners, Zimbardo points the real finger of blame at the military leadership and ultimately the Bush Administration that wanted interrogations to be carried out with no holds barred. They created the "bad barrel" and when the chips were down, they threw a few low-ranking soldiers under the bus in order to make the situation go away. If you have ever thought or cared in the slightest about the US military prisons and how we have been treating suspected terrorists, please pick up this book.

Finally at the end of this lengthy, academic treatise on the nature of evil when any ordinary reader will come to the conclusion that everyone is evil, Zimbardo offers insight into what makes a hero and how the reader can avoid the pitfalls that cause people to commit evil acts. I only wish there could have been more on this topic to balance out the rest of the book.

Should I read it? Yes. I know it is hefty. I know it's academic. I know it has a footnotes section about as long as the typical YA novel. But everyone needs to know what Zimbardo has to say about the nature of evil.

Other opinions: ebook30, the story's story.

Visit lucifereffect.org

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Tale of Race, Bookcovers With a Heaping Helping of Fail

A lot of other people have had very insightful things to say about the cover of Justine Larbalestier's latest novel, Liar, which features a Caucasian girl with longish hair, despite the fact the novel's protagonist is a black girl with "nappy" hair.

I have to give a lot of props to Larbalestier for speaking out about something her publisher, Bloomsbury, did that she disagreed with, because, hey, they do pay her.

I pretty much think Bloombury's response so far has been kind of, well, pathetic:
“The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?” (From Publisher's Weekly)
I mean, that is one way of spinning things.

Back in reality land, book bloggers are busily questioning why Bloombury felt the need to "whitewash" this novel and asking them to please create a cover that reflects the actual content of the novel.

To all of these sentiments, I give a big ditto.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sunday Salon: How I've done this year

I'm usually not good about getting around to assessing my own progress on reading goals, but it's come to the middle of July and I decided it's about time to update my "2009 Reading Goals" page, which has been sadly neglected. (Like much of the rest of my blog this year I'm afraid).

Alright, I'm jumping in. Here goes:

Challenges I've completed this year:
*I did manage to finish the Sci-Fi Experience early this year reading 7 books
*I also managed to finish the Once Upon a Time Challenge reading 10 books (although 6 of them were Fables novels, but still)

Challenges I've made progress on:
*I've made some good progress on the DreamKing Challenge, reading 7 of his graphic novels this year, and having watched Coraline. I need to try and read more books from the other five categories. (Goal is to read 6 books from 6 categories)
*I've read 8 out of 12 books so far for the Young Adult Challenge, putting me right on track to actually finish this one.
*The one challenge I've really shown on is the Graphic Novels Challenge. So far I've read 23 out of the 24 required for a Doctorate and I'm pretty sure I'll read a lot more than that.
*I've also actually kind of completed the Manga Challenge, reading 7 out of the 6 books so far, but I think I want to read more.

Challenges I'm really stinking at:
*I've read 2 out of 12 books for the My Year of Reading Dangerously, but I haven't even really made up a good list of books yet. Need to get ideas for my list and work on this one more.
*I set out to do the World Citizen Challenge with all the best intentions, but I haven't even accomplished a thing yet.
* I really need to get cracking on Dewey's Books Challenge. I know I have a ton of books I discovered thanks to Dewey, I just need to sit down and get a list together.
* I have read 2 out of 10 books for the Dewey Decimal Challenge. Considering how little non-fic I normally read, that is an accomplishment in and of itself, I suppose.
* I have read 2 out of 9 books for 9 Books in 2009 Challenge. Not too bad, I suppose. My tbr stack has indeed been going down, which is GREAT!

So to recap, of the 11 challenges I've attempted this year, I completed 2, I'm making good progress on 4, and I'm stinking at 5 of them.

Actually, looking at the numbers, I was expecting a lot worse than that. I've still got at least five more months to make an attempt at the challenges I'm not doing so well at.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Shut Up. I know it's Friday already. I'm still answering anyhow.

This week's Question is:

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers)

Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Frivolous
Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? PAPERBACKS
Fiction? Or Nonfiction? Fiction
Poetry? Or Prose? Prose
Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Biographies
History? Or Historical Fiction? History
Series? Or Stand-alones? Stand-alones
Classics? Or best-sellers? Best-sellers
Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? Straight-forward (Lurid? Fruity? Whaaaat?)
Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? P to the L-O-T.
Long books? Or Short? Short
Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Illustrated
Borrowed? Or Owned? Borrowed
New? Or Used? Used

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
Reason for Reading: For Fun (Imagine That)
Rating: 4/5

Summarize the plot: Charles Boutin is a traitor to the human race and thanks to him humanity is on the verge of invasion by a powerful coalition of alien races. But the Special Forces have one way to try and find him. Boutin found a way to create a back up of his consciousness, and in his haste, he left it behind. Drop the consciousness into one of the Ghost Brigade bodies, and there's a chance of discovering why he did what he did. Except when Jared Dirac wakes up with Boutin's consciousness, he doesn't remember anything at first. But when the memories start coming, can he figure everything out in time?

1-sentence review: Another great entry into the Old Man's War universe.

Longer review: A mix of Scalzi's usual kick-ass adventure and thought-provoking science fiction. Although Scalzi's strength is usually not charactization, I really, really liked Jared Dirac. Like he might be my new favorite character from the series. We were introduced to the Special Forces, AKA, Ghost Brigades in Old Man's War, but in this book we get to be totally immersed in their world. Jared is not only a special breed because he is part of the Special Forces, but he has to deal with the confusion of having someone else's consciousness implanted into him. He was created with the purpose of finding Charles Boutin, and everyone hovers over him, unsure whether he's going to snap someday. And despite all of that, Jared evolves into his own person, sometimes incredibly naive, but always trying to do the best thing. He's very different from the older, wiser, and wise-cracking John Perry of the first novel. I think a highlight of the novel is the way Jared moves from being a confused newborn to an experienced soldier willing to sacrifice to save his friends.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this novel is that Charles Boutin's motives for what he did are kept very secret until the end, and even then, he isn't painted as a complete villain. Scalzi allows for some gray areas, which I already know (since I read these books out of order) will be even more fully developed in The Last Colony. The Colonial Defense Forces keep the human colonies alive, but we begin to question their methods.

Reading this book illuminated a few final details that didn't quite fit when I skipped from book one to three, and I think I might like it even more than The Last Colony. The character of Jared Dirac goes a long way towards making it a favorite.

Should I read it? If you liked Old Man's War, don't skip over this one. It's worth your time.

Other opinions:
Becky, Medieval Bookworm, True Science Fiction

Monday, July 20, 2009

Emma Vol I-V

Emma, Volumes I-V by Kaoru Mori
Reason for Reading: Manga Challenge
Rating: 5/5

Summarize the plot: Emma, a beautiful and intelligent maid in Victorian England falls in love with William, an upper class son of a wealthy businessman. Although they feel passionate about each other, societal forces conspire to keep them apart.

1-sentence review: A very fine romance along the lines of the best of Jane Austen.

Longer review: My first foray into manga was only so-so for me, so I decided to take the recommendation of a heck of a lot of you other bloggers out there and try reading the Emma novels. Man, I'm glad I did. Emma is a beautiful, character driven series. First of all, I just loved Emma. Throughout all the hardships she goes through, she manages to stay kind and sweet. She isn't a modern character transported to a historical setting though. Although she loves William, she feels obligated to leave him when she realizes how different their worlds are.

And while William clashes with his father over his feelings for Emma, I also liked how the books doesn't paint his father as a complete villian. In the fifth volume, we go back to his courtship with his wife, and we get to see the forces that shaped his life, how he had to fight against a clique-ish upper class to try and fit in with his "new money" status and an eccentric wife.

Speaking of his eccentric wife, Aurelia is another of my favorite characters. When she can't fit into high society, her husband sends her to live in the country side, where she can dress as she likes, cut her hair off, and spend all of her time pursuing her passion for gardening. I thought it was interesting to include a character like that who does completely break all of the careful rules of society.

Reading Emma was a treat. I count Pride and Prejudice among my favorite novels, and the visual element in this manga series brought all of the period details to life for me. Where the Victorian novels describe fashions and balls and hair styles, it was extremely enjoyable to just see them and get lost inside Victorian England.

Should I read it? If the words Romance and Victorian England sound good together in a sentence to you, than yes

Other opinions
Alyce, I heart manga, in the spring it is dawn, ex libris, nymeth

Monday, July 13, 2009

Peace Like a River


Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Reason for Reading: In my tbr pile
Rating: 4.5/5

Summarize the plot: Peace Like a River is about the Land family. The father, Jeremiah, is a man of faith working as a janitor at the local high school, raising his three children alone. Their lives are turned upside down when two neighborhood boys start a feud with the Lands. Davy, impatient for justice, shoots the two teenagers dead and winds up in jail. But when he escapes from jail and strikes out on his own, Jeremiah and the other two decide to try and find Davy.

1 sentence review: This quiet, atmospheric story about an unusual family in an extreme situation is absolutely worth the read.

Longer review: The best reason to read this book is for the richly developed characters. Reuben, the younger son, is the perfect narrator for the novel. He admires his older brother, even when his brother carries out a rash act that leaves two people dead, and he's determined to try and find his brother. Even when he isn't quite sure what the right thing to do is, he always tries to stay loyal to his family. And I loved his relationship with his sister and best friend, Swede, who has a knack for writing poetry. Except starting with when Davy is arrested, Swede starts having a hard time ending her poems. She likes writing westerns, with justice at the end, but when life seems uncertain, so are her poems.

One thing I also really liked about this book was the way it portrayed Jeremiah Land. He is described as a man of faith, and one of the first things Reuben tells us about his father is that he works miracles, the first miracle being bringing Reuben back to life after he was born not breathing. Jeremiah, however, is never presented as one-dimensional. While he is deeply religious, he is torn about what to do about Davy. If he manages to find Davy, should he help him continue to live on the run, or turn him into the police? He faces that dilemma first with one resolute decision, but over the course of the novel, he starts to change his mind.

The final thing I'm going to mention that I really enjoyed about this novel is how it transported me to small town Minnesota 1962. The details to set the historical part are all there, but they aren't overwhelming. The setting came across most strongly in the simple, midwestern way the characters all talked, or in describing the bitterly cold winter. Being that I live in Minnesota, I could totally identify with living through a blizzard or being forced to stay inside for a month because the temperature refuses to get above 0.

And the ending? I was meh about certain parts of it. Everything did get wrapped up, but aspects felt a little unresolved for me. However, I liked everything else well enough that I was willing to forgive that.

Should I read it? Are you in the mood for something to transport you completely? Then yes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Helplessly Behind

I'm helplessly behind on book reviews. Unfortunately, the weather is really nice outside, so I'm having trouble focusing on things like blogging and keeping ya'll up to date on my opinions of the books I've been reading lately.

But hey, the outdoors is pretty nice. In Minnesota, we only get a few precious months of warm weather, so I kinda have to make what I can of it. Even reading gets moved outside if it's nice enough. Reading a lighter, summery book whilst lying outside in the sun is one of life's greatest pleasures, I do believe.

In fact, I've been reading more since the weather got nice. Usually the cold weather makes me want to curl up with a book, but this summer I've just been so drawn to the couch, or the deck, or a lying on a blanket in the grass with a good book.

Here are some books I've read lately and really want to blather about:

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. It's set in my home state, its about a family faced with an impossible situation, and it shows a man of faith prominently as a person, not a stereotype. And miracles? In there too.

Since finishing the Fables and the Sandman series, I've decided to delve into some new graphic novels series. On a recommendation from my uncle (huge graphic novel aficionado), I've started reading Walking Dead, all about life after the Zombie Apocalypse. While I feel like with World War Z, I'd read everything there was to read about the Zombie Apocalypse, I was wrong. This series brings something new to the tried and true tropes of the genre. It's more tightly focused on a single group of people. It's kind of hopefully, despite all the zombies and stuff.

I also started Emma, that manga series everyone seems to be gaga over. And I've discovered that it's with good reason. Emma is great. It's quiet and beautiful and romantic. And it has a really great heroine. She's not a modern heroine (a pet peeve of mine when writers insert modern values into historical fiction), but she is exactly right for the novel.

I also read a few books that plumbed the depths of evil. I don't recommend these for your light reading or anything, but The Lucifer Effect, about what causes people to do evil things, and A Beautiful Child, about a girl who suffered under the thumb of an evil person are worth reading despite that.

Then there's a few ass-kicking books. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi and Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I don't know what else to say about them, other than both hubby and I liked them, so there.

There's more of course (there always is, isn't there?) but I'm going to just work on getting to those reviews instead of teasing you. What have you been reading lately? If you need me, I'm going to be out on the lawn reading.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yay! Finally In a State Represented By Two Senators

While all the rest of you United State-ians who reside outside of Minnesota have been represented by two U.S. senators for like months now, we've had... the never-ending legal battle.

Finally yesterday, Senator Al Franken was sworn in. Whether you're jazzed about him or not, at least we're FINALLY being represented. At last, we Minnesotans can all join together in saying:

I'm good enough
I'm smart enough
and doggone it, people like me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reviews: On Beauty, Middlesex, The Apprentice's Masterpiece

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Reason for Reading: Recommendation
Rating: 2/5

1 paragraph plot summary: This book is about the intertwining lives of the Belsey and the Kipps family. Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, both college professors at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have long been enemies. But things become complicated. Howard's son, Jerome, a newly born-again Christian goes to intern with the Kipps and ends up falling in love with Victoria Kipps. Monty gets a job teaching at the same college as Howard, and their wives become friends. Kiki, Howard's wife, is trying to come to grips with the revelation that Howard cheated on her.

1 paragraph review: with all due respect to all of the awards this book has won, I was pretty much left cold by this book. It is a character study without much plot, and there were isolated passages that I thought showed extreme insight into the characters' lives and motivations, but I couldn't get too interested in any of the characters, and there was no resolution. None. Howard, who was in many respects, the main character, thought way too highly of himself. I liked Kiki, who is probably the most sympathetic character, but even so I was having trouble with the lack of a plot. I think what really brought it home for me was that when I was reading reviews, I kept hearing this book referred to as a comedy. I never really saw it as a funny read, and in fact, it was pretty sad throughout.

Should I read it? Maybe. It might be more to your taste than mine.

Middlesex by Jefferey Eugenides
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation from Nymeth I believe

1 paragraph plot summary: I'm going to just quote the opening line of the novel to clue you into what it is about: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974." This, like On Beauty, is a much-awarded, much-touted literary novel, but I had about the exact opposite reaction to this book. Also a book full of well-developed characters, I couldn't put this book down. Middlesex is undeniably about Cal, the narrator who discovers she is intersexed at the tender age of 14, but it is also about her grandparents, who began life as brother and sister in Greece but had become husband and wife by the time they arrived in America. It's about Cal's parents, Tessa and Milton, who open a chain of Greek-flavored hot-dog stands. It's about Cal's childhood living as a girl, and the events that lead up to her emergency room revelation. It's about the summer Cal fell in love. Middlesex is an engaging read that hooks you and doesn't let you go.

Should I read it? Yes, please do.

The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: Interest in books set in Spain

1 paragraph plot summary: Set against the backdrop of fifteenth century Spain, when the Inquisition was just getting into full swing and religious intolerance was reaching new heights is the story of Ramon, who came from a converso, or formerly Jewish family, and Amir, a Muslim who is also forced to give up his faith to blend in with society. A drama about friendship and betrayal while living in turbulent times.

1 paragraph review: I wasn't sure what I was going to think about this YA novel, which was written in poetry form, about life during the Spanish Inquisition. But after a few chapters, I stopped even noticing the fact that the book was split up into verses, I was just drawn into the narrative of two boys who both must deal with prejudice. For anyone who has ever learned about the era of Ferdinand, Isabella, and Columbus with the glossed over idea that the fifteenth century was Spain's glory age, this book shines a light into the dirty underside. The wars that were financed by taking money, property, and land from so-called heretics (mostly Jews or those accused of being Jews for the most tenuous of reason), the devastation of the Muslim culture when the Moors were expelled... I could go on, but then I wouldn't leave anything for you to enjoy when you pick up this delightful little book.

Should I read it? Ignore the fact it's written in verse form. It's a powerful read none-the-less.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Zombies and Vampires and Other Awesomeness

I never used to read books about zombies, nor did I ever watch zombie movies. Same thing with vampires. Books about supernatural creatures that either shuffled around in search of brains or who wanted to bite your neck were just never my cup of tea. Or so I thought. But then I started book blogging and my taste started seriously branching out. I used to just go to the book store and hit up the YA section without venturing out too much further, unless it was maybe the occasional sci fi read.

And you couldn't have gotten me close to the graphic novel section if you tried.

Oh how things have changed.

The first supernatural read I got into back in February of last year was Colleen Gleason's Gardella Vampire series, which I found definitely okay. Then I read Sunshine last April by Robin McKinley, in which the protag befriends a tormented vampire who doesn't want to eat people, but I didn't quite into it for various reasons. But what really got me interested into zombies was Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Besides just being an amazing book, it was an extremely thought-provoking read, and like the best zombie flicks, a social commentary. I guess I had just never realized how awesome zombies/vampires are.

Then there was Vampyres of Hollywood, which was undeniably gory, but also undeniable fun. Vampires might be a blood-sucking menace to humanity, but they could be awfully sexy. I read the classic vampire novel I Am Legend, and was taken away by the story of the end of humanity. I have to of course mention the three Twilight novels I've read so far, but let's just say that sparkly and vampires should not be in the same sentence. Ever.

Let me mention, of course The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter's short story collection. One of her stories, The Lady in the House of Love, is loosely based on Sleeping Beauty, and features, instead of a sleeping princess, a vampiress. A really creepy vampiress who feeds on anyone who wanders into her domain.

My first foray into manga was into a genre that has becoming increasingly enjoyable to me: supernatural creatures. Vampire Knight I and II, while ultimately not my thing, was an interesting introduction to manga, and I found myself really getting lost when I picked up the first two volumes of The Walking Dead. A series about life after the Zombie Apocalypse, it was recommended to me by a few different people. So far I'm really digging it because while it features of course, plenty of action, adventure and brain-munching fun, it is ultimately about a group of people, faced with difficult choices in a harsh world. It's about friendship, survival, and as post-apocalyptic fiction goes, it might be a lot of death and destruction, but hey, compared to The Road, it makes life during the Zompie Apocalypse seem like a day at Disneyworld.

So when I crunch the numbers, in the past 1 1/2 years, 14 out of the 135 books I've read so far have been zombie/vampire novels. Compared to the previous years, when my percentage of zombie/vampire novels read would have been... ummm... zero, 7% is pretty darn high. Anyone got more supernatural recs for me?