Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dragons of Autumn Twilight--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Genre: Fantasy
Year Published: 1984
Pages: 448
Rating: 5

I first read this book in highschool, after my friend's brother turned me on to the series. I became enraptured by the endearing and diverse characters, the archaic and somewhat-cliche yet enjoyable language, and the dynamic and imaginative plots. I longed to visit the land of Krynn, where elves were tall, slender, and one with nature; where magic flowed and dragons flew; where kender traveled and dwarves remained stolid and stubborn; and where the gods involved themselves with their subjects.

So when I saw this book as an animated film at Hollywood Video, I couldn't resist renting it and watching it with my 9 year old son. He loved it so much he asked if he could read the books, so I checked my shelves, found what I had and bought what I didn't, and set him to work. He read this one quickly, and all of his questions made me aware that it had been a long time since I've read the series. So I picked it back up to read it again. I wasn't disappointed. The characters are like old friends, and even though I have a vague idea of what happens next, the details are fuzzy. I'm glad I get to share this experience with Trevor. I love these books.

In this, the first in the Dragonlance Chronicles Series, the heroes reunite after five years only to be immediately forced into an adventure involving a magic staff, which may or may not be a gift from the true gods. Protecting the bearer of the staff, a priestess from a barbarian tribe named Goldmoon, they go to find answers, escape from enemies, and discover whether armies are truly gathering in the north. What they find is that a shocking evil has come to the land of Krynn, and all must prepare to defend their lives.

I am ready to read the next book!

Challenge: Read it Again
Book-a-Week #: 42

The Book of Lost Things--John Connelly

Year Published: 2006
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Pages: 352
Rating: 4.5/5

I have never read Connolly before, but after this book I plan to read more. I really liked this book. Set during World War II, it features a pre-teenaged boy who is grieving his mother's death while trying to get used to his father's new wife and son. David is a good boy, but he is struggling with his jealousy and bitterness. He also seems to have mental issues (he demonstrates OCD-like behaviors, and also has seizures) and believes the books in his room are talking to one another. An avid reader, David was raised on the fairy tales his mother read to him. After a particularly nasty fight with his father and stepmother, he finds himself in another world--one that seems to be a mixture of all the fairy tales he has read, as well as other books. While there, he is forced to face his fears and battle a number of villians while trying to get back to his world.

There are many reasons I enjoyed this book so much. First of all, I love archetypical symbolism, and this book is littered with it. The world is David's subconcious fears as told through all that he's read. At the end, the author expounds on all the stories he chose to include, including their history, their meaning, and other variations of them. Secondly, it was so clever. The stories are twisted to fit David's life in ways that are sometimes disturbing and often amusing. I loved the seven dwarves being Communists--because David had read a book on Communism. Third, the story was suspenseful and fascinating. This was not a book for children. There was lots of violence, and it was dark and foreboding. Most of the characters David encountered were evil at best; many were vile. The world was alive and frightening, a mixture of our world and something foreign, reminiscent to me of Stephen King's Dark Tower world (which Connolly referenced in the end, as pertaining to the poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"). But I like that kind of stuff! I hope that Connolly's other work is as fascinating and enjoyable as this.

Challenge: R.I.P. III
Book-a-Week #: 42

Monday, August 25, 2008

R.I.P. III Challenge!

Completed as of 10/11/08! Click on titles to see my reviews...

Oh, how I love the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge! Probably because I love autumn, and Halloween, and reading, and all things creepy and crawly that go bump in the night. So when I got the alert about the third incarnation of this challenge, hosted by Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings, I immediately started thinking about what to read. At his suggestion, I will now list a potential pool of novels (I will be imbibing in Peril the First, meaning I will read 4 books from any of the following genres: mystery, gothic, horror, suspense, dark thriller, supernatural, dark fantasy):

The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly (8/26/08)
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (10/11/08)
Abarat by Clive Barker (12/21/08)
Lisey's Story by Stephen King (9/9/08)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (9/25/08)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (12/26/08)

These are thebooks I hope to get to at a later date...

A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (reread) (
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (, Babylon by Pat Frank (
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Poisonwood Bible--Barbara Kingsolver

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1998
Pages: 543
Rating: 5/5

This was my third attempt to read this book, spanning the last four years. I'm glad I never gave it up entirely, because this is one of the best books I've ever read. From the author's voice (the story is narrated by five different characters, each with their own nuances and style) to the subject matter, this book was captivating. Detailing almost the entire life span of a family of six who travels to the Congo as missionaries in the 1960s, it is informative (I can't imagine the research that must have gone into this novel) and heartbreaking. I found that it started slow, but the third time I picked it up I guess I passed that danger zone of slowness, because I was unable to put it down. I had basically zero knowledge of the historical position of this novel, and feel I've emerged both sadder and wiser. I should also say that I shed copious amounts of tears while reading this novel, so be forewarned.

Challenge/s: TBR, New Classics, 1% Well-Read, Well-Rounded
Book-a-Week #: 40

I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard--Tom Reynolds

Genre: Humor
Year Published: 2006
Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5

This was some good clean fun. The author is well-versed musically (was that a pun?) and the book is humorous. Some of the songs I've never heard of. Some I remembered half way through the description and groaned at the memory. Some I love, but can acknowledge their role in the realm of the depressing. He examines lyrics, music, tonality, vocal qualities, instrumentation, studio mixing, etc. to decide whether the song is truly worthy of "depressing " status (as opposed to "sad". One of his examples: Hurt, by NIN--depressing. Hurt by Johnny Cash--sad). Even if you disagree, its a light and entertaining read.

Book-a-Week #: 39

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Holes--Louis Sachar

Genre: Young Adult
Year Published: 1998
Pages: 233
Rating: 4/5

My students have raved about this book (and they rarely rave about any book), so I've been meaning to read it for a while. I really liked it. It's sort of a modern day fairy tale. It takes place in a thoroughly modern setting (a work camp for kids who have commited a crime) but the adults in charge of the camp are such villians that it gives it a whimsical vibe. Which is why we happily believe all the ridiculous coincidences that happen by the end of the story. The story isn't cheerful--there are past tragedies related, which all fit into the plot, and the suffering at the camp is painful. Parts are extremely suspenseful--I was flying through the pages! But all in all it was an easy and upbeat read.

Challenge/s: Young Adult; Well-Rounded
Book-a-week #: 38

Addickted: 12 Steps to Kicking Your Bad Boy Habit--Kristina Grish

Genre: Humor, Self-help
Year Published: 2006
Pages: 190
Rating: 3/5

I'm not a 12-stepper, but I could see this book seeming blasphemous to those who are. The author takes the familiar story of nice-girls-dating-bad-guys and applies it to a 12-step program, complete with a higher power, sponsor, and catch phrases. Some of what ensues is funny, some is stupid and contrived. But all in all reading about giving up bad boys and finding a nice boy to settle down with is sort of like drinking a nice cup of hot herbal tea--especially for a girl who has recently found her nice boy...

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 37

The Lovely Bones--Alice Sebold

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2002
Pages: 384
Rating: 4/5

I really liked this book. The story was clever, innovative, and freshly told in the voice of a young recent murder victim now residing in her heaven. It was captivating and heart-wrenching to watch her friends and family on earth try to let her go even as she does the same in heaven. Until the end--when things stepped off the level of the believeable unknown into "give-me-a-break" territory. It's only as a result of that ridiculous twist that I didn't give this book 5 stars, but Sebold really lost me there. Otherwise, this book was excellent.

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 36

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them--Al Franken

Genre: Humor
Year Published: 2004
Pages: 448
Rating: 4/5

This was fun to read. Al really brings politics to life and points out all the Republican bullshit he can find the research to prove. And this book is really well-researched. I was actually able to understand certain political things in a way I never was before! And how can you not love a book that tears Ann Coulter to shreds?

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 35

Jay's Journal--Beatrice Sparks

Genre: Young Adult, fiction (supposedly a memoir, but not really)
Year Published: 1978
Pages: 192
Rating: 2/5

The exploiter of terrible teen traumas who brought us Go Ask Alice strikes again with this "memoir" of a bright teenaged boy who becomes involved with the occult. The end of this book is so ridiculous and contrived that I did a google search to find out how true the author (who claimed to be the "editor") maintained the story was. Controversy! Apparently the family of the young man says that he was never involved in the occult at all, that they contacted the author to help document his depression and subsequent suicide. They claim she used a few entries from his diary and then fabricated the rest for shock value. She claims she interviewed his friends and used their accounts to glean the information about the occult to include in the book. All I can say is that anyone who expects her readers to believe the crap she wrote in this book is either insane or idiotic--or just assumes her readers are morons.

And I always knew Go Ask Alice was a fake too.

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 34

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book)--Jon Stewart

Genre: Humor
Year Published: 2004
Pages: 240
Rating: 5/5

Absolutely brilliant parody of an American Government text, which highlights some of our country's most prominent flaws, hypocrises, faux pas and errors. Hilarious, clever, and lots of fun to read!

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 33

Starved Rock Murders--Steve Stout

Genre: Nonfiction; Crime Thriller
Year Published: 1982
Pages: 200
Rating: 2/5

Interesting but somewhat poorly-written account of a crime startling for it's time and setting. Most interesting to me is the controversy surrounding the alleged killer's conviction--many, including the killer himself, maintain that he is innocent,despite much evidence to the contrary. A google search of the killer's name highlights this debate in forum discussions. Much of the book is interviews and court transcripts.

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 32

Franny and Zooey--J.D. Salinger

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1955
Pages: 208
Rating: 4/5

Salinger gives us a glimpse into one bright, talented young woman's spiritual crisis by painting a picture of her quirky, gifted family through her eyes and that of her older brother's. Cleverly written in typical Salinger prose, I enjoyed it very much even though most of it takes place in the bathroom of the Glass house. I think many bright people go through crises of faith, and I enjoyed Salinger's exploration of this. I would like to read more of the Glass family--especially the two oldest siblings, one of whom committed suicide.

Challenge/s: TBR; Decades
Book-a-week #: 31

No Country For Old Men--Cormac McCarthy

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 2005
Pages: 309
Rating: 4.5/5

A gripping crime-scene thriller plus more, which takes us through a series of murders in the small border town of an older, dedicated sheriff trying to police in a world that has changed, where the bad guys sometimes win. Suspenseful and charged with a hope-ridden hopelessness, and peppered with bleak yet fascinating characters, this was one of my favorite reads of the year. The violence was enough to make me shudder, but I couldn't put it down--even though I knew where it was going.

Someone told me that it was impossible to say whether the book or movie was better--both were that good. I disagree. While the movie was fabulous, the book was better. McCarthy's prose is too good to overlook, and many details were left out of the movie, like the relationship between Llewellyn and the girl at the motel, and the thoughts of the killer and the victims at the moments of their deaths. I also had a hard time envisioning Woody Harrelson as Wells. But Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Bell was more than perfect.

I really like Cormac McCarthy.

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 30

Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie--Holly Black

Genre: Young Adult
Year Published: 2002
Pages: 336
Rating: 2/5

Just because its for younger people doesn't mean it has to be poorly written. The creativity behind the author's world of faerie can't overshadow the glaring lack of detail, choppy dialogue, or underdeveloped characters that make up this book.

Challenge/s: Young Adult
Book-a-week #: 29

Into the Wild--Jon Krakauer

Genre: Biography
Year Published: 1996
Pages: 203
Rating: 5/5

A fascinating biography of a young man who died for his ideals--or some would say, as a result of his ignorance--while attempting to live off the land in Alaska. Krakauer's writing is captivating, and I became enamoured of the protagonist, Chris, without overlooking his trespasses.

Challenge/s: None
Book-a-week #: 28

Armageddon Summer--Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville

Genre: Young Adult
Year Published: 1999
Pages: 272
Rating: 3.5/5

When two teens meet on top of a mountain as the world is supposed to end--at least according to the cult their parents have joined--their relationship provides the strength needed to deal with the coming chaos.

This book was pretty good. The subject matter was interesting and the characters well-developed, although the plot was somewhat predictable. I liked the way it somehow managed to avoid stereotypes, even when dealing with subject matter that lends itself to stereotyping. I think this book would be of interest to many young adult readers, and will recommend it to my students.

Challenge/s: Young Adult
Book-a-week #: 27

A Diary of a Young Girl--Anne Frank

Genre: Memoir
Year Published: 1946
Pages: 304
Rating: 4/5

Anne Frank's memoir is always a worthy read--she is such a verbose, expressive and precocious writer, and the glimpse into life during wartime is an awakening for Americans. (However, I read this with my lower level highschool students --several of whom can barely read--and it did not go over well at all. It was slow moving and they hated it. And I got sick of reading it out loud). I remember the first time I read this book. I was about eight or nine, and the impact was immense, especially as a child of Jewish descent. I remember having a nightmare where I was forced to hide for my life in a closet, and other children who were free were shoving chicklets (remember that gum?) under the door for me.

I don't know if Anne's writing was doctored, but man could she write! And at 14? I went back and looked at my journal from when I was 14, and the writing was pathetic in comparison. Plus it was all about hating my parents and liking guys...then again, so was Anne's. But it still was lacking in poignancy. ;)

Challenge/s: Re-read
Book-a-Week #: 26

Naming Conventions Challenge


**This was a fun challenge, choosing books around the letters of my name. I would like to do it again but use my middle or last name instead!**

OK, one more.

Naming Conventions Challenge--Beginning Sept. 1, 2008, pick and read 1-3 books a month based on the letters of your first name. You can choose by book title, author's first name, or author's last name--any or all. This challenge ends at different times for different people--depending up on the number of letters in your name, of course. Mine will conveniently end Dec. 31, 2008.

Tentative list: (this may be changed or added to)

Sept: L (Author/s: Lois Lowry(9/16/08), Lloyd Alexander (9/19/08). Title: Lisey's Story (9/9/08) --FINISHED!!!
Oct: I (Author/s: Washington Irving, Issac Asimov. Title: I Am Mordred) --FINISHED!!!
Nov: S (Author/s: John Steinbeck; Stephen King. Title: Sound and the Fury)--FINISHED!!
Dec: A (Author/s:
Margaret Atwood; Andre Norton. Title: Abarat

Here are the links to the books read for this challenge:

Holes by Lois Lowry
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Lisey's Story by Stephen King
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Foundation by Issac Asimov
I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Zero Stone by Andre Norton
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Abarat by Clive Barker

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Read it Again Challenge

Here is a place to chart my re-reads, for the Read it Again Challenge.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Book Around the States

Here is where I will update my progress on the ongoing, perpetual Book Around the States Challenge.
25 to go!!

Alaska: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
California: I Am Legend by Richard Matthieson
Colorado: Jay's Journal by Beatrice Sparks
Connecticut: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Florida: Duma Key by Stephen King
Georgia: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Illinois: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Iowa: Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee
Kentucky: The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
Louisiana: Meely LaBauve by Ken Willis
Maine: Lisey's Story by Stephen King
Massachussetts: Cell by Stephen King
Michigan: Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Minnesota: Abarat by Clive Barker
Mississippi: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Nevada: Glass by Ellen Hopkins
New Hampshire:
New Jersey: Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black
New Mexico: On the Road by Jack Kerouac
New York: The Stone War by Madeline Robbins
North Carolina:
North Dakota:
Ohio: Beloved by Toni Morrison
Oklahoma: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Pennsylvania: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Rhode Island:
South Carolina:
South Dakota:
Texas: No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Vermont: Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen
West Virginia: