Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Twilight--Stephanie Meyer

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Year Published: 2005
Pages: 498
Rating: 3.5/5

I'd never given much thought to how I would die--thought I'd has reason enough in the last few months--but evenif I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Now this book I expected to dislike. I thought it would be sickeningly mindless, prattering teenage prose. I figured the over-romanticized vampire icon would make my stomach turn and my eyes roll. I'd read most of Anne Rice's Vampire chronicles back in high school, and while I loved them then I can't deal with them at all now. Overdramatic, flowery prose, stereotypical characters, predictable plots--ugh.
Well, this book had most of that--sans the flowery prose--and yet I loved it. I'm almost embarrassed at how much I enjoyed this book. I read it within 24 hours, even borrowing a students' copy because I had left mine at home.

I'm not sure what made me like it so much. Part of it is the narrator's voice--she is so real, so assured, that I found myself relating to her without meaning to. Part of it is the fast-paced plot, which unfolds like a smooth spiral staircase bringing you to it's inevitable climax. Part of it is the flowery teenage romance. There's that affinity with the timeless story of falling for the "bad boy"--the one who even warns you to stay away from him yet loves you too much to let it happen. I've had plenty of those in my day, though my stories usually ended poorly. There is a passage in the book that reminds me uncannily of a short story I wrote in high school that deals with the theme of the woman surrendering herself for love--even dangerous love. Which is exactly what the narrator does, and as much as I want to shake her for it, I can't help but sigh and nod my head. And of course the love interest, Edward Cullen the vampire, is everyone's dream man--strong, beautiful, invincible, intelligent, playful, and in love with you and only you. The story behind the vampires is interesting too--the different groups, the "vegetarians" (who don't eat humans) versus "non-vegetarians", the ways they all became vampires. What is the American fascination with vampires anyway? Is it sexual? Is it the immortality thing? Whatever it is, this was a quick, easy and fun read, and I will probably read the rest of the series as well.

Book a week # 48
Challenges: RIP IV
Date Read: 10/27/09

On the Road--Jack Kerouac

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1957
Pages: 313
Rating: 3/5

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I had split up.

I expected to like this book a lot more than I actually did. In fact, it is surprising that I never read it before--during my highschool years I embraced ideals of the counter-culture and became some sort of hippie incarnation. After highschool I traveled the country, following the Grateful Dead from show to show, hitching rides from fellow Deadheads with nothing but a bag full of clothes and a sleeping bag. So many people have spoken of this book to me--how they loved it, how it influenced them to travel. But I think if I read this book previously, if anything it would have turned me OFF that lifestyle.

It isn't the writing--Kerouac's prose is delightful to read, wandering, poetic ramblings that manage to be both profound and inane. It's the characters. They're heinous. I'm not sure if I've ever read a book with more selfish, self-centered, narcissistic characters. OK, maybe Wuthering Heights, but besides that. It was like a laundry list of transgressions: someone leaving another wife, or ripping off another person, or stealing another car, or abandoning another friend. I'll admit that Dean's descent into madness was somewhat interesting, in the way that a freak show is interesting. But even all the stories got tedious. It was like hearing someone excitedly tell of their past drunken exploits--"Oh man, we were sooooo wasted, guess what we did????"--for over three hundred pages. Again and again.

I am glad I read it--I've been meaning to for years, so at least I've gotten it out of the way, and now I know for myself what it is all about. But I must admit I'm disappointed. And I sure won't put this one on my read-it-again list.

Book a week # 47
Challenges: TBR, 1% Well Read, Decades, Modern Library
Date Read: 10/26/09

Jasmine--Bharati Mukherjee

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1989
Pages: 241
Rating: 4/5

Lifetimes ago, under a banyan tree in the village of Hasnapur, an asrologer cupped his ears--his satellite dish to the stars--and foretold my widowhood and exile.

Jasmine is a captivating story of a young Indian woman's incarnations as she struggles with fate. Born Jyoti in India and renamed Jasmine by her husband Prakash, the protagonist finds herself reinvented constantly by tragedy until she settles in Iowa farmland and begins a relationship with a banker who christens her Jane. Her strength and intelligence are admirable, as well as her adaptability. By the end of the story she is still unsure of who she really is, but marches into the unknown with dignity and grace.

This book deals with many issues--the political unrest in India, the plight of the illegal immigrant in America, the struggle for immigrants to fit in to American culture without losing their identity. But the theme is all about identity. Who is Jasmine--or Jyoti--or Jane--or Kali? Are each of these incarnations a part of her being, or does she evolve into them through fate and circumstance?

My only complaint with this novel is that the ending seems a little rushed. But it is a beautifully written piece of work with strong characters, and is definately worth reading.

Book a week #: 45
Challenges: Young Adult, A-Z
Date Read: 10/17/09

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fill in the Gaps--100 Books Project (12/31/15)

OK, so in a nutshell this challenge invites you to make a list of up to 100 books that you really want to get around to reading, and then read at least 75% of them in the next five years. I plan on starting on January 1, 2010, and thereby finishing by December 31, 2015. More details can be found here. My list is tentative; I might change it before the challenge starts, and I don't have 100 books yet, but here is the start:

1. Everything is Illuminated
2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
3. Fever Pitch
4. Life of Pi
5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
6. High Fidelity
7. Slaughterhouse 5
8. Fight Club
9. Rose Madder
10. Umney's Last Case
11. Storm of the Century
12. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
13. The Colorado King
14. Just After Sunset
15. A Confederacy of Dunces
16. The Witches of Eastwick
17. A Handful of Dust
18. The Woman in White
19. Get Shorty
20. The Bourne Identity
21. V
22. Song of Solomon
23. Jazz
24. The Bell Jar
25. Possession
26. One Hundred Years of Solitude
27. Love in the Time of Cholera
28. The Kite Runner
29. For Whom the Bell Tolls
30. Their Eyes Were Watching God
31. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
32. Lady Chatterly's Lover
33. Women in Love
34. Atonement
35. Tropic of Cancer
36. Gone With the Wind
37. Gilead
38. Crash
39. Fahrenheit 451
40. Childhood's End
41. Dune
42. The Haunting of Hill House
43. His Dark Materials
44. The Satanic Verses
45. The Hobbit
46. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
47. Things Fall Apart
48. Uncle Tom's Cabin
49. Bleak House
50. Middlemarch
51. A Passage to India
52. Trainspotting
53. Journey to the Center of the Earth
54. L'Morte D'Arthur
55. A Short History of Nearly Everything
56. Her Fearful Symmetry

Revisit Childhood Favorites Challenge (6/30/10)

This challenge provides an opportunity to read those books you remember so fondly from your childhood, but haven't read in years! I am to pick five books to reread by June 30, 2010. Further guidelines and reviews can be found here , at Debbie's World of Books. My list:

Little Women
The Narnia Chronicles (which is seven, so any or all will count for one)
The Chronicles of Prydain (same as above)
Ballet Shoes
Harriet the Spy

VPR Poetry Reading Challenge (5/16/10)

This challenge, found here at Regular Rumination, requires reading 2-15 books of contemporary poetry--that is, published in the 20th or 21st centuries. I am joining the "shallow end" challenge, meaning I must read 2-5 books. Since an Eliot book has been on my TBR list for a while now, I figured I would join to light a fire under my butt. Plus I really need to read more poetry.
I don't have a list of books yet, but favorite poets include:
Maya Angelou
T.S. Eliot
Adrienne Rich
Mark Strand
Sylvia Plath
Anne Sexton
Pablo Neruda
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Allen Ginsburg
Denise Levertov

Books to Read Before I Die Challenge (12/31/10)

Found here at Bibliophile by the Sea, the Books to Read Before I Die challenge asks you to choose between 10-20 books that you absolutely must read before you die. Your list must be finalized by December 31, 2009, and the challenge begins the next day and ends Dec. 31, 2010.

My tentative list:

1. A Spot of Trouble--Mark Haddon
2. Everything is Illuminated--Jonathon Safran Foer
3. Choke--Chuck Pahlaniak
4. Life of Pi--Yann Martel
5. Trainspotting--Irvine Welsh
6. The Robber Bride--Margaret Atwood
7. Jazz--Toni Morrison
8. Get Shorty--Elmore Leonard
9. Possession--A.S. Byatt
10. The Satanic Verses--Salman Rushdie
11. Love in the Time of Cholera--Gabriel Garcia Marquz
12. The Unbearable Lightness of Being--Milan Kundera
13. Confederacy of Dunces--John Kennedy Toole
14. Song of Solomon--Toni Morrison
15. Crash--J.G. Ballard
16. Slaughterhouse 5--Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
17. One Hundred Years of Solitude--Gabriel Garcia Marquez
18. V--Thomas Pynchon
19. The Bell Jar--Sylvia Plath
20. I, Robot--Isaac Asimov

Around the World in 80 Books Challenge (Perpetual)


I got the idea for this challenge here, at Downunder's Reading Challenges blog. The idea is to read books from as many different countries as possible, and it is a perpetual challenge, so there's no time limit. I plan on listing the books I've already read that take place in other countries as well. The list of countries below was taken from

Countries Listed By

Continent NOTE: Only countries recognized (as such) by the United Nations are listed, not dependencies and/or territories. Regarding England, Scotland and Wales, though considered individual countries, they are all a part of the United Kingdom (UK), a European country, and therefore included within the United Kingdom on the list below.

AFRICA (53) Algeria Angola Benin Botswana Burkina Burundi Cameroon Cape Verde Central African Republic Chad Comoros Congo Congo (Dem. Rep.) Djibouti Egypt Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Gambia Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau Ivory Coast Kenya Lesotho Liberia Libya Madagascar Malawi Mali Mauritania Mauritius Morocco Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda Sao Tome and Principe Senegal Seychelles Sierra Leone Somalia South Africa Sudan Swaziland Tanzania Togo Tunisia Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe

ASIA (44) Afghanistan Bahrain Bangladesh Bhutan Brunei Burma (Myanmar) Cambodia China East Timor India Indonesia Iran Iraq Israel Japan Jordan Kazakhstan Korea (north) Korea (south) Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Laos Lebanon Malaysia Maldives Mongolia Nepal Oman Pakistan Philippines Qatar Russian Federation Saudi Arabia Singapore Sri Lanka Syria Tajikistan Thailand Turkey Turkmenistan United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Vietnam Yemen

EUROPE (47) Albania Andorra Armenia Austria Azerbaijan Belarus Belgium Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland France Georgia Germany Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland Italy Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macedonia Malta Moldova Monaco Montenegro Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal Romania San Marino Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland Ukraine United Kingdom Vatican City

N. AMERICA (23) Antigua and BarbudaBahamas Barbados Belize Canada Costa Rica Cuba Dominica Dominican Rep. El Salvador Grenada Guatemala Haiti Honduras Jamaica Mexico Nicaragua Panama St. Kitts & Nevis St. Lucia St. Vincent & the Grenadines Trinidad & Tobago

OCEANIA (14) Australia Fiji Kiribati Marshall Islands Micronesia Nauru New Zealand Palau Papua New Guinea Samoa Solomon Islands Tonga Tuvalu Vanuatu

S. AMERICA (12) Argentina Bolivia Brazil Chile Colombia Ecuador Guyana Paraguay Peru Suriname Uruguay Venezuela

As I read books from any of these countries I will list them below and take the country off the list above. For instance:

United States: The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Stephen King/Richard Bachman Challenge (Perpetual)

When I came across this challenge, found here at Book Geek 2.0, I knew I had to sign up. Stephen King is probably my favorite author. I've certainly read more of his works than any other author. It doesn't hurt that he is amazingly prolific--check out this list of his works
here! The Dark Tower series is my favorite fantasy series of all time, and The Stand is in my top five list of Best Books Ever. I don't think I have much more to go in order to catch up, but by the time I do he will probably have published ten more, so it's a good thing this is a perpetual challenge.

My plan is to read the King I've missed and then re-read the rest. I will review all the books I read and post the links here. I have already reviewed some King in the last few years, and I will link to those reviews as well. Duma Key and Cell should be on here soon!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Arthurian Challenge 2009/2010

April 2009-March 2010
I didn't realize this challenge had been running, or I would have joined it months ago! Because I am joining late I am opting to read between 3-6 books which have something to do with the King Arthur legend. I will post my list later. Thanks to Becky for hosting!
The Seeing Stone

Index of Book Reviews by Author

Adams, Douglas:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Life, the Universe, and Everything
Mostly Harmless
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish

Alexander, Lloyd:

The Book of Three

Anderson, Laurie Halse:


Atwood, Margaret:

The Blind Assassin
Cat's Eye
The Handmaid's Tale

Asimov, Isaac:


Bohjalian, Chris:

The Law of Similars

Black, Holly:

Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie
Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie

Bradley, Marion Zimmer:

The Mists of Avalon

Bronte, Emily:

Wuthering Heights

Cochran, Molly:

The Forever King

Connolly, John:

The Book of Lost Things

Coville, Bruce:

Armageddon Summer

Creswell, Toby:

1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time

Dick, Philip K:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dikkers, Scott:

Destined For Destiny: The Unauthorized Biography of George W. Bush

Eugenides, Jeffrey:

The Virgin Suicides

Time of the Twins--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The Dragonlance Series)

Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 335
Year Published: 1986
Rating: 5/5

I am a huge fan of the Dragonlance series, and the Legends trilogy is my favorite. Focusing on the relationship between the twins Caramon and Raistlin, it wrestles with themes such as good versus evil, redemption, and the corruption of power and ambition. Raistlin has become the most powerful mage of his time, and quite possibly of all time. His thirst for power has led him to his latest ambition: to challenge the Dark Queen, god of evil. But in order to do this he needs the help of Crysania, a cleric of Paladine, god of good, who is too often blinded by her own vanity and refusal to see the truth. While leaving Raistlin's tower, Crysania is attacked by a dark knight, and ends up sent back in time, to the time period just before the gods brought the Cataclysm down upon the City of Istar. Raistlin too goes back in time to learn from--and become--the great mage Fistandantilus. The conclave of mages decides to send Caramon back, hoping he will be able to save Crysania and stop his brother. What they didn't plan for was Tasslehoff the kender joining Caramon on this quest.

This is a double love story. There is Caramon's unconditional love for his brother and belief that he is not truly evil; also Crysania falls in love with the mage. Raistlin's character is fascinating, in that he struggles with his own weakness when it comes to love--he finds himself falling for Crysania and fighting bitterly against it to remain true to his goals. Crysania sees the good within Raistlin and truly believes she can save him from his evil path.

The book ends abruptly and continues in the next book in the series, War of the Twins.

Book-a-week # 46
Challenges: Read it Again, Series
Date Read: 10/23/09

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Graveyard Book--Neil Gaiman

Genre: Children's Fantasy/Horro
Year Published: 2008
Pages: 307
Rating: 4/5

"There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife."

This was a charming little coming of age story set in an old, crumbling graveyard. Bod (shortfor Nobody), the protagonist, narrowly escapes death at the hands of a murderer when he is a toddler. Unfortunately his family does not fare so well, and the orphan finds his way to a graveyard, where the unearthly inhabitants take him in. Raised among the dead yet still human, Bod has to navigate his childhood in the cemetery and avoid the being who murdered his family, who still wants to finish the job. This book reminded me heavily of A Fine and Private Place, one of my favorite books ever and another where the dead and the living communicate. I enjoyed it a lot.

RIP Challenge
Book a week # 44
Date Read: 10/12/09

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Heart-Shaped Box--Joe Hill

Genre: Horror
Year Published: 2007
Pages: 354
Rating: 4/5

Jude had a private collection.

I have been meaning to read this book for quite some time now, so the night I signed up for this year's R.I.P. Reading Challenge I pulled it off the shelf. Less than two days later, I have finished it. This book was hard to put down. The story flowed well and was captivating, suspenseful and just creepy enough to keep me 100% invested in its pages.

This is a rock-and-roll horror story. Jude is a former metal/goth band frontman with a collection of occult objects and nubile goth 20-somethings. When he sees a ghost for sale on an internet auction site he doesn't think twice before acquiring it. Unfortunately, he has unwittingly walked into a trap--the ghost is his former lover's step-father, bent on revenge after his stepdaughter's suicide. From this point forward, Jude and his newest goth girl, Georgia, have to avoid the ghost long enough to stay alive, piece together the truth of why he is there, and figure out how to send him back from whence he came. There's a lotta good stuff here. The characters are believeable and lovable. The plot flows quickly and suspensefully. The rock and roll references are multiple and fun for a rocker girl like me. I was engaged almost instantly and found it hard to stop reading.

I did have some issues with the novel. Georgia's character in the beginning seems completely different than who she was in the end, and the change doesn't mesh well in my mind. Parts of the story stretch believability beyond what I would prefer, and some detail seems unnecessary. And in some ways it almost flows too quickly from beginning to end. But these are small complaints, and I really enjoyed and would recommend this book.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I constantly compared Hill's writing to that of his famous father, Stephen King. It is somewhat uncanny how much this resembles a King novel, but without the extreme detail and plot-weavings that King manages. Hill obviously inherited a love of music from his father (I loved that the book sections were named after rock songs: Black Dog, Hurt, etc.) as well. The frankness in the characters is as reminiscent of King as the subject matter. But famous father or not, Hill has proven himself to me as an author in his own right, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Date Read: 9/30/09
Book a week # 43
Challenges: RIP IV