Sunday, January 25, 2009

Icy Sparks--Gwyn Hyman Rubio

(This is an old review, from 2006. I am trying to move all of my book reviews to this blog).

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Year Published: 2001
Pages: 336
Rating: 4/5

This was a great book--very unusual, but an enthralling and heartwrenching read. Icy Sparks has Tourette's Syndrome, during a time before the disease was understood even as much as it is now. Misunderstood by the patrons of her small, southern town, Icy--with the support of her family and a close friend who is no stranger to feeling different--struggles to find a place for herself.

Can't Get There From Here--Todd Strasser

Genre: Young Adult
Year Published: 2005
Pages: 205
Rating: 3.5/5

"Maggot said we should go up to Times Square to watch the ball drop and pick some pockets, but we never got around to it."

I have always been fascinated with homeless street kids, ever since I went to Portland in 1994 where there was an abundance of them. I became rather close to one named Dave, who used to wear safety pins in his eyebrows so that they hung over his eyes. They reminded me of tears. You see these "street punks" everywhere: Bourbon Street in New Orleans, The Haight in San Francisco, hanging out by The Alley in Chicago in the late 80s, and of course on Grateful Dead tour. Some were running from something, some running to something. All of them had stories, some real, some exaggerated, some completely fictionalized. But all of them were desperate for some kind of acceptance--even if it was acceptance through society's rejection.

Can't Get There From Here illustrates the predicament of a "tribe" of street kids braving a New York City winter. Almost all of them have traded a dangerous, miserable life for one even more miserable and dangerous. Strasser tells their stories, and clearly shows what a dangerous world they inhabit. In some ways, this book may not be completely realistic, but in others it is very real. One aspect I liked was his interpretation of why these kids would turn down opportunities in youth shelters for the dangers of street life. It is a quick, enjoyable read, and certainly provides some food for thought.

Book a Week # 9
Challenge/s: Young Adult, A-Z

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--Phillip K. Dick

Genre: Science Fiction
Year Published: 1968
Pages: 256
Rating: 3.5/5

"A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard."

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the technology of the future--especially the "mood organ", with which you can program your own mood--anything from complete despondency to absolute joy, and even such things as subservience to your mate. There are also tests to determine one's capacity for empathy, which are used to discern humans from androids. Empathy is essentially what this book is about. As humans, how far does our empathy extend?

Deckard is a bounty-hunter who's job is to track and "retire" androids who have infiltrated a post-apocalyptic Earth from Mars, where they are slaves to humans. His dream is to own a real animal rather than his electric sheep--animals are rare, and humans are not only expected to own and care for one, but it is a symbol of status when they do. But during this assignment, he a series of events cause him to re-examine his morals and his own ideas about empathy.

I guess this book inspired the movie Blade Runner, but I've never seen the movie so I can't comment on that. But it was an interesting book, both from a technological as well as a philosophical standpoint.

Book a Week # 8
Challenge/s: 1% Well Read, A-Z

Index of Reviews--Comprehensive List of All Books by Title

1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time--Toby Creswell (9/19/09)
Abarat--Clive Owen
Addickted: Twelve Steps to Kicking Your Bad-Boy Habit--Kristina Grish
The Afterlife--Gary Soto
All the Pretty Horses--Cormac McCarthy
America: The Book--Jon Stewart
Animal Farm--George Orwell
Armageddon Summer--Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville
The Battle of the Labyrinth--Rick Riordan (7/5/09)
The Bean Trees--Barbara Kingsolver
Beloved--Toni Morrison
The Blind Assassin--Margaret Atwood
Blue Light--Walter Mosely
The Bluest Eye--Toni Morrison
The Book of Lost Things--John Connely
The Book of Three--Lloyd Alexander
The Book Thief--Markus Zusak (9/28/09)
Can't Get There From Here--Todd Strasser
Cat's Eye--Margaret Atwood
Cell--Stephen King
Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter I)--J.K. Rowling
Chelsey Horror Hotel--DeeDee Ramone
Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back--Claire and Mia Fontaine
The Complete Persepolis--Marjane Satrapi
Crank--Ellen Hopkins
Death Before Dishonor--Nikki Grimes
Destined For Destiny: The Unauthorized Biography of George W. Bush--Scott Dikkers and Peter Hilleran (4/15/09)
The Devil in the White City--Eric Larson
A Diary of a Young Girl--Anne Frank
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--Phillip K. Dick
Dolores Claiborne--Stephen King
The Door to December--Dean Koontz
Dragons of Autumn Twilight--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Dragons of Spring Dawning--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Dragons of Winter Night--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Dragonwing--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Duma Key--Stephen King (6/27/09)
Glass--Ellen Hopkins
Fallen Angels--Walter Dean Myers
The Fellowship of the Ring--J.R.R. Tolkein
The Forever King--Molly Cochran
Foundation--Issac Asimov
Franny and Zooey--J.D. Salinger
Give a Boy a Gun--Todd Strasser
The Giver--Lois Lowry
Glass--Ellen Hopkins
The Graveyard Book--Neil Gaiman (10/13/09)
The Handmaid's Tale--Margaret Atwood
Heart-Shaped Box--Joe Hill (9/30/09)
I Am Legend--Richard Matteson
I Am Mordred--Nancy Springer
Icy Sparks--Gwen Hyman-Rubio
I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard--Tom Reynolds
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--Douglas Adams
Holes--Louis Sachar
House of the Scorpion--Nancy Farmer (5/9/09)
Into the Wild--Jon Krakauer
Into Thin Air--Jon Krakauer
Is That a Dead Dog in Your Locker?--Todd Strasser
Jasmine--Bharati Mukherjee
Jay's Journal--Beatrice Sparks
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table--Sir Roger Lancelyt Greene
The Last Olympian--Rick Riordan (7/18/09)
The Law of Similars--Chris Bohjalian
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them--Al Franken
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil--Fay Weldon
Life, the Universe, and Everything--Douglas Adams (5/2/09)
The Lightning Thief--Rick Riordan
Lisey's Story--Stephen King
Lord of the Flies--William Golding
The Lovely Bones--Alice Sebold
Meely LaBauve--Ken Willis
Memoirs of a Geisha--Arthur Golden
Middlesex--Jeffrey Eugenides
The Mists of Avalon--Marion Zimmer Bradley
Mostly Harmless--Douglas Adams (7/25/09)
Nim's Island--Wendy Orr
No Country For Old Men--Cormac McCarthy
The Once and Future King--T.H. White
On the Road--Jack Kerouac
Ophelia Speaks--Sara Shandler (5/23/09)
Out For More Blood--Various (4/17/09)
The Outsiders--S.E. Hinton
The Pact--Jodi Picoult
Paradise--Toni Morrison
The Poisonwood Bible--Barbara Kingsolver
The Regulators--Stephen King
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe--Douglas Adams (4/27/09)
The Road--Cormac McCarthy
Scorpions--Walter Dean Myers
Sea of Monsters--Rick Riordan (5/16/09)
Skinny Bitch--Rory Freedman
Slam--Nick Hornsby
Smashed: The Story of a Drunken Girlhood--Koren Zailckas
Snuff--Chris Palahniuk
So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish--Douglas Adams (7/16/09)
The Sound and the Fury--William Faulkner
Speak--Laurie Halse Anderson (8/25/09)
Stargirl--Jerry Spinelli
The Starved Rock Murders--Steve Stout
The Stone War--Madeline Robins
Sundog--Jim Harrison
Sword of the Rightful King--Jane Yolen
That Was Then, This is Now--S.E. Hinton
The Thirteenth Tale--Diane Setterfield
The Thrall's Tale--Judith Lindbergh
The Time of the Twins--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Titan's Curse--Rick Riordan (6/17/09)
Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie--Holly Black
Tortilla Flat--John Steinbeck
Twilight--Stephanie Meyer
The Two Towers--JRR Tolkein
Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie--Holly Black
The Virgin Suicides--Jeffrey Eugenides
Water For Elephants--Sara Gruen
Wuthering Heights--Emily Bronte
The Year of Living Biblically--A.J. Jacobs (9/20/09)
You Don't Know Me--David Klass
The Zero Stone--Andre Norton

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Bluest Eye--Toni Morrison

Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1969
Pages: 224
Rating: 4/5

"Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941." That's the first line of the prelude to The Bluest Eye, but the opening line of the next section is one of my favorites: "Nuns go by quiet as lust, and drunken men and sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel."

I love Morrison's prose; her poetic comparisons and personifications give a clear yet sad-eyed description of the world her characters inhabit. This book is really sad, and deals with some disturbing subject matter--incest, racism, and just general mistreatment of human beings. The whole point of this novel appears to be that if you treat a person as if they're nothing, they will end up being nothing. And sadly, many of the characters in this book are treated that way. As the author writes at the end of the novel: "The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn't matter. It's too late. At least on the edge of my town, among the garbage and the sunflowers of my town, it's much, much, much too late."

Book a Week # 7
Challenge/s: Decades, 1% Well Read

Sword of the Rightful King--Jane Yolen

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Published: 2003
Pages: 376
Rating: 3.5/5

"Prince Gawaine took the stone steps two at a time, trying to guess why his mother, the queen, had sent for him."

This was an enjoyable twist on the King Arthur saga. Focusing on Merlin's engineering the sword in the stone for Arthur to pull, and Queen Morgause's evil magic and intrigues to seize the stone for her sons, and therefore herself, this novel manages to delve deep into a small section of the story, and pull off a rather unexpected twist at the end.

Book a Week # 6
Challenge/s: Young Adult, Arthurian

The Virgin Suicides--Jeffrey Eugenides

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Year Published: 1994
Pages: 294
Rating: 4/5

"On the morning the last Lisbon sister took her turn at suicide--it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese--the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beams in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."

Thus begins one of the strangest novels I have read, but one that is remarkably captivating. The book is narrated by a group of now-grown, but then-adolescent boys who lived on the same block as the Lisbon sisters, and who were obsessed with them. They are presenting their "evidence"--memories of the incident from their past, which they have never quite managed to understand. The book begins with the retelling of the youngest sister's first suicide attempt, and then carries us through the subsequent months with the family. Just like the narrator/s, the readers find themselves searching for clues, to understand why a young, pretty girl would resort to suicide. But as anyone who has ever lost someone they loved to suicide knows, this is not an understandable act, and by the end of the novel, the narrator/s--and we--are no closer to understanding the girls' choice than we were when it began.

This is one of the few books that I read after I saw the movie, but it didn't affect my reading adversely. On the contrary, as I got to each part in the book I could see the scene in the movie clearly (one of my favorite parts of that movie is when Kirsten Dunst makes out with Josh Hartnett in a car to the song "Crazy on You"). The movie was good too--even Dunst was good in it, and that's saying a lot, because I am not a fan of her acting in anything else. And Hartnett was adorable.

Book a Week # 5 (1/13/09)
Challenge/s: TBR, 1% Well Read

The Mists of Avalon--Marion Zimmer Bradley

Genre: Fantasy
Year Published: 1983
Pages: 876
Rating: 5/5

"Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland."

I have been putting off writing this review, because there is no way I can do this book justice. This is one of my favorite books of all time. I have read it many times, and each time I am as moved by it as the first time I read it, in the early nineties. I find it interesting to note how my reactions to the characters and to events in the novel have evolved each time I read it, due to my own evolution through the years. For instance, as a mother I respond differently to parts of the novel than I did before childbearing. But I digress...

Essentially, this novel is a retelling of the King Arthur legend from the female characters' points of view. It brings Morgaine--aka Morgan LeFay--into the spotlight, as a separate character than Morgause or the fairy queen. It is also a study of the dichotomy between Christianity and the "old religions"--the Druids and Priestesses of Avalon who worshipped the Goddess. Which, in a way, explores the relationship between the masculine and the feminine in general. Like other Arthurian works, it also explores the concept of destiny, and whether one can avoid fulfilling their fate. And for you Joseph Campbell fans, Morgaine fits neatly into the steps of the Hero's Journey!

Why do I love this book so much? Well, from a critical standpoint, it is a monumental work, spanning the character's entire lifetimes. It begins when Morgaine is a young child, before even her half-brother, Arthur, is born. It ends when Morgaine is an old lady, after Arthur's death. It brings detail to characters who are often overlooked, like Guinevere. I have heard people complain that they were disappointed in the focus on the women, that the women's roles were typical and boring, but I disagree. Yes, the women spin, and weave, and gossip, just as women did in that time period. But it is that which lies within them that brings life to this novel, and all the characters are complex--even Morgause is more than just an ambitious, plotting queen but a woman of emotion and feeling.

And from an emotional standpoint, this book changed my life. It opened my eyes to a way of thinking that I had barely scratched the surface of. It brought magic into my life, at a time when I was drifting and unsure. It drew me to places that exist, far away, and places that may never have existed--or did they? And it's just a damn good story, full of unrequited love, ambition, power, magic and fate.

OK, I've gushed enough. We now return to our regularly scheduled book reviews.

Book-a-Week # 4 (1/11/09)
Challenge/s: Arthurian, Read It Again

Monday, January 12, 2009

Animal Farm--George Orwell

Animal Farm (Signet Classics)
Year Published: 1945
Pages: 141
Genre: Fiction/Satire
Rating: 4/5

"Mr. Jones of the Manor Farm had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes."

And as a result, the animals gather and begin planning a revolution. Orwell's brilliant allegory is a smooth, enjoyable read--far more interesting than actually reading about Stalinism, as far as I'm concerned! Orwell clearly depicts his political views with humor, and those more informed than I on the actual historical events will enjoy guessing which animal represents which historical figure--Stalin is about as far as I can go. This book is not as chilling as 1984--the story is quick-paced, and surprisingly light-hearted considering the depressing situation the animals find themselves in. But then again, if I lived in a different context, perhaps I'd find it more chilling.

Challenge/s: TBR, Decades, 1% Well Read, A-Z
Book a Week # 3

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Beloved--Toni Morrison

Year Published: 1987
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

"124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children."

Thus begins Beloved, an amazing story of strength, courage, perserverence, and desperation. Set in Ohio in the late 1800s and revolving around the family of an escaped slave, Sethe, it is a haunting tale of the effects of slavery. "Beloved" refers to the headstone of the grave of one of the children she lost after Sethe's escape, and the ghost of said child haunts the house Sethe occupies with her other daughter, Denver. When a fellow slave of the plantation from which Sethe fled appears on her doorstep, he and the ghost face-off, which sets off a series of events and forces Sethe to confront the horrors and secrets of her past.

This is a beautifully written tale of beauty and horror. The characters are haunted by their past, by the grievances they have suffered and by their responses to their treatment, as much as 124 is haunted by Beloved. Whether or not the ghost is "real" becomes secondary; the character's pasts are true and haunting enough.

Book-a-Week # 2
Challenge/s: Decades, A-Z, New Classics

Into Thin Air--Jon Krakauer

Year Published: 1997
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 368
Rating: 4/5

"The actual particulars of the event are unclear, obscured by the accretion of myth."

"The event" refers to the ascension to the summit of Mount Everest, on which the author participated as a climber and a journalist. But due to a series of unforseen events, as many as twelve people from the excursions on the mountaintop didn't return alive. Krakauer relates the story as well as he can remember, adding in details that bring home what a grueling experience it is to climb Mount Everest. Altitude sickness, frostbite, intestinal ailments picked up from villages all contribute to the difficulty of an achievement that is difficult enough!

Krakauer's writing is captivating, just as in his previous novel, Into the Wild. What really brings the book home is the characters, whom he develops enough throughout the book that by the end we read with dread to see how they fared. The author's obvious investment with the characters and the journey, and his pain after the excursion was over, makes this a moving read.

Book-a-Week #1
Challenge/s: New Classics, Decades, TBR, A-Z

Friday, January 2, 2009

100 +/Book A Week Challenges

The 100 + Reading Challenge is hosted by J. Kaye, and Book a Week is a yahoogroup challenge. Since both require a log of books read, I will log for both challenges here!

1. Into the Wild--Jon Krakauer (1/2/09)
2. Beloved--Toni Morrison (1/3/09)
3. Animal Farm--George Orwell (1/10/09)
4. The Mists of Avalon--Marion Zimmer Bradley (1/11/09)
5. The Virgin Suicides--Jeffrey Eugenides (1/13/09)
6. The Sword of the Rightful King--Jane Yolen (1/17/09)
7. The Bluest Eye--Toni Morrison (1/19/09)
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--Phillip K. Dick (1/22/09)
9. Can't Get There From Here--Todd Strasser (1/23/09)
10. The Forever King--Molly Cochran and Walter Murray (1/30/09)
11. Stargirl--Jerry Spinelli (2/8/09)
12. The Fellowship of the Ring--J.R.R. Tolkein (2/15/09)
13. Cat's Eye--Margaret Atwood (2/28/09)
14. The Two Towers--J.R.R. Tolkein (3/1/09)
15. Glass--Ellen Hopkins (3/1/09)
16. Skinny Bitch--Rory Freedman (3/3/09)
17. Fablehaven--Brandon Mull (3/14/09)
18. The Once and Future King--T.H. White (3/27/09)
19. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table--Roger Lancelyn Green (3/28/09)
20. Dragons of Winter Night--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (4/1/09)
21. Paradise--Toni Morrison (4/3/09)
26. Destined For Destiny: The Unauthorized Biography of George W. Bush--Scott Dikkers and Peter Hilleran (4/15/09)
27. Out For More Blood--Various (4/17/09)
28. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe--Douglas Adams (4/27/09)
29. Life, the Universe, and Everything--Douglas Adams (5/2/09)
30. House of the Scorpion--Nancy Farmer (5/9/09)
31. Sea of Monsters--Rick Riordan (5/16/09)
32. Ophelia Speaks--Sara Shandler (5/23/09)
33. The Titan's Curse--Rick Riordan (6/17/09)
34. Duma Key--Stephen King (6/27/09)
35. The Battle of the Labyrinth--Rick Riordan (7/5/09)
36. So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish--Douglas Adams (7/16/09)
37. The Last Olympian--Rick Riordan (7/18/09)
38. Mostly Harmless--Douglas Adams (7/25/09)
39. Speak--Laurie Halse Anderson (8/25/09)
40. 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time--Toby Creswell (9/19/09)
41. The Year of Living Biblically--A.J. Jacobs (9/20/09)
42. The Book Thief--Markus Zusak (9/28/09)
43. Heart-Shaped Box--Joe Hill (9/30/09)
44. The Graveyard Book--Neil Gaiman (10/13/09)
45. Jasmine--Bharati Mukherjee (10/17/09)
46. Time of the Twins--Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (10/23/09)
47. On the Road--Jack Kerouac (10/26/09)
48. Twilight--Stephanie Meyer (10/27/09)
49. Lord of the Rings--J.R.R. Tolkein (11/4/09)
50. The Memory Keeper's Daughter--Kim Edwards (11/6/09)
51. House of Sand and Fog--Andre Dubus III (11/9/09)
FINISHED THE BOOK A WEEK CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
53. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter--Carson McCullers (11/20/09)
54. Uncharted Stars--Andre Norton (11/26/09)
55. As I Lay Dying--William Faulkner (11/28/09)
56. X-Files: E.B.E.--Les Martin (11/29/09)
58. The Zero Game--Brad Melzer (12/4/09)
59. Riders of the Purple Sage--Zane Grey (12/8/09)
60. The Sun Also Rises--Ernest Hemingway (12/14/09)
61. The Great Fire--Jim Murphy (12/16/09)
62. Eclipse--Stephanie Meyer (12/21/09)
63. The Wastelands, Prufrock, and Other Observations--T.S. Eliot (12/26/09)

A to Z Challenge

FINISHED AS OF 12/31/09!!!!!!!!

Here is where I can track my books for the A-Z challenge.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (The)--Douglas Adams (4/11/09)
Paradise--Toni Morrison (4/3/09)
Queen Bees and Wannabes--Susan Wiseman (12/31/09)
Restaurant at the End of the Universe (The)--Douglas Adams (4/27/09)
Sword of the Rightful King (The)--Jane Yolen (1/17/09)
Two Towers (The)--J.R.R. Tolkein (3/1/09)
Uncharted Stars--Andre Norton (11/26/09)
Virgin Suicides (The)--Jeffrey Eugenides (1/13/09)
Wastelands, Prufrock, and Other Observations (The)--T.S. Eliot (12/26/09)