Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Summer Sisters

I re-read Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's me, Margaret earlier this year and still really liked it so I couldn't resist buying Summer Sisters when I saw it in a used book store. I actually wasn't aware that Judy Blume also wrote books for adults and I was curious to read one.

It was good. It tells the story of two friends who met as kids and stayed friends into adulthood. It's basically about growing up, but that includes values, attitudes, goals, dreams and so much more. I liked that the main characters were believable whatever their age was, meaning that the author has a grasp on the gowing-up issues she writes about.

The style was simple and engaging. I liked that throughout the story there were parentheses where we could see what some of the more minor characters were thinking, what their take on the situation was. I liked it because it made all the characters and their interactions more real.

It's a light read, nothing mind-blowing. Although I was expecting it to be more uplifting than it actually was, so don't expect something too happy! I found parts of the book slightly formulaic and reminiscent of women's writing of the 80s, but I still enjoyed it.

C+ and a contribution to the Title Master Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

342,745 Ways to Herd Cats

What a fabulous name for a challenge! And the challenge itself is also pretty cool! Can't ask for more than that eh? ;-)

Renee is hosting the 342,745 Ways to Herd Cats challenge. It runs from May 1st to November 30th and requires me to make another list. Yay! :-) The list is to be of 10 books that I love - each participant will make such a list, the lists themselves are listed here and Renee is making a master list of the books we love as well. Can't wait to tuck into those other recommendations!

Oh yeah, and the challenge itself is to read 3 books recommended by others. OK! :-)

Here are ten books that I absolutely love:

1. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
5. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
6. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
7. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
8. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
10. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Hope you read the ones you haven't yet and that you enjoy them!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Geeks #1

I signed up to be a Weekly Geek. I found out about the opportunity via a really funny post at a Tiny Little Reading Room, which led me to Dewey, other Weekly Geeks and a chocolate monkey. Yes, that's right, a chocolate monkey!

In other (less cryptic) words, I joined Dewey's new blogging event. Every week will bring a different theme - if you are so inclined, you can blog about this theme. For full details, go here.

The first one is about getting to know other participants - it's Discover New Blogs Week! Still being a newbie, I had no problem finding five blogs that are new to me among the participants - cue drumroll, introducing:

Marg and her Reading Adventures - she has a lovely photo as her header, seems to also be a challenge addict and I already found several books that sounded good from her comments.

Heather and her Book Addiction - the first thing I saw on there today was Harriet the Spy. Cool! Plus, judging by her post on Herding Cats, we share some favorite books!

Natacha from Maw Books - who is celebrating 100 posts and is thrilled at how popular her giveaway is! And I just really like the look of her blog.

Somer from SomeReads - who loved Neil Gaiman's Stardust as much as I did! I'm looking forward to her other reviews.

Reader Rabbit - actually two sisters blogging together - I think that's really cool! They have some interesting-looking YA literature on there and I'd like to read more YA.

This makes five, but there are loads more so off I go, exploring...

Fahrenheit 451

This book is mentioned and referenced so often that it's been on my general TBR-soon list for a very long time. When I saw it in the library last week, I thought it would be a nice short one to add to my reading. I recently discovered a library with a really good selection of English-language books and I go there regularly, which really messes up my lists for challenges but is too much fun to give up!

Anyway, clearly there is a good reason for why Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is referenced so often. It is known as one of the best early science fiction works and I can now see why it is so high in the ranks. The story is good, the characters are believable and, best of all, it really makes you think. What is it about? It's about a future of censorship, a future where people can't think for themselves anymore, where they're fed information through media everywhere they turn, where books are illegal. It's about a future where the world isn't this way because some evil guy got to power, but because people stopped caring at some point, stopped thinking too.

It struck me that this book was written in the late 1940s and yet we're still on the same course, nothing has improved. The opposite, in fact. That's a really scary thought.

The edition I read included an afterword by Ray Bradbury and he talked about how the book came to be. One interesting tidbit that I can't resist telling you about is that at a time when no one wanted to take a chance and publish something about censorship, after a while a progressive-thinking man wanting to set up his own magazine bought the story - he was Hugh Heffner. I love how various events link up like this. Maybe I just love useless information.

Fahrenheit 451 is definitely an A book - I think everyone should read it. And let's see which challenges I can fit it into - the Numbers Challenge, the A-Z Reading Challenge, the 888 Challenge, the Decades '08 Challenge and the Novella Challenge. Not bad for a book that wasn't planned!

*Edited to add that of course this book is also a banned book, so I'm using it for the Banned Book Challenge too, to replace Wild Swans as I don't think I'll get to it in the next couple of months!

Also reviewed by:
Melody at Melody's Reading Corner
Chris at Book-a-rama

Friday, April 25, 2008

Meme: A-Z of favorites

I saw this meme over at Bookgirl's Nightstand and here I am - as you know I cannot resist making another list, even if it's of books I already read! Th original idea comes from Simon at Stuck in a Book and it looks like it's been picked up by many blogs - thanks Simon! The point is to make an alphabetical list of favorite books, by author. I didn't think of books for each letter, but since they're meant to be favorite books I'd rather leave them blank than fill in just anything. Anyone else want to play? I'm sure you all need more book ideas as much as I do! :-)

Axelsson, Majgull - April Witch
Beecher Stowe, Harriet - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Coelho, Paolo - Veronika Decides To Die
Davidson, MaryJanice - Undead and Unwed
Fowles, John - The Magus
Gaiman, Neil - American Gods
Haddon, Mark - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Ishiguro, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
Kinsella, Sophie - Confessions of a Shopaholic
Levycka, Marina - A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
Mitchell, David - Cloud Atlas
Niffenegger, Audrey - The Time Traveller's Wife
Pierre, DBC - Vernon God Little
Robinson, Elisabeth - The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters
Setterfield, Diane - The Thirteenth Tale
Tan, Amy - The Joy Luck Club
Wells, Rebecca - The Divines Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Yamada, Taichi - Strangers

The Thirteenth Tale

I've had Diane Setterfield's novel on my wishlist for months and on my TBR stack since I went to Paris in March. Now that I've finished it, I don't know why on earth I put off reading it for so long! It's easily the best book I've read in quite some time, one of those stories that I had trouble putting down. I would read it whenever and wherever I could, even if I only had time for a paragraph at a time.

The Thirteenth Tale is the story of eccentric author Vida Winter and the story of her biographer Margaret. Ms. Winter chooses Margaret to write her story - one which she'd never before revealed to her beloved public. The story turns out to be full of secrets, of mystery, of family and of loss. The story is so well-constructed that it's hard to believe that this is Diane Setterfield's debut novel.

I don't really want to say more than that - just that I urge you to get to this one soon!

It gets an A and it contributes to the Numbers Challenge, the 888 Challenge, the Title Master Reading Challenge and even the Chunkster Challenge!

Also reviewed by:
Kris at Not Enough Books
Zetor at Mog's Book Blog

The Xmas Factor

I got this Annie Sanders audiobook because I needed an X title for the A-Z Challenge and I have no interest in reading X-men comics! I think next year I'll need to cheat that entry a tad...

It wasn't groundbreaking or anything but I did enjoy listening to The Xmas Factor. The story has several subplots, each with its own twists, so things don't get boring. You have a woman recently married to a widowed man trying to live up to his first wife when it comes to organising her first Christmas with her new husband and his grown-up children. You have a magazine editor and single mom, constantly feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her son, who wants to have a perfect Christmas with her little boy. You have the spoiled young woman whose life suddenly changes and she is forced to grow up quickly. And everything ties up neatly in the end.

The book is very English and the narrator, Kim Hicks, is also very English. This really adds to the experience. In fact, I thought that Kim Hicks was fantastic - she changes her voice for the different characters and really makes them come to life.

A C+ book - definitely a good X-title choice!

Friday, April 18, 2008

This Book Will Save Your Life

I finished reading A.M. Homes' well-known book several days ago, but I simply didn't know what to say about it. So I didn't say anything.

I didn't dislike it. But I can't say that I liked it either. I suspect that missed the point.

The story is about a man living in LA - he has isolated himself from the world and from people. One night he has what feels like a heart attack or something and he thinks that maybe 'this is it'. It's not and as his story unfolds, some strange things happen to him and he ends up meeting some of the people who exist around him, including his neighbor. I guess you can say that he joins the living again and all his relationships are improved - including a very difficult one with his son.

I know that one of the points of the book is that we need others, we need their company and we need to feel needed. But I can't say that reading it made me go 'wow'. I'd be interested to know if you liked it as much as some of the reviewers did! It's a only a C in my book and I'm not even sure that I want to read any more by A.M. Homes. At least it counts towards the Initials Reading Challenge!

I hate being disappointed - I had really high expectations of both the book and the author.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy books?

I've been pretty miserable lately and I figured out that I've been thinking too much about some of the more miserable (read: powerful) books I've read lately. Does anyone have any recommendations for books that are happy and uplifting, but not trash? Thanks!

Friday, April 11, 2008

A great discovery - Bookmooch

I haven't finished any books recently, I still have about 100 pages of A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life (a strange one, but addictive). Going off topic here, but has anyone read her The End of Alice? What did you think? I own it, but it kind of freaks me out because of the subject it deals with and I'm not sure I want to read it. Thoughts?

Anyway, thanks to Bookgirl, I discovered a great system called Bookmooch. Basically, you send books to people and you get books back. It's worldwide because it's owner and founder lived in non-English speaking countries and was frustrated with how much wasn't available anywhere. This suits me fine, as my book spending has been out of control lately so I'm hoping to cut back. I joined and am already sending out two books today so will get some back soon. What a cool system!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

What a fantastic book! John Boyne has a really original idea and followed it through brilliantly, I thought. I can't tell you too much about it, except to say that it looks at some very disturbing things through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy. This is what it says on the book's cover:

The story of "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the cover, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about. If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn't a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. We hope you never have to cross such a fence.
I sound really enthusiastic about this book and I am but keep in mind that it's not a happy book. It took me just a few hours to read it though, it's a novella, so perfect for the Novella Challenge; and it also counts towards my A-Z list.

Oh and it definitely gets an A.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Penelopiad

Margaret Atwood's re-telling of the myth of Odysseus is witty and engaging. She gives Penelope a real voice and I thought the resulting character was very believable. Much easier to believe her written this way than just as the faithful wife, waiting for 20 years for her husband to come home. The thoughts and feelings she may have had were conveyed in a really interesting way.

The explanation for why Odysseus killed the 12 maids when he returned was interesting. In fact, I found the whole subject of the 12 maids fascinating - including the reference to the possibility of the existence of a moon-worshipping cult, conquered by a more patriarchal system.

While reading it, I kept thinking how interesting this would be to stage (I direct theatre plays from time to time). Penelope's monologues are certainly not boring and the use of the maids as a Greek-type chorus is great - I always love a Greek-type chorus, it really adds something.

The Penelopiad is part of a bigger project (The Myths) of re-relling old tales. Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth is also a part of this project and it's on my reading list this year. The others sound interesting too!

Reading this really made me want to read Homer's The Odyssey - I have it at home so I hope to get to is soon and then maybe re-read Margaret Atwood's version of the story. Maybe next year.

So, a short review for a short book - I give it a B+. It contributes to the A-Z Challenge, the Mythopoeic Challenge, the Novella Challenge and the Once Upon a Time Challenge. That's pretty good value!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Speckled People

An Irish friend of mine lent me this book by Hugo Hamilton but I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. I waited for Joe to finish it first so that he could tell me if it would appeal to someone none-Irish or if he had to grow up in Dublin to really get it; both he and this friend of mine had. He said that I should definitely read it so I did.

Having finished it now, I can say that you'd probably get more out of it if you grew up in Dublin, but that it will appeal to the non-Dubliners as well, as it deals with a lot of themes that can be appreciated by other nationalities. The one that I kept thinking about while reading is identity. Hamilton's book describes his childhood as part of an Irish-German family in the 50s. He grew up in a house with a German mother who longed to go home to Germany and an intensely nationalistic Irish father who was against anything English and pro anything Irish. Meaning that Hamilton and his siblings grew up living in Dublin but speaking German and Irish at home - speaking English was forbidden. As I'm someone who was born in Poland but travelled for most of my life, I can relate to the identity difficulties that this situation caused. I still remember thinking I was American, not Polish, when I was little and we lived in the US for a few years. I can really identify with wanting to be what everyone else is, not different.

The other issue that stands out strongly is how the mother deals with her memories of the war and how the Irish think of the war. She and her German family weren't Nazis and they had to go through their own share of pain because of this. Yet it takes non-Germans a while to realise that the two words are not interchangeable. It really hurts to read that the children don't want to be German - this was because the other kids called them Nazi names and wanted to execute them all the time.

Besides the interesting themes in the book, there is another reason to read it. The style it's written in is unique and engaging. It's as if the story is told by the author as a child, it has an innocence to it, but at times it's obvious that the voice knows more than it should. It's a really interesting book and I'm glad that my friend lent it to me - I probably wouldn't have come across it otherwise.

I'm changing my rating system because the stars aren't doing much for me. I think I'll use the ABC system of American schools - it's a system I'm familiar with, so I think it will work better for me, will better reflect my opinions. So in the new system this will be a B+.

Challenges: Orbis Terrarum, Eponymous Challenge - which means that this last one is finished, my first challenge ever! ;-)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Initials Reading Challenge

Becky from Becky's Book Reviews finished a few challenges and thought that coming up with a new one was the best way of celebrating. So we have the Initials Reading Challenge that started on 1 April and runs until 30 November. The point is to read authors who publish under their initials. For the exact rules, go directly to Becky's challenge blog, all the info is there.

Becky said no lists are necessary, but I am a list person so I made one anyway. One of possibilities only, since only five books are required and I could think of many more. Here's what I came up with:

Completed: ALL as of 27 October 2008

Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows by J.K. Rowling
This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
The Inimitable Jeeves or The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
How the Light gets in by M.J. Hyland
Austerlitz or Vertigo by W.G. Sebald
City of God or Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Super-Cannes or Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard
Everything you Need or Looking for the Possible Dance by A.L. Kennedy
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lit-Ra-Chur - Booking Through Thursday

  • When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
  • Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

Over the years, my definition of "literature" has changed. I used to associate this word only with classics - stuff that I wouldn't want to read, unless I had to for school or something. But as I started to discover that I actually enjoyed reading some classics and started to think about why I enjoyed it, my deifnition of "literature" changed. Now I think of books that are more 'quality', for lack of a better word. Books that tackle more serious issues, books that will stand the test of time, with characters that future generations will be able to identify with and that themselves may become classics. As opposed to chick-lit, for example, which I enjoy immensely but wouldn't usually classify as genius.

For me, it was heard to get past the idea that if something is classic then you should automatically enjoy it and if you don't then you're not intelligent/mature/etc enough. At some point I realised that there will be classics that I enjoy and classics that I don't enjoy - same as with any other genre. So, to answer the second question, I will read what I think of as 'literature' out of my own free will. I'm the kind of person who needs a lot of variety, I get just as bored with only light books as I do with the heavy ones.

Of course there are books that I only start because I think I should. But I've progressed to thinking that what I should do is start them , try them out, see if I like them. I gave myself permission to not finish them if I'm not enjoying them. After all, there are so many out there!