Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Assassin's Code, by Jonathan Maberry

2012 Book 150: Assassin's Code

written by Jonathan Maberry, narrated by Ray Porter

Reason for Reading: 4th book in the Joe Ledger series. Figured the brainless action would be entertaining for a long car ride. Also, it fits in nicely with the Halloween theme. :)

My Review
In this fourth installment of Joe Ledger's story, Ledger kicks the @$$ of evil Iranians, a Romanian? weirdo cult, and a group of religious doomsday vampires...all while trying to figure out where the mysterious group of psychotic women fit in to this mess. This book is brainless military sci-fi/horror action at its best. I only gave the book three stars because I started to get bored of all the bad @$$ military action. And it waxed a little too political for me at times. This is also a book that you shouldn't think too deeply about--for instance, why the heck did he bring his DOG for a mission in Iran (when clearly the dog wasn't being used for the mission)? Certainly, the dog HAPPENED to come in handy at times, but it seems poor planning to bring a dog and then leave him pointlessly in the hotel during the mission, so that if things didn't go as smoothly as planned, Ledger would have to go back and get his dog before getting out of harm's way. I also felt some of the "intrigue" plot was rather overcooked. Really? Intrigue in the Catholic Church? Gasp! Never seen THAT in a book before! So, like I said, this book is great if you're interested in some mindless action...just don't think too much. :)

If you liked the rest of the Joe Ledger books, then this is more of the same. If you liked the first and felt "meh" about the rest, then this book is similar to the rest of the sequels. If you haven't read any of the others, pick up Patient Zero (it's good!) and then keep in mind that the rest of the books are less intelligent, but just as much pulpy action.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum

2012 Book 149: The Poisoner's Handbook 

written by Deborah Blum, narrated by Coleen Marlo

Reason for Reading: October Halloween theme

My Review

This fascinating book outlines the development of forensic science in the 1920's. It begins by describing the poor state of forensics the late nineteen-teens, and pointing out WHY it was so necessary to develop a proper procedure for determining cause of death. I've always taken such things for granted and never even thought about the effort it would take to develop the science--not only scientifically, but also as a social movement. Although the Prohibition theme resonates throughout the book, each chapter focuses on a different poison--including the background/development of the poison, the effects it has on the victim, and the measures taken by forensic scientists to discover cause of death. This book was fascinating on so many different levels. It's interesting as a Prohibition-era history, but it would also be interesting to lovers of popular science. Highly recommended for a little light reading.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (NCE; WLC)

2012 Book 148: Pride and Prejudice (A Norton Critical Edition)

written by Jane Austen, edited by Donald J. Gray

Reason for Reading: Technically, I read this book on a whim. However, I'm trying to get through all the lessons from The Great Courses: Western Literary Canon, and this book is conveniently lecture 24. Out of order, yes, but perhaps the book gods will be forgiving. I won't consider this lesson complete, though, until I read the recommended critiques and biographies. I also intend on re-reading some more Austen books, and some contemporary authors and authors who are said to have influenced Austen. So I'm not done with the lesson yet!

My Review
The Bennet household is in a bit of a financial bind. They have five unmarried daughters with almost no dowry, and the estate is to be inherited by a mysterious cousin that no one's met yet. But things get exciting when a rich bachelor moves to town and brings is even richer bachelor friend. Every young lady in the area is ready to throw themselves at these men. Except, of course, for Elizabeth Bennet. She instantly decides that the rich bachelor is perfect for her sister, Jane, and his richer friend is the most detestable man on the planet. Thus starts one of the best-loved romances in Western literature. And, like most everyone else, I loved this story. Even on the nth reading of it. :) 

This book is also a social satire, which is a fact unfortunately ignored by many readers. I think many of the people who hate the book (mostly men) see it simply as a romance and don't look any further. This failing to see the humor was one of the reasons I so loathed Seth Graham-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I had high hopes that he had managed to weave Austen's sense of humor (i.e. a wry, witty social satire) with zombie-whacking humor. I would have eaten such a book alive. :D But, alas, Graham-Smith clearly didn't understand the humor in P&P...I wasted a couple hours of my life on that book that I will NEVER get back again. 

Since there's not much else I can say in a mini-review of the story that hasn't been said over and over, I'll discuss the supplementary material in the Norton Critical Edition. There wasn't a LOT of supplementary information in the book, but it was generally of good quality. It started with a biography of Austen, punctuated with letters written by the author. This part would be helpful to someone who isn't familiar with Austen's life, but wouldn't be particularly new to anyone who's read a biography of her. Additionally, there were several critical analyses of Pride and Prejudice, both contemporary and modern. I enjoyed most of these--though I admit I got bored with the Freudian one and moved on to the next. The piece I found most surprising was the interview with Colin Firth. I really didn't think that this interview belonged in a critical edition of P&P and wasn't expecting much from it. But I was very wrong. Colin Firth had a strong understanding of Darcy's character (of course! how could I doubt? It IS his job!). It was fascinating to read his thoughts about how he incorporated his understanding of Darcy's motivations in the most powerful scenes (such as the first ball, the drawing room discussion when Lizzy was at Netherfield, the dance at Netherfield, and the proposal). It gave me a completely new impression of Darcy's character and made me want to watch the whole miniseries again. 

I found the excerpt by Marilyn Butler Jane Austen and the War of Ideas: Pride and Prejudice, quite helpful...I feel encouraged to read Butler's entire book (after I finish re-reading the rest of Austen's novels). In this excerpt, Butler shows how Darcy and Elizabeth have elements of both pride and prejudice in their personalities. I had always thought about Darcy being proud and Elizabeth being prejudiced...but now I see that it is not that simple. Darcy was proud of his lineage and wealth, and he was prejudiced against people who had less wealth and less sophistication than himself. Elizabeth was prejudiced against Darcy because of his initial bad impression, but she was too proud to allow for the possibility that she might be mistaken in her first impressions. 

She stubbornly liked Wickham, despite the fact that he said he wouldn't speak ill of Darcy, and yet gossiped about Darcy till the cows came home...despite the fact that he said he had no reason to avoid Darcy, and yet ran off when the ball came 'round...despite the fact that he was clearly a fortune hunter. Furthermore, Elizabeth stubbornly detested Darcy, even though she was warned by Jane and Miss Bingley that there might be more to the story than Wickham acknowledged....despite the fact that Darcy made clear efforts to be more polite to her as he got to know her better....despite the fact that he politely asked her not to "sketch his character" at the present moment because it would do neither of them any justice. 

I had never before thought of the flaws of Elizabeth's character. But, indeed, she had to have flaws so that she could develop throughout the book. One of her most amusing flaws was that she was judgmental and critical of everyone--and THAT is exactly the complaint she had of Mr. Darcy's character! It is quite common, I suppose, to detest your own flaws when you see them in other people. :)

I think this is an interesting time to insert the Jane Austen Character Quiz. I was a little annoyed at question 7 which asks which actress would play me in a movie, because if I said I'd be played by Gwenneth Paltrow, isn't that just ASKING to be Emma? So I decided to take the quiz several times, and see what answer I got for EACH of the actresses. It turns out that I would be Elizabeth Bennet for five of the seven actress choices, and I would be Elinor Dashwood if played by Emma Thompson, and Anne Elliot if played by Amanda Root. I took that to mean that I COULD be Elinor if I really wanted to be, but really I was Elizabeth.

I was a little put out at first. I really wanted to be Elinor. But, then again, I am really NONE of the Austen characters, am I? I did some thinking about this issue, though. And I considered: Elizabeth Bennet's most outstanding characteristics are that she's witty/sarcastic and fun-loving. I don't know if I'm particularly witty, but I am a bit sarcastic, and I think I'm fun-loving as well. Her characteristic that drives the plot of Pride and Prejudice, however, is that she tends to be critical of her fellow humans, makes strong and lasting immediate impressions, and stubbornly sticks to these first impressions despite contradictory evidence. I don't really want to be those things. But you know what? I don't think those are good characteristics, but, as I said above, we tend to detest our own flaws when we see them in other people. ;) I have been writing a lot of letters to my cousin Steve lately, and it made me realize that I spend an awful lot of time criticizing other people. Not that I feel I'm BETTER than those other people...but, still, I was surprised that I must seem (to Steve) to be rather judgmental. This was a side of my personality that I hadn't seen before, because I'd never had the chance to talk so freely as I do in those prolific letters. So...perhaps the quiz knows what it's talking about after all?

The Great Courses: Western Literary Canon 

Lecture 24: Pride and Prejudice, Women in the Canon


I'll just finish up with some comments on Lecture 24 in the Western Literary Canon course. Professor Bowers begins by pointing out that, unlike many other canonical works, Jane Austen's books are generally read for pure pleasure. I found similar opinions in the Norton Critical Edition. Apparently, one really shouldn't look for a "deeper meaning" in Austen's books--they're simply not that deep. They're meant to entertain, not to educate. I suppose I can understand this point of view, as Pride and Prejudice is certainly less deep than Candide, by Voltaire (for example). They are both social satires, but Austen is much lighter. :) Professor Bowers claims that the charm of Austen's books is that she portrayed humanity accurately and honestly. I think this is true in that her books portray human folly. However, I feel many of her characters satirize human folly to (humorous) extremes. 

Jane Austen was one of the first women authors who was accepted into the "Western literary canon." Mostly, the great critics-on-high chose books by deeply educated male authors. However, once Austen was accepted, critics opened to the idea of women canonical authors ,and efforts were made to retreat into history and rescue women authors who deserve canonical status like Sappho, Marie deFrance, and  Christine de Pizan. Professor Bowers didn't point this out, but another impact that I think Austen had is that she is the mother of "regency romance." Most regency romances today are thematically copied from Austen's style. Regency romances, ranging from Christian to erotica, abound in today's market. 

Bowers makes the interesting point that Mrs. Bennet is the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice by Aristotelian view--she is the one who schemes to get her daughters married, and she is the one whose dreams come true. Margaret Drabble, in her introduction to Pride and Prejudice [1], even suggests that Mrs. Bennet may be simply misunderstood by modern readers. Due to the circumstances and time, her life revolves around finding suitable husbands for her daughters to ensure that they don't end up poverty-stricken old maids. She is, perhaps, a bit over-zealous and foolish in her attempts at matchmaking...but her intentions are very maternal. This is an interpretation of Mrs. Bennet that I have never considered, and I found it refreshing. 

On this reading, I wasn't any less impressed by the silliness of Mrs. Bennet than I had previously been; but I was surprised at a new opinion of Mr. Bennet. I had always considered him to be a sensible man with a delightfully sarcastic edge. But he wasn't at all sensible. He SHOULD have laid aside money over the years instead of assuming he'd eventually have a son. When he realized he wasn't going to have a son, he should have made more efforts to keep Mrs. Bennet from overspending. Instead of laughing at the folly of his daughters and wife, he should have spoken some sense into them--at the very least into his daughters. By laughing at their folly, he allowed them to expose themselves both to ridicule and to the preying eyes of ungentlemanly men. He shouldn't have encouraged his daughters to laugh at his wife. He is just as much at fault for the ridiculousness of the family as his wife is.

[1] Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York:  Penguin Group 2008. ISBN: 1-101-08421-98

Texts that I have read for this lesson:

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (Norton Critical Edition) (required reading)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

2012 Book 147: Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

Reason for Reading: This seemed like a good book to read in October. I chose it because it's currently being considered for the World Fantasy Award.

My Review  
This is an anthology of vampire stories...but not just ANY vampires.Vampires are inundating the market these days, and they're beginning to get a tad predictable and boring. This new collection is meant to delight the reader by displaying the variety of thirsts that plague vampires (and humans). There are your classic blood-sucking varieties, but there are also soul-sucking vampires, and vampires from different folkloric traditions, and vampires that...well, ARE they vampires, or are they humans...or...are humans really vampires at heart?

Although I thought the theme of this anthology was creative, and I generally enjoyed the stories, I wasn't wowed. I'm not a huge short story reader because I really like plot and character development, and short stories simply don't have the space for such development--unless they really pack the info in. And in the case of THOSE stories, I tend to feel a little bogged down and need to read very slowly to pick up all the information. For me, these stories were either too insubstantial or too substantial. ;) Being unaccustomed to reading anthologies, I don't know if this issue was because I have difficulty with short stories, or if it was because the anthology was less than fantastic. Either way, I thought the anthology was interesting, but I'm glad to be moving on to other books. 

I was originally going to share a mini-review of each story. But these stories are so short, and the joy (for me) depended entirely on not knowing what sort of "vampire" I was reading about. There's just not much to say about the individual stories without giving spoilers. 

All You Can Do Is Breathe, by Kaaron Warren: When a mine collapses, a minor is trapped for several days. He keeps himself alive by remembering the good things in life. But he keeps a dark secret from the media-craze that descends upon him when he is rescued. A scary "long man" came to him while he was trapped...a man who didn't want to rescue him. 

Needles, by Elizabeth Bear: Two vampires descend upon the home of a tattoo artist. Do they want more than just a tattoo? 

Baskerville's Midgets, by Reggie Oliver. A boardinghouse landlady befriends a set of 7 midgets and pays a dire price.  ***This one was darkly funny. One of my three favorites.

Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow, by Richard Bowes: A woman in need of money seduces her rich ex-lover to come back to the dark-side.  

X for Demetrious, by Steve Duffy: This is a fictional story based on the true-life news story of a man who, in January 1973, was found dead on his mattress--having choked on a bulb of garlic. The room was filled with crucifixes, sprinkled with salt, and "protected" with salt-laced urine and garlic-laced excrement. ***This was one of my three favorite stories in the anthology. It was thoughtful and a bit frightening.

Keeping Corky, by Melanie Tem: A mentally disabled woman who believes that she has the power to "punish" people by sucking away bits of themselves becomes angry when she is not allowed to write a letter to her biological son Corky, who'd been adopted by a couple years ago. But does she really have the power to punish?

Shelf Life, by Lisa Tuttle: While rummaging through her parent's attic, a woman finds a dollhouse that she'd become obsessed with as a child. She takes it home and gives it to her daughter--with disastrous results. Some people just shouldn't have dollhouses. 

Caius, by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg: Caius is a radio talk-show host who has an almost magical power to resolve people's internal conflicts and make them feel satisfied. They flock to him. But what's really going on?

Sweet Sorrow, by Barbara Roden: When a little girl disappears in a quiet neighborhood, her friend Brian feels that his elderly neighbors are acting suspiciously. They seem to thrive on the grief around them.

First Breath, Nicole J. LeBoeuf: A mysterious narrator goes on a trip to "find herself." 

Toujours, Kathe Koje: After dedicating the later years of his life to help a young fashion designer become famous, Gianfranco jealously guards the young man from encroaching threats--like love interests.

Miri, by Steve Rasnic Tem: Ricky is a devoted husband and father, but something is lacking. He constantly seems drained and distracted. He spends a lot of time thinking about a woman from the past...

Mrs. Jones, by Carol Emshwiller: Two old-maid sisters entertain themselves through a long, dreary life by intentionally annoying one another. Then one day, a little demon shows up in their lives...and everything suddenly changes. 

Bread and Water, by Michael Cisco: The story of a vampire plague from the perspective of one of the original hospitalized patients. 

Mulberry Boys, by Margo Lanagan: Fifteen-year-old John helps hard-hearted Phillips track down and surgically care for a Mulberry Boy. As talks to Phillips for the first time in his life, he learns more about who the Mulberry Boys are and begins to wonder who's the REAL monster. ***This was my third favorite story...and it was definitely the most memorable for me. I'll probably look for more works by this author.

The Third Always Beside You, by John Langan: Weber and Gertrude suspect that there is another woman involved in their parent's marriage. When curiosity finally overcomes Gertrude and she asks a family friend, she finds out much more than she'd bargained for.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil

2012 Book 146: Narcopolis

Written by Jeet Thayil, Narrated by Dean Robertson

Reason for Reading: In preparation of the Booker Prize announcement on Tuesday

My Review
In this opiate-veiled book, Thayil introduces readers to the seedy underbelly of Bombay. It begins in the 1970's and transitions with surreality into modern-day Mumbai--which has lost not only its tradition and identity, but also it's name. The story follows several memorable characters, all of whom fight addiction in one form or another. Addictions range from opiates to violence to sex to adulation. The most memorable character IMO is Dimple, a pipe-wallah, a prostitute, and an addict. Dimple's character is rather horrifying to the unjaded Westerner because she was abandoned by her mother and sold into prostitution as a child. At the age of 9, she was castrated and her penis was removed, which apparently makes her into a deliciously seedy prostitute (in the eyes of creepy men who make me shudder). When we are introduced to her, she is a little older, and is suffering some of the ill affects of her surgery--including addiction to opium, which was originally given to her as a narcotic for her pain. We watch Dimple as she changes from a beautiful young woman to a sickly and shriveled middle-aged woman. 

Perhaps I'm reading too much in to the story (I think it would be clearer after a second reading, which it's not going to get), but I think Dimple was meant to represent India. When we met Dimple, she was young and beautiful, as was the young India. She had been docked and gelded, yes, but she was beautiful, intelligent, and had potential if ONLY she could get out of her rut. Perhaps this is meant to imply that the Westerners had "docked and gelded" India (by their colonization and then partitioning of the land), but that she still had potential. She was still beautiful. But time passed, and the slow-and-easy opium life in the "best opium den in Bombay...maybe even India," was forcibly supplanted by frightening hallucinatory "cheap" chemical-laced heroin. During this time, Dimple became increasingly sick. Likewise, India itself was getting sicker from the negative influences of modernization. As time passed, Dimple's name changed, as did Bombay's, and their identities were lost in the harsh new world.

This book was allegorically very deep, and I'm sure that a second, third, and fourth reading would teach me something new every time. But, unfortunately, once was enough for me. I don't regret reading the book...it will stay with me forever. But the violence, sex, drugs, and sickening human condition described was enough for me the first time around. Don't get me wrong, all of these negative issues were handled with graceful tact. But it was still difficult for me to read. 

Now, a note on the narration: I imagine this book was a very difficult one to read aloud. Robertson chose to represent surreal quality behind the veil with an airy tone of detachment. This detachment makes the narration less-than-enticing. However, this is not the narrator's fault, but an issue with the book itself. I think a tone of detachment was probably quite appropriate in this situation. Just be warned...if you're picky about narrations, then this book may be better read silently. :) On the other hand, if you're reasonably tolerant, like I am, then you should be able to delve into the story with no problems. Robertson's tone of detachment didn't distract from the story, once I got used to it and understood the purpose. I was happily able to engross myself in the flow. AND a nice? thing about the audiobook is that I apparently missed a 6-paged sentence. I didn't even notice it. ;)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dewey's October 2012 24-Hour Read-a-thon

So it's time for my first ever read-a-thon. In fact, it appears I'll be late, because I need to start reading in 18 minutes and I haven't even finished my morning blogging. :p I'm not as hardcore as some of the read-a-thoners out there...I am certain that I will eat, shower, and go to sleep tonight. However, I thought it would be fun to join anyway, since I will be spending much of today packing up my apartment while listening to an audiobook. That's close enough to reading, right? ;) I also want to get as far as possible in The Garden of the Evening Mists because it is one of the few Booker shortlisted novels that are available in the US, and the prize announcement is Tuesday!

Instead of creating a new post for every update, I will simply update THIS POST whenever I need a break. I'm not sure how regular those intervals will be. We'll see how intense I get. This is all new to me! ;)

Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil
Format: Audio (from Audible)
Reason for reading: Booker shortlisted
Start position:  6hr 33min of 8hr 54min
Current position: COMPLETE (6:12pm)

The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum
Format: audiobook (from library)
Reason for Reading: Halloween theme read at LibraryThing
Start PositionPart 2 of 11 (9hrs 27min total)
Current Position: Part 9 of 11 (9hrs and 27min total)

Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow
Format: Hardback (from library)
Reason for Reading: Being considered for the World Fantasy Award 2012
Start Position: pg 195 of 317
Current Position: pg 282 of 317

7:56am (New York time--though, actually, I'm in Ohio). That means I have 4 minutes to prepare to read. :D

8:13am Update: I've been catching up on blogs this morning, which I hope counts as reading. It seems like it should. Here's the introductory questionnaire from the Read-a-thon blog

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Ohio, USA

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I would really like to finish The Garden of the Evening Mists, but we'll see if I have time...I will do a lot of audiobook listening. 

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I don't really snack except on pickles and popcorn. So I guess that's what I'm looking forward to. ;)

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a biomedical scientist and I do a LOT of reading. I'm currently in the process of moving from OH to MN, so I'll be packing up my apartment while listening to audiobooks for a good deal of the day.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
This is my first read-a-thon, and I'm most looking forward to finding out how much I can ACTUALLY read in 24 hours if I put my mind to it. I'm skeptical, yet optimistic. :D

9:02am Update: I spent the first hour catching up on blog reading. I did my first Feature and Follow Friday yesterday and I had to check out all the other bloggers. I don't know how they do that every week? I suppose they get lazy at it after a while? PHEW! Ok, I'm now moving on to Narcopolis for a while. 

10:45am Update: I've finished packing up my books and 7hrs 43min in Narcopolis (1 hour and 10 minutes completed so far today). I'm hungry, so I'm going to walk to the Subway to get a sandwich. :) Unfortunately, the ipod that I have Narcopolis on is now very low on charge so I'll have to charge it up while listening to The Poisoner's Handbook

2:31pm Update: Ok, I wasn't actually at lunch that entire time. I came back and have continued listening to The Poisoner's Handbook while I did some monotonous work at my desk. But now my ears are buzzing and I'm going to take a "real" reading break. :D Currently, I'm on part 5 of 11 in The Poisoner's Handbook. That means I finished approximately 3 hours of audiobook in 4 hours. Hmmm. Very wasteful.

3:30pm Update: During the past hour, I read 16 pages of Blood and Other Cravings. Wow. 16 pages an hour. That's sad. The short story I read was called "Mrs. Jones." It was about a couple of old maid sisters who hated each other. And then a little bat-like man with a huge erection enters the picture. Wow. Sounds pretty bad when I put it that way. :D  

4:53pm Update: I've finished another two "parts" of The Poisoner's Handbook, having now moved up to part 7 of 11. While listening to that, I started sifting through my clothes with thoughts of what to keep and what to give to Goodwill before I pack it all up. Ah! Memories! Now my ipod with The Poisoner's Handbook needs to be charged, but my ipod with Narcopolis is ready to go. So I'm making the switch again! 

So far, I've listened to 5 hours of audiobook and read 16 pages. So what am I doing during all the rest of that time? To be honest, I don't know. It probably has something to do with the internet, though. 

6:12pm Update: I have now completed Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil. The review will appear on my blog sometime next week. Hopefully before Tuesday (because that's when the Booker Prize is announced).

7:35pm Update: Fantastic news! I just read another 16 pages of Blood and Other Cravings! I'm really zipping along now!

9:07pm Update: I took a bit of a break for a while. And then I read another short story in Blood and Other Cravings. I'm now on page 248 (so I've moved another 20 pages). 

10:31pm Update: After a bit more sorting/packing (and playing with my cats) while listening to audiobook, I am now at part 9 of 11 in The Poisoner's Handbook. I'm going to do some "real" reading for a while, but I'm not sure how long I'll be able to keep my eyes focused.

11:17pm Update: Ok. I know this is really wimpy because it's only 11:17pm, but I'm tired and I'm going to have to go to bed if I want to have a productive day tomorrow. Perhaps if I'm lucky I'll get up in time to get another couple hours of reading one before the read-a-thon is over. (Might or might not happen. ;) )

6:39am Update: Well, I'm awake again and I'll try to get a few more pages read before the read-a-thon is over. :)

7:43am Update: Well, I guess this will be my final post, given that I don't think I'll get anything significant read in the next 17 minutes. This was a good first read-a-thon for me...it was fun knowing I was reading with people all around the world. I hadn't really planned on participating in the read-a-thon, and didn't plan ahead. Perhaps I'll be more organized next time around. ;) For instance, I'll plan on having both ipods and my Nook charged (I didn't get to read ANY of The Garden of the Evening Mists because my Nook was dead haha!). And, hopefully, the next time around I'll also have more time to just sit and read instead of doing housework the entire day. I might also try adding in some graphic novels next time. I'm not highly experienced with graphic novels, but a read-a-thon seems like an ideal time to try them out (as well as some exciting suspense novels). Non-fiction and literary novels aren't really meant for this type of intense reading, I think. :) 

Despite these issues, I finished around 8 hours of audiobook (thus finishing Narcopolis and getting a good way into The Poisoner's Handbook) and read 87 pages Blood and Other Cravings. That's good enough for a disorganized and distracted start at read-a-thoning. :D

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Devil's Pass, by Sigmund Brouwer

2012 Book 145: Devil's Pass, by Sigmund Brouwer

Reason for reading: This book was provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The thoughts expressed in this review are mine, and I receive no benefit from giving a good review.

My Review:

When 17-year-old Webb's grandfather dies, he leaves a list of seven mysterious tasks to be completed by his seven grandsons. Webb's task is to hike out into the Northwest Territories on a mission to find a buried secret. While on this trip, Webb struggles with his own identity, and the changes he's seen in himself ever since his widowed mother remarried an abusive husband. On this trip, Webb learns a lot about his well-loved grandfather...and a lot about himself. This is part of a series of seven books, about the seven grandsons--each with a task from his deceased grandfather. In order to give each grandson an entirely unique personality, the series was written by seven different authors. This is the only book in the series that I have read. Technically, it's the fifth book in the series, but since the story of each grandson is completely independent of the other books, they can be read in any order. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. Not that I expected bad things from it, but I didn't expect to be caught up in the action. Brouwer has worked in some interesting action scenes right at the beginning of the story, and by the time the action has slowed to a pace more suited for plot and character development, I was already quite interested in the book. I read it in only a couple of sittings. This would be an excellent book for boys in the 5th or 6th grade age range, even though the main character is 17. 

Character Thursday:

Fanda at Fanda Classiclit has organized a weekly blog event in which we can provide a detailed character analysis of a book that we've been reading. I thought I'd try my first character analysis out on Webb. I thought he'd be an interesting character to start with because his identity is developing throughout the story. The following information will contain more details than I usually provide in my review, but I'll try not to include any plot-vital spoilers. 

When Webb was 5th grade-ish, his widowed mother remarried a man who was abusive to Webb, but apparently not to Webb's mother. So Webb was manipulated and threatened into keeping the abuse a secret. Eventually, at maybe 16 or 17, he ended up living on the streets. This is where he was when his grandfather died and the adventure begins.

Because of the abuse in Webb's past, he adopted a protective role for other victims of abuse. At the beginning of the story, he saw a young woman being beaten by her boyfriend, and in order to defend her, he ended up in a fight with this very dangerous man. 

At first blink, you'd see Webb's behavior as "good." He was using his own experience to help a woman in trouble. But soon you find out that as Webb gets angrier and angrier, he loses his logic...he wants to seriously hurt this man. A rational part of his brain says that seriously hurting people in self defense isn't necessary, but that rational part of his brain isn't working once his rage has fired up. So Webb is a protector of the weak, but he's also teetering on the brink of violent, hateful jerk himself. The identity crisis that Webb struggles with throughout the book is where to draw the line between protector and wrathful avenger? 

Webb didn't think that his grandfather knew about Webb's troubles. But his grandfather is more astute than Webb expected. Webb was left with two Nietzsche quotes to ponder during his hiking trip in the Northwest Territories. The first was: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. The second was: He who fights with monsters must take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Webb had already experienced and accepted the meaning of the first quote. But he was puzzled by the second quote. It made him question what he was becoming...whether he needed to become that...and what the alternatives were. 

Webb's identity crisis was, granted, quite straightforward and clearly-laid-out for the readers. That's because this book was written for 5th graders, who aren't as attuned to subtlety as they will be as adults. I think Webb's identity crisis allows someone of the appropriate reading age to learn something new about how the world affects their personalities...and how their personalities can affect the world. Thus, Web was a fascinating character, and I'm happy I met him. :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis

2012 Book 144: Surprised by Joy

Written by C. S. Lewis, Narrated by Geoffrey Howard

Reason for Reading: I'm slowly working through the books of C. S. Lewis out of curiosity for his theology. 

In this short memoir, C. S. Lewis describes his spiritual journey from youthful atheist to firm and faithful believer. This isn't really a memoir of Lewis' life, although it does contain some interesting anecdotes about his school years. Mostly, he only focuses on incidents in his life that impacted his spiritual development. I have read many spiritual development memoirs, and this one is like the others...only it stands out because it is a classic. It was written when these types of journeys were not as commonly shared in memoirs. (In fact, I suspect that this book was one of the ones that inspired so many of the spiritual-journey memoirs that we see today.) One thing I found interesting about this book is it explained to me why so many people retro-diagnose Lewis with Asperger's syndrome. He talked about his difficulties dealing with other students...not knowing how to respond in social situations and being told to "take that look off [his] face" when he was trying very hard to keep an appropriate facial expression. I think it is important to recognize that we can't accurately retro-diagnose people with today's syndromes, but it IS interesting to see how such personality traits were present in Lewis' day, and how he excused them with stories about how childhood events affected his social interactions. It was definitely an interesting read...and anyone who likes to hear about others' spiritual journeys really should start with C. S. Lewis.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Little Green God of Agony, by Stephen King

"The Little Green God of Agony," by Stephen King 

(Found in A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones)

In the introduction to his new anthology, Stephen Jones expresses dismay at the overpowering onslaught of horror-lite which has obliterated the good old-fashioned horror story from the market. The purpose of this anthology is to take back the market with some bad-@$$ creepy stories. He opens his anthology with "The Little Green God of Agony," a story by the well-known master of horror, Stephen King.

Newsome, the sixth richest man in the world, is a man in agony. A plane crash has left him scarred all over his body, and unable to get out of bed due to neuropathic pain. After exploring all the traditional medical procedures for freeing himself of this burden, he cashes in for the non-traditional treatment--a reverend who claims that Newsome is possessed by a god of agony, and that he (the reverend) has the power to expel the demon. Is the reverend a charlatan? Or is Newsome really possessed by a demonic agony?

This is the first Stephen King story I've read in quite a long time. I've always felt that he has an incredibly creative mind, and an amazing power to delve the reader into the darkness of his stories. On the other hand, the almost-book-snob in me cringes at his metaphors sometimes. (eg. "she...laced her hands together on the hanging hot-water bottles of muscle beneath his right thigh." I'm sorry. That just really falls flat for me.) Once I'd managed to rid myself of the sharpened pencil stabs of distaste for SK's continued use of unsatisfactory metaphors, however, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. His dark imagination was the perfect taster for the savory horrors to come in this anthology. ;)

Classics Club: October Meme

It's time for my post for the Classics Club October Meme! This meme is a way for all of us classics clubbers to interact with each other and remind ourselves that we can't always be introverts. ;) The question of the month is: Why are you reading the classics?

I have always loved reading the classics. First of all, if they've survived this long, that's generally because they're so powerful that they resonate throughout the ages. I appreciate a good book! Second, I enjoy learning about history. Reading books that were written in a certain historical period is a fantastic way to help me learn about that time period. Third, I enjoy picking up on allusions to classics in popular culture (and other books). It is fascinating how certain ideas stay with us forever...how some of them morph with time and become new ideas. I enjoy following this process because it helps me understand what is important to us psychologically. 

Update: So far, I have read and reviewed 3 of 50 on my classics club list.

For those of you who are not members of the classics club (and therefore don't have your own blog post on the topic) please feel free to answer this month's question in my comments! :)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

2012 Book 143: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

Reason for Reading: This is my fourth and final book for Book Journey's blog tour for Banned Books Week. This year, I read only YA books that I happened to have lying around in my TBR pile...it was fun! :)

My Review

In this Newbery Medal-winner, fourth grader Cassie Logan learns that African Americans are treated as second class citizens in Depression-era Mississippi. She and her family rebel the nasty Wallace brothers by arranging a boycott of their store. Wallace-brothers-and-friends respond with horrifying violence. This was an amazing book. The narrative was engaging, the characters were lovable, and suspense was high--I sincerely worried about what the ugly white-folk were going to do. While reading, I was struck by how similar in theme this book was to all the unoriginal dystopias that are being cranked out by the YA market these days. It was about a young girl realizing that her society was not as wonderful as she had grown up thinking...it was about fighting for your rights against a seemingly hopeless situation. But, wait! This book was actually meaningful because it was describing a REAL situation! Something tragic that people actually suffered! That makes Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry a much more powerful book than any of those dystopias can ever hope to be. I think an intelligent fourth grader who loves dystopias couldn't help but love this book as well. 

(Oh, wait, sorry, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry IS missing the cheesy cliche love triangle that YA dystopias all seem to have these days. Sorry girls!)

This book was banned because of racism, violence, and language (including the use of the infamous n-word). There is no doubt at all--This book HAD racism, violence, and the n-word. However, the purpose of the book was to show young readers the horrors of racism--so that they could learn a bit of history AND learn to be better people themselves. This book is not going to make children into racists. The bad influence of parents, role models, and friends lead to racism. This book, with the right discussion, will be a good influence on our children. Yes, the book has scary scenes in it, but nothing most fourth graders couldn't handle. We can't protect our children from the real world indefinitely, and as far as I'm concerned it's better for them to know what it's like than to enter it in compete innocence and immediately have their fresh young spirits crushed. My philosophy--breed them tough, because sheltering only hurts them later!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 142: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: This is my third book for Book Journey's blog tour for Banned Books Week, and this time I decided to try something familiar. Since Lostgenerationreader is having a Harry Potter readalong, I decided to join in and read the first HP book for Banned Books week. :) This is probably my third time reading this particular book, but it will be my first time reading the series "in one go."

My Review:
Harry Potter has been living with his neglectful and emotionally abusive parents ever since his parents died when he was a baby. But on his 11th birthday, everything changes. He finds out that his parents were a witch and a wizard and that he, himself, has been accepted to Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardry. He is thrilled to feel comfortable and welcome for the first time in his life, but he soon discovers that not all the teachers at Hogwarts are looking after his best interest. Can Harry and his adventurous friends save the Sorcerer's Stone from being stolen and used for nefarious purposes?

Of course, you all know the answer to that question. If you don't, then you probably aren't interested in the answer and I'm surprised you've gotten this far into my review. Any comments I make about my appreciation for this book will fade in the wake of the raving of others. Therefore, I'll only comment on the Jim Dale narration (which was the narration released in the US, but which is apparently no longer for purchase--I'm not sure if they intend on putting out a different narration? Releasing the Stephen Fry narration in the US would be a kind, generous, and profitable move!) Jim Dale did a pretty good job on the narration--If I didn't already have a very set impression of what all the characters should sound like, then I'd have been much more happy with this rendition. Unfortunately for Dale, however, most anybody who would listen to this audiobook today already has a very set impression of how a centaur should sound and how to pronounce "Voldemort." This isn't Dale's fault, but I suspect his reading has been taken off the market because of these issues. However, I was quite able to ignore this rather amusing issue and enjoy the audiobook. :) I will continue with the rest of the Dale narrations.

My comments on book banning

Harry Potter is #1 Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009 AND #48 on 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999.  As several people commented, Harry Potter was banned for similar reasons as The Headless Cupid, which was my first Banned Books Week review. Parents are concerned that their (apparently not-very-bright and way-too-malleable) children will be driven to the darkside of the occult and Satan worship by this book. I'm afraid I have to disagree and say "that is hogwash." Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had a very clear good vs. evil message. Loyalty, bravery, and camaraderie are emphasized as important traits in the characters of Harry Potter. Love stands out as pretty much THE most powerful force of good available to humanity. That seems to be a pretty healthy message, even to a fundamentalist Christian. On the other hand, "doing ANYTHING to succeed in life" is portrayed as an undesirable characteristic. Killing or taking advantage of the innocent is touted as the most sinful act possible. People whose views of good and evil have faded away to "there's-only-the-weak-and-the-powerful" are portrayed as demented. Again, the views of "evil" that are communicated in this book are in fitting with Christian views. This is NOT a morally ambiguous book! So why are the fundamentalists so worried? Just because their kids might use their imaginations a little bit?