Thursday, August 31, 2006

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.)

Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings has issued a devilishly fun Autumn Challenge. All you have to do is go to Carl's blog, enter the contest and choose 5 "scary, eeire, moody, dripping with atmoshpere, gothic, unsettly," books and vow to read them between Sep 1 and Oct 31. And if the thought of reading hair-raising books is not enough to get your blood moving, Carl is also offering a prize: The Essential Dracula by Bram Stoker and edited by Leonard Wolf.

To get ALL the details visti Carl's blog. Hope you can join in. I'm excited and looking forward to reading some scary new books.

Here's my list for the challenge:
1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
2. Prodigal Son Book One in Dean Koont's Frankenstein sereis
3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
4. The Golem by Gustav Mayrink
5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nectar in a Sieve

by Kamala Markandava (read August 2006) Rating 3.5/5
My mother and my nephew both recommended this novel about a peasant woman from a small village in India and her life of constant struggles. Even though it's a moving story and Rukmani's like was substantial, I didn't feel like the telling of her story was substantial. One instance is the relationship between Rukmani and the village doctor who came and went for whatever reasons. There was something about that relationship that Rukmani kept secret from her husband, and the author keeps it a secret from the reader. Did Rukman have forbidden feelings of attraction to him or was he the father of her sons? Who knows?

The characters were not fully fleshed out either. The people we were suppose to care about lacked substance. With the exception of Rukmani's husband, the rest of her family were barely names on a page. The whole book centers on Rukmani's struggles with her hard life, but from the time she is 12-yrs-old until she is an old woman, we know little of the characters in that life.

Maybe I was expecting more and because of that missed the good that was there. This is a book that could have been excellent, but it left me lacking and unsatisfied.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Talk, Talk

by T.C. Boyle (read August 2006) Rating: 3/5.
Yak, yak. Don't waste your time. Read, read something else. Sometimes I think I read a book at the wrong time. I've been moving my classroom, trying to prepare lesson plans, and have been suffering from a lot of fibromyalgia pain this week so maybe all that influenced my take on this book. At one point in my reading I looked down at the page number - 203. I thought, "Why am I still reading this?!" But I finished it out.

There have been some good reviews on this book, but I thought it dragged. That could be because I was reading while experiencing a lot of pain, so I expect anything would have dragged. That's all I have to say about this book.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Book Covers

I have been thinking about this for several months and decided to share my feelings about one current trend in book covers. Seems to be fashionable to display women with most of their heads cut off. I thought it suggested intrigue when I first saw it on Phillappa Gregory's The Queen's Fool and it was okay for the two other's in the group, The Virgin's Lover and The Other Boleyn Girl. I don't know exactly when the first cover like this came out, but I became aware of them first with the three books by Gregory. Now whenever I look over my list of recommended books on I'm surprised by how many other books have similar covers. Or when in a book store, they are all over the place. A little originiality, please!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Maisie Dobbs

by Jacqueline Winspear (read August 2006) Rating: 5/5
I had seen this book reviewed on several different reading blogs. All comments were complimentary and since I love a good mystery I decided to give it a try. I was of the mindset that it was written ages ago and was a bit frothy, but not so. This novel was published in 2003, even though the cover makes it look like it came out in the 1930's.

Maisie sets up business as a private investigator in 1929. She starts out with a simple mystery to solve - tracking a wife's wereabouts while her husband is at work. But questions remain. Winespear deftly weaves together the present day mystery with the questions the reader has about Maisie's life prior to 1929. The characters were full-bodied and real - people you want to meet again. Luckily there are sequels and I can't wait to read them.

From the time she was a young girl, Maisie was tutored, first in school and later in private investigating, by Maurice Blanche. All the quotes I marked are advice from Maurice.

"Truths walk toward us on the paths of our questions. As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfrotable the unknowing."

"Stay with the question. The more it troubles you, the more it has to teach you.

"Dawn is an almost mystical hour. A time when the light is most likely to deceive the eye, a time between sleep and waking. A time when a man is likely to be at his weakest. Dawn is a time when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth. It is said, it is darkest just before dawn."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Enna Burning

by Shannon Hale (read August 2006)
This author can write a good story! This month I've been fortunate enough to read all three of her novels. They are great not just for young adults, but all of us who are older. Enna Burning is the sequel to Goose Girl. Let me just tell you what my daughter says about these novels, "They have everything: romance, mystery, drama and fantasy." This novel focuses on Enna and they tough choices she has to make concerning friendship, loyalty, love, country and self.
This book rates a 5 out of 5.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gentlemen and Players

by Joanne Harris (read August 2006)
I read this novel because of a review on JenClair's blog, A Garden Carried in the Pocket. I read Harris' Five Quarters of the Orange and really did not like it. As much as I disliked that book I liked Gentlement and Players. The story takes place in England at St. Oswald, an exclusive school for boys. Five new teachers are hired for fall term, one of them has a vengeance to inflict on the school. Like watching dominoes fall, the descent of St. Oswald's from an orderly academy with a stellar reputation to a house of dark, hidden secrets starts building momemtum according to the offender's carefully devised scheme.

The chapters were narrated alternately by the 2 main characters: Roy Straitley, the eccentric 65-yr-old Classics teacher and the perpetrator, one of the 5 newly hired teachers. Cleverly, Harris identified who was telling the story with the picture of a chess piece at the beginning of each chapter - a white king piece to indicate Straitley and a black pawn to signify the 'bad guy'.

I rate this book 5 out of 5. Really enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Princess Academy

by Shannon Hale (read August 2006)
Another fabulous YA novel by the author who wrote Goose Girl. My teenage daughter read Goose Girl and encouraged me to. While I read that, she started on the sequel, Enna Burning. I tried to catch up so I could read that with her, but she finished it too fast. Then she started on Princess Academy. I abandoned Enna Burning and Gentlemen & Players which I was well into so I could read Princess Academy with K. We bought a copy and checked a second out from the library. It was fun reading it together.

The prince is going to choose a wife in a year and the priests have determined that the princess will come from the mountain. The mountain girls are not fit to be princesses so they have to go away from their families to the academy to learn.

Hale's books have obstacles that young girls have to learn to overcome. Usually the girls are dubious about their abilities, but they make the effort to conquer after careful consideration, education and positive action. I rate this book 4.75 out of 5.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mutant Message Down Under

by Marlo Morgan (read August 2006)
This book was recommended by Cassie at Scads of Books. I don't think I would have read it otherwise. The title, the cover, the synopsis were not beckoning to me in any way. But Cassie's review hooked me. This a long review, but I want all this in a 'commonplace', so it all stays.

I started listening to this book on tape. Glad I did because it allowed me to hear Morgan's unusual voice. I laughed so hard at her retelling of real-life events that are unbelievably absurd. And then I became concerned for her. What would I have done in the same situation? Before the first tape ended, however, I went to the library and checked out the book. I had to make note of some of the quotes. And since I had Morgan's voice in my head I could still hear her telling the story as I read.

Morgan finds herself living with a group of Aborigines who refer to themselves as the Real People and to others of the human race as Mutants because they have changed, or mutated, from what is real. One evening Morgan is teaching them about gravy. "Someone commented how symbolic gravy was to the Mutant value system. Instead of living the truth, Mutants allow circumstances and conditions to bury universal law under a mixture of convenience, materialism, and insecurtiy."

Real People don't celebrate birthdays. "To us celebration means something special. There isn't anything special about getting older. It takes no effort. It just happen! We celebrate if we are a better, wiser person this year than last. Only you would know, so it is you who tells the others when it is time to have the party."

When they learned about icing they thought it "symbolized how much of a Mutant's life span is spent in artificial, superficial, temporary, decorative, sweetened pursuits. So very few moments spen dicovering who we are, and our eternal beingness."

I enjoyed the night the Game Woman tore a leaf into pieces and gave each person a piece. The group had to fit the pieces back together like a puzzle. "It only appears the pieces of leaf are separate, as people appear separate, but we are all one. To be one does not mean we are all the same. Each being is unique. No two occupy the same space. People can try to maneuver, but in the end each will return to the right place. Some of us seek a straight path, while others enjoy the weariness of making circles."

"It's okay to try out negative emotions and see how they feel, but it cetainly isn't a place one would wisely want to stay. When the soul is in human form you get to play--to see how it feels to be happy or sad, jealous or grateful, and so on. But you are supposed to learn from the experience and ultimately figure out which feels painful and which feels great."

"The only way to pass any test is to take the test. All tests on every level are always repeated one way or another until you pass."

"A gift is only a gift if you give someone what the person wants. It is not a gift if you give them what you want them to have."

This is a wonderful book that is quick to read. I suggest you start with the audio before moving over to the book. Mutant messages will be working their way in my life for a long time to come, I hope.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Bronte Family

by Karen Smith Kenyon (read August 2006)
This is a very short book written for YAs, but it was still interesting. What an unbelievably sad life the Brontes had. I have questions about Branwell that I will need to do some internet searching to find answers, at least I hope I find the answers. Our library has a whole selection of these litte books that are called Lerner Biographies. I give this book a rating of 4.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Thyme of Death

by Susan Albert (read August 2006)
This is the first in a cozy mystery series featuring China Bayles, an ex-lawyer turned small town herbalist. I enjoyed this book and will, no doubt, read more in the series. I don't usually figure out who the killer is, but this one I had it pegged with a third of the book left. There were still interesting twists and turns that made it pleasurable reading.

About rating systems: They need to be qualified. I giving this book a 4 out of 5 rating, but that's a 4 in cozy mystery terms which is not necessarily the same thing as a 4 in good literature terms. That's to say that this book is better than a lot of mysteries and it's provided a 4's worth of reading enjoyment, but I would not put it on the same level as Animal Farm which I would also rate as a 4.
Does that make any sense? I guess I'm trying to say when it comes to books comparisons seem to be between apples and oranges, not apples and apples.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Opposite of Fate

by Amy Tan (read Aug 2006)
Mom, Myke and I listened to some of this book on CD while driving to Fielding for Bradley's funeral. I listened to the rest of it while driving errands or at home working on projects. It was fun to listen to the author read her own work. This is an autobiographical work. Included are background information about several of her novels; a strained, but mended, relationship with her mother; the conflict in her home between faith and fate; her rise to fame; and many more varied and interesting aspects of her life. I have never read any of Tan's novels, always planned on it, but now I will definitely will. Mostly I want to read and watch the movie, The Joy Luck Club.
I rateThe Opposite of Fate a 5 out of 5. For an excellent review see Framed and Booked.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Goose Girl

Shannon Hale (read July 2006)
I read this young adult novel at the recommendation of my daughter, Katie. It is a retelling of the Grimms' fairytale, one which I knew nothing about. The New York Times Book Review included this sentiment: "In layer upon layer of detail a beautiful coming-of-age story emerges, a tale about learning to rescue yourself rather than falling accidentally into happily-ever-after."

To quote Katie, "It has a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery, shock, terror, sadness, hapiness, romance, and treason." We are both anxiously awaiting the arrival of the sequel, Enna Burning, which we ordered from and should be here any day. (Katie's at camp this week, so I will patiently (*grimace*) wait for her to read it first. We enjoyed Shannon Hale's writing so much we felt safe in ordering Princess Academy as well.

Ani, the main character, had very little self-confidence as a child. One day her father praised her and "she felt her chin tremble a little and covered it with a hand. His assurance that she was wonderful was a stab in the soreness of her insecurity."

As she was contemplating her journey to a far off kingdom for an arranged marriage "she told herself, 'no more crying.' It was not difficult. Her eyes were dry and sore. She concentrated on forming the images and sensations of her Kildenrean life into a body, and in her mind buring that body, peacefully, next to her father's tomb in the soft summer earth."

I won't give any lead-up to this next quote, because it would reveal too much of the story. "She had leaned against the idea of her mother's perfection all her childhood, as though it were the cane to her lameness. But that crutch had not served her." Ani starts to think of some of the things she has accomplished and says to herself, "I've done that much. What more can I do?"

One final quote: "Sometimes it'd be nice just to hold something real in your hands that felt like a measure of your worth."

I rate Goose Girl a resounding 5 out of 5.