Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shame! Two books left unfinished...


I want to make clear up front that I am not posting these here because I want to lambast the books or even want to indicate they are bad books; they were just not for me.  I have thoughts about both however that I wanted to put down on paper so to speak.  I feel like a lot of the last year of reading, and this blog in fact, have been about figuring out what exactly my reading tastes are…what makes me like or dislike a particular book.  Why it is important for me to figure this out, I’m not really sure but I have done a lot of speculating on this topic.  This post is more and the same. 

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Format: Audio (cds from library)
Narrated By: George Guidall
Original Publication Year: 2003
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Series:  Dark Tower Series #1
Awards: None

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)A couple of years ago I made a list of authors that are prominently known and whose work I would probably like, but for whatever I reason I have never read.  Stephen King was on this list (along with Cormac McCarthy, Iris Murdoch, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a couple of others I can’t recall at the moment).  So I did some research and came away with the impression that The Stand was Stephen King’s most generally well thought of novel.  So I dived right in last November. 

If you’ve been stalking and paying avid interest to my goodreads account, as I’m sure you do, you will know that The Stand has been on my Currently Reading list since last November and has never made it over to ‘Read’.  I have been on page 904 (out of 1320) for the last 4 months.  Somewhere around the 50% mark I just lost steam with the book and have no real drive to pick it up.  Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gotten to page 904 for pity’s sake so I WILL be finishing it which is why it languishes on the ‘Currently Reading’ stack instead of the ‘did not finish’ or ‘read stack’.

So why does the heading up top say The Gunslinger?  Well because in desperation I thought I’d try something different.  The Gunslinger seemed unique for King as it is the first in a series and my impression that they were more towards the fantasy side of things rather than horror. I even added it to my 100 books project. Well I was listening on cd and I gave it about 1 and ¾ cds before calling it quits and I realized that there was at least one shared element with The Stand which may have been at the root of my disengagement.

I really loved the first third to half of The Stand ; where the human race is falling a part and each of the unique and separate characters is drawing together.Ironically, this is a part of the book that I think was heavily edited and cut in the original printing (I have a more recently produced "directors cut").   By the time everybody is gathered together and arrayed on the sides of good or evil, I became bored silly.  I KNOW.  And I think it’s because everyone morphed from a unique interesting personality into an archetype.  They suddenly became completely uninteresting to me.  And that was the same problem I ran into with The Gunslinger.  The characters were more symbolic than real.  Granted I didn’t give it too much of a chance but I was not engaged. 

So I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that Stephen King is not for me.  Certainly two books does not a body of work make and I have loved many of the dramatizations of his worked (Salem’s Lot scared the bejesus out of me as a kid and Stand By Me is one of my favorite movies of all time).  I was also blown away by how good a writer King is – I sort of assumed because he was a bestseller and so prolific that he would be a good storyteller but so-so writer.  Well, you know what they say about assuming! 

So maybe I just haven’t hit on the right Stephen King book?  Both of these were very similar thematically as well – apocalypse, human race at its most debased.  Anybody have any good suggestions?

 Born of Shadows by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Format: Audio (cds from library)
Narrator: Holter Graham
Original Publication Year: 2011
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: The League Gen 1 #3
Awards: Nope
Thinking about my reaction to the first part of this book, I realize that I kind of lied above about the not lambasting.  I was really pretty horrified with the start of the book.  It starts with a Dad and his 8 year old son in a hot (i.e. threatening) situation and Dad makes young son promise that he will always look out for his (older) sisters because he’s the boy and they wouldn’t make it without him. The implication is that even though he is only 8 he will be much more competent at running the family because he's a boy and his sisters are stupid silly females. It then fast forwards ten years and our hero Caillen is saving the hide of one of his stupid worthless sisters while thinking that instead of helping her he’d like to “beat her bloody”.  Ummm.. Seriously?  Is Sherrilyn Kenyon a misogynistic dude in disguise?

I was assuming that this horrific set up was going to lead to some kind of a renaissance where Caillen learns that women are not helpless, worthless punching bags good only for scratching that itch.  I decided to hang in.  But then the book descended into descriptions of how life-changingly hot Caillen is, how no woman has ever turned him down, his good friend Darling can’t stop hitting on him and Caillen is also the best fighter ever and real real smart.  But he’s not perfect, oh no… he had a “tragic childhood” it’s made him…horrors…improper and afraid of too much clothing.  AND OH MY GOD how about just giving him this thing called a “personality”?  Would that hurt too much?  The entrance of the heroine is in comparison minor and her name is Desideria (what?) which made me grimace every time it was said (I was listening). So I basically gave up before figuring out if Sherrilyn Kenyon was going to make up for the early woman hating blather.

This book has a 4.33 rating on Goodreads. 

So this is apparently not my kind of book – it definitely works for other folks but not me.  The uber Alpha male thing… just …ugh.  I cannot take it anymore.  Anybody have some recommendations of romances with a more beta hero?  Or at least on the mild side of Alpha?  If so I would definitely like to hear about it.  Romance more than any other genre is hit or way, way miss with me.  I feel like I need some guidance before I wander into that minefield again….

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Halloween Reads



Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly Meme dreamed up by the blog collective The Broke and The Bookish.  The primary charge is top ten scariest book covers but I don't really take much note of covers beyond a "That's cool! I will now never think of you again."  So I decided to go with the second choice - best books for Halloween. Which is likely going to be lame and a little odd.  I don't really read scary books though I like scary movies.  But here goes...

1) Dracula by Bram Stoker

For a little Gothic Victoriana. Good stuff for people who like Dickens and Vampires.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle2) We Have Always Lived in The Castle by Shirley Jackson

Unsettling in an awesome sort of way. Short book and quick read. I have not read any other books by Shirley Jackson but I surely will be in the future.  It might also work for scariest cover.

3) Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Nonfiction. Not scary at all but perhaps disturbing if you don't really want to contemplate what will happen to your body after death.  Mary Roach is a fantastic writer and this has been the most interesting of her books for me.

4) The Poisoners Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

Nonfiction.  Fascinating book about how easy it was to die by accident and on purpose back in the 1920's.  If you like CSI type material you should enjoy this as well.

5) The Killer of Little Shepherds: A true crime story and the birth of forensic science by Douglas Starr

Nonfiction. The account of a truly disturbing serial killer running around in late nineteenth century France and how some novel investigation techniques finally caught him.  Again with the CSI lovers.

6)Speaks the Nightbird (Matthew Corbett #1) by Robert McCammon

This is ostensibly a mystery set in colonial America but it has a brooding and uncanny sensibility to it probably due to the fact the author has written several horror novels.  I really like this series.

7) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

This is one of Agatha Christie's darker offerings and is really a little disturbing!

8) Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

One of the more original narrators I've read and Lindsay does a great job creating a morally complex serial killer.

9) Sunshine by Robin McKinley

This book divides folks but I'm a pretty big fan.  Has its otherworldy vampire moments and would be an awesome book to read this time of year.

10) Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

 Because Mrs. Danvers is scary.  Big time.  And the whole book has the overhanging sense of menace.

That wraps it up.  I higher proportion of non-fiction than usual.  Could this mean that I find reality the most scary thing of all?   What do you find most scary in the world?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories (Jackson Brodie, #1)Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: E-book on my Kindle
Narrated By: NA
Original Publication Year: 2005
Genre(s): Mystery
Series: Jackson Brodie #1
Awards: None

I’ve been meaning to read Kate Atkinson for a while now. She’s one of those intriguing authors who are not tied to a particular genre, writing both literary novels and a series of mysteries. I’m a mystery lover so decided to pick up the first in her mystery series expecting a well-written but basically mundane straightforward mystery. It’s been dramatized on the BBC after all. What I got was indeed well written but also was a mystery unique in its approach and structure.

Jackson Brodie is the detective and I pretty much immediately fell in love with him. He’s a former police inspector who now runs his own private investigation business and in many ways he is the stereotypical modern literary detective – his personal life is a mess and he takes horrible care of himself. He’s from a working class background but very clever and compassionate. He loves his 8 year old daughter, loves sad women country singers (ex. Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood), can’t get over his ex-wife’s betrayal, has horrible dentistry problems. He keeps getting accused of turning into a woman to which he finally replies “There are worse things.” Indeed. He’s an awesome character, the way he relates to his life and the people in it, and the fact that he gets beaten all to hell throughout the book made him incredibly endearing.

The interesting thing is that the reader gets to know him well even though he really only appears in about 50% of the book. It is not centered on him. As the title suggests, the book focuses on three cases, mostly long cold, that people bring to Jackson’s agency. A lot of the book is spent in the perspective of the people most affected by these cases. Amelia Land, Theo Wyre, and Caroline. Amelia’s sister disappeared without a trace from a shared tent in the back yard when they were small. Thirty years later new evidence surfaces. Theo’s daughter was stabbed to death a decade earlier in plain sight but her killer was never apprehended. Caroline herself is a mystery.

The book jumps around in time quite liberally and manages to seem somewhat rambling and immaculately planned at the same time. The jumping around in time can sometimes be jarring but it also for me was the perfect way of maintaining suspense and a unique way of unfolding each of the stories. And there is a true unfolding with not just new things about the case revealed, but also about the narrators and their reliability. It was addictive reading for me and had me avoiding chores because I couldn’t stop turning pages.

The other things that struck me as unique and perhaps I’m just not remembering other mysteries I’ve read well, but I was so engrossed in these people and these lives that the crimes against them, even as far in the past as some of them were, were terribly affecting. I found myself in tears more than once which I’m not sure I can say about too many other mysteries. Jackson’s own story of his childhood when finally told was short but incredibly heart breaking and poignant.

Because the other thing that Atkinson does is start us off showing us the very heart of darkness in families. Parents who abuse, who neglect, who prefer one of their children over the other. By the end, however she has started to reveal the kernel of beauty in family (not just biological but those we choose as well) - the love that exists and that can be a healer.

As you can see I truly loved this book and am so glad I have brought Kate Atkinson into my life. I will definitely be seeking out her other books and savoring them.


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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Character Names



This week's Top Ten Tuesday mission from The Broke and the Bookish Blog is to list character names; either our ten favorite or the most unusual.  At first I was pretty stumped by this - I don't usually take much special notice of character names and I have a horrible memory.  But then names started flying at me fast and furious  - These were the names that have actually stuck in my mind despite my brain's best efforts to forget them.  Not sure if this makes them my favorite but I suppose it makes them memorable and somewhat significant to me.

1) Scarlett O'Hara/Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Can you imagine any better names for a saucy southern Belle and her ne'er do well pirate lover?  I can't.

2)Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch from the Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch Trilogy by Robert B. Parker

Because have there ever been a better pair of wild west names as this?  (Okay maybe Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but those are like, stage names.)  You can probably even take a guess at what kind of characters they based on their names.

3) Logen Ninefingers aka The Bloody Nine from The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie 

Names have much significance to the Northmen of Joe Abercrombie's First Law world.  To be a "named man" is to be a man who has proved his worth in battle and none is more feared then The Bloody Nine.  When the reader first meets him though, he's just Logen Ninefingers and we're not entirely sure what all the fuss is about.  But we do learn....

4) Locke Lamora from Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastard series 

Because it's just a cool name that flows off the tongue just like all the lies that Locke tells. And it's in the title of the first book in this series so that helps.

5) Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

This name just fits the character and the P.I. wizard role.  Very noir without being overly copycat.

6) Huckleberry Finn from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This is such a a great name for a mischievous young boy. 

 7) Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis 

In the book it says the even the mere mention of his name makes people feel weird and provokes great emotion.  Probably because they are all thinking Cool Name for a Lion!

 8) Dexter Morgan from the Dexter Series by Jeff Lindsey 

Dexter is just a really great fictional name for a serial killer.  No offense to any Dexters out there...

9) Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I'm not sure this one needs explanation!

10) Flavia DeLuce from the Flavia DeLuce series by Alan Bradley

Sufficiently aristocratic and old-fashioned for the feisty and irrepressible 11 year old heroine of these mysteries.

Honorable Mentions

Rebecca from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier: We never even meet the character with the name but it overshadows all the action in the book.

Doc Holliday from numerous, but most recently encountered in Doc by Mary Doria Russell:  Doc Holliday sounds like a cheerful, Santa Claus like figure when really he was a gambling, consumptive gun slinger dentist- pretty much nothin' god in there!  But he still manages to be charming.   In literature it least.


Smilla Jaspersen from Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg:  It's such a fantastically Scandinavian name and makes for a really great title.  Good book too.

Good names and all from good books as well! I'm sure there are many I have missed.  What are your favorite character names?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

REVIEW: The Hidden Goddess by M.K. Hobson

The Hidden Goddess (Veneficas Americana, #2)The Hidden Goddess by M.K. Hobson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (from Audible.com)
Narrated By: Suehyla El-Attar
Original Publication Year: 2011
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Veneficas Americana #2
Awards: None

I read a blog post (Savidge Reads) a few months back that posited that the most important reason for writing a book blog is a passion for spreading the word about really awesome books. I like this idea and it certainly drives some of my book posts but this is the first book where I want to consciously promote a series of books and spread the love I have for them. I really enjoyed book one in this series, The Native Star, and it was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2011. In the middle of devouring this 2nd installment, I looked greedily to see if there was a book three. I was surprised to see that there was and it was self-published with the help of a Kickstarter campaign (the first two of the series were published by Spectra). I haven’t really been able to find out the why of this – perhaps it was just something M.K. Hobson wanted to do – but regardless of the reason I feel it necessary to make sure at least one more word about how awesome these books are gets out into the ether.

The story takes place in the latter part of the 19th century in an America similar to our own except that magic is an accepted part of society. In The Native Star, rural California witch Emily Edwards is forced to travel cross country with academy trained warlock Dreadnought Stanton. It’s a grand adventure which ends with the rescue of the earth’s soul from blood magicians, Dreadnought being appointed as head of his field of magic and an engagement between he and Emily.

The Hidden Goddess opens with Emily feeling stifled and bored as she tries to adjust to life as a New York socialite. She hasn’t even had much of a chance to spend time with Stanton as his new responsibilities as head of the institute keep him constantly busy. And then she has a disturbing vision which urges her to go back to her California home where her Pap gives her a jar full of her youngest memories and a warning that her mother was evil hence the bottled memories. From this point on Emily begins to have visions of a coming apocalypse and develops the certain knowledge that she, as her family before her, must play a crucial part in stopping it. Meanwhile, Stanton is struggling to hold on to his professional position as things start to fall apart around him. As Emily learns more about him on his home turf she begins to question how much she really knows and can trust him.

This all sounds very dire and it is - there is lots of adventure and drama and fountaining blood (squeamish beware – it is a rather gory book) but it is saved from being overly wrought by the steadfast and awesome characters and Hobson’s fantastic sense of humor. It is chock full of clever wit and is, at times, laugh out loud funny. Hobson has the knack of achieving just the right mix of humor and pathos to make the drama very personal feeling. She fits so much into the book…a complex and fast paced story, a feminist message, a conservation message…effortlessly and in a way that completely absorbed me and never made me feel like I was getting preached at.

Two of the biggest strengths are the characters and the elaborate and fascinating system of magic. Emily Edwards is a character I will miss dearly. She’s practical and independent, loyal and clever, and most importantly down-to-earth. She is the perfect heroine, not in the sense that she’s perfect but in the sense that she is someone I would love to hang out and play cards with. There would undoubtedly be lots of laughter and likely some kind of small disaster.

The magic system is one of the most interesting I’ve encountered and is very organic, literally. Learning the rules behind it is actually really interesting and ends up being one of the best reasons to read the book. The idea of Credomancy is explored more in this book and a wonderful new character is introduced, Miss Jizenka (sp?), who helps flesh out all the fascinating intrigues that make this magic system work.

That’s all the specifics and I’m not sure I’ve really sold it. So let me finally say that I could not put this book down. I was listening to it on my ipod and I kept inventing house work to do so I could listen some more. Let me say that again: I was inventing housework so that I could spend more time with this book. That is probably ‘nuf said but I’ll end with this: it is so much fun, the writing is fantastic and it won’t cause any brain rot either. It also has a lovely and very satisfying ending. So, if you like books that blend genres (Alt-History, Fantasy, Romance), great characters, and seamless world building you MUST read this series! I cannot wait to jump into book three!

So has anyone else read this series?  What did you think?

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

REVIEW: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (cds from Library)
Narrated By: Natalie Moore
Original Publication Year: 2008
Genre(s): YA, Urban Fantasy
Series: The Mortal Instruments
Awards: None

After really enjoying the first in this series, City of Bones, I was somewhat unconsciously dreading picking up book two. Unconscious because I didn’t really realize I was avoiding it and because it’s weird. I’d go to the library and City of Ashes would pop into my head and before I knew it I’d be walking out of the library with a bunch of books that were not City of Ashes. Even once I finally checked out the cds from the library, I let them languish in my car awhile before starting. What the heck was going on? And then I realized it’s because I’ve been burned quite a lot lately with series that had a great start and then went horribly wrong. I really enjoyed City of Bones but by the end I could see the early scratching of some things that could turn out to be annoying. The final verdict? I didn’t really need to be worried – City of Ashes continued with many of the good things from book one and added some interesting plot twists. But I think that vague sense of worry about starting the next book in the series may even be a little stronger.

Clary now knows a lot of truths about herself. She knows that Valentine, the big bad, is her father, Jace, her crush, is her brother and turns out she is a shadow hunter by birth. She starts book two with a lot more knowledge about who she is and where she comes from but many other things in her life have been thrown up in the air in a jumble. Her mother is in a coma in the hospital, the guy she has a huge crush on is now her brother, and her best friend since childhood kinda wants to kiss her face off. And it kind of goes bonkers from there. The book centers around finding out what the big bad (Valentine) is up to and how to counter his machinations. Meanwhile more and more changes get flung at Clary. It’s a wild ride and for the most part its highly entertaining and a not too annoying melodrama.

There are a few things that really work for me in these books. The mythology is interesting and complex enough to provide endless possibilities for drama. Clary is a pretty decent female lead. She hovers between being too ultra competent for believability and completely useless so she comes across as a pretty realistically average girl dragged into big events. Most importantly, her relationships with the other characters are pretty reasonable for the most part. I love Jace. It struck me in this book that he is like a teenage Lymond (from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles) – uber-competent and talented wearing a fa├žade of cockiness and unconcern while underneath are wells of feeling and a cock-eyed sense of honor. Not nearly as complicated or mature as Lymond, of course, but the same general character type which I apparently love because I love Jace and Lymond. Finally I also like that we get other perspectives beyond Clary’s which I think was different then book one (though I could be wrong). I enjoyed getting in Jace and Simon’s heads and seeing the story from their perspective.

On the down side I left this book with the same and perhaps even enhanced concern that future additions to the series are going to let me down. There were a few things that got me worrying. While Clary is still on the plus side of the equation she had a few glaring TSTL (too stupid to live) moments and I’m a little worried she will not remain likeable. I didn’t love some of the things done with Jace who at times is very out of character turning into a sad and too needy puppy dog around Clary. I envision him being pretty much completely in control of himself and nonchalant, only revealing his true feelings obtusely or pretty rarely. I certainly don’t envision him begging Clary to love him and being confused at why Clary thinks incest is sickening. Seriously. He doesn’t have any qualms about incest or even recognize that it is not an acceptable social norm? Interesting choice for the character. And then there is just some general sloppiness. There are continuity errors in a couple scenes (Magnus’ excuse for not helping Clary and Jace fight the round demons because he was busy helping Luke inside, when Luke was who Clary and Jace were in the process of rescuing; a jacket in the final battle that can’t decide who its wearer is - Jace or Clary). I was kind of jazzed that a potential new romantic interest was introduced for Simon but nothing much was done with it until out of the blue ,in one of the final scenes, it’s suddenly common knowledge that Maya has a crush on Simon.

Even with some worrying weaknesses, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fly through this book and enjoy roughly 90% of it. A fun urban paranormal YA series that, concern or not, I will be continuing with. It’s an addictive thrill ride.

Final note: The Narration by Natalie Moore was pretty decent. No major complaints.


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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Forced Reads


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely folks at The Broke and The Bookish. This week's assignment is the top ten assigned reads.  This one was hard because 1) I am a long way from my school days, 2) I don't belong to a book club and 3)... well... I'm the one usually forcing books on other people.  So, I decided to go rogue and flip it  - below is my  top ten list of books I'd like to force other folks to read!  Because obviously it should be all about me imposing my will upon the world:0)  This is not just my list of favorite books.  I tried to think about books that I wish would be taught in school - that I thought would be enjoyed by people in their teens and that would provoke thoughtful discussion.  Some of them may be books I was forced to read in school but most are not and I only wish they had been assigned.

Sand county almanac.jpgA Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

In my non-bookish life, I am a wildlife biologist and I have a strong core belief in the innate value of the natural world and its necessity to our quality of life.  Aldo Leopold was that rare scientist who was incredibly wise and also heart breakingly eloquent. He is considered the father of Wildlife Biology because he laid down the very foundation of how we view nature and he did it best, I think, in this book.  A Sand County Almanac is a series of essays about the natural world; eloquent, clear and beautiful and (just as importantly) not too long. Written in the 1930's and 1940's it is also prescient.   It contains his Land Ethic which states: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Simple, clear and powerful.  I can think of no better introduction to the value of the natural world and I think everyone, whether they wish to be a wildlife biologist or not should read at least part of it.  As a series of essays, it would be easy for a teacher to assign pieces and lots of interesting discussion could be had.  It could also be supported by getting folks outside and having their own encounters with nature.

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths

Growing up I LOVED Greek mythology and it was mostly because of this book.  I never owned it but so constantly checked it out of the library that for a year or two it probably spent more time at my house than at the library.  I read it at least a million times and I SWEAR that it is 100% responsible for my receiving an A+ in my college Greek Mythology class.  The stories were etched into my brain.  If assigned in school this would be most appropriate for younger kids (maybe 8-10 age range).  It will hold their attention because of the fantastic artwork and the fact that the myths are a little bit racy and all kinds of dramatic (but not inappropriate for the age group, I don't think).

Metamorphoses by Ovid

For introducing an older audience to the greek/roman mythology and in a classic form it is hard to beat Ovid.  The translation I have is by A.D. Melville and is a surprisingly readable epic poem.  His use of the Roman names took a bit to get used to but this is very accessible.  The blurb on the back of my copy calls this "The wittiest poem of the wittiest poet of classical antiquity."  What teenager could resist?  Okay, well, most of them, but not me. I was all over this and do think there is something to be learned from mythology.  This is also a good intro to ancient classical literature.

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

 This trilogy consisting of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass is an imaginative and engrossing adventure. But more than that, it is thoughtful and thought-provoking.  It is an inverted re-telling of Milton's Paradise Lost and features a strong female lead character.  Not to mention armored polar bears.  I can see this being a controversial pick for reading in school but I think it would provoke much great discussion.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey is certainly not the strongest of Austen's books but I picked it for a few reasons.  It features Austen's youngest protagonist which may appeal more to a teen audience.  It is a parody of the classic Gothic novels which might provide food for lesson plans.  And finally, frankly, I think Austen should not be consigned as fiction only for woman. Austen was an insightful and brilliant observer of human nature and the society of her time.  Heck it might be interesting to have a discussion on why Austen's books and romances in general are thought appropriate only for females.  A dude can read a romance and not die.  I think.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

I was completely sucked into this amazing science fiction masterpiece.  Boarding school setting and a plot driven by a mystery should make this an appealing read for young adults and again this is a book that provides a LOT of food for thought and discussion.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-cJv2KeYe-9g/Twfn5xtej6I/AAAAAAAAAK8/YHdIWsmkjyg/s320/a+midsummer+nights+dream.jpg     OR    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-BcIGjG30krs/ToBwTIpVkYI/AAAAAAAAAzY/zGXbGRYF47s/s1600/12thnight.jpg 

I love Shakespeare and I do like Romeo and Juliet and understand why it seems to be the number one choice to be taught in school (at least in my experience) but it's a shame not to introduce Shakespeare as the truly fun guy he is.  These are my two favorite Shakespeare comedies and rather than reading it solely, I think its best to see them performed.  All students should be flown to London to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform these two plays!  That's doable, right?  Maybe they should just act them out themselves:)

http://deepsouthmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/mockingbird.jpg To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I can't remember if I was required to read this in school but if I wasn't I should have been.  It's a deservedly classic coming of age tale with a moral heart. 

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ZV-_3BDcG4g/S9YslRcBukI/AAAAAAAAKHw/ERYAEQw4OdQ/s320/All+Quiet+on+the+Western+Front.jpg All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

I'm pretty sure I was not required to read this in school but I read it when I was young.  I honestly don't remember many details about it, just the deep impression it had upon me.  Unfortunately, the subject of war is one that should be addressed and discussed and fiction can provide a good path to the topic.

http://www.pagepulp.com/wp-content/414.jpgDracula by Bram Stoker

A highly readable classic horror story.   Why not take advantage of the current cache` of  vampires and assign this to a class and then compare and contrast with the modern view of the monsters.  What do vampires represent?  Has their meaning changed through time?  Why are they so creepy/scary and so alluring at the same time?  Lots of good discussion.

I think I'll stop there, now that I've made a good case why I should never be allowed anywhere near a classroom! Or young people.  It's been fun though!  What books would you add to the list?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3)Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (downloaded from Audible)
Narrated By: Steve Pacey
Original Publication Year: 2008
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: The First Law #3
Awards: None but should have some!

The Last Argument of Kings left me feeling bemused, manipulated and sucker punched…but mostly in that good way books can do. It’s a pretty excellent conclusion for this overall excellent trilogy. The only thing that tempers my enthusiasm about the book is the somewhat odd rambling ending.

All the plotlines that developed in books one and two come to a head in this book. The war in the North ends in time for Adua to absorb an attack by the Gherkish which brings all the major characters into one place at the same time. While the conclusion of all the various plotlines, and the reveal and explanation of who has been behind it all, is satisfying, the thing that really makes this book and the entire series special is what Joe Abercrombie does with the reader’s preconceptions about the story and the characters.

What he does is actually kind of mean but it’s done so well that it’s hard not to appreciate what it adds. With his plots, he uses some standard fantasy tropes but twists them. In this book we get the culminating battle of a war that’s been brewing through all three books. The good guys win but are they really the good guys? And was the war even about what it seemed to be? Also there is a lot of book after the war is resolved and it never really ties things up into a pretty bow.

In regard to the characters, Abercrombie spends much of book two making the reader like them only to turn around in book three and pull the rug right out from under them and the reader. Particularly with Jezal, Logen and Ferro, he seems to be making the argument that you can run but you can’t hide from your true nature. You can try to change for the better, and sometimes even succeed, but when it comes down to it you’ll revert to your default settings. It was sad to watch and it missed the mark in some cases (i.e. I think he made Logen too likeable so his reversion and his friend’s response is a little off) but overall it adds to the interest of the plot. One lovely little detail was the character of Qwai. I felt like Abercrombie had started writing this character differently in book two vs. book one and thought it was just sloppy writing. In fact, all is explained in book three.

I was always being surprised and most so by realizing that Glokta was my favorite character. He’s one of those deliciously gray characters who does despicable things but for some reason doesn’t seem despicable. And shockingly, he is really the only character that gets any approximation of a happy ending though calling it happy may be a stretch.

Overall thoughts: This was a pretty good ending to a thoughtful and entertaining series. I found it endlessly surprising and it definitely messed with my mind but in the very best of ways. He is a writer with a purpose and a plan so this was a well done culmination of all that was laid out in the earlier books.

I think this goes down as a favorite series for me?  What are some of the best series you've read recently?

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess Bride The Princess Bride by William Goldman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format:Kindle
Narrated By: N/A
Original Publication Year: 1973
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: N/A
Awards: None

Like many others, I love the movie version of The Princess Bride. I have a huge soft spot in my heart for Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin as a result and I’m one of those annoying folks who can quote large sections of the movie. So I approached reading it’s literary source with excitement and trepidation. How would it measure up to the film?

First, the easy part. The film very closely follows the fairy tale portion of the novel. Even much of the dialogue remains the same, probably as a result of William Goldman writing the script and playing a major role in its production. There are a few minor changes (the book has a Zoo of Death!) but it reads much like a script of the movie. If you are unfamiliar with the movie or the book, it presents a basic fairy tale romance but with many quirky twists and an absurdist and unique humor. In this world, pirates are good guys; princes are bad guys but true love and happily ever after are still the end point even if the road that gets you to the end point is littered with R.O.U.Ss (rodents of unusual size) and a giant who loves rhymes. It is presented as if the story being told is actually an abridgement of an existing “history” written by an S. Morgenstern.

Beyond this initial evaluation things get a little more complicated. The movie is framed by the device that the fairy tale is being read by a crusty grandpa to his sick baseball- obsessed grandson. This device exists and is expanded in the book. In fact, half of the book could be said to be a, perhaps partially fictionalized, memoir of the author. It’s rather rambling and written as the author directly addressing the audience. I found these parts a little jarring and at times pretty self-indulgent but not un-enjoyable. Probably why the narrative part of the book worked so well as a movie was because it was basically novella length while the rest of the book not present in the movie is filled with asides and stories of the author’s childhood and life as a script writer.

Overall, the reading experience was good but perhaps… uninspiring. If you’ve seen the movie the book will add little. The structure and framing is interesting but didn’t really elevate the book above a light and funny romantic fantasy.

So now for that eternal question - Which did you like better?  The book or the movie?  (For me I have to say it was the movie which doesn't happen too often!)

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Best or Worst Series Enders



This will be a quick Top Ten Tuesday post as I am currently running around with a bunch of other wildlife biologists in Milwaukee, WI at the annual meeting of The Wildlife Society and am full of science and not books.  Not to mention its way past my bed time.  This week the topic posted by The Broke and the Bookish is the Top Ten Worst/Best Series Enders.


Worst
So I'll start by being all negative and controversial...

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Don't throw tomatoes!  I LOVE this series and really like this book but do think it was one of the weaker book of the series with the problems of the weeks camping and nothing happening and such. 
2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
As I've mentioned elsewhere these books just went downhill for me after the terrific beginning of Hunger Games and I didn't like Mockingjay.

Best

3. Devil in the Music by Kate Ross 

This is a great historical mystery series and while this wasn't supposed to be the series ender, the author sadly died before writing any more.  It's a wonderful book and won the Agatha Award the year it was published.

4. The Return of the King by J.R. Tolkien

It's a classic and a pretty fantastic ending to the trilogy.

5. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

And amazing trilogy of books with a really thought-provoking ending. 


So at this point I can't really think about any series where I particularly enjoyed the ending but I can think of a bunch where at least it ended in a relatively satisfying manner without losing too much quality across the series.  

6. Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian

It was hard to leave Aubrey and Maturin but at least we left them in a good place.  Love this series!

7. Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

I really enjoyed this imaginative series for middle grade readers and it held up.  I know he's written some other series that folks would probably say are better but I haven't gotten there yet.

And I think this is where I have to stop.  Not a very thoughtful or complete list this week and I reserve the right to come back and update it later!  What are your favorite series enders?