Monday, May 31, 2010

May Reading Round-Up


May was a good month, but I can't believe it's almost over.  I read some great stuff this past month.  We had more rain here in the Bay Area, but that's good because we need it.  Also good is the cooler than usual weather - I hate being hot.  It's been amazing to wander about in the neighborhood around where I live and look at people's roses - they're just gorgeous this year (because of all the rain).  I've included some pictures of flowers in the neighborhood throughout this post.

Roses in San Leandro, CA
Other events of note in our house for May - my son got into Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and my husband got into UC Berkeley!  I'm officially one year away from finishing my MBA so we're going to be an edumacated family!  We also had a 3.0 earthquake with a 2.8 aftershock around midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning.  We really felt it because the center was near San Leandro where we are.  The cat really hated it, but everyone settled down shortly after and we got actual sleep.  It also reminded me that we need to get some bottled water to put away for when the big one hits - the Brita filter will only last so long!

Digitalis (foxglove) planted underneath a tree - San Leandro, CA


Here's what I read and reviewed in May:
  1. A Place of Greater Safety by Hillary Mantel (review)
  2. Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth (review)
  3. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (review)
  4. The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford (review)
  5. Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll (review)
  6. A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read (review)
  7. The Crazy School by Cornelia Read (review)
  8. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (review)
  9. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (review)
  10. Beauty by Robin McKinley (review)
  11. King of Shadows by Susan Cooper (review)
  12. Horns by Joe Hill (review)
  13. Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman (review)
  14. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides (review)
  15. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (review)
  16. Skellig by David Almond (review)
  17. Sabriel by Garth Nix (review)
  18. Seeing Stars by Diane Hammond (review)
  19. Reckless by Andrew Gross (review)
  20. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (review)
  21. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (review)
  22. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (review)
I read a lot this past month, but it was a bit of a mixed bag.  I abandoned both the Hillary Mantel and the Joe Hill books (the latter with only about 100 pages to go).  I'll probably go back to the Hillary Mantel when the weather changes to fall/winter - for whatever reason I tend to want to read more serious books when it's not so sunny and beautiful outside.  Books of note were Blood Oath (a great political thriller with a vampire hero - I know, but it was good), both Cornelia Read books, Skellig, my re-read of The Egypt Game, Seeing Stars, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I liked the second one, but the first one just rocks).

I also completed some reading challenges this past month:  Battle of the Prizes - American Version, Random Reading Challenge, Speculative Fiction Challenge 2010, and the Thriller and Suspense Challenge.  Lest I be bereft of challenges I also signed up for the Birth Year Reading Challenge.

Peonies!

I changed my blog template - with summer on the way I wanted to have a fresh new summerish kind of look.  If you have a Blogspot blog and haven't played with the new template designer available in Blogger in Draft you are missing out!  It blows their old stuff completely out of the water and is incredibly easy to use!

I'll also be unveiling my very own rating system that I'll begin using in June!  I wanted something other than stars and I finally decided what I want.  Stay tuned!

As always, thanks for visiting and reading my reviews.  I hope you all had a great May - let's go have a great June, too!
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Book Review - The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Synopsis:  From familiar fairy tales and legends - Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, werewolves - Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

First Line:  "I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother's apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage."

Random Quote:  "For all cats have this particularity, each and every one, from the meanest alley sneaker to the proudest, whitest she that ever graced a pontiff's pillow - we have our smiles, as it were, painted on.  Those small, cool, quiet Mona Lisa smiles that smile we must, no matter whether it's been fun or it's been not."

Review:  A feminist retelling of familiar fairy tales - I liked this, but I didn't love it and it feels unnecessary somehow.  Anyone who has read the unsanitized versions of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and even Andrew Lang's color-coded fairy tale books knows that fairy tales aren't pretty.  They occur in dark and glorious places filled with danger and people who mean you no good.


Little Red Riding Hoods from The Path

This collection of stories also suffers from being essentially the same story, told and re-told, which might work as a literary device for a collection and an overarching metaphor for the author's view on the endangered woman in our stories, but doesn't work for me within this context.

This also suffers in comparison to The Path, an amazing adventure game by Tale of Tales that draws from various version of Little Red Riding Hood and puts you in the loosely drawn center of danger.  The game is far from linear, functions less as a video game and more as a linked series of impressions and expertly uses its form to elucidate the story.  Yes, read this, but play that to learn something more about storytelling and fairy tales.

Reading Challenges:  Once Upon a Time IV, 2010 100+ Reading Challenge
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Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is sponsored by Marcia over at the Printed Page. It's the place where we brag about share the books that arrived in our mailboxes each week. I also try to find a mailbox that is somehow associated with what I'm reading right now.  I just started Flirt by Laurel K. Hamilton.  It's set in St. Louis so I found a St. Louis mailbox.

Only one this week:

Line of Succession by William Tyree (from the publisher).  Tyree’s debut novel delivers one of the most original political thriller concepts in years. After a series of political assassinations throw Washington leadership into disarray, a group of Pentagon insiders begin retaliating against Islamic radicals abroad while several forces seemingly vie for control of the White House behind the scenes. All is far from what it seems, however, as Tyree’s hero, ex-CIA counter-terrorism agent Blake Carver, begins unraveling a sinister plot that has little to do with religious extremism.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Birth Year Reading Challenge or Why It Is All Rose City Reader's Fault

My intrepid list-making and reading friend over at Rose City Reader joined this challenge and I couldn't resist after looking at some book lists and thinking about it.  Thanks to the bloggers at Hotchpot Cafe for sponsoring the Birth Year Reading Challenge!

Here's the part where I reveal that I am approaching older than dirt, although I like to think of myself as an aspiring adult.  I was born in 1963 and there were some good books published that year.  Here's what I'm thinking of reading for this:
I might not read all of these and might add or subtract from the list, but this looks like a really good list with plenty of variety (and all available at my library - a big part of choosing this sort of list).
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Book Review - The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Synopsis:  Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander—the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

First Line:  "She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a narrow bed with a steel frame."

Random Quote:  "Of the six keys on the ring, three of them were typical apartment keys - front door, apartment door, and the key to a padlock.  But none of them fit the door of the building on Lundagatan.

Review:  The problem with writing a really great first book in a series is that you have to write the second book in the series and sophomore slump is a noted phenomenon (and not just in high school).  The causes of this are various, but basically boil down to peaking too early and setting expectations you can't fulfill.  It's a lot like those actors you see who start every scene at such a high pitch that all they can do is shriek at everyone because they've run out of room.
Lundagatan looking WestLooking west on Lundagatan, Stockholm, Sweden - Image by TSelrahc via Flickr

I really enjoyed the first third of this book which deals more explicitly with Lisbeth Salander's history and travels, but somewhere around midway in the book Salander disappears completely and what was her book becomes Mikael Blomkwist's book and, while I like Mikael, I wanted less of him this time.

Once again the book is very readable and the plot is complicated and fun - just not as fun as the first one.  We'll see where we are by the third.

Reading Challenges:  2010 100+ Reading Challenge

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Ah, another library day here in San Leandro, but no tacos for me today.  I've been down with the stomach flu and feeling utterly wretched so no spicy food for me for another few days.

I must say that it was a great day for library books today.  I got lots of what I consider to be summerish reading (historical fiction and thrillers) and a number of things that will help me to complete some more reading challenges.  It's a gorgeous day today, too.  It's sunny and in the low '70's and people seem to be out and about - we've had a fair amount of rain so the sunshine is welcome.  I love the San Leandro downtown library - it has gorgeous skylights that bring lots of natural light into the building and that makes me smile.

Here's what I got today:

The Queen's Lover by Vanora Bennett.  Catherine de Valois, daughter of the French king Charles VI, is born into troubled times. Though she is brought up in a royal court, it is a stormy and unstable environment. Before she is out of her teens, Catherine is married off to England's Henry V as part of a treaty honoring his victory over France. She is terrified at the idea of being married to a man who is a foreigner, an enemy, and a rough soldier, and is forced to leave her home for England.  Within two years she is widowed, and mother to the future King of England and France—even though her brother has laid claim to the French crown for himself. Caught between warring factions of her own family and under threat by the powerful lords of the English court, she must find a way to keep her infant son safe. In Owain Tudor, a childhood friend for whom Catherine has long had affection and who now controls the Royal household, Catherine finds both strength and kinship. As their friendship turns to love, however, she risks not only her life and that of her son but the uneasy balance of power in England and France that will be forever changed.


Summertime by J.M. Coetzee.   A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was 'finding his feet as a writer'. Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time. Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, "Summertime" shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task. It completes the majestic trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with "Boyhood" and "Youth".

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner.   The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.  So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.

Flirt by Laurell K. Hamilton.   When Anita Blake meets with prospective client Tony Bennington, who is desperate to have her reanimate his recently deceased wife, she is full of sympathy for his loss. Anita knows something about love, and she knows everything there is to know about loss. But what she also knows, though Tony Bennington seems unwilling to be convinced, is that the thing she can do as a necromancer isn't the miracle he thinks he needs. The creature that Anita could coerce to step out of the late Mrs. Bennington's grave would not be the lovely Mrs. Bennington. Not really. And not for long.

Deep Creek by Dana Hand.  Idaho Territory, June 1887.  A small-town judge takes his young daughter fishing, and she catches a man.  Another body surfaces, then another.  The final toll:  more than thirty Chinese gold miners brutally murdered.  Their San Francisco employer hires Idaho lawman Joe Vincent to solve the case.  Soon he journeys up the wild Snake River with Lee Loi, an ambitious young company investigator, and Grace Sundown, a metis guide with too many secrets.  As they track the killers across the Pacific northwest, through haunted canyons and city streets, each must put aside lies and old grievances to survive a quest that will change them forever.

The Queen's Governess by Karen Harper .  Katherine Ashley, the daughter of a poor country squire, happily secures an education and a place for herself in a noble household. But when Thomas Cromwell, a henchman for King Henry VIII, brings her to the royal court as a spy, Kat enters into a thrilling new world of the Tudor monarchs.  Freed from a life of espionage by Cromwell's downfall, Kat eventually befriends Anne Boleyn. As a dying favor to the doomed queen, Kat becomes governess and surrogate-mother to the young Elizabeth Tudor. Together they suffer bitter exile, assassination attempts, and imprisonment, barely escaping with their lives. But they do, and when Elizabeth is crowned, Kat continues to serve her, faithfully guarding all the queen's secrets (including Elizabeth's affair with the dashing Robert Dudley) . . . and ultimately emerging as the lifelong confidante and true mother-figure to Queen Elizabeth.

The Executor by Jesse Kellerman.  30-year-old philosophy grad student Joseph Geist finds himself at loose ends after being suspended from Harvard (for failing to do any work) and breaking up with his longtime girlfriend. When Geist answers an ad in the Harvard Crimson seeking a serious “conversationalist,” he ends up being paid to debate free will for a few hours a day with Alma Spielmann, an elderly woman of Viennese origin. After the two bond, Spielmann offers Geist free room and board at her Cambridge house, where she lives alone. The sudden appearance of Spielmann’s difficult nephew, who relies on Spielmann’s financial support, threatens Geist’s comfortable relationship with his benefactor.

Treasure Hunt by John Lescroart.  Mickey Dade hates deskwork, but that's all he's been doing at Wyatt Hunt's private investigative service, The Hunt Club. His itch to be active is answered when a body is discovered: It's Dominic Como, one of San Francisco's most high-profile activists-a charismatic man known as much for his expensive suits as his work on a half dozen nonprofit boards. One "person of interest" in the case is Como's business associate, Alicia Thorpe-young, gorgeous, and the sister of one of Mickey's friends.  As Mickey and Hunt are pulled into the case, they soon learn that the city's golden fundraiser was involved in some highly suspect deals. And the lovely Alicia knows more about this-and more about Como-than she's letting on.

The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary.  Paris, the capital of Europe and center of world culture.  People have gathered to celebrate the 1889 World's Fair, a spectacular extravaganza dedicated to new industries, scientific discoveries, and global exploration.  Its gateway is the soaring Eiffel Tower.  But an enigmatic killer stalks the streets, and a virulent plague is striking down Parisians by the thousands.  The world's most famous reporter - the intrepid Nellie Bly - is convinced that the killings are connected to the epidemic.  Hot off another sensational expose, she travels to Paris to hunt down the mysterious man she calls "the Alchemist."  Along the way she enlists the help of a band of colorful characters:  science fiction genius Jules Verne, notorious wit and outrageous rogue Oscar Wilde, and the greatest microbe-hunter in history, Louis Pasteur.  This dazzling historical adventure pits Nellie and her friends against one of the most notorious murderers in history.  Together they must solve the crime of the century.

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg.   Seeking the immortality promised in an ancient manuscript, The Book of Skulls, four friends, college roommates, go on a spring break trip to Arizona: Eli, the scholar, who found and translated the book; Timothy, scion of an American dynasty, born and bred to lead; Ned, poet and cynic; and Oliver, the brilliant farm boy obsessed with death. Somewhere in the desert lies the House of Skulls, where a mystic brotherhood guards the secret of eternal life. There, the four aspirants will present themselves–and a horrific price will be demanded.  For immortality requires sacrifice. Two victims to balance two survivors. One by suicide, one by murder.  Now, beneath the gaze of grinning skulls, the terror begins. . . .

Last Orders by Graham Swift.  Four men once close to Jack Dodds, a London butcher, meet to carry out his peculiar last wish: to have his ashes scattered into the sea. For reasons best known to herself, Jack's widow, Amy, declines to join them. On the surface the tale of a simple if increasingly bizarre day's outing, Last Order is Graham Swift's most poignant exploration of the complexity and courage of ordinary lives.

Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder.  Sisters Serana and Meteora were once proud members of the high court of the Fairy Queen- until they played a prank that angered her highness. Separated and banished to the mortal realm of Earth, they must find a way to survive in a strange world in which they have no power. But there is more to their new home than they first suspect...   A sympathetic Meteora bonds with a troubled young girl with an ornate tattoo on her neck. Meteora recognizes it as a magic symbol that will surely bring danger down on them all. Serana, meanwhile, takes in a tortured homeless boy whose mind is plagued by dark visions. The signs point to a rising power that threatens to tear asunder both fairy and human worlds.  And the sisters realize that perhaps the queen cast them from their homes not out of anger or spite- but because they were the only ones who could do what must be done...


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