Monthly Archives: October 2010

Book Blogger Hop: October 29th

It’s been a while since I’ve joined in on the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer of Crazy-For-Books.  Hello to any visiting bloggers!  Let me briefly introduce myself: my name is Christy and I live in the D.C. metropolitan area.  I read a variety of books, from classics to travel writing to thrillers.  I recently got a new job that requires a longer commute, so I’ve been polishing off a number of audio books as well.

The question for this Blog Hop is:

What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?

I would love to have a true cozy nook for reading, like a window seat.  I live in an apartment currently, and while it is a decent apartment, it’s devoid of nooks.  It is a very regularly shaped apartment.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

1999. Recorded Books. 8 discs. 8 hrs 30 min.

From: the public library

Read by: Barbara Rosenblat

Synopsis: Bridget Jones is a single thirty-something British woman trying to sort out her career and relationships.  She chronicles one year, a year in which a rollercoaster of events occur – from dating her boss, debuting as a TV reporter, and watching her mother outdo her in the scandal department.

Review:

Listening to Bridget Jones’s Diary while driving to and from work was delightful.  Rosenblat’s voice is so expressive and hilariously conveys Bridget’s range of emotions – from delirious joy to the pits of humiliation.

It is a foregone conclusion (even if you haven’t seen the movie) that Bridget will not be single by the end of the year / book.  The vicissitudes of her dating life are amusing but you know how it will all end up.

I found myself more warmed by Bridget’s interactions with her friends.  Their loyalty to Bridget and each other, as flawed as each of them are, made for some of the best moments in the story.

Bridget is not a person that you would admire necessarily (except in her excellent snark), but in all her foibles, she can be quite relatable.  I think not so much of her more spectacular failures, but more in general terms: how her good intentions of self-improvement never seem to fully materialize, for instance.  Who hasn’t envisioned themselves making such-and-such a dramatic change, and not quite got it off the ground?  Well I suppose there must be some exceptions out there, but for the majority of us, there has been at least frustration, if not some failure in the arena of changing your own ways.

True, I do wonder if Bridget Jones’s Diary helped spawn the multitude of chick-lit heroines who are extravagantly, weirdly and unbelievably incompetent and neurotic.  I can laugh at Bridget as a character because the writing is so funny, but I get a little bristly at the trend of similar type characters.

And I’m sure it’s been said in reviews before, but Bridget’s obsession about her weight does grate at times, when she is hovering around 125 pounds.  Fortunately, when she achieves her lowest weight in the book (119, I think), her triumph is quickly squashed by her friends telling her frankly that she doesn’t look right.

I have to say, it’s hilarious that Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were cast in the movie adaptation, as both are mentioned in the book – Grant, for what I forget and Firth for his famous portrayal of Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice.

To come around again to the beginning of my review, I found the book highly entertaining as an audio CD and recommend that medium as a way to experience Bridget Jones’s Diary, if you are at all curious.  I’m not sure I would have been as entertained by reading the book in the traditional manner.

Others’ Reviews:

A Little Bookish – “[Bridget] is infinitely likeable–she has the same insecurities that most of us have when we pursue relationships, hang out with friends, and deal with the eccentricities of our parents.”

What Kate’s Reading – “But at the end of it all, this novel isn’t about feminism or anti-feminism, love, friends, or family. It’s a refreshingly candid tome about a single woman of a certain age, dealing with life as it comes and as it’s dealt. It’s also gut-bustingly funny.”

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River Secrets by Shannon Hale

2006. Bloomsbury. Hardcover. 290 pages.

From: the public library

For the challenge: What’s In A Name (body of water)

Synopsis:

River Secrets is the third of Hale’s Books of Bayern.  Razo, a supporting character in the previous two books becomes the protagonist in this book.  His country – the country of Bayern – has just negotiated an uneasy peace with the country of Tira, with whom they had been at war (detailed in Book #2, Enna Burning – see my review here).  As a step toward creating goodwill between the two nations, each country warily sends a diplomatic party to reside in the other country’s capital city, complete with soldiers in peacekeeping mode.  Razo is chosen to go, though he is not physically imposing, nor known for any particular talent or skill.  He smarts from fellow soldiers’ whispers that he was selected for the mission only because he is the queen’s friend.  However, when things start going awry in Tira, he will discover that he has more to offer than he imagined.

Review:

Razo is not a character that I remember well from the first book of the series.  I remember him better in the second book, but I couldn’t say that I was excited to read a book where he was the main character.  Count me as surprised when I found myself thoroughly engaged by his story.  I liked that Razo has no magical skill that he must learn to harness, which gives him an everyman appeal.  More specifically, he reminded me of guys I have encountered before – skilled at becoming pals with all sorts of people by way of his easygoing, jocular air.  I love how his superior officer taps into that skill for strategic gain.

It was cool to see Enna and Finn’s story continue to play out through Razo’s eyes.  Readers of Enna Burning can read into these observed scenes more than Razo can, as he does not have the benefit (as we do) of knowing Enna’s story from Enna’s  perspective.  Also, I greatly appreciate that the main characters from the previous novels do not subside into happy-ever-afters but continue to face challenges.

Hale’s Books of Bayern series impresses me in the way that each new book is not simply about focusing on a new protagonist, but also about allowing the world-building to evolve.  Regarding the broader story of Bayern and Tira, I really liked that River Secrets is about the difficulties of achieving peace between enemies.  Both countries have terrible, wrong rumors about the others’ customs and motivations, borne out of ignorance and rampant demonization.  Only by living among and really getting to know their enemy, do the Bayern people discover the humanity of their former enemies.  Who says fantasy novels have nothing to do with the real world?

Others’ Reviews:

Book Crumbs – “For the first time in the Books of Bayern, River Secrets had a hint of mystery in it as well, which I really liked.”

bookshelves of doom – “River Secrets is full of action, intrigue and romance.  It’s classic Shannon Hale — superb writing, likable characters and a world that I wouldn’t mind stepping into.”

The Children’s Literature Book Club – “As with her other novels, Hale continues to address the issues of classes, war, and prejudice in a way that’s not too threatening to her young audience. Underdogs will relate to Razo and root for him to succeed on his mission and succeed in love.”

In Search of Giants – “River Secrets is a fantastic little read.  It’s fast-paced, with a solid plot and characterization, uppity but sincere royalty, plus a romance or two.”

 

 

 

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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

2001. Anchor Books. Paperback. 208 pages.

From: bought it at a used book-store

Recommendation from: Michelle of Fluttering Butterflies had the review that made me add it to my to-read list, though her praise was echoed by a number of others.

Review:

As the subtitle of the book states, Ella Minnow Pea is “A Novel in Letters.”  I love the double meaning in that.  It is an epistolary novel yes, but as the story is about the enforced removal of alphabet letters from the characters’ language, the subtitle has a subtle defiance that I cherish.

The two main characters of the novel are close cousins Ella and Tassie who live on the (fictional) island of Nollop, which is located off the East Coast of the United States.  Nollop is named after the man who created the pangram: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  A pangram is a sentence or phrase that contains all the letters of the alphabet.

The people of Nollop love language.  Tassie and Ella and the rest of their family write letters full of beautiful vocabulary.  The pangram of their island’s namesake is memorialized as a huge monument with each letter placed on its own tile and affixed high above Nollopton.  One day, the letter Z falls to the ground.  The ruling council decides that it is a sign that the letter should not be used any longer by citizens of Nollop.  Then – as the tiles are decrepit – more letters start falling, each to be subsequently banned.

It’s a fantastical premise and I quickly became immersed in the story.  It’s easy to love Ella and Tassie who are spirited and witty young women.  It’s also easy to love Ella’s parents, Tassie’s mother, and various other characters who enter the story.  Thus when these lovely people start getting caught using the ‘wrong’ letters, I was anxious for them. 

Ella Minnow Pea is certainly a book-lover’s book.  As letters are increasingly excised from the characters’ conversation, Ella and Tassie often give last-hurrah missives celebrating the letter whose ban is imminent.

… we will sorely miss the loss of “D” effective as of midnight tonight.  (Have you not noticed the product of my decision to dribble this dreadful diatribe with as many uses of the doomed fourth letter as possible?

p. 69

And yet, even as their vocabulary becomes increasingly pinched and squeezed, I had to admire the flexibility of language as the letter-writers bent their words to work around the new dictates.   After ten letters of the alphabet have been banned, here is an excerpt:

I am writing to people who are still here.  Who I still see in the streets, who peep at me – wall-in, porthole, portiere people.  Wanting to say something, with anxiety stilling erstwhile galloping yammers.  It is important that we say something to one another – any little thing.  We are not low-tier animals.

p. 157

This is a very clever book that I am glad I own as a re-reading will allow me to more fully savor that cleverness.

Sampling of others’ reviews:

Fluttering Butterflies – “This book is saying something about censorship, freedom of speech, totalitarian states. But it’s doing it in a very quirky, fun and light-hearted way.”

Fyrefly’s Book Blog – “It’s a fairly simple story, but the language is used to brutal but dazzling effect … you start to train your eye to watch out for slips of “forbidden” letters, start counting letters in pangrams, and start imagining your own life where you’re unable to speak without mentally spelling out each word first.”

Redlady’s Reading Room – “I found the letter writing style well done, the main characters were interesting and I wanted to know more about them and how they would survive this change of events on their island. I just didn’t enjoy the story and found it silly at times and downright annoying at others.”

Tales from the Reading Room – “The restrictions imposed by wordplay mean that Dunn doesn’t have time to develop his character portraits, and so his main characters merge, indistinguishable representatives of the human spirit to fight and withstand oppression . . . Overall, though, for wit and inventiveness combined with a provocative story, you have to ultimately admire this novel.”

things mean a lot – “Still, this tight control of communication is enough to fill Ella Minnow Pea with a pervasive sense of claustrophobia . . . Ella’s final letters are filled with a despair that is all the more raw because it cannot be articulated – and this makes them quite frightening to read.”

 

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Boo by Rene Gutteridge

2003. Waterbrook. Paperback. 299 pages.

Recommendation from:

Heard of the author through Word Lily

From: the library

In a nutshell:

Wolfe Boone, a reclusive writer of horror novels converts to Christianity and hints that he may be giving up writing in the horror genre.  This rumor causes immense consternation within his hometown, Skary, Ill. which has made a thriving tourist industry out of his residence.  Ainsley Parker, waitress at the The Haunted Mansion, has hated Boone from a distance for the ghoulish transformation his novels have wrought on her town.  Little does she realize, however, that she is the object of the author’s romantic affections.

Review:

I have had a hard time thinking of what to write for this book’s review and forgive me but the result is going to be a long ramble with a good helping of rant.  Admittedly beguiled by the simple and cute cover design of Boo, I was anticipating a story to match.  And the story certainly had its light and amusing moments, but I was overall disappointed in the book.

I started reading Boo during the read-a-thon, after finishing a highly enjoyable horror novel.  I remember feeling a qualm, knowing that the novelist in Boo gives up writing in the horror genre after he becomes a Christian.  I sensed that I might have some disagreement with the author’s implications.  But – 100% agreement is not mandatory for enjoyment, so I proceeded with the book.

My main problem with Boo‘s take on horror novels is that its criticism of horror novels is shallow and inconsistent.  Let me include excerpts from the book where the characters talk in depth about horror novels.

[Talking about Wolfe Boone’s career] At what point did all this fertile imagination go dark?  .. . As he grew into an adult, he explained, “The monsters came out of the closet and from under the bed and leapt into the corridors of my mind.  Unspeakable fears lurk there for all of us.”  When he sought publication, the horror was what sold, and he banked on the fears of humanity, perhaps not consciously realizing the dangerous potential of making a monster of himself.

p. 142

[Wolfe Boone:] “Well, I never wrote because of that.  I guess I got into horror because I liked to surprise the reader, and when I was a kid I loved ghost stories.  But somewhere along the way, it turned into something a lot scarier, a lot worse than just a ghost story.  I guess I caved to the will of the market, so to speak…”

p. 252

First off, the novel can’t seem to decide if Boone was a hack trying to write books that “caved” to the market (per above excerpts) or a writer that was good at his craft.  Elsewhere in the book, it is noted that Boone’s novels feature good character development, attain bestseller status and win critical praise.

Regarding the claims that Boone was “banking on the fears of humanity” and that his books became “worse than just a ghost story,” the reader is not clued in to what Boone’s books actually contained that was so ‘bad’.   The book alludes to a story about a ghost and mentions that Boone’s most recent book features a menacing horde of black cats.

And while horror novels may be partially about giving the reader delicious creepy feelings, many horror novels are also serving up social commentary, indelible characters, and/or tantalizing what-if scenarios.

During the course of the novel, Wolfe takes Ainsley to see a (presumably faithful) film adaptation of one of his books.  Ainsley is surprised to find that the horror movie is really an intense love story that happens to have a really scary ghost.  I was hoping that Ainsley’s emotional investment in the film would be a turning point in Ainsley and the book’s view on the horror genre.  I don’t consider myself a horror novel aficionado, but I hate the idea of a whole category of books being dismissed out-of-hand.  Alas, this is from Ainsley and Wolfe’s conversation after the film:

“Ainsley, I know these movies and books aren’t good.  I’m not trying to say they are.  I just wanted you to see.  I’ll never write anything like it again.  I see how dark it is.  I see what’s wrong with it.  But I’m not ashamed of it either.”

p. 155

What is meant by “dark?”  Boo is so vague on what is ‘wrong’ with the books and movies that I couldn’t understand how Wolfe and Ainsley could so decisively find horror and Christianity to be incompatible.  I personally love a good dark story, though I usually need at least a sliver of hope present for me not to be in a funk after reading such a story.

And – despite her apparent enjoyment of the film adaptation – Ainsley has no desire to read her new love interest’s novels.  In fact, late in the novel, Ainsley responds to an accusation of infatuation with celebrity status by saying: “Well I’ve only known one novelist in my life, and thank the good Lord he’s not writing what he used to anymore.”  I wanted to shake her and say, you haven’t even read any of his books!  How can you be in a position to be grateful for their cessation?

This brings me to the other major aspect of Boo that irritated me: Ainsley Parker.  She came off as such a prissy snob.  She is a Martha Stewart devotee and though I enjoy cooking, I got tired of hearing how Ainsley fries her own potato chips, always squeezes fresh orange juice, makes wreaths, cleans up the dishes promptly, etc.  A moment of laziness or secret penchant for something store-bought and crappy would have been welcome.

Ainsley’s girlfriends seem to exist mainly as a foil to her own perfection.  At a girls’ night, the other girls bring Doritos, cheese puffs, and pretzels, but Ainsley brings “a rolled, puffed pastry  filled with Portobello mushrooms, cream cheese, and fresh spinach” which took her an hour to make.  I mean, it sounds delicious, but it’s a gratuitous aside, only there to establish Ainsley’s already annoying ‘superior’ status.

The book does throw out this one moment of awareness:

Ainsley knew she probably seemed like a snob, as if she felt too good for the town.  But it wasn’t that at all.  In fact, she had never wanted to live anywhere else – pre-horror days, anyway.  And the disappointment people were bound to see in her eyes came from many sources, not the least of which was that she was lonely.

p. 61

Well, Ainsley, you can blame your loneliness on the fact that the rest of the townspeople are largely cartoonish connivers or stupid sheep-like creations.  The two exceptions are the minister and of course Wolfe, who is the only one to point out Ainsley’s flaw of bitterness.  Strangely, though this flaw is acknowledged, I still couldn’t shake the impression that Ainsley was meant as a saintly figure and this made for some confusing dissonance.

So there you have it.  I realize I’m being rather harsh with what is meant as a light and fluffy read, but this book bugs me every time I think about it.  I know there are more books in the series and perhaps they address some of the issues that drove me crazy in Boo.  However, I don’t think I’ll be reading them to find out if they do.  And just in case this matters to how you take my review, I am coming to this book as a Christian myself.

To counterbalance my review, I offer others’ reviews below:

Books, Movies and Chinese Food – “It was a funny, tongue in cheek look at the way we view hypocrisy.”

East Texas Writers Association – “Strange title, strange town, strange people – but oh, so much fun to read. Rene is an artist, pure and simple, in the creation of touching comedy.”

Kristina’s Favorites – “Ms. Gutteridge developed a fun and quirky town with great characters and I can’t wait to get back into it.”

Melanie Writes – “This is a kooky story, complete with a kooky, quite original, villain. I enjoyed it very much.”

Word Lily – “I laughed and laughed at this book. Part of that was because I was surprised by the audacity Gutteridge demonstrated by using so many cheesy puns. But I think it works. A fun, quick read.”

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Checking in on Challenges: October edition

Mostly for my own amusement, here is my progress on the various challenges I signed up for.  It’s likely that I won’t complete some of them, but I’m not going to formally abandon any of the challenges.  My reading choices may suddenly catch me up on one, or leave another unfinished.  *shrug*

Also, I have finished 63 books and listened to 3 audio books this year.

Flashback Reading Challenge (a re-read challenge): 1/6

Thriller and Suspense Challenge: 6/12

Colorful Reading Challenge: 3/7

What’s in a Name 5/6

2nd Reading Challenge 8/12

Memorable Memoir Challenge 2/4

Take a Chance Challenge 2/6

Biodiversity Challenge 2/5

RIP Challenge 3/2

And finally, my personal challenge to read 19 books older than myself:

7/19


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A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne

2004. Mass Market Paperback.

Simon & Schuster. 535 pages (not counting excerpt of another book by author)

Recommended by: Eva of A Striped Armchair

From: the public library (ILL)

For the challenge: RIP V Challenge

Synopsis & Review:

Journalist Harry Fitzglen has been assigned a story that is, on the surface, a review of a new art gallery.  However, his real purpose is to find out more about the featured photographer artist, Simone Anderson.  When Simone was born as one half of a conjoined twin, there was a lot of media fuss stirred up on account of the twins’ politician father.  But as Harry’s editor notes, the story gets a bit murky from there – a few too many people dead or disappeared.

A series of diary entries by a woman named Charlotte Quinton run alongside this story.  Charlotte gave birth to conjoined twins in the early years of the 20th century.  What at first seems just a slight connection to Simone’s story becomes even more complex further in the book.

A Dark Dividing is told in multiple voices from different eras: Charlotte; Simone’s mother, Mel, at the time of the twins’ infancy; Simone herself as a child and as an adult; and Harry, the outsider, flexing his research skills and digging deeper.  Also, a nurse named Roz has some sections of narrative.

Sarah Rayne handles these multiple narratives by frequently using a phrase from the end of one narrative and placing it into the beginning of the next narrative.  It’s a transparent segue device but it works here, because the story is all about parallels and connections.

At the center of the multiple narratives is the chilling Mortmain House, a forbidding ruin that used to function in Victorian times as a work house and also as a place for abandoned and orphaned children.

The book definitely had lots of atmosphere, especially as the Mortmain House was concerned.  One of the creepiest moments was when the child Simone enters the decrepit Mortmain house and the flash of her camera reveals that she is not alone.

Simone was definitely my favorite character, but I was invested in all the stories and characters, even minor ones like Mel’s steadfast friend, Isabel.

What with this book and also Little Face, British thrillers seem to be winning out with me lately.  Sarah Rayne is now another author I will have to seek out again.

Other Reviews:

A Striped Armchair – “… the characters all felt so real, and the plots were quite fun (the twists were pretty transparent, but I don’t think that was the point, you know?), and the writing was marvelous.”

Litter Critter – “… the writing is refreshing in its honesty and the hints of humour throughout only bring more poignancy to an already fantastic read.”

Servant of the Secret Fire – “In this elegant and atmospheric thriller, Sarah Rayne shifts effortlessly among multiple viewpoints . . . without ever losing the thread of her complicated story, and keeps the reader turning the pages until the satisfying ending, which is the most difficult trick of all, since I find that books that start out with promising premises such as this one often fall flat at the end.”

 

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