lottpoet's 2014 reading

Forum75 Books Challenge for 2014

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lottpoet's 2014 reading

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Dez. 31, 2013, 9:22am

This is my first year in the 75 Books Challenge, actually my first time joining any group on LT. In 2013 I read 67 books which is the most I've ever read. It makes 75 seem a nice stretch but attainable. Each year there are usually at least 50 books I attempt to read but give up on. In 2013, that number dropped precipitously, which may mean I am getting better at selecting lottpoet books or it could just be a fluke. I want to talk about the books as I'm reading them but have some clear way to indicate which books I actually finished (and thus count towards the 75). I'm sure I'll figure something out, but it may not be elegant.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 21, 2014, 9:39am

Books I've Completed in 2014 (favorites are bolded):

1. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable, 10/29/2013-1/11/2014
2. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, 10/25/2013-1/26/2014
3. Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell, 12/6/2013-1/29/2014
4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, 1/18/2014-1/30/2014
5. Mia by Laurence Yep, 1/31/2014-2/7/2014
6. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, 1/16/2014-2/8/2014
7. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, 7/6/2013-2/8/2014
8. Bellocq's Ophelia by Natasha Trethewey, 2/8/2014-2/8/2014
9. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik, 1/16/2014-2/9/2014
10. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, 7/1/2012-7/10/2012, 11/29/2013-2/9/2014
11. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, 2/2/2014-2/9/2014
12. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2/12/2014-2/19/2014
13. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, 2/18/2014-2/22/2014
14. Dubliners by James Joyce, 2/22/2014-2/25/2014
15. Erewhon by Samuel Butler, 2/25/2014-2/28/2014
16. The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen, annotations by David M. Shapard, 1/26/2014-2/28/2014
17. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, 3/5/2014-3/8/2014
18. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, 3/9/2014-3/12/2014
19. Necroscope by Brian Lumley, 3/2/2014-3/15/2014
20. Indian Captive by Lois Lenski, 3/16/2014-3/19/2014
21. Zero at the Bone by Mary Willis Walker, 3/18/2014-3/23/2014
22. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, 3/23/2014-3/26/2014
23. Keeping it Real by Justina Robson, 3/27/2014-3/29/2014
24. Samantha Saves the Day by Valerie Tripp, 3/30/2014
25. Sula by Toni Morrison, 4/5/2014-4/6/2014
26. Paraspheres, ed. Rusty Morrison, Ken Keegan, 11/30/2013-4/6/2014
27. Dark Harbor by Mark Strand, 4/7/2014
28. Silas Marner by George Eliot, 4/9/2014-4/10/2014
29. The Sandman: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman, 4/12/2014-4/13/2014
30. Stardust by Neil Gaiman, 4/16/2014-4/17/2014
31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 4/21/2014-4/25/2014
32. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead, 5/1/2014-5/3/2014
33. Animal Farm by George Orwell, 5/4/2014-5/5/2014
34. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, 5/7/2014-5/10/2014
35. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, 5/11/2014-5/13/2014
36. Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton, re-read, 12/1/2013-5/15/2014
37. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, 5/18/2014-5/23/2014
38. The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton, re-read, 5/16/2014-6/9/2014
39. One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty, 5/16/2014-6/9/2014
40. The Turning by Gloria Whelan, 6/12/2014-6/13/2014
41. Murder Runs in the Family by Anne George, 6/5/2014-6/15/2014
42. The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 1 by Herge, 7/11/2014
43. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, 4/28/2014-7/15/2014
44. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, 4/4/2014-7/18/2014
45. The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens, 10/20/2012-10/21/2012, 6/9/2014-7/18/2014
46. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King, 4/3/2014-7/23/2014
47. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, 7/1/2014-7/24/2014
48. The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson, 6/14/2014-7/25/2014
49. The Sandman: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman, 7/26/2014-7/29/2014
50. the terrible stories by Lucille Clifton, 7/29/2014-7/30/2014
51. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, 7/8/2014-8/2/2014
52. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 6/27/2014-8/3/2014
53. The Complete Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, 10/4/2012-10/9/2012, 5/26/2014-8/12/2014
54. Things that Fall from the Sky, a Loft Literary Center anthology, 8/13/2014
55. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, 5/23/2014-8/16/2014
56. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, 8/15/2014-8/20/2014
57. A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King, 7/29/2014-8/20/2014
58. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, 5/6/2014-8/23/2014
59. The Year the Music Changed by Diane Thomas, 7/22/2012-8/6/2012, 4/6/2014-8/25/2014
60. QPB Treasury of North American Folktales, ed. Catherine Peck, 7/22/2014-8/31/2014
61. The Canvas by Benjamin Stein, 7/18/2014-9/3/2014
62. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, 7/24/2014-9/12/2014
63. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, 9/8/2014-9/20/2014
64. Landscape with Yellow Birds by Jose Angel Valente, 9/15/2014-10/5/2014
65. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, 6/20/2014-10/7/2014
66. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, 9/29/2014-10/10/2014
67. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 2/1/2014-2/16/2014, 9/12/2014-10/15/2014
68. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, 9/11/2014-10/19/2014
69. The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman, 10/21/2014
70. The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, 10/24/2014-11/2/2014
71. Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest, 10/24/2014-11/3/2014
72. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 10/25/2014-11/4/2014
73. Dime-Store Alchemy by Charles Simic, 11/21/2014-11/21/2014
74. The Book of Light by Lucille Clifton, 11/22/2014-11/22/2014
75. The Likeness by Tana French, 10/28/2014-12/8/2014
76. Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, 12/9/2014-12/21/2014

Bearbeitet: Dez. 31, 2014, 11:20am

Books I Gave Up On in 2014:

The Book of Emotions by Joao Almino, about 75 pages in (out of about 350)
Beyond the Black River by Robert E. Howard, about 270 pages in (out of about 350)
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, about 50 pages in (out of about 400)
Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds, about 50 pages in (out of about 90)
Forbidden Knowledge by Roger Shattuck, about 60 pages in (out of about 350)
Mortarville by Grant Bailie, about 20 pages in (out of about 250)
The Rent Collector by Camron Wright, about 40 pages in (out of about 270)
Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Saenz, about 30 pages in (out of about 220)
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, about 60 pages in (out of about 270)
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, about 40 pages in (out of about 630)
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, about 160 pages in (out of about 180)
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, about 20 pages in (out of about 630)
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, about 150 pages in (out of about 340)
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, about 110 pages in (out of about 330)
What is the What by Dave Eggers, about 90 pages in (out of about 540)
The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh, about 130 pages in (out of about 420)
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, about 240 pages in (out of about 710)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, about 90 pages in (out of about 380)
Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto, about 70 pages in (out of about 190)
Poems of Jules Laforgue by Jules Laforgue, trans. Peter Dale, about 150 pages in (out of about 450)
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars, about 80 pages in (out of about 130)
The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer, about 170 pages in (out of about 310)
The Odyssey by Homer, trans. W.H.D. Rouse, about 180 pages in (out of about 300)
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes, about 290 pages in (out of about 350)

Bearbeitet: Dez. 21, 2014, 9:03pm

Dez. 31, 2013, 10:47am

Welcome! Your reading list looks pretty good! I read the Marable book last year, and thought it was an interesting take on Malcolm X. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts - and what you might think of the responses to his book.

Dez. 31, 2013, 10:50am

Hi April - Welcome to the group! I have the Marable in my to-be-read pile, so I'll also look forward to your comments. I'm also a Jo Nesbo fan, although, so far, I've only read The Redbreast.

Jan. 4, 2014, 8:06am

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is due at the library in a few days so I've been putting in some extra time with it. I think in the end I'll be glad I read it, but it sure was a lot of work. It feels dense, torpid, and sometimes diffuse. Early on, I would get so annoyed because I felt like the supporting general information about black history was obscuring the main subject. But, I did learn a lot from all of it. I'm especially enjoying the last bit (100-200? pages) which is from after he broke with the Nation of Islam. It's the part I know the least about.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 4, 2014, 8:43am

I will admit that I am not approaching the anthology Paraspheres with a good attitude. I think that if I just picked it up expecting a good anthology, I would think, it's not that good, but it's all right. But when I've been told the stories are doing something one usually doesn't see, that innovation and uniqueness are on display, I start reading with a challenging belligerence. Poor writers within. Mostly, I'm finding these stories didactic or moralistic or one-dimensional or shallow or surfacy. Not all, but a majority. There are a few stories I've enjoyed including "The Lucky Strike," by Kim Stanley Robinson, and "The Town News," by Justin Courter. I suppose I should mention there will be spoilers.

"The Lucky Strike" is a strange alternate history where the atomic bomb is not dropped on Hiroshima and the war is ended in a different manner, mainly because the bomber took a stand. I say strange because the world doesn't seem quite like ours even before the big divergence from our WWII history. This story is messagey (and moralistic, I suppose), but I enjoyed its relevance to our military times today, in terms of how decisions are made and carried out about invasions, bombings, wars. I found the cult that springs up around the bomber after his difficult but humane decision to be unrealistic and too much of a happy ending. But I did appreciate--well, it was the best part of the story for me--his soul searching and reasoning and wrestling with his conscious and whether he could live with the consequences of his actions either way.

"The Town News" is the best story I've read in a long time, but I think I'm going to have trouble showing why. The story features many things I don't like in stories, a kind of dweebish main character, writing and writers as the focus of the story, descriptions of stories within that are heavy in symbols the way dreams can be, crazy trash talking parrots. The main character wins some sympathy with me because of his gift/curse of seeing the eventual death of everyone he meets. The mechanism of it wasn't clear to me (when he touches them, talks to them, or is it instantaneous?), but it's not that kind of story. This ability is just what makes him who he is. I found his first person narration hilarious (which is definitely a way to win me over) but not mean-spirited (except sometimes toward himself), but also sad and unsettled. I liked that, even though it's first person, I didn't understand him or his actions completely, partly because he doesn't understand himself. He gets to know and end up helping through her last months with mesothelioma, a writer who is just starting to get some recognition. When he first meets her she doesn't know she's sick although there's a lot of evidence that she is (huge weight loss, weird coughing jags, sudden fatigue), so his dilemma is if he should tell her or not and how. As I mentioned, the writer's stories are heavily symbolic, but I enjoyed (and wanted to read) all of them. The last one she wrote which the narrator took to be about himself, which I agree, was perfect. It made me cry.

I realize my first two real posts make me sound crabby, but I do like stuff, but I am highly critical. Right now, I'm not really reading anything I love. Oh well, at least you know what you're getting into.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 11, 2014, 11:35pm

1. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

The last 100 pages of this book had me upgrade my rating from a 3 to a 3.5 out of 5. I really enjoyed the part I knew the least about: after Malcolm X's split from the Nation of Islam. I got angry, outraged, grief-stricken when we got to the part where he was assassinated. For me, it was like the book did such a good job bringing him to life that the end/his death was shocking, kind of visceral, I suppose.

Jan. 14, 2014, 2:39pm

I have to return Les Miserables to the library today. After ~12 weeks, I had gotten through a little over 200 pages. I think I'll probably just purchase a copy--I don't mind that it will take me awhile to finish. I'll have to do some more research, because I don't think the translation by Julie Rose is doing it for me. It was sometimes a little too modern. I noticed it sometimes in diction (ignoramus), but mostly in the tone of the text, which, to me, was flitty? jaunty? Maybe that's what Hugo's text feels like in its original language, I prefer to attribute it to translation side effect. Anyway, another, decent, translation, may help me sort some of that out. When I read poetry in translation, I love reading lots of translations and taking from each what I can, but that's a little bit more difficult with such a tome. Maybe I need to go to the library and sit down with all the different translations from the shelves and stacks and dip into them and see what may best get me through this first reading.

Jan. 26, 2014, 5:32pm

2. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

This was my first book by Jo Nesbo. It took me a while to get Harry Hole, this being the first I've met him, but the sixth in his series. He seems to me, from this book, a man who likes to know things, especially to know more than others, to be clever enough, hard-working enough. True the text stacks the deck toward him by having him overseeing his (less-experienced by default since he's the leader) team and dealing with a new supervisor who is a bit out of his element, but Harry did spend much time testing those around him, nudging, guiding, mentoring, or just getting there well ahead of everyone else. It's kind of an interesting characteristic and it fits the narration which is not very interior (to Harry). And while I can appreciate the echoing within the structure of the text of information withholding and misleading, dribbling out information the way Harry doggedly determines and doles out to his fellows, I didn't really care for it. In fiction, I really am not a fan of somehow not knowing what the character knows, especially when it works out in the narration's favor (to make for a tidier story or a more suspenseful story).

So, I grew to like Harry well enough. I admired his intelligence, even if I felt manipulated into doing so. But, I didn't like how the way the structure of how information was released too often made me to aware of the book as art (a made thing) rather than story (an experience thing). I also felt that the investigation was not carefully done, especially at the start. All potential evidence was not collected in a timely manner (was open to contamination), the timeline of the original victim was not investigated right away, positive ids were made and acted upon on sketchy data. I'm trying to keep it vague enough to avoid spoilers, but overall, I was not impressed with the level of police work I was seeing. I tried to modulate my response because it's one of those books where you follow many characters, so I always knew, mostly, more than the police did, so I managed to get through to a point where I liked Harry and wanted to know more about him. I am not going to seek any more of these out, but if one were to fall in my lap, I might give the series another chance.

Jan. 26, 2014, 5:41pm

Hi! I'm enjoying your thoughtful commentary on the books you've been reading. I've read some Jo Nesbo, but I haven't read The Redeemer yet.

Jan. 26, 2014, 9:10pm

Thanks! I already have you starred and have been lurking and enjoying your book ruminations. And hearing about Sig!

Jan. 26, 2014, 9:22pm

I received Cordelia's Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold, as a SantaThing gift this past Christmas. It's my first Bujold and I settled on it this January because I saw there is a group reading all of these books this year. The book is an omnibus. I'm a little over halfway through the first included book, Shards of Honor. I am enjoying it more than I thought I would. I feel a little confused about the world(s), especially Barrayar, and there are a lot of names (more than a couple starting with V). I like Cordelia well enough. I really like Vorkosigan. I think they're good together. That's all I have to say right now. Well, ... I suppose I'm a little nervous that their relationship will settle down into the traditional, but I fervently hope it does not.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 29, 2014, 8:19pm

3. Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell

This book is a perfect example of a powerful ending having me feel much more kindly towards the rest of the book. I still agree that the book could have been much tighter, that perhaps the author fell in love with her characters and lost perspective as to what should be left in and what could be set aside. I also think that the book calls into question, at least to me, the line between witnessing and... wallowing? This was my favorite sort of book when I was a teen and young adult because it spoke the truth about my family and my community. I saw the people I knew represented, acknowledged. Nowadays, I'm much more uneasy about it being entertainment, vaguely voyeuristic. Also, I grow weary of unrelenting misery. That the centerpiece of this book is the contour of the Emmett Till murder is tangential to anything I enjoyed about the book. I appreciated the deep characterization and the viewpoints from the different sides (the woman supposedly disrespected, the murderer, the boy, the power in town), especially the way we radiate out from those key people into their families and their communities. I was not enamored of the extended timeline (60's thru the 80's); it was difficult for me to trudge through. But the ending. Wow! For me, it was like a pinch or a poke to get my attention, a kind of zing, and then blank pages. It had me reassessing the shape of the story and also wondering about the future of the characters, their hard road ahead, which altogether showed how history (big H, little h) informs the future, how it's all connected. Which sounds, when baldly stated, a not atypical theme, but I was impressed how so few lines of text could make so much open up inside me. Well done, Bebe Moore Campbell.

Jan. 30, 2014, 10:15am

4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Now that's a haunted house story! Completely creepy and un-pindownable. I could only read it in the daylight hours and I still scared myself once the lights were out for bed (and I think I might have dreamed about it once, but mercifully the details go unremembered). The narration, to me, (unless it can't be relied on) seems quite certain that the house is alien and 'not right,' but I also wonder if perhaps the house's method is to amplify certain personalities, haunting people who are already haunted. Eleanor certainly comes in with a lot of psychological baggage. I enjoyed every delicious moment of it.

Feb. 1, 2014, 2:37pm

Oh, I *love* The Haunting of Hill House! Love it! Have you seen the movie, The Haunting (the 1963 version, not the horrible remake)? It is hands-down the scariest movie I've ever watched.

Feb. 2, 2014, 12:40pm

I don't know why I took so long to get around to the book. Her writing is gorgeous and, as a writer, I learned so much by how she structured the story. I haven't seen the movie, but it might be one of those I have to watch with my hands over my face! I'll add it to the netflix queue/amazon on demand.

Feb. 3, 2014, 3:12pm

I have been seeing people doing a January recap. I'm not doing anything so formal, but it is interesting to look back over the past month. I have way more abandoned books than completed books. I think I've been kind of manic about my reading and not reading generously. If I want to get to 75, I can't take too long to become acquainted with a book! At least, that's how I've been feeling. I'm trying now to slow down, relax, and enjoy the journey.

I'd love to shrink a bit my list of currently reading books. When I get over 5 going at once, I get very antsy. I'm just about done with Breaking Dawn and China Mountain Zhang. Only, I keep adding more to the pile as soon as I finish 1 or 2. Oh well, it's a good problem to have, too many good books to read.

Feb. 8, 2014, 11:14am

>19 lottpoet:: Ha! Don't watch it alone at night, is the best advice I can give...

Feb. 9, 2014, 9:20pm

5. Mia by Laurence Yep

I put off reading this for a long while because it features figure skating, of which I'm a fanatic, and I was scared they wouldn't get it right. The good news is they got the figure skating right. Yay! The less-good news is this book drove me insane. It features an athlete with confidence issues that greatly effect her performance. It's something that many athletes have to deal with, and it was realistically portrayed in the story with all its complexities. But, I personally just could not get it. It may have been overplayed, as I often find these modern girl American Girl books to be more heavily didactic than the historic ones. I also found the writing to be a little stiff so maybe that exacerbated things. And I'm no athlete, never have been, so maybe that inhibited my understanding (strictly a spectator for figure skating). Of course, I'll eventually be reading the follow-up, Bravo, Mia, because I do love my American Girl books, even though I have many gripes, grumbles and rants about the books, dolls, marketing.

Feb. 9, 2014, 9:50pm

6. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh

Wow! The text had such authority and the characterization was so deep that even when I had no idea where the story was going I trusted Maureen McHugh to get me there satisfactorily. I haven't trusted anybody like that since Elizabeth Knox. This book was set maybe 150 years after it was written (early to mid 2100's) in a vaguely dystopic future where China is the world power and most countries seem to have had some sort of people's revolution. Some of the dystopia is what happens when one huge world power holds the world in its hands (concentration of wealth and influence in the home country) but a lot of it was the aftermath of ecological near-collapse which they have been repairing for some time but it takes a long while of hard labor and deprivation.

The writer was masterful at feeding the reader hints about the world without intruding in the characters' stories, to the point that when one of the last scenes of the book, a lecture given by the main character to argue a philosophical point, really becomes a lesson to the reader showing how we got to this point, I even loved that, because I was curious about how we got from here to there, and even though the delivery was transparent, its method was clever.

I loved these characters, their angst, the way they stumbled their way toward something just a bit better than where they're at, and they get there with some heartache and trouble, and they find the new (improved) place to be a different kind of hard and worry, but they keep moving forward. I enjoyed learning about a future China. (I know little enough about modern day China.) It was interesting seeing a different political and economic system than what I know, especially in how it works differently in the day-to-day versus the ideal, and that's not even to talk about the concessions and work-arounds to do with the environment. This book made me so happy the whole time I was reading it. It's my favorite read of the year so far and right now it's hard to think that anything could displace it.

Feb. 13, 2014, 8:38pm

7. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

*There are potentially spoilers below.*

I thought this was a pretty good ending to the series. I had a really hard time getting into it because I knew there was a horrific birth scene coming, the weird imprinting of Jacob, and Bella becoming a vampire. Then we have a switch to Jacob's perspective, which I was not enamored of, although it was nice to learn some more about the wolves, even though I don't care so much for them as an aspect of this series, and there was so much of them in this book. I didn't think the book needed to be nearly as long as it was: a little less happy honeymoon, a little less cool wolf stuff, a little less different vampire lifestyles. In general, the first half of the book, for me, read so slow.

But, I am a sucker for these books. I think I figured out in this book that it's Bella I love (well, and Carlisle). She has little affect, but inside she seethes with emotion. I like that outwardly she acts in a steadfast manner even though she has so much inner angst. I suppose maybe I admire it because I struggle with allowing myself to feel passionately about most things (from a fear of loss or betrayal? who knows) and it is her core. Can I say that typically I find stories where the human becomes a non-human, willingly or not, difficult for me to follow past the transformation because its their humanity I value. But my absolute favorite part of this book is when she thinks that she was born to be a vampire, that it's the one thing she's ever excelled at (commenting on how she doesn't seem to have the typical newborn vampire struggles). The way she breaks it down in her head and shows how she got to that point, it made sense to me, it felt true, not just to her character but to the series.

Should I talk more about the anti-climax of the final 'battle' or the supposed betrayal of Alice, the ultra-specialness of Renesmee, the draggy, stuttering pace. Naw. In the end I enjoyed the book and the series. Nothing can compare to the euphoria of the first book, but this is probably a (distant) second favorite.

Feb. 13, 2014, 9:09pm

8. Bellocq's Ophelia by Natasha Trethewey
shared read, TIOLI Challenge #8 (book whose average rating is 1/10 of a point or less from my average book rating)

I've had this book on my shelf for many years, probably close to ten. It fits the challenge for me as well but I chose a different book (Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones), but I saw another person with this book listed and that was my opportunity to get it read. It's very short for a poetry book and reads smoothly and easily. It is the imagined story of one of the models for photographs by Bellocq. The lines are a lot looser than what I usually prefer and, for me, there were no standout individual poems that I would gladly come back to outside of this cycle/framework, but I think the book does an excellent job of structuring the book in an interesting way to tell Ophelia's story. There were individuals poems I enjoyed within their context for revealing character, including "Letters from Storyville: April 1911," and "Letters from Storyville: March 1911," the poem that made me fall in love with the character. I especially liked that we get her arrival and work at the brothel with the letters and then circle back to her diary where we get her hopes and dreams when she first goes to the big city and there is still so much possibility.

Feb. 15, 2014, 12:16pm

9. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
(belated) January Joyrides

The typical mode of transport for these books is dragons. The long journey spanning much of this book is a large ship (a dragon transport) during the Napoleonic Wars. They have to travel from England to China. There is plenty of excitement during the journey, including a big storm at sea, an attack by the French early on, and an attack by a sea-monster. There are also tensions around slavery (witnessed because of the travel down Africa) and many cultural misunderstandings, between the Chinese and the British, but also between the naval crew and the dragon crew/airmen.

I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as the first which had me giddy and cackling throughout. This one felt ponderous and a tad frustrating. The weight of strained diplomacy, duty as an officer and citizen, the mindset of the time period, all served to squish most of the fun out of my dragon book. The way that Laurence took so long to change his thinking about whether dragons, in general, could be full members of society, or that dragons in England could have very much to complain about in their treatment, or even that Temeraire himself could want different things for himself than Laurence wants for him, that he is his own person, was realistic, especially for the time period, but was irksome to me. To his credit Laurence, when confronted with contrary reasoning does consider and adjust his outlook, but slowly and grudgingly, and still has his core of paternalism he struggles with.

I think I really missed the camaraderie of the air corps and seeing the crew be crew. And I missed the other dragons. I do appreciate that the author is complicating her story/world, instead of writing the same book over and over again, at least I do intellectually. But in my heart, I kind of do really want more of the first book. I will give the next 1-2 books a try and hopefully that will help me see where we're going and settle in and trust the author to take me there.

Feb. 16, 2014, 11:58am

10. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

This book is very well-written, doing a good job with voice and, especially, pacing. You just have to read on even when horrific things keep happening because the text is structured so propulsively. I enjoyed the story very much and was greatly moved throughout. However, I just can't go on for two more books of utter misery, of characters being hurt so deeply and persistently. It feels a bit like overkill. I also am a little weirded out by the fact that every living creature has Noise except human females. I know that how illnesses manifest and medicines effect people can be different depending on sex, and it completely makes sense the sort of scapegoating that happened to the women seemingly unaffected by Noise, but it still felt vaguely like 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,' as if men and women aren't even the same species. It's hard to untangle in the story because the colonies seemed to have been religious fundamentalists and stuck on the idea of going back to a simpler time with the implied strict gender roles that can often go with either milieu. It all made me uncomfortable enough, especially because I did not trust that it would all get sorted out satisfactorily enough by the end, that I have no plans to continue on with the series.

Feb. 16, 2014, 12:13pm

11. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

At first, I found this story refreshingly funny. But, soon I began to experience a tension between the hilarity and the drama (deaths, tragedy, racism). Which may have been the point? Or maybe I'm reading to much into it? In America, people of color are often valued for their entertainment factor (I'm including sports in entertainment), so I had this idea that one part of the story was to bring out the awkwardness of the pivot of 'laughing with' and 'laughing at', which kind of does fit in with YA concerns of whether people are truly your friends and what all you would do to seem to have friends. Maybe. Also, there is the thing of laughing to keep from crying, which I know is true. I don't know. I do know I enjoyed the book well enough: great use of voice, integration of cartoons, seeming authenticity of this character's journey. But, I was often pulled out of the story because of the above 'deep' thoughts, which may completely have been my thing, and the episodic nature of the story which fits the structure of a diary but whose text didn't feel very diary-like to me, as if there was a greater artistic (authorial?) hand involved.

Feb. 20, 2014, 12:34pm

Okay, in message 20 I said I was going to slow down and enjoy my reading more and worry less about my completed numbers, but I just sort of wished it to happen without changing anything I was actually doing. Over the last few days, I actually have slowed down by putting several books on hiatus and re-organizing what I hope to read when. I also am leaving open the possibility of revisiting the last few books I 'dropped.' And, I've re-organized my what I'll be reading next so that it's not one massive list of books looming over me but more manageable clumps. We'll see. So far, I am enjoying more whatever books I happen to be reading, am better able to focus on it without worrying about what's next to read and what my stats are.

Feb. 22, 2014, 9:30am

12. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I have been resisting this book for a long time. First, I had no interest, then once my interest grew I was frightened of being under its sway. Family and friends dropped most housekeeping and child-rearing duties in order to have more time with this series, certainly sleep was the first to go. Thank goodness, I didn't have quite that reaction. I enjoyed it greatly. I cried my eyes out for the first half. I liked Katniss well enough; I liked Peeta. I really didn't like the end: there was no moment of victory before moving on to the next big bad, which highlights how dystopic the world is, but I need a few more moments of brightness than the ending implied I was going to get in the next books in the series. That's a similar reaction I had to the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go. I have no plans to continue with the series. I'm giving my copy of the book to my sister who is not a big reader but loved this series (borrowed from her daughter).

Feb. 22, 2014, 9:55am

13. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Fantasy February

This book didn't match the cover I have which suggested a fluffy YA urban fantasy. In fact, I picked it up hoping to use it as a break from the heartache of The Hunger Games not realizing it was just about as brutal and dystopic.

I'm going to talk about the not so good first. The writing is very rough. There are many infodumps about the world, especially in the first half of the book. And the memories/flashbacks of torture and abuse were incredibly awkward often breaking into the dire scenes that had dredged them up and completely diluting both the contemporary scene and the scene from the past as the reader's attention was divided.

Okay, on to the better. I thought the world itself was interesting, a military takeover after deposing the monarch. There were also little touches throughout that kept my interest: wondering what the torture of the children had to do with magic (at first thinking maybe that's how they teach it or bring someone's power out); the start of some interesting ideas about gender; hints of the start of degradation of this new world order; some lovely figurative language around poison that reads like a book-length extended metaphor just under the fraught surface, sometimes baldly stated, often not.

This book really got under my skin. I was sneaking pages of it at work. I missed key figure skating Olympic coverage because I could not put the book down. I will definitely read the next book. I wish I had it on hand now.

Mrz. 4, 2014, 6:52pm

14. Dubliners by James Joyce
shared read, Feb. TIOLI Challenge #12 (book by an author you studied at school)

This wasn't the book I chose for this challenge (Gulliver's Travels, which I'm reading this month), but I did briefly study James Joyce in high school, specifically "The Dead." I believe it was an extra credit project to read it, see the movie, and write a one-page thoughts on the movie and story. Most of us didn't understand the story and the movie didn't help.

Last year I read my true first James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The best part was when he was first sent of to school and got sick and thought he was going to die. But then he became a teenager and went on and on and on about his struggle to give up the prostitutes and repent. I nearly lost my mind. Then he went to college and blathered on about politics and philosophy but didn't DO anything, which I suppose is true to some people's college experience, but I don't enjoy reading it. I think I might have liked this one in high school or even college, even if I didn't understand it. I was too impatient for it as a grown-up. I dithered on whether to add it to my worst reads list last year because I can tell it's a well-crafted thing-that-is, but I was so angry at Joyce for putting me through it, on the list it went.

I approached this equally slender book with a great deal of trepidation. I think I would have appreciated many of these stories independently, but having them all crammed together in this book was too much dreariness, too much awful humanity. I spent much of the book cringing and wincing in anticipation of someone being abused or abusing someone else or both. Humiliation, denigration, sneering and devaluing, these were all part and parcel of these stories. The one story I enjoyed greatly was "A Painful Case," and if I had not read it in its present company, and, heck, with James Joyce's name attached, I would count it as an exceedingly fine example of a short story. I wonder when I'll decide James Joyce is not for me. I have Finnegans Wake on my shelf as something I hoped to attempt to tackle this year. I must be masochistic.

Mrz. 8, 2014, 1:37pm

>32 lottpoet: "A Painful Case" by a certain writer

I have a soft spot for characters who think that most of humanity is not worth dealing with, because it speaks to a part of me. The bigger part of me longs for connection to my fellow human beings, wants to love and be loved, but is so often sorely disappointed that the smaller, meaner part of me wonders why I bother. "...but there was no harshness in the eyes which, looking at the world from under their tawny eyebrows, gave the impression of a man ever alert to greet a redeeming instinct in others but often disappointed." That was the point, a page and a half in, at which this story captured me.

When the main character accepts and cultivates a connection with a woman chance met at the theater, I thought I knew what kind of story this was: a break out of your shell story; a drawing forth into the greater, richer world; the beginning of reconsideration. I admit feeling disappointed that the story should grow so typical, but the development of their relationship was so insightfuly written, so measured, such as the main character would draw it, that I continued on.

Truly they were both in a tenuous position, he valuing their relationship but nervous of any development that would cause it to break, she married and yearning for more than she can have at this moment. I understood why the main character put an end to it. One could say they each met at the wrong time in their lives, perhaps too late. The title which I had put out of my mind returned to me and I thought, ah, it's the opposite of what I thought: it's the connection that cannot be; the attempt and fall; the retrenchment.

When several years have passed and the main character learns of her recent death and the years of drinking that seemed to lead to it, he is shocked then angry at her weakness, at his once mistaking her for his soul mate. I couldn't believe the contortions he went through in his mind to dodge any culpability or influence on her downslide. It was actually gripping. It was so clear by the fact that he dwells on this news for so long, walking the streets, and circling around what he thinks, what she thought and felt, that he is agitated, that he is affected. He does eventually glance at the fact that this tragedy is most likely because of him, and the ending, where he whispers within himself something that sounds suspiciously like regret and loss, is perfect.

Mrz. 9, 2014, 11:21am

15. Erewhon by Samuel Butler

This book features a Lost World/Civilization. I spent most of the book wavering between seeing the society as a genuine thing in itself, trying to figure out what it stood for/what it was commenting on, and reminding myself that it was commenting on what they understood about the world in the late 19th century not what I think I understand about the world today. For instance, this society has criminalized illness (with trials and prisons and the like). Is that a comment on our legal system, how we practice medicine, our views on criminality? I liked the book well enough until we got to the long section on machine intelligence, which went on and on and nearly broke me. It was a difficult thing to recover from, so I lost a lot of impetus for the last third of the book.

It was especially disquieting at the very end of the book when he makes it back to England and comes up with a plan to enlighten the natives of Erewhon by enslaving them, and he got the idea from a newspaper article about the Christianizing of the Polynesians. I mean, all along he had been fretting about money and a way to monetize anything he experienced or saw, which is why he was traveling to such out of the world places anyway.

Okay, I'm going to back up and say he got out of Erewhon by way of hot air balloon. He designed it and had it built (and mainly relied on their antiquarian engineers to make it work). Suddenly the book felt much more lighthearted than I had been viewing it. I don't believe for a minute that one can just design a hot air balloon because you happen to have seen one. And he conveniently loses any evidence he brought back with him because he has to dump it to keep the balloon afloat. Anyway, the very end, undercuts the playfulness that balloon scene brought to the story, reminding me that no matter how exaggerated his story, people will suffer greatly for it, the consequences are dire. I was glad to have read this book, but once is good enough.

Mrz. 10, 2014, 1:58pm

16. The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen, annotations by David M. Shapard

I felt really stupid when I first started this book. If it hadn't been annotated, I wouldn't have understood what was going on. But after a couple of chapters, I got into Austen's rhythm of things. Also we were done with the setup and people started really conversing with each other: dialogue (internal, external, and indirect), the best thing about Austen from my sample of one.

There was a time, several years ago, when PBS showed Jane Austen every week until they'd run through the all the stories. It was my first Austen exposure and I loved it (especially Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth!). From what I remember, the first one they showed was Persuasion and I remember feeling very unsatisfied because it felt to me like most of the story-story happened before the beginning and I didn't really have access to the characters interiority.

I do think this story is a very interior one, which may be an Austen thing or may be a this-story thing (remember I only have a sample size of 1). Anne does have a lot of stuff swirling around in her head, understandably so. But what I didn't get before these annotations is how much she's constrained by the mores of her society. I thought the annotations did a wonderful job helping me understand this society from the little things (vehicles and how tippy they were) to the big things (the guy not being able to break off an engagement, duty to parents). Two things I really didn't like about these annotations: the quasi-spoilers in them about future events in the story, and the lit-crit stuff (I think you can tell me how Austen's writing differed from her contemporary fellow-writers without telling me how that makes her the better writer).

The story was a good one. I would have missed so much without the annotations, even just from untangling the sentence structure sometimes: it felt, in that respect, a little like reading a Henry James, but only a little. Not knowing what Captain Wentworth was really thinking or feeling surely made me invest in Anne all the more. And then when we got to the letter he secretly wrote and cleverly 'presented' to Anne--I swooned. I lingered over it like the romantic fool I pretend not to be. In the end, I was surprised to feel that Anne's story felt slight. All that turmoil over what? Maybe it was that her story ended so happily when nothing in it would seem to indicate it would. I will surely seek out more Austen (maybe Pride and Prejudice next?).

Mrz. 11, 2014, 10:55am

17. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The first thing to capture me in this book was how gorgeously written it was, not lush or poetic, but in the way of poetry there was a great care in the choice of words (especially verbs) and a refusal to accept the ordinary/typical word choice. So, at first, I was confused about the race and ethnicity of the characters and how they related to each other. I suppose I was trying to put the people in their boxes, but the reality, as it is in reality, was much messier and constantly shifting. The language is what kept me going until I settled into the story. It is a diffusely structured tale, which is not usually my thing to read, but reluctantly I admit it is the sort of thing I tend to write. I cried so much throughout this novel. I loved Yun Ling's prickly interactions. The Japanese characters' stories have the most pathos, where Yun Ling's story, when we finally get it, is cold and generic, but also after some thought you realize grossly incomplete (and Aritomo eventually calls her on it) and continuing on into her current life. When she says she's afraid she'll always be this way (in reference to not being able to connect with people, having friends), I cried the hardest because of the tragedy of how traumatic events haunt us seemingly in perpetuity. This was definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.

Mrz. 12, 2014, 8:51am

18. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I cried and cried and cried over this book. And I laughed a lot. But then I got about half-way through and felt very weary. I still laughed and cried. But it was like I had eaten too much of a rich dessert. At the end I still really liked the book, but I no longer loved it. I mean I started this book giddy with delight. The dialogue was the best. I really appreciated the friendship of Isaac, Augustus and Hazel.

Mrz. 16, 2014, 9:55am

19. Necroscope by Brian Lumley
TIOLI Challenge #1 (book with a red-lettered title)

I couldn't figure out how to add the image of my book cover, but I shall attempt to describe it: an elongated skull with what look like tendons at the jaw, the mouth is open showing vampire teeth and a pointy, active tongue. Also, the whole thing is embossed/raised. I look at that cover and I expect a cheesy vampire adventure. The story is a pulpy tale with the writing itself being a bit more subdued, but recognizably pulp. However, I found this book to be the opposite of exciting. It was strangely leisurely. For so many of the characters we learn so much about them that doesn't matter in the end to the story. This did not make the characters rounder so that we felt their deaths all the more (or felt them well-deserved). It just felt like wasted space in the book that could have been better put to use, maybe with some true espionage to go with the ESPionage. I wanted to see people being clever and having close calls and in general doing more than theorizing. I've never had a 500-page book feel so long, so very long. Pretty disappointing.

Mrz. 23, 2014, 9:42pm

20. Indian Captive by Lois Lenski

I had originally planned to read this book for this month's TIOLI challenge of reading a book about an injustice. Then I found I felt pretty uncomfortable claiming the kidnapping as injustice (which it is) without acknowledging the injustice of what was happening to the Seneca, in particular, and the Native Americans, in general. The book was from the kidnapped girl's perspective so of course there's a lot of stuff she wouldn't know at that point and lots she wouldn't understand or get. But the thing is that the book, especially in the early chapters, has no qualms about bleeding the point of view into other characters including the older Molly (looking back).

It's a fictionalized account of a true story (Mary Jemison) which I think made things more muddled than they needed to be. There's a preface where the author talks about what sorts of changes she made to the story to make it structurally better as a novel. But the thing is, I didn't get that. It still felt too closely tied to the truth to be a satisfying story. Especially in the second half of the story there's a lot of cryptic seesawing in Molly's perspective between wanting to stay and wanting to go which is awkwardly presented and goes on for way too long (pages and narrative time).

The thing is, I found this book to be highly problematic as a fictional story and so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the reason: Is it that the author felt too bound by the real Mary Jemison's story, especially the 'autobiography' she dictated later in life, or that the author is just not a very strong writer, or some combination? Something else? The writing style was a bit stilted, especially the dialogue. The point of view nearly breaks down in the early chapters with the Seneca before Molly has learned the language. Just when we most need to be strongly within Molly's story in order to experience it with her, we sort of get Little Turtle's perspective and some of Shining Star's and sometimes a strange disembodied, all-knowing voice that maybe is the older Molly looking back. The second half of the book is saggy. The ending comes just a bit too close to the white person out-Indianing the Indian. The psychology of the book just feels off. They killed her parents and younger siblings and when Molly finds out for sure, much later in the story, she acts as if it's just unfortunate, not something she has to reconcile or make peace with in order to truly integrate into the Seneca.

I should probably mention some things I appreciated about the book. I was glad the Seneca were all different: there were surly ones and lazy ones and sympathetic ones and sneaky ones and kindhearted ones, etc. I thought the book did a decent job of showing Molly's changing perception of the Seneca, moving gradually from outsider to insider status, and also that there were good things and bad things about the societies of the English, the French, and the Seneca. Although I did not think it was well done, I did appreciate the attempt at portraying Molly's wrestling with fitting in/finding home with the Seneca and trying not to lose her birth family or her mother tongue.

In the end, I found this book highly unsatisfying. It's a difficult story to tell. My favorite so far of these captive stories, Standing in the Light, still had some problems. I suppose this time around, I'd rather have read a biography.

Mrz. 28, 2014, 3:51pm

21. Zero at the Bone by Mary Willis Walker
Mystery March

I don't read many mysteries, but I cannot abide when the main character does a whole lot of stuff other than solving the mystery. It's like the mystery isn't important to them. It made me antsy when the main character gets a job at the zoo to try to get more information on what she thinks the mystery is, but really spends her time learning her job and being exhausted from it and thinking that she doesn't know how to proceed. I can't really fault her for not knowing how to untangle what was going on--I wouldn't know how either--but we're not professionals. She had a professional, a police officer, that she felt more and more that she could trust, and she kept withholding lots of key information. She's a loner, been independent from a very young age, been let down so she feels she can only rely on herself, and the killer could truly be almost anyone she comes in contact with. I understand all of that and yet I wanted to throttle her so much in the second half of the book. I mean, she had little trouble trusting Vic, the guy she lusts after, even though he fits the murderer's profile better than the police officer does. Sigh.

I actually did like this book for the most part. I loved all the stuff about her dog training and seeing her put that knowledge to use, even with the wolves at the zoo. Really, I'm not sure I needed a mystery, I could just read a whole book of her doing her dog stuff. It took me a while to warm up to her and, funny I should say this, to understand her huge antipathy for her father. But I tried to keep an open mind and, as I got to learn more about her family situation and as she learned and remembered more, I understood her better. The zoo stuff was pretty interesting, both the running of it day to day and the behind the scenes stuff (funding, the internal and external politics). Every now and again, I would get a cozy-vibe (although I've not read any) with quirky characters popping up (the sister-neighbors, the police officer, the cousin she's newly met), and I loved it/them.

I thought the story wrapped up way too tidily. Talk about living happily ever after! That engendered relief--I mean I didn't want her to suffer anymore--and eye-rolling. Maybe if she had gotten 1 or 2 things she needed and not almost everything. I also was pretty disappointed that the attack on her by the murderer had nothing to do with her key knowledge (dogs), when it seemed the other people were killed by creatures they were experts on. Of course, her attack does match the past inciting incident, so there's that. It just kind of bugged me. Well, I'd be all right with reading another book of hers, but I'm seriously thinking I might be ready to try a cozy.

Mrz. 28, 2014, 8:50pm

22. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
shared read, TIOLI Challenge #9

I was all over the place when reading this book. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes it was hard to force myself to continue, sometimes I was annoyed. Sometimes I admired the language and how the story seemed to be coming together structurally, other times I found the writing too artificial, too aware of itself as a constructed thing. I liked the first section with the transatlantic flyers quite a bit. It captured me and kept me engaged, though I found it a bit overlong. Actually, I felt most of the sections went on just a bit longer than I wanted. The Frederick Douglass section was my absolute favorite. I loved his need to balance strength and pride with humbleness. He wanted not to appear ignorant but he couldn't sound too learned or it would call into question the veracity of his life's story. Also, his need to not take sides in Ireland in order to reap the most benefit for those at home, including his family. Then, we got to George Mitchell's story and the book ground to a halt for me. I really did not like his POV. It was difficult for me to pick up the book and continue on. George Mitchell was also balancing in a difficult place and time, trying to bring together so many different factions, get the language right, make sure all the voices were heard, and not to give up. But, I just didn't believe he was as good as he was making himself out to be. I was arguing and sneering through his whole section. Maybe I just don't believe he could be as self-aware, although I buy it for Douglass? Maybe the stylistic choice began to wear thin with their similarities coming back to back? I don't know, but I never quite recovered from it. I hate to say it because I can see this is a well-crafted, well-written work, but I didn't find anything special in the last sections of the book. I especially hate to say it because those are the women's sections and I don't want to privilege the men (the stereotypical doers) over the women (the processors, the mourners, the feelers), but I felt that's the way they were presented to me. I was not sorry to have read it, but I'm certainly very glad to be done.

Apr. 7, 2014, 4:27pm

23. Keeping It Real by Justina Robson
March TIOLI Challenge #3 (book with a word in the title that starts with a vowel)

Even though the description of this book left me underwhelmed, I was ready to love it because of how much I adore the author's Living Next Door to the God of Love. Reading it, there was some stuff that was pretty exciting, but too much of it was merely OK or sometimes downright disappointing.

I thought the worldbuilding was fabulous. I loved the different worlds which are kind of like our mythical worlds (elf realm, fairy realm, realm of the dead, etc.) and how the people from those worlds insist they've always been there when we (mundane earth) insist they didn't exist before the Quantum Bomb. I loved that our memory of pre-QB earth is hazy and can't be trusted. I wanted to know who/what was whispering under the QB's ground-zero (Alas, much was made of it, nothing came of it).

I liked the complicated relationship Lila has with the elves because of prior experience we learn about a bit at a time (although clunkily). I like how her complicated relationship is further stirred up and made more complex by what happens later in the story. The andalunes that the elves have is not something I've seen done with elves before. The elf culture had interesting points but often read either new-agey or vulcan-like. The fact that she gets caught up in their almost-silent (unclear whether her superiors knew but neglected to share with her) civil war is cool. The facts of the factions was realistic, but a bit too heavy-handed for me re: depletion of natural resources, isolationist/closing the borders.

The biggest disappointment for me was how shakily crafted the concoction felt. Backstory was introduced in abrupt chunks, quasi-flashbacks that were awkwardly placed, and clunky passages such as shrink-talk that reads nothing-like and takes place at a most-inopportune time. Events seemed haphazardly flung on the pages between the covers. Little seemed to follow naturally or rationally from what came before. I had a really hard time figuring out really basic stuff like how long Lila had been an agent (because outside of the kick-ass stuff, which was partly bionicized for her, she didn't seem stellar at it).

I wonder if I judge her too stringently knowing what she's capable of. But I actually think I wouldn't have given her the whole book to wow me, if not for my prior experience with her work. This is actually a good book. I just wanted a great one.

Apr. 10, 2014, 5:17pm

24. Samantha Saves the Day by Valerie Tripp
March TIOLI Challenge #20 (book about an orphan)

Samantha's is my favorite American Girl movie, but so far her books are my least favorite of the various historical characters. I don't dislike them. Taken individually they're OK, but merely OK. Nellie is my favorite character of the movie and the books. She actually has the most interesting character arc. I'm surprised that she features so little in the books when she's always marketed as a sort of sidekick to Samantha. The void of Nellie means the last couple of books are all privilege, all the time, which is a bit difficult for me to really enjoy.

Apr. 10, 2014, 8:00pm

Lots of good reading here.

Apr. 10, 2014, 8:04pm

Thanks! :)

Bearbeitet: Apr. 14, 2014, 7:54pm

25. Sula by Toni Morrison
shared read, TIOLI Challenge #10

I haven't read Toni Morrison in a very long time. I liked this book well enough, but it is really not my thing. I liked the lush language with unusual alienating diction. I thought the characterization was deep and complex. I appreciated that the core of the book was the connection (friendship is an anemic word for it) between two girls and how that stays true even in spots where we might forget it. I was not fond of the vague southern gothic trappings of the eccentric characters and doings. I found the book disturbing and haunting and uncomfortably thoughtful. I kept waffling about how I took everybody and every event. I felt a bit set up by the text to be judgy so I kept resisting. An interesting effect she achieved.

Apr. 15, 2014, 2:44pm

26. ParaSpheres, ed. Rusty Morrison, Ken Keegan

I don't think I have much further to add from my frustration and antagonism of earlier in the year. My heart did not soften to this anthology. I found one other story to rave about: "The Birthday of the World" by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 18, 2015, 10:14am

27. Dark Harbor by Mark Strand

Mark Strand used to be one of my favorite poets when I was in college and grad school. I had not read any of his work (except re-reading old favorites) in a long time. This was not a good place to pick him up again. This was a long poem in sections or smaller poems. I thought the whole thing was pretty slack, lacking in tension or energy, and too full of universals. There were a few good lines or stanzas, but for me there was just not enough surprise or discovery.

Mai 3, 2014, 4:02pm

28. Silas Marner by George Eliot
April TIOLI Challenge #23 (novel by a British writer)

I really didn't like this when I started it. I thought the narrator was egregiously intrusive. I was frustrated by the title character. I didn't think I could make it through even so slender a book in the company of the stereotypes and archetypes that the characters seemed to be. Then after a good long while, we stumbled upon clusters of townspeople and I didn't know what to make of things. And then, I realized these scenes are probably funny, and not only that, but the whole book probably has humor and I didn't even realize it. I got to know the various people from town and get invested in their stories. And then Eppie showed up and grew up. And I liked it quite well by the end. Enough that I'm going to try Middlemarch later this year.

Mai 3, 2014, 9:53pm

29. The Sandman: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman
April TIOLI Challenge #13 (book in a genre you haven't yet read from in 2014)

I came into this book not having read any other Sandman graphic novels. I was nervous because I don't read many graphic novels and sometimes I struggle, like I don't totally get the mechanics or structure of them: I make mistakes like reading the panels out of order (if they're creatively displayed on the page instead of marching in straight lines), reading the dialogue in a single frame out of order (I still struggle with this), misattributing dialogue. I do love the sort of throwaway details and little visual jokes in the scenes, which I got a lot of in this book, not the level of Watchmen, but still a pretty good amount.

When I read the first chapter, I didn't find anything special in the characters or situations, as I understood them. Then Morpheus and Delirium went on their road trip and I was overcome with glee. I still made some mistakes, like the pages in my edition being extra sticky so that every 2nd or 3rd time I turned a page, I turned 2 at once. I did not realize that until half-way through the book. The story made quite a bit more sense when I saw all the panels, as much sense as it was going to make for someone who hasn't read any of the earlier books. The whole book was gorgeous in its design (including the copyright page!). I could quibble about the readability of some of the information pages (copyright, table of contents, chapter starters that list contents) in terms of layout, font choices and color, but I suppose I'd rather not. The only downside of the book was how let down I felt by the ending which seemed... ordinary? It just didn't match the over-the-topness of what came before in terms of character or plot. Perhaps if I had more of a background with the world I would have appreciated it better? Well, I'm starting back at the beginning this month with The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. I'm pretty darn excited.

Mai 13, 2014, 9:44pm

30. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
April TIOLI Challenge #16 (book with a title consisting of a single word not more than 10 letters in length)

This was a very sweet story. That was part of the reason I didn't think I would enjoy it. That and the impossibility of the quest/task: hunting down the star, getting it all the way back, and the obviousness of the fact that the woman had no intention of marrying him in the end. Usually that sort of thing makes me too tense to really enjoy the story. But the pace of the story was relaxed and gentle. I ended up enjoying it all a great deal. I definitely think it will be fun to re-read. I'm curious about the movie, but I'm not sure I'm curious enough to try it out.

Jun. 4, 2014, 12:03pm

31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
shared read, April TIOLI Challenge #6 (book with a word in the title suggesting something bad)

*WARNING: I will try to avoid spoilers, but I wouldn't read this review if you think you might want to read the book.

This book was harrowing and gripping. I read the first part of the book avidly until the big reveal. I wanted to know what was really going on with his missing wife especially because he's told us he lies by omission (and we've seen it action with the police and his sister). Maybe he's just neglecting to tell us that he really did kill his wife. Then, after we find out what happened, I was really creeped out but also very impressed and wondering if this convoluted scheme could really work out.

The writer was masterful at human psychology, at voice (combining painful honesty with charm and seductiveness), at showing the rationality of human irrationalities. I found the wife's parents exceedingly creepy and at one point I had this complex scheme running through my head that this was all the master plan of the parents (perhaps with their daughter's complicity, perhaps not) so that they could write and market another, more successful, book.

The masterpiece of the book was how the husband and wife fed on each other. They understand each other so well, far more than what could ever be expected from a 'typical' relationship. They are so frightfully intertwined, neither stands well on their own. The interesting thing about this book is how the end led me to believe that the situation at the end is the best for those involved. Of course, it's nowhere near ideal, but it's the best that can be worked out, considering. Does that mean I've been seduced by the sociopathology of the book's setup? I don't know, but I've lined up another Flynn book that promises to be just as disturbing, Dark Places.

Jun. 4, 2014, 7:58pm

32. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
shared read, May TIOLI Challenge #6 (book with a title that looks like it has been designed in some kind of handwriting)

I thought the writing in this book was kind of rough. Although it had the kind of bare-bones plain-speak of reportage in its tone, there was figurative and heightened language. But the whole book felt like it was blatting at me: decent language employed without precision. For instance, very early in the book we get, "The tiny ball of cells clinging to her uterine wall is a secret, but she feels as translucent and luminous as a firefly." A secret from the main character (the her of the quote) or her secret from everyone else? One could say I'm being willfully dense about it, but it is waffly in context (how close is the narration to the main character? I'm not sure only a couple of pages in). The odd to me description of "the tiny ball of cells" originally had me thinking tumor before moving to pregnancy and then wavering about which I should think (tied up with whose secret). Then we find out it's an eight-week pregnancy which does not fit ("ball") the description, because at eight weeks the embryo is decently defined with limbs and eyes; it's growing eyelids and further defining digits. After this tripping me up (and making me cranky) right at the start, I just let the rest of the text wash over me. I really tried my very best to go past the language without looking too closely to get to the story.

I persevered because it's a story about the dance world. It was both horrifying and fascinating. I thought the author did a good job with characterization, especially in that you could get an idea of why people were behaving the way they were without completely understanding it, much as I find people in real life. I felt often on the cusp of understanding someone and then saw them act outside of their 'characterization,' but never grossly so. There were many damaged people here, perhaps understandable in a career that requires you to commit to it before you've even hit puberty. I found the whole thing to be a decent read with the subject matter really carrying me through, and then I got to the very last scene and had to bring my esteem up a couple notches. It had me re-evaluating my thoughts on one of the more enigmatic but major of the minor characters, and it helped tighten up the structure of the book. That last scene was indeed astonishing.

Jun. 5, 2014, 8:39am

33. Animal Farm by George Orwell
May TIOLI Challenge #2 (book with at least two words in the title containing an embedded word of at least three letters: anima arm)

I have read 1984 several times but I had never read Animal Farm. I think I was afraid I wouldn't know enough Russian history or about communism to get it. I don't think it takes much political or historical knowledge to be outraged by the manipulation and exploitation of the animals. I liked that it all started with decent intentions: the farmer was abusive, neglectful and he was jeopardizing everyone's livelihood; the animals, when invested in their own labor, worked harder and smarter. I think part of the problem was how quick they were to take to another leader; that the rules were made in a 'language' they couldn't understand; and that they were kept so busy with hard labor that they had little energy left for self-actualization. I couldn't decide if Napoleon started out with somewhat good intentions that corrupted day by day, or if he was manipulating things from the very beginning. The Battle of the Cowshed seemed honest. I also wasn't sure how sincere or complicit Snowball was. I mean right at the start he went along with the pigs getting better and more food, and not working. This was a very frustrating book to read, and sad. I was glad I finally got around to it.

Jun. 5, 2014, 8:57am

I'm not sure how I've missed you up to this point, but I'm putting a star on your thread to check back! I love that your reading is all over the fiction map, and I'm right there with you. You also make me want to bump China Mountain Zhang back up to Mt. Bookpile. I've picked it up and put it down several times since it came out.
On the basis of no acquaintance at all, I do strongly advise you to pick up both The Lacuna and Cloud Atlas again. I had to read more than the Pearl Rule 50 pages in both of them, but when they grabbed me, they grabbed me hard and have never let go.

Jun. 5, 2014, 11:17am

>55 LizzieD: Thanks for visiting. I, too, was reluctant to read China Mountain Zhang; I've owned it for at least 15 years. People rated it high and seemed pretty pleased with it so I hung on to it, thank goodness. Although the more you read of this book, the more you like it (I definitely think it's a book that works through accretion), the Pearl Rule could work fine for this, because I think if the first section doesn't grab you in any way there's not going to be much else later to change your mind.

I definitely will be back to The Lacuna and Cloud Atlas. But I need to winnow down the list of books I'm in the middle of. Hopefully, I'll get back to them while I still kind of remember what was going on.

Jun. 5, 2014, 11:51am

34. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
May TIOLI Challenge #2 (book with at least two words in the title containing an embedded word of at least three letters: sit, goo, quad)

I did not know what to make of this book for most of my reading. I spent much of it wondering what the point of it was, which, for me, usually sounds the death knell of the book. I guess the reason why I hung in there is that I was sure there was a point and either I just wasn't getting it or I wasn't meant to get it yet. These characters were in so much pain. I really felt for them, even when they were behaving horribly, even when they did not seem to be the 'good guys.' What I most appreciated about the book was its deep characterization. Musical references were completely lost on me. It bugged me that I couldn't always tell what time period (decade) we were in whenever we moved around (perhaps the music was supposed to be my clue). I never did really get the structure of the story: why certain character's stories abutted others', what determined the jumps around in time, why were some stories in third person and others in first person. In the end I thought the story was a sort of opposite of a coming of age story, a sort of coming to terms with aging/being old story. Given the opportunity to go back in time, I probably wouldn't have read it; it's not necessary to my reading life. But it did impress me with the writer's skill, and made me both intrigued by and nervous about another book I own by her (The Keep).

Jun. 5, 2014, 12:24pm

Glad to have found you! I have much of your appreciation (or maybe a little more) and confusion about *Goon Squad*. On the other hand, The Keep blew me completely out of the water. I read it before I found LT, so I was a bit less experienced a reader than I've become since arriving here. All I could say was, "Clever! Clever! Clever!" I think it's probably a better book even though the characterization isn't as deep.

Jun. 6, 2014, 3:03pm

>58 LizzieD: Glad to hear that about The Keep. It's the book I've been wanting to read by Egan, so I'm not sure why I picked up A Visit from the Goon Squad. Maybe because everybody was reading and liking it.

Jun. 6, 2014, 3:44pm

35. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
May TIOLI Challenge #12 (book that fits a previous TIOLI challenge from May of another year: 2012; title contains letters from the initials of the National Merit Scholarship Program)

If I had read this volume first, I would not have continued on with the series. I have to be honest and say the story could not seem to hold my attention. There were interesting little bits but they were gone before they could be properly pondered. The art was good but not great. I had to really study some panels in order to figure out what I was supposed to get. And when I made my graphic novel mistake of reading panels out of order, I did not take any of the blame for it this time, because of the jumble some of the pages were. DC characters and places popped up, which was confusing for me because I thought Dream was a completely original creation of Gaiman's. I liked the book well enough, but I sure am glad I started with Brief Lives.

Jun. 6, 2014, 4:11pm

36. Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
a re-read

I am re-reading all of the Anita Blake books. I re-read the first few relatively quickly, although they're kind of painful. When I first discovered them and was reading this series for plot and character, I didn't really notice the so-so writing. Now that I mostly know what's going to happen, the clunky writing is really hard to get past. It took me forever to get through this book because I know the painful plot stuff that's coming (not in this book, but soon, very soon): one of those annoying love triangles where the woman just can't seem to figure out who she really wants to be with, and all the stupid stuff that happens around such a stupid plot, drawn out to the nth degree. Here is the thing that captured me about Anita Blake when I first read this series (and I know it's the part that many people have a problem with): I loved how tough she was; I loved that she loved her guns and was pretty trigger-happy; I loved that she gave everybody grief about everything. I liked it when the series was mainly death, with a few people she could maybe count on (Storr, Manny, Edward, ??Jean-Claude??). I'm reconciled with where we were are now in the current books of the series, but I had to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Back to this book. Anita's interested in Richard. I don't know why because as a character he certainly doesn't interest me. (Okay, I will flip to the big-picture again. I have this idea that Richard was the author's first try at creating a harmonious character for Anita. Somebody who was OK with the violence in her life; who would let her be the boss; someone who would always acquiesce in the most supportive way possible. But that's a difficult characterization to pull of and still be somewhat true to life. The next iteration, more successful in my opinion, would be Micah.) But there is little if any romance or lusting because several outsider vampires are interested in Anita. But not really, they're more interested in how they can use her against Jean-Claude or against each other. This is one of those stories were all the different subplots turn out to really be one inter-connected whole. I never find those very satisfying because they seem too convoluted. I was very glad to see Anita Blake betray Jean-Claude and be willing to die to be free of him. This book, I think, was about Anita wresting back control of her life from all those who would use and abuse her; she even comes to decent terms with Edward. Too bad she had to stumble over Richard. She's not out good before she's dragging her own self back.

Jun. 8, 2014, 11:21pm

37. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

This book irritated me beginning to end. There were many clever things in this book, and spooky things and sad stuff. But, I spent most of the book being too aware of its artifice. Every time I came up with an idea about what the 'haunting' was or represented, the book would echo the idea in various characters' internal and external dialogue. It was like the book was instructing me on how to read it. It pulled me out of the story every time. This was so not the book for me. I will probably read more Sarah Waters, but not in the near future.

Jun. 19, 2014, 8:48pm

38. The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton

This book is the start of Anita getting sucked into the werewolf world. These books are like the television show 24 where she is having the worst day(s) ever. She goes several days on an hour or two of sleep a night, rarely gets to eat, and ping pongs from case to job to unofficial case to blackmailed case, etc. This book did not have enough overarching stuff (figuring out who her preternatural allies are, figuring out her emotional crap) to satisfy and this time out the police case/standalone case didn't keep me engaged. I thought Anita made some odd mistakes/put herself in some dicey situations, especially considering how careful and paranoid she can be, but I thought that of the last book, too. When I first joined LibraryThing, this was a series I was obsessed with so when I added these prior books to my online library, I gave them pretty high ratings. As I've been re-reading them, I've bumped most of the ratings down a 1/2 star. I wanted to take this down several more, but I know how dependent on mood my reading satisfaction can be. I'm been dreading these love-triangle books, so I didn't go into this one with the best attitude.

Jun. 28, 2014, 11:04pm

39. One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty

Intellectually, I could see this should have been an interesting book: her childhood and her parent's childhoods and their interconnectedness, and how it all ties into her writing, both subject-wise and process. But, it felt stultifying. It was so hard to get myself through this super-slender book. The writing seemed fine. I do think the structure, moving around in time, but also shifting focus to various family members, was not ideal or could have been more tightly executed--I needed many more signposts. I think, for me, the writing was too detailed, but not in the ways in which I needed it to be, not in a clarifying/specificity way but in a leisurely stroll through nature/ambience way. It has not scared me off her fiction (of which I have not ready any yet). I'm willing to be open to the possibility that her style might suit me better in fiction rather than non-fiction.

Bearbeitet: Jun. 29, 2014, 9:33pm

40. The Turning by Gloria Whelan
TIOLI Challenge #5 (book that is "something old, something new, something borrowed, or something blue"), borrowed (from the library)

This book is about a Russian ballerina, a teenager, who might defect while her troupe is in Paris. But within a few pages it became quite clear to me that it was a book about a girl thinking she might defect because that's what Russian ballerinas do, but who would never do so, because true Russian ballerinas stay the course in their motherland. Her family has had an intimate connection to the rocky Russian/Soviet times going back to Stalin. The culture and political history should have been interesting, but was only vaguely so. I felt like I was reading a more fleshed out American Girl story, where the main character has friends who suffer and have truly difficult choices to make (go back with your abusive father, hoping he's truly turned over a new leaf, or stay homeless and penniless), but she herself just gets to jump in with her bold (and somewhat wacky) plans and right everything as if there wasn't much to it. This all sounds harsh, but the book is not terrible. I was just highly disappointed with it. Even the ballet was lackluster, like the history and politics, a thing to check off to give verisimilitude, showing that the research has been done, but failing to be brought alive. I think there were real stakes in the story: the main character coming to terms with her grandfather's politics and supporting him, what her family has sacrificed to realize her ballet dream, sorting out her own politic views and whether she's willing to take a stand. But this book does not do justice to them.

Jun. 30, 2014, 11:26am

41. Murder Runs in the Family by Anne George
TIOLI Challenge #19 (book that has been published with at least two different covers)

This was my first cozy mystery. I don't know how typical it is of the genre, but this book was extraordinarily frustrating. I've said how I don't like mysteries where the person who's supposed to solve the mystery, usually a non-professional, does everything but. This book added in to the mix the main character and her sister actively hindering the investigation by withholding and tampering with evidence. Also the police didn't seem to do a very good job at all. They didn't talk to the last people to see the old woman alive, they didn't retrace her steps over the last few days. You can't rule something a suicide until you've ruled out murder, and you can't do that without a strong investigation. They released the body in less than 24 hours to the ex-husband rather than her blood relatives (sister(s)) who promptly (suspiciously) cremated her. And you'd think, because the sisters (main characters) were all over the evidence that they had a stake or at least an interest in solving the mystery, but, no, they were mildly curious, but mostly they were not deep thinkers and had no idea how to even organize the information they already had. There was a sort of screwball comedy feel to the proceedings with quirky or eccentric characters popping up at odd spots every now and again, and additional murder victims or almost-murder victims dropping with minimal fanfare. I didn't care for any of it. And when we finally got the reveal of the who and the why, it didn't make a lot of sense to me and had the feeling of not accounting for all the facts. Deeply unsatisfying.

Aug. 18, 2014, 7:42pm

42. The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 1 by Herge

This book was a pretty book, a well-designed hardback with some heft and thick, glossy pages showing the comics in full color. LibraryThing has a few volume 1's listed. Mine included Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharaoh, and The Blue Lotus. This was my first exposure to Tintin. As can be the case with older comics, there were some racial stereotypes (visual and characterization-wise) with the Native Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans/African-Americans, but not persistent or consistent. When oil is discovered on Native American land, everyone rushes to Tintin to buy the land from him, and just when I was getting outraged about the land not being his to sell, Tintin says so and directs them to the tribe. Of course, they force at gunpoint the Native Americans to sell the land for a few bucks and some trinkets, and boost them off the land. Several panels show this progression of 24 hours from tribal land to a lone oil well to frontier town to a thriving metropolis with brick buildings and asphalt and a congested rush hour. That whole sequence was painfully humorous the way it took a true-to-life type of event and pushed it over the top. That was my favorite sequence in the three books and I kept going back to it like a sore tooth. For the most part, I found the adventures kind of tedious. They read like serials (which they may have started out as--I don't know) with outrageous incident upon close shave upon capture upon jail-break. What was also interesting for me to see was how the comics didn't trust the reader to follow what was going on: dotted lines show what the eyes are looking at (I've seen this in old Felix the Cat cartoons), Tintin exhaustively 'thinks out loud' and narrates his and every other characters' every move and motivation. Sometimes this was welcome because the panels seemed to be detailed but not nuanced, so it could be confusing to tell what was happening or who was who. Overall, the comic was OK, but it was no Krazy Kat. I suppose I'd prefer something less frenetic to bring to the fore the surreal quality of much of what was going on.

Aug. 18, 2014, 8:52pm

43. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
July TIOLI Challenge #10 (book that has won the Alex Award)

More than 700 pages of high fantasy. I approached with trepidation. It's hard to really know without reading the whole series (which I don't intend to do), but this volume definitely felt bloated. My secret desire is to read the perfect boarding school book: the right balance of academics to school spirit to personal growth to mentoring. Usually, I complain about the character getting to school and then we never hear about classes, it's all hazing, practical jokes, in-fighting and cliques. This book had probably enough schoolwork for me, but the way it was presented was ho-hum. I didn't care as much as I wanted to. I'm focusing on the school stuff because that's one area I, paradoxically considering my true desire, wanted to see take up 1/4 of its size in the text. Here's the thing. We hear about the Chandrian, lots of conflicting stories and legends (awesome!). We get a demonstration of the extraordinary importance to the text and to the main character of sorting the stories out and learning the truth behind them (I heart). He goes to the University where he will have an opportunity to find out more about them. Then he has a feud with a rich arrogant student, wows teachers, makes enemies of teachers, puzzles over teachers, eats food, worries about housing, gets into debt, engages in dubious money-making schemes, opts not to get out of debt, woos a girl, etc., etc. A little of that list goes a long, long way. He says finding out about the Chandrian is the most important thing. But he doesn't act like it is. The key to my discontent with most of the book is that what I care about is the things he says he cares about, not the things he actually does.

Aug. 18, 2014, 9:14pm

44. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
July TIOLI Challenge #16 (book where the author's first and last names end with a vowel)

I learned a lot from this book. The chapters on breast cancer, especially ultra-radical mastectomies, were disturbing. The chapter on lung cancer from smoking was gross and mind-boggling that they couldn't seem to make the connection between the two. Reading about the different kinds of leukemia was interesting. I had quite a bit of trouble getting into the text. It was maybe 100 pages before I really settled in. Also, the chapters towards the end about genetics were mostly over my head. The author tried to break it down, but I think I just have a hard time understanding it. In the end I was glad I read it because I got a lot of information, but I would have preferred a tighter structure (We moved around in history, types of cancer, different labs/researchers; also the focus shifted from individual patients or doctors, the science/biology of the cancer or treatment, scientific or government policy/politics.).

Aug. 19, 2014, 10:21am

45. The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens
July TIOLI Challenge #18 (book of short stories)

Several years ago I requested this book from Inter Library Loan. I can't remember how I found out about it. It was a time where my library eyes were bigger than my reading stomach so I only managed to make it through one story, the title story, before I had to return it. I fell in love with the writer from that one story. Here I am in 2014, the proud owner of this book. It's a book of almost exclusively novellas published in magazines between 1917 and 1923. So they are without fail pulpish. But they are so fun!

In the title story, a gentleman of means is stranded on a mysterious island under hazy-to-him circumstances. No one else seems to have made it and what he remembers having happened does not jibe with what could have happened. He is captured by some ruffians, the assumed bad buys, but he makes a gentleman's connection with the more refined and somewhat honorable leader of the group. They are after treasure of some sort on the island. Pretty soon he is captured by the opposing side. He ping pongs back and forth between the two groups, each side believing him to be a spy for the other, as they all come closer to the treasure. It reminds me of the start of one of Charles Simic's poems from The World Doesn't End: "I was stolen by the gypsies. My parents stole me back. Then the gypsies stole me again. This went on for some time." The story gets more convoluted until you think it can't possibly be sorted out satisfactorily, but it is and more. Even if the explanation is something of a cliche in today's literary world (and probably was not satisfying almost a hundred years ago), what happens after the reveal is the sweetest ending. I finished the story with a goofy grin on my face.

Gaining my copy of this book and reading the stories through could not compare with the high of the first story. For the most part the stories follow a pattern: they are longer stories; they are broken into chapters or numbered sections; they are extraordinarily episodic; they follow men of means. I found the stories to typically run just a bit too long for me. I felt the strain of trying to find a new twist/danger. I wanted most of the longer stories to be about 1/3 shorter.

There is some uncomfortable racist blather surrounding Jewish people, Italians, blacks, the Chinese. Mostly it's throwaway comments about them being swarthy or dirty or ignorant or superstitious or thieving or sly. I tried to find some quotes, but since they are throwaway, it's hard to find skimming through after the fact. If you scale the following quote back several notches, you'll get the idea: "The mixture of Italians, Jews and a few negroes, mostly bareheaded, unkempt and generally unhygienic in appearance, struck me as merely revolting.... Never before had I observed how stupid, how bestial, how brutal were the countenances of the dwellers in this region." That's from the story Unseen--Unfeared. Now to be fair, he claims his thoughts and feelings at that time are alien and not his usual sympathy for the oppressed and downtrodden. This story comes half-way through the collection when I had just about reached my limit of little racist comments. The story is about how our fears create (invisible) monsters in the world. I think the story backs up my idea that his true thinking has been revealed. I'm usually annoyed by racist portrayals in dated material, but I don't usually take it personally, but this felt unrelenting. Remember when I talked about Tintin and how the racist portrayals were not consistent or persistent? I could not say the same for this book. Then I got to one of my favorite stories in the book, "Serapion," and we get several pages of testimony from the mammy in extraordinarily thick (and not even correctly transliterated) dialect. I felt like I was watching a minstrel show. I wanted to name this book as a favorite read of the year, but I felt grimy with complicity just considering it.

That was the unpleasant stuff, now back to the good qualities. "The Labyrinth" features a main character that made me think of The Thin Man movies. He rises for the day in the afternoon; he drinks his breakfast; he claims not to want to work hard or think hard; but he is caring and loyal and stands by his friends and family. How he suffers in this story because of his compulsion to do the right thing, complaining mildly the whole way. I loved him. "Unseen--Unfeared" has a premise that feels resonant, especially living in a society of many -isms. Humanity has made such an unhealthy and oppressive atmosphere because it can't let go of unreasoning fear that we are unknowingly being crowded out by our created monsters. Of course we feel it even if we can't see it, so more monsters more fear, more fear more monsters, till we have completely desecrated something that God made us stewards of. I thought the story was creepy, highly disturbing. I keep coming back to it. Nothing can knock "The Nightmare" from its pedestal, but "Unseen--Unfeared" comes close. "Serapion" was also creepy and horrific. A man at first experiencing snippets of lost time, then seemingly haunted by a strange man/creature, then being taken over by him, perhaps a relative, perhaps the creature that inhabited his relative. The story is subtle and the possession progresses incrementally so you're not sure whether any of it's real or some sort of breakdown. Like "Unseen--Unfeared", it asks some interesting questions about society and what keeps it going.

I enjoyed most of these stories greatly. I will definitely re-read them and I am glad I own my copy. I'm thinking of maybe trying one of her novels. But maybe not this year: I still need some time to recover from the minuses of this read.

Bearbeitet: Nov. 14, 2014, 8:47pm

46. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
July TIOLI Challenge #4 (start a series and continue if you want)

I had a rough start with this novel. I found the foreword or whatever it was where the author claims to have come across the manuscripts and is presenting them as novels because who would believe them as memoirs to be an overused mechanism and completely unnecessary. But I have not read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so maybe that is a traditional thing? (I will rectify this, because I just started watching the BBC tv show Sherlock and I love it, and because, so far, they are adapting the original stories, I feel a compulsion to go back and get the real deal.) I also found Mary Russell at the start really obnoxious. After the first chapter or so, things settled down, and the book became almost my dream book. I typically don't like fiction told self-consciously after the fact with lots of 'If only I had known' and 'Little did I realize', and too much summation. This book got past my dislike by having enough fleshed-out scenes (delightful ones) to satisfy. Although, I did spend the first half of the book wishing this book could have been broken up to two or three so that I could really experience them getting to know each other. Mostly this book just hit the sweet spot because I adore stories of mentor/mentee relationships, and what a mentor! I had started this book in April, got about 100 pages in, and then it ended up languishing on the back burner, while I dealt with more pressing books (library books and the like). I had read enough to be hooked, so whenever I was reading something I didn't enjoy, I'd think, somewhat smugly, I've got a great book waiting for me. July's Challenge was my chance to pick it back up. I, of course, opted to continue and got A Monstrous Regiment of Women from the library. I love when Russel and Holmes are together. They create enough zing to carry me through all the scenes in between their meetings where I'm supposed to care about stuff and maybe I do, just not nearly as much as I care about them.

Bearbeitet: Nov. 14, 2014, 8:47pm

47. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
July TIOLI Challenge #10 (book that has won the Alex Award)

I wasn't very excited going into this book because I had this idea that Marillier writes re-told fairy tales and I'm weary of them at this point. This is a re-told fairy tale, The Six Swans, in a detailed historical setting (Ireland &, later, Britain). It is a very slow, meditative tale that revels in its historical setting. At first I was impatient. I don't like pages of detailed description of the setting, especially when the setting is in the natural world (I'm an urban gal). I also found it hard because in the first few chapters there was more past contemplation than forward movement. But finally I slowed down and more things (disturbing and terrible things) started happening. I loved how close the siblings were and how they watched out for each other. I thought Marillier did an excellent job fleshing out this fairy tale and grounding it in this historical setting. It may be the best retold fairy tale I've read, outside of Tanith Lee, certainly the best novel-length one.

I didn't know very much about this fairy tale. I knew she had to make shirts of nettles for the brothers, in order to turn them from swans back into humans. And I knew the last shirt was missing a sleeve so that one of the brothers becomes human again but still has a swan arm. I didn't know about keeping silent while making the shirts. I didn't know about her other travails while making the shirts. I actually googled the fairy tale about half-way through because I wondered if this novel was going off in completely new territory or if it was just following parts of the fairy tale I didn't know. I was also confused because I thought it was part of a trilogy and I had assumed it was this one fairy tale over 3 books, but it seemed like this fairy tale was going to wrap up in this 1 book. The Six Swans is complete in this volume, so I'm not sure of the why of the following volumes. I did put the next one on my tbr list and I'm cautiously excited about it. It's funny because I didn't want to read a re-told fairy tale, and now I'm disgruntled that there isn't more of it.

Okt. 19, 2014, 10:53am

I have just finished my 68th book, surpassing the number of books read last year. Hooray!

I've been updating the header posts but haven't been reviewing anything. This is the first year I've publicly aimed to read a certain number of books, and I think I've spent most of that year reading too quickly for my own enjoyment. I've taken the time, again, to slow down. So I am happier with the process of reading now. I've also been spending the time away catching up on my paper reading journal. I thought, well, maybe I don't need it now that I can just type what I think here. But, the paper journal is a bit different. I get to say everything I thought and felt when I read the book or story, whereas here I'm much more focused on making my thoughts into a more coherent whole. I also am more emotional or ranty on paper; I assign motive; I have no qualms about going counterfactual. So, I've decided I need both the paper journal and my musings here. Right now I'm trying to get caught up on the paper journal. I'll probably have to write some mini/capsule reviews on my thread here in order to get caught up. I also would eventually like to start posting actual reviews to book pages on LT, but that's another layer of me thinking and writing about books: not there yet, but maybe next year? Anyway, I'm still around and plan on catching up soon.

Okt. 20, 2014, 10:31am

I completely get the need for the paper, more personal, book journal. And also, congrats on #68!

Okt. 20, 2014, 5:18pm

Thanks! It's the most I've ever read in a year since I've been keeping track (post-grad school). As I get older, I read slower, so I'm always pleased when I can 'keep up' with previous years.

Okt. 22, 2014, 8:43am

I have just ordered belated Thingaversary gifts. The nice thing about my Thingaversary is that it's right around my birthday in August. The hard thing is that it's also when my sister's and niece's birthdays are. This year was my niece's golden birthday which broke the bank. So, I'm just getting around to ordering my books.

Infestation Omnibus by Mike Raicht: because it's zombies in entertainment universes (Transformers, Star Trek, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, etc.)!!

Ratio: The Simple Codes behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman: because I've become more creative in putting my meals together and I could use some ideas about what sorts of foods complement each other

Stretching by Bob Anderson: because I hit my 40's and my body started deteriorating before my eyes; I'm just finishing up weeks of physical therapy for my neck because I slept funny (ok, I'm sure it's more the culmination of hunching over a desk for 20+ years, poor posture, and generally tending to hold all my tension and anxiety in my shoulders); my workouts tend to focus on aerobic and strength training, stretches definitely need to be added in

ALEC: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell: because I bought a random issue of a magazine called Escape in college even though I'd never read comics or graphic novels up till then; Alec was the comic I kept coming back to over the years; yes, I bought a whole book of comics based on one small story - hopefully I won't be disappointed as it's the spendiest item in the list, by far

Fan Phenomena: Supernatural by Lynn Zubernis: because I love Supernatural, and I've been watching them all over again with Mark Watches and I still love them, so I think I'm going to a Supernatural convention next August (my first media convention)!

These are all books I'm ridiculously excited about. Unfortunately, I'm in the middle of a non-prime moment, so I'll have to wait, like, a week for them to start showing up. Ah, well. It's not like I'd let them disrupt my arcane reading schedule anyway, but I do long to flip through them and feel super-greedy and smug about them.

Okt. 29, 2014, 10:11am

Checking back in about my Thingaversary books now that they've all arrived. Most of the books had been sitting in my amazon basket for at least a year, sometimes a few years. So, I was confused about the cooking book I ordered. Ratio is more like this master muffin recipe I have where it tells you, for example, that to make pancakes it takes 2 parts flour: 2 parts liquid: 1 part egg: 1/2 part butter. Which is super cool and useful, but not what I was aiming to get at this point.

The biggest disappointment, building up over the last few years, is how dinged up the brand new books I get through mail order are. Some are just poorly packaged so that the corners of the book get crumpled or banged about during shipping. Some are wear that happens from how they were stored/shelved or how they were handled during packaging: small rips in the dustjacket, bent pages, creases in the dustjacket, etc. When I'm in a brick and mortar store, I choose the most pristine shelf copy I can find, and I've been known to walk away empty handed when the only copy displayed bears any of the imperfections I just mentioned. I buy so few brand new books, that I want them to look it.

Each book that's shipped has enough wear to irritate me, but not enough individually to demand a replacement or refund. (low-level grrr)

Overall, the books seem as fun as I had hoped. Infestation Omnibus is a dense, colorful book. And there are Elder Gods in there as well as zombies! Stretching looks very usable. The illustrations clearly show what part of the body you are stretching and is very good at showing (illustrations) and talking about the ways in which the stretches tend to go wrong, so you can do them properly. ALEC is a very thick, heavy book. The subtitle (The Years Have Pants) is in quotes like it's something a character in the comic says at some point. That phrase immediately brings me back fondly to some of the strange and at the same time extraordinarily mundane things that happened in the original Alec comic I read. I think nostalgia could carry me quite far through this book. Fan Phenomena looks like a good mix of esoteric nooks, deep thinking and fan gushing. I skimmed the Misha Collins essay and, though it was not what I wanted it to be (more prosaic examination of his immersion into Supernatural fandom), it did feature deep thoughts, humor and self-reflection. It was a bit slim. Which is what I typically bemoan in these sorts of fan books: the authors don't seem to be given enough space to develop anything; it's very flitting and surfacey.

Nov. 14, 2014, 9:12pm

48. The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson

This was so much fun! It made me nostalgic for my childhood mystery tv shows (Scooby Doo, The Red Hand Gang, Josie and the Pussycats). It was the trappings of the extraordinarily convoluted schemes the bad guys used to scare people. They threw their whole hearts into it. So this is a collection of short stories about various hauntings. Some are true spirits, harmful or merely bothersome, that need to be put to rest, others are fakes or swindles. Carnacki treats the hauntings scientifically, trying to prove through measurements, angles, photography, etc., they're fake, while at the same time being prepared, with wired pentagram, candles, etc., if they're not. Each story starts out like a club story with Carnacki gathering his fellows together for a fine meal and the sharing of his latest case. I loved how he made references, by name, to previous (in between story) cases, loved imagining the details of those cases. I loved trying to figure out whether the current story's case was a fake or not as details accumulated. Carnacki was interesting to follow because he was calm and methodical but could be spooked, and had a healthy respect for the dangers of the case whether true haunting or fake. I wish there were more of these stories.

Nov. 17, 2014, 10:06pm

49. The Sandman: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman

I liked this one far better than the first one. I loved meeting Gilbert. And I remember seeing The Corinthian in the 7th book (which I read first) and being confused about him. Seeing him now, things make much more sense. I think my favorite part was the Cereal Convention, with which I managed to trick my own self, by being convinced that The Corinthian was showing up to a Cereal Convention because he heard it as Serial Convention. It's confirmed relatively quickly in the text that it is indeed a Serial Killer Convention, and it was quite tense when the girl we've been following ends up in the same hotel at the same time as the convention. I liked it all well enough.

50. the terrible stories by Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton's poems go well against the grain of what I typically find satisfying in poetry. They are spare, plain-spoken, and don't go in for pyrotechnics with line breaks/enjambments/spacing. They look simple but I find them often somewhat off-kilter in their imagery, maybe their juxtapositions? In this book, she is able to pull off the series of poems, different attacks/facets of the same story, without it feeling like pages of the same imagery over and over that long lost their resonance. I enjoyed the breast cancer section (From the Cadaver) the most; I found it the most moving. The last section, From the Book of David, was the most frustrating for me because I knew very little of the biblical story and I didn't have enough grounding details/connections in the poems to give me the bones of the story before moving out to what does it all mean, what is she saying beyond that. So, the book ended on a sour note for me but I still found the collection overall to be good.

51. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

This was a distressing, heart-breaking read, also an essential one. Sadly, so many things that Du Bois talks about more than 100 years ago are with us today: devaluing of education, mistrust of government/police/courts, mass incarceration, absent fathers. Du Bois was, among many things, a sociologist. So, this book has historical tracking (various ways the government or military mandated how free blacks should be dealt with during and just after the Civil War, evolution of the sharecropping system, etc.), case studies, gentle stats. He was trying to make a rational case for intervention. The book was quite slender, under 200 pages, I think. Still, I took my time with the book, partly due to its dense style, but also because of its emotional effect on me. I needed time to breathe, to not be completely overwhelmed. The essay I really connected with, was the one Du Bois wrote about the death of his infant son. It comes late in the book and is from the heart and deeply honest and personal. I was so glad to finally read this collection.

Nov. 17, 2014, 10:30pm

52. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Once, I read a novel by Marianne Wiggins called John Dollar. John Dollar was in conversation with The Lord of the Flies in that it featured a girls' boarding school crashed on an island with the adults out of commission. The things those girls did was so overwhelmingly disturbing to me that when I finished the book I threw it in the garbage uselessly trying to protect future readers. It was quite a traumatic experience that has made me leery of Marianne Wiggins (a talented writer whose short stories I've liked) and quite loathe to tackle The Lord of the Flies. I finally picked it up, approaching it like a horror story. (I mean the cover seemed to feature a giant fly carrying off a little boy.) I was surprised at how lyrical and philosophical the book was. The boys actions did not seem to go outside the bounds of what I would expect in such a situation. I was surprised they were actually found and 'rescued.' I found the book engaging for about the first 2/3, then I started losing interest. I was glad to finally have tackled it.

53. The Complete Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

This is an omnibus of the three books H. Beam Piper wrote about the Fuzzies. It's a first-contact story and it tackles questions of sapience and sentience. My favorite part is still when the first Fuzzy, Little Fuzzy, shows up in Jack's quarters and they get to know each other a bit, and when Little Fuzzy brings him family to live there. The first book was my favorite, followed at a bit of a distance by the 3rd. I really didn't like the 2nd book: not enough Little Fuzzy and Pappy Jack and all the good guys I got to know in the first book. I enjoyed the courtroom stuff well enough. I just enjoyed the old-fashioned feel of these. I've looked into the prequels/sequels by other hands. I think I might try them, probably starting with Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi.

Dez. 8, 2014, 1:04pm

55. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

This book irritated me. For me, the tone of it teetered on the edge of mockery. It was just a hard mix, balancing heartfelt family/friend/client dynamics and quirky/ridiculous details. I only finished it because it was short.

56. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The main character was so obnoxious at first, the way he talked about his betrothed, I couldn't settle into the book. It helped that he seemed to then turn around and question his attitude, probe it, not too much, even if it seemed like his introspection was a bit affected. I also, enjoyed the way there were all these unwritten rules, tiny details, of how to do something when and under what circumstances: He even timed his entrance to the opera for the most dramatic moment of the show/the most resonant song. I loved that. It made me think a bit of the little Henry James I've read. It all seems funny to me looking in on it from the future and a grossly different class, but it had huge repercussions as we learn throughout the book.

Although a different time period, reading my annotated Jane Austen earlier in the year helped prepare me for the alienness of this society and the direness of every small action or non-action. The book did a good job of establishing the community's norms and then bringing in an interloper, Olenska, a member of the black sheep part of the family returned in pseudo-hushed disgrace from a long sojourn abroad. She's a good stand-in for the reader because she misses all the clues and hints and rules and behaves more 'naturally.' But we also know because of Archer, the viewpoint character, all the ways she's screwing up. She actually seems to be willfully doing so because she can't be that clueless, can she? The moment in the book where my strong liking turned to love is when Olenska, in a moment of passionate soul-baring, says she can't be picky about the company she keeps because the only other option is being lonely. Which completely re-oriented me because, yes, the in-crowd did very firmly attempt to completely shut her out at the start before they even knew her, because of her disgrace, and the only ones who will truly, unabashedly (rather than shamefully) have anything to do with her day to day are the other black sheep of the community.

Reading this book made me pretty happy. I was getting a bit of Henry James, more the society and the characters being extraordinary screwed up by the society and the complex character interactions (which of course are tangled up with the customs of society), not the convoluted sentences of James or even the humor. I mean, this isn't a dour book. Edith Wharton's got some prickles of humor, but the book is overwhelmingly serious. I will definitely be reading more of Edith Wharton.

Dez. 9, 2014, 1:04pm

57. A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King

I had some of the same issues I had with the previous book in the series: I mostly was impatient with any scene that did not involve Mary & Sherlock together. In this book I felt like I got less of them together but that made sense because of each working on their feelings for each other and because Mary as a new adult needed to further establish her independence. I was unready for their romantic involvement even though it makes sense. I was actually kind of disappointed that that's where we went, especially so early in the series. In general, I was just kind of underwhelmed by this outing. Hopefully my interest will pick up in the next book.

58. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

This starts out like those romances my grandmother got a kick out of where the heroine goes back in time via a magical object, no truly plausible explanation provided, she just really wanted or needed to experience this different time. I felt like the book wavered between various romance tropes as I understand them (experienced initiating the inexperienced; being mastered or dominated; ultra-sensitive and understanding partner) and a more resonant plot that goes beyond trying to get home. I'm not at all trying to diss romance, but I really felt like I got mixed messages about what in the book I was supposed to care about. All the stuff at the start of the book about family trees/lineages and their gaps/mysteries seemed pretty tangential to what happened later in the book, only really useful for helping her get out of some tight spots. I also wondered at the portrayal of that historical period in Scotland. The dialect seemed a bit stereotypical? But dialect is always a hard thing to pull off. I like what I read well enough, I just wanted it all to pull together into a tighter whole. As it was, the book was grossly inflated re: page count.

59. The Year the Music Changed by Diane Thomas

I never thought I would read a book that featured Elvis Presley, or make me feel sympathy for him. I had nothing particular against him, just the inherited distaste or suspicions of the African American community in general. This book is a slender one, and seemingly simple: Achsa writes a fan letter to a minor singer, Elvis Presley, and he actually writes back and starts a correspondence. He asks her to give him grammar lessons so people will be less likely to write him off because he sounds like a 'hillbilly.' Achsa has a difficult family situation with a gorgeous but deeply unhappy mother, a suspicious and controlling father, a deeply conservatively religious family life, and a hare lip. I was intrigued at the very beginning but it quickly turned to disgruntlement. I couldn't see the point of the format of the story. Achsa's story didn't need Elvis'. I should have trusted the author more. By the middle of the book, as Achsa's story becomes even more complex and devastating, I was back in like with the book. I also, underneath, started getting more of a feel for Elvis' story and how screwed up his situation was as well. I started to feel sorry for him. Then Achsa's story took a turn towards the end that seemed melodramatic but ended up explaining so much of what had gone on before that I marveled. I was very impressed with how this story resolved, including leaving much open. It was actually a layered story that really did have to do with race (instead of being background/local color as I originally took it), including my initial reservations about Elvis. I can't say more without spoiling it. I am so glad I grudgingly picked it up, so glad I huffily continued on. When I read a modern novel like this that can pull so many things together subtly and satisfyingly, it renews my faith in the state of letters today and I'm inspired to keep striving for such a thing in my own work.

Bearbeitet: Dez. 9, 2014, 1:25pm

60.QPB Treasury of North American Folktales, ed. Catherine Peck

I went into this book cynically, expecting it to not feature diverse tales, even though this is a diverse continent. But there were tales from different Native American groups, there were African American tales, tales from different immigrant groups to the U.S., Canadian Native tales, Mexican tales. I appreciated that about it, even if sometimes the introductory material around the tales had some slight missteps, sometimes sounding a little too chipper about a difficult historical time for that group or overgeneralizing about different groups or times. My favorite section by far was the Tall Tales. Stories about how a man with one errant shot kills an escalating number of different creatures in a sort of Rube Goldbergian chain of events. Or grandiose liars who invented and discovered everything known to man. There was a tall tale I actually found moving about a guy who gets a pet fish. He trains him to live in air instead of water and the fish later drowns, the man never able to recover, his tale being recounted by a bystander. I think I just really like the audacity of those tales. And also the ingenuousness/inventiveness of them. This was a pretty entertaining book. I was glad to finally get around to reading it. And yes I was a Quality Paperback Bookclub member way back in college; they were the first brand new books I ever owned outside of textbooks. I feel like QPB was my entree to the vast world of current literature; the gateway to buzz, critical reception, etc. Here I am 20 years later on LibraryThing watching my tbr balloon.

Dez. 10, 2014, 7:59pm

I finally got around to seeing the movie The Haunting (from the 60's, not the later remake). I had a really hard time staying engaged. At one point I got up and started puttering in the kitchen, listening and glancing in every now and then. I said out loud halfway through, "It's like the person who made the movie knew lots about novels and very little about movies." It's almost like the person who made the movie had heard so many times that it was an unfilmable book and so they flailed about trying to grab at things that would make it understandable to the audience but neglected to consider the cinematic quality of these things. I actually think it would make a stellar subtle movie or even a decent more Hollywood-like movie if they were willing to depart from the book a bit more. Often the movie sticks quite closely to the book, even lifting lines and quotes from it (in dialogue or internal dialogue), I think (I didn't have the book open at the time). But then things seemed inexplicably different, like the doctor's wife being a skeptic instead of a non-scientific believer. Well, part of that was to have her convert in the end by experiencing the inexplicable. The voice overs were overused and ridiculous every single time--they could have been handled so much better with camera frame doing some of the work of the voiced thoughts instead of most of them being a static close up image of her staring blankly. That blinking thing she did at the beginning of the movie was fabulously awful, perfect, and I expected them to make much more use of it, especially as the house got under her skin and with her having to put herself out there to keep up with the other guests of Hill House.

Almost every character in the book was just enough different from how I pictured them in the book. Eleanor is understandable because the book was from her viewpoint but the film is much more outside of her. The character who came the closest to how I pictured her was Theo. The guy who's going to inherit the house was very funny with his slang and accent and boozing--I don't quite remember that from the book, but when I was reading I was kept busy keeping track of the supernatural and psychological goings on. In the book it seemed to me that Eleanora was trying to get attention from the doctor but trying to compete romantically with Theo for that dude's attention (future Hill House owner). In the movie she quite clearly has some sort of feelings for the doctor which is why the movie really picked up for me when the doctor's wife showed up unexpectedly.

The movie did a much better job for me with the weird walk up the library spiral stair: I could see how rickety it was and that she was playing some sort of attention-seeking game with the doctor and genuinely upset about the doctor being upset with her and about the appearance of the wife and the potential of the house thinking the wife an adequate substitute for its evilness because Eleanora had been too scared and not taken it seriously enough. In the book, I was fixated on her potentially hanging herself at the top like the maid had. The movie then improves upon the book by very closely following that with Eleanora's movements (guided by the doctor, etc., as they try to get her out of the house and to safety) down the staircase the 2nd wife 'fell' down and died, and out to the car, the drive, the tree of the fatal crash of the 1st wife. I already knew how she would die, but it was still pretty creepy to see her take this sort of tour of potential death. The move definitely picked up for me in the last 1/3. I felt harsh giving it 3 stars out of 5, but it's really hard to untangle this movie from its source (both good and ill), much harder than I thought it would be. I ended up giving it 3 1/2 stars which is what Netflix and Movielens said I would rate it.

Dez. 16, 2014, 10:51pm

61. The Canvas by Benjamin Stein

This was a bit of a gimmicky book: told from two perspectives, you had to flip the book over and upside down to read the alternate person's story. One guy, disturbingly, is being confused with another, rather unpleasant, guy. Evidence and misunderstandings accumulate as he grows less and less sure of his memories. That sounds like a gripping basis for a story, but the character was so passive and quite clearly unreliable in the narrow range of his thoughts that it was more frustrating to me than anything else. I still found it much more engaging than the flipside which is more a coming of age story that has a mystical or supernatural slant to it. I would read a bit of one side, flip over and read a bit of the other story. The two sides took way too long to converge and the convergence was a great letdown, quite anticlimactic and frustrating. I'm not sure the book needed the 2nd viewpoint at all. I'm not sure the book needed to be so dramatic about separating the viewpoints into their own books, facing pages would work, different fonts if they were interleaved. I also felt like the book was quite thin. There was the kernel of a great idea that was fancified to little effect.

62. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

This is a gorgeous book: solid, it's got heft, with thick glossy-ish full-color pages. It was fun to revisit some of the stories. I was completely freaked out about the goose story. (I give geese a wide berth because of them pinching with their beaks/bills.) It was funny and horrific. And she had photographic evidence! The stories about depression and what that's like and how people behave around the person were very enlightening, and funny, of course. It was a pretty satisfying collection.

Dez. 20, 2014, 11:15am

63. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This book: I can't believe how much I loved it. I liked the childhood stuff but I also felt it grew tedious in its repetitiveness of woe. But then she grew up and came into the sphere of Mr. Rochester. I loved him, even if he was manipulative, harsh, privileged. I found him funny in his abrasiveness which seemed half-manufactured anyway. The maybe-courting, partly-flirting, partly-friendship game they played with each other was engaging to read. He was mercurial in a way that I don't think was completely explained by his later revealed big secret. The part he played in their exchanges seemed cruel because he has most of the power, being male, her employer, a higher social status, etc. The part she played seemed more a product of self-insurance: keeping his interest engaged and sparked enough that he won't send her charge away and hence herself. Of course, it's at the cost of her heart. When she breaks down with/at him and says, "Do you think I am an automaton?--a machine without feelings? ... Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?--You think wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart!", I was glad to hear her privilege her experience and humanness and call him on his uncharitable behavior, but I also worried at the ammunition she gave him. Of course, my heart also thrilled at the 'romance' of it all. This book was tough about having at its heart a great romance but also problematising the conventions and wanting to show the greater arc of Jane's story.

I had heard something of this book so I knew the gist of Mr. Rochester's big secret so I was really shocked when he seriously attempted to marry Jane. That seemed unforgivable towards Jane and damaging to readerly engagement. I thought this is something the text cannot possibly get past: I know these two will end up together but at what ultimate cost? To skip ahead momentarily, the cost for him seemed to be loss of home, friends, becoming crippled and disfigured. That was a big area of the book where I could feel its age. Not that that sort of concretizing of, I don't know, karma?, isn't seen in modern books, I think it's more how its deployed now, more ironically maybe, very self-aware and acknowledged. I mean, he gets his true love to serve him and be his wife, and he even seems to be healed by her, seeming to start regaining his sight (of course, a great metaphor, but still seeming like a reward or lessening of the punishment). Back to Mr. Rochester's first attempt to marry Jane. When she is informed at the altar about his great transgressions, when she learns the big secret and hides distraught in her room, I was so angry at Mr. Rochester. But when she does come out and he had been waiting quietly for her the whole time, giving her the space she needed, my heart softened toward him. I attributed this whole marriage thing to temporary insanity and I was ready to have him win us (me & Jane) back. I know, his behavior in that situation is not romantic, it's creepy and/or possessive, certainly clueless, possibly insensitive (would she really want to see him again so soon), but I couldn't help myself, I loved his solicitousness.

So, the fortuitous strangers who end up being fortuitously the cousins and the means of her inheritance and she of theirs. Up until this point I had been thinking the book did a very good job of having Jane make her own way through the world with perhaps little nudges of fate (I mean, really, the first work ad she answers nets her someplace decent?). But I don't know how to account for these cousins and especially St. John. Sure, he provides an alternative to Mr. Rochester: two flawed love prospects, compare and contrast. And Jane finds a family (even before they knew they were family to each other) she never had. Also, practically, it gives Mr. Rochester's situation and secret time to work itself out, and for Mr. Rochester to realize what he has truly lost. But, this section just feels fundamentally different from what came before, and not just because things seem to be going so much in Jane's favor for a change. I appreciated earlier in the book that Jane has time to go back to her aunt's family and try to come to a better understanding with them (or find that it's just not possible). And Jane did as good a job as she could of holding her own with Mr. Rochester, standing up for her own decency and integrity. Speaking of manipulative (I was earlier with Mr. Rochester), St. John's pretty horrible. He's certainly pretty naked about it. Mostly, I didn't care about these interlopers into my nice (okay, complicated) romance, I didn't care about the inheritance or even having the family dynamics explained which put her in the position she was at the beginning of the book. I was so glad when she left St. John for good and went off back to Mr. Rochester.

Mr. Rochester's secret is no more (no longer a secret and no longer in existence). He's learned something, maybe. Jane has a bit of her inheritance now and can make decisions somewhat more independently. She does not have to go back to Mr. Rochester, she's choosing to. (Although his voice is the thing that 'saved' her from St. John.) Emotionally, I was very glad to see them finally together, although I was still a little worried about Jane's being with him in the long term, I mean look at his first wife (ha! the secret is out). Intellectually, I was dissatisfied with the turn that so many things took in the last quarter of the book. What am I to make of all this? What does it mean? This book will greatly reward future re-reads. I'm sure I'll catch many things, echoes and hints, that I missed this time around. And it'll always have this great love story at its heart. I am so happy to have finally fallen in love with Jane Eyre.

Dez. 20, 2014, 11:31am

64. Landscape with Yellow Birds by Jose Angel Valente

This collection was a Selected Poems of a Spanish poet. It's a gorgeous book: more squarish than rectangular, with thick, textured paper for the cover, and thick pages within. And each poem gets its own page, no matter how small the poem, with title pages inserted at the appropriate time in the text to show the title of the book the following poems are excerpted from and what year the book was originally published. I strongly dislike when a Selected Poems tries to use up every bit of white space available in order to take up less pages overall. I thought the translation was probably well-done. I don't have enough Spanish to really know, but I found the poems subtle, knowingly cryptic, decently aural, with semantically aware diction. Translators have to balance getting across the meaning of the text with getting across the sense (tone, diction, implied cultural references, sentence structure, etc.). This felt like a good balance. I liked the poems well enough, the earlier ones more than the later ones (which began to feel more overtly political). There would usually be several lines in most poems that I would read over and over again because they felt perfect, but overall the poems fell far short of their best lines. I was glad to have read it but I don't need to keep it.

Dez. 20, 2014, 12:57pm

65. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

I really thought this book was going to be one of my favorite reads of the year. It will be difficult to write this review without quoting huge chunks of text. I really want to show you what I fell in love with. Here is a book that's girth greatly worked to its disadvantage: it gave me too much time to pick at it and question and argue and it's greater scope allowed for more chances of disappointment. Let us start out with the awesomeness. The book opens from the perspective of an old milk-cart horse who breaks away for a run of freedom through New York City in the early part of the twentieth century. He helps a thief, Peter Lake, escape from gang members he has double-crossed. Here's the quote that made me fall in love with the book:

"He hoped not to be forever like the many millions on the run, always in the pitch of events, robbed even of their own inner tenderness. Something in the horse's eyes told him that he was about to change. He had seen something in those black wells that took hold of him--a very tiny burst of gold which he had followed until he was overcome. He suspected that, in the gentle face and deep black eyes, he had seen everything."

That's 'early' in the book (80 pages in a close to 700 page book). We've just learned the horse's history, the gang's history, the gang leader's history, and Peter Lake's. The quote comes at the end of a long philosophical paragraph. This book is unlike anything I typically go for in fiction. It's aggressively philosophical, dense and unabashedly lyrical. But the tone of it so sincere and earnest, it's hard not to fall under its spell. It's a love letter to New York City, New York State, and also the capabilities and tendencies of humanity. It's hard to talk about the book linearly because the book denies the linearity of time:

"Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in golden dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishingly frigid winter after another. ... And yet there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple. Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given--so we track it in linear fashion, piece by piece."

Peter Lake has a magical connection to what is now, maybe, his horse. The horse is a magical horse, or inhabited by the spirit of the city, or something. He can leap whole city blocks at a time. He can run extraordinary distances without rest. Peter Lake also becomes one with some sort of spirit of the age, through his communing with the horse (or the horse's choosing of him), but also, maybe, because of his formative years living beyond the cloud wall with the sort of tribe that took him in when he was orphaned. I have no idea what the cloud wall is. I mean, I get lots of its metaphorical implications for the story, and there's a brief interlude chapter all about clouds later in the book. But what is it in the physical world? Is it a real thing? Based on a real phenomenon? I don't know New York or meteorology well enough to know. Peter Lake falls in love with a rich girl dying of consumption, after he comically tries to rob her house, not knowing she's there (and not knowing that her father is paranoid about thieves and has all sorts of deflections and kooky countermeasures in place). They are soul mates, a bit like Peter and his horse, but with a physical consummation. Maybe because of her highly romantic illness, Beverly, the girl, has a connection to the stars and acts as a sort of seer of future connections. It was actually a very sweet, if brief, romance they had. And the star thing makes sense because she sleeps on the roof to keep cooled off from her fever. Oh, did I neglect to mention that the bulk of the book always takes place in various, unusually, even for the town in upstate New York, frigid winters. In all this, I've only really covered the first quarter of the book. There's a bizarre group of people late in the book who sway the leaders of New York City into attempting to build a rainbow bridge or something, to have the forces come together in the millennium (20th into the 21st century) to make the city into a truly just city. Or the bridge will happen if the city becomes just, or something. Here's the end of the above quoted paragraph:

"In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is."

I think I've offered enough spoilers in the above quotes. Yes, actual plot points right there in the philosophy to help overwhelmed people like me try to hook up the events we've been reading about. In the end perhaps I have the same ambivalence as the people of the city, the makers of the bridge, and maybe the author. At what cost to humanity, the just city? Must we become dissociated from ourselves to view the simultaneity of all time? Perhaps the striving is better than the reaching?

This book is a long one and a dense one. I had time to swing in and out of love, even if I always liked it. The last section was the worst for me to bear, when the philosophizing became too heavy and the class blindness of the text became overwhelming. Peter Lake, an orphaned thief from a poor low-technology tribe, and later when he returns homeless and amnesiac in the wrong time, and the characters who set out virtually penniless to find their place in the world (one guy rides the rails from California to NYC, one woman leaves her tiny town on the lake in upstate New York to try out NYC). They don't suffer very much before stumbling upon opportunity and having miraculous doors open to them. I don't find that in real life, I find hunger and blisters from walking and more indifference than kindness. When the snow falls in overwhelming and magical realism proportions in the last winter of the millennium, the mayor declares the city on winter vacation and everyone spends the time snowshoeing and ice skating and sledding. And I kept wondering who was collecting the garbage, keeping the lights on, the water running. Perhaps I can't see it because I haven't gained my all-time vision. But I really started feeling like the just city was only for certain people.

The end of the book was a bit fizzly for me and chaotic and cryptic. But I did enjoy the book. I definitely will be re-reading it. It's a very impressive book and there's so much to take in, so many resonances and interconnectedness, and a large cast of characters. I'm sure I'll understand more on the next read and have more questions and quibbles. Till then.

Dez. 24, 2014, 9:13am

66. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

This was a tense reading experience. I had encountered the Khmer Rouge fictionally before, but never to this depth. I found the writing overdone, trying too hard for utter lyricism. The conceit of using lines from the father's poems to underscore the upside downedness of the new world was overused; once or twice seemed about what this delicate story could handle, so pick those moments to maximize the resonance. I think most of my issue with the text was about how subtle and exact the story felt in its laying out, but then the language itself was often too heavy for the structure as presented. An interesting effect, as if all the emotion is in the language with the actions of the story being stripped to the bone, but it didn't work for me.

Dez. 24, 2014, 11:37am

Happy Christmas!

Dez. 25, 2014, 11:50pm

Thanks! Hope it was a good one for you as well.

Dez. 31, 2014, 10:38am

Let's see how many of these remaining books I can write a quick something about.

67. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I gave it a try back in February and got about three levels down into its nesting doll structure. I was intrigued by the structure of it, but that was all. I had read one other book by the author, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I really didn't enjoy. So, I put this one aside. Then I decided I had not given it a fair try and promised I would come back around to it. The structure of it had a nice resonance as I read further. I was still feeling pretty cool towards it but I liked the section with Sonmi and I adored the center section in the far future. That kept me going to the end. I was glad to see it make a nice whole and that the structure of it mattered.

68. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I read this because it's my nieces' favorite book. To me, it read very young for YA. Percy annoyed me and nobody seemed very smart. I think I'm too old for this book.

69. The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

I liked it well enough. I think the cat story was my favorite.

Bearbeitet: Jan. 19, 2015, 6:35pm

70. The Etched City by K.J. Bishop

At first I was a little disappointed in this story because it seemed so traditionally high or heroic fantasy. Then it got very strange, stubbornly so. I was disappointed that it turned out to be the guy's story and, to me, the woman seemed to be there to do the deep thinking of their story and their world. I loved this story. I didn't necessarily understand its big picture. I will definitely be re-reading it.

71. Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

This was very southern gothic-like which I typically like. I was intrigued by the ghosts and Eden's family's mysteries. But, the unraveling of things/the revealing of the hidden was not satisfying and I grew less and less enamored with Eden. The acts in the book had high stakes but it never felt like they did. I didn't really fear for anyone's safety or sanity once Eden grew up.

72. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I loved this book so much. It's my first Sherlock Holmes, and he's so obnoxious. I totally saw how the tv show House was based on Sherlock Holmes. The mystery was mysterious even if the revealing of its mechanics was so-so. I liked Watson. I can't wait to read more.

73. Dime-Store Alchemy by Charles Simic

This was a collection of meditations/prose-poems about the life and art of Joseph Cornell. I don't usually like things that I have difficulty assigning a genre to (non-fiction? poetry? fiction?), but I actually enjoyed these and would love to own the book. It was a smooth read and I liked looking at the art work which I had never seen before.

74. The Book of Light by Lucille Clifton

Another Lucille Clifton book, another closing section of poems based on a story from the Bible that I find cryptic. I didn't enjoy this book as much as some of the others I have read. For me, it was good but not great.

Dez. 31, 2014, 11:00am

75. The Likeness by Tana French

I didn't think I would like this book because undercover stories make me very tense. Also, I had been so bitter at the turn of events between Rob and Cassie in the last book. I just thought it would be too painful to come back to either of them. I read the first 50 pages or so telling myself I was just giving it a good try and then I could lay it down and move on to something else. Then she went undercover and it was like when the Wizard of Oz movie goes from black and white to Technicolor. I loved the group she infiltrated. I loved their cohesiveness and in-jokes. Like Cassie, I wanted to just become a part of them for good. Cassie over the course of the book works through some of the emotional fall-out of the first book and so I, too, came to soften my heart towards the book. This book was so rich and layered. Of course, I'll read the next book even though I didn't really like Frank in this book. I'm very impressed with Tana French's storytelling skills.

Dez. 31, 2014, 12:20pm

Congrats on hitting 75!

Jan. 3, 2015, 4:10pm


Jan. 3, 2015, 9:15pm

I have just made a 2015 thread here.