Sunday, September 30, 2007

BOOK: The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason

I'm very new to the vampire genre, and I was worried before I started. I've read so many raves about this book (the first in a trilogy) and I'm not sure I 'get' vampires or their attraction. I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I haven't read Twilight by Stephanie Myers. This book sucked me in though. (sorry about that pun)

The Rest Falls Away is set in 19th century England, one of my favorite settings for novels. I've enjoyed the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries by Anne Perry, and Gleason's characters could fit right into a ball with Charlotte Pitt. However, we are introduced here to Victoria Grantworth, the newest Venator, and the Gardella family legacy as vampire hunter. She is trying to balance her debut into society and her mother's attempts to marry her off, with her legacy of vampire hunting. If you haven't read any vampire books, I think this is a good introduction. We learn all the vampire lore - stake to the heart, sunlight, holy water, garlic, all the stuff I already knew, plus the fact that vampires are the undead, and their historical significance with Pontius Pilot and the pieces of silver. I also didn't know that vampires disappeared with a 'poof' when they are stabbed, leaving no evidence behind.

Victoria embraces her new role as vampire hunter and the story moves along briskly, introducing love interests, a conflict with male Venator, and the battle with the head Vampire, Lilith, over a book with spells. Meanwhile, she is falling in love with the Marquis of Rockley and trying to kill vampires in between dances at balls or the ballet. Once I understood the vampire lore, the story was great. I finished it in two days because I couldn't put it down and so wanted to find out what happened with Victoria and her fiance. There is some humor because I don't think anything with vampires can be completely serious, unless you really believe in them, in which case they are terrifying. I will be getting the next book, Rises the Night, very soon,and I know just the friend to give this book to to read.

This makes the fourth book book I've finished for the RIP II challenge. I still have Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman to read, which is an extra peril, and I'm still working on The Small Peril, short stories from Stephen King's Everything's Eventual. I have quite enjoyed all my books so far. If you want to see all the reviews, check out the RIP yarns review site.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

BOOK: "Surely Your Joking, Mr Feynman" by Richard P. Feynman

"Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman": Adventures of a Curious Character

I've been reading this book since I got it for Christmas last year. I haven't been not reading it in all that time; it's a book of anecdotes by a Nobel prize winning physicist, that are amusing and interesting, and I've just picked up the book here and there, now and then, and eventually, I got through the book. (All right, I confess, it's been in the bathroom)

Feynman is one of a kind. He is sort of a smarter version of Forrest Gump: he seemed to fall into experiences, and tried so many different things throughout the world. That is mostly due to his attitude. He is willing to try anything and he insisted on learning how to do many different things. For example, drawing, lock picking, drumming, languages, and Mayan mathematics are just a few of the skills he tried to acquire, usually with success. I think the word that best describes him is curious - he just always wanted to know how things worked.

He is also a famous scientist, but doesn't fit the usual mold. He was in Los Alamos during the bomb building, and met and worked with famous physicists through out his life. A bit of a sexist attitude toward women, but he is a product of his age in that regard I think. He had an arrogance in that he believed he could figure things out, but experience showed he usually could. His essays were amusing and eccentric and tackle everything, just like Feynman himself.

CHALLENGE: Cardathon Challenge

The Cardathon Challenge
Becky is the hugest Orson Scott Card fan. She has developed a challenge to try and convert the rest of the world. It's a nice, easy, ongoing challenge with its own blog.
I first heard of Orson Scott Card at the top 50_books list of books, because Ender's Game was in the top 20. When that book was picked by Becky, natch, for the Something About Me Challenge, I decided to read it. It was good, even though I'm not a huge science fiction fan. When a book is well written with great characters, regardless of the genre, it will be a good read.
Becky has set up this challenge in a way that it is nearly impossible to ignore. It is not just Orson Scott Card books, it is any book he may have touched in his life. I'm kidding. But books he has written, or introduced, or reviewed at his website are eligible. And that is where this challenge really opens up. With a quick perusal of reviewed books, I easily found over ten books I want to read, plus a sequel and parallel novel to Ender's Game by Card himself. I don't know if I'll read all the books I picked out, that's why we make lists with alternates.
This challenge is officially for a year, but I think Becky would also like it to be open ended.
The Rules: pick 6 - 12 books, preferably with 1 or 2 by Card
read, enjoy, review
join the blog if you want (it's usually more fun if you do)

My List of Potential Books

Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

The Goose Girl - Shannon Hale
Princess Academy - Shannon Hale
Howl's Moving Castle - Diane Wynne Jones
Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate DiCamillo
A Midsummer's Night Dream - Shakespeare
Robert B Parker mysteries
The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory -Lee Smolin
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson
Brainiac - Ken Jennings
I Shouldn't Even be Doing This - Bob Newhart
The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
The Princes of Ireland - Rutherford
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Teacher Man - Frank McCourt
Stardust - Neil Gaiman
The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier

For now, this is my pile of books to pick from. In one year, I hope to read a minimum of 6, but probably more. Go check out the blog and get pulled into Becky's plot to turn everyone into Card-ites? Orson groupies?

Friday, September 28, 2007

UPDATE: Classic Challenge

Kathrin hosted this summer version of booklogged's Winter Classic Challenge. I had a few books from a way long ago for the decades challenge I wanted to read, so I combined these two challenges. And I finished!
There seems to be so many of these classics that I haven't read. I don't think many are making my favorites list, but these books are classics for a reason, and while sometimes it feels like I'm reading them just to read them, it enhances my other modern reading, because these books are referenced and alluded to so much. I just finished The Thirteenth Tale, and I'm so glad I read Jane Eyre to get the connection. I would have enjoyed it regardless, but it added so much more.

The books I read were:

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (1840s)
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde (1890s)
O'Pioneers! - Willa Cather (1910s)
Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle (1900s)

Favorite Book: Jane Eyre and Hound of the Baskervilles I enjoy mysteries so Sherlock Holmes was good, but he's not better than Poirot.

Least Favorite: The Picture of Dorian Gray. The idea was great and I can see why people like it, but it just didn't do it for me.

Favorite Part of Challenge: Finishing a challenge is always satisfying, and combining this with the decades challenge was terrific. I also enjoyed reading along with the Literary Feline for Hound of the Baskervilles and Dorian Gray

Thanks Kathrin for putting this together. That's four classics off the list. I'm not sure which list exactly, but there must be one.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

BOOK: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Title and author of book?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre?

What led you to pick up this book?
Everyone I know has read and loved this book. It was a choice on the Something About Me challenge by Kristin, so I picked it for a RIP II challenge read as well. I've been wanting to read this one for a while.

Summarize the plot, but don't give away the ending!
Margaret Lea, a quiet, somewhat unhappy bookstore owner/biographer receives a strange letter from a famous author to come and 'hear the truth' of her story, to write her biography. As she enters into Vida Winter's tale, the plot gets very interesting.

What did you like most about the book?
I most liked the connection to Jane Eyre, which I read recently. Living on the moors, crazy people hiding in the house, abandoned children, pages ripped from the novel, fires in old castles; there were so many parallels to Jane Eyre.

Have you read any other books by this author? What did you think of those books?
First book by Setterfield I've read.

What did you think of the main character?
Margaret was dealing with her own sad childhood. She was not a very social person, so she didn't have any problem falling into Vida Winter's world and childhood. Margaret was brave to take on this challenge, and very injured herself emotionally.

Any other particularly interesting characters?
Emmaline and Adeline March were certainly unique. I also liked John the Dig and the Misses, both old fashioned servants, the kind you only find in tremedously British books. They were devoted to their charges and also didn't seemed to become fazed by some strange happenings.

Share a quote from the book:
Oops, I already returned the book to the library. I don't usually notice quotes anyway.

Share a favorite scene from the book.
I wouldn't say I had any favorite scene in this book. Each scene leads to the next. For over the first half of the book, I couldn't understand the amazing appeal. It was good, and I enjoyed reading it, but I didn't feel inspired to pick it up at every moment; I wasn't racing through it, and I actually read other books at the same time. It picked up at the end, and the actual ending was great!

What about the ending?
The ending was the best, with a trendous twist that I can not reveal of course. Suffice to say, it was tragic and full of atmosphere and tied up the story perfectly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BOOK: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

shortlisted for the Booker Prize
166 pages

I've seen mixed comments about this book because it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McEwan has won the award previously, and the feeling is this book is too short and not important enough to merit being short listed, as McEwan is very well known and doesn't need the extra press.

I read this quickly, and couldn't help comparing this to Tomorrow by Graham Swift, a book I read very recently because both : were written by Booker winners, were set in England, involve one pivotal night, have main characters that are a married couple born just after the second World War, involve telling how the couple got to this important night. Weirdly similar.

On Chesil Beach is the story of a young couple getting ready for their first night of marriage. McEwan tells the tale from both perspectives and gets inside their heads. We also learn about their childhoods and their courtship. I found this worked better in On Chesil Beach, because we definitely know where this book is going to end, as it leads to the, I have to say it, climax. Tomorrow kept more of a secret as to what the big reveal would be the next day to the children. I found myself getting frustrated as the mother kept trying to explain what all led up to that night. Just tell it already! In that regards, I enjoyed On Chesil Beach better. I really wanted to know how the night ended. The characters motives and thoughts seemed very realistic and I was caught up in the plot. McEwan had the right mix of past and present to keep the story moving and perhaps explain the characters better.

I like the idea of taking one night, and everything that leads up to, and all the thoughts that go through the characters minds, as they deal with one huge event. I haven't read enough Booker winners to know if this is a potential winner, but it was a good, quick read.

The Man Booker Short List
The field has been trimmed from 13 to 6, so I've read 33% of the short list. Both have been good.

Darkmans by Nicola Barker (4th Estate)
The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)

The winner will be announced on October 16.

Monday, September 24, 2007

SHORT STORY MONDAY: a small peril

Hello. Welcome. I am hosting Short Story Monday today. The coffee is perking and I made fresh rhubarb squares for everyone. Let's talk about short stories. If you read one this week, or made a post for the RIP small peril, or have something to share, make a comment and I'll link everyone up at the bottom of the post. John Mutford has been hosting for a while, but he had to get his hair done today, so I offered to step in. I meant to learn how to post Mr Linky for this, however, time was short and it didn't happen. I only had time today to read a short story. How satisfying that can be: to sit and get the full story, in short form, perfect for us busy people.

The Death of Jack Hamilton written by Stephen King from Everything's Eventual

From the first sentence: Want you to get one thing straight from the start: wasn't nobody on earth didn't like my pal Johnnie Dillinger, except Melvin Purvis of the FBI., you already know a lot about where this story is set and what is going to happen. We're taking about criminals in the early part of this century, like the Untouchables era. I'm not even sure I know who John Dillinger was, but there was just enough of a recognition of the name to set the mood.

Dillinger was a folk hero type of criminal, and upon his death, the conspiracy theories began. This story is narrated by Homer, one of Dillinger's gang, and he provides the evidence to refute one of the claims that Dillenger didn't die: the scar on his face.

Homer tells of one of Dillenger's last escapades, where he obtained the scar. This story is King at his grisly, disgusting best. As Jack Hamilton dies impossibly slow of a gun shot, we are treated to the gory details. In terms of character, King contributes to the mythology of Dillenger, as we get to see him as a true friend, honorable and who operates with a code, and a belief in luck.

This wasn't my favorite story in this collection so far, but King's weaker efforts are still well written and memorable. Unfortunately, this memory is of a gangrene infected bullet hole.

Sorry if that ruined your rhubarb square, did you read something else? Feel free to leave a link in my comments and I'lll collect all the links together in this post. This is my type of party to host - I didn't have to vacuum. I may have you all over again.

The Round Up
Other Short Story Monday participants this week include:
chris at bookarama who read a Daphne DuMaurier

john mutford at the book mine set who read a Stuart Dybek

stephanie at stephanie's confessions of a bookaholic who read a few Neil Gaimans

Stop by, have a visit, and think about reading a short story for next week. I'll host again next week, unless someone else has some non-vacuuming that they want to do.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

BOOK: Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk

Other Colors: Essays and a Story by Orhan Pamuk

winner of the Nobel Prize

I read Pamuk's book Istanbul last year after I got back from my summer cruise, which included stops in Istanbul and Sirence, a small village in southern Turkey. I enjoyed the memoir and portrait of Istanbul immensely. It was not like any other book I'd read - full of imagery and descriptions, remembrances and anecdotes; I felt I'd been immersed in the melancholy and history of Istanbul that I'd only been able to visit for several hours.

This is Pamuk's first book since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. He is most known for his novels, including My Name is Red, Snow, and The Black Book. I am interested in reading his novels, because he defines himself as a novelist foremost. However, I've only read his nonfiction, and I've enjoyed both now.

This book is a collection of essays and pieces he has written over the years. They are divided into sections called Living and Worrying; Books and Reading; Politics, Europe,and Other Problems of Being Oneself; My Books are My Life; Pictures and Texts, and a few other assorted writings, including his speech at the Nobel ceremony, and one story.

I liked certain sections more than others. As I haven't read any of his novels, his discussions relating to the books weren't as interesting as if I had. Once I read one of his books, I'll go back and read about his view and hopes for each. The essays about his favorite books exposed me as being terribly unliterate, as I haven't read Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Bernhard or Salman Rushdie. Still, his views and writings are enlightening, and rather deep.

The selections I enjoyed the most were the ones about Living and Worrying. A wide range of topics, from his daughter, to a seagull out his window, to the earthquake in 1999 that rocked Istanbul, Pamuk writes in a way that makes you identify with him, with humanity. We all feel the same way, think the same types of things, he just does it in a way that makes me think - why can't I put that thought into words in such a beautiful way? Some of these articles touch on themes from Istanbul, about the city, the river, the ferries, and his family.

One other major theme of Pamuk's involves identity and belonging. Istanbul has always been in the middle of the East and West of the world, and Pamuk as well struggles with his identity. As a Canadian, and from a small province, I can recognize the dilemma - so close to a dominant culture and a part of it, and yet different at the same time, and striving to maintain that sense of self, independent. It is very interesting to read his writings from the Western point of view, seeing how others, in the East, see us.

I enjoyed this book, especially as it reminds me of my wonderful trip. I got to see both Istanbul, in Europe, and Kusadasi and Sirence in the Asian part of Turkey. I read Pamuk before I knew he was a novelist; I was just looking for a book about Istanbul. Instead, I stumbled upon an amazing writer. His novels scare me a little, because they would be very 'literature' and I'm often not able to follow those strands of thought. His nonfiction, on the other hand, is very lovely. He thinks, and writes about many varied things, in a lyrical, magical way.

What's nice in a collection like this, is the varied topics and the number of essays, some of which are very short. There were some I didn't enjoy as much, but, turn the page, and there is another, new article which may engage you more. It is difficult ot summarize this book, because there is so much there. It is not often I get to read a book from a Turkish point of view, and I imagine his Nobel prize is partly that - beautiful writing that exposes the world to a unique point of view - western and eastern at the same time.
I loved visiting Turkey, and Pamuk's writing takes me back there. Incidently, I love the cover of the book. It is in black and white photo of Istanbul, with colored strips for the title. Very beautiful and wonderful play on the title. I jumped at the chance to get this review copy. I took all these pictures, except for the ones I am in, obviously, during our excursions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

ETC: Trailer Park Boys video clip

PEI is pretty quiet, all in all. Here's an example.

Eleven years ago, Gary Gormley killed Clifford McIver in a drug robbery with lots of scandal and some hint of homosexuality as McIver was gay. Gary was caught and convicted pretty easily, but the whole trial was front page news every day. Gary was a well known criminal around town, but considered a good old boy before the murder. His accomplice was the more hardened guy, but didn't do the actual killing. This story is not sounding like idyllic PEI at all.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. Gormley is now near the end of his life sentence, and he had declined parole, because he felt he wasn't ready for society. He is now at a minimum security jail just across the bridge in New Brunswick. So he 'escaped.' He's been on the loose for a while. Lots of rumors - he'd gone to Ontario to get the guys who told on him, he was on PEI because that's where he's from. But still no sightings at all.Today, he drove to the RCMP barracks in Stratford, a five minute drive from my house, to turn himself in. There were no police there, so he waited 15 minutes until they turned up. Back to jail he goes.

Kind of like this scene from the Trailer Park Boys, a local show from Nova Scotia that might air on Bravo or BBC America in the states.
Caution: bad, bad language. Really. I'm not just saying that. If coarse language upsets you, DO NOT watch this clip. If it doesn't bother you, enjoy! Notice how Julian always has a rum and coke in his hand.

Ricky trying to get arrested

MEME: music meme

It's a music Me!Me! that I got from famous99 She gave me S. I originally posted this at livejournal, but I hate to waste all that linking work, so I'll post it here as well. Song lyrics are like poetry, so that makes it book related.

Comment and I'll give you a letter. In your journal, list 10 of your favorite songs that begin with that letter.

Suicidewinder - Ridley Bent [my favorite song]

Seasons of Love - Rent soundtrack [love the movie]

Sunday Morning After - Amanda Marshall [a little Canadian content]

Somebody Told Me - the Killers [the teeny bop in me]

Speed of Sound - Coldplay [I teach physics!]

Stan - Eminem [he repulses me, yet I am oddly compelled to listen]

She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals [the 80s!!]

Should I Stay or Should I Go? - the Clash [I'm not really punk though]

Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2 [classic]

Somewhere Only We Know - Keane [my recent hit]

This is hard to decide. I wanted to put Steady (as she goes), the live version, by the Raconteurs, but I'm cheap and only had a protected version I got for the free download of the week from iTunes. However, the second song I got from iTunes for free was Suicidewinder and I like it so much I bought Ridley Bent's album, Blam for myself. It's my favorite song, you should listen to it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

SHORT STORY MONDAY: a small peril

All That You Love Will Be Carried Away by Stephen King from the Everything's Eventual collection

King is known for his scary, horror stories, but he does poignancy as well as anyone. He has a way of connecting in little ways with people, his characters, that the reader immediately identifies with. That he can do this so well in a short story speaks to his talent.

Alfie Zimmer is driving, on the road. The story begins as he is checking into a motel in Kansas or Nebraska, somewhere in the desolate prairies. Alfie is typical midlife, Willy Loman salesman, questioning his life and meaning. The interesting quirk of Alfie is that he collects graffiti and studies it as poetry and humor, the comments on America. This was King's germ of an idea that built into a story. I enjoyed the poetry analysis that Alfie applies to his graffiti, and felt for Alfie as he deals with a crosssroads in his life.

EDIT TO ADD: I was thinking about graffiti: I have these wooden squares in my physics lab that I use to ration out the masking tape, because kids use masking tape like they don't have to buy it! Anyway, these little pieces of wood now have the funniest graffiti on them, and they crack me up when I read them. Of course, right now all the funny escapes me, but the witty, pithy comments of well done graffiti are poetry in themselves, especially the ones that get answered.

heh, a short review for a short story

Saturday, September 15, 2007

BOOK: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Would you believe I had never heard of Neil Gaiman before this year? How is this possible? And I don't mean I hadn't read any of his books - never heard of the man. Then I read American Gods and I really enjoyed it, it had a real Stephen King quality to it. This is high praise from me. Then I read Coraline during the Once Upon a Time challenge and found it super creepy. And then I laughed my way through Good Omens, a tale of the apocalypse but in a funny way.
But I think I liked Neverwhere the best.

First of all, I really want to go to London. Gaiman uses the mythology present in England to fashion an amazing world, underneath London. The subway system is an integral part of this novel and I really want to ride the tube now. One night on his way to dinner with his fiance, Richard Mayhew comes across a woman, hurt on the sidewalk. He insists on helping her, and this becomes the most momentous decision in his life. He loses everything - his fiance, his home, his job, and his life on the upper levels of London. Because Richard has fallen through the cracks into the underside of London, where Knightsbridge is a Night Bridge, and angels and Friars and shadows and some really creepy people are hanging out. When you hear "Mind the Gap" you should take it serious.
Richard is soon on a quest with Hunter, and Lady Door and the marquis de Carabas in a battle underground. Gaiman has created the most amazing world and interesting characters and I enjoyed picking this up every time. Richard is a rather reluctant hero and I liked how his everydayness made him a realistic person. He doesn't do amazing feats, just is brave when necessary and thinks for himself.
So, hurrah for the RIP II challenge and me finding this great book. There was violence and some gory scenes, but the world underneath was amazing and Gaiman is an amazing writer to imagine this place just beneath our periphery.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

MEME: Booking Through Thursday

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.
What do you read?

(Any bets on how quickly somebody says the Bible or some other religious text? A good choice, to be sure, but to be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction…. Unless I laid it on a little strong in the string of catastrophes? Maybe I should have just stuck to catching a cold on a rainy day….)

Do I want to cry? Cause it's Anne of Green Gables, and I'll just flip to a page with Matthew's name on it, and I'm blubbering.
If I just want to go into another world, it's probably Bridget Jones or maybe Evening Class by Maeve Binchy. Both of those I've read many times, which is what I'd want, comfort food, good old favorites, with happy endings.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

BOOK: Tomorrow by Graham Swift

Tomorrow by Graham Swift

This is the first book I've read by Swift, but I see he won the Man Booker Prize for Last Orders in 1996; since I'm reading all of those, I'll have to add Last Orders to the near top of the list.

This will be tricky to describe, because the plot unfolds slowly and the big reveal takes quite a while - almost too long, I was getting a little frustrated waiting for Paula to finally tell her twins what the big news is. That's the premise of the book - a mother is lying awake the night before she and her husband plan to tell their children something. We get a glimpse into the life of this family - the Hooks, through some pivotal times in history and in their everyday life. The things that make a family, the remembrances and events that all together make up the thing called 'our family.'

The difficult part is I can't give away the big news, and that makes some of the questions I want to ask not possible. It takes over half the book to get there, and I'm not sure it was as big a deal as Paula thought. But then again, it's not me, so maybe it is for someone else. Part of the problem is that it seems commonplace, but, maybe not if it is specifically you that has to deal with it. So, overall, this was a good book, an insight into a couple, both born as the war ends in 1945, meeting and attending college during the late sixties, and having kids later in life - a real boomer story. The mom reminisces their story, rambling somewhat, posing a lot of questions, and filling her son and daughter into the events that led her and Mike up to this night.

In some ways, Paula and Mike define the baby boomers, in that the times they lived through were pivotal - the Pill, divorces, changes in science, parents aging, and are typically boomer issues, and sometimes I get a little tired of boomers dealing with their issues as if they are the most important issues and no one has had to live through what they have, and blah, blah, blah. Not that this is Swift's fault, he actually nails it very well, and he was born in England in 1949 so he knows of what he speaks. I don't want to give the wrong impression, there is a whole bunch more to this story and it was well written and compelling - I wanted to keep reading and find out the what and the why of the discussion for 'tomorrow'. Swift raises lots of philosophical questions of who we are and what makes us the people we are.

Monday, September 10, 2007

SHORT STORY MONDAY: a small peril

The Man in the Black Suit by Stephen King from the Everything's Eventual collection

I love how Stephen King recognizes the beauty of the nine, ten, eleven year olds. They are at a wonderful age, not a child anymore, just beginning to grow up, but not a teenager yet. They are smart and can think, but still have the wonder and belief in their eyes. (I have a nine year old son myself, so I can see these wonderful qualities for myself) some of his best stories involve this age as main characters - It and Stand By Me come to mind immediately. Philip Pullman also has a ten year old main character in Lyra, saving the world in His Dark Materials' Trilogy.

The Man in the Black Suit is the reminisces of an old man, to a day in 1914, when he was nine (of course) years old. It is a simple story, but told well. Only a nine year old could have this experience and tell it this way, because they don't question what they see, they know. And if a nine year old sees the devil, he knows. He doesn't convince himself that it is something else, or that he dreamed it, or he was mistaken. He knows he met the devil. This is that story.

King includes a little explanation with each story, because he truly has so much to tell. This story was his hommage to a Nathanial Hawthorne story Young Goodman Brown. If I were a more responsible reviewer, I would have also read the Hawthorne story, and compared and contrasted them and had a more complete review. That is not me, however, as I have children to feed instead, but in my head, I can imagine I did that and you are suitably impressed. Mayhaps a commenter can comment and save me the work. Some day Hawthorne, some day.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

BOOK: Among the Shadows by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I finished my first book for the RIP II challenge, one I've been waiting to read ever since I realized there was a LM Montgomery book that fit this challenge. Of course, the surprising thing is that there is only one book of short stories that were compiled into a darker collection. Montgomery was not a happy woman, and most of her stories show her hope for happy endings. She had an unhappy marriage, and her husband suffered from episodes of melancholy, so her stories often show characters unwilling to settle for a loveless a marriage, and who would rather stay single than enter a union not up to their standards.

I think Montgomery's short stories go best in a collection like this. I don't know if many would stand alone, in a collection of stories by other authors; I find her stories somewhat blend together, but for Montgomery fans, that's perfect. The themes here are ghosts, messages from beyond, unexplained happenings, and 'bad' people, which in the early 1900s, included sins like drinking and excessive jealousy or pride, and crimes like embezzlement. Montgomery's talent for description of nature helps set the mood in many of the stories, moonless nights, friendly shadows, mysterious fir-lined brook. All in all, this book was what I expected and I enjoyed the diversions and happy, if mysterious, endings. I'm not sure I believe in ghosts, but I don't disbelieve either.

BOOK: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I really wanted to like this book. I always loved The Importance of Being Ernest when I studied it in university, twice. It's on all the 'important' lists of books to read, including the top 50_books list. I saw it could be a book for the RIP so I was expecting eerie and creepy. In truth, I liked the story, it was the execution that made me fall asleep every time I picked it up.
It's a classic story, one that I knew the gist of - Dorian Gray doesn't age, the painting of him does all the aging. There were parts I liked, such as when the characters spoke to each other, except when they began rambling on about art and the role of the artist. Lord Harry spoke in that Victorian double speak or irony, like he got lost from the comedy of manners play, The Important of Being Ernest and wandered into this novel. I wasn't expecting his more humorous comments, so it was confusing me from the atmosphere I was expecting. Lord Harry says things like "To get back my youth, I would do anything in the world, except exercise, get up early or be respectable." He's full of witticisms like this.

There are a lot of comments about beauty and art and probably some social commentary, but somewhere around the middle I began to really scan, as I realized I might never finish it if I didn't change something. Wilde was certainly making some statements about the classics with many literary allusions, as the Reader's Supplement at the back of my edition attests. I wanted to finish it but it may be a book best analysed with a professor in an English class, not me reading it for fun. Part of the problem is that I knew what the story was, and it was good a good story, just that reading how Wilde wrote it wasn't worth it to me. And knowing how Wilde lived and died, it seemed rather autobiographical, with the decadent lifestyle that Dorian Gray was allowed to live. Most of the debauchery was only hinted at, but with hindsight, and knowledge of Oscar Wilde, it could be a different book written today.

With this, I've finished off the summer classic challenge and this gets me to 13 books in 13 decades, a respectable amount.

Friday, September 7, 2007

MEME: What if?

I've seen this meme around - kookiejar, and literary feline come to mind. I want to post something new this week and this looks like fun.
Back to school is a tiring week for me; I've managed to read some blogs, but haven't read much, so I don't have anything to review. Maybe tonight I'll be able to read without falling asleep by 10:30, which is early for me when I'm on summer hours. I'm hoping to finish a RIP book, and I got a great looking book in the mail from randomhouse today that I'm dying to pick up, justforthehelluvit. But I also want to read another RIP book; Neverwhere just came in at the library. So many books, so little time.

School was good - seeing lots of teacher friends, and my classes look good so far (crosses fingers) but a little large - everyone wants to take physics this year it seems.
We had out 15th anniversary this week, so the family all went out to supper. The kids were great and nobody had to cook or clean up. Great for all!

1. If you could have super powers what would they be and what would you do with them? (Please feel free to be selfish, you do not have to save the world!)
I just thought of it! To be able to survive on 5 hours sleep every night and be as alert and functioning as if I had 10 hours sleep

2. Were you to find yourself stranded on an island with a CD could happen...what would your top 10 bloggers island discs be?
I don't listen to a lot of music, but these have been favorites over the years

1. Meatloaf - Bat Out of Hell
2. Rent - soundtrack
3. Coldplay - x&y
4. Bare Naked Ladies - Gordon
5. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
6. John Mellencamp Greatest Hits
7. Ridley Bent - Blam!
8. Tragically Hip -a compilation album (I'm going to see them on Sept 25th woo!)
9. Johnny Cash - Greatest Hits
10. Love Actually soundtrack

3. If you were a smell what would it be?
gingerbread and Christmas trees

4. What bird would you most like to be?
An owl.

5. If you were a bird who's head would you poo on?
I don't think I would on anyone on purpose

6. Are there any foods that your body craves?
chocolate covered pretzels (chocolate and salty together, like a peanut buster parfait)

7. What's your favorite time of year?
summer - school's out, it's hot, the beach, the books, the naps, the flowers,

8. What's your favorite time of day?
late at night, I'm a night owl - see my consistent answer, along with 1 and 4

9. If a rest is as good as a change which would you choose?
definitely rest, I don't like a lot of change

10. If you could have a dinner party and invite any 5 people from the past or present who would they be? (Living or deceased.)
Albert Einstein - the brains
LM Montgomery- the books
Pierre Elliot Trudeau- the leader
Terry Fox- the heart
George Clooney- the looks

Monday, September 3, 2007

SHORT STORY MONDAY: a small peril

As one of the RIP perils, Carl has suggested reading a short story of a spooky nature on the weekend and posting about it. At the same time, john mutford has been posting Short Story Monday. I have always enjoyed short stories. Serendipity, no? It does seem to be calling out to me to read and post about some short stories. As I looked at my pile of books, and my RIP list, I seem a little short story heavy as it is. Among the Shadows by LM Montgomery, and Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman are both on my list. I have Everything's Eventual by Stephen King on my alternate list. [I've been carrying this book around since last year, when my sister picked it up in the library on the Grand Princess of our Mediteranean cruise. How great an image is that? A library, with a shelf of take 'em/leave 'em books, to read on the deck, under the Mediterranean sun, with Angelo bringing another strawberry daqueri, with no children?] I didn't get to read the King book last year, so RIP seemed appropriate. And if I read one story a week, this should last me the two months of reading in peril. That's my plan, then: one Stephen King a week, and my thoughts.

Now my Stephen King background: I love him. I mean his writing. I was in a huge King phase, reading most everything I could get my hands on, during the eighties. The Stand - read it in nearly one sitting, and if you know that book, you know the bedsores I had, It, Needful Things, Different Seasons, I mean he has written some of my absolute favorite books. He is so readable. But I went off King, for some reason. Sometime around The Dark Tower series, I lost the thread of his books; they just didn't scream to me or make me scream anymore. So here I am, with the book, and the challenge, and the blog, all coming together in a Short Story Monday. I just started the Introduction and was right back in King fangirl status. Even his intros are good. "Yet for me, there are few pleasures so excellent as sitting in my favorite chair on a cold night with a hot cup of tea, listening to the wind outside and reading a good short story which I can complete in a single sitting." Amen, Mr King, amen.

Autopsy Room Four
With the first story, King leads, 1 -0 in scaring the bejeesus out of me. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole 30 pages. First, I'll have to tell a little story about me. Once, in my single, university dorm room, I had an experience. My brain woke up, but my body did not. I could think, but not move. I tried to move, nothing. I tried to talk, scream, twitch; nothing. I was a little panicked, but couldn't do anything. In a move which characterizes me very well, I gave up and went back to sleep. In the morning, I woke up like usual. Anybody I mentioned this to, dismissed it as a dream, but I know it wasn't. I'm sure I even read somewhere, sometime, that this is a syndrome, or sleep event.

King takes an event, based on an old Hitchcock show, that people would fear: being alive and being mistaken for dead, with no way to let anybody know. Thus our narrator describes, slow step by slow step, his experience in the title. Part of the fear is knowing that Stephen King is writing, and how far will he take you? Does he have any boundaries? He builds and builds the suspence. Is our narrator really alive? Is this really what death is like? Could this really happen?

The characters seem real, and included are his characteristic popular references. For example, the Stones are playing in the background and their songs become a part of the story. King takes advantage of the fact that our imagination is even worse than anything he can come up with, and the genius of his writing is waiting for the story to end, to see how he can possibly finish this other than the ending you have imagined. This one ended a little quickly and corny, but the build up was worth it.
How will I ever wait until next week for King's next short story?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

BOOK: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

First of all, Lionel Shriver is a woman. I don't know why that should make a difference, but just like it changes how you say someone's name if you know how it is spelled - Sean, or Shawn, it does make a little difference.

Second, holy cow! What a book. It took me about 100 pages to get into it, and I wasn't sure I would like it in the beginning, because the narrator is not easy to like. But suddenly, I was wondering where my Sunday went, because I didn't get off the couch. This is not an easy book to read, it may challenge some ideas, it may make you think, it may make you scared, very scared, but you won't forget Kevin.

Plot summary, from the back cover:
In this gripping novel of motherhood gone awry, Lionel Shriver approaches the tragedy of a high-school massacre from the point of view of the killer's mother. In letters written to the boy's father, mother Eva probes the upbringing of this more-than-difficult child and reveals herself to have been the reluctant mother of an unsavory son. As the schisms in her family unfold, we draw closer to an unexpected climax that holds breathtaking surprises and its own hard-won redemption.

The big question after one of these shooting incidents, is always, why? Eva, the mother, takes us through Kevin's life and her own, to look for these answers. She is brutally honest about herself and how she saw things, but it is only her perspective in the end. There are parts where you will cringe with uncomfortableness, with sympathy, and with a 'there, but for the grace of God, go I'.

I don't like to put spoilers in a review, and I won't, but I would really like to talk to somebody who has read this book. This would make a great discussion book, especially among parents and teachers. Dewey picked this book for her Something About Me list, because she is the parent of a high school boy and a high school teacher. I teach high school, and my kids are younger, but it still had a great impact. Thanks, dewey, for the suggestion, I am really glad I read this one.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

UPDATE: August Books

I felt I tackled some large books this month, Jane Eyre, The Blind Assassin, and We started the month off slowly, and I didnt' expect to end up reading this many books. A few children's novels helped the stats at the end of the month. I am pleased with the quality of books and the variety: I had dystopian, classic, scifi, childrens, young adult, contemporary and just released fiction. I've got Canadian and world views, old and new authors, with a total of 13 books. A few challenges are just about done, and there are some great ones about to begin. Happy Reading!

Books Read for Dystopian Challenge - 2
Books Read for Something About Me Challenge - 5
Books Read for Classic Challenge - 2
Award Winners - 4
top 50_books list - 2

Best Books: Never Let Me Go, I Am the Messenger, Cloud of Bone these three might make my year's best list they were so good
Best New Author: Markus Zusak, Kazou Ishiguro
Favorite Canadian Author: Bernice Morgan

95. Fighting Ruben Wolfe - Markus Zusak
94. O Pioneers! - Willa Cather
93. Cloud of Bones - Bernice Morgan
92. Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
91. The Reluctant Fundmentalist - Mohsin Hamid
90. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
89. Never Let Me Go - Kazou Ishiguro
88. Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
87. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
86. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
85. We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
84. I Am the Messenger - Markus Zusak
83. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood