Be back soon...

Monday, November 22, 2010

I know. I've been sleeping on the blog lately!

I'm not even going to make excuses anymore. I'm just plain busy, busy, busy!

But I do plan on returning to normal scheduling sometime soon... hopefully sometime in December. Please "bear" with me.... LOL!!! Haha, okay I just cracked myself because I just thought of that pun as I was writing it, hehe. Oh and the one before that... Shows you how delirious I've been lately! I laugh, but really the craziness has put some real crazies in my brain too! =( The other day I left my house for work and completely forgot to put my crazy "if-not-crated-will-destroy-the-house" dog in her crate before I left... considering we've had the same routine for five years, that's almost akin to forgetting to put on my shoes before I get to work. Yeah... and I've had some other similar moments. So yeah, blogging has not been a priority lately.. but will be again soon!

Anywho, you may have noticed or not, but I utterly FAILED at my "new" New Yorker Stories feature after posting only one review (and reading only two short stories) LOL! and I don't really feel bad about that because it wasn't interesting me. Maybe I'll get back to it one day. In the meantime, I have another feature I'm thinking of doing but haven't really decided. It's about a topic that doesn't really fit in with a general book blog so I hesitate and think I should do a completely separate blog, but then I really don't want to maintain a different blog too... plus it is something I can definitely tie in to reading/books as well... so we shall see.

Be back later to talk books!

Sunday Salon

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Sunday everyone!

Wow, I haven't been around much! It's the same story... been crazy busy! Yesterday I was in a wedding for a friend of mine and that was a blast! The wedding was gorgeous! But of course, I didn't do any reading or checking in online. And even the days I do, lately, it's not a lot. I posted a total of one pre-written (or any kind of) reviews in the past week. And I've looked through my google reader just here or there. I expect that my reviews will be sparse probably from now until Christmas. But things should (hopefully!!) slow down for me around that time and I'll be back to reading and posting regularly! In the meantime, I do have quite a few reviews that I still need to write so hopefully I'll have at least one review up per week. At least. And I will try my best to keep up with everyone else's reviews and commenting!


Monday, November 8, 2010

Title: Monster
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Pages: 281
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Amistad (Harper Collins)
Release Date: April 21, 1999

I had my eye on this one for a while and finally decided it was time to pick it up. This would have made a great read-a-thon book because of its unique and engaging style of writing. Ah well. But it's definitely a quick and enjoyable read that also gives you something to think about.

Steve Harmon is a 16-year-old African American boy on trial for a murder he may not have committed. Steve has been sitting in jail awaiting his trial and is terrified at the thought of being sentenced to 25 years to life. Prior to going to jail, Steve was a high school student and enjoyed his film class. So in order to quell his anxiety, Steve turns his trial into a movie script. Each chapter started off with a few pages of Steve's writing that are either similar to a journal entry or are in the form of "notes". The following pages of each chapter are the movie script of what is going on around him, including the production instructions including what camera angles to use... (focusing in on the jury, long shot of the courtroom, close up of the defendant, etc. etc.)

The majority of the script is the trial itself which is the mechanism through with the reader learns what may have happened (keeping in mind, of course, that not all the witnesses may be motivated to tell the truth). In a few scenes, Steve flashes back to give the reader a glimpse into what his life was like prior to being arrested.

Monster lacked the big punch at the end that I had somewhat anticipated but did contain some more subtle messages about truth and prejudice. For instance, Steve's attorney, though creating a great defense, actually believes he committed the crime because of her prejudice. Though this isn't a major part of the story in any way, it contributes to the illustration of this concept; and in one moment near the end, Steve finds himself confused at her actions because of his naivete to said concept. Monster was an easy read but one that clearly presented some social issues that could lead to discussion!

Monster was the winner of the Michael Printz Award for Young Adult Literature in 2000, was a National Book Award finalist in 1999, and was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book in 2000. Definitely worth checking out!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Title: Hummingbirds
Author: Joshua Gaylord
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: October 5, 2010 (paperback); October 2009 (hardcover)

I've read other mixed reviews for this one, and mine might be somewhat mixed in itself. I actually liked this book.... but it had elements that made me uncomfortable.

Hummingbirds takes place at an elite private school, Carmine-Casey, on the upper east side of Manhattan. It's somewhat of a social commentary on the lives within the school. The teachers, the students, and the combination of both.

The goods: Well, I enjoyed this book for much of it's literary merits. The writing was engaging but smart. I loved each sentence and paragraph for its wording. The author's has his writing down, for sure. The character studies, which was one of the main points, kept me transfixed as well. Some characters were developed better than others. For instance, we get much more into the mind of the main character, Leo Binhammer, and his circumstances, and he seems to be fairly genuine. But then other characters, like student Dixie Doyle, were fairly stereotypical and/or represented the idea of that type of character rather than being an individual herself. But this actually worked for me in the book, especially because in many ways I felt this book was a commentary on that lifestyle. I also felt that though there wasn't a huge climactic situation, there was still some subtle tension, for instance, the whole background between Binhammer and new teacher, Hughes. Not to mention the way in which Hughes starting work at the school gives Binhammer this identity crisis because, after all, he is no longer the only male teacher for whom the girls fawn over, etc.

Another slightly fun aspect was watching the interactions of the teachers in the teacher's lounge, etc. (Made me think of Glee...) When you're young you think of your teachers as TEACHERS and that is the end of their identity! But seeing them interact with each other "behind-the-scenes" was fun.

The bads: The main literary aspect that bothered me was the constant transitioning from one character's thoughts to another. The narrative was supposed to be omniscient, overlooking all the characters at the same time. But it seemed that the narrative got into each individual's thoughts too much for having an omniscient view. So one second you're reading about Binhammer's thoughts and then all of a sudden we know exactly what Sibyl is thinking -- not because we are assuming by the way she acts but, instead, the narrator is telling us exactly. Then it would switch to another character, back to Binhammer, then to another, etc. It was strange for me.

And now the elephant in the room... this is a story about a young-ish high school teacher who has sexual tension with his high school students. Granted, their seniors and are 17-years-old for the most part, but they are still KIDS, and the whole concept made me squeamish. Especially because of the work that I do (with kids, of all ages, who have been sexually abused) it made me somewhat squeamish. Kari over at Five Borough Books explained it well in her review... considering the author has also worked at a prep school and, in that sense, is similar to the main character... it's even weirder. I don't want to believe that all male teachers actually picture their high school students naked or are overly conscious of where on their bodies they've accidentally touched or grazed. To a certain extent, I know that some of what he talked about is genuinely how things happen. I know girls fawn over their male teachers, especially if they are relatively young and attractive. And this part of the teacher's identity was reflected in his jealousy over the new male teacher that swayed some of the girls his way. But just the underlying tension between the teachers and students was uncomfortable for me. And I wonder if I just didn't get what point the author was trying to make. And there was a scene where the high school student, Dixie, wants to kiss her friend's young, pre-pubescent brother, and I also didn't get that.

Soo... while I was interested in the world of Manhattan prep schools, thought it was a great character study and literary novel in general, a lot of the actual content made me feel slightly awkward and did nothing for the lack of trust in most of the male population that I already have. It's certainly a difficult dichotomy to explain!

I read this for TLC Book Tours. Check out the other reviews on the tour:

Tuesday, October 5th: Write Meg
Thursday, October 7th: The Scholastic Scribe
Monday, October 11th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, October 12th: Helen’s Book Blog
Wednesday, October 13th: Bookstack
Wednesday, October 20th: Life in the Thumb
Friday, October 22nd: After ‘I Do’
Monday, October 25th: Bookworm with a View
Tuesday, October 26th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, October 28th: five borough book review
Wednesday, November 3rd: Take Me Away
Friday, November 5th: Tales of a Capricious Reader

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Monday, November 1, 2010

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Housseini
Pages: 367
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Release Date: May 22, 2007

This had been recommended to me by pretty much everyone for a long time. And it was one of those I kept meaning to read but that sat on my shelf forever -- until just recently when I joined the world party reading challenge. October happened to be Afghanistan so what a perfect reason to pull this off the shelf and read it!

A Thousand Splendid Suns gives you not just a glimpse, but a wide eyed look at life in Afghanistan over the past 20 or so years. It's one that I almost wish I had read more slowly just so I could savor the story and characters more. (I always find the concept of reading more slowly sort of strange because I typically want to finish each book as fast as I can, but now I find myself missing this book... and yet, I wonder WHY?! do I feel this way... because the story itself is pretty horrifying).

I suppose I won't say too much since even the publisher's summary doesn't give away a lot. Basically it's about two different characters, Mariam and Laila, who we get to see quickly grow from children into adults. Mariam is a generation older than Laila. So part one focuses on Mariam, part two on Laila, and parts three and four on both. Mariam's and Laila's life circumstances bring them together, and through these characters we learn the history of Afghanistan and the terrors of the wars that have raged there.

One of the things that freaked me out was watching the progression of years; it was well paced so nothing ever seemed to drawn out, and even though a few years were skipped at a time here or there, it wasn't anything noticeable. But imagining the horrors Mariam and Laila dealt with -- the barbaric rules and nefarious manner in which they were treated just because they were women -- and then watching the years go up to 1999, 2001, etc. That wasn't a long time ago! Essentially that's now! Because of the Taliban these women weren't allowed to be outside without the companion of a man?! And if they were found they were questioned and often beaten. They had to wear a burqa everywhere they went. And because of this attitude towards women, domestic violence ran rampant and was accepted. The amount of physical abuse towards these women sickened me. And though I knew about some of the things happening in that part of the world, I don't think it really hit home how extreme it was. And them doing all that while I was out with my friends, driving myself around, graduating from high school, then college. It just doesn't seem right. And it's not, but this book really brought it home for me. Of course, now I feel frustrated because what can I do? Really? And is it still like that now? I don't know!

Anyway, Mariam and Laila are characters who had a significant impact on me. I don't think I realized how much of one until after I finished the book and, later, wanted to return to it. And while the ending wasn't a big punch or anything, I became emotional the minute I closed the book. And I hadn't cried during any other part of it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was an amazingly well-told story. The author utilized some subtle and basic literary techniques that I really appreciated. I've seen this book on some "school lists" at different bookstores and wholeheartedly agree this is a great book to be read by students in an effort to learn about the rest of the world.

And in that sense, the perfect pick for Afghanistan on the World Party Reading Challenge.