Monday, October 31, 2011

October in Review

Happy Halloween!! Hope everyone enjoyed their Halloween parties and your children have fun with their trick-or-treating. I'm not actually a big Halloween person. I've had fun with it in the past, but really what I look forward to is the day after Halloween when it is officially November which makes it officially... "the holidays"! 

Anyway, I didn't read quite the collection of scary books I meant to this month, but no biggie because I've been reading some other good books. Here is what I reviewed this week:
I also talked about being a wuss and about having accidental DNFs.
I'm getting a little behind on reviews but hope to have up soon both The Buddha in the Attic and Lightning People.

I'm incredibly looking forward to November and December! Hope everyone else has a great November of reading!

When She Woke

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Algonquin Books (Workman Publishing(
Pub. Date: October 4, 2011

This was one of those books I hadn't necessarily planned on reading right away, but I thought I would read a few pages and then I became totally absorbed in the unique story. When She Woke is inspired by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and actually liked it, but I really don't remember it enough to make many comparisons between that and this. However, I do feel that despite being inspired by it, When She Woke is definitely something different and unique in its own right.

I don't recall it specifying when, but this book takes place sometime in the future. The U.S. has created a system where only the worst of the worst criminals stay in jail. Instead, others are sentenced to "melachroming" for a certain amount of time in which their entire bodies are turned an entirely different color. The different colors represent different crimes - killers are red, misdemeanor type crimes are blue, drug related offenses yellow, more serious drug related crimes orange, and child molesters are purple. (It's been a little bit since I read this so I could be slightly off). However, the government is also theocratic so crimes are also judged from a religious perspective. Hence, Hannah Payne is sentenced to melachroming (red) for 13 years after she has an abortion. Not only does she have an abortion, but she refuses to name the father of the child. As you might imagine, melachromed individuals, although free, have to deal with a prejudice so intense that they'd probably be better off in jail anyway.

Hannah first spends 30 days in a sort of jail that also doubles as a reality show for the public. That's part of the punishment, although the book doesn't really go into any background information about that. Afterwards, Hannah ends up in a very scary home run by hypocritically religious zealots. She's treated like a prisoner there and has to attend daily sessions of "enlightenment". This part was incredibly creepy and offensive. My thought while reading this was that I would NOT recommend this book to someone who did have an abortion; I imagine that the things purported by some of the characters in the book, specifically during "enlightenment", would be difficult for someone who had this experience to read; it was awful! Whenever Hannah has a reason to think she might be free, something else happens to teach her more about being prejudiced against. She faces constant stares and rebukes by the general population, is refused services at various stores and restaurants, faces physical and sexual attack by others, and is pursued by a violent vigilante group who seeks out melachromed individuals to kill.

The plot continuously moved forward and I was fascinated in learning more about this world so those two things kept me turning the pages. I am not typically into the dystopian genre and I thought this one had the right amount of dystopia mixed with the right amount of contemporary storyline to keep a reader of more mainstream fiction interested. The main draw, I think, with When She Woke was the discussions that could be generated from various aspects of the story. For instance, not only is the government theocratic in nature, but Hannah comes from a type of evangelical religious family. Her mother disowns her for having the abortion, and her sister's husband refuses to allow the two contact. So various issues about religion were brought up. Also, should people who have been committed crimes (I'm NOT talking Hannah but the other actual criminals) be allowed to be free as long as they are very clearly identified as such? And if you do have strong beliefs about any specific morals, what is the best way to teach others about them? And, of course, for those willing to go there, what constitutes a crime in the first place? Just some very interesting things to talk about.  Real dystopian lovers might be disappointed at the lack of explanation beneath much of the world building (just based on what I've read other people say in their reviews of dystopians). For me, this book was more about the world itself and the philosophical questions it generated. Race and religion, prejudice and government... it's all there!

The Plight of the Accidental DNFs...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If you're the type of reader that doesn't waste time slogging through books that just aren't interesting to you, then you're familiar with the purposeful DNFs (did-not-finish). But I noticed that over time I've started to experience the plight of accidental DNFs. These are books that I'm reading and am typically enjoying (though not always but still plan on reading through to the end) that I end up setting aside for a minute. And then I don't pick them back up! Maybe for a week or two I'll assure myself that I'm returning right back to it, but weeks, months, and sometimes YEARS later, I realize I never did. I'm sure this happens for various reasons. Possibly as a result of Book ADD, as Trisha puts it or just the pressure of reading other books in general. Here are a random smattering of books that I never finished for almost no good reason!!

The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons
 This was the first purchase I made on my nook almost two years ago. I was really enjoying it when I did get to a slower part that made me put it down for a minute. Plus, at 752 pages I figured I should take a break and read something smaller or less focused on such a singular topic. This sat on my nook untouched for probably a year and a half until my husband decided to read it.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
 I just talked about this one not too long ago. Although I had every intention of continuing through anyway, I haven't had the desire to pick it back up because it's actually quite boring. I'm almost halfway through. Does it get better? My husband, who was reading this at the same time as me, who is usually good at finishing books anyway, has also not gotten very far and has resorted to other books instead.

The Passage by Justin Cronin
I didn't mean to mention my husband really at all in this post, but he applies to all three books so far! This one is out of my preferred genre, but I heard such AMAZING things so he and I planned on reading this one together. I really enjoyed part 1. My hubby finished this book. I never got any further. To me the rest was "meh". I wanted to finish so we could discuss, and to this day he'll bring up that I never followed through with this and he has things he wants to talk to me about. I'm thinking maybe it's some of these longer books that I just get bored with. Or maybe I feel overwhelmed at the enormity of it, because I really did not get far at all.

The Eleventh Day by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
I started reading this one earlier this year not too long after it came out. It was pretty interesting for a while. I was horrified at the section that talked about the people who believed in the various conspiracy theories. Then it slowed down and I thought I'd fit in a fiction. And that was the end of that! (This one is actually sitting next to my reading chair with a bookmark still in it, just awaiting my return).

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I had lots of review books and commitments to attend to when I happened to pick this one up during an innocent trip to the bookstore. After reading in the store I knew I had to take it home. And although I loved what I was reading and was super excited in anticipation of the famed power point chapter, I had to put it aside for other reading commitments. And even though I feel excited about this book, and I've heard such great things, it's like I moved forward in my reading momentum and I dropped this one way back and can't go back to pick it up! I WILL for sure though. This one is a must read for sure.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
This is another that falls into the category of I was really enjoying it and everyone says it's great yet somehow I forgot about it and it sits unfinished. This one I started in October of 2010 on my nook while on vacation visiting my brother-in-law in Raleigh. I specifically remember this one being featured in some newsletter or ad about indie picks. I bought it on my nook, and I don't even remember at this point what happened to make me stop reading! Will also return to this one day for sure.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
I had to know what all the hype was about. I actually started this one as well in October of 2010 on my nook while visiting the brother-in-law. Then I didn't read it again for at least a couple months. Then around January I really made a lot of headway in it. This one was a conundrum for me... I did enjoy the character driven aspect of this, although I also felt the overly pretentiousness of it. The characters were just too much... don't know what else to say about them, and I felt like asking why I should care about them. Nevertheless, I never meant for this to be a DNF. In fact, I invested too much in this one for that.... I haven't read it in close to a year, but it's possible I might return to this one.

Body and Soul by Frank Conroy
I bought this for my mother for her birthday maybe two years ago. She had been really into piano playing at the time and wanted to read a book that featured that. I did some research and found this one with rave reviews. My mom said she really enjoyed and might re-read it one day (which is rare for her) so I thought I'd love it. I actually was enjoying this too but it got a little slow, I put it down to read something else for a little, and well... by this point I'm sure you know what happened. This one is actually sitting on top of The Eleventh Day also awaiting my return. I actually do hope to finish this one as well.

Well, that's just a smattering... I only meant to include a few books but then I kept thinking of more. And I'm sure as soon as I hit publish more will come flooding into my memory. Am I the only one who does this? Is it really that weird to take a year or two to finish a book?? (Actually I'm laughing about that because it has to be weird). But am I the only one?

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Pages: 348
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pub. Date: June 7, 2011

I have to admit that despite the reviews I read, I don't think I quite understood what I was getting into when I started reading about these peculiar children. Overall I guess I'd say this was okay, and I could see how some people loved it. I didn't love it as I hoped I would, but thought it was fun. It was slightly creepy, and not just in the obvious way. The main issue is I did not realize how much supernatural or fantasy elements were involved. Or maybe it wasn't so much fantasy but time travel type of stuff. Definitely not realistic which is what I expected for whatever harebrained reason.

Now that Jacob is a teenager he realizes that a lot of his grandfather's stories about his own childhood can't be real. His grandfather told stories about monsters that were out to get him, about peculiar children who lived in a home he stayed in. He tells stories about a girl who could levitate, a boy who was invisible, a boy with incredible strength (who could lift a boulder), and many others. Upon the grandfather's sudden death, he leaves Jacob with mysterious last words that Jacob has no clue what to do with. Jacob has a very difficult time dealing with his grandfather's death and eventually starts seeing a psychiatrist to help him. Eventually Jacob convinces his parents to let him go on a trip to Wales to check out the home his grandfather grew up in. What he finds, instead, is a decrepit, battered old home that couldn't possibly still house anyone. And the town itself is very isolated and sparse. It's a weird place, for sure, and only gets weirder as Jacob realizes the peculiar children DO exist, STILL, and that his grandfather's stories may not only have been true, but that they certainly didn't tell the whole story.

The plot takes an adventurous turn about three quarters of the way through the book. I could see where that was fun, but that was also the most unrealistic. The book was neat in that it interspersed actual photographs throughout the book (like the creepy one on the cover). The author noted that all the photos were originals, though some were slightly altered. Although it was interesting to see the pictures, I felt like sometimes the story behind them was contrived just so that the picture could be included. The picture on the cover is so intriguing to me, but don't be mistaken like I was and think she's the main character. I was confused for a little bit because the main female character is actually a teenager and picturing her as a little girl doesn't make sense!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was surely a peculiar read, and I can say that I really liked all the characters. I liked the way it rounded out and created sort of a final resolution for Jacob in terms of his grandfather. Those who grew up with grandparents and enjoyed learning about their histories may enjoy that aspect of the book. I didn't have that experience but was still able to appreciate it in the characters. I did enjoy this book. The quirkiness and fantasy aspect of it is probably something I may have liked more when I was a kid, though. I'd still recommend this if you're looking for something different!

The Sunday Salon

I haven't done a Sunday Salon in a while. I've come to the conclusion that my reading and blogging habits are just going to have to be different than they were in the past. And I'm okay with that. I may not have a book review up every 3-4 days like I used to aim for, but I'm back to posting fairly regularly and hope to increase it slightly. I had initially planned on spending all day Saturday doing some reading and catching up on reviews and blogging. But then what started as an innocent trip to the mall to get out of the house turned into us waiting in line for 2 1/2 hours to upgrade husband to the iPhone 4s (and I didn't have a book with me). We hadn't planned on getting that right away. Even when we started standing in line we weren't nearly aware of how long we'd be waiting in line. Ah well, we actually ended up having great conversations with each other while waiting in line - something we're often too busy to do much of when we're at home. But hopefully I can catch up on reviews soon because I'm actually a few books behind!

I had started reading Dracula maybe a week ago. At first I was really enjoying it and anticipating where it might go, but now I'm with Marce... it's not gripping me either. Maybe when it was published in 1897 it was spookier. For now it's fairly dull. But I hear it's fantastic so I will get back to it eventually. In the meantime, I started reading When She Woke which was sent to me by Kari. I hadn't necessarily planned on reading it right away, but I decided to read the first page or two and then didn't stop! It's inspired by The Scarlet Letter but still incredibly different and has LOTS to talk about. I finished it last night and am excited to discuss that one soon!

I am excited about the National Book Award finalists that were announced last week. Usually I haven't read any of the finalists and sometimes haven't heard of them. This time I already read one and had already planned on reading two of the remaining four on the list. So I'm excited about that and am thinking I'll do that soon.

The Tiger's Wife is the one I already read. Great writing but I didn't care for the story. The Buddha in the Attic I actually started yesterday and am seeing why it was chosen as a finalist. The writing style is interesting, though I hope it doesn't wear on me by the end of the book. I had also wanted to read Salvage the Bones based on the reviews by Heather, Heather, and Audra. I hear that one's a tough one emotionally, though, so we'll see if I really end up getting to/through it!

I've got a busy week ahead of me including testifying in court on a case from my last job. I'm already looking forward to next weekend!

Morning Glories, Vol. 1

Monday, October 10, 2011

Title: Morning Glories, Vol. 1 (Issues 1-6)
Subtitle: For a Better Future
Author: Nick Spencer
Illustrations: Joe Eisma
Genre: Graphic Novel; Thriller
Publisher: Shadowline (Image Comics)
Pub. Date: November 16, 2010

I picked this graphic novel up a while ago and sort of forgot about it until my husband took it off the shelf recently. It's considered a thriller and fit the theme of this month well. I don't read graphic novels that often, but I have to say I enjoyed this one and definitely plan on reading the rest of the series. In fact, I'll probably read the single issues and get caught up before they print them together as a novel. This is the first volume that includes issues 1-6, though I saw that a new book is being published this December with issues 1-12.

Morning Glory Academy is a renowned boarding school. We're introduced to six teens who are chosen to attend the prestigious school. Casey, the blonde girl at the center of the cover, comes from Chicago and is a whiz at physics and is highly motivated. (Why do I feel like I'm writing a teacher's progress note, haha). Ike is from the Upper East Side of Manhattan and left behind a tense relationship with his cold mother. He seems a little antisocial/psychopathological. Then there's Zoe from San Diego, a diva leaving behind a bevy of boys. From Toronto there's Hunter, a sweet and innocent kid with an emotionally absent father. Jade is the "emo" girl from Des Moines whose small town family can't understand why she'd want to leave their town. And then there's Jun, the mysterious Asian kid whose family and background we don't know anything about.

The craziness of the school starts immediately, exposed both to the reader and even the characters. I don't want to spoil too much and I'm afraid that saying anything about what happens would spoil it. But everyone quickly learns the school is not what they thought, and there are reasons why each of them specifically was chosen to attend. It's as though once they are there, they're trapped and there is no communication with the outside world. Something extreme happens with Casey that leads her to take charge of the group, as she tries to organize a revolt against the authority figures. The school staff is in on all the hidden creepiness and have crazy powers. The things going on at the school are creepy and sinister and totally mysterious. Morning Glories has been compared to Lost, so just imagine the complete WTF-ery. Lots of crazy and lots of action. I'll admit the last issue bound in this book confused me... and it definitely leaves off in the middle of the story, but keep in mind this is just issues 1-6 and there are many more to come! I love the artwork as well. It's rich and colorful. Detailed enough but simple at the same time. Just the way I like it.

I recommend this book if you are into graphic novels or if the thought of a thriller about a crazy and mysterious boarding school interests you!

I'm a Wuss!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Or let me tell you about my latest DNF...

As a teen, and even into my college years, I loved horror movies. The scarier the better! Oh the memories of curling up under the covers at sleepovers to watch The Exorcist, or It, or The Shining. And even younger than that I couldn't get enough of R.L. Stine's Super Thrillers. And remember Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Loved those when I was a kid!! One of my favorite shows when I was young was SNICK'S (Saturday Night Nickelodeon) Are You Afraid of the Dark? And as recently as the Saw movies and the most recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, I continued to be addicted. I could go on.

But then somewhere along the lines, I guess in the last few years, I became an incredible wuss. While I can still enjoy some movies like the traditional Halloween, I no longer jump to see the latest horror movie whenever I see a preview. In fact, it's not uncommon for me to turn away from the tv when a preview comes on.

Even though I didn't specifically join any reading challenges, I thought I would still read some spookier reads in the spirit of October. Two years ago when I joined the R.I.P Challenge one of the books I chose was Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant. I was really excited about reading it but I never got around to it so I was sure I would do it this year.

Well, it turned into a DNF for me after maybe 25 pages.. but not because it wasn't good. Because I am a WUSS! And during the reading of those 25 pages, I must have asked my husband at least 3 times if I should continue. The premise is that Booker prize winning author, Dermot Nolan, is past his deadline for his newest book and has yet to write a page because of a really bad bout of writer's block. Then this mysterious man leaves a horror story manuscript in his mailbox. Dermot thinks it's ridiculous but his wife keeps telling him to read it. Clearly, I didn't get very far. But in the 25 or so pages, I read some of what I assume was in the manuscript. Along with the narrative about Dermot and his wife, another story is being told of innocent people who log into a website, (I don't know if it's real and I'm not looking), to document their worst nightmares. The "dream healer" is on the other end listening to their worst nightmares and then kills each of these people via... their.worst.nightmares. So what's your biggest fear? Whatever it is don't tell the dream healer! So I assume that the stories of these people being killed is what Dermot is reading in the manuscript. What I think the rest of the book is about is that Dermot ends up using the manuscript pretty much as his own but learns that the things in the book really did happen. 

Now, writing that description I still feel like it sounds so good and I want to read it! But maybe it's just this specific topic but I couldn't do it. I read about maybe 3 people already at that point who had documented their worst nightmares. And the book is graphic and tells me exactly what is happening. Gave me the heebie-jeebies! Maybe it's that angle and the gore of it (although I'm sure that compared to many books it really isn't that gory) that scared me from reading on. In a way it sort of reminded me of the Final Destination movies which I liked when the first one came out but those quickly fell off my list of movies to watch because they were so morbid and awful.

So all that being said, it seems like a good enough book and still had my interest when I stopped reading it, but I just couldn't go on because I apparently have become very picky about scary books! My husband still wants to read it so I'm holding on to it. In the meantime, I've moved on to other fairly spooky but much more neutral books! Although I am attempting a foray into Dracula later this month... I hear that's pretty scary as well. Wish me luck!

The Interpretation of Murder

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Title: The Interpretation of Murder
Author: Jed Rubenfeld
Pages: 450
Genre: Historical fiction; mystery, 1900's NYC
Publisher: Picador (Henry Holt & Co.)
Pub. Date: May 8, 2007

Author Jed Rubenfeld (who happens to be husband of the infamous Tiger Mom, Amy Chua) wrote his senior thesis at Princeton on Sigmund Freud and studied Shakespeare at Julliard. (This is all per the author bio in the book). In The Interpretation of Murder, Rubenfeld mixes these two topics to create a 1900's murder mystery in New York City revolving around a real life mystery involving Freud. Apparently, in 1909, Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis and its theory of oedipal complexes, spent a week in America. He never returned, and he henceforth referred to Americans as savages and criminals. Rubenfeld imagines what could have occurred and mixes fact and fiction into an atmospheric tale of murder and psychoanalysis.

On the day that Freud arrives in America along with his colleagues Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi, a woman is murdered at the Balmoral hotel in Manhattan. Not long after, another young woman, Nora Acton, is attacked in a similar manner but manages to survive. But her loss of voice and momentary amnesia prevents her from telling who the attacker was. The narrator, Stratham Younger, an American follower of Freud takes on Ms. Acton as a psychoanalytic patient so he can cure her "hysteria" to ultimately help solve the muder.

There really was a lot that went into this book, and I can really appreciate that.. Despite having to study Freud, Jung, and Ferenczi to some extent in school, I really don't know much about them. Knowing who they are and what they were about but not knowing so many other details made the reading slightly frustrating only because I didn't know what was fiction and what wasn't. I suppose it's not really any different than any other historical fiction, but maybe other books that are placed further back in history and who are so much further removed from my knowledge don't matter as much to me. I don't know. But anyway, it was neat to read about the psychoanalysts' view on the events that occurred in the book. Apparently, the character of Nora is based on the actual case study of a client Freud called Dora. The psychoanalysis provided for Nora in the book is actually that of the one Freud really did on Dora... and it's out there! Thanks goodness we have come further than that in the mental health field!

The mystery kept me involved throughout the book but then it became a little confusing for me in the end. There was a "feel" to this story that I don't know what to call. There must be a word or genre to describe it... you know the movie, Clue? It had that feel to me where each of the characters had their own little quirks. There were many characters all sort of running about in the story. And at the end when the mystery is solved, it's incredibly long and complex and the few characters involved basically explain how the whole thing went down. I don't actually prefer mystery novels like that, so the only other gripes I had with this book would be related to that.

Otherwise, I was definitely intrigued by the characters, and I liked the way Rubenfeld incorporated the analysis of Hamlet as well. In many ways, though this was an entertaining mystery, it was also a thought provoking book. I'm so glad the author included a lengthy author's note at the end to explain what, in fact, was truth and not. He also provided follow up information regarding the characters in the book. In addition to the psychoanalysts, many of the other characters were real as well!

Overall, there were things I liked and didn't like about the book so it gets an okay rating from me in terms of story. In terms of writing and research done by author, it was fantastic.

September in Review

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September in Review

I don't know, is that what September is supposed to look like? Or is it more October? I have no clue since here the picture would be the same as my review last month (for July and August). I haven't been outside yet this morning but I hear we're having a cold front.... the high is only 84. I'm not joking!

This month I reviewed the following:
I wrote a post on the 10th anniversary of September 11th, a post about Bookish Mindfulness & Memories (such a good way for me to keep my sanity and peace) and joined in on Top Ten Tuesday to talk about the books I'd love to re-read. (Most of the time I can't think of enough books to list 10 for any given topic, but this time I keep thinking of more I'd like to re-read, haha!)

The winner of the Ivan and Misha giveaway is....

nfmgirl of Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World!

I really don't have a whole lot to say about this month. One of these days coming up I'll post a picture of my new reading room!