Wednesday, December 24, 2008

TBR Challenge 2009

I'm trying to sneak this challenge in because I noticed that you can't change your list after January 1, so I thought I probably should have a list by then, and I'll be gone for the holidays. I just put this together in about five minutes, so hopefully I'll be happy with it when I come back. Thank goodness for alternates! I'll get this in my sidebar in January.

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
2. The American by Henry James
3. While I Live by John Marsden
4. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
5. Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
7. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
8. Jarka Ruus by Terry Brooks
9. Tanequil by Terry Brooks
10. Straken by Terry Brooks
11. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
12. Ireland by Frank Delaney

1. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
2. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
3. Plato and Platypus Walk into a Bar by Cathcart and Klein
4. Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
5. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
7. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
8. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
9. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
10. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
11. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
12. Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

Saturday, December 20, 2008

100+ Reading Challenge Completed

I'm posting this now so I can hopefully accept the fact that I have no time to read or review for the rest of 2008. I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed right now, and not even necessarily with the usual Christmas stuff. I thought maybe I could finish Main Street, but I am enjoying it, and I don't want to remember it as "the book I crammed into December's hectic schedule." Most books deserve to be read unrushed, except for those that are meant to be fast-paced (and ones that are just plain crappy.) My daughter and I are almost done with The Penderwicks, but I'll wait and review that next year.

So here's the final tally for the 100+ Challenge: 126

It sounds like a lot, but this includes several shorter children's and YA books, as well as a few self-help books which usually just take me a few hours to read. And then there are those audio books--companions to laundry, dishes, toilet srubbing, car washing, chauffeuring and the occasional exercising.

I've reviewed all but The Giver, which was a reread (but now I'm wondering why the heck I didn't review it anyway?), and Confessions of a Shopaholic (so funny and entertaining!)

Here's the list with the ones that I enjoyed the most in bold:

1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
2. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
3. The Talismans of Shannara by Terry Brooks
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
5. Sky Burial by Xinran
6. The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell
7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
8. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
9. Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
10. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
11. March by Geraldine Brooks
12. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
13. You: The Owner's Manual by Roizen and Oz
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry (a reread)
15. Messenger by Lois Lowry
16. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
17. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
18. The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
19. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
20. The Good Mood Diet by Susan Kleiner
21. In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin
22. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
23. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
24. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool
25. Reporting Iraq, edited by Mike Hoyt and John Palattella
26. The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
27. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
28. Cleaning: Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin
29. The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
30. Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
31. Gossamer by Lois Lowry
32. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
33. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
34. Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
35. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
36. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
37. Uglies by Scott Westerfield
38. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
39. Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza
40. West With the Night by Beryl Markham
41. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
42. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsberg
43. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 44. Austenland by Shannon Hale
45. Race: A History Beyond Black and White by Marc Aronson
46. The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton
47. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
48. Organizing From the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern
49. Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
50. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
51. The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik
52. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
53. Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly
54. Bridesmaids Revisited by Dorothy Cannell
55. Femmes Fatal by Dorothy Cannell
56. Specials by Scott Westerfeld
57. The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Ilse Witch by Terry Brooks
58. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
59. Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald
60. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
61. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
62. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
63. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
64. The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Antrax by Terry Brooks
65. The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: Morgawr by Terry Brooks
66. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
67. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
68. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
69. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
70. The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
71. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
72. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
73. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
74. When Organizing Isn't Enough by Julie Morgenstern
75. Running With the Demon by Terry Brooks
76. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
77. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
78. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
79. River Secrets by Shannon Hale
80. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
81. Dragonwings by Lawrence Yep
82. Knight of the Word by Terry Brooks
83. The President's Lady by Irving Stone
84. Atonement by Ian McEwan
85. The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket
86. Angel Fire East by Terry Brooks
87. The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
88. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
89. The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket
90. The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide
91. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
92. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
93. The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone
94. Presidential Races by Arlene Morris-Lipsman
95. The Spiderwick Chronicles: Lucinda's Secret
96. The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Ironwood Tree
97. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
98. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchet
99. The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Wrath of Mulgarath
100. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
101. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
102. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
103. Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
104. Blessings by Anna Quindlen
105. The Sister's Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
106. Queen of Scots by John Guy
107. The End of the Beginning by Avi
108. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
109. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
110. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
111. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg
112. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
113. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz
114. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
115. Creepers by Joanne Dahme
116. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
117. Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
118. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
119. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
120. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
121. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
122. Zoo Station by David Downing
123. Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt
124. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
125. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
126. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Criss Cross

Author: Lynne Rae Perkins
Narrator: Danielle Ferland
Published by: Harper Childrens Audio (2006)
Originally Published (2005)
Length: 5 hours, 8 minutes
Award: Newbery Medal
My Rating: 2/5
Amazon Rating: 3/5 (72 customer reviews)

This is a hard book to review--I've written something and erased it about ten times now. Can I just say that I didn't like it? The first disc was frustrating to listen to, because I didn't really know that there wasn't much of a plot, and I kept waiting for something to happen. The narrator's voice was completely wrong for the tone of the book. Once I accepted that this wasn't a plot-driven novel, it got a little better, but I have to admit that the only reason I continued to listen is because when I have an audio book in the car, I follow the path of least resisitance, which is to not take out the CD. There are moments when Perkins really captures the essence of adolescence, and looking back to when I was younger, I could identify with some of the feelings and agree that that is how things felt. I just am not sure that teens living in the midst of this time of transition in their lives would find as much meaning in it. It had more of a reminiscent feel, maybe because the setting is sometime around the 70's.
I assume this won the Newbery Medal because it was somewhat innovative. I think some of that quality was lost in the audio version (haikus, song lyrics, etc. that weren't so obvious listening to.) I much preferred Princess Academy by Shannon Hale that won the Newbery Honor for that year.
Bottom line: Writing about nothing may have worked for Seinfeld, but not for Criss Cross. If you've got the five hours it takes to listen to this audio book, watch about 10 Seinfeld reruns instead!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Breaking Dawn

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Originally Published: 2008
Length: 768 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5 Rating: 3.5/5 (3,601 Reviews)

After a trip to Barnes and Noble awaiting the midnight sale of Breaking Dawn, a detour to Walmart shortly before midnight where the price was less and the lines shorter, letting my daughter read the book first after which she loaned it out to a friend, and then finally borrowing a copy from my sister-in-law, I have finally read the much anticipated fourth installment of the Twilight series. And I was disappointed. Honestly what I loved about the others was the romance, and it just wasn't there in this one. If it had been replaced by some meaningful theme or out-of-this-world plot twist, it would have been okay. But I was very bored during the first 500 pages, and the finale, while a little more exciting than the beginning, was a little too "happily ever after" for me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life Beyond Books Personal Challenge

I love reading, and I've read so much more this year than ever. While writing sometimes makes my brain feel like it will internally combust, it is very satisfying to get my thoughts down in print and read other bloggers' opinions.

My problem is that I keep a list on the refrigerator of all the projects I need to work on, but I have not crossed anything off that list for a year! When it comes down to it, if I have extra time on my hands I choose reading over most anything else. But a lot of these are projects that are so close to being done, or ones that I have already invested money into, so I really need to get them done. So I thought if I made myself a challenge to complete them all and record it on my blog, then maybe there's some hope of crossing them off. Here are the non-reading things I want to accomplish by July 2009, and maybe when I complete them I'll tell about it:

  • Vacation scrapbook for road trip of Summer 2007 (probably 85% done)
  • Edit vacation video for road trip (75% done)
  • Porch bench with interchangeable pieces for different times of year (patterns cost me $40 and I've cut most of the wood for the bench. Need to put it together and paint at least two of the seasonal parts)
  • Make video of Fathers and Sons camping trips over the years (haven't started--would like to finish by Father's Day)
  • Scan pre-digital camera photos to computer (haven't started--waiting for cool, new scanner!)
  • Make a quilt for my youngest (she's the only one I've never made a blanket for, and I feel kind of bad)
So that's the plan. I'm going to put this list in the upper corner of my blog so that I see it all the time. Wish me luck!

War Through the Generations- WWII Challenge

Guidelines for this challenge hosted by Anna of Diary of an Eccentric and Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit:

To participate in the WWII Reading Challenge, you must commit to reading at least five books throughout the year. We plan to read more than that, and feel free to do the same! The books can be fiction or non-fiction, and they can be about any aspect of WWII. WWII should be the primary or secondary theme, and it doesn’t matter whether the book takes place during the war or after the war. (Please visit the WWII Reading List page for some recommendations.) You can count books you are reading for other challenges, so long as they meet the aforementioned criteria.

For more info or to sign up, click here:

I'm going for the minimum goal of five books. I will keep track in the right sidebar.

World Citizen Challenge

Eva of A Striped Armchair is hosting the World Citizen Challenge, focusing on expanding our knowledge of international issues. To find out about various levels of participation, click here. Since I am lacking in education beyond an A.A., I thought I would get in touch with my wannabe side and pick the postgraduate level--the word obsessive in the description was like a signal to me. I will read seven books from the following areas:

Culture or Anthropology/Sociology
Worldwide Issues

I haven't had the time (or the knowledge!) to pick specific books. Eva will soon be providing lists of recommended reading, and then I'll keep track in the sidebar.

A to Z Reading Challenge - Countries Version

I loved doing the A to Z challenge this past year, but I know I couldn't do it twice! That's why I'm glad there are other options this year. For details, look here. I'm going to go with Option D:

"Read internationally A to Z (books representing 26 different countries) The books could be from international authors (writers from that country); however, it's fine if a book is only set in that country. If need be, instead of countries one could use cities, states, regions, etc. The idea is to use proper place names. If you'd like you could even use a few fictional countries.)"

This will be fun to fill in as I go throughout the year to see how many places I "travel." I'll keep track in my right sidebar.

Thank you Joy from Thoughts of Joy for hosting this in 2008, and Becky of Becky's Book Reviews for taking on 2009!

Themed Reading Challenge-2009

This challenge is hosted by caribousmom. The details are here. My plan is to read four books by Charles Dickens:

Bleak House
Hard Times
Nicholas Nickleby
The Pickwick Papers

These books may very well take a four-month chunk away from other reading, but I love Dickens. If I don't finish some other challenges, I'll blame him.

Decades 2009 Challenge

Michelle of 1More Chapter is again hosting the Decades Challenge for 2009. Details for the challenge can be found here. Here are my picks:

Anne of the Island by Lucy Maude Montgomery
1920's: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
1930's: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1940's: All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren, or The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
1950's: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1960's: The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
1970's: Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
1980's: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, or Beloved by Toni Morrison
1990's: Possession by A.S. Byatt

The Countdown Challenge

The goal of this challenge hosted by Michelle from 1 More Chapter is to read the number of books first published in a given year that corresponds to the last digit of each year in the 2000s — 9 books from 2009, 8 books from 2008, etc. The total number of books requiredis 45.
More details can be found here.

This challenge is retroactive back to August 1, 2008, so I actually have a few done! For this one I will just be filling in as I go, and keeping track of my progress with links to reviews in my right sidebar.

What's In a Name 2009

Annie is hosting a second year of the What's in a Name Reading Challenge. This was one of my favorites of last year. I'm having a hard time narrowing it down to one book for some of the categories, but here are my possible choices so far:

Profession: The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, or Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Time of Day: Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie
Relative: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Body Part: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson, or A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, or Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Building: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, or Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Medical Condition: Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Plague by Albert Camus, or Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Thank you Annie from Words by Annie for hosting this challenge!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

9 Books for 2009 Challenge

It's challenges like this that keep me hangin' on--for better or worse--to the pursuit of blogging. Despite previous thoughts of quitting, I have at least 10 challenges I cannot resist joining. I refuse to take personal responsibility for my actions--these challenge hosts make it impossible to pass up such fun and creative themes!

This challenge (details and rules can be found at the challenge blog) was like a scavenger hunt for me. It was fun looking through my bookshelves for books that fit the different categories. Here are my picks:

Free (gift, ARC, etc.): Trespassers Will Be Baptized by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock
Dusty (had it for 3 years or more): Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Used (bought it used): The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum
Long (whatever you consider long): Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke
Letter (your name and book share a letter): Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Strange (Out of your comfort zone): The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Cover (prettiest or ugliest): Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Alive or Not (Nominated or won an award): A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Distance (author's birthplace or setting over 1,000 miles away): Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Thank you, Isabel from Books and Other Stuff for hosting this challenge!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dicey's Song

Author: Cynthia Voigt
Originally Published: 1982
Length: 196 pages
Award: Newbery Medal
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5

Dicey's Song picks up right where Homecoming leaves off--the Tillerman children tentatively settled in with a brusque and independent grandmother who has cut herself off from the surrounding community. Gram warily (but deep inside lovingly) welcomes her grandchildren, who have come with their own experiences of being shunned by their peers in the past for having an unconventional family situation. Gram and the children come to meet a whole cast of characters in the novel who are likewise loners or unusual in some way. Obviously, this theme is woven throughout the book, and I egocentrically love it because I can identify with it. And I would imagine that most people have felt at sometime or other that they just didn't "fit in." I grew up in a loving home in which they query was often made, "Was she switched at birth?" I took an online personality test as an adult with these results: "People who know you can only desribe you as possibly being from a different planet or universe." My mother wholeheartedly agreed. I have come to neither love nor hate whatever it is that makes me different, but accepting that it just IS, and it is not an excuse or reason to be antisocial. I think this is one of the lessons Dicey learns as she gradually opens herself up to others, despite the very real fear of vulnerability. She also learns the tricky art of "give and take" in relationships. In attempts to reach out to others and receive in return, the results are rarely neat and tidy, but necessary all the same. As Gram has learned through her own mistakes:

"I got to thinking—when it was too late—you have to reach out to people. To your family, too. You can't just let them sit there, you should put your hand out. If they slap it back, well you reach out again if you care enough. If you don't care enough, you forget about them, if you can."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Weekly Geeks #27 - Remembering Dewey

When I first read the sad news of Dewey's passing, I thought of this post of hers:

"The other day, I came across this short conversation from January of this year. Obviously, I censored people’s names.

Friend 1: Say, Friend 2, I think we may have discussed this before but are you a strictly nonfiction type of person, or is that just what you’re reading right now?

Friend 2: I basically don’t have time to read fiction.

Dewey: I would give up sleep, food, and conversation with other humans before fiction. I would almost definitely choose being homeless before choosing to be fictionless. I’m thinking about water. That would give me only three remaining days for fiction, but could be worth it."

I sometimes have wondered if I knew I only had a few months or a year to live, would I spend so much time reading or would I want to do other things? I don't really have an answer for that yet, but Dewey seems to have known that reading and bringing other book lovers together is what brought joy into her life, and it makes me happy to know that she spent her last time in this life doing what she loved.

I have only been a visitor to Dewey's blog for about six months or so, but I will miss an extraordinary blog author who so unabashedly reveled in geekhood, organized a hundred or more insane readers to read for 24 consecutive hours twice a year, and ingeniously organized the Bookworms Carnival for the blogging community to share their reviews. This is a picture she had chosen for one of her latest giveaway posts, and to me it is a beautiful visual representation of what she has accomplished:

Becky, who organized this Weekly Geeks tribute, has a list of links to other posts here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Giveaway Winner

Earlier this month I posted about friends of mine who are trying to adopt, and coupled it with an Amazon gift card giveaway in hopes of increasing the chances of them finding a baby. The winner of the gift card is

Samantha of Sam's Book Blog.

I'll be sending the gift card via e-mail momentarily. Enjoy, Samantha!

And again, here is the link to Cindy and Kevin's website.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barnes and Noble Bliss

I went to Barnes and Noble the other day with a 40% off of one book coupon, and after spending an hour browsing the fiction section A to Z, narrowing it down to about five choices, this caught my eye in the poetry section:

I couldn't resist. I was reading another translation of The Iliad from my library, and in all my geekiness was reading it out loud to myself. Now with this beautiful boxed set, it's almost complete bliss (except of course for the parts about animal sacrifice and the complete lack of thought for the rights of women). I even threw a chocolate bar into to the experience last night (that kind of messed up the read-aloud thing I had going on, but hey, it's chocolate.) Needless to say I'm super excited about my purchase, since I rarely buy brand-new books. I have to keep myself from carassing the covers too much--my husband's getting jealous!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ten Signs That You Are a Book Blogger

Yesterday marks my one year blogoversary, and here are some thoughts about my experiences this year:

Ten Signs That You Are a Book Blogger:

1. For trips to the library, you've graduated from an extra-large book bag to a rolling cart.

2. You've entered your "To Be Read" stack into the
Guinness Book of World Records.

3. On a trip to the park with your kids, you've stuffed a large bag with two possible reading choices, one book you've read and need to review, one notebook for notes and reviews, and one read-aloud book in case your daughter gets bored because she's the only girl, BUT. . . you forgot your purse. (True story)

4. You go to the library more times than you shave your legs.

5. You have found creative ways to get your slaves children to do more housework so you have more time to read.

6. Pumping yourself with caffeine and sugar in order to stay up for 24 hours to read does not at all sound strange to you. (Thanks to Dewey, who will be missed immeasurably.)

7. It takes longer to go through your Google Reader than it does to read War and Peace.

8. You actually get excited about jury duty/doctor's appointments/dentist's appointments--more reading opportunities!

9. You have a color-coded spreadsheet mapping out all of the reading challenges you SWORE you were not going to join.

10. Television? What's that? (Are there any other shows than The Office?) Okay, so maybe this one is just me.

Any other ideas to add to the list?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mission Accomplished: A to Z Reading Challenge

I remember when I posted about this challenge at the beginning of the year I wasn't sure if I could read 52 books in one year--that sounded so daunting! But now I've learned when it comes to reading challenges, I have an "If you build it, he will come" mentality--if I make a list of books, I must, MUST read them. "If I list it, I will read."
Thank you, Joy, for hosting this challenge. This was so much fun. Never before have I thought of books in terms of what letter the title or the name of the author started with. I think I will always be aware of that from now on when browsing for books!
Here's the final list:

Authors (by last name)
A - Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey
B - Brooks, Terry: The Talismans of Shannara
C - Cannell, Dorothy: The Thin Woman
D - Dean, Debra: The Madonnas of Leningrad
E - Esquivel, Laura: Like Water for Chocolate
F - Faulkner, William: As I Lay Dying
G - Gaiman, Neil: Stardust
H - Hamilton, Masha: The Camel Bookmobile
I - Ilibagiza, Imaculee: Left to Tell
J - Japin, Arthur: In Lucia's Eyes
K - Kadohata, Cynthia: Kira-Kira
L - Lowry, Lois: Messenger
M - MacLachlan, Patricia: Sarah, Plain and Tall
N - Nemirovsky, Irene: Suite Francaise
O - O'Dell, Scott: Island of the Blue Dolphins
P - Pool, Daniel: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
Q - Quindlen, Anna: Blessings
R - Riordan, Rick: The Lightning Thief
S - Stoker, Bram: Dracula
T - Twain, Mark: Tom Sawyer
U - Urban, Linda: A Crooked Kind of Perfect
V - Voigt, Cynthia: Homecoming
W - Westerfeld, Scott: Pretties
X - Xinran: Sky Burial
Y - Yep, Lawrance: Dragonwings
Z - Zusak, Markus: The Book Thief

A - Austenland by Shannon Hale
B - The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
C - Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
D - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson
E - Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
F - Femme Fatal by Dorothy Cannell
G - The Good Mood Diet by Susan Kleiner
H - The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I - The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
J - Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg
K - The Known World by Edward P. Jones
L - Life of Pi by Yann Martel
M - The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
N - Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
O - Organizing From the Inside-Out by Julie Morgenstern
P - Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
Q - Queen of Scots by John Guy
R - Reporting Iraq - Edited by Mike Hoyt, John Palatella
S - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
T - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
U - Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
V - Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald
W - The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
X - Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
Y - You: The Owners Manual
Z - Zoo Station by David Downing

I was going to list my favorites, but there are so many. If I forced myself to pick three they would be A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Book Thief.

Zoo Station

Author: David Downing
Originally Published: 2007
Length: 293 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (14 reviews)

This pre-WWII spy thriller was actually more interesting than thrilling. John Russell is a British journalist living in Germany, determined to stay to be near his 11-year-old son and his actress girlfriend, despite the inevitable war looming. The Soviets have asked him to write a series of articles for them, which he decides to do for the money. This arrangement becomes more involved and risky than Russell bargained for, and he also gets involved in trying to save a Jewish family that faces many obstacles in leaving Germany.
While I didn't really feel a whole lot of suspense in reading this book, I liked it from a historical perspective. I was able to see what different types of people might have experienced in Germany in the days leading to the war: a British journalist frustrated by limits on what he can write about; an actress who must play parts in Nazi-influenced plays and movies,;an 11-year-old boy subject to government socialization through school and youth groups; parents faithful to the Nazi party but who possibly have a mentally-challenged son who they learn could end up the victim of Hitler's "mercy killings"; and an idealistic American journalist determined to uncover secrets of the Nazi regime.
This is not a book I would normally have picked up (although I do love the cover). I was after that "Z" for the A to Z reading challenge. It's always fun to try something new, and although I wasn't wowed by this one, I do not regret reading it, and I may go on to try some others by this author. Don't these sound good: The Moscow Option, Russian Revolution 1985, The Red Eagles?


Author: Cynthia Voigt
Originally Published: 1981
Length: 480 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (333 Reviews)

Dicey and her three siblings are abandoned by their mother at a mall in Connecticut. Thinking that she might have gone on to a relative's house, tough and determined Dicey leads her brothers and sister on a journey to either find their mother, or to find a place that they can call home. Along the way, each member of the Tillerman family faces his or her own challenges, but they all play an integral part in creating a sense of family, and realize that they must stay together no matter what happens.
This is a touching, well-written story that I couldn't put down. The characters are realistic and well-written, and I grew to love each of the Tillerman children, and their mother, even though I only saw her through her children's eyes. It was painful for me to imagine four children trekking across towns and beaches on their own, having four children of my own of similar ages, but it reminded me that children often can accomplish more than we might expect them to. At the end of the story I just felt good, (and I cried). Not only was I happy for them, but I was proud of them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Author: Michelle Moran
This edition published by: Three Rivers Press (2008)
Length: 496 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (113 reviews)

Back of book blurb:

Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young Pharaoh. It is hoped that her strong personality will temper the young ruler's heretical desire to forsake Egypt's ancient gods.

From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people but fails to see that powerful priests are plotting against her husbands rule. The only person brave enough to warn the queen is her younger sister, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will force Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game; one that could cost her everything she holds dear.

I really, really enjoyed reading this piece of historical fiction. I've read a little bit of non-fiction about general Egyptian history, but usually accounts that cover massive spans of time, so the important figures are just names or cardboard figures in my head. This book made me see Nefertiti, Akhenaten and their family more as real people and brought them to life. My favorite character was Mutny, Nefertiti's sister. I liked that she was good, smart, and loyal. She was constantly trying to cling to her own values while they were being challenged by Nefertiti's ambition. Many times, I wanted to strangle Nefertiti and shoot Akhenaten (with his own bow and arrow. You know a book is entertaining when you have thoughts of violence about some of the characters!)
I don't know about historical accuracy or probability, but it was a good story that kept the pages turning. I will definitely read the sequel, the Heretic Queen.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Author: Orson Scott Card
Published by: Tor Books (1991)
Length: 592 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5

This is science-fiction that is heavy on the "science." I couldn't decide if I would appreciate the novel more if I was a science whiz, or if having more knowledge would just frustrate me because I would see the holes in the different theories presented. Usually in these cases, I find that ignorance is bliss. It really aids my "suspension of disbelief!"

As the third of a series, it's difficult to provide a summary (which I'm bad at anyways). The first in the series, Ender's Game, I found to be entertaining and original. I had never read anything quite like it. The second book, Speaker for the Dead, had some disturbing aspects, but it was brilliant and emotional. I actually cried--not unusual for me in general, but not expected while reading sci-fi. It's taken me a couple of years to finally get to Xenocide (I waited forever and ever for a copy to turn up at the used book store in the library.) As I read this one, I kept getting a mental image of Card's brilliant mind spewing out an inordinate number of ideas and loosely gathering them all into one book. Interesting ideas--just too many.

Having said that, I still enjoyed reading it. The two main things that draw me to Card's writing are his themes about sociology and ethics. He comes up with the most bizarre characters and scenarios, but it manages to be "swallow-able" because of this framework of the inter-relationships of humans, alien species, and even computers. Card also constantly weaves in ideas of religion and faith, which never result in any strong conclusions (at least none that I picked up), except maybe that a society wants and needs to have faith in something, regardless of any evidence against it.

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book:

"These are the people who hold a community together, who lead. Unlike the sheep and the wolves, they perform a better role than the script given them by their inner fears and desires. They act out the script of decency, of self-sacrifice, of public honor--of civilization. And in the pretense, it becomes reality. There really is civilization in human history, thought Valentine, but only because of people like these. The shepherds."

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan
Published by: Miramax Books (2005)
Length: 375 pages
My Son's rating of Book: 5/5

Length of Audio: 10 hours, 12 Minutes
Narrator of Audio: Jesse Bernstein
My Rating of Audio : 2/5

Listening to the audio version of this book detracted from any enjoyment I may have gotten out of it. To be fair, the narrator is probably appealing to younger listeners, who are, after all the target audience. In fact, the reason I ended up continuing to listen is because my 6-year-old daughter really got into it and would make a lot of comments and ask a lot of questions about the story. My son, who read the book this year, also loved it, so I decided to do an interview with him:

Mom: What made you want to read this book?

J: The title sounds cool and it has funny chapter titles like "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom." Also, I had heard people say it was a good book.

Mom: Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

J: Percy Jackson is a kid who has dyslexia and ADD who realizes he is a demi-god and goes on a quest with fellow demi-god Annabeth and satyr friend Grover. They go to recover Zeus' stolen thunderbolt which Percy's father, Poseidon is accused of stealing.

Mom: Who is your favorite character and why?

J: I like Percy the best because he is cool and he has a sword disguised as a ballpoint pen. He is also brave and has good instincts in battle. He also leads the quest and gets the group out of a bunch of tight spots and traps.

Mom: What was your favorite part?

J: My favorite part was when he was on the Gateway Arch with Echidna and the Chimera. It has some action and it has fire which always makes stuff cooler.

Mom: Did you feel like you learned more about Greek mythology?

J: Yes, because I didn't know anything about the Titans.

Mom: Would you change anything about the book or story?

J: I think this is a very good story that is very interesting and does not really need to be changed much, but I think the author could have made more parts of it more in depth and funny.

Mom: Who would you recommend this book to?

J: I would recommend this book to anyone who likes funny stories, adventure stories, or stories with a lot of action.

Mom: You've read three books in this series. Which one is your favorite?

J: The first book is my favorite because it opens up the story and it introduces the main characters.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mission Accomplished: By the Decades Challenge

I finally finished the "By the Decades" Challenge hosted by 1 More Chapter. Here's the list of what I read with links to the reviews:

- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
1870's - Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
1880's - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson
1890's - The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
1900's - The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
1910's - Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
1920's - Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
1930's - As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

My favorites were Daniel Deronda and The House of Mirth. I could have done without Sons and Lovers. I am tempted to participate in this challenge for 2009 and tackle some other decades!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Daniel Deronda

Author: George Eliot
Originally published: 1876
This edition published by: Modern Library (2002)
Introduction by: Edmund White
Length: 800 pages
My Rating: 4.5/5

While George Eliot is one of my favorite authors, I have to admit that the first 250 pages of Daniel Deronda were rather like swimming against the current. A couple of things I enjoy about her writing are her in-depth characterizations and her digressions into topics that I personally obsess about, but even these aspects became tedious to me. There are some minor characters that the reader simply does not need to know so much about! Ironically, she makes this statement after introducing the enigmatic Grandcourt: "Attempts at description are stupid: who can all at once describe a human being?" Well, in my opinion, Eliot is pretty darn good at it, even though she goes a bit overboard in the beginning. However, once she has established the psychological framework of everyone under the sun, the story does pick up and the book gets hard to put down (despite its weight!)

Here is a brief summary a la back of the book:

George Eliot's final novel and her most ambitious work, Daniel Deronda contrasts the moral laxity of the British aristocracy with the dedicated fervor of Jewish nationalists. Crushed by a loveless marriage to the cruel and arrogant Grandcourt, Gwendolyn Harleth seeks salvation in the deeply spiritual and altruistic Daniel Deronda. But Deronda, profoundly affected by the discovery of his Jewish ancestry, is ultimately too committed to his own cultural awakening to save Gwendolyn from despair.

This brief description barely scratches the surface of what is to me a very deep and complex novel that I could not even begin to summarize myself. The biggest question I had while reading it was "Why isn't the book titled 'Gwendolyn' rather than 'Daniel Deronda?'" Even though Deronda goes through a major cultural and religious conversion, he is still very much the same person from beginning to end--a deeply empathetic man with a desire to be a savior to all in need. It is Gwendolyn who changes from a self-centered girl who "did not like to dwell on facts which threw an unfavorable light on herself" to a woman who must in the end face the ugliest aspects of her personality. I can't help but wonder if Eliot created this misnomer by design--after all, she herself changed her name many times throughout her life. Also interesting to note--Gwendoylyn is the only main character in the novel who goes by her given name (other than when she marries). All of the others have at some point in their lives taken on different names than those given at birth. If this was indeed intentional, what was she trying to convey? Perhaps that regardless of the names we choose to take upon ourselves, out identity is based on something more substantial than a name?

The most powerful theme of the novel (among many) is the fact of life that often our gain is another's loss, and when we help one person, we may be causing another to suffer. All of the major characters (except for the cruel but flat Grandcourt), grapple with this truth and attempt to come to terms with it. Deronda must admit that he can't save everyone, and Gwendolyn must accept that even is she is on the losing side, she is capable of picking up the pieces and making a life for herself.

Really, I could go on and on with my thoughts on this novel. The plot may seem to get drowned a bit in the characterizations and the psychological musings. It also may have a touch of flowery romantic melodrama: "You are to me the chief woman in the world--the throned lady whose colours I carry between my heart and my armour." And certain elements of the plot are somewhat coincidental. But I still loved it; I am partial to George Eliot. This is the fifth novel of hers that I have read, Middlemarch being my favorite, with Adam Bede a close second. I know it's not for everyone, and if you don't feel up to perservering through 800 pages, watch the BBC movie. It's excellent. I haven't seen it for a few years, but I think it follows the plot fairly well. Luckily, I had forgotten the ending completely, so the book held a few surpises for me!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Weekly Geeks #23 - Better Late Than Never

This week we are to pick any of the previous assignments and choose one. Since I am behind on reviews (what else is new?), I figured I would do some catch up with that. (I'm not sure what number it was.) And of course I have come up with a rather lazy way of doing so: No sentences allowed. Just think of it this way--readers will spend less time reading this post and have more time to read those books on their neverending TBR lists!

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
560 pages
My rating: 4.5/5
Summary: Meggie's father has ability to read characters out of books, some of them evil, and tragically reads Meggie's mother into a book. Struggle to keep evil characters from doing more harm and seek to create a happy ending.
Review: likable, interesting characters; great tribute to the love of literature; not super dynamic but captivating story; made me feel good; beautiful setting; definitely want to read sequels.

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
My rating: 3/5
Summary: 13-year-old Matt left in the wilderness of Maine in the late 1700's while father goes back for family.
Review: Didn't hold my attention; didn't even realize that I listened to Disc 3 before Disc 2 (oops!); wonder if I would have liked it better read than listened too; loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Speare, liked The Bronze Bow, ho hum about this one.

The Sister's Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
(304 pages)
My Rating: 4/5

Summary: Sabrina and Daphne's parents disappear; move in with grandma in Ferryport Landing; they learn, but don't necessarily believe they are descended from the Grimm storytellers; get involved in solving a mystery involving Prince Charming and the Three Pigs.
Review: Read this with 9-year-old daughter and loved it; laugh-out-loud funny at times; creative story-telling.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
My Rating: 4/5
Summary: Dragons must find a new home in the Himalayas; led by noble dragon named Firedrake; helped by a colorful cast of characters; challenged by power-hungry sorcerer/dragon.
Review: Lots of good/quirky characters that have good hearts; loved the geography of it; great narration by Brendan Fraser; perfect for a family road trip!

Creepers by Joanne Dahme
232 pages
My Rating: 3/5
Summary: 13-year-old Courtney moves into house next to a cemetery; both overrun by out-of-control ivy; with eccentric neighbors, Courtney to solve the mystery of an ancestor's missing body.
Review: Beautiful cover and illustrations; a little creepy but not too much for babies like myself; quick and fun read.

I think technically I may have used a couple of sentences. Oh well, if I make the rules I can break them too, right?

There are a couple of books I haven't covered yet: Daniel Deronda (it deserves sentences, even my sloppy ones) and The Lightning Thief (which I will probably have my son do).