Thursday, January 31, 2008
Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?
Wanna enter a contest to win this book? Then go here.
Seriously, thanks to Lisa, I stumbled onto Girls Just Reading. And they are having a contest. The lucky winner gets a copy of The Monsters of Templeton.
Lisa tagged me for this meme, since she's trying to figure out what books to take on vacation. It's providing me with a nice distraction from the incredibly mind-boggling yet mind-numbing work I'm doing to put together a data presentation. And since the boss is away...
1. What book are you reading right now? Do you like it?
I am currently reading Ines of My Soul, but I'm not really enjoying it. It needs more dialogue. The story sounds interesting, but without the dialogue it's dragging. I'd give up, but it's on my list for the Expanding Horizons Challenge and I'm bound and determined to read an Isabel Allende book in my lifetime, although I'm not really sure why.
2. What was the last book you read on a plane?
I started A Year in the World, by Frances Mayes, on the plane coming back from Italy. Whoops...I forgot about Green Bay. I read The Center of Everything on the various planes to Green Bay. (I did sudoku puzzles on the way home, which was a waste of valuable reading time.)
3. What was the last book you read on a roadtrip?
Roadtrip? I don't remember. The last time I was on a road trip was 2 years ago, when we went to a family reunion in Oregon. I can't remember what I read, though. Oh wait, maybe that's because I drove. I've been down to Orange County a few times this year...not really road trips, but it does involve lots of time in the car. But, my mom would rather I talk to her than read, so even though I hopefully take a book with me, it never gets read. I read The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, by Jacqueline Park, during the Italy trip, which is kinda sorta not really a road trip. It was a good book for the trip, since it's set in Italy during the 1500s. And it's thick.
4. What is the most unusual place you found yourself reading?
I can't think of any truly unusual places. I've read on the beach at Nice while sunbathing. Topless. But everyone else was topless, too...so that's not unusual in Nice. But I'm pretty sure it's not something I'll ever be doing again.
5. What books would you take to keep you occupied on a 2 week vacation to the beach?
Two weeks at the beach?!? I'd need a separate suitcase for all the books, because I'd need options. Some of the books in my TBR pile that I'd take would be:
The Palace of the Snow Queen - because it's hot at the beach (well, unless you live in Morro Bay) and I'd need some cool thoughts.
You Suck - because Christopher Moore is just so cool. And funny. And vacations at the beach just scream out for something funny.
Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer - because it's about travel, and I like to read about travel when I'm traveling.
New Moon and Eclipse - because they're sequels to Twilight
The Complete Stories - because I'm going to Savannah in April, and I want to read this before I go.
Between, Georgia - because I just bought it and it looks like it isn't that serious or heavy of a book. And it has nothing to do with the trip to Savannah, despite the Georgia in the title...that's just a coincidence.
That's my list for today. Since I'm not at home staring at my bookshelves, I'm sure I'd add a few more to the pile. Yup, I'd definitely add a few more...after looking over the list, I've decided I need a few more fiction titles. And then I'd make a few changes before I left on the trip, because I always do.
Yesterday, HB and I went to see The Bucket List. Despite the fact that both of the main characters have cancer, the movie is pretty funny. Especially if you like Jack Nicholson, which we do. Other than that highlight, it's been a very low key weekend. Mostly, we've stayed indoors and listened to the wind and the rain.
I've been reading Ines of My Soul and finding it slow going. It needs more dialogue. Is this lack of dialogue common to Isabel Allende's books? If so, I doubt I'll be reading her again.
My Italy pictures have been enjoying some attention. Schmap (which, incidentally, doesn't load all that well on my computer) emailed me and asked if they could use one of my flickr pictures for the church Santa Maria in Trastavere. Which just goes to show that there really are people looking at your flickr pics. And then Marta, one of the SlowTrav forum moderators who selects a picture of the week from member photos, decided to give my Italy album some love this week. I thought that was pretty cool.
HB reminded me the other day that I have a birthday coming up. I reminded him that I still have a couple of months, because I'm in no rush to turn 39. He said I could be 29. Which sounds great, but still doesn't disguise the fact that next year I'll be 40. How in the hell did that happen?!? So now I'm trying to think of a really cool trip for 2009...you know, to console myself for that birthday involving the number 4. Maybe Ireland. Maybe not. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
From Heaven Lake
I think I've mentioned this before, but I pretty much suck at Asian history. Cal Poly didn't offer too many courses on Asian history, and I took only the required ones. Or maybe it was just one. I don't even remember. I do remember I didn't much care for the professor. So, having said all that, I found this book to be a little difficult. Usually, when I read travel books, I can picture a map in my head and follow along. And my imagination does a pretty good job of filling in the details of the places. But with this book, my mental map and my imagination weren't around much, making it harder for me to follow.
From Heaven Lake was my choice for an Indian author for the Expanding Horizons Challenge. Back in the early 1980s, Vikram Seth attended grad school in Nanjing, China. While on an organized student tour, he happened to get a hard to acquire travel pass into Tibet. Taking advantage of the situation, he decided to hitchhike from Liuyuan, China south to Lhasa, Tibet, then to Nepal and home to New Delhi, India. Most of his journey is spent in a truck, crossing a desolate stretch of China. Seth does a good job of describing the men he traveled with, and the people he meets along the way. I had no trouble picturing the characters. The landscape, however, was a bit of a challenge for my Asian history/geography challenged brain. Seth is a great traveller, though. He dressed in the plain blue cap and trousers so prevalent in 1980s China, he spoke fluent Chinese, he was easy-going and he was willing to endure harsh weather, uncomfortable trucks and bureaucracy to basically hang out with locals for a month. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Rory Stewart and his travels across Afghanistan.
In short, it was an interesting but not riveting read. I'm glad it was a short book, because had it been much longer I think I would have lost interest. I do have another one of Seth's books on order (An Equal Music), so I'm looking forward to seeing what he's like as a fiction writer.
Eileen Favorite (is that really her name???)
This book was a giant disappointment. Thank gawd it only took me a few hours to read.
Basically, it is the story of Penny and her mother Anne-Marie, who owns a B&B that is popular with literary Heroines. Madame Bovary, Scarlett O'Hara, Anna Karenina...these are just a few of the guests that have popped in over the years. However, the appearance of a mysterious Hero (or maybe he's a Villain, Penny can't quite figure it out) shakes up their world.
Shortly after I started reading it I kept thinking the author was capitalizing on the success of the Thursday Next books. Actually, I still think that. But then I got sidetracked by the book, since it (briefly) got interesting. Then it got annoying again as the author kept switching back and forth between the current action and back story. And at 231 pages, you shouldn't be devoting that much space to back story. Then, after a final 50 pages of back story, the author tied up the ending in 9 pages. Needless to say, the ending didn't impress me much.
Oh...and a note to the author. The truth about Penny's dad wasn't a big shocker either. As soon as his name was mentioned I had that one figured out. So, I'm sorry, but I didn't like your book. And the more I think about, the more I don't like it. I don't like the chapter titles (I've always found the summarizing of chapters annoying), I don't like how the story progressed (or didn't progress), I don't like the ending, and I really don't like the cover art.
How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?
Sarah Addison Allen
This is a simple little book, but possibly my favorite book of the year. So far. Seeing's how it's only January 14th, I'm sure many more (favorites) will come along.
After 10 years, Sydney Waverley is returning home to Bascom, North Carolina, and her family home. The Waverleys have lived in Bascom for many generations and are known for their magical garden. Sydney arrives home to find her sister Claire tending the garden and the family home, and running a successful catering business. Claire's recipes are known for their effect on people...honeysuckle wine to help one see clearly, snapdragons to discourage love, violet for calm and happiness. And the mystical apple tree that grows in the garden is said to bear prophetic apples.
Although the sisters did not get along growing up, now that they are adults they forge a friendship and help each other to work through problems. Claire is afraid of commitment and abandonment, and Sydney is running from an abusive relationship. As they come to terms with their past, they work together towards a happier future.
As I said, this is a simple little story. But the beautiful writing style and magical realism (the apple tree steals a few scenes) make for a readable and happy tale.
Things Fall Apart
I don't usually read "classics." Or older novels. For whatever reason, they don't really float my boat. However, I'm glad I expanded my horizons for this one. This was my choice for an African author...Chinua Achebe is Nigerian.
This is a short novel and a quick read, yet it still packs a punch. It is the story of Okonkwo, an important and wealthy village man. It is also a story of Igbo tribal life, both before and after the arrival of white missionaries and colonialism. Achebe does a wonderful job of portraying the day to day, and seasonal, activities of village life, telling how people lived, what they ate, and the stories they told. He shows readers an advanced society, with elaborate traditions.
Cue dark and threatening music. This is when the whites show up to convert and "civilize"
Africa. Unfortunately, Okonkwo, for all that he thinks he is extraordinary and in control of his fate, is simply an ordinary man going about his life, unaware of the coming changes. He is no match for the forces of change. When the white missionaries show up, things truly do fall apart. Okonkwo struggles against the changes, yet he cannot stand against the tide of colonialism.
Igbo oral tradition shines through in this book. Achebe shares a small piece of Igbo history and folklore. This is why I like this book. I remember slogging through Heart of Darkness in high school...I much refer Achebe's style and message.
After finishing this next book, I understand the cover (it's a butterfly), but I still don't think the cover does it justice. After all, the book is about an illuminated manuscript.
Really, I'm trying to cut back on the book buying and focus on reading the books I already have. But I was in Borders last week, and I saw the title of this book...and how could I not buy a book about a book?
First, let me confess that I didn't read March. I had no interest and no intention of ever reading it. But now...I might just change my mind. People of the Book is an engaging book, although towards the end I was having a bit of difficulty keeping it all straight in my head.
This is the fictional story of a real book, the Sarajevo haggadah (the story of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt, told during Passover). In Brooks' story, Hanna Heath is a book conservator/restorer/analyst, hired to do repairs on the Sarajevo haggadah. As she works on the book, she finds a white hair, salt, a wine stain and insect wings. As she learns more about each item, the book moves forward and backward in time, revealing the story of how each item came to be in the book. In the end, the individual stories were more compelling than Hanna's. Hanna's own problems are interwoven with the history of the haggadah, and while her story was interesting, at the end it got muddled. However, not so muddled that I didn't straighten it out and still enjoy the book.
I think I'm going to be forced into changing my email over to a gmail account that I've had for awhile but never used. Goowy is being beset by spammers, and their spam filter sucks to the point that it's worthless. I probably got 30 emails today suggesting either I enlarge an organ I don't even have or play casino games. What made it particularly bad today was that I was getting duplicates (and one time triplicate) emails from the same person. No, not person. Annoying weasel.
Yesterday I started a second book for the Expanding Horizons Challenge, Sky Dancer, by Witi Ihimaera. It's shaping up to be a good story, but I was getting lost in the endless lists of New Zealand birds. So I switched gears, and spent the evening (and part of today) with vampires.
I've lost track of how many blogs I've seen this book reviewed on. All good reviews, too. So despite the fact that this is really a YA book, I decided to give it a shot. And I was glad I did. Except now I have to go get the other two books that follow. And then wait impatiently for the next one to be published. Sometimes I hate the fact that I like series.
Basic story...17 year old Bella Swan relocates from sunny Phoenix to the dreary, rainy Olympic Peninsula to live with her dad. Despite the fact that he looks like he loathes her at first sight, Bella becomes captivated by a mysterious young man, Edward Cullen. Edward runs hot and cold. He is charming one minute and curt the next, and Bella doesn't know what to think...until she figures out he's a vampire. And so is the rest of the Cullen family... "parents" Carlisle and Esme, and adoptive siblings, the charming Alice, bitchy Rosalie, hulking Emmett and the empathetic Jasper. With the exception of Rosalie, Bella gets to know the family as she is tossed into danger. The danger is resolved at the end of the book, and although Bella and Edward are in love, their relationship still has quite a few kinks to work out (human v. vampire, mortal v. immortal, 90 years old but forever 17 v. 17 and only getting older...), leaving this series wide open for many more books.
Normally, I am not a fan of first person point of view. But this is the third book in the last week that I've read that was told in first person and that I actually enjoyed (Persian Girls and Special Topics in Calamity Physics being the other two). Mainly because none of the narrator's voices were distracting and I still got a good sense of the other characters.
And now I'll return to my regularly scheduled reading. At least until I buy those sequels.
It's time to start this year's list of books read. Hopefully, I won't space out for a couple of months, like I did last year, and at the end of the year I'll have successfully created a list of all the books I read in 2008:
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
I loved this book. Loved it. It's quirky and full of implausible twists, and the author uses more parentheses than I do (and I know I use them lots). And it has more similes (not to mention metaphors and analogies) than Carter has little pills (I think I'm channeling the author right now). It's a little too weird to be jiggy quality (sorry, Lisa, I'm still searching), but I appreciate weirdness in books. After all, I read The Roaches Have No King, the pinnacle of booky weirdness. And keep in mind I didn't like The Poisonwood Bible. Just offering a little perspective so you can get a feel for my sometimes dubious taste in books.
So, how to describe this book? Let's start with a few characters:
Blue van Meer - the 16 year old narrator. Highly educated and scarily literate, she is being raised by her father,
Gareth van Meer - single dad, college professor, chick magnet
the Bluebloods - the school clique that Blue falls in with during her senior year
Hannah Schneider - film teacher, illicit friend and mentor to the Bluebloods
And I just realized I can't really explain what this book is about. A few people die, prompting Blue to research increasingly bizarre clues and leading to the above mentioned twists. As she relates how it all unfolds, she constantly references famous, obscure and fictional works, as well as popular culture. I can't really discuss the story, or it ruins the fun and the surprises.
I'm thinking this book has a certain niche market. If you appreciate first-time authors who take certain liberties with language and structure, who have an appreciation for both classic literature and popular culture, who definitely have a wry sense of humor, and who could probably tighten up their plotting a bit but that's okay you don't care, then I'd recommend this book. If you want it and promise to give it a chance, let me know. I'll send it your way.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
When In Rome
The Places In Between
A Year in the World
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
The Blood of Flowers
The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi
Things Fall Apart (African)
Twinkle, Twinkle (Asian)
Daughter of Fortune (Latin American)
From Heaven Lake (Indian)
Pomegranate Soup (Middle Eastern)
Sky Dancer (Native Peoples - Maori)