Thursday, June 30, 2011

GUEST POST - The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Note: this post is a guest post from my husband, based on our personal challenge that started April 1, 2011. I forced him into doing this blog post to commemorate this - hee hee. I chose The Hunger Games for him because I thought it was a good, fast read that would cause him to request more books for this "challenge" and not make him regret this idea! PS - he ended up reading the entire trilogy in a matter of days! :)

My wife and I had this deal called "forced read.*" The idea is to ensure we read something that we might not otherwise pick up and read. My wife's first choice in the "forced read" was The Hunger Games. It was was very simple read but very enjoyable. It stimulated my basic primal needs of survival. I also enjoyed the ethical dilemmas that were brought up in the book: do we protect the weak at our own expense or do we just protect ourselves?

I think this book allows us to evaluate our own internal battle on how we would personally act in a total survival mode. It allows us to judge ourselves on who we are and lets us ponder our true character.

I enjoyed the book--as a general read with a little self reflection thrown in.  

* this was the rather negative name we gave to our idea of choosing books for the other person - it is our amusing name for this ongoing challenge! :) 

June - This Month in Reading

It's hard to believe I have been at this for six months!

At the end of May, I needed to read the last four Harry Potter books, plus read at least three books with the theme of "fight or flight" to get the full points for a Hogwarts Challenge mini-challenge - I had to try my best for Hufflepuff!  I managed both of these things, and in the end I have a total of 354 points for the challenge, which ends tonight. Special thanks to Bunnitaz for hosting this fun challenge! I know I didn't get a ton of points compared to some people who entered the challenge, and of course I would have liked to read more, but I did my best and all I can do is hope that we at least come in second to Slytherin, since they win at any cost :) 

I had banned the library for the month of June but then a couple books I had put on hold ages ago came in, so I went ahead and borrowed some others. (Yes, I am addicted.) I also discovered NetGalley, and got a bunch of interesting looking books, some of which I have already read and raved about in an embarrassing fashion (and I can hardly wait for September to purchase a "hard" copy of this book - on top of the holiday shopping that has now been 100% simplified for all my book loving pals - come on autumn, my favorite season!). So despite a slow start to June because of some out-of-town guests at the beginning of the month, I managed to read a respectable  23 books this month. Whew! 

For July, I am going to have a special reading theme, and it's been killing me to keep it a secret this long! All will be revealed first thing tomorrow. I still have hope of forcing Mr. K into a guest blog post about the first book(s) I chose for him since April 1 tonight, so you never know, June might not be over yet!

Lieutenant Hornblower - C.S. Forester

Another book full of puzzling nautical terminology and an interesting story underneath. Strangely, this book was told from the third-person point of view of a character other than Hornblower. It was entertaining enough and I might keep reading the series at some point just to prove to my husband that I liked it (as much as I can like books of this type).

The Lake - Banana Yoshimoto

I first encountered Banana Yoshimoto in the early 1990s when some friends and I read and enjoyed her novel Kitchen, and I have subsequently read other books she has written, although I hadn't read any in a while. I was thrilled to find this book on NetGalley and get reacquainted with her. This book didn't disappoint; I felt like it was very personal and character driven, and I enjoyed being able to become acquainted with the main characters and see how this portion of their lives unfolds. The book is kind of meditative and unfolds in a very logical way that is also roundabout, making it very realistic - it seems to be written in such a way as to mimic the way life unfolds. I need to catch up on any of her books I may have missed!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This Girl Is Different - J.J. Johnson

This was a well written YA novel and I enjoyed some of the details: the East Indian characters, the sustainable house, the liking of snakes, etc. I also liked the main character as a person, but I have to say the hippy-dippy Baby Boomer ideals got on my nerves. I was not a popular high school student or anything, so I don't come at so-called "non-conformity" from that angle, but sometimes it seems like that 1960s/hippie/Baby Boomer mindset is always trying to find something, anything, to fight against, even if they are really stretching. It's one thing to fight actual oppression or wrongdoing and another to create a battle over simple school rules under the rubric of "constitutional rights" and equalizing all of society's wrongs. There are many ideas that are wonderful in theory, but because we human beings are what we are, the ideas don't work in reality, because "some animals are [always] more equal than others." So I enjoyed the book overall and it got me thinking, which I am sure was one of the goals of the author, even if I do not wholeheartedly agree with the points of view of the main character.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stranger Room - Frederick Ramsay

I always think it's a shame when an author thanks their proofreader/copy editor at the beginning of a book and I then find hundreds of errors that should have been easily caught by that person. I wish I had been the copy editor here, I am not perfect but for Pete's sake, I would have made sure the characters' names were consistently spelled properly, for one thing. There are also places where I would have liked to smooth out the writing slightly - trim a word here and there, etc. So not the most elegantly written series, but serviceable books with decent mysteries, and I still enjoy the books overall.

This book series would actually make a great short-run TV series. They could call it "Picketsville" and then each season could be one of the books, consisting of about 10 - 13 episodes. Hollywood can't seem to come up with too many better ideas, so they can have that one for free, although I wouldn't say no to an "Executive Producer" credit, ha ha.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Buffalo Mountain - Frederick Ramsay

The third Ike Schwartz mystery. I enjoy these books but occasionally there is some religion shoehorned in -  not enough to totally annoy me, but more than I might otherwise like. One of the subplots in this book seemed a little out of place and I know why it was there, but I still am not sure it was necessary. Overall though these are enjoyable mysteries.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

What a difficult story this must have been to write - it's such a forgotten part of history, what Stalin did and the horrors he perpetrated. That must have been a terrible time for the people of the Baltic states and it's a wonder that they were able to remain strong and hopeful through all of that hardship.

Co. Aytch - Sam R. Watkins

A memoir from a foot soldier in the US Civil War that seems to capture the experience of a regular soldier, as opposed to that of the officers who often get all the credit. Not something I might read on my own, although I prefer to hear about how people really lived in the past than read general history books.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Newt Scamander

Another quick, fun read from J.K. Rowling for Hogwarts Challenge points.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower - C.S. Forester

On the evening of April Fool's Day, my husband and I were having an at-home Happy Hour and talking about books and reading. My husband reads but not nearly as much or as compulsively as I do. We came up with the idea of giving each other books that we like but that the other hasn't read (and might not read on their own) and this was his first choice for me. I know, it's embarrassing that it has taken me this long to finish the book, and I can't explain it. I actually liked the character of Horatio Hornblower but one thing that held me up was the nautical terminology that was unfamiliar to me - my husband has more of a background in these things so they are not a challenge for him as they are for me. I will most likely go on to read other books in the series, to see what happens to Hornblower. I also now want to watch the series from a few years ago with Ioan Gruffudd as Hornblower - I remember seeing parts of it when it was first made but it would be nice to watch it now having the book freshly in mind.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

This is a really good question and hard to answer!

Book Blogger Hop

“When did you realize reading was your passion and a truly important part of your life?”

My response: I can't really remember not reading, and I have always been a voracious reader. As a kid I loved to go to the bookstore and beg for a new book, and go to the library and have access to almost any book I could ever hope to read. I reread my favorites over and over. As I've gotten older I definitely have less free time to read, but I still read as much as possible and I still go to the library and check out bags of books, as there are so many books out there that seem interesting. So the short answer is, reading has always been an essential part of who I am and has always been an important part of my life.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Female Ancestors - Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

I saw this at the library and picked it up to help with some research I'm doing. This book was originally published in 1998 and is consequently a bit outdated now, as it has no information about internet-based genealogical sources, etc., but it still has lots of useful information and strategies. I am not sure it can help me but I still got some good info and tips.

Push - Sapphire

I resisted the movie Precious for a long time, thinking it would be too disturbing and hopeless, but when it came on cable I caved in and watched it. I was surprised at how full of hope it was, even though much of the subject matter is indeed disturbing, and I was glad I watched it after all. When I found the book on the Library Sale shelves I eagerly purchased it and I felt the same way - it's a book that is brimming with hope even though the events and the subject matter are very hopeless and sad. I know why they changed the movie's title but "Push" is a perfect title to show how people have to struggle and fight to get to something better.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Quidditch through the Ages - Kennilworthy Whisp

I know this is really written by J.K. Rowling, but it's more fun to play along. A quick read and worth many  Hogwarts Challenge points - always a good thing!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lucille - Ludovic Debeurme

I wasn't sure what to make of this graphic novel. At first I found the spare art style distracting, and I wasn't sure where the story was going. I quickly got used to the art and I came to enjoy it, and the story revealed itself to be something I feel like the author experienced first hand. Some of the characters were a bit unsympathetic to me, and yet I wanted to know more about them and I found I cared about them. I liked how the story came together and I was left wanting more, and it looks like there may be more coming. I hope that is true, I want to find out what happens to the characters.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party - Alexander McCall Smith

I love Mma Ramotswe. She is such a kind, wise person, and I wish she were real so I could ask her for advice from time to time. I have really enjoyed this series of books and after reading each one I always want to be a kinder person. Sadly, the annoying realities of day to day life tend to erode that, but it's still a nice effect.

Those Across the River - Christopher Buehlman

Dear reader(s), I don't know where to start with this book. You need to know that I am not a big fan of horror-type books, movies, etc. in general but the description on NetGalley sounded intriguing so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I was completely blown away by this book. BLOWN. AWAY.

The first few pages drew me in and I had trouble putting this down, except for the time I tried reading in bed in a dark house while my husband was still downstairs and got completely creeped out. The writing is excellent. Because of the genre, I had unfairly feared that the writing would be of the clunky type I dislike so much and I couldn't have been more wrong if I had tried. The narrator's voice is perfect, I loved the overall tone of the narration and I loved the character of the narrator. I could read volumes about this narrator. At one point in the reading I actually involuntarily whispered "oh no!" - reader(s), I never do things like that when I read! Never!

This book would make an excellent gift for an adult who likes a certain type of undeservedly (in my opinion) popular horror writer, as this book manages to have a wonderfully done gothic (in the literary sense, not the subcultural sense) horror story but actually has excellent writing as well. Of course, it would also be a great book for anyone that is a fan of great writing and well-told stories. I hate that this review sounds so gushing but it's my honest opinion. I will most definitely be looking for more by this author. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Another fun question, although this one is almost embarrassing!

“How many books are currently in your To-Be-Read (TBR) Pile?”

My response: WAY too many! I still have 8 out of 12 books to read for the TBR Pile Challenge alone. I must have at least 3 dozen books that are on my TBR book shelves... and that is not counting the separate piles of TBR books I set aside specifically for the end of the Hogwarts Challenge this month. Or the galleys I have now that I discovered (thanks again Victoria! :) ). Or the library books I had on hold that unexpectedly arrived a few days ago - so much for not going to the library in June. So let's just say...

At least 100!

Whew! Time to go read some more....

How many TBR books do you have?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Liar's Kiss - Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano

Now that I enjoy graphic novels (who could have guessed?) I figure I'd read some others. This one is a good detective story, and I liked both the art and the story in this book. The art was spare and yet detailed, if that makes sense, which fit the hard-boiled film noir type detective atmosphere of the story, and I liked how the art changed during flashbacks. Another recommended graphic novel for adults. I guess my ceiling has been pushed a little higher!

Gingerbread Girl - Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover

This is the second graphic novel I've ever read, the first being Maus, which I read a long, long time ago. I am not usually predisposed to reading graphic novels because I assume the images will distract from the actual story, and there is not enough reading for my tastes - I think short stories are too short, for Pete's sake! But when I read about this on a blog I like, I thought it sounded intriguing and so I decided to contribute to the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge and take the plunge, even though I wasn't sure I would enjoy the experience.

Well, I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised and I very much enjoyed this graphic novel! I thought the narrative structure was very enjoyable and well done and I found the wonderfully detailed art to perfectly complement the storyline as well as the story mechanics. There were some funny moments and a quote I really loved:

"Every time you climb to the top of your world, you push the ceiling a little higher."

The content of the story was intriguing but sometimes frustrating and I would not mind reading more about some of the supporting characters. Overall this was very enjoyable and I would recommend it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House series of books by this author were some of my favorites growing up. I loved to read about what daily life was like in the late 19th century, and try to imagine what my life would be like if I had lived back then. Since becoming as adult I have occasionally checked these books out of the library now and then when I wanted a quick, calm read; I guess it's the literary equivalent of comfort food. So I was psyched when I finally found this book, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years at the Library Sale for 50 cents each, and I eagerly snatched them up.

Post-Harry Potter binge I needed a quick read to clear my head for the rest of the month's reading and grabbed this book. I can honestly say that I have never appreciated living in the early 21st century as much as I did while reading this book by electric light in the comfort of my climate-controlled home, with a refrigerator and cupboards full of food, indoor plumbing, running water, more diversions and sources of entertainment than any one person should probably have, and best of all - no corsets! I would love to go back in time and visit this period of time, but I can honestly say that as a product of the late 20th century now living in the early 21st, I could not stand to live in a time with so much casual racism, sexism, homophobia, animal cruelty, etc. But it's still fun to read about sunbonnets and shoes that had to be buttoned with a buttonhook.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

I almost want to start the whole series over again, but I think instead I'll just wait until next year and hope there is another Hogwarts Challenge. I am sad to be finished with the series and I feel like there is still so much I want to know - I think J.K. Rowling gave some follow-up information in some interviews, maybe I'll go Google that. Such a great series.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

Another interesting question!

Book Blogger Hop


MY RESPONSE: I almost didn't answer this one, only because in the few instances I have encountered celebrities I tend to be kind of starstruck, and I don't know what to say, and so I feel really stupid and tongue-tied. So I preface this answer by saying that in a perfect world, I'd be able to carry on some kind of intelligent conversation with these authors.

With that said, I have to say I'd like to meet Jasper Fforde, because I imagine someone that creative and intelligent would be really fun to talk to. I'd also like to meet M.T. Anderson, who is creative and intelligent but I think in a different way. And of course, it would be nice to meet the differently intelligent and creative J.K. Rowling and ask her a bunch of questions about the world of Harry Potter too. It would be fun to have coffee or a drink with any of these authors, I bet they are all a lot of fun to hang out with. In fact, it would probably be fun to have dinner with all of them! I wonder if they know each other? 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling

I am about to start Deathly Hallows and I thought it might actually be better to read these Tales first, so when they are brought up in book 7 I will have them freshly in my mind. I feel like when I read DH for the first time, I had a Muggle point of view since I hadn't heard of the Tales, just like Harry, but now I can approach it from a wizarding point of view and for a few seconds feel like part of the wizarding world :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling

This was, believe it or not, the first Harry Potter book that had me crying. I still have a bumper sticker that I got the morning of the book 7 release - you had to choose from one that said "Trust Snape" and one that I can't remember what it said - I had to choose "Trust Snape," myself, but I am a trusting person, I guess. But  it was hard to be trusting after this book, I can't lie. After reading book 7, there are things that make me really sad to think about with Snape from book 5 and book 6. It's been really good to reread this series in a relatively short period of time, actually, I am really glad I did the Hogwarts Challenge!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling

One of the few good things about having a bad memory is being able to reread books. While I obviously remember the high points, main events, and the overall plot, I forget small details or more minor occurrences and so it's not as repetitive to reread books as it could be if I had a better memory.

It's funny how this book answers questions while raising others. Once again I feel much appreciation for Neville and the Weasley twins as relatively minor characters who are among my favorites. And I so wish I had the memory and smarts of Hermione, I would have loved to have a friend like that in school!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling

So much happens in this book and there are so many payoffs from things that have happened in previous books that it's one of my favorites to reread, even though there are many sad and dark parts. It's so hard to realize that there are no more upcoming books in this series, that I will never again read a Harry Potter book for the first time. The only real consolation is that some of my favorite moments in the books are in the next books in the series, so there is that to look forward to!