callistahogan: (Books)
Book: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
GenreHorror
Length816 pp.
Progress (pages): 1,139/20,000 pp. (5.7%)
GradeA

Amazon Summary: Considering the recent rush of door-stopping historical novels, first-timer Kostova is getting a big launch—fortunately, a lot here lives up to the hype. In 1972, a 16-year-old American living in Amsterdam finds a mysterious book in her diplomat father's library. The book is ancient, blank except for a sinister woodcut of a dragon and the word "Drakulya," but it's the letters tucked inside, dated 1930 and addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," that really pique her curiosity. Her widowed father, Paul, reluctantly provides pieces of a chilling story; it seems this ominous little book has a way of forcing itself on its owners, with terrifying results. Paul's former adviser at Oxford, Professor Rossi, became obsessed with researching Dracula and was convinced that he remained alive. When Rossi disappeared, Paul continued his quest with the help of another scholar, Helen, who had her own reasons for seeking the truth. As Paul relates these stories to his daughter, she secretly begins her own research. Kostova builds suspense by revealing the threads of her story as the narrator discovers them: what she's told, what she reads in old letters and, of course, what she discovers directly when the legendary threat of Dracula looms. Along with all the fascinating historical information, there's also a mounting casualty count, and the big showdown amps up the drama by pulling at the heartstrings at the same time it revels in the gruesome. Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty: it's hard to imagine that readers won't be bitten, too.

My Thoughts: Although this book could be considered a horror novel, it is much more than that. It combines the Gothic with the modern, the historical with the fantastical, the straightforward narrative with the epistolary. It brings aspects of history, literature, and art together seamlessly, while creating a family epic that sprawls from the early to mid 1900s all the way up to the present day. It could be considered a thriller, an epistolary novel, a historical epic, a fantasy -- you name it, the book has elements of it.

At first, I was rather hesitant to read this book, because I heard it was about Dracula and I had not yet read Bram Stoker's famous novel. However, when my sister gave it to me for Christmas, I just had to crack it open -- and I was sucked in from the very first page. I understand why some people would not like it, because it does have a lot of history, and it does take nearly 750 pages to get to Dracula (hopefully that's not spoiling anything), but I almost found that I liked the journey better than the end result.

From the beginning, I was drawn to the unnamed narrator, because she reminds me of myself in certain ways. She is young, intelligent, with a close relationship with her father. She loves reading and is too curious for her own good -- which leads her to discover the mysterious book with the letters in it that would forever change her life. She hears -- or reads -- about her father's journey so many years ago, and in the process learns about his adviser's life.

The book does not go by quickly. It is one of those mysteries that slowly unfurls, revealing one strand after another, twisting them around and tying them all into knots until you are begging to know what happens but you just know that you have over 500 pages left to read and you can't just peek at the back of the book. In some books, I find that it doesn't spoil too much to skip to the last few pages and read them before I finish, but in this book, I just had to be patient, watching it unfurl, reading with careful eyes, making sure not to miss anything that could explain the mystery of Dracula and those mysterious books.

As said, this book has a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, which is a particular style used in novels that I enjoy especially. I enjoy reading about the way lives entangle together, and how the past can affect the future. I love reading about the lives of one person and how the lives of someone years older than them from decades long past can affect their own futures. It also contains letters, lots and lots of letters, which I found absolutely fascinating. Surely if the book had just been a straightforward narrative I would not have enjoyed the book as much as I did, but the way the book was put together was masterful. Absolutely masterful.

That said, there were a few small gripes about this book, although on a whole I thought it was a marvelous retelling of Dracula's legend that almost felt real. I did feel as though the book went by a little too slowly; Kostova could have cut back on a few more pages. I also wanted to hear more about Dracula himself -- the entire book was about him, sure, and I learned a lot about him in a roundabout way -- but I wished that the book had explored more of his goal. I felt that he was introduced too late in the novel, and that things could have progressed more quickly and the book would have been yet more gripping.

Those are only the few gripes I can think of. On a whole, I found that this book was exactly the sort of book I like: the long, sprawling epic novel spread out across countries and continents, bringing up themes of life, death, love, perseverance, history, and the power of words. I have heard this book compared to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but this book is nothing like that. While Dan Brown is fluff reading, with no big overarching theme of humanity as a whole -- just a cheap thriller -- Kostova gives us a ride of our lives, if only we are patient enough to strap ourselves in for the long haul ahead.

In addition, this book made me look at vampires in a whole new light. While previously my only experiences with vampires have been through the world of Twilight, this book showed a new -- traditional -- side of the vampire, and I have to say that I like the idea of a bloodthirsty monster yearning for my blood better than the sparkly, brooding, angsty vampire who just wants to suck on animals and fall in love with normal human girls. I'm not saying I don't like Twilight anymore, because it is my guilty pleasure, but I just like the more traditional vampire better.

You know what that means: pretty soon I will have to be banging on my brother's door, begging for him to let me borrow Dracula. I need to delve more deeply into the vampire, thanks to Elizabeth Kostova.

I think it goes without saying that this book is highly recommended. It is probably my favorite read so far.

Currently ReadingAlmost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger (I need some light reading after The Historian!)
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Burn This Book, compiled by Toni Morrison
GenreNonfiction (writing)
Length: 112 pp.
Progress (pages)323/20,000 pp. (2%)
GradeB+

Amazon Summary: In 11 short essays by some of the world's premier novelists, this volume explores a simple question: why write? Contributor Paul Auster may put the query best: "Surely it is an odd way to spend your life -- sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper." In response, Pico Iyer delivers a moving account of a Burmese trishaw driver living under political oppression, who for years composed (by candlelight) letters to the author, many of which were censored. Orhan Pamuk also explores this intense human hunger for stories and creative freedom with an anecdote from his March 1985 tour of Turkey, on which he introduced Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter to Turkish writers who had suffered "repression, cruelty and outright evil" in a military coup. Francine Prose, on the other hand, makes a lively attempt to separate literature from politics (in which she cops to her own political biases in her choice of examples). The disparate voices produce a complex of reasons that drive writers, though all agree that, as observed by Morrison (wearing both editor and contributor caps), it's a "bleak, unlivable, insufferable existence... when we are deprived of artwork."

My Thoughts: I was searching for a book like this -- something light, easy, that I could finish in an evening -- and this book delivered. My weakness in nonfiction is books about writing, and this was a perfect treat for me. I especially like to read compilations from authors, so I can see various authors' perspectives on writing, getting an insight into how they got started. It makes me realize that I am at once completely typical in the writing world and yet I feel pride that I can feel a kinship with these amazing authors.

This compilation puts together the writing of the following eleven authors: Toni Morrison, John Updike, David Grossman, Francine Prose, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ed Park, and Nadine Gordimer. I had previously heard of most of these authors, but I have not yet read any of their writings. That is a fact that I am going to have to remedy very shortly, because there were some outstanding essays in this compilation.

While there were some that I did not quite like, as per usual in compilations, I found that some particularly touched me. In particular, I enjoyed Paul Auster's essay, "Talking to Strangers," because it expressed in a mere three pages why I write. It expresses that writers often write because they have to, because they have no choice. Nothing else explains it better than that. I don't know who I would be if I couldn't write, if I didn't want to write. I have a feeling I'd be entirely mediocre, going through life, sliding along without any discernible goal. But writing has given me that drive and ambition to strive to be better, which is precisely why I love losing myself in a story.

I appreciated the vast array of essays in this book. There were the typical "Why I Write" essays, but there was a particularly amusing essay by Ed Park that made me smile, because it was just so different. Toni Morrison's essay was the shortest of the bunch, heading up the collection, but it served as a backbone for the book. I enjoyed the stories Orhan Pamuk and Pico Iyer shared; it shows that the urge to read and write without fear of censorship is a universal desire. And last but not least, Nadine Gordimer's essay was a particularly pointed look at the writer's job to serve as a witness to world events, and brought up issues of race and the Western/Eastern division effectively.

This book would probably not interest anyone who is not a writer, though, and that is why I didn't give it a higher grade. I was hoping it would say more about censorship, but only a couple essays explored that issue in any depth. If you're a writer, I'd recommend this book, because as said, there are some amazing essays, but if you're not? This book wouldn't interest you all that much, unless you were interested in the writing process and what makes certain authors "tick."

Currently Reading: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (and I'm loving it. A vampire novel that goes back to the legends! Who woulda thunk we'd find one of those in the era of Twilight? Not that I hate Twilight, because I actually love it. *hides*)
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Genre: Horror
Length
: 211 pp.
Progress (pages): 211/20,000 pp. (1.1%)
GradeA

Amazon Summary: There is no greater novel in the monster genre than "Frankenstein" and no more well known monster than the one that is at the center of this novel. However, the monster of "Frankenstein" is more than the common lumbering moronic giant that is most often represented. "Frankenstein's" monster is in reality a thinking intelligent being who is tormented by world in which he does not belong. In this depiction Shelley draws upon the universal human themes of creation, the nature of existence, and the need for acceptance. For it is without this acceptance that the true monster, the violent nature of humanity, emerges.

My ThoughtsThis was the book my English teacher assigned over Christmas break. At first, I did not expect that I would enjoy it, because horror is not my genre. I had heard of Frankenstein, of course -- who hasn't? -- but all I knew about the story was the common scene we all remember: Frankenstein standing over his creation, yelling "It's aliiiiiive" when the creature's eyes open for the first time. All I expected was the common monster story, but as it is a classic, I should have expected more than that. I didn't expect much from this book other than some sort of sick enjoyment, but I found entrenched in this novel statements about acceptance, creation, existence, and how people often judge purely on appearances without bothering to see the person beneath. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

Frankenstein was slightly hard to get into at first, because I had to get used to the writing style and to be frank, the beginning was rather dry. Not much happened, and the letters at the beginning merely served as development of a character we don't see again until the very end of the novel. As the novel progressed, things got more interesting. I found the story of Frankenstein's past rather boring, especially his education, but as soon as we got to the parts about Frankenstein learning how to create life, I found that the book captured my interest. The unveiling of the "monster" was also very well-done.

The story really took off -- for me, at least -- when we saw Frankenstein and his monster confront each other for the first time. Although the death of two major characters, William and Justine, was a climactic moment in  the novel, the story of Frankenstein's monster intrigued me like nothing else. I felt for the monster. He wasn't created evil, but it was merely the neglect and hatred of him, based purely on his appearance, that drove him to become the bloodthirsty, murderous creature he was in the middle of the novel. His story made me wonder what could have happened, if Frankenstein had instead reached out to his creation, instead of pushing him away with cries of "Wretched creature!" because of his outwardly grotesque appearance.

The creature was not wretched -- not in the least. In the early years of his creation, he was gentle and kind. He took an interest in his "protectors," as he called them, cutting firewood for the poor family and clearing snow away from the door so that they did not have to do it themselves. He was interested in learning how to comprehend speech, and even learned how to read and write better than most of the humans of that time. He thirsted for knowledge, and he did not understand how people could be so harsh and cold toward each other. Just like every human being on the face of the planet, he yearned for acceptance from just one person, but no human could look beyond his appearance long enough to see the soft creature beneath.

The idea of judging people by their appearance is written deep into this novel. We see, time and time again, people harming and decrying the monster, simply because of his grotesque appearance. He is gentle, kind, and intelligent, but people do not see that. Instead all they see is a wretch, and in turning him away, the monster sees no reason to turn to those who do not accept him. All he wishes is to be accepted by one person -- just one, and maybe he'd be different, but even his creator turns him away. This creates the real monster, the one who wishes vengeance on the entire human race.

As said, I sympathized with the monster, who only wanted acceptance, just like everyone else, but was turned away by everyone. This book surprised me with the deep messages written into his pages, how it explored life, death, acceptance, deceitful appearances, and how very judgmental the human race is. The book certainly struck a chord with me, and by the end of the novel, I almost cried because of the way the creature had so much potential -- if only he had not been turned away by all humankind.

This book was a perfect way to start my year. It was not a simple horror story, which I appreciated. If it had just been a case of Frankenstein creating a monster that was evil from the start, I would have probably enjoyed the novel, but not as much as I enjoyed the exploration of the monster's deepest thoughts and yearnings for acceptance and joy. I certainly see why my English teacher assigned it; it has some deep messages that I know I enjoyed exploring. Highly recommended.
callistahogan: (Default)
Finally, another book post. Nine books here, and hopefully once I finish either Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey or The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, I can go back to my full-length reviews. I miss those things, but I am not about to try and do nine full-length ones in a day, so these'll be short.

32. Without Blood by Alessandro Barrico (Grade: B-)
I read this book at the end of my freshman year, so I don't quite remember the book entirely. What I do remember is that it was written very well and expressed the horrors and challenges war brings to people. It also shows the power of redemption and forgiveness, and how there can be peace found among opposing members in a war. Although it is not one of my favorite books, I enjoyed it. (112 pp.)

33. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Grade: A)
I had been wanting to read this book for quite a while, ever since I was in seventh grade. I tried reading it back then, but found it was too complicated and dark for my romance-addled brain to handle, unfortunately. I had tried reading it since then, but again, it was just too complicated. It had to have taken me two or three or four times reading the first chapter for me to really get into it, but once I did, I enjoyed it. Catherine and Heathcliff are very unsavory characters and, as Bella Swan said in Eclipse, their only redeeming factor is their love for each other, and even that takes a dark turn. I'm not one of those girls who is obsessed with Heathcliff (give me Mr. Rochester any day of the week), but he was an intriguing character. It makes me wonder how exactly he turned out the way he did and how he actually perceives himself, because we only see things from the point of view of two outsiders, which is admittedly biased, though it makes for a wonderful classic. This is not my favorite classic, but I will probably reread it one day. (400 pp.)

34. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Grade: A+)
I loved this book. I loved it because it had fantasy elements, but it was not just a fantasy novel. I loved it because it had romance, but not the sickly sweet romance that never has problems, but a romance where they had to work at what they had and work through their issues. It was realistic, showing the life of a miller and how Charlotte had to work very hard in order to keep the mill running. The book was complex, sifting through many different issues in a realistic way. I absolutely adored it. (400 pp.)

35. Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell (Grade: B)
I had high hopes coming into this book, because it intrigued me, the way it expressed both sides of Christianity: the more religious- and church-based part, a la Catholicism, and the grace-centric side. It provided a balanced view of Christianity, and expressed some of my core beliefs in a quick, eloquent way. The relationship between Susannah Phillips and Daniel Halcombe was written well and realistically, even though (and this is the last I'm going to say, because I don't want to spoil anything) it made me cry. The only reason this book did not get a higher grade is because the ending thoroughly depressed and slightly disappointed me. (336 pp.)

36. The Naming by Alison Croggon (Grade: A-)
There was a month and a half gap between finishing Love's Pursuit and finishing this one. Thankfully, this book got me back into reading on a regular basis. I bought it at the end of July/the beginning of August, started reading it while my cousins were here, and finished it a few days after. It struck me as a bit like the traditional fantasy novels: you know, the whole "orphan girl is in a terrible situation, someone gets her out, she goes to the epicenter of magic, learns that she's the Chosen One, goes on a quest to save the world from Teh Ebul Darkness" plot, but Alison Croggon puts her own spin on it. Yes, it is rather cliched in some spots, but in others, it was very original. Maerad is a strong-willed, passionate woman who really starts to grow into her own, and Cadvan is just intriguing. It is obvious that something is going to happen between them in the next book, and I can't wait to see what that something is. The action was just picking up when the book halted, and after reading the little snippet of a chapter of the next book in my copy, I can't wait to read the next one. (466 pp.)

37. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (Grade: A)
Reread. I can't believe this is my first reread of this book. Although this is not my favorite in the series (that would have to go to PoA or OotP), it was still very good. It is interesting to read through this book, knowing what's going to happen in the end. It puts a new twist on Snape, and makes him not seem altogether bad. I found myself noticing things I hadn't noticed in the first read-through -- which is why I love these books. You always find something new in the pages. Parts of the book I didn't like, though. I did find the whole Harry's monster thing rather contrived and unrealistic, but the Harry/Ginny relationship on a whole pleased me. Ron and Hermione are rather immature, yes, but it is understandable, as they are only sixteen or seventeen. The ending of the book made me sad, as usual, and I got rather choked-up, even though I knew it was going to happen. (652 pp.)

38. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Grade: A)
I finished this book in a day. At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, but I ended up enjoying it. The religious overtones did bother me slightly, but it didn't prohibit me from liking the book. As you can see, I couldn't put it down. Lily was a very likeable main character. And although I hate bees, this book almost made me like them. :D (336 pp.)

39. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (Grade: C+)
This is the first time I have ever said this, but I have to admit that... I liked the movie better than the book. The movie was sweet, sensitive, and touching, and while the book was these things as well, it just didn't move me as much as the movie did. This was partly because of the writing and partly because the book was so darn short and disjointed. The ending did move me a little, but there were no huge, moving paragraphs, no big touching moments, and that disappointed me. Maybe the book version of The Notebook will be better. (224 pp.)

40. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (Grade: A)
Now here was a moving book. I found myself at eleven last night, bawling my eyes out at the ending of this complex, multi-faceted novel. It was everything people ever said it was and more. I couldn't help loving both Anna and Kate, and this made me very conflicted. This book brings up many different questions -- about life, ethics, medical emancipation, donors, morals, and just what is right. Even I am not sure what I would do in Anna's position or Kate's or Sara's or Campbell's. All I am sure of is that I loved this book, and will probably pick up another Picoult novel soon. (500 pp.)

Progress (pages): 16,088/15,000 (+100%)

Well, look here. I finished my progress in pages already. How about I kick it up a notch and have my goal be 22,000 pages by the end of the year? That seems doable, if I have 10 more books left before I reach 50.
callistahogan: (Books)
I am such a terrible procrastinator. I would do long reviews but, since that would take more time than I have, I'll just do a paragraph or two expressing my thoughts. The next book will see me back into the swing of things, so to speak.

22. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (Grade: A-)
Once again, Gabaldon delivered. Although it wasn't quite as good as the previous three, I finished it the quickest (I read it for that readathon way back when), and it was still very good. Jamie and Brianna... well, let me just say that they are acting true to themselves. Some parts of the book were cliched, but all in all, it was a gripping book. I've taken a break on the series for now, but I will probably start reading The Fiery Cross sometime this summer. If I get around to it, that is. (880 pp.)

23. Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Grade: B+)
I remember being very disturbed, yet very thoughtful, while reading this book. It makes you think: What's worse, killing a child before it gets a chance to live, or allowing it to live (perhaps in very terrible situations) for thirteen years and then "harvesting" the human being for organs, regardless of its wishes? Thinking about the book again, I go back and forth. Right at this moment, I would say abortion is worse.

However, the thoughts that run through my mind while I read this book is probably why I liked it. The characters were also well-portrayed; one in particular went through a rather grueling journey, maybe more so than the others did. And, though the book wasn't quite as good as I expected it to be, I wholeheartedly enjoyed it and would strongly recommend reading it. (333 pp.)

24. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling (Grade: A)
Cute, quirky.  Read like real fairytales and I bet  you could read these stories to your children and they'd adore them. I loved the way that there were strong female characters in the tales. My favorite was probably the one with the warlock and the hairy heart. (107 pp.)

25. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K.  Rowling (Grade: A)
Reread. Wonderful, as always. I always love all the little clues and foreshadowing in the earlier parts of this book, and I always think that it fits together so well. One of my favorite books in the series. (435 pp.)

26. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (Grade: A+)
Reread. I almost can't believe how anyone can hate this book. Sure, it's not the best writing in the world, nor the most traditional vampire story, but it is completely gripping and enthralling. I didn't want to put it down, and after reading it, my Twilight obsession came back with a vengeance. Edward and Bella have the sort of passionate love every teenage girl dreams of. (498 pp.)

27. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (Grade: A)
Reread. I read this one in a day. As expected, the first part thoroughly depressed me, and I'm not ashamed to say I cried. Jacob, however, grew on me, and I didn't hate him as much as I did on my first read-through. The part in Volterra made me sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation. I loved it, though not quite as much as Twilight. It was still so marvelous, though. (563 pp.)

28. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (Grade: A+)
Reread. After Twilight, this is probably my favorite book in the series. I spared pages whenever I could, even if it meant reading through an incredibly boring movie on Gandhi during World Studies. ;) Jacob got on my nerves in this book, but I understood him more. Bella, though... WHAT was she thinking? (People who've read this one  know what I'm talking about.) That was the one part in the book that I really did not like. Other than that, I loved it, especially Chapter 20. Edward and Bella are just as wonderful, although Edward could be a smidge less protective of Bella. I understand his thought processes, though, so it makes sense why he acts the way he does in certain scenes. (629 pp.)

29. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (Grade: A-)
Reread. This is probably my least favorite book in the series, even though I still adored it. It just didn't have as much action as the others did, and Bella still seems a slight Mary Sue. I'm in the minority here, but I still l say it's worth reading. (754 pp., previous review here.)

30. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Grade: B)
This was, hands down, the most disturbing book I have ever read. Regardless, I really enjoyed it. The writing style was rich and lyrical, flowing smoothly and effortlessly. I didn't relate to any of the characters, but I sympathized with some of them (maybe against my better judgment). There are just so many layers to this book, it would take thousands and thousands of words to express them all. Suffice it to say I liked it, although I'm not so sure I could say I love it. (291 pp.)

31. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Grade: B+)
I'm not sure what I expected coming into this, but what I got was very different. Not in a bad way, though; the story was just so much bigger than what I expected. It's not just about the main character finding out who killed his neighbor's dog. It's so much more than that. Although the writing was very simple, very easy to understand, it sucked me in. There are quite a few profound things in this book. Would recommend it very highly for a nice, relaxing afternoon (although it might make you think a bit!). (221 pp.)

Progress (pages): 12,662/15,000 pp. (84%)

Next Up:
Without Blood by Alessandro Barrico
callistahogan: (Books)
Wow, I'm on a roll! Now I just have to pick up a book to read quickly before I lose my momentum. Am thinking I'll read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban just to keep up the momentum until my books through interlibrary loan are in. And then I'll get Drums of Autumn!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier )

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan )
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Genre: Fiction
Length: 193 pp.
Progress (pages): 4,828/15,000 (32%)
GradeB

Amazon Summary: When good-time, fortysomething Molly Lane dies of an unspecified degenerative illness, her many friends and numerous lovers are led to think about their own mortality. Vernon Halliday, editor of the upmarket newspaper the Judge, persuades his old friend Clive Linley, a self-indulgent composer of some reputation, to enter into a euthanasia pact with him. Should either of them be stricken with such an illness, the other will bring about his death. From this point onward we are in little doubt as to Amsterdam's outcome—it's only a matter of who will kill whom. In the meantime, compromising photographs of Molly's most distinguished lover, foreign secretary Julian Garmony, have found their way into the hands of the press, and as rumors circulate he teeters on the edge of disgrace. However, this is McEwan, so it is no surprise to find that the rather unsavory Garmony comes out on top. Ian McEwan is master of the writer's craft, and while this is the sort of novel that wins prizes, his characters remain curiously soulless amidst the twists and turns of plot.

My Thoughts: In a way, I expected more from this book, after loving Atonement and Saturday, and hearing that it won the 1998 Booker Prize for fiction. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, because it was a fascinating, thought-provoking novel that brought up a lot of interesting questions, but it just didn't live up to my expectations.

The plot was fascinating; going into it, I didn't expect what was going to happen at the end, which is something I appreciate in a novel. Because of the length, there weren't parts that seemed to drag on too long. The ending was confusing, but after a while, I got it, and I was shocked. That's all I'm going to say, though, because that ending is something you have to read for yourself.

The writing was gorgeous as always, flowing and vivid. McEwan is rather long-winded at times, but it adds to the novel and the tale he was trying to tell. In a way, his writing is very stream-of-consciousness, where I knew exactly what the characters are thinking. I experienced their blind anger, their frustration. I felt what the characters were feeling.

However, in this case, I wasn't sure if I wanted to know what the characters felt, because all of them were very unsavory. Clive, Vernon, Julian and George had dark sides to their personalities that came through. At the beginning, I liked Clive more than Vernon, but by the end, I disliked both of them. Admittedly, this side of their personality just showed the fact that they were human, but frankly, I just wish I had seen some of their "good" side.

In the end, I enjoyed this book, even though it wasn't as good as his other two novels. I think I'm going to pick up On Chesil Beach next; I was going to pick that one when I went to the library yesterday, but I was too tempted to pick up Amsterdam instead.

Currently Reading:
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath by Rick Wartzman

A lot of books to be reading at the same time, I know, but I can't control myself, I really can't.
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
Genre: YA fantasy
Length: 341 pp.
Progress (pages): 4,635/15,000 (31%)
Grade: A-

Amazon Summary: Fans of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Scholastic, 1998) won't be disappointed when they rejoin Harry, now on break after finishing his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Reluctantly spending the summer with the Dursleys, his mean relatives who fear and detest magic, Harry is soon whisked away by his friends Ron, Fred, and George Weasley, who appear at his window in a flying Ford Anglia to take him away to enjoy the rest of the holidays with their very wizardly family. Things don't go as well, though, when the school term begins. Someone, or something, is (literally) petrifying Hogwarts' residents one by one and leaving threatening messages referring to a Chamber of Secrets and an heir of Slytherin. Somehow, Harry is often around when the attacks happen and he is soon suspected of being the perpetrator. The climax has Harry looking very much like Indiana Jones, battling a giant serpent in the depths of the awesome and terrible Chamber of Secrets. Along with most of the teachers and students introduced in the previous book, Draco Malfoy has returned for his second year and is more despicable than ever. The novel is marked throughout by the same sly and sophisticated humor found in the first book, along with inventive, new, matter-of-fact uses of magic that will once again have readers longing to emulate Harry and his wizard friends.

My Thoughts: Even though this is probably my least favorite book in the series, this is still a wonderful book. J. K. Rowling has a way of making me feel like I am part of  the story, that this world actually does exist. She weaves depth and layers into every novel she writes, and I love them.

The plot moves along at a nice, even pace. The characterizations, as always, are wonderful, even though my view on some characters (Lucius Malfoy comes to mind immediately) has changed due to some recent fanfiction I have read. The whole thing feels realistic, somehow, even though it's obvious magic and such like this doesn't exist.

Reading it again makes me wonder about the What ifs, what would have happened if Harry had perhaps spoken to Dumbledore sooner, or if Hermione hadn't rushed off to the library. There are so many possibilities in this series, which is another thing I love.

I am going to start Prisoner of Azkaban soon, which I'm excited about, as I adored that book!

Currently Reading:
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Laarson
callistahogan: (Books)
I'm on a roll!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling )

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck )

Atonement by Ian McEwan )

Currently Reading:
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Laarson
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Genre: Fiction
Length: 331 pp.
Progress (pages): 3,161/15,000 (21%)
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Life is good for Jacob Jankowski. He's about to graduate from veterinary school and about to bed the girl of his dreams. Then his parents are killed in a car crash, leaving him in the middle of the Great Depression with no home, no family, and no career. Almost by accident, Jacob joins the circus. There he falls in love with the beautiful performer Marlena, who is married to the circus' psychotic animal trainer. He also meets the other love of his life, Rosie the elephant. This lushly romantic novel travels back in forth in time between Jacob's present day in a nursing home and his adventures in the surprisingly harsh world of 1930s circuses. The ending of both stories is a little too cheerful to be believed, but just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convince you to suspend your disbelief. The book is partially based on real circus stories and illustrated with historical circus photographs.

My Thoughts: I have been in a reading slump for the past twenty days (I've only finished one book in that time, believe it or not), but not because I was reading a terrible book. In fact, I was reading two books, but it just seems like I haven't  been in the mood for reading lately.

Now, I think I am.

Having heard so many glowing things about this book, I had high hopes. I don't remember hearing anything even remotely bad about this book, so I came into it expecting to love it... and wasn't disappointed at all. I definitely did love it, and finished the lastt two hundred pages or so in two sittings.

This book was a powerful representation of circus life; it is obvious that Sara Gruen did her research on Depression-era America and circus life during that time, and it just makes the book all the more authentic to read the note in the back about the real-life events that inspired some of the antics in the story. It seemed real from start to finish.

Of course, it was more than just a "circus book." If it was, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. I loved the romance in the book, the angsty bits, the... ahem, inappropriate bits, the funny bits, and the dark bits as well. I do have to admit my squick button was hit several times during the course of the story (I'm sure those who read the book can figure out which bits), but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story.

My favorite aspect of the book was, by far, the growth of Marlena and Jacob's relationship throughout the book. August made me nervous, because I wasn't sure how they were ever going to be together, but I was glad they found a way. The progression of the relationship was believable as well, going neither too fast nor too slow. It struck a nice, even pace; it seemed right.

One of my favorite characters was Walter. At first, he strikes you as this mean, dirty guy, but throughout the story, he shows his depth, through his love for his dog, Queenie, and his devotion and loyalty to Jacob whenever he manages to get himself into a spat. He made me laugh, in some spots.

All in all, it was a great book. Sometimes, I felt the nursing home bits dragged on a little too much for my tastes, but that was only because I was eager to get back to Marlena and Jacob. The ending, as others have said, was absolutely perfect, and made me smile, particularly in regards to the actions of Marlena and Jacob toward the end. The ending just showed how suited Marlena and Jacob were to each other, and how suited Jacob was toward the circus.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a favorite, but if you haven't read it already, do so.

Currently Reading:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

And I am also in the mood to relax with some good ol' comfort reading:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

I very much want to get through the whole series back-to-back; I haven't actually done that before. And I claim to be Harry-obsessed...
callistahogan: (Books)

Book: Fledgling by Octavia Butler
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 316 pp.
Progress (pages): 2,830/15,000 (18.9%)
Grade: B

Amazon Summary: The much-lauded Butler creates vampires in her 12th novel (her first in seven years) that have about as much to do with Bram Stoker's Dracula as HBO's Deadwood does with High Noon. They need human blood to survive, but they don't kill unless they have to, and (given several hundred years) they'll eventually die peacefully of old age. They are Ina, and they've coexisted with humans for millennia, imparting robust health and narcotic bliss with every bite to their devoted human blood donors, aka "symbionts." Shori is a 53-year-old Ina (a juvenile) who wakes up in a cave, amnesiac and seriously wounded. As is later revealed, her family and their symbionts were murdered because they genetically engineered a generation of part-Ina, part-human children. Shori was their most successful experiment: she can stay conscious during daylight hours, and her black skin helps protect her from the sun. The lone survivor, Shori must rely on a few friendly (and tasty) people to help her warn other Ina families and rediscover herself. Butler, keeping tension high, reveals the mysteries of the Ina universe bit by tantalizing bit. Just as the Ina's collective honor and dignity starts to get a little dull, a gang of bigoted, black sheep Ina rolls into town for a species-wide confab-cum-smackdown. In the feisty Shori, Butler has created a new vampire paradigm—one that's more prone to sci-fi social commentary than gothic romance—and given a tired genre a much-needed shot in the arm.

My Thoughts: My thoughts are conflicted when it comes to this book. On one hand, I loved the way Octavia Butler wove the story and created the realistic heritage of the Ina and the different personalities, but on the other, I felt as though there were some messages I didn't quite agree with.

I first heard of this book through the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of 2009 (otherwise known as RaceFail09), since Octavia Butler is one of the most prominent POC authors around lately. It sounded interesting and, since I found it on the shelf the last time I went to the library, I just had to pick it up. There were perhaps other books I might've started with first, but alas, this was the only one my library had, so I had to go with this one.

I'm not sorry I did. I found the book very interesting, very engrossing, and it really intrigued me from the first page. It made me ask questions, made me feel sympathy from the main character from the start, and kept me turning the pages. The way Butler created the history of the Ina (a species of vampire-like creatures) felt real, the characters were well-drawn-out and, at the end, the message about racism was so clear-cut and understandable.

Shori, the main characer, is very likeable. Having suffered from amnesia, she remembers nothing about her life before the fire that wiped out her entire mother's family, so there were a great many things I wondered about. She doesn't know much, not anything more than what the other Ina she comes across can tell her, and yet she intrinsically remembers what to do when it comes to her symbionts, the humans who supply her with the blood she needs to survive. She also has that fiesty, strong-tempered nature of the other females, with a potent venom that makes people heed her every wish, even if they might be "claimed" by other Ina.

The concept of vampires and symbionts is very interesting, very well-drawn, and very realistic. However, it does strike me as very polygamous—Shori and each of her five symbionts end up having sex—and Shori intends to gain mates from the Gordon family as soon as she grows up. There is just something about it that rubs me the wrong way, making polygamy seem "normal," while it is definitely not normal in my eyes. Some sections of the book truly disgusted me.

Regardless, I felt the different plotlines wove together, forming a very harrowing, very intriguing, and very introspective adventure, as well as a message mostly dealing with racism, and how we tend to shun those who are different from us, even if we might not do it consciously. It shed light on many different issues, and yet never felt preachy.

There are many messages in this book. Some of them are very interesting and worth thinking about, some of them I agree with, and others of them I disagree with strongly. Some of the messages that I felt were sent made me refrain from giving this book as high a grade as I could have.

All in all, though, I enjoyed it. I loved the way she put a new spin on vampires—a spin as different as possible from Twilight's Edward Cullen—and the way she wrote it seem plausible in a way Meyer did not. Octavia Butler is certainly a skilled writer and has many interesting things to say. I look forward to reading more of her work someday.

Currently Reading:
The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

callistahogan: (Book Addict)
I am reading so slowly. I desperately need to pick up the pace.

Book: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Genre: Fiction
Length: 403 pp.
Progress (pages): 2514/15000 (16.8%)
GradeA

Amazon Summary: A self-conscious outsider navigates the choppy waters of adolescence and a posh boarding school's social politics in Sittenfeld's A-grade coming-of-age debut. The strong narrative voice belongs to Lee Fiora, who leaves South Bend, Ind., for Boston's prestigious Ault School and finds her sense of identity supremely challenged. Now, at 24, she recounts her years learning "everything I needed to know about attracting and alienating people." Sittenfeld neither indulges nor mocks teen angst, but hits it spot on: "I was terrified of unwittingly leaving behind a piece of scrap paper on which were written all my private desires and humiliations. The fact that no such scrap of paper existed... never decreased my fear." Lee sees herself as "one of the mild, boring, peripheral girls" among her privileged classmates, especially the über-popular Aspeth Montgomery, "the kind of girl about whom rock songs were written," and Cross Sugarman, the boy who can devastate with one look ("my life since then has been spent in pursuit of that look"). Her reminiscences, still youthful but more wise, allow her to validate her feelings of loneliness and misery while forgiving herself for her lack of experience and knowledge. The book meanders on its way, light on plot but saturated with heartbreaking humor and written in clean prose. Sittenfeld, who won Seventeen's fiction contest at 16, proves herself a natural in this poignant, truthful book.

My Thoughts: Considered a modern-day The Catcher in the Rye, people seem to either love or hate this book. They either find the main character, Lee Fiora, annoying and whiny, or they consider her rather relateable in her own way.

Personally, I loved this book. I read it all in one day, with practically no breaks, and found Fiora's shy and self-conscious nature to nearly mirror mine. She feels like an outsider in a world full of people who all seem to know exactly what they are doing, she doesn't really know how to act, and she judges pretty much every single move she does before she does it. This is what I do all the time, in school, at home, walking down the street.

I could relate to her in this book, and I think that's why I liked it so much. Sure, Lee Fiora is an annoying little selfish brat who needs a good strong dose of reality, but I could relate to her. She is not a perfect character. She doesn't know how to act and often does things that you can't stand. She doesn't take the chances you want her to take, she mentions things and never brings them up again, she obsesses over a guy for almost the entire book, and is just a teenager. She acts like a teenager, talks like a teenager, and captures the teenage angst in a powerful and, again, highly relateable way.

The way Curtis Sittenfeld captured this character was one of my favorite aspects of the book. She is not a likeable character, per se, but she is a relateable character; I feel we can all find a bit of our own self-consciousness in Fiora's actions.

The story, as well, struck me as realistic. She doesn't end up with the guy she "dated." She doesn't keep the same friends throughout the entire story. She doesn't get along with everyone, people don't suddenly notice her, there are things that happen that never really come up again, there are opportunities for change that she doesn't take.

Admittedly, there was something in me that yearned for the happy ending, but it would've felt out of place. At the end of high school, you don't get your happy ending. You often don't remain friends with the people you were friends with in school. So I loved the "unhappy ending" aspect as well.

I just liked the book, really. Highly recommended!
callistahogan: (Book Addict)
Book: Airhead by Meg Cabot
GenreYA fiction
Length337 pp.
Progress (pages): 2111/15000 (14.1%)
Grade: A-

Amazon Summary: Cabot (the Princess Diaries series) dishes up all the story ingredients her fans have come to know and love: romance, humor, believable teen dialogue and even a fantastical twist. This last bit requires a major suspension of disbelief, but willing readers will love it. Emerson Watts, 16, likes living in New York City's SoHo neighborhood, but she can't tolerate most of the students at her private high school. She and her best friend (and secret crush), Christopher, escape their outcast status by immersing themselves in online video games. But Emerson's bland world shatters when she attends the opening of a new Stark Megastore and suffers a terrible accident. She wakes up in the hospital one month later in someone else's body and not just anyone else's, but that of superhot teen model Nikki Howard. Cabot's portrayal of Emerson is brilliant. She's a too-cool-for-school independent chick, but she doesn't grow annoying, because the author makes it clear her sarcasm stems from not fitting in. Once she's Nikki Howard, however, she has to rethink her positions on the social order. Pure fun, this first series installment will leave readers clamoring for the next.

My Thoughts: I can't remember when I finished a book this quickly before. Yeah, I can read books in a day, but I often end up putting it down every chapter or so, just to "catch my breath," so to speak. That wasn't so with this book; it ended up reminding me why I Ioved to read Cabot's Princess Diaries. I kept saying, "Okay, one more chapter, one more chapter," and I can't remember the last time that happened.

Admittedly, this book requires a major suspension of belief, as the basic gist of the plot is thus:

Plain Emerson Watts (named so because her father was expecting a boy and her mother, clearly, had no influence on the naming) goes to Tribeca Alternative High School, where she doesn't fit in with the "Walking Dead," the popular girls who care more about the clothes they're wearing than getting good grades in school. She is best friends with Christopher Maloney, her secret crush, and really, getting his attention romantically is (what seems to her to be) the hardest thing in her life.

Except that all changes when she gets dragged to the newest Stark Megastore opening and suffers a tragic accident after a suspended TV falls on her (I know). Famous teen supermodel, Nikki Howard, collapses shortly afterward, and in a last-ditch attempt to save Nikki's life, they insert Em's brain into Nikki's body, so that Nikki is "technically" still living, but Em is dead. Even though she is now in Nikki's body, living the supermodel lifestyle.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, more than ridiculous even, but it is so good. The premise is so insane that it actually works.

Emerson strikes me as a real person, and acts the way anyone would act if they woke up in the body of a supermodel. She is just quirky enough to catch my attention and, while she is not as completely off-the-wall Mia Thermopolis is, she is funny and just likeable. She struck me as a bit Mary-Sue-ish, but that was more Nikki than Em herself.

The relationship she forges between the various people in her separate lives (Frida, her mom, her dad, Christopher in Em's life; her various boyfriends and admirers, Lulu in Nikki's life) are wonderfully portrayed, all of them different, and she carries herself as a regular teenager in these situations. Of course, the love triangle (square) is pushing me in all different directions, but I love Christopher/Em after the end, and I can't wait until Being Nikki comes out in May.

So, if you like light, fluffy reads and can suspend disbelief in favor of a wonderful YA novel, read this book!

Currently Reading:
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and Heidi by Johanna Spyri
callistahogan: (Default)
Before I start, let me just say that I am counting the 400 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell I read during the last three weeks, because I am not about to just throw those pages away. They count. In my book, anyway. So there's an extra 400 pages tacked to the page count.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare )

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama )

Currently Reading:
Airhead by Meg Cabot
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
callistahogan: (Default)
Book: The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 207 pp.
Progress (pages): 512/15000 (3.4%)
Grade: B

Amazon Summary: Prize-winning Brit Winterson applies her fantastical touch to a sci-fi, postapocalyptic setting. Heroine Billie Crusoe appears in three different end-of-the-world scenarios, allowing Winterson to explore the repetitive and destructive nature of human history and an inability (or unwillingness) of people to learn from previous mistakes. In the first section, inhabitants of the pollution-choked planet Orbus have discovered Planet Blue (Earth), and soon set about launching an asteroid at it to kill the dinosaurs that would prevent them from colonizing the planet. The second and third sections are set on Earth in 1774 and then in the Post-3 War era. Though passionate condemnations of global warming and war appear frequently, the book also contains a triptych love story: Billie meets Spike, a female Robo sapien capable of emotion and evolution, and falls (reluctantly) in love with her. In each of the scenarios, Billie and Spike (or versions of them) fall in love anew while encroaching annihilation looms in the background. Winterson's lapses into polemic can be tedious, but her prose—as stunning, lyrical and evocative as ever—and intelligence easily carry the book.

My Thoughts: The one adjective that immediately comes to mind describing this book would be "interesting." It certainly wasn't what I expected when I first started reading it, and now I'm still trying to figure out some of the minor themes and thoughts Winterson was trying to express. This is shaping up to be one of those books that still comes back to me, and I'll probably have to read it again to really get some more of those minor themes and see the "glue" that ties the four parts all together.

The major theme expresses the inherent destructive nature of man, not only toward itself, but toward the places where we live. It makes you think: If humanity is really so destructive, then what is the point of starting over? And then, when we do start over, it begs the question, What's saying we won't do the same thing to this new planet? These questions make you wonder how repetitive human nature really is, and how we often repeat history even if we try not to. This is the theme that most impacted me, mostly because it does have some basis in the future (we already want to move to Mars).

Another intriguing theme was that of humanity itself or, in other words, What does it mean to be human? Even though this is such an overused concept, it was rather unique as a side theme. Winterson brought up some good points, and it made me think quite a bit, even though I have my own concepts of what it means to be human apart from Winterson's conclusions (or, rather, lack thereof).

Those two seem to be the two major themes in this novel, although there are also minor ones, such as love and what that really is. Some of the themes are rather obvious to anyone who reads it, but others really warrant a second read to get what Winterson is saying.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was the writing style. It was fragmented, which reminded me of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and the writing was just... stunning. It probably made the novel, in my opinion.

There were some parts of this book I didn't like and, because of that, it didn't get the highest grade possible. It was good, but it's one of those books that has to have time to sink in. It just didn't impact me in any new or intriguing way, which is what guarantees something to be an A book. If it doesn't give me that 'wow, this book is so good' reaction, it'll probably be a B.

However, this book made me want to read more of Jeanette Winterson's novels. I hope to get to one of her more popular books, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, sometime this year.

Currently Reading:
Saturday by Ian McEwan
callistahogan: (Books)
Wow, it feels so weird to be able to write that once more. It seems like just yesterday I was typing it for the first time on my old rickety desktop, and now I'm writing it once more, at the start of a new (hopefully marvelous) year, 2009, on my old rickety laptop.

As I've said elsewhere, my goal for this year (bookwise) is to read 75 books and over 15,000 pages (as expressed by my new section that tallies my progress in pages). I want to read more female authors, and read more nonfiction. Other than that, anything goes, although I should try and make a dent in my TBR list.

BookThe Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
GenreMystery
Length: 609 pp.
Progress (pages)305/15000 (I read 304 pages in 2008)
GradeA+

Amazon Summary: "There in the middle of the broad, bright high-road—there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven—stood the figure of a solitary woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments." Thus young Walter Hartright first meets the mysterious woman in white in what soon became one of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century. Secrets, mistaken identities, surprise revelations, amnesia, locked rooms and locked asylums, and an unorthodox villain made this mystery thriller an instant success when it first appeared in 1860, and it has continued to enthrall readers ever since. From the hero's foreboding before his arrival at Limmeridge House to the nefarious plot concerning the beautiful Laura, the breathtaking tension of Collins' narrative created a new literary genre of suspense fiction, which profoundly shaped the course of English popular writing. Collins' other great mystery, The Moonstone, has been called the finest detective story ever written, but it was this work that so gripped the imagination of the world that Wilkie Collins had his own tombstone inscribed: "Author of The Woman In White. . . "

My Thoughts: I spent the last day and a half reading the last 450 pages or so of this book, barely putting it down for anything, not even food. There are some books that just grab you from the instant you hear the title, and this was one of those for me. As soon as I heard of this book, I knew I had to pick it up at the first available opportunity. I was not disappointed by its content.

Before I checked it out of the library, and while reading it, I heard it referred to as one of the first (and finest) mystery novels ever written. This opinion is fully supported by me. From start to finish, I was intrigued, and at times, I was giving myself a headache, trying as hard as I could to figure out the big mystery, the big "WHY?" just lurking in the background—and yet I never could.

Just when you think you've finally figured it out, Collins pulls you in the exact opposite direction. Just when you say, "I just need a few more pages of this character's narrative, or this character's conversation with that character, and I'll figure it out," Collins pulls you into another character's narrative, or brings the conversation to a surprising end that gives away nothing of what you wanted him to, and then the cycle starts over again.

There are so many aspects of this book that surprised and thrilled me. The characterization is some of the best I have ever seen (in just a couple of pages, you know exactly what Hester Pinhorn is like), the descriptions are bright and engaging and, just as I said, when you think you've figured something out, the plot moves in the exact opposite direction.

Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, the two main narrators of this fabulous novel, perhaps pulled at my heartstrings the most. Through each word of their narratives, you could feel the love they had for Laura, the curiosity they had about the woman in white, and the immense distrust (no pun intended) of Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde. They moved the story along with their witty expressions, their unexpected actions, and their devotion to Laura.

Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco, though, are perhaps some of my favorite fictional villians of all time. The ill-tempered and devilish Sir Percival made me want to throw something at him, but when a certain event occurred, I felt sympathy rise up despite myself—and then disappear just as I realized just what he had done. Count Fosco, that rotund and (in my view) contradictory man, is truly one to loathe, but grudgingly admire. As Marian said, I would not want to have him as my enemy. My inner feminist also cries out at the way he changed his wife so dramatically over the years, how he now makes her do his bidding without any protest from her.

There is really no criticism I can say I had for this book. Although it is toted as a mystery novel, there are many elements of the Gothic in this novel, and for that, I appreciated it all the more for being able to recognize some of them. The twists and turns in the narrative, the richly layered plot, and the characters that sprang to life in my mind have all made this book the perfect one for starting out the new year. May this new year of reading present more gems such as this one!

Highly, highly recommended.

Next Up:
Either Saturday by Ian McEwan or The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. Am leaning towards the latter, although Good Omens is lying on my bed right now and I have the strangest urge to pick it up...
callistahogan: (Default)
I know, shocking, but I am actually going to write those book reviews now. They're shorter than they usually are, though, because there are five of them.

58. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Grade: A)
Reread, for school. I have a feeling this is one of those books that I will just keep going back to. It is one of the first classics I've ever read in my life and, in my first read-through, I adored it. This time, I caught so many more little things that made me love it even more.

Jane Eyre grew throughout this story, I found, and it struck me how much she changed, both in her views of love and how she chooses to act in the face of difficulty. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester also just had this chemistry that leaped off the page, and I loved how it wasn't too sickly sweet, just sweet enough to make you go aww but not in a saccharine way. Also, there was mystery in this novel, which makes me appreciate how effortlessly Charlotte Bronte (and, indeed, other classic novelists!) can meld numerous layers together.

59. All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear (Grade: A)
My first Elizabeth Bear novel, which I enjoyed immensely. Even though I know nothing about Norse myths, I find it interesting how she incorporated those elements into the story. This was one of those books that I couldn't put down. The action was just enough to add to the story, the characters often did things I didn't expect while remaining true to themselves, and the entire thing was just different than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it. I am looking forward to the next book, although it probably wouldn't come out for a looong time.

60. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Grade: B)
As soon as I finished The Handmaid's Tale, I knew that I had to pick this book up. Apparently it is one of Atwood's best books, according to opinions I have heard, and I have to say that I wasn't disappointed. The writing was marvelous, and the novel within a novel aspect of the book just drew me in, as that is one of those techniques that pretty much make me guaranteed to LOVE a book. The characters were also well-drawn.  I found myself finishing this book quickly and then yearning for the chance to read Oryx and Crake. Which I'll probably do in February sometime.

61. Red: Teenage Girls in America Write On What Fires Up Their Lives Today, edited by Amy Goldwasser (Grade: A+)
I finished this book in one day, and found it uplifting, well-written, and a book that just completely blew me away. One minute, I would be laughing aloud at something someone was communicating, and the next, I would almost be in tears at the beautiful aspects of the writing and the complete empathy I share with the author. A terrific, terrific book, and one that I foresee going back to many times.

62. The Portable Atheist, selected and with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens (Grade: A)
I am not an atheist by any possible stretch of the imagination, but I found this book very informative. I have gotten most of my information about atheism from Christian apologetic books, so it was nice to get it from the "lips" of actual atheists. Of course, that doesn't change my views in the slightest. I found many atheists use numerous generalizations, and this book really confirmed that to me.

However, I found it interesting, mostly as a history of atheism throughout the years. I also didn't know that Ian McEwan was an atheist, or that there were so many quotes pertaining to Albert Einstein's beliefs regarding a God. (That section was probably one of my favorites, actually!)

Currently Reading:
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Am enjoying it so far, and it makes me realize one thing: that if [livejournal.com profile] kiwiria likes it, odds are I will too, as our tastes in books are eerily similar. :)
callistahogan: (Books)
Well.

It took me a while to get around to this; I finished this book Tuesday or Wednesday but never had the desire to write a book review on it until now.

Book: Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Genre: Nonfiction (Economics)
Length: 208 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there's a good economic reason for that too, and we're just not getting it yet.

My Thoughts: After reading past posts from [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge, this book was added to the top of my TBR list. Last year it seemed as though everyone and their mothers was reading this book, and for good reason: it's informative, easy-to-understand, and I found it might have slightly changed my views on some things.

My favorite part of this book was probably the "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" chapter, although all of it kept my attention. I just found this chapter the most interesting: after all, how many people would have thought to compare schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers? It was just so innovative, and that's part of the reason why it was my favorite chapter. It was also interesting because I want to be a teacher when I get older (preferrably an English teacher), and the thought of "teachers cheating" is something that never, or at least very rarely, crosses my mind, even though I know it definitely does happen.

As for the other chapters, I found those informative as well. The ones on parenting aren't too relevant for me now, but it's true that it encouraged me to try and give my children (if I have any) the best environment I possibly can. And the section on the difference between "white" baby names and "black" baby names was intriguing, although I can't quite see how it's relevant.

Now. About the abortion chapter.

It was certainly interesting how the crime rate dropped so dramatically once the unborn children—the ones that would have been born had Roe v. Wade not passed or ever occurred in the first place—would have reached an age where they would begin to commit crimes. That bit of information was surprising to me, although it makes sense. Of course, me being pro-choice-life (I support a woman's right to choose, but I wish that they would choose life if at all possible to do so), I can't condone the death of all those lives. A better solution to the "too many babies being born in low-income homes without the support they need" would be to increase sex ed in schools, but I digress.

Oh, it would just be easier to say that I found the entire book interesting, and I learned a lot. Now I want to get ahold of the revised and updated edition, just to see what they added.

I'd definitely recommend this book. Even though most everyone has already read it, it might be worth a reread if you haven't read it in a while.

Currently Reading:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (reread - for school)
Dust by Elizabeth Bear
All The Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
callistahogan: (Default)
Book: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Genre: Dystopic fiction
Length: 295 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: In a startling departure from her previous novels (Lady Oracle, Surfacing), respected Canadian poet and novelist Atwood presents here a fable of the near future. In the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, far-right Schlafly/Falwell-type ideals have been carried to extremes in the monotheocratic government. The resulting society is a feminist's nightmare: women are strictly controlled, unable to have jobs or money and assigned to various classes: the chaste, childless Wives; the housekeeping Marthas; and the reproductive Handmaids, who turn their offspring over to the "morally fit" Wives. The tale is told by Offred (read: "of Fred"), a Handmaid who recalls the past and tells how the chilling society came to be. This powerful, memorable novel is highly recommended for most libraries.

My Thoughts: Atwood has already become one of my favorite authors. For the first time in what seems to be ages, I've come across an unputdownable book. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did, I couldn't put it down, grabbing moments in between classes and even during classes to read (thankfully I never got in trouble!). I am so glad I didn't have to wait until Saturday morning to finish this book (as I had suspected I might), because it was so tremendous.

One of the aspects I liked the most was the nonlinear style. I loved the way Atwood broke up the story, going from the past to the present. It transitioned easily, almost effortlessly, and I found myself turning the pages so fast, because I had to know what was going to happen or, of course, what had happened.

As for Offred, I found her a compelling character. Although she was strong, she was not overly so. She was also clever and intelligent; she knew what she had to do in order to survive. I felt as though I could relate to her, even though our situations are as different as can be. And her perspective was so unique. The way she told her story made me want to continue reading.

I have to be honest, though.

I had the same reaction to this book's synopsis as I did with His Dark Materials. I read it, said, "Oh, this is another book that paints Christianity in a bad light? Looks like I won't be reading this after all" and put it down automatically. That is just another one of those (many) reasons why you should not judge a book by its cover.

Because this book was not offensive at all. It didn't make claims on Christianity, as the His Dark Materials series did. It made me think, not get offended. It was one of those novels that truly surprised me in how much I enjoyed it, even though it shouldn't. After all, it's Atwood, one of those classic "you must read her" authors, and I certainly see why.

Unfortunately, I see what people mean when they say that Atwood's endings are not as good as the rest of the book. The Handmaid's Tale just seemed to... end, leaving loose ends hanging all over the place. Maybe I've just read too many series, but it felt as if there should be another book after this. There are so many things I desperately want to know!

Regardless, though, this book was great. Not the best I've ever read, unfortunately, but still great. I will definitely be checking out another Atwood book (either Oryx and Crake or The Blind Assassin) when I go to the library again.

Highly recommended.

Currently Reading:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (reread - for school)
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

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March 2010

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