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)
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)
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)
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: (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: (Default)
Okay, I really shouldn't squeal about the book I'm reading, but I can't help it.

From All The Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear, page 136:

"His face looked lived in. So did Astrid's."

I'm not sure why, but that line just resonates with me. Maybe it's because people can't always see what I'm thinking in my face, or maybe it's just the way Bear writes it, the way it just seems so... natural to say that, but I've never heard anyone refer to a face as "lived in" before.

It's unique.

And I love it.

Honestly, I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I do. And yet this book is full of twists and turns of phrases, and the prose is just... beautiful, expressive and unique and something that strikes me as just uniquely her.

Even though I'm not even halfway through this book yet, I'd recommend it.

A post with other news might be coming later. If I get around to it. Today has certainly been an interesting day.
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
callistahogan: (Book Addict)
It's been so long since I've done a book review (twenty-four days), and I've only finished four books since then. That is kind of pathetic. Hopefully my reading speed will pick up after NaNo (or at least after I get my 50K, which will be in the next week for sure), and I'll keep up better.

Until then, though, these will be rather few and far between. In fact, these ones will probably be the last for a while, although I could be wrong.

Oh, and these'll be short. I don't feel like writing long ones at the moment, unfortunately. But anyway. Enough rambling.

--

Book #52 -- Chris Baty, No Plot, No Problem!, 176 pp.
Grade: A

If I wasn't already psyched up for NaNo, this book would have been perfect in succeeding in getting me that way. Chris Baty is perhaps the most enthusiastic person about NaNo I have ever seen (for good reason), and that enthusiasm just leaps off the page. Although the advice in this book was nothing new, and I didn't particularly need it, it was an entertaining read. I'd recommend it to anyone NaNoer.

Book #53 -- Christopher Paolini, Brisingr, 784 pp.
Grade: C+

The last fifty pages of this book blew me away. The female characters were stronger than they are in most other fantasy novels. Eragon and Roran grew during the story. Other than those good things, the rest of the book dragged on and on and on and on and on... you get the picture. It could have been cut in half and I would have enjoyed it so much more. Unfortunately, it was just blah, although the last fifty pages redeemed it in my eyes.

Book #54 -- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, 224 pp.
Grade: A

What an unique way to look at writing! The masterful way she combined her love for writing and Zen Buddhism was truly inspiring. Her "writing noteboook" idea was so good, in fact, that I snabbed it. I now have a red writing notebook to write in daily—as soon as NaNo ends, that is. A wonderful book; recommended to any lover of writing.

Book #55 -- Elie Wiesel, Night, 108 pp.
Grade: A

For school. This book was a touching, heartbreaking tale of what went on during the Holocaust. It nearly made me cry, and made me wonder how anyone could ever deny such a great horror ever happened. I can't believe the horrors other human beings can inflict on others. It's just unbelievable, and this book reveals the worst of humanity. I can't say I "enjoyed" this book, but it was incredibly well-written. Definitely recommended.

Currently ReadingGod's Politics by Jim Wallis
callistahogan: (Books)
Look at that—I'm on a roll! Maybe I'll reach 55 books before NaNo starts... although I desperately, desperately need to start planning. My procrastination is really starting to make me angry...

But anyway. Here be the review!

BookPlot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Genre: Writing reference / Nonfiction
Length: 231 pp.
Grade: B

Amazon Summary: The second book in the Write Great Fiction series, Plot & Structure offers clear and concise information on creating a believable and engaging plot that readers can't resist. Written by award-winning thriller and suspense author James Scott Bell, this handy instruction guide provides:

  •  Easy-to-understand techniques on every aspect of plotting and structure, from brainstorming story ideas to building scenes, and from using subplots to crafting knock-out endings
  •  Engaging exercises, perfect for writers at any level and at any stage in their novel
  •  Practical and encouraging guidance from one of the most respected writers publishing today
Full of diagrams, plot brainstormers, and examples from popular novels, mastering plot and structure has never been so simple.

My Thoughts: Getting ready for NaNo, I've been trying to work out Yulian a bit better than I have my previous two attempts, just because I don't want to have too much nonsense in my novel that I'll have to go through and edit out again. Because of this, I requested four books from the library (well, five now) and bought this one via my local bookstore.

So far, I'm wondering how any of the other books can be as useful as this one was. Going into this book, I wasn't sure how to start my novel, but after reading, I figured out where I want to start, including a preface and a fairly good (I hope) opening sentence for my first chapter. The first chapter is falling into place now, aand so is my main character, though my second main character is being a (excuse my immaturity for a moment) butthead.

James Scott Bell has got a secure grasp on plot and structure, that's for sure. I learned how to put my plot together, how to ratchet up intensity in scenes and how to keep it close to a 5 on the intensity scale if the scene doesn't have to be too intense, and all that information. The thing I was having the most trouble with was the beginning, and I think I am just going to entirely cut out all of the excess crud from my first starting ideas, starting right in the middle of the action.

This book honestly has everything you'd ever need to know about plotting a book and structuring it in a way that makes readers want to read on. He talks about the ideas in a very understandable way, supplying little exercises at the end to further help writers along in their writing. Not only that, but he also goes in depth on character arcs, beginnings, middles, ends, and revision.

The Revision and Character Arcs chapters were particularly useful. The revision chapter helped me realize that rewriting can be fun, so long as you go into it with the right attitude (which I will try to do once I'm done writing Yulian). The character arcs chapter also inspired me to think more about my characters, especially Ellie.

I could find something useful in every single chapter of this book, and I can't wait to start writing now. Most of the examples he used to illustrate his points came from the thriller/suspense/horror categories, but it applied to all genres as well.

So, all in all, I liked this book. If you're a NaNoer and want help plotting and/or structuring your novel, I'd recommend picking this one up.

Currently Reading:
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Next Up:
Um, depends on which of the four (maybe five) books I want to dig into once I get them from the library today.
callistahogan: (Books)
Well, I've reached fifty books. It's not the book I quite expected to finish, but oh well. It only took me a few hours, so that's good. I even have enough time to do a review of it before I have to go to bed!

BookAlice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Genre: Um, fiction? Fantasy?
Length: 190 pp.
Grade: B

Amazon Summary: The Mad Hatter, the Ugly Duchess, the Mock Turtle, the Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Catcharacters each more eccentric than the last, and that could only have come from Lewis Carroll, the master of sublime nonsense. In these two brilliant burlesques he created two of the most famous and fantastic novels of all time that not only stirred our imagination but revolutionized literature.

My Thoughts: Just ignore the "two brilliant burlesques"I read this via Google's book search, so there was only the classic Alice in Wonderland, not Through the Looking Glass. However, considering I rather enjoyed this book despite its complete and utter inanity, I will probably be trying to either take that out of the library or read it online sometime.

This book was, for lack of a better way to phrase it, very eccentric. As I started reading it, the book started out fairly normal, but then as Carroll began telling it, it become increasingly strange and abnormal. Except I liked it. It kept me reading, kept me wondering what sort of nonsense Lewis Carroll could come up with next. Alice was... well, sort of relatable, in that childish curiosity and innocence we all seem to have inside us somewhere.

Thanks to How to Read Literature Like a Professor, though, I was able to look past all of the absolute nonsense and see the sort of thing Lewis Carroll seemed to be trying to portray (or at least what my mind twists his motive as being)the growth of a child into a girl, a girl into a woman, and how the most inane things can bring about that sort of influence.

That's not to say that was his motive. I'm sure he probably wasn't thinking that much into it. However, I found it intriguing the symbolism I could find in this story just by quickly reading it, and I'm sure I could find more if I went through and read it again with my HTRLLAP notes beside me.

Right now, though, it is getting late, so I'll just cut this review (very) short by saying that the insanity made me laugh, some parts made me go "buwah," and some parts made me smile, just because I could see parts of Alice in myself. This was certainly worth reading despite (or perhaps because) of its insanity, and I want to read Through the Looking Glass now.

Currently Reading: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell (which is absolutely amazing so far, and I should probably have it done by tomorrow)
callistahogan: (Books)
BookHow to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster
Genre: Nonfiction
Length: 281 pp.
Rating: 8/10 (B+)

Amazon Summary: What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey? Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface—a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character—and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

My Thoughts: This is the second book read for English class. It was really the first one assigned (we actually got assigned this book the first or second day of school), but we took a break from this book to start and finish Beowulf. For the most part, I enjoyed this book and learned more than I thought I would, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn't had to take notes—hence this book not getting a higher rating.


Thomas Foster certainly has a way of making this book gripping, even though it could easily dissolve into something boring. Analyzing literature is certainly not the most exciting idea for a book, even a nonfiction book, but Foster pulled it off well. I learned a lot, and the lessons went down easy. The chapters were short and fairly to the point, although he uses quite a few examples.

I wish I owned this book, just because I was planning on reading some of the classics and want something to go by as I start into them. However, I'm sure that it's easy to find at the bookstore, so I'll buy it eventually.

But really, I'm not quite able to articulate my thoughts. I liked it, for the most part, but would have liked it so much more if I hadn't had to take notes on it. Certain sections I loved regardless of the note-taking, but it got tedious after a while. That's why I'm not quite sure what to say about it.

It certainly taught me a lot about literature as a whole. The whole intertextuality thing was intriguing. I love thinking that there's really only one story, so Thomas Foster's thought processes are quite akin to mine. There are certain things he said that intrigued me, and certain things I'm going to attempt to remember in order to analyze literature as I get older.

So... I guess my final thoughts are that I enjoyed it, but will definitely come back to it later and reread it, without all the academic stuff getting in the way. Then I'm certain I'll understand and appreciate it more than I do now. Until then, I'll probably try and get ahold of his other book, How to Read Novels Like a Professor, because that book interests me.

Recommendable.

Currently ReadingHis Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

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