Beginnings

Welcome friends! I have started this entry in the global technosphere because I have been in love with books since the age of 2. Among the busy business of being a new teacher, this is my outlet for sharing thoughts on a love of reading a wide variety of books. My inspiration can be summed up with a yearbook quote from a teacher written when I was 8: "To the only girl at recess I see reading a book. Good for you!"
My blog title is quoted from a classmate who asked me this once. Believe it or not, I've also heard it as a teacher :D

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Prayer For Owen Meany- John Irving

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Published:  1989
Pages:  635
ISBN:  9780676974034
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Start Date:  Jan. 21, 2011
Finished Date:  Jan. 30, 2011 (10 days)

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  I absolutely loved The World According to Garp and have been interested in this book for a long time.

Read For:  What's in a Name 4 Challenge (2/6)

Summary:  A man struggling to come to terms with his past reflects on his childhood & young adulthood when he lost his mother, befriended a boy with an unusual affinity for self-destiny, and discovered a sense of faith he never had before.

Review:

"I'm not at all sure what it is he does", Dan said.
"I'm not either," Mr. Fish said.  "It's just...so disturbing"
(page 203).

For the majority of this book, this is exactly how I felt:  what is it exactly that Owen Meany is or does, and why does it strike me as so disturbing how he can be so sharply intelligent, so determined that he is predestined to be a hero, and be so twisted at the same time.  It was very challenging to like Owen Meany as much as you may want to, but in the end he was undoubtedly fascinating, powerful, and in control every step of the way, desperately averting attention from his dimunitive size and jarring voice, at the same time using them to project himself as a messenger of God.

It was odd to me how, at the beginning of the novel, I only liked every other one (or so) up until The Voice, which had me hooked right to the end.  The Armadillo and The Angel were brilliantly written chapters that could have stood alone as short stories and presented beautiful, unusual images of friendship and love.  The characters were unique creations, and though I cannot admit to liking them all, I had a particular fondness for Dan Needham and, despite his "wimpy" demeanor, Rev. Lewis Merrill was an endearing character.  As for Owen, I could feel my blood pressure rising every time he complained, argued, or criticized.  He was so stressful, angry, and bitter that it was hard to believe or even respect him.  I came to a consensus about Owen when he finally admitted "It's not as if I'm entirely innocent" (page 411) and even had doubts about his premonition:  he was far from perfect, even though he was adamant about his vision, but he came across as "holier than thou" and never explicitly admitted who his own heroes were, which bothered me, especially given his predilection to heroism.  John was more likeable and definitely more relatable than Owen but his only purpose seems to be as a vessel for Owen's wisdom, which stifles him and leaves him with many more questions than answers, and comes across as an incredibly dull personality.

I wondered if anyone else noticed this particular formatting issue:  There were several instances in the novel when Irving repeated words in back-to-back sentences, and also repeated surnames of characters that had been well introduced in the novel.  Here's an example:  "One of the students yelled.  'What's the hymn?' the student yelled."  Imagine that occuring every few pages and it became somewhat of a nuisance.  Maybe it was my edition (Vintage Canada, 2009)?

I must say that seeing the very loosely adapted movie Simon Birch, which only borrows from a sliver of the novel ruined some surprises, such as the identity of John's father and how his mother Tabby died, but the book's ending blew me away and is much more layered than the movie's ending, when you understand Owen's motives for his entire existence from childhood onwards.

Despite some misgivings about the characters, the story is airtight, beautifully written, and no matter where you stand on the concept of premonition and fate, you cannot help but admiring how it all comes together (especially in the last 5 pages).

Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Highly Recommend

January Wrap-Up & Year to Date

Overall, I had a great month, owing mostly to a slow working month.  Substitute teachers aren't much in demand for a couple of weeks following the holidays, but thankfully things are picking up now.

Here are my book stats for January:

Books Read This Month (8)--click titles for reviews
This Time Together- Carol Burnett (1/6- What's in a Name 4 Challenge)
Full Dark, No Stars- Stephen King (1/6- Stephen King Challenge)
Water For Elephants- Sara Gruen
Earth (The Book)- Jon Stewart & staff of The Daily Show
Atonement- Ian McEwan
Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut (DNF)
Cloris: My Autobiography- Cloris Leachman
A Prayer For Owen Meany- John Irving (review is coming soon)

Other Books Reviewed This Month (9 + 7 above= 16)
The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver
Last Words- George Carlin
84 Charing Cross Road- Helene Hanff
The Shining- Stephen King
The Dead Zone- Stephen King
The Green Mile- Stephen King
Cell- Stephen King
Girl, Interrupted- Susanna Kaysen
What's It All About?- Michael Caine

Currently Reading (2)
Wonder Boys- Michael Chabon
My Life- Bill Clinton

Books Read So Far in 2011:  7
(DNFs don't count)

For those of you posting a monthly summary, how was your January?


It's Monday, What Are You Reading?


A weekly meme hosted by Sheila @ One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

I've devoted my week to one book (A Prayer For Owen Meany) & finished it yesterday.  I have lots to write about, so I can't wait to get to the review!

I skipped participating in the Book Hop on Friday but did visit several blogs.  I just did not know what to write about books I'm anticipating in 2011.  Turns out I wasn't alone--many bloggers I follow posted that they were more invested in their TBR shelves or list.  I'm more of a wait & see reader when it comes to newly published books.  I read the reviews, look for book bloggers' reviews, and turn up my ear to general word of mouth.  But if any of my fave authors publish something new this year, I won't hesitate to read it right away :)  So there you have it...

Books Read This Week (1)
Cloris: My Autobiography- Cloris Leachman
A Prayer For Owen Meany- John Irving (review coming soon)

Currently Reading (2)
Wonder Boys- Michael Chabon--loved the movie & am liking the novel so far
My Life- Bill Clinton--dipping into it now & again, not in a hurry to finish

Next to Read
Rabbit, Run by John Updike--for 1st in a Series Challenge; also has been a book of interest for a long time
Either The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (for 1st in a Series Challenge) or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (for Back to the Classics Challenge).

Other Reviews Written This Week
None :(

Bloggy Things
~ Participated in a new meme:  Wonderful Wednesdays
~ Switched up two books in Back to the Classics Challenge reading list (here's why)
~ Monthly Wrap-Up post for January coming soon

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Challenge Switcheroos

Ugh...here's the dilemma:

Early poll results for my Back to the Classics Challenge books gave top votes to Anna Karenina and Gone With the Wind for my 19th century classic and wartime reads (respectively).  My issue is that both are incredibly long books and I keep forgetting that this challenge runs until June (not December).  I intend to read both this year but I can't fit in both before June as well as my other BTTC Challenge books...which I haven't even started yet (after Slaughterhouse-Five became a DNF & was swapped for Cujo), unless I intentionally set myself up to fall short on completing the challenge.  That doesn't sound so appealing. 

So...since book choices aren't carved in stone, I'm going to switch them up for this challenge:

Wartime Book:
From Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell to Night by Elie Wiesel

19th Century Classic:
From Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Ah, that will be a more manageable balance for me for the next few months.  Whew...!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wonderful Wednesdays


A weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Tiny Library.

I'm so happy to be participating in this brand new meme!  The purpose each week is:

"...spotlighting and recommending some of our most loved books, even if we haven't read them recently.  Each week will have a different theme or genre of book to focus on."

This week's theme:

A book you loved as a child

That sure is a challenging topic!  I was reading from a very early age and so many wonderful books have stuck with me that choosing one to highlight is a daunting task.



Curious George was my favourite series as a young reader.  I remember planting myself by a small bookcase in my grade school library where all the thin yellow CG books were stacked.  I read every single one of those books, many of them in a single sitting, one after the other.  But Goes to the Hospital was by far my most favourite.  I loved all the vocabulary words I discovered from George's hospital visit, such as stethoscope, and the funny scene where George's swallowed puzzle piece appears on the X-ray machine.  This was my initiation into the school library which became my refuge and my hangout for several years.

More childhood reminiscing can be found in the first of several posts called Harking Back.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Cloris: My Autobiography- Cloris Leachman

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2009
Length:  288 pages
ISBN:  9780758229649
Genre:  Autobiography

Start Date:  Jan. 23, 2011
Finished Date:  Jan. 24, 2011 (>1 day)

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  I love Cloris's characters in the Mel Brooks movies Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety, and also her Oscar-winning part in The Last Picture Show.  I thought her memoir would be a fun story.

Summary:  Actress Cloris Leachman recounts her early life in Des Moines, Iowa, her marriage to writer/producer George Englund, and her roles, most famously on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, The Last Picture Show, and Young Frankenstein.

Review:

"I wanted to like it more than I actually did."  This is paraphrased from a Goodreads review, and matches my sentiments exactly.  Cloris Leachman is a wonderful actor:  funny, charming, and full of exuberance on the screen.  Her book unfortunately doesn't reflect this presence enough.  She writes fleetingly, often nonchalantly, and has an (admittedly) disorganized frame of reflection.  Oftentimes, I became annoyed by her diversions ("I want to talk about ___, but first..."), which are often disjointed from her original point, and could have simply been avoided by reorganizing the material into a different chapter.  In Bill Clinton's My Life, for example, when a point of diversion comes up (which is still related to his initial point), he creates a small separate paragraph to make that point than immediately returns to the original topic.  That's what a good editor does.

Of course, the book isn't without positives: she is a good storyteller, providing anecdotes about costars & celebrity friends, such as Marlon Brando, the cast of MTM (but, surprisingly, Betty White isn't mentioned), Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, and Corky Ballas from Dancing With the Stars without being too dishy (though a small chapter on romantic flings made me arch an eyebrow and the suggestion that a costar on TLPS smoked too much pot was a bit unnecessary, delving into Kathleen Turner-Nicolas Cage spat territory).  She has fond memories of her on-off marriage to George Englund, her children, and continually growing family, with a sad memorial to her son, Bryan.  One of the funniest stories was about getting costumed & made up for Mel Brooks's hilarious Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety.

I was a bit reluctant in ranking this book a C as I did enjoy it, but it wasn't quite what I thought it would be, and doesn't align with the B-rated books I've read, such as Carol Burnett's This Time Together.  What made me feel better about giving it a C is the Goodreads scale (2/5), which describes the 2-star ranking as "It was okay."  That pretty much sums it up for me.  I encourage you to read it if you are a fan, but for the average reader, it's a take it or leave it kind of book.

Rank:  (C)- Okay, Maybe Try It

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?


A weekly meme hosted by Sheila @ One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Read more, reviewed less this week.  Unfortunately had to change direction on two challenges with an overlap book but I think I made a decent save (see Bloggy Things below).

Books Read This Week (2)
Atonement- Ian McEwan
Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut (DNF)

Currently Reading (3)
A Prayer For Owen Meany- John Irving--a light, breezy read so far but will take time to finish; definitely reminiscent of its adapted movie Simon Birch (though the movie only used some of the book's material).

My Life- Bill Clinton--still chugging away at this 5 months from starting it!

Cloris: My Autobiography- Cloris Leachman--I thought this would be a fun diversion with its short, anecdotal chapters, ala Carol Burnett's This Time Together that I zipped through a couple of weeks ago; I'm hoping to finish & review this prior to the Irving book.

Next to Read
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon--I'm itching to start this as I love the movie

Rabbit, Run by John Updike--for 1st in a Series challenge; also has been a book of interest for a long time

Other Reviews Written This Week
What's It All About?- Michael Caine

Bloggy Things
~ Added DNF (Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend) rating to my review system

~ Due to giving up on Slaughterhouse-Five, which was a challenge book for Back to the Classics and What's in a Name 4, I've subbed in Cujo by Stephen King for BTTCC (a banned book, overlapped with Stephen King Challenge), and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for WIAN4 (a book with a number).

~ Edited, reorganized & updated Lifetime Must-Read List.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Paraprosdokian Sentences--Funny!

I received these in an e-mail forward from my aunt.  I had never heard of paraprosdokian before, but these remind me of Yogi Berra quotations.  I don't know who to credit for the following, but whoever it is, thank you!

A paraprosdokian sentence consists of two parts where the first is a figure of speech and the second an intriguing variation of the first.  They're used typically for humorous or dramatic effect.  Enjoy these!

Never argue with an idiot.  He'll drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

The last thing I want to do is hurt you.  But it's still on the list.

If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand at the edge of a pool and throw fish.

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Women will never be equal to men till they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut and still think they're sexy.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

You don't need a parachute to skydive, but you do need one to skydive again.

The voices in my head may be fake, but they have good ideas!

Hospitality is making your guests feel like they're at home, even if you wish they were.

I scream the same way whether I'm about to be eaten by a shark or seaweed touches my foot.

Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.

There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

You're never too old to learn something stupid.


Here are some more attributed to famous people:

"If I could say a few words, I'd be a better public speaker."—Homer Simpson

"If I am reading this graph correctly—I'd be very surprised."—Stephen Colbert

"You can always count on the Americans to do the right thingafter they have tried everything else."—Winston Churchill

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." —Groucho Marx

"He was at his best when the going was good." —Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor

"There but for the grace of God—goes God." —Winston Churchill

"I haven't slept for two weeks, because that would be too long." —Mitch Hedberg

Friday, January 21, 2011

Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Published:  1969
Pages:  215
ISBN:  9780440180296
Genre:  Satire/Sci-Fi

Start Date:  Jan. 19, 2011
Finished Date:  Jan. 21, 2011 (DNF, 53 pages in)

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  On TBR list

Read For:  Back to the Classics Challenge & What's in a Name 4 Challenge (will be changing titles)

Review:

I won't go into much detail here because it's difficult to explain but I simply had enough of the book by Chapter 3.  I liked the previous pages and the stream-of-consciousness type style, but once the story became about Billy, I just lost interest.  It's not a confusing or difficult read, and I don't find anything about it offensive or antagonistic, but in this case, it's simply a matter of taste.  I don't dislike the book, but it's just not for me.  I'm not much for books about war.

As for its double entry in my 2011 challenges (ouch, it's too bad that it had to be this book that has to go), which of course no longer counts in my challenge totals, I will be replacing this with these books:

Back to the Classics Challenge--Banned Book:
Cujo by Stephen King (overlaps with Stephen King challenge)

What's in a Name 4 Challenge--Book With a Number:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


Rank:  (DNF)- Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend

In All Fairness...

I've been thinking about the recent Literary Blog Hop topic on books that I was forced to read in school that I didn't like, and realized that books I've reviewed & rated a D (Did Not Like, Don't Recommend) include some that I didn't like but actually didn't finish.  Doesn't seem entirely fair, so I've added another rating to my review system:  DNF (Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend).  Makes sense, no?  So all previously books rated D that I didn't finish are now rated DNF.  Consider this little bit of justice served ;)

Atonement- Ian McEwan

Purchased:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2001
Pages:  372
ISBN:  9780676974560
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Start Date:  Jan. 10, 2011
Finished Date:  Jan. 19, 2011 (10 days)

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  Heard lots of positive reviews, and loved the movie.

Summary:  In the summer of 1935, an impressionable young girl makes a poor judgment call about her sister's lover, leading to a series of terrible events that stretch over years and affect all their lives.

Review:

I am writing this review very carefully to avoid even minor spoilers as it would completely take away from the unique experience of reading Atonement.  It was written poetically, hauntingly, and delicately, pieced together very precisely, coming full circle as only the best novels do.  At first, Atonement comes across as a tale of British middle class society, reminding me of a modernized Jane Austen.  It took me some time to settle into the author's style, but once the initial fountain incident occured, I was taken with it.  I became anxious about what Briony would do with her perception of this scene, and her shock over what she witnesses in the library.  This decision hung in the air for so long that I became frustrated with the in-between dalliances that deliberately stalled the novel's progression.  In hindsight, this was brilliant storytelling--it made the situations settle, harden & clump into a ball, weighing on you, as it did Briony, and only until you continue reading is it lifted off you.  But the irony is that it doesn't really leave you.

By the end of Part II and into Part III (titled "London 1999"), I had a lump in my throat.  The consequences of Briony's decision at age 13 stay with her for so long that every character she encounters is affected by her choice, and all she can do is imagine how things could have been.

I saw the terrific 2007 movie adaptation with Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan (who was a brilliant young presence) and Vanessa Redgrave before reading the book, so I was aware of the major plot events and ending, but the book had numerous subplots that unmentioned in the film and McEwan's style of writing the story came off very differently than the director's style of filmmaking.  I thought it was very appropriate for the movie to tell the same story but with different brushstrokes that changed the mood that McEwan wrote very specifically.  I would recommend reading the book first as it felt a tad awkward knowing such important parts of the novel, but seeing the movie first did not ruin my experience at all.

Rank:  (A+)- Amazing, A Must-Read!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Literary Blog Hop


A weekly meme hosted @ The Blue Bookcase.

This week's topic is:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it? 

I'm not much for dumping on books that I didn't like.  It's not that I sugarcoat my reviews or write dishonestly, but I have had many meme questions about least favourite books read during the year & that's why Jonathan Franzen gets picked on so much here ;D  So I won't go after him this time.

Similarly to Melody @ Fingers & Prose, I had a less than effective (i.e. terrible) student teacher in grade 10 and we were made to read Shakespeare's Macbeth and George Orwell's Animal Farm under his "tutelage."  It was a nightmare and I've held a (likely unfortunate) grudge against these two literary works since.  I recounted my high school reading experiences in my Harking Back series of posts.

As for university, I had a rough time getting through some early texts in my Canadian lit course, including Roughing It in the Bush by Suzanna Moodie and A Strange Manuscript in a Copper Cylinder by James DeMille.  I hadn't heard of either before taking the course & haven't seen it mentioned anywhere since.  Comments on these books were posted in my fourth year university reading experience post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

15 Authors

I came across this activity at My Reader's Block & thought it sounded like an interesting exercise in literary self-analysis.  Here goes:

*Don't take too long to think about it.
*List fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you or who stick with you.
*Select the first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. No particular order required.

Mostly, my list consists of novelists, but I included 3 of my favourite poets.  All of these authors are influential to me in a variety of ways too countless to name.  As an added bonus, I've also added a recommended title in ( ) if you are new to the author.  If I've reviewed the title, click the link :)

1)  Stephen King (The Green Mile)
2)  John Irving (The World According to Garp)
3)  Margaret Laurence (The Diviners)
4)  Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale)
5)  Percy Shelley ("Ode to a Skylark")
6)  Edgar Allan Poe ("The Raven")
7)  John Keats ("Ode on a Grecian Urn")
8)  Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife)
9)  Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own)
10)  Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist)
11)  Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
12)  Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible)
13)  Jane Hamilton (A Map of the World)
14)  Anna Quindlen (One True Thing)
15)  Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

If you participate(d), include your link in the comments below.  I'd love to see what authors influence or stick with you :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

What's It All About- Michael Caine

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  1992
Length:  592 pages
ISBN:  978-0099553199
Genre:  Autobiography

Start Date:  Summer 2009
Finished Date:  Summer 2009

Where Found:  Public library
Why Read:  Michael Caine is such a sharply intelligent actor that I was curious how he wrote.

Summary:  A witty, reflective, and humble memoir from his poor childhood in London, his stint in the British Army, his work in Zulu, The Ipcress File, Alfie, Sleuth, The Man Who Would Be King, Dressed to Kill, Educating Rita, the Oscar-winning Hannah and Her Sisters, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and up to A Muppet Christmas Carol.

Review:

I recently saw the fantastic & absorbing film Inception in which Sir Michael Caine has a small but important part and this brought me back to 2 1/2 years ago when I read his autobiography named for the title song of his early hit Alfie.

Caine is both an entertaining & insightful writer, shining light on his life and career through small moments & interactions with costars, directors, family and friends, which I will briefly speculate on here.  He tells fascinating stories about his childhood in southeastern London where his father worked in a fish market and he would answer the door for bill collectors, pretending that his mother wasn't home.  He joined the British Royal Army where he was stationed in Germany during the Korean War, retaining memories of many memorable encounters.

As for his acting career, it was The Caine Mutiny that provided inspiration for his stage name.  After many small TV and theatre roles, he made his big break in British films Zulu, The Ipcress FileAlfie, and The Italian Job, all of which propelled him to fame and made a smooth transtition to Hollywood to star in The Man Who Would Be King, Educating Rita, the Oscar-winning Hannah and Her Sisters, the fascinating Hitchcock-esque character in Dressed to Kill, and the hilarious Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, holding his own against goofball Steve Martin.  The last referenced film in this book is the delightful A Muppet Christmas Carol in which Caine played Scrooge.  This was a good sense of timing in ending the book as the 1990s were much more relaxed until his career took off again with his second Oscar win in 1999 for The Cider House Rules.  The last decade have been incredible for Caine, who has worked almost nonstop since.  His follow-up memoir, The Elephant to Hollywood, supposedly picks up from where this first memoir left off up to the present, covering lots of great movies.  I’m definitely going to read that!

Even if you are just vaguely familiar with Michael Caine, you will find his rags to riches story intriguing and sharply written.  As for those who consider themselves fans, this is a must-read.

Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Recommend

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?


A weekly meme hosted by Sheila @ One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Not much work this past week, leaving lots of time for reading & reviewing.

Books Read This Week (2) (click titles for reviews)
Water For Elephants- Sara Gruen
Earth (The Book)- Jon Stewart & staff of The Daily Show

Currently Reading (2)
Atonement- Ian McEwan--am enjoying the language so far & Briony is such an interesting character; I'm on edge waiting for Briony to spill the beans about what she thought she saw happen at the fountain!

My Life- Bill Clinton--I'm about halfway through & have been dipping into it a lot this week, stalling my progress on Atonement.  I get on a nonfiction kick, then dip back into fiction.  Eclectic reading is the best :)

Next to Read
Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut--still planning to read this next for 2 challenges (Back to the Classics and What's in a Name 4).

A Prayer For Owen Meany- John Irving--I've been curious about this one for a long time & absolutely loved The World According to Garp.  This is for the What's in a Name 4 Challenge.

Other Reviews Written This Week (4)
84 Charing Cross Road- Helene Hanff
This Time Together- Carol Burnett
Full Dark, No Stars- Stephen King
Girl, Interrupted- Suzanna Kaysen

Have a terrific reading week everyone :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Earth (The Book)- Jon Stewart & staff of the Daily Show

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2010
Pages:  238
ISBN:  9780446579223
Genre:  Humour

Start Date:  Dec. 26, 2010
Finished Date:  Jan. 16, 2011

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo (bought as an Xmas gift for my dad)
Why Read:  After skimming through it & hearing my dad laugh through it all, I had to read the whole thing!

Summary:  An encyclopedic guide to our planet for future alien visitors/invaders.

Review:

After the raucous, side-splitting & scarily accurate roast of government and society in America, Jon Stewart and his minions at The Daily Show (not to be mistaken for The Jon Stewart Show or The John Daily Show) return with a far wider scope in their crosshairs:  Earth.  Divided into broad ranging categories of Earth, life, man, the life cycle, society, commerce, religion, science & culture, writers mix historically accurate facts with acerbic jabs at the hilarity of accomplishing just that.  Oh, and there's some anatomical humour in there, too.

The concept of creating a guidebook for intellectual E.T. superiors to judge the eventual demise of our planet and the human race that once dominated it supports the idea that for all of our cultural and creative accomplishments in our few billion years of existence, we aren't all that far removed from our cavemen ancestors.  If you doubt this in any way, there are a plethora of examples to set you straight.

While the book's content is very comprehensive and organized like an encyclopedia, which no one in their right mind would read cover to cover chronologically, Earth is too rich of a read to be stuck in a bathroom book basket.  Maybe the audiobook is the best way to go.  Overall, the picture captions and small tweakings of photos, documents, and quotations offer the funniest material, but no category is underwritten.  The sections on man, the life cycle, society and culture offer the best laughs.  Case in point: Larry King posing for a lesson on anatomy, Mr. Potato Head modeling the senses, and Barbie & Ken's Dream House bathroom as a prop for maintenance.  What gets a bit tired are the overlong chapter introductions and some of the sections' opening paragraphs where the jokes get stale.  The book is still very funny and worth a read, but to get the most out of it is probably best consumed on audiobook over a longer stretch of time.

Rank:  (B)- Very Good, Recommend

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Girl, Interrupted- Susanna Kaysen

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  1993
Length:  168 pages
ISBN:  0679423664
Genre:  Memoir

Start Date:  Sometime in 2009
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2009

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  Loved the movie and wanted to compare.

Summary:  A retrospective memoir on Kaysen’s stay in a mental hospital during the 1960s after a suicide attempt leads her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

Review:

By its synopsis, the book comes across like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets The Bell Jar, but to me, it doesn't hold a candle to either.

The main problem I had with the book was its scattered format.  It seemed to have little or no structure, which made it hard to follow.  The most interesting parts were rather limited character profiles of patients & staff she interacts with:  Lisa, a diagnosed sociopathic & frequent escapee of the institution; Polly, diagnosed schizophrenic, depressive who is badly scarred from setting herself on fire; Georgina, diagnosed schizophrenic, compulsive liar & Suzanna’s roommate; Daisy, a hostile, recovering anorexic, diagnosed OCD, who suggests she is a victim of incest; Valerie, the head day nurse, down-to-earth & non-judgmental as opposed to the night nurse; Melvin, Suzanna’s therapist/analyst who seems to need treatment himself; and Dr. Wick, a sharp psychiatrist who later treats Suzanna.

The 1999 movie starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie was much more accessible, fleshing out character details that appear as mere footnotes in the book, and structuring Suzanna's experiences into a plot, rather than in nonsensical spurts that stilt the progression of the story.  I would highly recommend you skip the book & just see the movie to get the big picture.

Rank:  (D)- Finished but did not like

Stephen King Reviews

I've previously featured a series of mini-reviews for books I've read by John Grisham and James Patterson.  They didn't comprise every single book by those authors, but nonetheless provided an overview of many popular ones.  And now for something not completely different :D


With the Stephen King challenge underway (1 down, 5 to go so far for my current challenge level of participation) and having a few backlog reviews of Stephen King books to write, I've decided to post some mini-reviews here collectively.  Links to previously written reviews of King books are available as well.  Books are organized chronologically by publication date.  Enjoy!


Review (A+)


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  1977
Length:  464 pages
ISBN:  0451193881
Genre:  Horror

Start Date:  Sometime in 2003-4
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2003-4

Where Found:  Sears book sale
Why:  Stephen King!

Summary:  A recovering alcoholic writer with a short fuse brings his wife and young son, who has seizures and unrealized ethereal visions, to an isolated mountain hotel where he soon develops cabin fever and mayhem ensues.

Review:

Lots of suspenseful buildup leading to a series of haunting, climactic scenes.  Up there with Carrie as King's scariest, most well-written novel.  The 1980 Stanley Kubrick-directed movie with a brilliant, unconventional performance by Jack Nicholson had a different ending than the book but was just as skin-crawling.

Rank:  (A+)- A must-read! One of King’s best


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Published:  1979
Pages:  402
ISBN:  045155750
Genre:  Horror

Start Date:  Sometime in 2005-6
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2005-6

Where Found:  Used bookstore
Why Read:  Stephen King!

Summary:  Awakened from a 5-year coma, John Smith develops a sixth sense that allows him to see futuristic consequences often stemming from people’s dirty secrets, including a murder in the area, a tragic accident in the making, and a crooked politician with Presidential ambitions.

Review:

With this novel, King took a break from the all-out gore of his previous work to explore ESP, an offshoot theme from Carrie, in more of a science-fiction vein.  Not that The Dead Zone is completely exempt from horror scenes, but is more about human intent & the possible outcomes stemming from these intentions, visible through a scary "gift" that could spell tragedy.  A terrific David Cronenberg movie adaptation with Christopher Walken was made, as was a TV series running from 2002-7 with Anthony Michael Hall.

Rank:  (A)- Excellent, Highly Recommend


Review (A+)


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  1996 (originally in serial form)
Length:  536 pages
ISBN:  0671041789
Genre:  Mystery/Fantasy

Start Date:  Sometime in 2006-7
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2006-7

Where Found:  Originally an X-mas gift for my dad, it found its way back to me
Why Read:  Stephen King!

Summary:  A retired prison guard recalls the summer of 1932 on death row with an ensemble including a giant inmate capable of healing powers, a group of murderous (some remorseful) prisoners, a cocky, masochistic guard with political connections, and the commissioner’s wife dying from an inoperable brain tumour.

Review:

This book is fantastical, horrific, dark, and beautiful all at once.  The ensemble cast of characters provides a multitude of storylines that somehow intertwine seamlessly.  At times there is even comic relief to ease the deep exploration of difficult themes, such as capital punishment, human healing, and longevity.  The 1999 movie starred a phenomenal ensemble:  Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Harry Dean Stanton.  King publicly stated that the movie is a vast improvement over his novel, and while I do feel that the movie greatly enhances many aspects of the novel, there is a special quality that makes it one of my all-time favourite books.

Rank:  (A+)- One of my all-time favourite novels


Review (A+)


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2006
Length:  355 pages
ISBN:  0743292332
Genre:  Sci-Fi/Horror

Start Date:  Sometime in 2008-9
Finished Date:  Sometime in 2008-9

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  Stephen King’s latest (at the time)

Summary:  A graphic artist, accompanied by a diminutive sidekick and two young children, attempts to reunite with his son in the midst of a widespread virus transmitted via cell phone signals that cause users to morph into zombies.

Review:

I remember snagging a copy of this very shortly after it came out in paperback, and while it was an exciting, suspensful read, reminiscient of George A. Romero zombie movies (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, etc.), it came across as a Stephen King knockoff rather than an original King novel.  I also felt that the ending was a bit inconclusive.  It's worth reading, but hopefully anyone reading this novel as their first by King won't expect this to be any kind of benchmark, and any fan of King's will like it but probably won't be bowled over by it.

Rank:  (B)- Good, Recommend, just not his best



Review (A)


Review (A)


Review (A)

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Kind of Reader Are You?

I think my answer is pretty close to who I am as a reader, but a couple of the questions were slightly off, like the choices for the size of your TBR pile (4-10 was the maximum amount to choose from?!) and I actually hadn't read all of the books in any of the choices as it asked but was pretty close ;)

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader
 
You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
 
Literate Good Citizen
 
Book Snob
 
Fad Reader
 
Non-Reader
 
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Friday Blog Hop

A weekly meme hosted by Jennifer @ Crazy For Books.

This week's question is from Barb @ Sugarbeat's Books:

Why do you read the genre that you do?  What draws you to it?

I love reading a variety of genres because it makes my mind work in different ways and there are countless possibilities for stories & subjects when you keep an open mind to what you read.  With adult/general fiction, I'm drawn to the marriage between relatable or ordinary characters to extraordinary circumstances or situations that change a character from what he/she was in the beginning to carrying even a small amount of change or additional experience in themselves by the end.  In general nonfiction, I am drawn to the in-depth exploration of a topic, not necessarily to the point of exhaustion but to developing a new sense of the subject and a willingness to adopt a different frame of mind on the topic or to renew a lost feeling or piece of knowledge that got lost in the hubbub of daily life.

I'd be curious to hear how more specific genres that you read draw you in.  A great discussion topic this week, as usual :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Water For Elephants- Sara Gruen

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2006
Pages:  331
ISBN:  9780006391555
Genre:  Literary Fiction

Start Date:  Jan. 7, 2011
Finished Date:  Jan. 10, 2011 (4 days)

Where Found:  Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  Word of mouth, lots of positive reviews, plus the movie was being filmed at the time I heard about it, and my mom (being the big Robert Pattinson fan she is) reminded me that he was in it :)

Summary:  Orphaned and penniless during the Depression, a young med student joins a traveling circus troupe where he treats animals, including a loyal elephant named Rosie, making friends such as a small but gruff performer, falling in love with the beautiful lead starlet, and dealing with enemies such as the greedy circus master and short-fused animal trainer married to the woman he loves.

Review:

The circus is a beacon of childhood nostalgia from the distinct, pleasant smell of hay to the gargantuan animals that roam through the grounds.  What we don't get to see and may not want to know (at least when trying to enjoy ourselves) is the behind-the-scenes drama of orchestrating the show from training & treatment of animals to life on a traveling wagon, not knowing what day it is or city you are in.

Water For Elephants begins & ends with a catastrophe and in between is the buildup, followed by an epilogue of sorts that gives us the aftermath.  Jacob is an unfortuante young soul unable to settle into adulthood and so tries to escape it, falling, like Alice in Wonderland, into an unexpected world of odd characters brought together by a common dream of living up to what the circus is on the outside, but finding its inner workings to be much grittier and corrupt than expected.  Animals are underfed & often abused, performers are pushed to their physical limits, an antagonistic class structure exists between performers and workers, and, being at the forefront of the Depression, nearly everyone is underpaid & hungry.

Water For Elephants is like literary "chick lit"--the pages flew by!  It was equal parts romance and drama with a touch of suspense.  The characters have deep qualities that lend to the story and carry the plot, which comes across as deliciously old-fashioned, like a period movie.  In fact, the book is very cinematic with its descriptive, highly visual language and the unique ensemble of characters.  Obviously I wasn't the only one to notice this :)  The movie adaptation of the novel is to be released this April with Robert Pattinson as Jacob, Reese Witherspoon as Marlena, Christoph Waltz as August, and Hal Holbrook as older Jacob.  I could easily, without a doubt see these actors in their roles.  Very well cast!  I'm looking forward to catching the movie in the spring.

As for Sara Gruen's follow-up novel, Ape House, I've heard conflicting reviews about it, and I'm not 100% enthused about it, but I may read it far off in the future.  I've got a lot of reading material to look at before that ;)

Rank:  (A)- Highly Recommend

Cleaning Up the Blog

Just a quick note to warn you that some pictures on the blog may suddenly appear as Xs while I clean up pictures uploaded to the blog.  Apparently you can delete images you no longer have on your blog or accidentally uploaded more than once by going to your Picasa Web Album account (did I even sign up for this?!?) and deleting them from there.  Even if you don't have an album publicly, anything you upload to Blogger appears here (not a copy of every image you post; just a copy of each one you upload).

My reason for doing this is I'm finding it harder to get pictures to load when inserting images in posts because of the duplicate images I uploaded every time I made a post.  I later learned that you can use uploaded images on multiple posts.  Ack!  Anyway, just to let you all know that I am aware of the potential broken image problem & will be fixing it up.  What I'm hoping for is that if I keep one copy of an uploaded image, Blogger will post that one & not a specific uploaded copy that I may delete as a duplicate :/  We'll see...

Versatile Blogger Award


Wow, it must be early Oscar buzz catching on in the book blogging community :D  I'm very touched to receive the Versatile Blogger Award from Sheery @ Sheery's Place.  Thanks!

Here are the rules:

- Share 7 things about yourself.
- Pass the award to 15 bloggers recently discovered.
- Notify the blogger recipients.
- Link to the blogger who gave the award.

Without being redundant (boy, it sure is getting hard to be original with these bio questions!):

1)  We got a few centimetres of snow last night & the plow actually came into our street (big surprise).
2)  I chipped half of a front tooth in high school on a table, but luckily it didn't hit a nerve.
3)  I watched a hilarious new Scrat (the acorn-protecting weasel from Ice Age) cartoon short this morning.  Guaranteed laughs :D
4)  I am working tomorrow afternoon but this week has been dry & I have Monday off, too!
5)  I'm excited to watch Ricky Gervais host the Golden Globes on Sunday.  He is the funniest comic in show biz today.
6)  I've stayed up every year to watch the entire Oscars show since I was 12.
7)  The only pet (except fish) I've had was when I was 6-7.  It was a teddy hamster named Flower.

Now to pass on the glory to 15 bloggers (for some, this may be an award encore):

Melody @ Fingers and Prose
Sue @ Book By Book
Sherrie @ Just Books
Sharon @ Books to the Ceiling (Thoughts)
Laura @ The Scarlet Letter
Carin @ Caroline Bookbinder
Krystal @ Krystal's Stellar Book Blog
Julie @ My Book Retreat
Anne @ My Head is Full of Books
Lydia @ The Lost Entwife
Lucybird's Book Blog
Liz @ Roving Reads
Tara @ Taming the Bookshelf
Sam @ Tiny Library
Zee @ Zee's Wordly Obsessions

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars- Stephen King

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2010
Pages:  368
ISBN:  9781439192566
Genre:  Short Stories, Horror

Start & Finished Dates:  Jan. 1-4, 2011

1922- Jan. 1, 2011
Big Driver- Jan. 1, 2011
Fair Extension- Jan. 2, 2011
A Good Marriage- Jan. 3-4, 2011

Where Found:  Xmas 2010 gift from mom & dad (off my wish list)
Why Read:  Long-awaited & latest set of short stories by Stephen King!

Read For:  Stephen King Challenge (1/6)

Summary:  A collection of 4 short stories:

1922- A rural farmer & his teenage son attempt to hide behind the murder of his wife to keep their farm.

Big Driver- After a popular mystery novelist is raped & left for dead, she seeks revenge on the truck driver that assaulted her.

Fair Extension- A man dying of cancer makes a deal with a shady street character to extend his life while slowly disintegrating another.

A Good Marriage- A long-married woman discovers a hideous secret her husband has been keeping & must decide what, if anything she will do about it.

Review:

1922- This was creepy good reading!  How far the characters try to cover up a murder and eerie, beyond-the-grave attempts to thwart them make it your hairs stand on end (cliched but true).  The ending was the most brutal of all four stories.  Overall, it was a strong plot and a great start to the book.

Big Driver- This took the rape revenge story, a reworking of The Dirty Dozen and The Brave One (which King explicitly references in the story) and made it more original.  Tess was my favourite character of all four stories.  I loved the unique take on her behaviour post-rape--equals parts tortured, angered, humiliated, and trying to plot her next move.  The only downside was the ending seemed a bit long, especially the second half of it that tended to go off in a weird direction.  I also a bit put off by the Dr. Doolittle meets Joan of Arc voices she attributes to animals and her Tomtom (that's right, her GPS device).  A bit too odd.

Fair Extension- A short, quick read with an interesting take on the old "making a deal with the devil" yarn.  I have to admit that the amount of bad luck this deal created provided some comic relief, and some ailments were quite creative.  With the tight page count, the story's ending was too inconclusive for me--there seemed to be no end in sight and no consequences to this deal that I felt Dave didn't have any regret or even a hint of conscientious thought about the deal.  It was a good story but far from the best.

A Good Marriage- The most realistic horror story in the bunch, which struck an even scarier tone simply because of that.  It turned out to be a tad predictable but was well written and had an interesting moral twist to the story.

Rank:

1922- (A)- Excellent

Big Driver- (A)- My favourite of the 4 stories

Fair Extension- (B)- Good

A Good Marriage- (A)- Excellent

Overall:  (A)- Excellent, Highly recommend