Sunday, March 30, 2008

Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

Title: Snow Crash
Author: Neal Stephenson
Date Finished: March 30, 2008
Yearly Count: 16
Pages: 468
Rating: 4.5/5


I was assigned this book a few years ago for a Post-Modern grad course, but I wasn't able to finish due to strange circumstances. So, I had a little taste of what this book contained--and I can't believe I waited so long to finish this one!

Hiro Protagonist (you guessed it: the lead character) is a pizza delivery boy in Reality, but when he plugs into the Metaverse (think of a primative version of Second Life) he is a champion swordsman and revered hacker. One day when Hiro is in the Metaverse, one of his hacker friends, Da5id, is infected with a type of drug/virus that has not only affected his avatar in the Metaverse but also in Reality. Hiro thus begins his search for answers about the drug/virus, Snow Crash, and a pursuit to stop the virus from spreading and creating mass chaos.

Fast-paced, in your face, action packed, this book is a rollarcoaster! Set in the near future where America has shrunk in size and what has taken its place are small business-like franchise-cities such as Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong. There are no laws, Kouriers on skateboards harpoon cars like parasites, and the only difference between the Metaverse and Reality is a set of goggles. There is a name for this type of science fiction: cyberpunk. (Originally published in 1992)

Although I sometimes had a difficult time figuring out the time-frame and whether something was happening in Reality or in the Metaverse, I was hooked to this book. It is strange and humorous and interesting and it even made my brain hurt with thinking. Not only is it about technology, but Stephenson discusses theories on linguistics and mythology and religion and pulls it all together into a suspenseful thriller. At the end, I have to admit that my attention waned a little. There was a strange relationship between Hiro's sometime partner, Y.T., and the psychokiller Raven. Also, with every action scene with helicopter and car and boat chases, my mind wanders and I get bored. What? I know!

It is one that I could certainly read again in a few years and pick up so much that I missed. If this sounds like your type of book, I recommend it! You're certainly in for a thrilling ride.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

I logged onto my Google Reader this morning while eating breakfast and almost choked on my Special K. 177 posts? Seriously? I’ve taken a little bit of a break from blogging first because of a trip to Salt Lake last weekend where I was Internet-less at Grandma and Grandpa’s and second because I haven’t felt like blogging lately. I’m reading a fabulous book right now [Snow Crash], though, so I think my funk might be coming to an end (not that reading less than fabulous books was responsible for my funk). I try try try to be a good blogger and keep up with everyone’s posts, but I can’t. So, I’ll do what I can to try and make up for my lost time. :)

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
Author: Philippa Gregory
Date Finished: March 23, 2008
Yearly Count: 15
Pages: 661
Rating: 3.75/5

I read this book because I enjoy the time period (can't wait for Tudors to come back on this weekend!), but also because my sister was reading it. I don't belong to a IRL book club, but it's fun to be able to call Brooke up and talk to her about what's happening in the book. This time it was a lot of fun because we were both reading it together in Salt Lake last weekend.

Mary, a naive thirteen-year-old, is introduced into Henry's court as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. But, her ever scheming and social-climbing family pushes her into a different role when she catches the eye of Henry--the role of his mistress. With the help of her sister Anne and brother George, Mary wins the heart of the King of England. But can she maintain the King's desire? We all know the story of Anne of Boleyn, so I'll leave my summary at that. !!

I won't lie--thick books scare me. I think it is because of my fear that one day I will run out of time to read all of the books that I want to read, so by reading some of the shorter books I will be able to get to more of them. Silly, I know. So, I have a whole stack of long books (long for me is 400+ pgs) haunting me everytime I look at my bookshelf. A more reasonable fear would be that my bookshelf topples over from the weight of all those big books and crushes me. Oh well.

But this book held my attention all the way through. Maybe because I wanted to finish it while in Utah so I was reading it rather quickly. I don't know. Gregory certainly puts enough detail in this book to paint a rather vivid picture of the goings-on in Henry's court. I enjoyed most of it, but sometimes the details were redundant and I felt as if I were reading the same thing over and over. Probably a good 100+ pages could have been cut out of the book with no significant loss.

I enjoyed reading about the relationships of the different characters and getting a glimpse into their minds and motivations. Gregory's thesis is an interesting one that I had not heard before, but the whole subject of Henry VIII has always fascinated me. I can remember visiting the Tower of London several years ago--I simply can't imagine the atrocious things that happened there at one point in time. But, I guess atrocious things happen all over the place--even today.

Well, my thoughts are all over the place and I don't feel up to editing, so off to the gym I go. I'll simply say that if you are interested in this time period, the book should be a delight--or even if you aren't interested I still think it's a fun read. Some sex talk that I didn't care for, but I guess it was all part of character development. I've been keeping my eye open for a second-hand copy of The Boleyn Inheritance and I own a few other Gregory novels that I look forward to reading. But, I have no interest in the movie. If you saw it, I'll be interested in hearing your thoughts. I don't believe Natalie Portman as Anne--she just seems too meek. Ok...I'm through!

Once Upon a Time II Challenge

I'm late, as usual, but I haven't felt much like blogging recently (I still need to post my thoughts on The Other Boleyn Girl). Plus, I wanted to participate in this challenge and it was giving me a headache trying to figure out the difference between myth and folklore and folklore and fairy tales as the lines all blur a little bit. But without further ado:


Retold Classic Myths - (Mythology)

Indian Tales from Picuris Pueblo (Folktales)

The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett (Fantasy)

Wicked - Gregory MaGuire (Fairy Tale)

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Shakespeare

Join the fun at Carl's site (Stainless Steel Droppings)!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Remains of the Day - Kazou Ishiguro

Title: The Remains of the Day
Author: Kazou Ishiguro
Date Finished: March 18, 2008
Yearly Count: 14
Pages: 245
Rating: 4/5


I don't think I can adequately explain why I was so drawn to this book, especially as it is the type of book that I have struggled with in the past. But I couldn't wait to read a little piece of it each day and was sad when it was over.

The Remains of the Day is the story of an aging butler, Stevens, as he embarks on a six-day road trip throughout the English countryside. Although at first Stevens is reluctant to take a vacation, he decides to follow-up on a letter he received from one-time employee Miss Kenton who Stevens believes wants to return to Darlington Hall after twenty years away. During his time away from Darlington Hall and on his way to visit Miss Kenton, Stevens reflects about his life as a butler—but more importantly to Stevens what it means to be in a position of servitude—to sacrifice and devote every aspect of one’s life to create a better life for someone else.

I’ll admit that for the first twenty pages or so, I was really questioning how good this book was going to be. The story is told through Stevens’ point of view, mostly through introspection, and the language is heavily stilted and circular (part of Stevens' character). For such a short novel, I kept thinking it could have been made into a novella or short story and save a lot of trouble. But after the first twenty pages, I was hooked. Every free minute I had for reading, I devoured Stevens’ reminiscing, impressions, reflections—seriously, how interesting could a life of a butler be? But Ishiguro does such a beautiful and subtle job of characterizing Stevens that even 24 hours after finishing my heart still aches for Stevens.

Do I recommend it? I don’t think I’ve read any bad reviews of the book, but I could see how this could have gone the complete opposite way for me. And honestly, to not even be able to place my finger on what was so captivating about this book. Basically The Remains of the Day is a close character study of a man who allows himself no pleasure, who does not allow himself to show emotion—even when the situation desperately calls for some sort of natural human reaction, who has given up everything…for what? I don’t think I’ll see the movie, but I can see how Anthony Hopkins was a perfect choice for Stevens. I look forward to reading more of Ishiguro’s works.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros and Negativity Meme

Title: The House on Mango Street
Author: Sandra Cisneros
Date Finished: March 14, 2008
Yearly Count: 13
Pages: 110
Rating: 3/5

Esperanza is a fourteen-year-old Latina whose family has just moved to a run-down flat on Mango Street in a Latino neighborhood of Chicago. The House on Mango Street is comprised of several short vignettes about Esperanza's coming of age and coming to terms with her place in society and how she yearns for change.

The book is a quick read, but it is filled with literary imagery that help explain the expectations of a poor Latina and the dreams that Esperanza has of overcoming those low expectations. I loved the ending of the book--and even pulled out my pencil to make a few notes, something I haven't done since grad school. The copy I have was marked up by a highschooler, so I didn't feel too bad about leaving my own mark. This is one that I could see myself revisiting in a few years.

NEGATIVITY MEME
Jeane at Dog Ear Diary tagged me for this meme (which I believe can originally be found at The Hidden Side of a Leaf)
1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?
My blog is my reading journal--I used to keep a hard copy, but I can type a lot faster than I can handwrite. Because of this, I wouldn't necessarily call what I do reviewing but rather creating a record of my thoughts for my personal use. It's just an added bonus that I've met all of you! Because of that, yes, I do say so in my blog if I don't like a book. I especially try to explain *why* I don't like a book.
2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn’t like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?
I try to be fair in my judgments. In the last review I wrote of a book I didn't like, I also explained that it was a book I didn't understand (The Left Hand of Darkness). I am not a book critic, so I am not qualified to determine whether a book is bad literature or not. So all I can do is talk about how the book made me feel and why I liked it or didn't.
3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?
It happens! I would never lash out on the reviewer, though. People's opinions are so different.
4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?
A little bit of disappointment, but again, it happens--why dwell on it? A few weeks ago I read the same book as my sister: Water for Elephants. I didn't like the book, but she loved it. I told her how I felt, but I didn't try to convince her that my reasoning was better. I felt awful that I didn't like it as much as she did, but we tried another book last week and both really liked it.
5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?
Like Jeane says, I find it interesting to read everyone's different opinions. I only had one comment that was offensive--but I have a sneaking suspicious the commenter was a lot younger and wasn't taught manners. Also, they commented that the book that I didn't *love* was their favorite book by a particular author, but it is the only one they've read by the author. Take it with a grain of salt and move on. I appreciate diversity, but I also appreciate when it is done with respect.
6. What if you don’t like a book that was a free review copy?
It hasn't happened yet because I don't get ARCs. You can't like *every* book, though.
7. What do you do if you don’t finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn’t finish it?
If I don't finish a book I won't review it. Typically, though, I will pick the book up later and finish it. I don't like to leave things lingering for too long (lingering half-read, that is).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Salem Falls - Jodi Picoult [and a new challenge]

Title: Salem Falls
Author: Jodi Picoult
Date Finished: March 12, 2008
Yearly Count: 12
Pages: 434
Rating: 4.25/5

Since starting my blog in June I've written about three other Picoult books and before that I had read three, so I'm not going to go into whole lot of detail with this one. I really enjoyed the book, which was almost a relief after feeling wishy washy about Plain Truth (review here). I just picked up her new book Change of Heart and hope to read it in a few weeks (or months--eeks!).

Salem Falls begins with Jack St. Bride being released from prison after serving time for a rape he did not commit. He leaves his old life behind and heads to the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls to start anew. Unfortunately, though, he finds himself in the middle of another rape case--one where the lines of truth are blurred and nothing is what it seems.

It's true that Picoult's books seem very formulaic, but the formula worked very well for this book. She was able to withhold enough secrets to keep me guessing and biting my nails through the entire book. At the end I even had to cover the text with my hand so my eyes wouldn't cheat--I LOVE THAT!! This is the first book I've read since The Book Thief (review here) that I absolutely could not put down. Part of the reason why this book was so interesting to me is because the girl who accuses Jack of rape is the priestess of a teenage Wiccan coven (forgive me for butchering the terminology if I am). I don't know very much about this religion and have only known one person who openly practices, but from what I know I find it to be fascinating. I can't pretend to know how accurate Picoult is in her descriptions (although she usually does her homework), but I was intrigued by this storyline.

While still not my favorite Picoult book, I would recommend it to fans of hers.

Gautami Tripathy also reviewed this book here

On another note:


ORBIS TERRANUM CHALLENGE




I have joined another challenge. I'm feeling *really* good about my reading so far this year, so I thought why not! And I've wanted to stretch my horizons a bit. Plus, a new-to-book-blogging-blogger is hosting the challenge! How cool is that? Go to B&b ex libris to see Bethany's Orbis Terrarum Challenge and the rules.

I'm cross-posting a few books with other challenges, and my list is NOT set in stone, but here is what I've put together so far:

*Zorba the Greek (Greece)
*Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria/Biafran)
*A Long Way Gone (Sierra Leone)
*The Robber Bride (Canada)
*The Swiss Family Robinson (Switzerland)
*The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux (France)
*The God of Small Things (India)
*The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ireland)
*Anne Frank Remembered (Austria)

Friday, March 7, 2008

All The Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy

Title: All the Pretty Horses
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Date Finished: March 5, 2008
Yearly Count: 11
Pages: 302
Rating: 4.25/5

Cormac McCarthy is fast becoming one of my favorite authors (see my thoughts on No Country for Old Men here). All the Pretty Horses is my third McCarthy book and as with finishing the other two, I was left with his prose haunting me. This book is the first in the Border Triology; I've already read the second book, The Crossing, so now I'll be looking forward to Cities of the Plain where the "heroes" of each book come together.

All the Pretty Horses is the story of John Grady Cole, the last in a long family line of Texas ranchers. Set in West Texas (San Angelo--see the picture below of the town I just moved from which is about 30 miles or so from San Angelo--yes, there is a brush fire in the background) and Mexico, the landscape plays a large role in the novel. At the beginning of the story, John Grady’s grandfather dies leaving his ranch which is too expensive to keep. His mother has no interest in the ranch, so she sells it and John Grady decides to leave with his friend Lacey Rawlins to find work as vaqueros in Mexico.

As with The Crossing, All the Pretty Horses is the story of a young man learning life’s injustices and coming to terms with his manhood. During John Grady’s journey, he encounters a troublesome youth who nearly costs John Grady his freedom and life, enters into a forbidden love affair with a Mexican Don’s daughter which can only end in heartache, and struggles to make his way back to a home and way of life that no longer exist.

What I love about McCarthy is his honesty in the way that he writes about life, but I also love his style. I can’t explain what it is about his prose that I love so much, but for some reason it provides me with a feeling of nostalgia. Again, of what, I’m not sure—nostalgia for Texas—particularly the wide open country of Texas. His style is a little reminiscent of Faulkner in that he writes long sentences that go on and on, but McCarthy has a rhythm to his writing that is so packed with emotion:

"...she rode all seeming unaware down through the low hills while the first spits of rain blew on the wind and onto the upper pasturelands and past the pale and reedy lakes riding erect and stately until the rain caught her up and shrouded her figure away in that wild summer landscape: real horse, real rider, real land and sky and yet a dream withal" (132).

I’ve noticed that my posts are starting to get longer and longer (which is kind of annoying to me since I prefer to read shorter posts because of my time constraints), but this is a book that I can’t write about in a paragraph or two. I don’t recommend it to everyone—I think a lot of people find McCarthy’s prose long-winded and boring, but to me it is so fitting for the land that he writes of—strangely beautiful.

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