Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett

Title: The Color of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett
Date Finished: April 29, 2008
Yearly Count: 23
Pages: 210
Rating: 4.5/5

WHAT????? I am so glad that Nymeth warmed me about the cliffhanger ending, otherwise I think I would be in a state of shock right now. I picked up this book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge without knowing very much about the author or the Discworld series other than what I've heard from Nymeth, but I'm certainly glad I did. I loved the wild ride this book took me on and will have to rush out to the bookstore to get the sequel, The Light Fantastic (plus any other Discworld books I can find!).

This short novel follows the travels of Rincewind, a failed wizard, and Twoflower, a foreign tourist--two unlikely companions--after they are forced to leave the burning city of Ankh-Morpork. I wish I could explain the plot, but I'm at a loss for words. They encounter dragons that only kinda exist; a woman who is trying to kill her brothers so that she can rule Wyrmberg, an upside-down mountain; the edge of Discworld where a troll made mostly of water captures them; they are continually cheating Death who by the way has a great sense of humor. This is only a place that could exist if gods are playing the characters as pawns on a giant gameboard--wait! that does happen.

Sounds very strange--and not very much up my alley, but I really enjoyed this book. I laughed out loud--a lot, but I also did a lot of thinking. I'm certain that if I read this one again I would pick up on so much more. I have always really enjoyed satirical works--Gulliver's Travels being one of my favorites--so I felt right at home with Pratchett's sense of humor and social commentary. I realize that I'm doing a poor job of explaining this book, but how does one adequately describe a world that is shaped like a disc which sits on top of four giant elephants who rotate in a circle around the shell of a giant turtle floating through space. :)

Did I love every part of the book? The chapters were long. Groan. In seriousness, at times I found it difficult to follow the plot. The scenes rapidly change and I had to retrace bits to find what I missed. There were several parts that flew right over my head, such as a strange otherworldly experience when Rincewind and Twoflower find themselves momentarily in an airplane? It took some time to get used to the occassional disjointedness, but it did require a little rereading and close reading on my part.

Would I recommend it? Let's put it this way--hubby saw me laughing out loud; I read him some of the bits and pieces I thought were too funny to be left alone (namely the bit about "inn-sewer-ants"--my profession and hubby's family's profession). When I finished the book with a giant smirk on my face, he proclaimed that we should pick up the follow-up book so that he can read both. And hubby doesn't read [and generally does not encourage my book-buying habit]. Bottom Line: It's a fun book, but it certainly isn't as light as it seems.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See

Title: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Date Finished: April 25, 2008
Yearly Count: 22
Pages: 258
Rating: 3.5/5

When Lily is seven years old, a diviner comes to visit her household and realizes how perfect her feet are--they will make perfect lilies when bound and will be the source of great fortune in her life. On his next visit he brings a matchmaker--not to find a husband--but rather a laotong, a contractual friendship with a "old same" which will last a lifetime and be more powerful and important than perhaps even her marriage. Her "old same" laotong is to be a wealthy and refined girl of the same age, Snow Flower.

Lily and Snow Flower become fast friends, despite the many differences between them--especially Snow Flower's higher social status. When they are together their bond is strong even in the most intimate ways. When they are apart, they write messages back to one another on a fan in the secret language of women--nu shu. The story follows the joys and pains of their lives through marriage and childbirth, but a terrible misunderstanding threatens to end their sacred friendship. This story is about love, happiness, friendship, sorrow, and forgiveness.

Alright--down to the nitty gritty. :) The story is told from Lily's point of view as an elderly woman. Because the events are happening in hindsight rather than in real time, it felt as though the events were simply glossed over. In 258 pages, Lisa See writes the lives of these women over roughly 50+ years. Plain and simple, I thought the book was too short. This is a beautiful story, but I wasn't sucked into it mostly because their wasn't enough there to really pull out the emotion. While I got to know these women and really began to care about them and their relationship, I would liked to have seen a deeper study their lives, emotions, etc. But, maybe this is a cultural thing?

What I really enjoyed about the book was a look into nineteenth-century rural China. The practice of footbinding is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. It amazes me that an act such as this can determine a woman's worth--if her feet are perfectly bound then she can possibly secure a better marriage. Also, the art of nu shu was also very interesting--this woman's language was essentially kept secret from men for centuries. There are so many customs and rituals explained in the novel that really brought this novel to life. At the end of my copy there is a narrative of See's journey and research while writing this book, which in many ways was more interesting than the book itself. I really enjoyed the extras in this book--China has such a rich history that I don't know very much about.

Do I recommend the book? Yes. Most reviews I have read are very positive--and I liked this book as well, I just wanted more. The story is a strong one, but what I love about reading is when a book can speak to my emotional side and I didn't get that. I will say, though, when I got to the end I realized that I want to read See's next book, Peony in Love--so that says something, right?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bookish Babble [Shelves, Challenges, and Giveaways]

Dewey posted pictures of her bookshelves on Sunday, and I wanted to show her that she is not alone in her crazy collecting. Hello, my name is Trish and I am a bookaholic.

Both of the shelves above are in my office. The one to the left has my school books on the bottom shelf, Challenge books on the top shelf, and most of my hardback books. Except for the bottom shelf, this is my unread bookshelf. The shelf to the right contains the books I have read (with the exception of the top shelf which is a Dickens collection I just "saved" from my in-laws' shop--aka big giant shed in the sweltering Texas heat with silverfish and spiders galore--not a store shop). To make room for Dickens I've started to double stack--which I hate. Hmmm...maybe I can talk hubby into a new bookshelf for my birthday?? I got this one for this past Christmas.

This shelf is much smaller and also contains unread books. The top shelf has a few old books--the ones in the middle are half of my Balzac collection from 1909. The other half is still in a box from my moving around. My Aunt Fran had an AMAZING library--over 10,000 books. When she passed a few years ago, my grandmother saved these books for me--and also a Dickens collection that is currently at mom's house. Some are in better shape than others, but they are my personal treasures. I loved my Aunt Fran.

I have another shelf in my kitchen with a few hardbacks that I've read and my cookbooks--and then my other "nice" books including my Mark Twain collection on my fireplace mantle. What can I say? I love books. I know this is probably excessive--but I also know my library is probably small compared to some of yours. I keep telling myself that I need to stop collecting books--I obviously don't have the room anymore. I have a little over 500 books in my library. I've read about half of them.

Joy is again hosting the Non-Fiction Five Challenge (click on her name to take you to the challenge link). This was one of my first challenges last year and I loved it! I felt that it really stretched me and pulled me out of my comfort zone. So...I am excited to join again this year.
My picks for the 2008 Non-Fiction Five are as follows:
**The Innocent Man - John Grisham
**A Rumor of War - Philip Caputo
**The Translator - Daoud Hari
**'Tis - Frank McCourt
** In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
Alternates (yes, because I can...)
**The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux
**Anne Frank Remembered
**Or Whatever Else I Feel Like (Yeehaw!)

Kim L of Big.Blue.Adventure. is celebrating 100 posts. Go here for details. (Oh, ya...Kim totally rocks for hooking me up with the BFF award)
Natasha from Maw Books is also celebrating 100 posts. Go here for details.
Jeane of Dog Ear Diary is giving away 2 Book Mooch books. Click here to enter the drawing (wait...do we have to be a member of Book Mooch?)
Stephanie from The Written Word is giving away 5 adorable canvas bags and one copy of Comfort Food. See here for details.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Million Little Pieces - James Frey

Title: A Million Little Pieces
Author: James Frey
Date Finished: April 19, 2008
Yearly Count: 21
Pages: 432
Rating: 1.5/5

I'm not sure where to begin with this one. Most of the time I hated this book--I seriously considered abandoning it. There have been books that I've put down before--even for years--but none with the thought that I would never return to them again. I resorted to skimming--something I also rarely ever do. By the end, I had stopped skimming but reading most of what was on the page, but I'm glad to be finished!

Yes, I read this for the "In Their Shoes" Challenge--yes, I know that parts were fictionalized--yes, I know the controversy of the book. After finishing I started looking up the falsehoods, but honestly I don't even care anymore. Good riddance! I don't care to give Frey any more of my valued time (well, after this post anyway).

James Frey, age 23, goes to a rehab facility in Minneapolis for treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. He is wanted in three states, his teeth are knocked out, he has a hole in his cheek, and he can't remember the past few weeks. He is stubborn, unwilling to take the necessary (well, recommended anyway) steps toward recovery, and his body is a mess of...I don't even want to recall his descriptions. This is the story of his time in the rehab facility, the relationships he has made, the love he has found, and his eventual domination over "The Fury" that resides within him. There are many redeeming aspects of the book...but plain and simple I didn't like it.

I don't claim to be a book critic. Other than my degrees in English, I don't have any qualifications to deem a book quality writing or not. I don't claim that these are true reviews of the books that I read--but rather my thoughts for I am not an expert on writing or literature. But I have read enough and taken enough writing courses that I know literary devices and how they are used and when they are effective. Can you see where I'm going with this? I hope so because I don't really want to say in a public forum what I thought about the writing in this book. OK, I guess I've said it in a roundabout way. :)

Do I recommend the book? I guess the basic message Frey presents is that You can gain control of your actions and overcome anything based on You alone--which if true can be a strong statement. I have known a few people who have had addictions and have been hospitalized, but I haven't gone through it myself or really know what others have gone through. I couldn't relate and most of the time I was really angry at Frey for seemingly making light of the situation. Ladi-da. Mooooooving on!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Indian Tales from Picuris Pueblo

Title: Indian Tales from Picuris Pueblo
Collected by John P. Harrington
Date Finished: April 13, 2008
Yearly Count: 20
Pages: 102

This volume, collected by John P. Harrington in the early 1900s, contains 21 folktales, 7 folkways, and several folksongs of the Picuris Pueblo Indians who live just outside of Taos, New Mexico. I didn't realize the location of the tribe when I picked up this book, but because my in-laws have a cabin in between Taos and Angel Fire, I was glad I picked this copy up to become more familiar with the native customs from the area.

The stories are all short and according to the text the audience is usually children, although the audience is not limited to children. The stories mostly all contain an example of why things are the way they are--why the people farm the land, why coyotes are so smart, how eagles got their colors, why there are no giants, how the people have the plants that they do. The stories themselves usually are focused on animals rather than humans and contain a lot of repitition. I enjoyed reading them as a whole, but if I could dig out my notes from my Folklore course my first year of grad school I could find more entertaining examples of American Indian folktales.

The folkways section is only about a quarter of the book (or less--about 10 pages!) and gives some of the birth, death, education, and hunting customs. I would have liked for this section to be larger and in more detail. All in all, I don't think that this book gave me any further insight into the customs of these people--but perhaps some of this could be because Harrington, from what I got from the book, was more interested in recording the language rather than the actual stories.

What folktale/folklore books or collections do you like?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood

Title: The Robber Bride
Author: Margaret Atwood
Date Finished: April 12, 2008
Yearly Count: 19
Pages: 466
Rating: 3.75/5

I feel a little sheepish writing this review after I JUST commented on someone's blog that the only less than favorable reviews I've read of Atwood have been for Oryx and Crake and The Penelopiad. Don't get me wrong, I still liked this book...some parts a lot...but not as much as the others I've read. I guess that happens.

In October 1990, when the first Gulf War is brewing, the Soviet Bloc is crumbling, and Canada is in a resession, Zenia comes back from the dead. A group of three women, Tony, Roz, and Charis are having lunch together at a trendy restaurant, The Toxique, when Zenia is first sighted--alive. She was killed in a bombing in Beirut; the three women saw her ashes, attended her funeral. The catchy thing about this book is that things aren't always what they seem.

What I love about Atwood is her careful characterization. The novel gives the stories of each of the women whose common thread is Zenia--who lets face it, is a cold manipulative um...I'd like to type the word, really I would, but I won't...you get the point. :) While I found some similarities in each woman, namely their ability to be duped again and again by Zenia, they were each so different, and Atwood is able to tease out these subtleties in each woman's section. Not as obvious as Barbara Kingsolver's narratives in The Poisonwood Bible, but each woman had a very distinct voice and personality (well, and each section is written from third person narrative--not first, which also makes a big difference).

What I could have done without: What is it with this book and mothers?? With each woman's story comes an explanation of her childhood and her relationship with her mother. Are the mothers to blame for the negative qualities each woman possesses? What do the mothers have to do with Zenia? Honestly, I didn't get the connection and because of that I got bored during these sections (which is a big part in the lower rating). I wanted the meat of the story--the Zenia story. And I got it, but there was too much in the middle.

All in all The Robber Bride is an engaging story. Atwood's writing is beautiful as always and she always leaves just enough bait dangling to keep the pages turning. She's never a "quick" read for me, but I don't mind--remember that "lit-ra-chur" question going around a few weeks ago? Atwood falls into that category for me. I would recommend it, but I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin first. This one was reminiscient of Cat's Eye with its focus on female relationships, but it still very different. I think Atwood is trying to tell us that women are not to be messed with! Ha!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah

Title: A Long Way Gone
Author: Ishmael Beah
Date Finished: April 5, 2008
Yearly Count: 18
Pages: 218

Sadly, everything I knew about Sierra Leone came from the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio. When I first saw A Long Way Gone on display at Starbucks quite a while ago, I didn't realize what it was about and it wasn't until I saw the movie that I started to piece them together. While this book isn't about conflict diamonds, it is about the atrocities of war--especially a war where children are on the front lines.

Ishmael was twelve when his village was attacked and he was separated from his family. After trying to survive on his own for some time, he is picked up by the army and "recruited" as a soldier. I put "recruit" in quotes because Ishmael makes it clear that he didn't have much of a choice. The army broke his spirit, and after much exposure to violence, propaganda/brainwashing, and drugs, he himself becomes a killer. After a few years, UNICEF buys his freedom and he is put into a rehabilitation facility.

A Long Way Gone is a truly heartbreaking story which at times is difficult to read because of the horrendous acts of the soldiers, including Ishmael. In my cozy little corner of suburbia it is difficult for me to imagine such things occurring in the world, but Ishmael delivers a story of hope--but I can't help wonder how much of it was sheer luck for him. Even after he broke from the war and rehabilited, many of those who were also "rehabilitated" rejoined the fighting once they were exposed to it again.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book--how much of what Ishmael says happened truly did. But is that really the point? Somewhere these things are happening to someone; are we simply in denial? Anyway, I recommend the book. My only regret is that the book ended too soon for me--I want to know what happens next for Ishmael.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Retold Classic Myths

Title: Retold Classic Myths - Volume 1
Author: William S.E. Colman Jr
Date Finished: March 31, 2008
Yearly Count: 17
Pages: 155

I picked up this little gem at the used bookstore and I’m having troubles finding the other two volumes to purchase for a decent price. I don’t think they are in print anymore, and I certainly can’t find a picture of my cover (this cover is vol 2--mine has Medea with flying dragons).

The book contains eight short stories and is targeted to the younger reader-- probably geared towards 5th or 6th graders.. Each section begins with a vocabulary overview and ends with “insights.” I read the first couple of stories aloud to Hubby during a recent road trip (short one) and had a lot of fun with them, although some of the stories are better than others.

Creation of Titans and Gods – The struggle of silly men for power. Ha ha!

Prometheus – Prometheus stole fire from Zeus to give to the young human race, but Zeus punished him for disobeying him.

Labors of Heracles – Heracles must perform 12 impossible tasks in order to gain forgiveness for his sins. While most of the labors are quickly brushed upon without really explaining why the tasks were supposed to be impossible or how Heracles went about completing them, some were a detailed a little more. One of these was the story of how Heracles persuaded Atlas to search for the Golden Apples. In return Heracles agreed to hold the heavens for Atlas. Atlas thought he could trick Heracles into holding the heavens forever, but Heracles asked Atlas to hold up the sky for a minute while he stretched his back. Atlas obliged and as soon as they made their trade, Heracles made a run for it.

Circe and Odysseus – a snippet from The Odyssey; the witch/goddess Circe turns Odysseus’s men into pigs

Aeneas' Trip to Underworld – a snippet from Aeneid; Aeneas makes his famous journey to the Underworld where he encounters his family and the fallen soldiers from the Trojan war before making his way to Italy.

Follies of Midas – the greedy king who wishes for everything he touches to turn to gold.

Cupid and Psyche – the classic love story of true love and faith over beauty.

Jason and Golden Fleece – this, unfortunately, is the worst story of the bunch. I’m not sure if it was written by a different person (or really who wrote any of these adaptations), but it seemed as if this story was all over the place. There was a lot of focus on Medea, but perhaps there was simply too much information being crammed in 20 pages.

This was a great collection for intro to mythology. Hubby and I loved the Insights sections where we learned things like why Atlas is pictured as holding the earth, not the sky (because Greeks finally decided the sky was not going to fall afterall and didn’t need holding up). If anyone has another good mythology collection they’d like to recommend, I’m all ears!

Giveaways Galore!!

I wanted to squeeze in another post before this one so I could coincide it with my 100th post, but alas I have five minutes before I have to leave for work. Isn't the weekend here yet??

Anyway, a few book giveaways:

Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot is celebrating her bloggiversary. Nymeth's blog was one of the first ones I started reading back in June. If you haven't checked her out yet...do so fast!

Dewey from The Hidden Side of a Leaf is also celebrating her bloggiversary with a giveaway.

Literary Feline from Musings of a Bookish Kitty is giving away a few books for BAFAB week.

Michelle from Novels Now is offering four books in a drawing.

Natasha at Maw Books is celebrating her new blog with a give away. Check out her original blog here and the newby here (Book Bloggers Book Reviews)!

There are lots and lots more; I wish I could link to them all, but I've got to run.

Happy Friday Everyone!
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