Tuesday, January 13, 2009

That's What She Said: Dessert

"I got sorbet when I wanted chocolate cake."
- Kathleen on Assassination Vacation
My bookclub met this evening to discuss Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. Most of us liked the book (myself included - review to come later), but Kathleen did not. Her view of Vowell's work made the discussion very interesting and not so OHMYGODITWASFUN!

Also, she had the awesome quote which is the perfect soundbite for her take on the text.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Seen on the Metro: Braille

I almost missed this lady this morning. I blame the fact that I get see Almost-A-Lawyer boyfriend after almost two and half weeks apart. Right now, I'm a bit too worked up to actually pay attention to things other than the countdown clock in my head

Anywho.

As I was exiting the metro today, I noticed a woman reading an interesting copy of The Washington Post Book World. It was in braille. She was skimming her hands across the crisp white pages that were perforated with the braille text.

In comparison to the thin pamphlet I receive every Sunday, this copy was about the size of a phone book. I never considered how those with sight disabilities read the newspaper. I learned something today.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Book 1: Ain't Myth-Behaving

TITLE: Ain't Myth-Behaving
AUTHOR: Katie MacAlister
STARTED: December 28, 2008
FINISHED: January 2, 2009
PAGES: 351
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: "My lord, do you not think..."

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] STAG PARTY Dane Hearne -- also known as the Irish fertility god Cernunnos -- must choose a bride quickly. His long-time goddess has run off with a salsa dancer, and Dane must be married by Beltane, just a week away, or become a mortal -- and die. When he meets American travel writer Megan St. Clair, he knows he's found his soul mate. But while Dane is a sexy Irish hunk with his fair share of blarney, can he convince Megan to marry him in just one week?

NORSE TRULY Alrik Sigurdsson is cursed to sail his Viking ship along the same stretch of Scandinavian coastline forever. So when lovely American Brynna Lund skids her car off the road into the ocean, he and his men are happy for the diversion of rescuing her. Then Alrik discovers that Brynna is the only woman who can break the curse. Is it any wonder that he's determined to keep her...forever?

THOUGHTS: I was hoping to finish the book before the new year so that I could start off 2009 on the right reading foot. I failed. So did this book.

MacAlister has not been able to do anything right in my eyes lately. All of her recent books have been horrendous reads. Gone is the realistic zaniness. It has been replaced the author trying too hard to be funny. In fact, her books strike me as if they are now being written by a college freshman who is overly impressed with his or her own "unique" work... when, in reality, it's been done... and done better at that.

On the upside, the first story is told completely from the hero's point of view. That was at least interesting.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

2009 Reading / Bookish Resolutions

Once again most of my 2009 reading/bookish resolutions fall under one category: Reducing Mt. TBR. I am throwing in an extra category this year: Me.

1. I will not set a number of books to read this year.
-- I always try to read 100 books in a year. Of those 100 books I try to make a set number classics and non-fiction. I've never come close to reading those self-set quotas. In fact, I grow to hate those quotas. When I read, I read for me - so why the hell have I been making reading for me less fun. Screw numbers. This year, I vow to ignore the statistics until it comes to the end-of-year calculations.

2. I will read for me.
-- I will read with me in mind: that minds I will read what I want, when I want. I will select my reading choices by the mood I am in, not what I feel I should be reading. The one exception: book club.

3. When I go the Library, I will not walk out with a gazillion books.
-- This is a repeat from last year. I have to knock down the number of books I own but have not read. Mt. TBR is this looming cloud over my head. The smaller it gets, the happier I am. (Right now I am ignoring the growing list of books in my TBR database list... but those aren't actually on my shelves so they're easier to ignore.)

4. I will NOT BUY any books (again)
-- Another repeat, but it worked out incredibly well this year. I could actually walk into a bookstore, peruse the shelves, and walk out empty handed. This act got easier with each passing today. Again, I am adding caveats, but they are even smaller than last years.
a. The book is written by one of these authors: Vince Flynn, Diana Gabaldon, Mark Bowden
b. The book is a gift for someone else (I'm not buying it for myself, therefore it does not add to MY reading pile)
c. I need the book for a class
6. I will purge!
-- That's right. I will be ruthless. Surprisingly, I did not blog about the two book purges I conducted this year. Something just said to me PURGE PURGE PURGE. So I listened. (Yes, you may call me insane for listening to the voices in my head.) It felt incredibly therapeutic to weed my shelves - so much so that I vow to do it again this year. I have a feeling my hardcovers are going to be hit hard - they need it.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

2008 in Review

It's the beginning of the new year. I will be typing 2008 instead of 2009 for the next few weeks. Now is the time to round up the reads of 2008... now that I have finally posted all the reviews. (Are you inundated yet?)

Reading Goals v. Reality
Read a total of 100 books = I hit 64 and was okay with that (a total of 18,854 pages)
Read 8 classics = Only got around to 1
Read 15 non-fiction = Came close, I read 12
Update reading blog within a week of finishing = epic fail
Don't buy any books = score! I only bought a Vince Flynn which was within the authors allowed

The Year in Genres
Literature = 1 (my one classic)
Memoir = 4
Juvenile = 5
Non-Fiction = 8
Graphic Novels = 13
Romance = 15
Fiction = 18

The Year in Ratings
Like 2007, a slightly better than average year. There were no standouts (nary a 10 in sight) but there were a few 9s.

10 = 0
9 = 3
8 = 6
7 = 12
6 = 17
5 = 10
4 = 9
3 = 3
2 = 1
1 = 3

The Ten Best Books of 2008
This list includes all my 9s and 8s, plus the 7 I thought was the best.

10. Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
9. I Am America (And so can you!) by Stephen Colbert
8. The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo
7. The Dangerous Gentleman by Julia London
6. Shooting War by Anthony Lappe
5. Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
4. La Cucina by Lily Prior
3. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
2. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
1. Where War Lives by Paul Watson

Book 65: The Dangerous Gentleman

TITLE: The Dangerous Gentleman
AUTHOR: Julia London
STARTED: December 24, 2008
FINISHED: December 28, 2008
PAGES: 374
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Phillip Rothembow was dead.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] It was strictly business as Adrian Spence claimed the woman his brother desired. A hasty wedding, and Lilliana Dashell was his—sweet revenge on the father who disinherited him and the brother who let it happen. Their wedding night is a revelation as passionate, innocent Lilliana ignites fires Adrian tries desperately to deny. By day he is a stranger. By night he is the lover of her dreams, and she a shameless wanton in his arms. But Adrian is determined that no woman will ever possess him. And Lilliana knows that her only hope of taming this very dangerous gentleman is to unlock his deepest mysteries and open his shuttered heart to love.

THOUGHTS: Holy Frijoles! A keeper! Can it be true?

I don't know if it was me, the book, or the Christmas season, but this story sure hit the spot. Something about London's romance called to me. I actually hated having to put this book down so I go eat the tasty nummies my grandmother made the entire holiday season. Seriously, I was half-ready to blow off the family I hadn't seen in years to go finish this sucker. Not good for me familial relationships but awesome for my reading mojo.

The heroine was neither simpering not TSTL. She was incredibly smart and emotionally strong, particularly when the Twist (that actually came out of nowhere but worked incredibly) occurred. Lilliana is the type of romance hero I can get behind. She is mature, rational, and not prone to whining or running off like an idiot. She is also not afraid to do what she wants but she had just enough "Sure, walk all over me, sir" to fit with the social era of the book.

Spence is an incredibly hero for a romance novel. He has enough emotional depth to be intersting, but not enough for me to want to hate him or find his story incredibly far-fetched. He acts like a man and when the Twist happens I completely believe how his character reacts. I also think that he is enough of an ass to fulfill the stupid male qoutient of the book but not overwhelm the story with his Alpha-maleness.

The one downside I saw was how The Big Misunderstanding resolved itself. I found it a tad hard believe - not because the resolution wouldn't happen that way, but more that it would not have been that long drawn out. And, once that bit was resolved I thought one of the overarching emotional plot lines was a bit rushed at the conclusion.

On the whole, I hearted this book. (Although I do wonder if it will retain keeper status after a second reading.)

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 62: Neverwhere

TITLE: Neverwhere
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
STARTED: December 1, 2008
FINISHED: December 8, 2008
PAGES: 371
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Neil Gaiman, the genius behind "The Sandman" graphic novels -- which Norman Mailer called "a comic strip for intellectuals" -- delves into novel-length fiction with Neverwhere, a wild and mesmerizing story set in a bizarre and chilling underground London. Neverwhere begins innocently enough: It's the story of Richard Mayhew, a plain man with a good heart. Unhappy in love and in life, Richard is thrust into a dark and evil world when he stops to help a young girl he finds bleeding in the street. Now Richard has much more than work and girlfriend dilemmas on his mind -- now he's wanted by two very evil, powerful, and nasty mercenaries who like to think that they are, in fact, rather gentlemanly. Lyrical, humorous, and horrifying, Neverwhere is a fantastic novel

THOUGHTS: I actually did not love this story, but by golly did I love the world. If I continue to read Gaiman it will be because he can craft a world and characters with such an amazing imagination my jaw drops and I ooh and ahh through the text. For Neverwhere, I could have cared less about Richard Mayhew and his story but I couldn't stop reading. The sassy and witty text, the diverse and well-painted characters, the amazing setting, all of it worked in tandem to make this a book I could not stop reading.

As I read this book, I kept finding myself thinking, 'I want to be a set dresser on this movie!' Gaiman's vivid writing was so imaginative, yet realistic that I wanted to visit the world of London Below. I wanted to smell the smells, hear the noises, and see the grit of the things that fall through the cracks. I kept on thinking of the details you see while waiting in line for a ride at the Magic Kingdom.

For me Neverwhere was not an addictive story but more of a study in how to craft a realm out of thin air.

Additionally, I loved the witty dialog in this book. The sentences of text the characters whip off to one another had me giggling as I read in bed.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 64: The Coffee Trader

TITLE: The Coffee Trader
AUTHOR: David Liss
STARTED: December 16, 2008
FINISHED: December 24, 2008
PAGES: 390
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: It ripples thickly in the bowl, dark and hot and uninviting.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Amsterdam, 1659: On the world’s first commodities exchange, fortunes are won and lost in an instant. Miguel Lienzo, a sharp-witted trader in the city’s close-knit community of Portuguese Jews, knows this only too well. Once among the city’s most envied merchants, Miguel has suddenly lost everything. Now, impoverished and humiliated, living in his younger brother’s canal-flooded basement, Miguel must find a way to restore his wealth and reputation.

Miguel enters into a partnership with a seductive Dutchwoman who offers him one last chance at success—a daring plot to corner the market of an astonishing new commodity called “coffee.” To succeed, Miguel must risk everything he values and face a powerful enemy who will stop at nothing to see him ruined. Miguel will learn that among Amsterdam’s ruthless businessmen, betrayal lurks everywhere, and even friends hide secret agendas.

THOUGHTS: I honestly have no idea why I thought this book would be more about coffee than a coffee trader when it is title The Coffee Trader. Seriously. I must have been having an off day or something. While I was disappointed that coffee did not play a more central role in the book (a let down of my own making) the book was still a decent one. While I took me a long time to find my feet (I clearly was not in the frame of mind to remember character connections) I was never lost or bored.

Miguel is not a nice character. In fact, I would go so far as to call him a selfish idiot. The man cannot manage money, he lies, he cheats, and basically does everything in his power to screw people for his own good. During the entire story, Miguel is working under the assumption that his fortune and all his troubles will disappear in the near future. He never once thinks that he is an idiot who has no idea what he is doing... and the only reason he is still on his feet is through the sheer ability to B.S. while being one lucky duck.

What gets me is that I hated Miguel. I wanted him to lose. I thought he was an ass. But, that same hatred of character is what made this book so readable. I don't think I have ever read a book where I hate a character so much and, yet, still found the book enjoyable.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

BONUS CONTENT!
This book had a few awesome quotes about coffee. My favorite:
Coffee is a drink that brings out great passions in men, and you may be unlocking great forces if you trifle with it.

Book 63: The Roman's Virgin Mistress

TITLE: The Roman's Virgin Mistress
AUTHOR: Michelle Styles
STARTED: December 9, 2008
FINISHED: December 15, 2008
PAGES: 285
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: A little bit further to the harbour wall.

SUMMARY:
[From barnesandnoble.com] Silvana Junia knows what the gossips say about her— and doesn't care! Until a mysterious, dangerous stranger rescues her from the sea, and she's instantly drawn to him.

Lucius Aurelius Fortis is rich and respected. But his playboy past could come back to haunt him if he cannot resist his attraction to beautiful Silvana. And in the hot sun of Baiae, their every move is watched.

Tempted beyond endurance, Silvana will become his mistress. But she has one last shocking secret—which will change everything between them!

THOUGHTS: I have no idea why it took me two weeks to read this book. It wasn't hard... or worth it for that matter. The best part about reading this book was sharing the title with my book club during our last meeting.

RATING: 1/10 [Don't waste your time]

Book 61: The Passionate One

TITLE: McClairen's Isle: The Passionate One
AUTHOR: Connie Brockway
STARTED: November 26, 2008
FINISHED: December 1, 2008
PAGES: 372
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: In 1523 the McClairen chieftain, Dougal of Donne, stood on northern Scotland's high headlands, looked out at a rock island rising from the churning sea, and ordered a fortress built there.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Ash is a smoldering, contained (hence his name) Scotsman; Rhiannon is a fiery young Scotswoman whose clan was destroyed by Ash's people when she was a child. Rhiannon's 10 years of safety and freedom from fear in the village of Fair Badden abruptly end a few weeks before her scheduled wedding to Squire Watt's youngest son, Phillip. When cynical Ashton Merrick--the eldest son of a deceased Scottish mother and a dissolute, sadistic English father--arrives in Fair Badden, he is surprised at the uncomplicated kindness he encounters in the village and is even more astonished to realize he's falling in love with Rhiannon. The remnants of Ash's suspicious nature prove ultimately advantageous, however: he is the only one to realize that certain recent "accidents" involving the penniless Rhiannon are actually threats to her life. Unfortunately, whisking her to McClairen's Isle offers no sanctuary, as Ash discovers his father has far more sinister plans for Rhiannon than making her his fourth wife. Skullduggery, bitter English-Scottish hatreds and harrowing cat-and-mouse pursuits fill the ebb and flow of this 18th-century romance, the first volume of the McClairen's Isle trilogy by veteran romance writer Brockway.

THOUGHTS: The first book in a series... that actually makes me want to read the rest of the series... intriguing. There's certainly nothing groundbreaking in the genre of romance in Brockway's book, but the story is interesting enough that I kept reading. The lead characters act like real people and (bonus!) most of the secondary characters don't come from the usual stock. Actually, from what I can recall of this book, I am actually more interested to read the story of two secondary characters (luckily, they get their own book) than I was in the main story of this book.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 60: Parallel Desire

TITLE: Parallel Desire
AUTHOR: Deidre Knight
STARTED: November 23, 2008
FINISHED: November 26, 2008
PAGES: 335
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: No one was coming.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] On a mission of vengeance, time traveler Scott Dillon finds himself marooned in the past-and risks disrupting the entire universe in his quest to destroy the warrior who killed his wife and unborn child.

A never-ending passion for Scott lures Refarian medic Shelby Tyler to Texas, but the man she finds there is nothing like the man for whom she once cared. Reeling from his loss, Scott has lost himself in drinking and brawling. With her body, Shelby will lift him from despair. And with her heart, she will help him discover a part of his soul he thought was lost forever-and the devastating truth behind the murder of his wife.

THOUGHTS: I remember thinking this book was weird. That's about it.

RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book]

Book 59: Jarhead

TITLE: Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles
AUTHOR: Anthony Swofford
STARTED: November 19, 2008
FINISHED: November 24, 2008
PAGES: 261
GENRE: Military

FIRST SENTENCE: I go to the basement and open my ruck.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] On the surface, Anthony Swofford seemed to be the quintessential "jarhead"; a front-line combat Marine who shouldered 100-pound packs and waded into battle-torn Iraq with little or no hesitation. But, as this harrowing memoir shows, Desert Storm veteran Swofford carried mental baggage far heavier than duffel bags with bed rolls and rifles. Jarhead brandishes the intensity of military life in all its maddening contradictions. By turns, Swofford is presented as terrified, bored, and remorseful; a victim of his own memories and the captain of his own renewal. From boot camp to post-battle doldrums, he struggles through mental minefields and wartime doubts. Unflinching and revelatory (there are frank descriptions of American military behavior during the Kuwaiti campaign that the Pentagon had suppressed), this memoir has become an instant classic.

THOUGHTS: Since I saw the film, the story of this book was not foreign to me. I've also watched one too many documentaries on the Gulf War to think I would actually learn anything new from this book. Despite this, I enjoyed reading Swofford's experience. I actually read this book on my train ride from DC to Albany over Thanksgiving break. Usually any book I read in transit tends to go in one ear and out the other. While the story didn't stick to well, I recall being stunned by the writing.

The prose of this text is gritty and raw. Swofford is so emotional with his story that it almost doesn't matter that structure of the text is somewhat erratic. Swofford crafts vignettes that, in some way, feel personal even to someone who has never been in the armed forces or experienced war. There are sentences and paragraphs in Jarhead that make the reader sit back and feel jealous of the writing the author penned. What I like best about the text is that Swofford pulls no punches. He tells it like it is, good and bad. This means he even takes swipes at himself. It's that type of non-apologetic writing that kept me reading the book and not watching the boats motor down the Hudson River.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Holy Update, Batman!

I have been the worst kind of blogger as of late. Expect a slew of book updates and general updates to come over the next few days.