Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Weekly Read: 33

Sorry I am getting so behind with these things. Life seems to run away with me at times. But no worries, I am still reading! :) This was an exciting week for me, as Mockingjay, the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, finally came out!

READ: Catching Fire | Suzanne Collins
I have been putting off re-reading Catching Fire until this week, so I could have an almost-uninterrupted reading segue into Mockingjay when my pre-order arrived on Tuesday. Imagine my surprise when I got home from work on Monday and there was my box from Amazon, at my house a day early! :o I was thrown into a whirlwind - what do I do? Mockingjay is here, and I need to read it RIGHT NOW, but I still hadn't re-read Catching Fire yet, that was my plan for Monday night. What do I do? WHAT DO I DO??? After I calmed myself down, I set Mockingjay aside and sat down for my Catching Fire re-read, like a sensible person. And yes, it only took me one night (with very little sleep) before I finished and dove into the new book. So, do you want to hear about Catching Fire? Since this blurb is supposed to be about that particular book? It sucked me in all over again, made me cry again. When you truly come to love these characters, it is hard to see them in pain, even when you know exactly what is going to come. And I do love Katniss, and Peeta, and Gale. I want to see them happy, and I know that probably isn't likely. This book is thrilling, though, and full of exciting action, as well as emotional moments. Now onto the third! :D

READ: Mockingjay | Suzanne Collins
This is the #1 book I have been waiting for this year. You could characterize the height of my anticipation by calling it Harry-Potter-sized. It's always hard to write about the last book of a series, because no matter how awesome, there will be disappointment, if only because you are hearing the last about characters you have grown to love. This third book in the Hunger Games trilogy is somehow even more violent and real than the first two, because we get a glimpse of the true story of civil war: people die, on both sides, who don't deserve it, and others have to make excruciating, no-win decisions. Katniss is in a horrible position - she knows that she needs to step up to help the rebels, but in doing so, she keeps the people she loves on the front line with her. Much has been built up about the love triangle of Katniss-Peeta-Gale in this series, but to be honest, I feel like any romantic love they have for one another comes secondary to the absolute need of maintaining their friendships. It's hard to believe that their relationships could degenerate to the point that friendship is being questioned, but there it is. My heart ached for Peeta, who was made to endure the biggest turnaround character-wise, because most of the time, if he could see himself, he would have been shocked and ashamed.  For the most part, I think events unravelled in the only possible way they could. The action was fast-paced and realistic, and characters, both new and old, were engaging and real, to the point that their deaths were truly horrific and painful to read. I think they can be compared with the deaths in the last Harry Potter book - they are significant, yet matter-of-fact and unromanticized. In most ways, I find the ending satisfying. There are a few estrangements that I don't necessarily believe, but with all that Katniss and the others went through, they are not that surprising. Such traumatic events really change a person, and as much as we would like to see relationships as unbreakable and unchanging, that's just not the case. I'm not going to talk about the people who died, because honestly, I don't want to spoil anything for anyone that happens upon this review. Also, I am tired of crying. Despite the short epilogue, there is much about their futures we don't know, and will never know. I, for one, am OK with that. Most of the time.

READ: The Lonely Polygamist | Brady Udall
After one more marathon session at the bookstore, I finally finished this book this week. For the most part, I enjoyed this book, much more than I expected to. Writing that makes me think, why didn't I expect to like this book, and why, if I had such low expectations, did I go to such effort to read it? I think my main concern was the subject matter - would it be ok to come to care about characters who are polygamists? To like them, despite their strange and awkward way of life? As to why I read it, despite these concerns, part of it was stubbornness - I'd placed a hold on this at the library when I first hear about it, and had waited months for it to come in, so by golly, I was going to read it. And then, I HAD to finish it. Plus, there is just something about books that make your brain stretch, think, and form opinions. I don't always want that, but I do need it at times. As for my concerns about liking the characters, in some ways, didn't have too much to worry about. Golden Richards is a hard man to like. Not only does he have 4 wives and 28 children, who he barely sees, but he seems sort of confused as to how he ended up here. Add to that his recent infatuation with a married woman and his snowballing lies to the rest of his family about his job situation, and you come up with a guy you just want to yell at for about an hour straight. Slowly, though, we get to know Golden - his sad and lonely childhood, his confusing entrance into the world of plural marriage, his overwhelming grief at the death of a beloved daughter, and his desire to be happy. In the end, I still can't say that I really liked Golden, but I certainly sympathized with him, wanted him to turn his life around and be happy, and rejoiced when he started taking control of his life and responsibility for his own actions. Despite the overwhelming number of characters, this book really centered on Golden, his 4th wife, Trish, and one of his many sons, 11-year-old Rusty. Like Golden, Trish and Rusty both struggle with the seemingly impossible feeling of loneliness in the midst of a large, polygamist family. Trish is the most isolated of the wives, living by herself in a tiny house with her one daughter, mourning the stillborn death of her most recent son. What Trish wants more than anything is to really be a part of this large, loud, overwhelming family, to be loved and treasured by her husband, and to have more children, and after pursuing what she wants, she gets it.  Rusty. Poor, confused, unloved, desperate Rusty. Despite being kind of a jerky kid, Rusty comes out as the most likable character in the book for me. He is one of those kids that can't figure out the "right" way to act to get what he wants. Yes, he wants attention, but not the kind he's getting. What Rusty wants to just to be remembered and loved, but he'd settle for just being remembered. Instead of being accepted, Rusty becomes the butt of everyone's jokes, the family punching bag, and experiment in the effects of punishment. So it's no surprise that Rusty ends up acting out the way he does. And it's a fitting end that it is Rusty, the seemingly least-lovable son, who brings the family together.  In the end, all of the many characters in this book are well-written and realistic, which is truly a feat with a novel and cast list this size. The prose is engaging and enjoyable to read, and at times I had to fight to put it down. I think the enduring message everyone can take away from this one is treasure your family, whether it's chosen or otherwise. Enjoy and love everyone while you still can.  And maybe one more thing: don't be a polygamist, because it's just too hard.

READ: Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook | Sarah Schmelling
When I first heard of this book, I found the concept really amusing: characters from classic novels interacting in a modern, internet-focused setting. It was fairly inexpensive on Amazon, so I ordered a copy, figuring I could pass it amongst my friends once I'd finished it. And it is pretty darn funny at times, especially if you've read the books and authors parodied inside. And are a facebook user, of course. Some, of course were funnier than others. I think my favorites were Romeo and Juliet with its teen over-exaggeration and angst ("Juliet OMG hooked up with random guy! Don't even know his NAME"), Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with its differing font sizes and comments from a wide range of characters and authors (Morpheus and Neo from the Matrix, Charlie, Jack, Kate and Sawyer from Lost, Dorothy Gale, Harry Potter, Gregor Samsa, Dr. Jekyll, Peter Pan, James Joyce), and Lord of the Flies with its 20th Reunion page (Jack still pisses me off, for the record). It definitely got slow in places, though, and I would say this is more of a book to leave around the house and flip through every once in a while instead of reading straight through.  But overall, it was a good bit of amusement, and hopefully my friends will think so, too.

READ: Wildwood Dancing | Juliet Marillier
When I started reading this, I was pleased to discover that not only was this a fairy tale retelling of sorts, but it combined several fairy tales, and quite well. The best sort of retellings are like this - themes and aspects of the story are borrowed, but not just regurgitated. The re-imagined setting was also wonderfully built - a mountainous area of Transylvania, complete with fairy lore and roaming vampires! Jena is a compelling heroine - she is strong and independent, passionate and loyal to her family. I agree with the advice everyone gave her throughout the book, however - what she needed was to look after herself, and not worry about her sisters. I loved Gogu, and am so glad that he also got the ending he deserved. I couldn't bring myself to hate Jena's cousin, Cezar. Mostly, I felt sorry for him. He was clearly jealous of his brother, and guilty about the life/death he wished on him. In the end, though I hated the way he was treating Jena and her sisters, trying to take over their lives, all I could do was pity him. I could just see him as a sad little boy, who wanted to be loved and be the favorite for once. The other characters were interesting as well, though they could have used a little more character development past their initial descriptors. I'm glad this is a series, so we can hear more about Paula and the other girls. In the end, I enjoyed reading this one quite a bit, and had a hard time putting it down, and even feel like re-reading the ending. And what better can I say?

What's up for next week? Finishing up a last book or two for the Summer reading challenge, possibly a book for bookclub, maybe a little reading break. We shall see!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Weekly Read: 32

This book is a prime example of why I always stick with a book, even if it starts out slow. This was really dragged on for me during the first 20% or so, but I'm so glad that I kept reading, because the pace soon quickened and I ended up not only learning a lot, but enjoying it quite a bit. This book is really like 2-1/2 stories woven together. The beginning was so hard for me because I was having a hard time keeping track of who was who, and the story jumping back and forth was confusing. Suddenly, though, it all clicked in to place, and I couldn't put it down. I find fairs inherently fascinating, so reading about such a seminal fair was really interesting. I love Ferris Wheels, and to be honest, I had never even wondered who first thought of suspending people in carriages on a movable wheel. I really wanted Burnham and the fair to be a success, and despite the tragic end of the expedition, I feel like in the end, he was. The story of Holmes' many lives and lies was equally intriguing, and it is amazing to think how close he came to never being caught. The thought that someone could actually be so cruel and heartless is almost unbelievable, but there it is. It is true, which makes it even more sad.

READ: The Wordy Shipmates | Sarah Vowell
Before reading this book, I was aware it was about Puritans, but for some reason, I had in my head that it was going to be about the Pilgrims somehow. Sarah Vowell would not be surprised to hear this, I am sure, because she is too well aware that most of our popular knowledge about the Puritans comes from elementary school plays and, brief references in TV shows and movies. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find a detailed and full history of the group of non-separatist Pilgrims that traveled to the New World starting in 1630 with the Massachusetts Bay Company. This group eventually founded Boston, Salem, and much of Rhode Island. This group is influential not only in the history of politics, but also in religion. These historical characters came to life, and through their journals, letters, and published works, we truly get to know what they thought and felt living in such a new and drastically different land. I think my favorite person was Anne Hutchinson, whose radical religious views got her exiled from Boston, but who would actually fit in quite well with today's evangelical Christians. It's a testament to her strength of will and spirit that she didn't bow to pressure to stay silent about her beliefs, but always spoke her mind. Vowell has a wry sense of humor, and at every point, shines a light on the past to show it's relevance to our current events. Overall, this one was quite enjoyable to read.

STILL READING: The Lonely Polygamist | Brady Udall
In the week after returning from Israel but before leaving for Disney-Wedding-Con in Anaheim/San Diego last month, I finally got this book from the library. Try as I might, I just didn't have time to finish it, and so had to return it to the library only half read. It has been intriguing so far, though, so I definitely wanted to finish it sooner rather than later. The hold line at the library is still super long, though, and I didn't want to buy it, so this week I have retreated to my old stand-by - sit at the book store for hours and read there. :) I made it through about 100 pages this week, and I will hopefully finish up the last 200 pages next week!

This coming week, I will be focusing on finishing up the books I am currently reading, as this month and the summer challenge are quickly coming to a close. Hopefully I will be able to finish both The Lonely Polygamist and Lamb. But also, Mockingjay FINALLY comes out on Tuesday, and I've had it pre-ordered for months! So I also plan on re-reading Catching Fire (the 2nd book in the Hunger Games trilogy), and then diving right in to Mockingjay! I'm so excited! :D  Hope you all have a great reading week!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Weekly Read: 31

Back to normal again this week! 

READ: Letters to Juliet | Lise Friedman & Ceil Friedman
I requested this book from the local library after seeing the movie Letters to Juliet with my mom, and was not disappointed. Rather than being a novel similar to the movie, this book is more about the history that we know of the "real" Juliet and Romeo, and the history of the character's relationships to the city of Verona. Included in that is the history of the Secretaries of Juliet, the Club of Juliet, and the phenomenon of letters written to Juliet. I enjoyed reading a sampling of actual letters written to Juliet, and this definitely inspires me to travel to Verona. Of course, I wish we could know more facts about who the real Juliet really was, and if she truly existed, but it's reached the point in history where we most likely will never know any more. The world will have to be satisfied with the fantasy of Juliet and the everlasting love that she represents.

READ: Wintergirls | Laurie Halse Anderson
This one is a truly sad story about a girl trapped in her body and her mind by a horrible disease - anorexia. I listened to the audio version of the book, and if felt most of the time like Lia was talking directly to me, letting me into her thoughts. And her mind was a scary place a lot of the time. You could tell she loved her little sister, that she missed her best friend, who had recently passed away due to complications from bulimia. You could tell she was angry at her parents, who she blamed to an extent for her disease. It wasn't until she hit the bottom, near death, that she finally realized that yes, she wanted to live, have a future, and be happy. This book is unbelievable sad, but definitely an interesting one to read, and a must-read if you know anyone suffering from an eating disorder. 

I'm still picking away at this one, and it's still going really slow. I think that is because I'm not really invested in any of the characters, so I'm not really feeling pushed to know what happens. Hopefully as the fair approaches, the pace will pick up.

Up next week: Hopefully I'll have finished The Devil in the White City, and I want to finish several others as well, e.g. The Lonely Polygamist, Lamb, and Practical Magic. Happy reading!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Weekly Read: 30

I feel like I'm finally starting to get back to normal with my reading, at least a little bit. I don't know why the summer always does this to me. Maybe it's too pretty outside to focus, or there's too much to do?

READ: Meanwhile | Jason Shiga
One of my only purchases at Comic-Con was this awesome choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel. My friend Anne picked this book up one day, and I was so fascinated by it, I had to go get one for myself! And we lucked out, because the day we went back to the booth to get me one was the day Jason Shiga was there, signed his books and chatting. He is a cool, friendly guy, with a crazy-smart brain in his head. He has my new favorite collection - vintage choose-your-own-adventure books! This collection was clearly his inspiration for this book, which just so happens to be coolest choose-your-own-adventure book I've ever seen. What sets this book apart from others is not only the clever and seemingly infinite plots, but the mind-bendingly complicated and awesome style. I love the tabs on each page, and the way you follow pipes through the tabs to continue your story, sometimes only pausing on a page for a quick pipe loop before moving onto another tab. This is a book you don't just sit down and read once. This is a book you buy, leave in a high traffic area of your home, and read through a different story every time you pass it. It's definitely not to be missed! :) Plus, contemplating the ramifications of time travel is always fun.

READ: Belle: a Retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" | Cameron Dokey
I love fairy tale retellings, and this Once Upon a Time series is one of my particular favorites. I enjoy the light-hearted happiness of this series because it is so easy and unstressful to read. The characters in this particular book, Belle and the Beast, were both likable, and had good chemistry together. The support cast was interesting and fully developed as well. My only complaint is I felt like the author spent a lot of time building up interesting characters, and getting them in the same location, and then the pace suddenly sped up and it was "happily ever after" before you could blink. I wish there had been more time with Belle and the Beast at the castle, and I wish more time was spent with the interesting side characters as well. I feel like Belle's sisters were what set this story apart from other retellings of the same tale, and it would have been nice to have more consideration given them at the end. To be honest, though, I feel like this complaint cannot be directed at the author, Dokey, but at the publishing company to an extent. It seems like they give a standard number of pages to the books in this series, and the books have to fit into that number. If instead they were allowed to develop to whatever length they needed to be, then yes, you would have some longer books, but they would be more full and complete.

READ: Wild Orchid: a Retelling of "The Ballad of Mulan" | Cameron Dokey
Much like Belle, this was a fun, feel-good tale that is comfortable to read. Mulan is one of my favorite Disney characters, so I found it really fascinating to get a different glimpse of her story. I liked Mulan's strength and courage, her determination to protect her family. Her relationship with Jian developed rather quickly, but that is not surprising in a book like this. They did truly feel connected, and I was happy to see their story end the way it did: happy. I just wish these books were longer, because I am always left wanting to know more of the story, of their continued adventures together. Because of this, I would really rate this one 4.5 stars. Altogether enjoyable, though.

READ: Stargirl | Jerry Spinelli
I was a big fan of Jerry Spinelli when I was growing up, specifically of his books Maniac McGee and There's a Girl in My Hammerlock, which came out when I was 9 and 10 respectively. Because of this, I've been wanting to read some of his later books for a while. Stargirl was hard to read at times. Kids can be mean. I think all of us know this, regardless of whether we grew up in a small town like Mica or a big city. The high school that I went to in the suburbs of Seattle was certainly more diverse than Mica, but that doesn't mean that kids didn't get picked on in similar ways. Stargirl is a unique person and to see people trying to change her was painful. The traits that the others kids shun her for will eventually be celebrated as she gets older. I had mixed feelings about Leo - he was endearing and likable, but I resented that he made Stargirl feel like she had to change, and then, when she reverted to her true self, abandoned her. Though I did like the open-ended ending, I'm still not sure if he really deserves a second chance with her. Overall, though, it was entertaining, and I plan to read the sequel, eventually. I am looking forward to reading Stargirl's perspective of the whole situation.

STARTED: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America | Erik Larson
I picked this book up at least 6 or 7 years ago because it sounded so interesting. I love fairs, and true stories, and it seemed like an interesting mix of fair history and true crime. For some reason or another, though, it kept being shunted to the bottom of the read pile. I finally picked it up to read this week. So far, it's going really slow. There are three stories going on, one involving the planning of the World's Fair, one involving a murderous psychopath, and one involving another guy, though I'm not sure how he fits in. Hopefully this one will pick up steam, because so far, it's slow going.

Up next week: keeping on track with my reading goals, and hopefully finishing some books up.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Weekly Read: 29

This week was solely focused on finishing my book for book club. Hopefully next week I can start to focus on getting some other reading done.

READ: Travels | Michael Crichton
I've read quite a few books by Michael Crichton, and quite enjoy his writing style, so it is no surprise to me that I enjoyed his style in writing a memoir. His style is engaging and his plots are interesting. What did surprise me, however, was that this book was not just about traveling. The first section, devoted to stories from his med school days, was unexpected but quite interesting, and you can see how E.R. was spawned from these experiences. Also unexpected were sections on Crichton's mystical "travels" with psychics, astral projection, seeing auras, and the like. Honestly, as hard as Crichton is trying to convince me that all of these experiences were real and true, I just can't believe him, and that leads me to the conclusion that he himself was a little off his rocker. It's funny, too, because these types of events are some that I enjoy quite a bit in fiction, but when you try to say that this stuff really happens, I am kind of dumbfounded. Perhaps I am just too skeptical. I was amused and entertained by his stories of talking to cactuses and visiting the aural plane, but in my mind, all this stuff happened in his head. Besides that stuff, though. there are parts of this book that I really liked. I especially liked the sections where he travels to exotic locales and experiences things I likely never will myself, such as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and walking into the middle of a ground of mountain gorillas. Overall, I'm taking away from this book a couple of things. First of all, Crichton's main thesis seems to me that we need to step outside our selves and take a look at the world around us, and never take anything for granted. Secondly, Michael Crichton was quite a bit loonier than I ever would have imagined. Oh well! He was still a great writer, and hopefully no one is offended by my views on this stuff.

Next week will involved more time spent reading! Hopefully. :) I am ever hopeful!