Saturday, January 23, 2010

When You Reach Me

I finished this book yesterday and I've been trying ever since to come up with the best way to review Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. By now, everybody's most likely heard that it won the Newberry Medal this year and it well deserved. It's a wonderfully beautifully written story.  I'm going to try but there's no way I can do this story justice.

Miranda is in sixth grade. At first she thinks she's got life figured out but things start to fall apart. Her best friend, Sal, no  longer wants to be friends with her after being punched by a stranger on their way home from school for no reason. So Miranda is stuck making new friends and learning how to handle being a latchkey kid after school without Sal to keep her company. Then, one day, mysterious notes began appearing. The first one says, "I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favors. First you must write me a letter." As the story goes on, Miranda realizes that this person knows things about her that there's no way he should know. Who exactly is he? And what does he want from her?

The characters in When You Reach Me are so real and ordinary that I had no problem putting myself in Miranda's shoes. Miranda goes to school, hangs out with friends, helps her mom prepare for The $20,000 Pyramid, refuses to read any book but A Wrinkle in Time (when I finished this book, I was wishing my copy of A Wrinkle in Time was handy so that I could go back and reread it). Stead so deftly weaves in a sci-fi/fantasy element to this story that as a reader, you hardly notice it's showing up until it hits you in the face.

I borrowed this book from the library but I know without a doubt that I will be buying a copy for my library. It's a definite keeper and rereader.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Short Story Reading Challenge

In college I discovered a love for short stories. Since then, I find I'm always either listening to or picking up short stories or collections of short stories and reading them. I think I've learned the most about writing from reading short stories. So, I was delighted when I heard about The Short Story Reading Challenge.  For myself, I'm going to aim at reading five collections over the year. In addition, I want to read at least ten "new to me" short story authors.

I encourage everyone to check out short stories. They can be found everywhere if you look - magazines, books, or websites. Also, if you like to listen to stories, check out PRI Selected Shorts podcasts. They do weekly readings of a wide variety of short stories. It takes an incredible amount of talent to write a story in so few words and, at the same time, move your readers. These authors have amazing talent and I feel that they get overlooked in our society devoted almost entirely to the long novel.

If you're wondering where to start, I recommend Flannery O'Conner. She's one of my favorites. I visited her home three years ago. Below is a picture I took of a barn on her property. When I look at the picture, I can see the scenes from Good Country People playing out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City entertwines two stories centered around the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. The first story is that of the fair itself. He begins with Chicago's bid to win the world's fair. He continues to follow Chicago through the hiring of the architects, led by Daniel Burnham, who designed and built what became known as the "White City." He puts in so many details that show how the 1893 World's Fair changed America - shredded wheat, electricity, Cracker Jacks, ferris wheels, the famous people that attended the fair - from European royalty to Susan B. Anthony to Helen Keller. At the same time, Larson tells us the story of the World's Fair, he also unviels the story of Dr. H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who used the World's Fair as his hunting grounds killing young girls that fell into his trap.

I loved this book. It's probably the best nonfiction book I have ever read. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down. When I did have to stop, you know to sleep or work, the book stayed in the back of mind. I couldn't help wondering how the fair was going to turn out, what happened to the fairgrounds after the fair, was it considered a success. Or, better yet, how many people did Dr. H.H. Holmes kill before he got caught? How did he finally get caught? Larson does a wonderful job of switching back and forth between the two storylines. You can tell he's done a lot of research and knows his subject well.

Before I read this book, all I knew about the 1893 World's Fair was that was where the Ferris Wheel debuted (I had read it in an old magazine somewhere along the line and the story had stuck with me). Now, I know so much more about the fair but I still feel like I have only touched the edge of all that is to be learned about the fair and how it shaped America or about the evil Dr. Holmes.

Definite must read.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fragile Eternity

Fragile Eternity continues Melissa Marr's stories of Faerie that began with Wicked Lovely. The third book in the series, it moves back to focus on the triangle between Aislinn, Seth and Keenan; although this time, it's all about Seth. Seth loves Aislinn but he realizes that he is mortal and she is Faerie which means that he'll die and she'll live for eternity. As summer grows nearer, Aislinn's bond with Keenan, her summer king, continues to grow. Seth can't stand the thought of being without Aislinn or of losing her to Keenan so he sets out to seek immortality for himself. But what will he have to give in exchange for an eternity with Aislinn?

What can I say? These books are very enjoyable. They're fun, enchanting reads. It's easy to relate to the characters. I love both Seth and Keenan and can't really make a choice between the two. I keep thinking I'm going to hate Keenan and then he does something wonderful. Should I doubt his motives?  And Seth, well, he's the super-sexy, faithful guy that every girl wants.  I'm even drawn to the characters of the Dark Court. I keep thinking there's going to be something done that redeems Naill, Donia and Sorcha to where everybody can live together happily ever after. Actually, I think Naill is probably my favorite character in the story - there's something intriguing and alluring about him. Maybe he'll turn out to be the true hero of the story.

Book 2 in the 101 Fantasy Challenge.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I've got a confession: I judged this book by it's title. For some reason, the title made me think it was going to be one of those silly books about how great it was to be southern or an old woman or something like that which meant that it was a frou frou book and I hate those. Friends kept recommending the book. Everywhere I went I saw good reviews on the book. So I finally broke down and read the book. Well, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was anything but frou frou. It takes place in 1946 and focuses mainly on Juliet Ashton who is a writer. Juliet became famous on a series of humorous war articles she wrote during the war. Now, she's looking for a new topic to write about for her next book. One day she receives a letter from a stranger. The man had came into a possession of an old book of poetry written by Charles Lamb that she'd once owned (her name and address were written inside the book). He hoped that Juliet might be able to tell him if Mr. Lamb had written any more books. They start corresponding and she learns that he is a member of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. He explains to her that it is a book club that was started when he and his friends were out past curfew one night during the German occupation of Guernsey, got caught and, because they had been roasting an illegal pig, they needed an alibi. Juliet is intrigued by the story and Dawsey gets the other members to start writing Juliet and telling her their stories. And that's where Juliet finds the topic for her next book.

The book is written in the form of letters back and forth between the different characters. In this case, it allowed the authors to give each character his/her own voice. The authors show a side of war that we don't often see in books - that of the everyday people in towns that were occupied and what war does to them. These people were forced to give up their homes, their food, really their freedom, to enemy soldiers. They weren't soldiers fighting in their war. Yet, they ended up fighting their own battles for survival. At the same time, they learned that not all the enemy soldiers were really enemies. They were people like them caught up in a war that they didn't want to be fighting.

So, I must join the leagues of others in recommending this book. Just don't start reading it late at night because once you get started, you might not be able to stop.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lost Book Club

I think I've mentioned before that I absolutely love the TV show, Lost.  As any Lost viewer knows, there have been lots of books either mentioned or shown during the five seasons of the show. The producers/writers have mentioned that some of these books have been very influential in their writing of the show.  For a while, I've been wanting to read the books and see if I could find any hidden clues to the real meaning of the show. So, I've decided to read as many of the books as possible heading into the this, the final season of Lost. There's no way that I'll get very many of these books read before the final season starts but I'll keep reading and see how many I can get through before the end of the year.  I've found a list on Lostpedia of all the books and I'm going to list them below to help me keep track of the books. If anybody else wants to find out what Sawyer's been reading about on that island, here's the list:

Books in pink are ones that I read before and don't intend on rereading.

Once I read a book for this challenge, I'll mark it in green.

1) After All These Years - Susan Isaacs ("Everybody Hates Hugo")
2) Alices Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll ("White Rabbit", "Through the Looking Glass")
3)  Animal Farm - George Orwell ("Expose")
4) Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume ("The Whole Truth")
5) Bad Twin - Laurence Shames/Gary Troup ("The Long Con" and "Two for the Road")
6) Bluebeard - Charles Perrault ("Adrift")
7) Book of Laws - Manu ("Cabin Fever")
8) The Holy Bible ("What Kate Did", "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Left Behind")
9) A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking ("Not in Portland" and "The Man from Tallahassee")
10) The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky ("Maternity Leave" and "The Whole Truth")
11) Caravan of Dreams - Idries Shah ("Dead is Dead")
12) Carrie - Stephen King ("A Tale of Two Cities")
13) Catch-22 - Joseph Heller ("Catch-22")
14) The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
15) The Coalwood Way - Homer Hickam ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
16) Dark Horse - Tami Hoag ("A Tale of Two Cities")
17) The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger - Stephen King ("The Man from Tallahassee")
18) The Dark Tower II: The Waste Lands - Stephen King ("The Constant")
19) Dirty Work - Stuart Woods ("Orientation" and "A Tale of Two Cities")
20) The Epic of Gilgamesh ("Collision")
21) Everything that Rises Must Converge - Flannery O'Conner ("The Incident, Parts 1 & 2")
22) Evil Under the Sun - Agatha Christie ("Expose")
23) Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury ("Dead is Dead")
24) Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes ("Dead is Dead")
25) The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand ("Par Avion")
26) Grimm's Fairy Tales - Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm ("Via Domus")
27) Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling ("Dues Ex Machina")
28) Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad ("Walkabout", "Numbers", "Confirmed Dead" and "Via Domus")
29) High Hand - Gary Philips ("Orientation")
30) The Holy Qur'an ("The Economist")
31) Hotel - Arthur Haily ("Through the Looking Glass")
32) I Ching (Dharma logos)
33) The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares ("Eggtown")
34) Island - Aldous Huxley ("?", "Pilot, Part 1")
35) Julius Caesar - William Shakespeare ("Two for the Road")
36) Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton ("Expose")
37) Kings of Love: The Poetry and History of the Ni'Matullahi Sufi Order - P. L. Wilson, Nasrollah Pourjavady ("The Economist")
38) Lancelot - Walker Percy ("Maternity Leave")
39) Laughter in the Dark - Vladimir Nabokov ("Flashes Before Your Eyes")
40) Left Behind - Jerry Jenkins and Terry LaHaye ("Left Behind")
41) The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery ("The Little Prince")
42) Lord of the Flies - William Golding ("In Translation", "What Kate Did", "Numbers")
43) Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden ("Exodus, Part 1")
44) Moby Dick - Herman Melville ("Outlaws")
45) The Moon Pool - A. Merritt ("Greatest Hits")
46) Mysteries of Ancient Americas: The New World Before Columbus - Robert Dolezal ("The Incident, Parts 1 and 2")
47) The Mysterious Island - Jules Verne ("Whatever the Case May Be", "TLE")
48) The Oath - John Lescroart
49) An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge - Ambrose Bierce ("The Long Con")
50) The Odyssey - Homer ("Live Together, Die Alone", "Via Domus")
51) Of Mice and Men - John Steinback ("Every Man for Himself")
52) On the Road - Jack Kerouac ("The Shape of Things to Come")
53) On Writing - Stephen King
54) Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens ("Live Together, Die Alone", "Dead is Dead")
55) O Pioneers! - Willa Cather
56) The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton ("Everybody Hates Hugo")
57) The Pearl - John Steinbeck ("Everybody Hates Hugo")
58) Rainbow Six - Tom Clancy ("Orientation")
59) Rick Romer's Vision of Astrology - Rick Romer ("Left Behind")
60) Roots - Alex Haley ("Dead is Dead")
61) A Separate Reality - Carlos Castaneda
62) The Shape of Things to Come - H.G. Wells ("The Shape of Things to Come")
63) The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles ("Eggtown")
64) The Shining - Stephen King
65) Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
66) The Stand - Stephen King
67) The Stone Leopard - Colin Forbes ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
68) Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein ("Stranger in a Strange Land")
69) The Survivors of the Chancellor - Jules Verne
70) A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens ("A Tale of Two Cities")
71) The Third Policeman ("Orientation", "Man of Science, Man of Faith")
72)  Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll ("Through the Looking Glass", "White Rabbit")
73)  To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee ("The Cost of Living")
74) The Turn of the Screw - Henry James ("Orientation")
75) Ulysses - James Joyce ("316", "The Incident, Parts 1 and 2")
76) Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe ("Dead is Dead")
77) Valhalla Rising - Clive Cussler ("Through the Looking Glass")
78) Valis - Phillip K. Dick ("Eggtown", "The Other Woman")
79) Watership Down  - Richard Adams ("Confidence Man", "Eggtown")
80) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum ("Flashes Before Your Eyes", "The Man Behind the Curtain", "Tricia Tanaka is Dead", "There's No Place Like Home, Part 1")
81) A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle ("Numbers")

81 books! Obviously, there will be a lot of these that I won't be getting to (in particular the Ayn Rand).  We'll see how I do. Oh, and by the way, this is a very unofficial challenge.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Fablehaven is the first book in a series of juvenile fantasy novels by Brandon Mull. Kendra and her brother, Seth, are sent to stay with their grandparents at their home while their parents go on a cruise. What they don't know is that their grandparents are the caretakers of Fablehaven, a sanctuary for mythical, magical creatures. On the sanctuary, fairies, trolls, naiads, an enchanted cow, a witch and an evil being exist.  During their stay, an ancient evil is let loose and all of Kendra's family faces death.  In order to save her family, Kendra must overcome her own fears. 

When I first started this story, I couldn't help but think of the similarities between it and The Spiderwick Chronicles. True, there are similarities but these books are for an older audience. They're more advanced, better written and have a stronger plot but they are still pretty simple fantasy books for kids.  I enjoyed the book and found it a fun, easy read. I think most any child would enjoy it, too. Fablehaven would be a good primer for more advanced fantasy series.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The City and the City

The City and the City by China Mieville disguises itself as a run of the mill detective novel.  It begins with the body of a murdered woman being found in the city of Bezel (which is located somewhere in Europe).  Inspector Tyador Borlu is assigned to the case.  As he investigates, he learns that there is something more to this woman's death and it is way bigger than he is.  Borlu's investigation is complicated by the fact that his city, Bezel, exists in the same space as another city, Ul Qoman. The cities crosshatch one another and the citizens of each city "unsee" the other city. Borlu's murder crosses the boundaries of both cities and puts him at odds with unificationists, nationalists, and the ominous Breach.

This book was my first experience with China Mieville although it looks like he has won a number of awards. He tells this story that at it's heart is a detective novel but it has elements of science fiction but doesn't quite cross-over to full fledged science fiction. All in all, it's impossible to put the story in any type of genre which is good.  That makes it unique. This is a short review because I don't know how to describe the book except to say that it was good and worth your time.