My latest reads

I’ve read a lot of books since my last update due to my New Year’s resolution to read 70 books in 2012. Have you made any reading or writing resolutions? I got my boyfriend to try for 70 books as well, so I’m pumped about getting this done! Here are the books I’ve read since my last update – you can click on the covers to view/buy them online:


1) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler – I finished this a while ago, and I gave it five stars on GoodReads. Butler’s writing was vivid and difficult to read at times because of the subject matter, but touching and awesome when it needed to be. I liked the relationship between Dana and her husband, which was romantic without being saccharine; it also showed the racism of the late 1970s that mixed-race couples experienced, which was then juxtaposed with the brutal racism of the 1800s. I also appreciated how Dana was portrayed as a strong woman but one who had conflicting emotions about the plantation owner. I thought that was true to her character, and added shades of gray to the novel when I wasn’t really expecting any. I adored Dana, and felt extremely connected to her, which is something I haven’t felt about a literary character in a long time.


2) The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards – I admit with no shame that I am not the best book reviewer or writer, so I was hoping this little book would help me. While there were some good tips throughout and a huge list of resources at the end, I found most of this guide to be extremely repetitious and poorly edited. Sections could have been combined to save from the verbosity, and countless run-on sentences made for a tedious reading experience. I would suggest looking elsewhere for a book about the art of reviewing.


3) On Agate Hill by Lee Smith – This wasn’t as good as I was hoping. When I read the summary on Amazon, it looked like something I would love; a fictitious collection of court records, letters, and diary entries from the days of the Reconstruction era, that follow the life of one woman from childhood to her death. Supposedly, these documents were found in the attic of the house she grew up in, and the main story is framed with the letters of the person who found them. It sounds like the book was written just for me, but I kept losing interest when I got past the first few chapters. Parts of the novel were well done and engaging, like the sections about her time as a child and when she was a teacher, and a bit at the end that I won’t spoil, but huge chunks of this novel could have been cut. I hate it when authors write about the same event from different character’s perspectives without changing the style of writing or even what the characters are thinking. That literary technique only works if you are showing how different their views are, but not if you are going to simply repeat their observations. Also, the technique of using letters/diary entries to document this woman’s life, as well as the inclusion of the framing narrative, seemed a bit unnecessary and clunky. I still don’t really get the point of the framing narrative or it’s connection/relevance to the protagonist’s journey, so I probably would have liked this better as a linear novel rather than a collection of documents.


4) The Ghost of Blackwood Hall by Carolyn Keene (or whoever actually wrote this one) – I don’t know what to say about this, because I truly love all Nancy Drew books. She’s a smart, kick-ass girl who solves mysteries and lives in a crime-ridden but otherwise perfect world. Her main gripe is that her dad is sometimes too awesome and her dog barks. I just love the old-timeyness of these, and how Nancy showcases bravery, intelligence, and strength when taking down the baddies. Certainly, sometimes it can be problematic, but it’s like 98% awesome.


5) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Five stars. Almost flawless. Beautiful writing, humorous, haunting, exciting, and one of the greatest literary journeys anyone could take. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read this. I know this is trite, but I didn’t want it to end. I wish someone would find a long-lost manuscript for a sequel, but that will never happen. I don’t want to say any more because so many others have had the same reaction to this book but have written more eloquently on their thoughts. Get your hands on this if you haven’t already! You can download a free Kindle app for your computer and download the book for free on Amazon.


6) Dust Tracks On a Road by Zora Neale Hurston – I was disappointed when I finished this, but my love of Hurston bumped this up from a 2-star rating to a 3. I believe part of the issue I had with this biography was that I just finished Great Expectations (which has a vastly different tone, style and narrative) and I couldn’t wrap my brain around this one for a while. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the book that I started to get into the flow of it. I appreciated Hurston’s thoughts about race and class, and I found her story to be interesting and important, but the writing itself didn’t have the same power for me as her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God. You should definitely read this anyway, and pass it on to friends, because it would be such a tragedy if the world forgot her works again.


7) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Doctor Who meets The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. So, basically, I enjoyed it immensely. The elements of time and space travel coupled with a fierce, brave young girl made this one of my new favorite YA/children’s novels. If I tell you what I truly appreciated about it, I would be giving away a huge spoiler, so I’ll refrain myself. Check this out from the library if you haven’t read it yet, especially if you enjoy sci-fi/fantasy and strong girl leads.


8) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – When I read the first chapter of this book, I had a sense that this was going to be my favorite book of all time, usurping that title from The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. Oh dear, was I wrong. While the story itself is interesting, certainly enough to hold your attention, I absolutely cannot take the treatment of the female characters in this book. Objectified doesn’t even begin to cover it. I understand that the author doesn’t always hold the same ideas as his characters, but every! single! woman! in the novel is a sex object for the dude characters – and then there’s rape, murder, assault, etc. The author must have some huge contempt for women or something; there’s no grand message here that I’m missing – it’s just disheartening. It takes away most of any enjoyment I might have had from this book. I haven’t finished it completely (I have about 80 pages left), but I hope the end wraps up the random plots in the book because, if they aren’t, then it would really feel like a waste of a read. So upsetting, especially considering all the hype around this book.

What’s next on my reading list? I’m still deciding. I want to read a lady author, maybe Cristina Garcia’s Monkey Hunting. I have to see what I’m in the mood for after Shadow of the Wind.

Expect more frequent posts here, because I’m reading up a storm! It’s a huge relief to be done with school, and now I have all this free time to spend with my books. Yay.

Book reviews and the zine distro

I’ve spent the past month finishing my degree program at IADT and redesigning the distro website. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reading on my Kindle, and I’m glad that I now have a lot of time to do that. One thing I missed while in school was all the hours I could devote to reading – and now I have them back.

Here are two reviews of the books I read recently. I’ve copied the reviews from my Goodreads account.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: Harry Potter meets Peter Pan. It was an interesting story, definitely a page turner, and I loved the pictures throughout the book. I used to think it would be cool to take my antique/vintage photographs and write a story about them, so I was excited to see what Riggs did with it. Overall, I would recommend this book to most readers. It’s a fast read, interesting plot, and beautiful to look at. But I took off two stars for the following reasons:

1) The end obviously sets it up for a sequel. The main plot was not wrapped up at all. It ends so awkwardly that I was expecting there to be another chapter…but there wasn’t.

2) The character development could have been stronger. SPOILER ALERT! We only get to know one of the Peculiars beyond her ability – everyone else is just…their ability. Floaty girl! Invisible boy! Tree girl! I wanted to delve more into the psychology of the kids, but it never happened. /SPOILER

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto: I’ve read five or six of Yoshimoto’s novels, and this one falls in the middle. It wasn’t as good as Kitchen (which remains, by far, my favorite) but not as weak as Goodbye, Tsugumi. This is a quick read, and the style, ending, and pace made it feel more like a short story.

I like how Yoshimoto slowly exposes the character of Nakajima. I read on Good Reads that his big secret is revealed on the back cover, but I read this on my Kindle so I didn’t have that problem. I think knowing his secret would ruin most of this book, as the true beauty of the writing is showcased by that slow revelation. I also enjoy Yoshimoto’s simple, conversational prose – it’s definitely easy reading, which is something we all need once in a while.

Sometimes the dialogue was a bit heavy handed and filled with aphorisms. I guess that’s true of most of her work, but it’s been a while since I’ve read one of her books. I also think this is a very dysfunctional love story, but certainly not as dysfunctional as, say, the love story in Twilight. I did like that the narrator recognized its dysfunction, but she sort of pushed it all away in her mind because of her love for him.

Overall, I’d recommend this over some of her other books. It’s probably a good introduction to her writing style and stories.

————–

Right now, I’m reading Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. I have a very strong attachment to Dana (the narrator) – she’s pretty kick ass, smart, and maybe my favorite literary character in a while. I love the time travel element, but I also find it completely terrifying. Butler has a way of transporting the reader right into the middle of the story, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Next, I will probably read The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards. I could really use any help in the writing area, and this looks like a good place to start.

On V.C. Andrews, Wastelands, and Why I Hate Stephen King

I finished A Moveable Feast, and found it much better than The Sun Also Rises (well, most books are) but not as good as A Farewell to Arms. I keep trying to find a Hemingway as good as the latter book, but nothing has really come close. I’m kind of done with him right now, anyway. I was thinking of reading The Paris Wife, but I will put that off for the time being.

After A Moveable Feast, I moved on to Flowers in the Attic. I read it when I was a child, around 9 or 10, and I loved it – probably because it had sex and curse words in it, and I knew this was something my mother would never have let me read had she known what it was about. I read the entire series at that age, and was absolutely fascinated by this twisted family and their stranger-than-soap-opera lives. As a 28-year-old woman, the story was still captivating and I could see why the story drew me in at that age; the narrator, Catherine, is very relatable as she goes through budding sexual feelings, emotional changes, and the general pre-teen/teenage angst. Of course, it’s framed in the most fucked up story imaginable, but the core of Catherine’s growing up rings true to many young persons’ experiences.

Looking at the story with the knowledge I have now, of how racism/sexism/ableism/etc manifest themselves, I did see that the author has this obsession with beauty and being perfect and white and blonde, and how any imperfection is deemed horrifying and not worth living with. I know that V.C. Andrews suffered a spinal injury and spent most of her life in a wheelchair, so I was trying to think of how she was using the themes in FitA to make some grand statement about disability/racism/sexism, but I couldn’t piece anything together to make it fit any other mold than fucked up beauty standards.

Besides that, the writing was atrocious (I am no Shakespeare, but can pick out crap writing from oceans away) and some of the story seemed to drag on, despite the page-turniness (new word!) of the book. I’m glad I read it again, if only to laugh at what I thought was *ama-zing literature* when I was a wee child.

Now I’m half-way done with Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, which I purchased on my Kindle when I went through my dystopia obsession. Well, I’m not really through that obsession – I imagine I will always be in it. This book is a compilation of (mostly dude) writers and their short stories about the after-effects of the Apocalypse. I bought this based on a recommendation, and am bummed that there has only been one woman author out of the ten stories I’ve read so far. I can’t say I’m surprised, but still frustrating.

Most of the stories have been good, though. My favorite was “When Sysadmins Ruled the World” by Cory Doctorow, which spoke to my computer nerd self and showed us what might happen to the internet if the world went to shit. I also liked “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels” by George R.R. Martin, which was about the human population living underground for decades after a nuclear attack, and what that did to their biology/psychology. My least favorite was “The End of the Whole Mess” by Stephen King – I even went into that one with an open mind, knowing that I hated every King book I have read thus far. His stories are just so dragged out and his characters are straight-up asshats, and I can never pump myself up enough to give a shit about anything he writes. I want to appreciate his work, and I keep going trying to find something I like, but no – apparently, this is impossible. I do like some of his movies, though, and his concepts are interesting and would make awesome books if he didn’t write them.

After Wastelands, I’ll probably dive into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which intrigued me with its antique photo cover. Never judge a book by it’s cover? Pffft, I say. I also bought Alice I Have Been: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin, and you can guess why I picked that one up. Or maybe I’ll just tell you – I’m a big Alice in Wonderland fan. I liked it before it was cool to like it (how hipster of me to say – I apologize), so I’m in heaven with all these Alice-related books popping up.

What have you been reading lately?

On How I Might Be Related to Ernest Hemingway

I finally finished The Age of Dreamingby Nina Revoyr, and ended up giving it two stars on Goodreads.com, which translates to “it was okay”. It was very flawed in many aspects, mostly having to do with the ending that seemed completely tacked on, and the unnatural way the plot twist was revealed, but overall, it kept my interest. I love silent movies, so I enjoyed all the references to Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, the way the movies were filmed, and the contrast between silents and talkies. The first third of the book is painfully slow (that’s why it took me so long to finish), but once we learn more about the happenings of the murder case, it really picks up. The narrator was naive, almost child-like in the way he viewed people, and it was a weird juxtaposition when he kept stating that he was a ladies man. I just didn’t buy that, and it really feels off when you get to the end of the novel. I would recommend this if you enjoy works about silent movies, filmmaking, and/or racism in the early days of film and beyond.

I started reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, which I picked up at this awesome independent bookstore (Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe) in Washington, DC. I loved it so much, that we went back twice and I purchased four novels. I wish we had places like that where I live – the closest that we have here are either not wheelchair accessible or too far to drive to. This is why I would love to live in a city – awesome shops and places to eat or hang out wherever you look. But back on point – A Moveable Feast. I am a huge fan of A Farewell to Arms and Hemingway’s style of writing – the beautiful simplicity and organic flow of words that just hit you right in the heart. I have also read The Sun Also Rises, and hated it so much, plot-wise (let’s get drunk! Let’s go to the bull fight! Let’s go back to our hotel and get drunk! Let’s go back to the bull fight, drink, and go back to our hotel to drink some more!), but the writing was still fantastic. Or, as Hemingway would say, it was very nice. A Moveable Feast is a collection of autobiographical stories by Hemingway, and so far, it is beyond fascinating. I went to bed last night thinking about it, and it makes me want to write. The last book I read that evoked this sort of reaction was Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez, and I read that almost two years ago. I’m not even half way done with A Moveable Feast, but I can’t recommend it enough. If you plan on reading it, purchase (or borrow from the library) the restored version, as it reflects his original intentions with the novel as well as unfinished manuscripts that have been included in their own section.

You may be wondering what is up with the title of the blog post. I was reading the forward, written by Hemingway’s son, and came across this passage: “When I was a young person being raised in the Roman Catholic religion of my maternal grandmother, Mary Downey, born in County Cork, I heard [the Bible] read from the pulpit during service on Sundays and feast days.” My ancestral name is Downey, or so I thought until my dad and cousin informed me that it’s actually MacEldowney, and was shortened to Downey. But maybe Hemingway’s family did the same thing! Realistically, there are a lot of Downeys from Ireland and we are probably not related – but my cousin is still going to look into it, because there is always that chance that one is related to a famous author. I’m just going to pretend Hemingway is my cuz until I found out differently.

Reading, Watching, Listening

What I’ve been reading: Issues of Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Insider, Doctor Who comics on my iPad (do you see a theme emerging?), and I just started The Age of Dreamingby Nina Revoyr. I’ve been quite consumed by all things Doctor Who lately, thanks to the new season, but I decided to start this book by Revoyr. I’m a huge fan of silent movies, so when my friend mentioned it on her book blog, I had to pick it up. It’s about a Japanese silent movie star named Jun Nakayama telling the story of his life 40 years later to a newspaper reporter. I’m only two chapters in, but I’m already loving it. The narrator’s voice is a bit stiff and overly formal in spots, but I’m guessing that has more to do with the history/time of the subject matter than the author’s writing style. It’s certainly not a perfect book, but I’m still enjoying it immensely. I’ll just pretend I didn’t notice those weird transitions between time frames and the absurdity of some of the plot elements.

What I’m Reading Next: I’m definitely going to tackle Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, which is an anthology of 22 apocalyptic stories by authors like Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Nancy Kress, and more. It’s been on my Amazon wish list for a while, and all this talk about the rapture lately has rekindled my desire to read it. I’ve always enjoyed a good end-of-the-world, dystopian, or natural-disasterish novel, so I’m expecting to love the snot out of Wastelands. After I finish that, I might gravitate toward a Cristina Garcia (The Lady Matador’s Hotel) or Julia Alvarez (Return to Sender) novel – I need to give my Latina authors some much-needed reading time.

What I’ve Been watching: Doctor Who, season 6. LOVE IT. Eccleston will always be my Doctor, but Matt Smith is inching his way up there on my list. Amy is less obnoxious this season, and I even find myself warming up to River Song. I know, I know, blasphemy – but she’s kind of bad ass this season. I think that may have something to do with the fact that she’s not saying “spoilers!” every ten seconds. The last episode, The Doctor’s Wife written by Neil Gaiman (!!!), was super sexy and epic and, quite frankly, a Whovian’s wet dream – my favorite of the season thus far. The dark, fairy-tale feel of season six is quite to my liking; I know a lot of fans have been complaining about how “different” Moffat’s style is compared to Russell T. Davies, but that’s exactly what I like about Doctor Who. It’s constantly changing and always keeping you on your toes. I like a variety of styles and genres, so as long as the Doctor is there, I’ll watch it.

I’m also watching Warehouse 13, which is a show on the SyFy channel. I’m almost done with season one, and it’s just okay. Too many cheesy one-liners and it’s trying too hard to be Bones meets The X-Files. Bleh. I probably won’t download season two. It’s not nearly as good as Eureka.

I’ve been hearing a lot about the BBC show “Being Human”, so I decided to give that a go. I’ve watched the first three episodes, and I’m liking it a lot. I’m not typically a fan of vampires, but it doesn’t annoy me here. The most interesting story line, by far, is with the ghost. I’m trying to get my mom to watch this too so we can discuss our thoughts. She loves vampires, so I’m sure she’ll love this.

What I’m Watching Next: Probably season 2 and 3 of Being Human, and I’ll try to get into Smallville. I tried watching it back when it first came on, but couldn’t get into it. I’m a massive Superman fan, so I should give it another shot – right? I have a lot to catch up on. Also, that new show “Once Upon a Time” looks like it could be good. It’s on ABC, so it will probably get cancelled before the end of the first season, but I’ll watch anyway.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, Christopher Eccleston reading a very abridged version of The Book Thief (such a lovely, heartbreaking story – I purchased the unabridged book), The B52’s Funplex, and STILL trying to get through The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo audio book. It’s a chore and I’ll never keep all those characters straight in my head.

What have you been watching and reading lately?

When the Kindle Won My Heart

I finally broke down and purchased a Kindle. I was vehemently against owning one, for the simple fact that they are aiding in the obsolete-ness of actual paper books, but I figured the convenience and cool-factor outweighed that. I even purchased a fancy cover for it, since this reading toy would be my new best friend for a while.

My bedroom is so cluttered and tiny, and most of that clutter is books. Now, unless it’s something special I must own a hard copy of (like Harry Potter), I’ll purchase all my books on the Kindle. Once I read all the books on at least one of my shelves, I’ll box those books up and donate them to a library, women’s shelter, or wherever else takes books. As far as “OMG KINDLE IS RUINING BOOKS!”…I just have to get over my book snobbery, and know that literature will never truly go away. It’s like music – the popular and preferred mode of listening has changed (twice in my lifetime), but there is still music being produced. Cassettes to CDs and then to digital songs. Paper, audio, and then eBooks.

I’ve already downloaded three books. Right now, I’m reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Here’s the description from Amazon.com by Tom Nissley:

From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive–even thrive–in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta’s family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution–and her cells’ strange survival–left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories?

Sounds amazing, right? I’m only 9% done (still getting used to percentages instead of page numbers), but I think I like it so far. Except something is bothering me about the author that I can’t quite put my finger on yet. I’m not sure if it’s her overly-clinical voice when talking about the family and this sensitive subject, or if it’s just the whole “white person writing about the intimate lives of people of color” thing which often skeeves me out. I get the same feeling when I read stories about disabled people/lives written by abled people. Although I’m not sure if that’s what’s going on here – I’ll have to read more before I understand.

I also downloaded Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue on the recommendation of my cousin, and The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina Garcia, who is a Cuban author I adore. I’ll write about those when I read them.

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?

Revamp and Resolutions

I usually don’t make New Year resolutions, but this year I am. I want to write more in my blogs, and write more in general; even if it’s not a huge important post, updating is good. Also, I am making this blog more of a catch-all personal journal rather than just a book blog. I’m hoping that this switch in theme will pave the way for more posts from me. I’m still keeping the title though, because I will forever be a bibliophile.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Reading: Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark. I’m not into the whole vampire romance craze (I like my vampires creepy and murderous, thank you), but I’ve heard good things about this series. I read that the narrator considers her super-powers to be a disability, so I wanted to see for myself what that was all about. The writing is poor, but I was expecting it to be. The characterizations are all over the place and I’m having trouble figuring out what Harris wants to portray with Bill. But the story is holding my interest, and sometimes I need to read light fare.

Watching: The X-Files, season nine. I’ve been watching all the episodes again, and finally I’m at the dreaded season nine. UGH. The absence of Mulder really hurts the show – he brought a sense of humor and amazing chemistry that is sorely missed. I’ve never watched all of the episodes of this season, but I’m trying now. And it’s tough.

Family: My dad goes in for a quadruple bypass on Monday (Merry Christmas, geez), but he’s in good health otherwise and his surgeon said he should do fine. He’ll hopefully be home on Christmas morning. On the flip side, my sister-in-law is due to give birth any day now, so I’ll be an aunt very shortly. Everything happens at once!