Sunday, October 31, 2010

In My Mailbox (7)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

Alrighty - this week was a good week for me. I found a lot of books that I've wanted for a LONG time for ridiculously cheap prices. SCORE!!! I love when the stars align and book miracles happen. ;)

So here's what I got in my mailbox this week:

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

For Review:
How The Government Got In Your Backyard by Jeff Gillman & Eric Heberlig
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane (Kenzie & Gennaro #6)

Purchased Part 1:
The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
Push by Sapphire

Purchased Part 2: 
Flood by Stephen Baxter
Ark by Stephen Baxter
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Purchased Part AWESOME: 
Nightmares in the Sky by Stephen King
Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

I didn't know that Moonlight Mile was the sixth in a series when I requested it... so I guess I'll be reading the first 5 soon, eh? LOL 
But... I'm super thrilled about the Nightmares in the Sky score... I've wanted that book for a long time, and now I've managed to acquire it for a fraction of the original price. Woooo! 

OK, so here's what I've read since my last IMM post, which apparently was like 3 weeks ago... Such a slacker I am.

Looking For Alaska by John Green
The Gunslinger (original version - audio) by Stephen King
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King
Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Room by Emma Donoghue
Keep The Change by Steve Dublanica

Currently Reading:
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (reread - audio)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread)
The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan 
Push by Sapphire
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The King's Mistress by Emma Campion
...and/or whatever else strikes my fancy.

So that's what's in my mailbox this week... what's in yours?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: Keep The Change by Steve Dublanica ★★★★

Keep the ChangeI've had Waiter Rant on my radar for a long time, but for some reason just never got around to picking it up. I waitressed for a period of about 3 months back when I was 16, and even from such a short amount of time, I had some crazy stories! I've worked directly with customers in a service industry in some way or another since then (until last July anyhow), so the premise of Waiter Rant and all that it entailed was appealing to me. Sharing experience stories with people who've been there and who know what it's like to be on the receiving end of someone else's bad day with a smile plastered on your face is only one of the aspects that appealed to me about the book. But I'd also heard that it was funny, and I love funny. And then there's the added bonus of maybe people on the other side of life seeing a bit of perspective in the "people in the service industry are people not slaves" variety...

Anyway, when I saw that the author of Waiter Rant had a new book coming out, I requested a review copy. I worked in the service industry, as I mentioned, since I was about 16, but only the 3 month waitressing segment involved tipping. Still I considered myself to be a good tipper anyway... Until now. I've learned quite a lot from this book, and find that my tipping habits don't quite make the grade except in the case of restaurant gratuities. In almost every other category, I'm abysmally ignorant of correct tipping etiquette.

My tipping habits:
- I tip 20% of the total whenever we go out to a restaurant. (Grade: A)
{Industry standard is 15% of the bill, including drinks.}
- I tip $1 a drink at bars. (Grade: C)
{Should be approx. 20% of the bill. I do not give myself a lower grade here because drink prices are pretty reasonable in my area: $2-4/beer/shot or $7-9/mixed drink.}
- I did not know to tip the doorman at hotels. (Grade: F)
- I tip cabdrivers, but generally far below average. (Grade: D)
{Should be around 20% of the fare. But in my defense, I don't use cabs often!}
- I didn't know to tip car mechanics or detailers. (Grade: F)
{Should be $20-50 or so, depending on the work.}
... This is getting ugly, so I'm going to stop now.
If an A grade is 5 points, B is 4 points, C is 3 points, D is 1 point and F is 0, my average would be... 1.8 - D minus. Ouch.

So, needless to say, I feel like I've learned something from Steve here. I feel like I've been something of a tipping stiff in my life... and this despite the fact that I've worked for tips in my life and know how hard they are to come by and live on. But, the good thing is that Steve has given me the means to mend my ways, and I intend to follow them. I kind of feel like keeping this book with me at all times, kind of like a Tipping Bible, to be used in times of need (when stepping out of a cab, or into a hotel, etc) and containing words to live my life by.

That might seem a little extreme, but honestly I don't think so. Steve represents the facts of the working-for-tips way of life, and they aren't pretty. I knew that wait staff is usually underpaid, which is why I tip 20% rather than 15%, but I had no idea that was the case with so many other service jobs. It makes me rather ashamed of myself for not realizing this was the case, and corporate America for allowing and encouraging this kind of workforce exploitation. Steve presents the situation as he sees it, and in often brutally honest, no-holds-barred way, but still with an edge of wit and humor that makes the message a little easier to swallow. It still packs a wallop, at least for me it did, but it's a necessary evil to learn these things. Ignorance is bliss... for the ignorant. For the person on the other end, another's ignorance isn't going to put food on the table or a roof over their family's heads.

I found this book to be very informative and entertaining while still providing me with information I might never have learned on my own. I appreciate that. And not only did it serve both of these purposes, but Steve seems to also something of a philosopher and has an ability to understand human nature. Probably this is from so much time working with people, but it's refreshing to see a book about human nature that's not pretentious and not full of drivel. It's refreshing to see a book which doesn't feel like its author is above the reader somehow. This is just a regular guy, trying to understand a prevalent issue. I liked that.

So I will definitely be going out this weekend and picking up Waiter Rant. I know it's a little backwards, but better late than never, right? I definitely recommend this book for anyone who is confused by tipping (as I was!)... And remember - when in doubt, ask. :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Character Connection (4): Amy March

Character Connection is hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

I know that it is sadly disappointing that I am not doing a Halloween or horror themed CC post, but Little Women has always been one of my all time favorite stories, and so I've decided to pass up the horror this time around. I remember reading it when I was younger and falling in love with the March family, and with Laurie and Mr. Laurence and with Prof. Bhaer and John Brooke. I love the story and the trials they face and the way that they all stick together and come through them. It's such a beautiful, feel good story that will always be a comfort read for me.

Most people I've talked to choose either Jo or Beth as their favorite character. Jo, because she is lively and unruly and spirited and goes against the grain that says women must exist within their determined gender-roles. She has her dreams and she follows them, and damn the consequences. Beth, because she is just so wholly and completely, angelically good that you can't help but love her. She is the epitome of what anyone who aspires to be good would be if they could. (Wow - that totally rhymed.)

But my favorite character is Amy. She is the baby, theone that we get to watch become the woman she will be. In the beginning of the story, she's just a little, embarrassingly spoiled, girl who is concerned only with her appearance, her art and her social status. She gets exactly what she wants by wheedling and manipulation. She's rotten and selfish and generally intolerable in the first half of the book. But as the book progresses, she eventually grows out of those traits and learns to behave in a more mature and compassionate manner, and she learns to see things from a different perspective than just her own. In other words, she becomes a woman.

I love this turnaround in her, and it makes me proud of her that she took the initiative to make the change to her life, and be a better person than the one that she would have been otherwise. It's hard to reconcile those kinds of life-changes in a character that was so completely selfish and unlikeable previously, but in Amy, I don't find it hard at all. The circumstances in her life have forced her to mature and become independent when she otherwise would have floated along as the "baby" of the family. She learns to realize that the things that she thought were of the utmost importance when she was a child (her appearance and social status) are not important at all, and that friendship and love matter so much more.

Amy is an awesome character, and she shows that we can all be decent and compassionate people, no matter how horrid we are as a kid!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green ★★★★

Looking for AlaskaI've been seeing this book around for quite a while, but I never really thought about reading it. I figured that it was one of those "Let's see just how drunk, high and stupid we can get!" books, the ones that glorify the idiocy that is being a teenager. I went through that, I lived through it, even had fun with it at the time, but I outgrew that phase of my life (earlier than most) and I don't care to read about it now. So I was rather "Meh." about reading this book.

And then my friend, influential by persistence, introduced me to John & Hank Green via VlogBrothers on YouTube. Now, if you've never watched any of their videos, I highly recommend them. They are smart, funny, relevant and always make me think. So, via VlogBrothers, I came to understand John Green a bit, and realize that I had underestimated him. So, the next time I came across "Looking for Alaska", I picked it up. And this book did not forget to be awesome.

Right away, I was glad that I "met" John via VlogBrothers before reading the book. I could really feel his personality in it, and his intelligence and sense of humor. But I also felt like it was a story that he took seriously. Not only because of the serious subject matter, but because he captured the permanent impermanence of being a teen without making it feel like a joke. Everything now is forever until what was is yesterday and everything NOW is forever. Looking back on my teenage years, the furthest out I could imagine was 21, and that was only for the legal ability to drink. My friends were still my friends in this imagining, my life was still my life, as if the only thing that would change was my age. We just can't picture where things will take us. By the time I hit 21, I was so far from the predicted life I had thought I'd have that if someone had bet me a million dollars that I would have been there, I'd be out of a million dollars.

My point is that I liked the way that John portrayed these characters as having everything in front of them, to look forward to, but still they live in the moment as if that future never gets any closer. I loved that they were booksmart brilliant, but still make the same stupid mistakes and errors in judgment as anyone else. I love that they latch on to an idea and hold onto it despite realizing that it is slipping away anyway, because everything does and we change despite ourselves.

I loved Miles, or Pudge as he's called. I feel like I understood him. He's bookish, nerdy, a bit of a loner by necessity rather than choice, at least until he's around people who are ready to accept someone like him. Those people primarily being Alaska and Chip, aka The Colonel, who are both outrageous, brilliant and wild, and bring Pudge out of his shell a bit. Pudge forms an instant and close friendship with both of them, one that changes his life.

As much as I loved Pudge, I loved The Colonel more. He is one of those characters that, for me, just hop off the page and into being. I would have been friends with him. I liked that he came from humble beginnings, and that he and his mother weren't afraid to aspire to be better, that they weren't afraid to show how hard they work for something, that they weren't ashamed of who they are but rather proud of it. I loved that while he was as willing to play hard and get into trouble as anyone, he still took his priorities, which were his studies, seriously. I loved his loyalty and his determination to follow everything he started through to the end. He was definitely my favorite character here.

My least favorite character was actually Alaska. I don't know if this is because she's a female teenager written by a man, or if she just represented all (or at least a large chunk) of the things in teen girls that annoy me, but I just couldn't really like her. I can certainly see why Pudge would, why lots of teen boys would, but I just didn't. She was too much. Too wishy-washy, too moody, too impulsive, too flirty, too wild, too mysterious, too smart for her own good, too damaged-and-knew-it, too aware of her effect on others. But not all of these things are bad. And not all of them bother me individually, but all together, it was just too much and I couldn't care about her like The Colonel or Takumi or Lara or even Pudge did. And I find this last the worst, because Pudge is telling this story, so I should understand his feelings for her, but they just seemed shallow to non-teenage me. Attraction and flirtation do not equal love - unless you're 16 and a hopeful idealist.

But the one thing that I think affected me the most about Alaska is her sense of responsibility for others. She seems to take on the well-being and happiness of others as her own obligation, and the burden of guilt when she doesn't succeed. And it struck me that the guilt of failing someone is like a physical thing that can be passed on or spread. Alaska failed someone she loved, and then Pudge failed Alaska, and the guilt spreads.

Shortly after the shift from "Before" to "After" (which was a storytelling method I loved!), I realized why Alaska left the school that night, and I waited for the guys to figure it out as well. Normally, I would be disappointed that I figured it out before the main character, but this is not the type of "mystery" that gets solved like that. It's a human mystery, one where the only person able to solve it is the one you seek and cannot find.

I loved the depth of this book, particularly the philosophical aspects of their World Religions class. I wish I could have taken a class, and had a teacher like that. This book, and the class it depicted, makes you look at life, the world, and meaning itself differently. I am glad that I read it, because it was so much more than I thought it would be. And I officially declare myself to have been wrong. John Green, can you ever forgive me?

View all my reviews

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (9): Horns by Joe Hill ★★★★★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen from The Introverted Reader.
This review was originally written on April 3, 2010.

HornsRemember, way back at the beginning of the year, when I said that I wanted to hump Hugh Laurie's leg for writing The Gun Seller? After reading Horns, and just the ARC - not even the finished, shiny and perfect masterpiece - I want to hump Joe Hill's leg for writing it.

Not too long ago, I read Hill's short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, and in the intro, Christopher Golden says that Hill is subtle writer, that his stories are "promises fulfilled". I think that Golden's words about Joe Hill are even more apt when it comes to Horns. This is Joe Hill fulfilling his promise to readers. Horns is his promise to the world that he can keep pulling new and amazing tricks out of his bag, and each one will be better than the last.

I'm sad that I'm finished, that it's over. I feel like I should just flip back to the beginning and read it again, because I know, without a doubt, that it will be even more brilliant the 2nd time around.

Joe Hill's subtlety and brilliance is much more in evidence and has more effect in this book than any of his other books I've read. I don't even know how to gush enough to do justice to what I want to say! I feel like with every line that I read, there was another line behind it that added to the depth of the one I'd just read. The way that he wrote Lee was amazing. Seeing things through his eyes was truly scary and disturbing. (I don't want to give too much away about his character, but I will say this, I think that Joe Hill wrote Lee Tourneau better than his father, Stephen King, wrote Junior Rennie.) When Ig sermonizes to the snakes, I was proud of him in that moment. Not simply for finally realizing that the snakes were his, but for his understanding of truth, and life, and love in that moment, and for accepting Merrin's decision that last night as being her right, even though it destroyed him. I feel like Joe Hill wrote these things, but then I also feel like he didn't write them, that he doesn't have to write them because they just seep out of the pages and into me. Merrin's letter is another one of those 'between the lines' bits. My heart hurt reading her letter to Ig, I felt like I was losing something myself, and I hurt for them. I definitely had some sympathy for the devil at that moment.

Which brings me to my next couple of points. I love how music works its way into Hill's writing and stories, and the depth that it gives them. It's not just there for set dressing or for a pop culture stamp to place the story into a familiar territory for the reader, one gets the feeling that not only is music important to Hill, but that it is vital to him. I feel like he was speaking through Ig when he was appalled at Lee's lack of music appreciation, his plain statement that music is simply the background noise to events or action. Music is something that some people live and breathe, and I feel like Joe is one of those people, and because he is, so was Ig.

I also loved the devilish humor inserted throughout the story. I love when a book can take me from one extreme to another, and this was no exception. I went from confusion, to shock, to laughter, to tears, to laughter, to more tears, etc. Every page brought some new revelation, and to me, Hill's timing with the humor and the heartache were spot on.

I further loved the full picture of Merrin we got, even though we never got to really meet her. We got a composite of her from various other sources, like a police sketch artist making a picture from one person describing the nose, another describing the shape of the eyes, another giving us the hair, or the mouth, or the jawline, etc. Merrin's loss hit me like a ton of bricks, even though I knew about it from the beginning. But it still hurt, because I came to love her the way that Ig did - even though there was a brief time that I disliked her when I saw her through Lee's eyes. Even though I knew it was hopeless, I still wanted to hope that something would happen to magically reverse what actually DID happen. That was wishful thinking, but what I'm saying is that Joe Hill made me feel that way, despite knowing what I knew about the impossibility of that.

I both loved and hated the way that people would spill their deepest and darkest thoughts to Ig, and I really felt for him having to endure the awful things that people thought about him. I couldn't imagine hearing those kinds of things from the people I love, and the people who are supposed to love me. Everyone claims to want the truth about how people feel about us, but I think that the plain, unvarnished truth is awful and unbearable. In my head, I can hear Jack Nicholson yelling, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" and it's true. I would have probably just crawled in a hole somewhere if people had said to me what they said to Ig. So, kudos to him for being stronger than I am.

I think that's enough gushing... There's a lot more that I wrote down to mention, but I think you all get the point now, don't you?

If you haven't already, read this book. Discover the greatness that is Joe Hill. I'm waiting! :)

 Oh yeah. :D

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Top Ten: Young Adult GLBT Books I Want To Read

Yesterday was Spirit Day, a day which mourns the loss of those who took their own lives due to homophobic bullying.

I am in favor of people being able to love as they choose, and it really sickens me that so many people refuse to let others live their lives without fear of persecution or hatred. So days like Spirit Day make me proud that people can come together to show that love is love is love, but also immensely sad that this sort of outpouring of support has to come at such a high cost.

So, in honor of Spirit Day, and love in all forms, here are the Top Ten books that I want to read featuring GLBT themes and/or characters. :)

10. Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year's Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff's perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they've got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on—the crazies start to seem less crazy.

Compelling, witty, and refreshingly real, Suicide Notes is a darkly humorous novel from award-winning author Michael Thomas Ford that examines that fuzzy line between "normal" and the rest of us.

9. Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters

With a steady boyfriend, the position of Student Council President, and a chance to go to an Ivy League college, high school life is just fine for Holland Jaeger. At least it seems to be. But when Cece Goddard comes to school, everything changes. Cece and Holland have undeniable feelings for each other, but how will others react to their developing relationship? This moving love story between two girls is a worthy successor to Nancy Garden's classic young adult coming out novel, Annie on My Mind. With her characteristic humor and breezy style, Peters has captured the compelling emotions of young love.

8. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

It’s Dade’s last summer at home. He has a crappy job at Food World, a “boyfriend” who won’t publicly acknowledge his existence (maybe because Pablo also has a girlfriend), and parents on the verge of a divorce. College is Dade’s shining beacon of possibility, a horizon to keep him from floating away.

Then he meets the mysterious Alex Kincaid. Falling in real love finally lets Dade come out of the closet—and, ironically, ignites a ruthless passion in Pablo. But just when true happiness has set in, tragedy shatters the dreamy curtain of summer, and Dade will use every ounce of strength he’s gained to break from his past and start fresh with the future.

7. The God Box by Alex Sanchez 

High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they're good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he's also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel's outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand. 
6. Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

Hard Love tackles the delicate issue of unrequited love between a straight and gay teen. But what sets this novel apart from similarly themed books is Wittlinger's choice to present the story from John's straight male point of view. Funny and poignant first-person narration will engender empathy for John as he attempts to connect with his emotionally distant parents and an understanding of how his need for their affection has manifested itself in romantic feelings for a girl he knows is unavailable to him. Hard Love is a thoughtful and on-target addition to the growing canon of gay and lesbian coming-of-age stories. 

5. What Happened To Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci

The folks on Hackett Island, near Philadelphia, are not too friendly to newcomers. Anyone the slightest bit different is eyed with suspicion, as Claire found out when she missed a year of junior high due to leukemia. Now she works hard at fitting in, following treacherous but popular Macy's lead, hiding her passion for the guitar, and never talking about her fear that her illness will return. Or her nightmares. Or her eating disorder. The boys of Hackett Island's "in" crowd are members of the "fish frat"--hunky sons of the local fishermen--and their horseplay even among themselves is brutal and edge-of-danger.
And then Lani Garver shows up at school, a tall, thin, strangely androgynous person. "No. Not a girl. Sorry," he says pleasantly when Macy questions him about his gender with vicious curiosity. But Claire, much to Macy's disgust, is drawn to Lani, and his wisdom and kindness begins to heal her. He takes her to Philadelphia to meet his artistic friends, talks sense to her about her eating disorder and her blind devotion to Macy, finds her a therapist. Who is this Lani Garver? He resists "boxes" like "gay." Even his age is a mystery to Claire. Strangest of all, could he be a "floating angel," as his friends at the hospital seem to believe? Meanwhile, the fish frat are closing in for the kill, and when their harassment turns lethal, Lani shows a terrible side of himself Claire has never seen.
Carol Plum-Ucci raises tantalizing questions around a fascinating character in this gut-clenching story that transcends the clich├ęs of the gay-bashing novel.

4. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Logan Witherspoon recently discovered that his girlfriend of three years cheated on him. But things start to look up when a new student breezes through the halls of his small-town high school. Sage Hendricks befriends Logan at a time when he no longer trusts or believes in people. Sage has been homeschooled for a number of years and her parents have forbidden her to date anyone, but she won’t tell Logan why. One day, Logan acts on his growing feelings for Sage. Moments later, he wishes he never had. Sage finally discloses her big secret: she’s actually a boy. Enraged, frightened, and feeling betrayed, Logan lashes out at Sage and disowns her. But once Logan comes to terms with what happened, he reaches out to Sage in an attempt to understand her situation. But Logan has no idea how rocky the road back to friendship will be.

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
Since its publication, Stephen Chbosky's haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, and grown in to a cult sensation with over half a million copies in print.
It is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.
When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it.
The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.
This is a happy, meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy, wonderful world.

1. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan 

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans. 

I think that we can all benefit from seeing things from a different perspective, and these books are sure to do that for me.

Have you read any great GLBT books lately? Let me know in the comments -- And don't forget to check out my review of  Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden which would be perfect for this list except that I've already read it. ;)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I've Been Tagged!

Jen from The Introverted Reader tagged me, and now I'm here to answer some questions and tag you'se guys. If you aren't familiar with her blog, be sure to stop by!  :)

The Rules:
(1) Accept the tag and link to the tagger at the beginning of your post.
(2) Answer the questions honestly in your post by listing four things.
(3) Pass on the love by picking four other people to tag and listing them at the bottom of your post. Notify them that you tagged them.

Four Things In My Handbag:
Well, I don't really carry a purse or handbag, but here are four things I generally have with me at all times.

  1. My cell phone (EnV2 with no data plan- boring! But at least it has Tetris on it.)
  2. Chapstick or some sort of lip balm. 
  3. A book. (Surprising, isn't it?)
  4. My ID.  (Yeah, that's boring too. I'm sorry.)
Four Favorite Things In My Bedroom:

  1. My books, without a doubt!
  2. My cats. (OK, I know that cat's don't really stay just in this room, but usually when I'm in here, they are too.)
  3. My boyfriend's artwork... Usually a rotating stock.
  4. My bed. 
Four Things on My Desk:
  1. Laptop
  2. A stack of books from the 24 Hour Read-a-thon that I still want to read soonish
  3. Skeins of yarn and a roll of hemp twine for some crafty projects I'm working on.
  4. Salt. Err... because you never know when you'll need it? (I have no idea why it's here, really.)
Four Things I've Always Wanted to Do (But Haven't Yet):
  1. Own a classic muscle car. Like a '70 Chevelle or a '68 GTO or a pre-'77 Mustang. Black.
  2. Visit the South of France. I'm fascinated by the historical aspects of that region. 
  3. Build my own library.
  4. Be independently wealthy!
Four Things I Enjoy Very Much At The Moment:
  1. Reading
  2. Blogging and talking about books
  3. Relaxing
  4. Traveling
Four Songs I Can't Get Out Of My Head:

  1. Hold Ya Head by Makaveli (Tupac) on his "The Don Killuminati" album (my favorite!)
  2. From Yesterday by 30 Seconds to Mars (Jared Leto. Yum.)
  3. Kashmir by Led Zeppelin 
  4. Black by Pearl Jam (Oh man, who doesn't love Eddie Vedder? *swoon*)
Four Things You Don't Know About Me:

  1. I'm a procrastinator and perpetual starter. I will start projects all the time and never finish them, but I prefer to read books in a series straight through without interruptions.
  2. I homeschooled myself for my last two years of highschool and never went to college. I guess that's not really something to be proud of, but it's true.
  3. I wish the world came with a mute button. I seriously hate noise. But I love loud music -- when I'm the one playing it. LOL
  4. I am the only anti-social Libra I know.
Four Bloggers I'm Tagging:
  1. Jackie from The Crafty Reader 
  2. Allison from The Allure of Books
  3. Fiona from The Book Coop
  4. Ashley from Books From Bleh to Basically Amazing
 Thanks for tagging me Jen!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (8): Harry Potter & The Bible ★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

So I thought that it would be kind of appropriate to post this review now, since Banned Book Week was not very long ago, and since the 7th Harry Potter movie is coming out soon. I received this book from my friend Kandice, whose son was given the book by some mysterious person at his school. If there's anything I dislike, its creepy people spreading ignorance in schools. Rather than encouraging intelligent thought and analysis, Abanes encourages people to hide behind fear and ignorance in order to avoid anything they don't understand.

So without further ado, my review, which was written way back in February:

Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick (And the Bible Series)Ahh, right. Where to start... I have so much to say! I wish that you could all see my notebook. Aside from my atrocious handwriting, it is 12 full-size pages filled with my scribbled, jotted, many underlined thoughts, reactions and questions, as well as quotes, semi-quotes, references to quotes and page numbers for still more quotes.
It's not pretty. Really. But it WAS necessary. So many of the things that I jotted down had me rolling my eyes, thinking "Is this guy SERIOUS?". I just read this entire book, and I still don't understand most of his claims, arguments, assumptions and conclusions. I like Harry Potter, so I am obviously one of the "undiscerning" readers mentioned in Douglas Groothuis's foreword, in which he proclaims that I am about to read a "rare voice of sanity, reason and biblical discernment" regarding the Harry Potter books. Hmm. Well. Good thing he hasn't started off by annoying me or alienating me as a reader... Oh. Oops.

Anyway, offended by being called incapable of reason and insane before the book even starts, I still tried to read it objectively. From what I could see, Abanes's case comes down to several extremely repetitive points:

1) The setting of the "real world" makes it difficult for kids to differentiate between fact and fiction.
Apparently, because this is a fiction book that takes place in the United Kingdom where people actually live or can visit, it makes it nearly impossible for the reader to understand that it's not real. He makes reference to comments on message boards and letters (etc) which have kids saying things like "Wow! I wish I could do magic..." or "I wish I could go to Hogwarts..." and the like, and claims that these kids are dangerously close to becoming official occult followers. Which is utterly ridiculous and a huge logic leap. Kids whimsically wishing for something doesn't imply that they can't understand it's not real. I used to WISH I had a real My Little Pony to ride, but I didn't actually believe they WERE REAL. Kids know how mundane and normal and boring their life is. School. Homework. Bed. Repeat. They have no control over anything at this point - parents decide their lives. They just wish for some fun.

And, kids are much, much smarter than they are given credit for, in my opinion, although apparently not in the author's. Abanes seems to think that kids who read and like something will then rush off to try it with no thought. And while that may be true of some people, it is untrue of most. He gives an example in his book (after talking about how wormwood is used in HP and is an actual ingredient in absinthe) of someone looking up a recipe for absinthe online, making it and getting sick. He writes it in such a way as to insinuate that the person who did this was somehow influenced by the wormwood mention in HP. Another big leap. He also seems to forget parents, even while writing a book geared toward them. It is a parent's responsibility to teach their children, not JK Rowling's.

He goes on later in the book to say how Christian writers CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien both wrote fantasy stories involving magic, but these are OK because their magic is not HUMAN magic, and it is clearly in a fantasy world.

2) The magic described and portrayed in HP is actually representative of the Occult, which is denounced repeatedly and harshly in the bible.
Abanes's argument here seems to be that because JK Rowling researched and used real modern and historical practices, ideas, references, and substances (like wormwood above), as well as mythology and legend etc, that she is "thinly veiling" her belief in the occult, and not only introducing children to it, but grooming them towards it.
His "biblical" definition of occultism is extraordinarily all-encompassing, and ranges from astrology to conversing with spirits as a medium. Anything, essentially, that tries to understand or influence the world or ourselves that is NOT Christian in nature or done for the glory of God, is defined as being of the occult, and therefore dangerous and evil. He references many passages in the bible which denounce occultism, but never answers the ever present "WHY?" question. But hey, rules are rules, and the rule-maker need not explain, right?

Moving on, Abanes makes another huge leap in talking about the pets in HP, stating that they are familiars to their owners. Witches' familiars are defined here as a "low-level demon" in the assumed shape of an animal. He says, "Mrs. Norris, owned by the school's caretaker, exhibits some of the characteristics of a familiar. In Book III, Hermione gets her own familiar -- a cat named Crookshanks." He then quotes a renown Wicca practitioner, Starhawk, on the tradition of familiars, and then quotes a passage from "Witchcraft In England" which rehashes again what familiars are and confirms (again) the belief that witches used them in "the later centuries of [the:] witchcraft-belief". Abanes then says, "Obviously Harry and his friends are indeed making contact with the spiritual world." What? How is that obvious?

Abanes did include a very small section each to explain Paganism, Wicca and Satanism. I think he kind of shot himself in the foot if he was trying to turn people away from these, though. He failed miserably at making them unattractive, and to be honest, actually succeeded in piquing my interest in learning even more about them. Pagan and Wicca followers have a "reverence for the Earth and all it's creatures, generally see all life as interconnected, and strive to attune one's self to the manifestation of this belief as seen in the cycles of nature." Ooooh! DANGER! DANGER! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
I'm not going to go into the major points and details, but it is interesting, and I would recommend reading about them yourself. I did see a lot of my own "worldviews" represented in Paganism and Wicca, such as my relativism (a view that ethical truths depend on the individual or groups holding them, which essentially means that what is good for me is not good for everyone else, and what is good for others may not be what is good for me. I'm OK with that. Abanes is not, and apparently has a problem with personal and private beliefs not in accordance with his own. He seems to feel that his way is the only way.

He did portray Satanism as being "bad", although he made clear that modern Satanism is not technically worship of Satan, but worship of the individual. Satanism "emerged when various aspects of all these (pagan, et al) traditions were blended together by persons seeking to fight Christianity's growing theological and moral influence [between 400s -1600s A.D.:]." (I got a real chuckle out of that. Apparently the Crusades and mass murders in the name of Christianity represent the "moral influence" of the faith. Best. Euphemism. EVER.)

He mentioned Sean Sellers, who was physically and sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned as a child and teen, who found himself getting involved with Dungeons & Dragons as an outlet, and later Satanism. There he found acceptance and understanding, until things started getting too deep and cult-like, which is very different from the religion started by Anton LeVey. Sellers, fearing for his sanity, reached out repeatedly for help... his parents, their Christian ministers, church run support groups, etc, and they turned their backs on him each and every time. In the end, he immersed himself in Satanism completely, and ended up murdering three people, being arrested, sentenced to death, and becoming a born again Christian in prison. Abanes blames the D&D as the "gateway" to Satanism for his downfall, but fails completely to mention the many, many people who let Sellers down when he needed help the most. (This is just one of many examples of how Abanes cherry-picks his arguments.)

3) Vulgarity, profanity and general lack of biblical morality in the Harry Potter books. (Characters lying, stealing, cheating, cursing, drinking, etc. And the amount of "gore" in the books, including Nearly Headless Nick and the Headless Hunt.)
His point is that he doesn't feel like there is enough delineation between "good" and "evil". The good guys should be all good, or if they falter, they should pay for it immediately. Bad guys should be all bad, and should absolutely pay and fail.
But MY argument is that the world, and life, is rarely delineated in such stark, black and white terms. Good people do bad things, bad people can do good things, it's the way of the world. And the real world doesn't always mete out appropriate punishment for misdeeds based on a religious belief. The world is impartial... Religion is not.
Abanes's first example of the immorality of the children is that they disobey rules. I think this is the main stick in his craw, because so much of organized religion centers on obeying without question. He also really has a problem with the word "git", which is a derogatory word that means idiot. He claims that this is profanity, which I guess is subjective, but to me, it's slang, not profanity.
Children are children, and they ACT like children. They disobey, mouth off, curse, treat each other unkindly, hold grudges, make enemies, make up, cheat, etc. But even as they do so, they are learning. Holding them to adult standards of behavior is unrealistic and unfair, especially a religious standard that was never intended to be in the equation at all.

He also repeatedly laments the increase of "New Age Spiritualism" in modern times, causing what he calls a "Post-Christian" world, which is helped along by books, movies and media, namely "occult" books like HP, etc. He repeatedly inserts statistical data, which in itself is suspect to me, as 7 out of 8 people know that 60% of all statistics are made up on the spot (as this was... :P), so... I'm a little wary of just accepting his claims. He acts like popularity itself is cause for alarm. More than once, Abanes seems to indicate that because Rowling was poor before she wrote Harry Potter that her popularity was helped along by, if not evil, definitely occult forces. He also seems to take issue with the fact that JK Rowling has not publicly made known her personal religious beliefs. As if it matters. Her beliefs are personal, and her books are fiction. They have nothing to do with each other in my mind and opinion, but Abanes thinks that because she's not proclaimed her Christianity, that she's probably an Occultist. Again with the black and white, 'with us or against us' theme.

I think that's what bothered me most about this book. I tried to read it objectively and fairly, even though I myself am agnostic, but so many of his arguments are just statements without any basis in fact. Comparisons which are... ridiculous. It's like he was writing this for people who think exactly as he does, but just didn't know it yet, and who wouldn't question his claims. At the end of the book, he gives practical advice for Christians (who should now have many, many concerns about the book) to go forth with gentleness and kindness when discussing the book(s) with others that they feel the need to educate. Good advice, yes, because I do not want someone calling me a "heathen" for enjoying these books, BUT this book only succeeded in making claims, not proving them.

Not only that, but as I mentioned before, he clearly, blatantly and shamelessly picked around the things that he didn't want to address, and beat into the ground the few points he did.

For instance, he mentions CS Lewis's Narnia series, and *spoiler* Aslan sacrificing himself for Edmund */spoiler*, but Lily's own sacrifice for Harry goes without mention. And he's not unaware, just to be clear, as he quotes Voldemort telling Harry that his mother died to save him, and that she will have died in vain, as well as Dumbledore's explanation of Lily's love sacrifice. He just ignores the sacrifice of the one, and lauds the sacrifice of the other, because it suits his theme.

He claims that the HP books are vulgar and full of violence etc, and that they are inappropriate reading material for children, yet ignores the fact that there is ridiculous amounts of violence and death in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And the bible, for that matter.

He also derides the use of runes in HP, but makes no mention of the fact that Gandalf used them in Lord of the Rings. Apparently that's OK because, while runes are definitely "Real Occult", LOTR was not set in the real world.

I could go on and on, (12 pages of notes, remember?), but I think this is enough to get my point across. In the end, it seems like Abanes is saying, "Christianity is right, and anything that doesn't shout that from the rooftops is wrong. Period. End of story." That's an opinion, but it doesn't make it the right one. I think people are entitled to believe what they choose, just as readers (of all ages) are entitled to read and enjoy what they choose. Parents have a responsibility to talk to and teach their kids right from wrong, and morals and ethics, etc. That is not the job of the Harry Potter books, or ANY books. Religious texts are wonderful and useful to many people, but that does not mean that fiction and entertainment should seek only to rewrite/retell them.

Read and make up your OWN mind about books. :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson ★★★

The Haunting of Hill HouseI have wanted to read this book for quite a while. I love scary stories, and have ever since I was a little girl reading "Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark" and then graduating to Stephen King at around 10. But, oddly enough, I don't watch that many scary movies. Some, yes, but I prefer reading my horror to watching. Thus, I've never seen either of the movie editions of this story.

So this was a new experience for me, and honestly, I don't think that the movie versions would have done it justice anyway. They never really do.

This story centers around a house, and a small group of people, led by a scholar interested in paranormal activity. Once there, they find that the house is more than they bargained for.

The story is both more and less than I bargained for. I didn't really find it scary, but I did enjoy the tone and the feel of it quite a lot. There are some definitely creepy moments. I also am a little bit torn on what was revealed - this is one of those stories where the unknown is what frightens us - but there were certain things that were revealed and shown, and I would have liked a little bit more detail about those things. Like the picnic scene when Nell and Theo come out of their stroll in the woods... I would have liked a little bit more information about why that was there, and what led to it.

I liked the characters, mostly. Eleanor, especially, threw me off... I never really knew what to expect from her, and thought that things would happen quite differently than they did in the story with her. I had wild theories that I thought were quite clever, but were ultimately wrong, as usual. But then this is the mark of a good story, if it is unpredictable.

One thing that I didn't like about the characters was that they all seemed so similar in the beginning. Without having met each other before, they all make the same types of jokes about their situation, they all introduce themselves with whimsical fancy, they all seem to just have the exact same personality. It isn't until later that they start to become individuals... and at that point, one starts to wonder if it is them, or something else affecting them.

Also, I found it a little odd that as an "expert" on paranormal activity, or as a scientist, or whatever Dr. Montague is, that he would not bring equipment with him to record any sort of information or disturbances or measurements. In fact, at one point, he makes a note to pick up a thermometer, measuring tape and chalk, which he then does and uses once. What kind of scientist would base his arguments on the handwritten accounts of 3 unprofessional and unknown strangers and nothing else? That just seemed odd to me.

Overall though, I did like the story, mainly the feel of it. It was dark and eerie, but also not fantastic or unreal. Not a bad way to spend a cozy October evening!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

IMM (6) & What Are you Reading?

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren

I don't really have anything witty (or even semi-witty) to say here, so let's just get to it, eh? Here's what I acquired this week:

 Lords & Ladies by Terry Pratchett
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart
Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Hobbit (Graphic Novel) by J.R.R. Tolkien & David Wenzel
and a whole bunch of other Tolkien books (not pictured)

All of these were purchased by me, except the Tolkien books, which were given to me. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them, honestly. A friend is moving and he gave these to me, because he knows I'm a Tolkien fan. But the thing is, I love The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and even liked The Silmarillion, but I'm not such a fan of the lays and tales and lore etc. So I'll probably be donating them. (Or let me know if you're interested in them, we can work something out!) I'll need to go through them first though - some are in pretty rough shape. :(

As for what I've read, I've had a pretty OK week, I guess. I've read 6 books - the majority of that being yesterday for the Read-a-thon. 

To Die For by Linda Howard
The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure by A.R. Shickman
UR by Stephen King
Holes by Louis Sachar

Currently Reading: 
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King

To Read: 
The Gunslinger by Stephen King (audio)
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Changeless by Gail Carriger
Blameless by Gail Carriger
The Stand: Captain Trips by Stephen King (graphic novel)
The Stand: American Nightmares by Stephen King (graphic novel)
...and/or whatever else catches my eye!

Read-A-Thon Wrap Up: Yep, It's Over

Well... I gave it a shot, I just missed the goal. I crapped out at around 17 hours, which I think is a pretty good chunk of reading - but short of the finish line.

I don't really think that I read all that much either, honestly. Not that I did much of anything else.. I wrote reviews on Goodreads of the books I read (which in hindsight probably did cut quite a bit into my time, even if they aren't long reviews), chatted with Allison from The Allure of Books on Google Chat off and on, and did some bloggy updates, and goofed around a bit, but most of the time I was reading.

I think that I will continue my readathon into today, unofficially, and see what I can pull out for a grand weekend total. Maybe not very much more, but I'll give it a shot!

Here's the final tally:
1) The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye - 4 stars
2) Zan-Gah: A Pre-Historic Adventure by A.R. Shickman - 2 stars
3) UR by Stephen King (Audiobook) - 4 stars
4) Holes by Louis Sachar - 4 stars
5) Started Looking for Alaska by John Green - but only got about 50 pages into it before I crashed. I really liked it though, so far.

Now here it is, 11am the next day, and while 4 books added to my tally in one day would normally please me, I feel like I could have done better had I been more focused. I think next time around, I will read only pleasure books, not try to fit in any review books, because I felt forced to finish the one review book I read, even though I was not feeling it. Lesson learned.

So today, I'm gonna read Looking for Alaska and go from there... After I get some Indian food though. The body needs fuel! :D

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Read-A-Thon: Update - Hour 15

I feel like such a slacker! I've only read 4 books in 15 hours! AND THEY WERE ALL SHORT! The longest one was 233 pages long. I can do better. I can do better. I can do better!

The Ordinary Princess - 112 pgs
Zan Gah: A Pre-Historic Adventure - 148 pgs
UR - 2 hour 20 minute audiobook
Holes - 233 pgs

OK...Starting Looking For Alaska now... DFTBA!

Read-A-Thon: Mid-point Survey

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?
Just starting Holes by Louis Sachar.
2. How many books have you read so far?
Three - but they were short.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Looking for Alaska by John Green
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Umm... well, aside from Twitter, Goodreads and my blog? Nope.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
The cheerleaders! They are so much fun. Definitely signing up for that next time. :)
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Not really - I think it's pretty awesome.
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
Well, I would definitely want to cheer next time. This is my first go-round with the 24 Hour Read-a-thon and I figured I would be best just to read this time. Next time, definitely cheering too!
9. Are you getting tired yet?
Not yet...
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
Errr... I listened to an audiobook which gave my eyes a rest, and that audiobook happened to be by my favorite author, so it was some much needed awesome to cleanse the mental palette I think!

Now back to reading.... toodles! :)

Read-A-Thon: Update - Hour 10

 OK... so, guestimating that I started around 9am (since I fell back to sleep for a bit after posting my start), I'm up to hour 10.  I'm doing pretty well, I think, for me anyway - here's what I've read:

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Zan-Gah: A Pre-Historic Adventure by A.R. Shickman
UR by Stephen King

Up next... I think I'm going to go for Holes by Louis Sachar or Clair de Lune by Christine Johnson... not sure.


Read-A-Thon Starting Post: Why else would I be up this early on a Saturday??

It's a good thing that this is not a vlog, because it would not be pretty. Probably there would be people taking up pitchforks to chase after me and stuff. As I write this, I'm going for the "Why yes I WAS electrocuted as I slept last night" look. And that's just my hair.

Anyway, once I get my eyes fully open, I'll be getting started... I decided to start with the shortest, and arguably the easiest book of the stack for my hobble off the starting blocks. I think my leg's asleep.

I'm starting with "The Ordinary Princess" by M.M. Kaye. After that, I was thinking the Zan-Gah books... We'll see about that after coffee... maybe. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Re-re-re-read-a-thon! ♫

OK, that was cheesy... But admit it, now it's stuck in your head, right? You're welcome. :)

Anywho... I have decided that I am going to participate in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon, which, as I'm sure you already know since I think every book blogger in the universe signed up, is tomorrow. While I was picking out books that I might like to read, my boyfriend asked what I was doing. I said, "Deciding which books I want to read for the read-a-thon tomorrow." He said, "Oh yeah, tomorrow's Saturday." LOL

Here's the stack of possibilities that made the cut, with a cat-shaped void in the background and a pair of floating eyes... Halloween's a-comin'! ;)

Top to bottom we have: 
UR by Stephen King (Audio on MP3 player)
The Gunslinger by Stephen King (Audio on MP3 player)
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Thinner by Stephen King
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Holes by Louis Sachar
Mister Monday (The Keys to the Kingdom Book 1) by Garth Nix
Zan-Gah by A.R. Shickman
Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by A. R. Shickman
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson

I have not decided on what I'm going to read yet. I know the only one that I have absolutely counted on is listening to UR, which is about 2 1/2 hours long - but I would really like to knock out the Zan-Gah books as well, since they are For Review copies. I'll give this my best shot! Wish me luck! :)

And if by chance you haven't signed up... it's not too late! :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

IMM (5) & What are you Reading?

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren.

Whew! I haven't done an IMM post in a while, since I decided that last month I was going to read what I already owned (with the small exception of the books I read for Smut-tember). I did pretty good, and knocked out 12 books, KA-POW!

So of course, I just had to go and undo all of that effort with a splurge at the goodwill. When books are more than 80% off of the marked price, it's just hard to say no! So here's my splurge:
From top left: 
Many Bloody Returns by Charlaine Harris and others
A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd
Mister Monday by Garth Nix
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Legends by Robert Silverberg (editor) 
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
and A Treasury of Aesop's Fables (not pictured)

Yep, I bought The Pilgrim's Progress. I've wanted to read it for quite a while, since it was mentioned in Little Women, and for 20 cents, I practically got it for free. Oh, and here's a funny quirk about the Siobhan Dowd book. This is the barcode from the back of the book...

Allison from The Allure of Books sent me these: 

Stories by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio (editors)
Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

And finally I got To Die For by Linda Howard from the library. I couldn't get a decent picture of this one, so we'll all just have to use our imaginations! (Well, not me, because I've seen it, but you're not missing much. The cover of the edition I got isn't all that impressive.)

So that's what I got in my mailbox... Now here's what I'm reading: 

A group of friends and I, along with the Stephen King fan group on Goodreads (the one I co-moderate), will be reading through the Dark Tower series starting this month with The Gunslinger. As you can see from the picture, I have two of them, the original published edition, and the revised. I'd like to read both, and do some comparisons for those of you I know are just DYING to know what the differences are. ;)

Along with the series itself, I'm currently reading Everything's Eventual by King, which has two Dark Tower related stories in it, as well as I plan on finally reading the first volume of Robin Furth's Dark Tower Concordance (which comprises books 1-4).

I'll be trying to squeeze in some review books as well, but I'm not sure which ones yet. I'm thinking probably The King's Mistress and Keep The Change, and if I can do more, I will. 

Happy October Reading!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget ★★★

The Turtle CatcherI received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was excited to read it, because, if you know me at all, you know that I love me some gut-wrenchers, and this book seemed to have all the makings of one.

The first part of this book, which is only 26 pages, starts the book off in horrifying and tragic fashion. Even for someone like me who loves books that push me to see the ugliness and unfairness and atrocities of life, I read this part with wide, unbelieving eyes. This part of the book made me anxious and a little hesitant to read the rest of the story, which is unusual, to say the least. I thought, if this is how it starts, do I want to know where it's going to go? But I'm no coward, so I read on, and in some ways I was rewarded, and in others I was a little disappointed. This is a book that is hard for me to quantify, honestly. It's a story about life and loyalty, and the way that things don't always go the way that they should, or the way that we want them to go, but we go on anyway.

The story technically starts with the second part, which takes us back to 1897 Germany, to the story of how Magdalena Schultz, newly-pregnant at 16 and unable to marry the father of her baby, travels to America with her sister Frieda to find a new life and a new husband. She finds both, but they aren't exactly what she expected. Frieda snags Archie Richter, who runs the local German newspaper, as her own husband, and arranges the marriage of Maggie and Wilhelm Richter, Archie's brother, who is nearly 40, and a farmer, and a bit brutish, in Maggie's estimation. He isn't abusive, but he isn't overly empathetic either. So the Richter family begins, and the story takes us through babies (five of them), deaths, war, tests of loyalty and accusations of treason, and unexpected friendship and connection.

This comes from Liesel Richter, who befriends the mentally disabled son of her neighbor, mean-spirited, angry and vindictive Harald Sutter, a man who holds a personal grudge against the more successful Wilhelm Richter. Harald causes a lot of trouble in Wilhelm's life, using the war against Germany as an outlet, and pretty soon, things take a sharp turn from Troublesome Road onto Too Far Lane. Leisel, left alone to care for her family after her mother's death, finds companionship and acceptance in Lester, who routinely brings her turtles for food as gifts. Only when Leisel allows Lester access to her most closely guarded secret, thinking that he wouldn't understand that she was different from other girls, things go badly, and Leisel makes an irrevocable decision, both for Lester and herself.

This isn't a happy story. It's one of struggle and hardships (the emotional kind, not the monetary kind), and uncertainty. It's a story of learning who you are and that sometimes it's not enough to just do what you think is the right thing. Sometimes the world turns its back anyway. Which brings me to the one thing that felt incomplete in this story. Frieda and her husband were accused of treason for printing their German paper with stories from both sides of the Great War, which included showing that there were victims on both sides - a direct contradiction to the Official Story demonizing Germans as heathens and killers, etc. (Times haven't changed much since...) Frieda is arrested, and her husband is subjected to public humiliation, and while the rest of the story plays out, nothing is ever resolved with Frieda - was she released? Was she imprisoned forever? Did she decide that she would make a better martyr than prisoner?

There was a tiny touch of magical realism in the story, which both fit and seemed a little out of place in a story so steeped in the everyday ordinary world we all live in... but I felt that the ending was fitting to the story.

Overall, I can't say that I truly enjoyed the story - but it isn't that kind of story. It has a different purpose, and a different goal. It's the kind of story that one reads to try to understand people different from us, not be entertained. If you're interested in those kind of books, this one may be for you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September Book Ban - VICTORY! Plus, Giveaway Winner!

I made it. I bought no books. I borrowed no books. I requested no books by swap, trade, gift, ARC, for review or by any other means.

I have conquered. Even over my birthday, with a B&N gift-card burning a hole in my pocket. I feel quite accomplished. :D

So here's a final tally of what I read this month:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Haunting of Hill House
Angels, Sinners & Madmen
(Review Book & Smut-tember eligible)
The Reapers are the Angels (Review Book)
The Bride (for Smut-tember)
Star Wars: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina
Gentle Warrior
(For Smut-tember)
The House of The Spirits
Wait Until Midnight
(for Smut-tember)
The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking Like A Professional (Review Book)

I'm currently reading The Turtle Catcher (Review Book) & Everything's Eventual. And I will also be listening to Stephen King's UR audio very soon as well... Possibly even today if I finish The Turtle Catcher! Not bad, not bad.

Now if you'll remember, I also posted a giveaway for my copy of The Reapers are the Angels. I didn't do a whole heck of a lot of advertising for this one... so I didn't get a lot of entrants. It's like cause & effect! Whoa. (I'm such a slacker. I promise to do better next time!) The random number....

And the winner of a gently read copy of The Reapers are the Angels is.... *drumroll*


You are now the proud owner of your very own zombie apocalypse! Enjoy! :)

And that's that. Now I'm off to get me some books! MWAHAHAHAHA!