Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Afterlife Diet by Daniel Pinkwater

What a strange little note to end the year on.

This book is all about fat. Extreme fat. It puts the "Oh!" in obesity.

It starts out in the afterlife, when one of the many (fat) characters you will meet finds himself, well, dead - murdered, in fact - but not much otherwise changed. He is an editor.

Another character, another fatty, is a writer. Thoughout this book, and in one rather extensive portion, we are exposed to his outrageous attempts at (science)fiction. It is baffling, ridiculous, atrocious, stranger than this book even. It's almost as if the author is trying to say, "You think this is strange? Check this out!" and showcase just how bad strange can be through this character's book proposals. It makes you appreciate the book you're reading.

The food in this book was varied and delicious. The author knew his subject well, you could tell. At least one character practically worships hot dogs.

Along the way we come across a therapist, a doctor, a couple motivational speakers, all who are in the business of fat reduction. Each is worse (?) than the other. Again, so baffling, ridiculous, atrocious, you have to laugh.

I read this book in two days - once you threw your hands up in the air and enjoyed the ride, went with the flow, and realized that this thing wasn't going to - and didn't have to - make sense, well, it started making sense. Splendidly ridiculous. All the pieces came together in the satisfying end, including, quite literally, the editor and author, who were both the main characters. This book was an entertaining, easy read. Nothing intellectual, but you didn't feel you had wasted your time because it was such a (unique) experience. However, it could lead to some real discussion on society and culture, particularly our self-obsession with fat. Not for everyone, you have to have an open mind for this sort of weirdness, but recommended. - 3 stars

Backslide by Teresa Stores

This is a novel that I read for my new lesbian book club that I started. I just came upon this book while searching for something which wasn't either romance or erotica - it was a difficult find, but a good find. I lucked up on something really decent. More than decent.

This was a complex, thoughtful coming of age story of junior high student Virge Young. After we meet her as a successful adult author, it follows a year of her life as a young teenager when she nearly gets "kilt" by a snake, loses her best friend, becomes a loner, and deals with her religion, her culture and her sexuality. There are a whole host of supporting characters along the way, everything from a Vietnam veteran to a Holocaust survivor, and the novel is interspersed with the adult Virge Young's experiences reuniting with pivotal people from her past.

I appreciate this novel because it is so far away from what I was trying to avoid - glib, lesbian pulp fiction - but I also wonder if this novel didn't go too far in the other direction, taking on virtually every heavy topic there is to discuss, from religion to racism, that it couldn't thoroughly address any of those. My book club readers certainly had questions and felt that they wanted more out of the book, and the main character, regarding these issues. Then again, maybe these issues can never be finalized.

At the opening scene some provocative statements about Christianity are made - the main character has been hurt by fundamentalism. This novel doesn't back down from that and other difficult topics, though it doesn't solve them either. Those concerns aside, this was a thoughtful, deep, well-written novel with a main character that I think (would hope) anyone would be able to engage with, as the universal, human emotions of loss, confusion and loneliness come through and engage the reader in the main character's struggle. - 4 stars

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

I read this book several weeks ago. The main character is a wealthy college student who choses an eccentric part time job in much the same way she chose her college - in order to buck the conventions and trappings of living a rich girl lifestyle. Daddy is amused. Little rich girl meets her new boss, a tight-lipped little old lady. Little old lady sets rich girl to work transcribing an ancestor's diary. The diary was written during the events of the Salem witch trials by a woman who eventually falls prey to the hysteria of that century and becomes a victim herself. Little rich girl becomes emotionally involved with the diary, and the little old lady. Eventually, she must save the day for the vulnerable little old lady while at the same time coming to terms with her own prejudices and nievety in her dealings with a potential love interest and her college roommate, as well as finish an important project for her father. Little rich girl has her plate full.

This was an easy read which might suit high school students and serve as supplemental literature for those who are studying The Crucible in their English classes. In many parts, I found the fictionalized diary exerpts in the voice of a fictionalized victim of the Salem witch trials to be more engaging and interesting than that of the main character's narrative, however, again, high school students may relate to her better, and she may serve as a guide for them to this part of American history. And I'm all for students becoming interested in history, or, anything other than video games, really.

For me, if Meissner had simply written a historical novel solely in the voice of the Salem witch trial victim, I might have found it a deeper read. Those were the best parts. I just didn't care for this little rich girl main character. - 2 stars

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone



I asked for and received copies of the first three Harry Potter books in hardcover for Christmas because I did not have them. After I had read the first three books initially, I bought my own copies of 4 through 7 immediately when they were available.

In any case, I have already reread the first book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this week.

I was surprised at how unfamiliar parts of the story were for me. I did not remember really at all how the story had started, how Harry realizes his own abilities as a young wizard, and how difficult it was for him to leave his adopted family. It was almost as if I had never read the book before when, in fact, I believe I had actually read it at least twice previously.

I also did not remember where Voldemort was hidden or the exact events of the recapture of the Sorcerer's Stone or many of the events surrounding the Quidditch matches or what happened with Snape. Really, as I said, I did not remember many of the important events that happened in this first story.

I do remember the excitement of knowing another book by J.K. Rowling was coming along soon and that I would get to find out more about Harry and his friends. This time, though, it's even more exciting, because now I already have all seven books sitting on my shelf right next to me!

2009 Sign Up

This is a sticky post, so please scroll down for new book reviews.

Okay, so 5-Squared has been going strong now since April, and we have tons of people on here. My question for everyone is - who is interested in continuing on next year? Please leave me a comment or send me an email to let me know if you want to stay or leave. I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who wanted to join but haven't yet had the opportunity to post any reviews.

Goals will of course be set at 25 books this year instead of the pro-rated levels in 2008. If you have a personal goal that's higher than the 25 (for example, my goal is 100 books in 2009) and you want that posted on your book list, also let me know that in your comment. I'll put both on the list. While you're here, take a look at your 2008 goals and see how well you're doing. We're reading so much! It's wonderful!

For those who follow us in Google Reader, please forgive the fact that in a couple weeks, I'll be posting all the new book lists for linking to in 2009. I'll post them dated at the beginning of December, after we get some real reviews in, but I'm sure they'll still show up in Reader. My apologies. I don't know a better way to do it unless I stick the book lists back in April, which seems a bit cumbersome.

I've really enjoyed our group and hope some of you are still enjoying it. Please let me know one way or another what you want to do next year, and if you are still interested in participating.

Also, does anyone have any comments or suggestions on the flow of the webpage? I'm open to all suggestions.

Lastly, if you have reviews for 2008 that you don't get to until 2009, please mention in the review that you read the book in 2008 so I can put in on the appropriate book list. I know sometimes we get behind and don't post our review for awhile after we've finished reading, and that's perfectly fine. I just want to make sure I don't screw everything up.

Thanks everyone!
Amanda

PS - I'd like to add that if anyone new wants to join our blog, please leave a comment here or send me an email as well. I can always sign up new members for 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The American Civil War : A Hands-On History by Christopher J. Olsen

Just to forewarn you all, there will be another book on this same subject coming up soon, both because the subject is an interesting one, and for some of my scholastic goals. So, if oyu don't like Civil War history, just ignore my posts for a bit.

This book is what it sounds like : a history book on the Civil War, but with one interesting addition - each chapter ended with transcriptions of several primary sources that related to the subject of the chapter (the chapter on Gettysburg, for instance, contains a partial transcription of the official report of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, one of the heroes of the Union in the battle). Some of these, of course, made for dry reading, some strike the modern reader as just slightly ridiculous, btu others were very potent reading. Letters, for instance, of Southern women starving in the crumbling South, begging their husbands to come home, letters from Union soldiers with only the weakest handle on basic spelling and grammar, these felt real, and interesting. The narrative itself was well-written and fairly balanced, neither apologizing for the South, nor deifying the North. I learned a number of interesting things, and overall enjoyed the book.

I also learned how many verses of Dixie and the Battle Hymn of the Republic I don't know, or know wrong (the original text of Dixie didn't apparently have all that stuff about the Land of Cotton, blah blah blah, but was a very martial, stirring song, and the lyric in Battle Hymn that talks about the life of Christ ends not with 'As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free', but with 'As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free' - a stirring, but haunting image, and one that stuck with me through the book. I commented in Facebook (oh, gosh I'm a geek, aren't I?) the other day, that it was very interesting to read about the abolitionists, who we read as inhuman heroes in our school days, and to realize that, from the popular perspective, these people were viewed more or less the same way fundamentalists are viewed today - they were largely the product of the Second Great Awakening, and the greatest of their arguments were just the sort of arguments that liberals hate now - that slavery is wrong because it goes against the laws of God. The comparison between, say, William Lloyd Garrison, and Rick Warren is one I haven't quite worked out in my head. It was, on the same rite, fascinating to read about the Republican party creating the dictums that transformed America from a series of largely Libertarian individually confederated states who, according to Jefferson, even had the right to secede from the Union by popular consent, to the strongly unified central government of the modern United States, and how they got kicked out of the south, afterward, by the traditionalist and conservative Democrats. Ah, how things change...

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees explores the journey of Lily Owens' life told through parallels of the life of bees. Time is set in 1964, South Carolina. Lily is haunted by a blurring wisp of a memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. This leaves Lily to grasp for any memory she can think of about her mother. Her brash father is no help to her and is a continuous source of friction. Rosaleen cares for Lily, with her limited resources, and they become bonded. Through a serious of troubling events, Lily and Rosaleen escape their life as they have known it and find comfort in a town called Tiburon. A trio of sisters, takes them in and they are introduced to an exciting and magnificent new world of beekeeping.
Each chapter has a quote about bees at its beginning which is what drew me into the book and kept my curiosity in order to finish it. Most likely, this is because I have a personal interest in bees since as a young girl I remember helping my dad harvest the honey from his beehives. I could relate to the processes of beekeeping sprinkled throughout the story. As Lily remembers; "Right now it's enough to say that despite everything that happened that summer, I remain tender toward the bees."
I enjoyed the characters which are charming, endearing and fun to read and imagine. There are times that this book seemed unrealistic but I didn't feel the need to take it so seriously. After all, It is about an 'escape' for Lily and Rosaleen which leads to a fantasy-like quality for the book. I think if my life seemed as conflicted and tragic as Lily's or Rosaleen's, enough to actually escape it, I would exaggerate or fantasize for something better. Although, this book has some poignant messages that it tries to convey, I think its captivation lies in the 'escape.' I would recommend that it is read in that same way.
Lastly, a good quote:
"All the mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shining over me."
Lily-"Secret Life of Bees"
I am planning on reading "The Mermaid Chair" by this author next year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple

Alright, I apologize if my review is a little scattered. It's the end of the year, the time when I desperately want to start 100 new projects to 'make this year better', but when I quietly know that it's the starting of these 100 projects last year that somewhat contributed to my general disarray through the ensuing 12 months. As such, I'm a little bit scattershot today. Add on top of this the fact that I had to read the last third of this book in a single afternoon when I should have been doing other things that needed doing, because it was due back at the library, and I will blushingly apologize for whatever happens for the rest of this review.

This book has been the talk of the town this year, frequently cited as one of 2008's best pieces of nonfiction. And, it's about Emily Dickinson. So. It didn't take much prompting for me to put it on hold at the library. I actually was the first to receive it, after the library put on a cover and what-not. And the book did exactly what everyone said - knocked you on your ear with a gentle humanity that makes you smile and blush - at least if you had certain popular notions before you started.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was one of Dickinson's longest friendships. Though they met only twice, and both times only briefly (and the first time resulting in Higginson writing that he was thankful she didn't leave nearby), they wrote for most of Dickinson's adult life, and he played an important role in the publishing of her poetry. By important, I mean, generally, infamous. Most people have demonized poor Higginson as a priggish man who didn't really understand what he was reading, and who butchered Dickinson's verse for years with the aid of Dickinson's brother's mistress - ah, my friends, yes, Dickinson who lived so insularly while alive, was the object of one of the ugliest literary soap operas of all time after her death. All this is true of course, but the thing that this book made me realize was that Higginson, imperfect and at times maddeningly blind, was really a generally good man, who had Dickinson's best interests at heart, and who, in purely practical terms, lived a good, boldly virtuous life through, championing abolition and women's rights, for instance, in a time when it was very perilous to do so. Especially in his early years of friendship with Ms Dickinson, he was no timid speechifier. He led a mob that tried to break down the doors to the Boston courthouse in order to release a fugitive slave, he was the only one of the co-conspirators of John Brown (yes, THE John Brown) that didn't run off to Canada, go crazy, or deny his involvement in the plot at Harper's Ferry, and led the first regiment of freed slaves in the Civil War, professing a dislike for the famous Robert Gould Shaw, because he was too cruel to his black soldiers. He was also alive at one of the interesting times in American literary history - his French teacher, for instance, in College? Well, it was this guy named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Maybe you've heard of him. He was one of the candidates to edit the papers of Thoreau after he died, and wrote an essay in the Atlantic, that Thoreau complimented warmly. Speaking of the Atlantic, one of the most distinguished voices of American letters over the years, he was one of the earliest, and most frequent contributors to the magazine - it was in fact an article in the Atlantic that sparked his friendship with Dickinson.

The book also did a good job of giving a very humanizing picture of Dickinson, at once a beautiful genius with a maturity on the subjects of fame and human praise that most never reach in their lifetime, and at the same time, someone who exhibited, shall we say, a well-tuned sense of drama. It was refreshing, and warmly humanizing, to read about a Dickinson that breathes the same air as the rest of us. And the details in the story were refreshing, well-placed, and narrative, without being gossipy (Emily Dickinson, for instance, had auburn hair, a detail at once insignificant and so out of our image of the poet that it makes us think of how much mythologizing we really do with her). But, in Dickinson terms, though there was certainly a bias, this was the best sort of biography, at once revealing and honest, straightforward and daring, and filled iwth an interesting angle to look at the same, impenetrable mist that is Emily Dickinson

Bill Bryson's African diary by Bill Bryson, Jenny Matthews, and CARE International

Bill Bryson's African DiaryBill Bryson's African diary is a quick book about Bill Bryson's one week trip to Kenya with folks from CARE International.
In the book, Bryson describes his week-long journey to Kenya, in which he visits a slum in Nairobi, a Somali refugee camp near Kenya's border with Somalia, and many other areas of the country in between where CARE projects have helped to improve the living conditions of impoverished communities.
CARE International's process is to go into an impoverished area and teach an individual or a community how it can better help itself. For example, Bryson describes a bank system where women are able to borrow money in order to grow a small business. This allows them to make their own money and pay back the original loan. In another example, CARE built a water pump in the center of a community, which made irrigation and obtaining water for daily chores much easier for the community. What is unique about this project is that they organized a group of locals who were taught how to fix the pump to be responsible for maintaining the pump for the future. A farmer who was taught new farming techniques, which allowed him to increase the size of his farm greatly, was expected to teach his newfound knowledge to other local farmers.
This was a quick read. In fact, I read it in about 20 minutes while sitting in my car. That fact does not take away from the importance of the work CARE does in impoverished parts of the world. In addition, all proceeds from sales of the book go to the non-profit organization.
For more information about CARE International, go to http://www.care.org/.

Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

I read this for a focus book group in Nov. as it was their selection of that month. I thought I better get it posted before the year ends. I have a few more I'll be posting and trying to catch up with my book reviews in the next few days as well.
In his moralistic style, C.S. Lewis retells the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The narrator is Queen Orual, who is the eldest daughter and successor of Trom, King of Glome. Also known as the "ugly sister." Orual's story begins in her childhood in her father's castle. There she is quite isolated in her life, surrounded only by her fathers servants, advisor's, and her sisters, Redival and Psyche. Redival is beautiful on the outside, Psyche possesses the most beauty from within and without and Orual is considered ugly. Orual struggles feeling any sort of love until Psyche comes into her life and she takes care of her like she would a daughter. Orual's inner struggles are great and she suffers a lot of turmoil so I really felt sorry for her yet I wasn't sure if I should during her tough times. In the end, Orual hauntingly examines herself and her world begins to change as she does.
Since this book relies more on its emotion and psychological elements with sensory details lacking, it took me a little bit of reading to get into this mythological world. The style of language Lewis wrote it in was also unique to me because I'm so unfamiliar with Greek mythology. In parts, it captivated me and other times it confused me. I think because of this I would need to read it again, perhaps. I feel this is a book I would need to read twice to grasp it because of its complexity.
Here's a quote I liked from the book in Book 2, Chap. 4:
"Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.”"

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett


1983; 210 pages. Genre : Comedic fantasy. Awards : #93 on the "Big Read", detailed here. Overall Rating : B+.
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This is the book that started it all - Terry Pratchett's initial Discworld offering. An inept and cynical wizard is forced to safeguard the health of a visiting and very naive tourist. Their (mis)-adventures cause the capital city of Ankh-Morpork to burn to the ground. This is followed by a trip to the lair of an unspeakable evil; then to a dragon-kingdom; and finally to the very edge of the (disc)-world.
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What's To Like...
There are endearing characters, such as : 1.) Rincewind, the wizard who only knows one spell and can't use it. 2.) Twoflower, the tourist who wants to see barroom brawls, fire-breathing dragons, and the rim of the world, and does it all without ever having a sense of danger. 3.) "The Luggage", a hundred-legged trunk that's a devoted bodyguard to Twoflower, and who will devour anyone it perceives to be a threat to him.
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This was our introduction to Pratchett's zany wittiness. Here's one example, being Rincewind's description of Twoflower :
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"Let's just say that if complete and utter chaos were lightning, then he'd be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armor and shouting, 'All gods are bastards'." Oh wow! A cross between Sylvia Plath and Douglas Adams.
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My only complaint is the relative shortness of the book, and the fact that Borders wanted to charge full-price ($6.99) for it. Fortunately, it showed up at the used-bookstore for $2.00. Also, this is a "to be continued" tale - I now have to hunt down Book #2, The Light Fantastic. Assuming it is of similar length, then why weren't the two books combined into a single 400-page volume?
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The Secret to good Fantasy-Writing...
I read once that Tolkien's endeavor, when he wrote The Lord Of The Rings, was to simply not have any "dead spots" in it. It seems Pratchett follows this philosophy. I don't think a page goes by here without some sort of mayhem arising. Which makes sense - if you're writing a fantasy, why should there need to be more than a couple paragraphs before something wicked this way comes?
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In the end, Discworld books are now "three for three" with me. I'd give this an "A" except for its brevity and the annoying need to now find the sequel. It appears a weekend trip to the library is in order.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Amanda gave a more complete review of this book here. (I don't know how to write the accent mark on the blog either, incidentally.)

"Antonia and I climbed up on the slanting roof of the chicken-house to watch the clouds. The thunder was loud and metallic, like the rattle of sheet iron, and the lightning broke in great zigzags across the heavens, making everything stand out and come close to us for a moment."
I liked this simple quote and the moment evokes for Antonia. Life is unsure now for her, it will be harder without her father, and this thunderstorm is her realization of that. The characters struggle throughout yet this book carries their hard times in solemnity.
The prairie scenery is vivid in this book. Cather is amazing with her descriptive imagery. You do get a sense of being there.
Although, this is not one of my most favorite novels of Willa Cather. I liked Cather's premise for this book formed out of her friendship with Jim Burden. She explains in her introduction about how this book came to life. "More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood."
I would recommend this book because it is a classic and you do gain a new experience through reading it.

The Gift of the Magi and other stories by O. Henry


"Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly. but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length."
This beautiful imagery comes from O. Henry's first story The Gift of the Magi. This is the main Christmas story in the book and it is a good reflection of the spirit of the Christmas season. I love stories like O. Henry writes when he just tells a great story and lets the reader be smart enough to draw their own conclusion from it or not. I like that his stories are interesting, thought-provoking and don't make you feel guilty. I was surprised that I was actually familiar with a lot of his stories. I just hadn't read them in his own words. I had heard others try to repeat them and it is simply not the same experience. I will like reading these stories again and again. In my opinion, his storytelling is a gift of magic.
Some of the other stories that I really liked from this collection include: The Last Leaf, Transients in Arcadia, and The Purple Dress.
This is a wonderful collection of stories and I would recommend reading them, perhaps, during the next holiday season.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Journals Of Sylvia Plath


1982; 355 pages. Edited by Ted Hughes & Frances McCullough. Genre : Non-Fiction. Overall Rating : D (but see last paragraph).
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After immensely enjoying The Bell Jar, I picked this up with the idea of getting a better understanding about what drove Plath to her suicide attempts. Alas, TJOSP sheds little light in that regard.
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There is now an "Unabridged" version of this book, so this particular edition is rendered essentially superfluous. And it needs to be kept in mind that I'm sure Plath never intended these musings to be shared with the general public.
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This book was heavily edited by Plath's "quasi-ex" Ted Hughes, and her mom, with whom she had a complex love-hate relationship. One gets the feeling these two (especially Hughes) did some significant cutting to make themselves look good. For instance, there is nothing here about the "Bell Jar" breakdown years (allegedly, those journals just up and disappeared). There is nothing negative about Hughes here at all; and there is nothing here about the final months of Plath's life, after she and Hughes had separated due to his infidelity. (Hughes admits destroying the final two of Plath's journals).
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What you do get is an open and often unflattering self-portrait of Plath. She has caustic comments about almost everyone she meets (although she finally breaks this habit in the last 30 pages of the book). She also is jealous about her authoring "rivals", especially when they get published before she does. And she is vain about her looks, considering herself to be a sort of disdainful man-eater.
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Plath also seems to have set her life goals unattainably high. She is determined to be the best author ever, and anything less than that causes grave self-doubts, insecurity, and bouts of depression. In college, she fears that she'll get trapped in a 50's marriage that will squelch her writing goals. Ironically, she marries Hughes who, for whatever his personal drawbacks, was a brilliant poet/writer. Plath "praises" his successes, but one gets the feeling her teeth were gritted when she wrote those entries.
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What's To Like...
There is a certain self-honesty about these journals, even if they show Plath in a less-than-favorable light. Two examples :
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"If only a group of people were more important to me than the idea of a Novel, I might begin a novel." (pg. 320). "Feel unlike writing anything today. A horror that I am really at bottom uninterested in people : the reason I don't write stories." (pg. 324).
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And then there are the descriptive passages, throughout the book, of which Plath was a master. For instance :
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"The wind has blown a warm yellow moon up over the sea; a bulbous moon, which sprouts in the soiled indigo sky, and spills bright winking petals of light on the quivering black water." (pg. 31) Oh my, That's beautiful!
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Perhaps it might be said that Plath's real strength lay in being a wordsmith. She struggled her whole career to create plots for her marvelous prose. Even The Bell Jar, her magnum opus, is more an autobiography than a novel, and therefore needed no plot. I suspect that she is best-suited as a poet, not a story-writer. We shall see. Ariel is sitting on my TBR shelf.
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In conclusion, I struggled to complete this book. Thank goodness for OCD. I can't recommend TJOSP to most readers; I got tired of Plath's endless verbosity about writing, editing, submitting, re-editing, rewriting and re-submitting all the poems and stories she worked on. However, those at 5-Squared who are writers might rate this book much higher, even moreso if they can relate to Plath's bipolarity.

The Santa Letters

The Santa Letters by Stacy Gooch-Anderson is a perfect read for this time of year. Emma Jensen and her four kids are approaching Christmas without William. William, Emma's husband, was killed by a hit-and-run driver the year before. While she tries to be brave for her children, Emma misses him greatly and is having a hard time with the approaching holiday.

Then, a mysterious letter and package arrive on their doorstep. It is signed from Santa Claus and each package has a letter with a message. The letters contain a message that expounds on important themes, such as family, forgiveness, and service. McKenna, the youngest daughter has faith that their father will be there for Christmas. With her faith, the Jensen family embraces the Santa letters with hope and enthusiasm. Each letter and package brings the family closer together and toward a path that will heal their hearts and leads them to forgiveness.

I enjoyed the messages that centered around the teachings of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness and service are major themes in the book and leave the reader with a greater desire to focus Christmas on His life and teachings.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fantasy Gone Wrong - Martin Greenberg & Brittiany Koren


2006; 16 stories; 309 pages. Genre : Fantasy. Overall Rating : B.
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Hey, is that a cool bookcover or what?! Sixteen authors were asked to write tales with humor, irony, and unexpected twists. At an average length of 19 pages, things like depth and development of characters are forgivably non-existent. As with any anthology, some stories were excellent; others were so-so.
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My only gripe is with the last one ("Is This Real Enough?"), and that's only because of its sloppy spell-checking. "Deity" was repeatedly spelled d-i-e-t-y, and the name of one of the characters, Mirri, was occasionally spelled with only one "R". My normal review format doesn't work well with anthologies, so here's six of the stories that I liked.
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01. Goblin Lullaby. It's elves and mankind versus witches and goblins, but this one's told from a goblin nursemaid's perspective. My personal favorite in the book.
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02. The Rose, The Farmboy, and the Gnome. Jed (the farmboy) owes 1000 gold pieces to the pixie underworld; or else Uncle Gotti and his femme fatale daughters are going to start slicing off various parts of his body. A nice, unexpected ending.
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03. New Yorke Snowe. A village whore (yes, there are adult themes and cussing in these stories), finds that a magic unicorn is inexplicably tagging along with her, which is interfering with her livelihood. Some nice twists, and a non-stereotypical stepmother.
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04. The Hero of Killorglin. A Tolkienish doggy faery tale. Short on the humor; long on the beauty.
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05. Finder's Keeper. Kinda like the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment in Fantasia, save that here it's the mage's pet wyrm and an animated spell book.
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06. Food Fight. A guy can hear food talking to him. The opening line is "My coffee keeps insulting me". Hilariously witty, although the storyline lags a bit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Thief Of Time - Tony Hillerman


1988; 325 pages. Genre : Murder Mystery. Made into a movie for the PBS series Mystery!. Overall Rating : B-.
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An anthropologist vanishes among Anasazi ruins. A flatbed trailer and backhoe are stolen. Three murders rock the remote 4-Corners area of the Southwest. Navajo Tribal police lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and officer Jim Chee have to find the connection in all this, find the killer(s), and find the missing anthropologist.
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What's To Like...
The list of suspects are all "gray"; none jump out as the obvious bad guys. The solving of the case comes from dogged and determined detective work, not from some too-good-to-be-true stroke of luck.
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Hillerman uses real-world settings, usually in the Native American regions in the Southwest. Since I live in Phoenix, this was a close-to-home story. He also focuses heavily on the daily lives of the Native Americans, and their sturggle to maintain their cultural identity. Chee and Leaphorn are a nice study in contrasts. Leaphorn is modernized - Navajo traditions don't bother him, and he doesn't believe in witches. Chee is a "singer" - kind of a junior shaman for his clan. Finding bodies calls for a ritualistic cleansing just as soon as the policework is done.
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That being said, there is a bit too much emphasis on the cultural issues here. A bit more time might have been spent on smoothing out the storyline. The ending seems contrived and just a bit abrupt. Oh yeah, and we have yet another burnt-out cop here (Leaphorn). Is it too much to ask just once to have the main cop be well-adjusted and happy to go to work each day?
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On writing Murder-Mysteries...
I have a feeling this is a tough genre to write. Somebody gets killed early on. Somebody else spends most of the book searching for clues and trying not to be offed or fired as he/she closes in on solving the case. At the end, there needs to be an exciting climax, with the perpetrators getting their just desserts. There's not much room for variation in this format, and how many thousands of murder-mystery books are there out there?
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Adieu, Tony Hillerman...
Tony Hillerman put his unique stamp on the murder-mystery format by imbuing his books with a heavy dose of Southwestern Native American history & culture. I've read that among the Hopis, Navajos, etc., he is held in high esteem for this. Tony Hillerman passed away last October 26, at the age of 83. While I'm not a big fan of this genre, it seemed appropriate to read one of his books.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

OK, so I've actually read quite a few books since my last review and I am going to try to do them all in the order that I read them so here we go!

The Host is the story about Wanderer, an alien "soul" that has been placed in the body of Melanie Stryder. While most humans minds fade away after being taken over, Melanie remains intact. The souls hope that by placing Wanderer in Melanie's body they will be able to locate the position of the remaining human resistance. Wanderer is willing until she uncovers the memories of Melanie's lover, Jared, and of her younger brother, Jamie. Through contact with Melanie's love for these two individuals, Wanderer grows love for them as well and sets out to find them.

I have to say, I really, really enjoyed The Host. I loved the characters, and the story gripped me the whole way through. I loved how Meyer created two individuals and put them in the same body without ever letting either character lose their own voice. The background on the souls was fascinating and left me wanting to know more about the other worlds they inhabited.

My only real beef with it would be that there were just a couple of characters that never really matured in any way, and the ending seemed all wrong. I hate being vague, but if anyone here does decide to read it I don't want to ruin it for them. Stephenie does tie up the book pretty neatly, albeit for me slightly unsatisfactorily, but still leaves it open enough that she could come back with a sequel if she wanted to. I'm really hoping that now that she's done with the Twilight series she will.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow


On July 25, 2008, computer science professor, Randy Pausch, died at the age of 47.

"The brick walls are there for a reason," he said during his last lecture. "The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

But instead of focusing on his death, Pausch spoke about living his life and about his childhood dreams. Many college professors are asked to give a last lecture on college campuses, so it wasn't necessarily a unique experience for Professor Pausch. What made it unique, was the fact that he was dying of pancreatic cancer. This book came about because of his lecture. I had heard about it and was mildly curious. It's not a book that I would normally pick up but I had decided on joining a book group at church and it was the selection chosen for Dec. I wasn't sure what to expect but I was pleasantly captivated by this book. There were things that I could relate to, like working at Walt Disney World, and things that brought back some of my childhood dream memories too. It's been fun for me to ponder and think about what it was like being a child and what actually were my dreams again?! There isn't anything earth-shattering in this book, instead Pausch focused on family, friends, life experiences and educational experiences as well. I really enjoyed reading about his educational experiences. It was refreshing to think of him as a Professor at Carnegie Mellon and how his education had shaped his own life and the way he taught or dealt with students. I could sense his excitement for learning and living.
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:
"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer."

"Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think."

Overall, it was a good and an easy read. I've enjoyed discovering my inner child again because of it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Code Of The Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse


1938; 222 pages. Genre : British comedy. Overall Rating : A.
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O Happy day! My local library has a veritable trove of P.G. Wodehouse books! I can see me going on a "Jeeves" kick in 2009.
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The Code Of The Woosters is a more typical Jeeves books than The Return Of Jeeves, reviewed earlier here. TCotW is told in the first-person, and by Jeeves' usual employer, Sir Bertie Wooster.
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Bertie and Jeeves are guests at a neighboring estate, and Bertie is being blackmailed by three different relatives, each of whom wants him to purloin a cow creamer from there for them. The task is complicated by the fact that the present owner and his goose-stepping bodyguard already suspect that Bertie is a thief. It gets worse when someone pinches the local constable's helmet. Suspicion immediately focuses on Bertie, and inexplicably, said helmet keeps showing up in his room.
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What's To Like...
This is vintage Wodehouse. Besides the plethora of threads, there is a recurring theme of Bertie & Jeeves confidently "taking care of everything", only to find themselves in deeper doo-doo five minutes later when something inevitably goes awry. When they take care of that new challenge, another unforeseen twist immediately shows up, landing them in an even stickier wicket.
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The book is well-written, quite funny, and full of Britishisms. It also is notable that Wodehouse takes some political jabs at Fascism in the book, save that here the brown-shirts are replaced by black-shorts. This buffoonery was quite brave, given that Wodehouse wrote this in 1938, when Hitler and Mussolini were on the rise in Europe. In the end, all turns out well, and the Code of the Woosters remains intact. I highly recommended this book, especially since it's probably available at your nearby library.
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A few words on cow-creamers...
Maybe I've led a sheltered life, but I had never heard of such a thing as a cow-creamer. I could of course, deduce what it was. Still, it was nice to find that Google Images has dozens of pics of them, one of which is to the right.
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Amazingly, the source of all my knowledge, Wikipedia, does not yet have an entry about cow-creamers. They give one short sentence about them bring a favorite Wodehouse prop, and that's it. So if you're yearning for instant fame by writing an article for Wikipedia, here's your opportunity.
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Of course, one other important topic not yet covered in Wikipedia is that paragon of bookreading-blogs : 5-Squared. So lasting Wiki fame can also be achieved by submitting an entry about that. ;-)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fate Fantastic edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Daniel M. Hoyt

"Ascent" by Julie E. Czernada. I had no idea what this story was about nor am I going to waste time and brain cells to guess. "Approaching Sixty" by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg. I'm not Jewish nor do I gamble so this story tended to confuse me on both those fronts. "But World Enough" by Sarah A. Hoyt. This one was a take on Hannibal Barca, Hamilcar Barca's son, life and death. I didn't know the history beforehand and even after I read up on the history, the story still didn't interest me mainly because of the confusing flashbacks. "Consigned" by Alan Dean Foster. I don't even remember what this story was about. "My Girlfriend Fate" by Darwin A. Garrison. This probably would've been a better story without all the sexual innuendos and post-modern angst. "A Rat's Tale" by Barbara Nickless. This was actual a good story. A little sci-fi-ish piece in the distant future about how martyrs are made. "The Bones of Mammoth Malone" by Esther M. Friesner. This was the best of the bunch. Mammoth Malone is a bone reader and Randi Vixen is the damsel in distress who comes to him to help figure out why lemmings are no longer jumping off the cliffs. It's like pulp fiction in the ice-age. I loved this story. "Death and Taxes" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I had no idea what the purpose was behind this story. This one's about a social experiment gone wrong, so the story followed suit. "Fate Dogs" by Robert Hoyt. This one's about a guy who buys hotdogs who can control his fate until he realizes life's more fun without them. "The Man with One Bright Eye" by Jay Lake. This one was about a goddess who decides to create an arrogant, self-centered, over-sexed idiot as a son and how he hoodwinks the women around him. "A Tapestry of Souls" by Paul Crilley. A small boy learns very early that all's fair in love and war, sometimes when the mean the same thing. "The Final Choice" by Irene Radford. Death has an appointment to keep, if only he can remember what it is and why is he always drawn to this woman who's not in his appointment book. "The Prophecy of Symon the Inept" by Rebecca Lickiss. This story was enjoyable. A man goes through great lengths to ensure the Symon's prophecy comes true, which it does, but not the way he expects but definitely what he deserves. "Choice of the Oracles" by Kate Paulk. Another futuristic sci-fi bit where Oracles (computers) run things until one of the workers questions their commands. "Camelot's Greatest Hits" by Laura Resnick. It's Battle of the Bands and King Arthur is leading them; why, oh, why did Merlin take this job. "Jack" by Dave Freer. A spirit named Jack haunts the woods guarding a very precious secret, but not everything is as it seems, including Jack herself.

Overall, not too bad. There were some stories I didn't like or couldn't get into, but the others made up for it.

Only the Cat Knows by Marian Babson

In this little catcapade, Babson slinks through the lives of fraternal twins, Vanessa (Nessa) an Vance. Nessa has a terrible fall, leaving her comatose. Vance rushes to her side, convinced it wasn't an accident and someone had it in for his sister. He plots to go undercover as Nessa (he's her twin and a female impersonator) and see who hated her so much. With the doctor's help and the story of amnesia, Vance appears to be successful, until he meets Gloriana, Nessa's cat (which also happens to be Vance's stage name). Vance is introduced to the rest of the house, which provides a very interesting mix of characters and soon discovers almost everyone had it in for Nessa for one reason or another. Slowly, but surely, Vance unravels the whole charade, including his own, and finds out what really happened to Nessa.

I don't know why I'm drawn to these stories, perhaps it's because of the cats. The storyline is preposterous and the setting ridiculous, but Babson pulls it off; it's almost like pulp noir in reverse. She manages to get the reader across the Suspension Bridge of Disbelief and is quite clever in her mystery, I didn't get who was the culprit until the end. She makes the storyline work. So far, Babson's books are great distractions, but, then again, I do like cats and she writes them well.

What's a Ghoul to Do? by Victoria Laurie

I'm really excited about this new series by Laurie. She writes about Abby Cooper the Psychic Eye and this is a new series with Mary Jane (MJ) Holliday, who's a ghostbuster. MJ works her own company with fellow partner/friend, Gilley, but things are moving at a slow pace and they need money which is why Gilley blows a gasket when MJ turns down the doctor, Sexy Steven Sable aka Dr. De-lish. In the meantime, MJ's love life is as successful as her business, perhaps less so because love doesn't have the choice of declaring bankruptcy. So while pouring her latest sorrows in a cup of coffee at the local café hangout and chatting up her good friend, Karen aka TKO (total knock out), she decides to take the proprietress up on match making setup, who just happens to be the delectable Dr. Sable. MJ relents to both the job and the doctor and they're heading to the mountains to check out the ghosts haunting the place. They get more than they bargain for and manage to help the ghosts and the living people with their problems.

It appears this series is going to employ catchy phrases or song titles. The next two in the series are titled Demons are a Ghoul's Best Friend and Ghouls Just Haunt to Have Fun. I would like to suggest, Demons are Forever and/or My Best Friend's Ghoul, just to name a few.

Thud! - Terry Pratchett


2005; 382 pages. Genre : Fantasy. Overall Rating : B.
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Thud! is the name of a board game played in Discworld. The pieces/sides are dwarves and trolls, and the game is unique in that you have to successfully play it from both sides in order to win the game. Thud! is also the sound Grag Hamcrusher's skull made when someone bashed in the deep-down dwarf's head . With a club. Possibly the troll's club found beside the body. It's now up to Sam Vimes and the City Watch to solve the murder before the Trolls and Dwarves turn Ankh-Morpork into an urban battleground.
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What's To Like...
The Wodehousian influence is readily apparent in the tangle of plot lines going on here. Besides the murder and imminent ethnic warfare mentioned above, there's the first vampire to join the City Watch; a huge painting done by a deranged artist that just might hide some clues about some secret or treasure (a Pratchett tweak at the Da Vinci Code); a nasty "dark" monster that I swear was also in The Wheel of Darkness, reviewed here; and last but not least, there's Sam Vimes hurrying home each night to read "Where's My Cow" to his son.
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All these disparate lines get nicely tied together by the end of the book. Oh, and for you romantic types, there's even a love story between one of the guards, Nobby, and a sweet young thing named Tawnee. Yes, she's a pole-dancer, but is that any impediment when it comes to true love?
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This is something like #34 in the Discworld series. The only other one I've read is #8, Guards! Guards!. (I must have a thing for exclamation marks in titles). Thud! doesn't pack as many laughs-per-page as G!G! did. It kinda reminds me of the TV series M*A*S*H in its latter years. Less yucks, more message. Thud! does take on some serious themes - racial prejudice, affirmative action, and religious fanaticism, to name a couple. Yet at its core, it's still a light-hearted, fun-to-read fantasy.
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It is interesting to note that subsequent to this book, a real-world board-game "Thud!" was developed. And "Where's My Cow?" was developed into a real-world children's book. In the end, this is a good read, although it probably shouldn't be your introduction to Discworld. I did find the very first Discworld book, The Color Of Magic, at the used-bookstore; and I'm looking forward to reading the "genesis" of this decades-popular series.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard


I recently made a trip to the book store and purchased several books for my daughter for her birthday. One of them, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J. K. Rowling, was really a book for me, and it was only loosely disguised as a book for my daughter.

The book has already been reviewed by Amanda here.

The book does give great background and explanation for questions that I had after reading each of the books in the Harry Potter series. Each story has commentary by Albus Dumbledore in which he outlines the historical criticism of each wizarding fairy tale. He also gives some context for where each of these stories fits into wizarding history. And Rowling includes her own footnotes in the text as well.

The five stories which were newly translated from the ancient runes by Hermione Granger were "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," "The Fountain of Fair Fortune," "The Warlock's Hairy Heart," Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump," and "The Tale of the Three Brothers." I especially liked the two stories "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" and "The Tale of Three Brothers." In the first of these, Beedle tells the story of four who travel to find favor from the titled fountain which they all hope will bring them good fortune. The second of these, which has previously been told in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is the story of three brothers who seek the wand, cloak, and stone of death. What I particularly liked about this tale is Dumbledore's commentary on the story, and that Rowling comments that he "reveals a little less than he knows -or suspects" about this story.

I have not read each of the HP books as extensively as Amanda has, since I have read each of the books 1 through 5 only twice (or maybe 3 times in the case of the first 2), and the last two one time only. Therefore, I am left at the end of reading this book wanting to start back at the beginning of the series to re-read the whole thing again.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, by Amy Sedaris


A big thank you to Hatchette Books for sponsoring several blog giveaways for a 5 pack of holiday books. I was the winner of one of the sets of books hosted by Lesa at Lesa's Book Critiques. In full disclosure, I've also posted my review here on my blog.
I Like You, Amy Sedaris's new book on "Hospitality under the Influence" is a gorgeous book which gives lots of tips on how to be a better party host and attendee. It is full of color pictures of food, cakes and cupcakes, arty projects, and other interesting things (like the four page spread of Amy putting on her nylons, the multiple photos of her wearing said nylons, and several very witty projects made from nylons) that make the book's pages eye-catching and endearing.
I found this book to be nothing short of hilarious.
While Amy does say in her introductory letter to her readers that "This is not a joke cookbook," it is in fact, a cookbook full of jokes.
One caveat about the book is that Amy (who was previously seen on Comedy Central's Strangers with Candy and is David Sedaris's sister) does pepper the book with some vulgarities, mainly references to kinky sex and use of alcohol and drugs. Some may construe these to be offensive. And I would certainly not buy this book for your pre-teen niece who is learning how to cook. For that sort of gift, I would instead recommend Rachael Ray's new cookbook Yum-O! The Family Cookbook (which I have not yet read or reviewed).
I had originally intended to give this book away to my best friend, who is a hostess extraordinaire herself, but now I will actually have to go buy another copy for her.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Her Good Name By Josi Kilpack


I just finished Her Good Name by Josi Kilpack. Chrissy (short for Chressaidia) is a thirty-five year old single woman who is tired of the dating game, but agrees to a blind date with Micah. The date doesn't go well and gets worse when her identity is stolen. The woman who steals her identity is a Guatemalan woman who uses the money to fund a group in her home country who is working to overthrow the corrupt government. This part of the story was particularly interesting to me because I was born in Guatemala. (This is where I take off on a huge tangent.) Guatemala had been under a dictatorship until 1951 when a president was elected in a democratic fashion. He was a reformer who advocated for rights of workers and introduced a new constitution. Censorship was brought to an end, men and women were declared equal before the law, racial discrimination was declared a crime, higher education was free of governmental control. However, in 1954 the United States, led by the CIA, (due to pressure from business lobbyists) organized a group to overthrow the president. The new dictator disenfranchised three-quarters of Guatemala's voters by barring illiterates from the electoral rolls. He also outlawed all political parties, trade unions and peasant organizations. Opposition newspapers were closed down and "subversive" books were banned and existing copies were burnt in the streets. I believe that due to the overthrow of the president and the dictatorship that followed, Guatemala's people have suffered greatly. Great corruption was ushered in and still continues today. With a corrupt government that takes from the people, workers and the lower-classes cannot prosper and live in poverty. The government continues to be corrupt. There are groups that have tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the dictatorship and bring back a democracy. In Her Good Name, one such group is depicted. While this is only one part of the story, it was very fascinating to me. The woman who steals Chrissy's identity is part of one of these groups that hopes to bring democracy back to Guatemala. Obviously, with stealing identities and other illegal activities, this particular group is not all good. Their intentions are good, but they unfortunately justify bad acts to achieve their purpose. As Chrissy's life continues to fall apart. She's falsely arrested, can't get a job, has thousands of dollars stolen from her, and has huge amounts of credit used in her name. With Micah's help (whose identity was also stolen), Chrissy takes action and begins to seek out who has taken over her life and her good name. I enjoyed this book and the way Kilpack weaved the stories of both women together. I think, in a sense, they were both victims. Unfortunately one victimized the other, but the one who stole the identity has a story to tell as well. An important one. One we never really hear about. One we need to hear about more because Guatemala is also a victim. I haven't been back to Guatemala in over 25 years. Neither has my father, and my mother only went back a few years ago, and she never wants to go back. That's unfortunate. It's unfortunate that a country who had finally found democracy for only a few short years was forced back to a dictatorship because of the malicious actions of the CIA. And now they wonder why Guatemalans flee their country to come here. That's why.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Byron's Books 2009

Goal: 25 books
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1) Dreamsongs - Vol. 1 by George R. R. Martin
2) Confessor by Terry Goodkind
3) Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman

Lula's Books 2009

Goal: 25 books
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1) Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale
2) Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4) To America - Personal Reflections of an Historian by Stephen Ambrose
5) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
6) Stardust by Neil Gaiman
7) My Dear Cassandra - Letters of Jane Austen
8) The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
9) The Shack by William P. Young
10) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
11) The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
12) The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
13) The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
14) Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
15) A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
16) Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo
17) Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
18) How Fiction Works by James Wood
19) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
20) Ghandi - His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer
21) Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
22) Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
23) Custard and Company - Poems by Ogden Nash
24) Same Kind of Different by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
25) Pope Joan by Diana Woolfolk Cross
26) Villette by Charlotte Bronte
27) Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss
28) Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson
29) The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
30) The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
31) Bird by Bird - Some Advice on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
32) Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer
33) The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
34) On Writing by Stephen King
35) Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
36) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
37) Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
38) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
39) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
40) The Wives of Henry the VIII by Antonia Fraser
41) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
42) Flowers from the Storm - Laura Kinsale
43) Catch -22 by Joseph Heller
44) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
45) Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
46) Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amana Grange
47) The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
48) The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
49) The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
50) When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris
51) Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
52) Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
53) Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
54) The Pit and the Pendulum and A Tale of the Ragged Mountains by Edgar Allan Poe
55)More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
56)And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Nikki's Books 2009

Goal: 25 books
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1) Rogue Hunter by Lindsay Sands
2) Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
3) Most Likely to Die by Wendy Corsi Staub, Lisa Jackson, and Beverly Barton
4) Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
5) Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
6) Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
7) Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
8) Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
9) All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris
10) Marked (House of Night Book #1) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
11) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
12) One Silent Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon
13) From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
14) Betrayed by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
15) Chosen by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
16) Untamed by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
17) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Julie's Books 2009

Goal: 25 books
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1) War of the Worlds (1938 Radio Play) adapted by Orson Welles
2) Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
3) Austenland by Shannon Hale
4) The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti
5) Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale
6) The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
7) The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
8) The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
9) The Devil's Gentleman: Priviledge, Poison, and the Trial that Ushered in the Twentieth Century by Harold Schechter
10) Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
11) Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken
12) Letters for Emily by Camron Wright
13) Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
14) Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
15) The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
16) Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
17) The Silenced by James DeVita
18) A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall
19) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
20) Still Alice by Lisa Genova
21) Lemon Tart by Josi S. Kilpack
22) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
23)Recovering Charles by Jason F. Wright
24)Wings #1: The Mysterious Mr. Spines by Jason Lethcoe Illustrated by Scott Altmann
25)The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
26)Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
27)My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
28)We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
29)The Girl She Used To Be by David Cristofano
30)Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
31)The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
32)Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
33)Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
34)Specials by Scott Westerfeld
35)Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Marcia's Books 2009

Goal: 25 books
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1) Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
2) Traitor by Sandra Gray
3) Do No Harm by Gregg Luke
4) Waiting for the Light to Change by Annette Haws
5) Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom
6) Previously Engaged by Elodia Strain

Jason's Books 2009

Goal: 25 books
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1) Dubliners by James Joyce
2) Neuromancer by William Gibson
3) The Civil War and Reconstruction by JG Randall and David Donald
4) Gilgamesh
5) Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
6) The Soviet Colossus by Michael Kort
7) The Soviet Experiment by Ronald Grigor Suny
8) Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen
9) Watchmen by Alan Moore
10) A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
11) The Iliad by Homer
12) Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
13) The Odyssey by Homer
14) Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly
15) The Vagabond by Colette
16) Building Jerusalem by Tristram Hunt
17) King Lear by William Shakespeare
18) Hard Times by Charles Dickens
19) Ulysses by James Joyce
20) Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake
21) Beowulf by Anonymous
22) Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
23) Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
24) The Comedians by Graham Greene
25) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous
26) Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (Read with Laurence Gignac)
27) Complete Poem's of Emily Bronte by Emily Bronte
28) How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
29) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill
30) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
31) As You Like It by William Shakespeare
32) Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
33) Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
34) Ashley and Tiana by Jessica Dreistadt
35) The Fairies in Tradition and Literature by Katherine Briggs
36) The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazier
37) If Not, Winter by Sappho, Anne Carson
38) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
39) Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
40) Anne of Avonlea by LM Montgomery
41) Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery
42) Villette by Charlotte Bronte
43) Macbeth by William Shakespeare
44) Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
45) Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller
46) The Eclogues by Virgil
47) Apologies to an Apple by Maya Ganesan
48) The Waste Land by T S Eliot
49) Anne of Windy Poplars by LM Montgomery
50) Anne's House of Dreams by LM Montgomery
51) Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
52) My Antonia by Willa Cather
53) Rainbow Valley by LM Montgomery
54) Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
55) Pax Romana by Johnathon Hickman
56) Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
57) Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
58) Notes on the Underground by Rosalind Williams
59) Herland by Charlotte Gilman Perkins
60) Richard II by William Shakespeare
61) The Rescuers by Margery Sharp
62) Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
63) The Aeneid by Virgil
64) Selected Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva
65) Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus (maybe)
66) Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bryce Shelley
67) Capital by Karl Marx
68) Evelina by Fanny Burney
69) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
70) Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
71) Volsungasaga by Anonymous
72) Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset
73) No Name by Wilkie Collins
74) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
75) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
76) Orlando by Virginia Woolf