Saturday, February 27, 2010

#12 - City of Ashes

City of Ashes
By: Cassandra Clare
464 pages
Published: 2008
ISBN: 1416914293
My Copy: Borrowed from library

The middle book or film in any series is really important to me. In my mind, I call these works "hinges" because they should connect the previous works with those to come, but also include some new elements to entice us to move forward.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has a warm place in my heart because of this. The story connects itself to the past, but also changes to move it into the future. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite Star Wars movie. The Two Towers is my favorite Lord of the Rings film.

A bad hinge story can bore us. If the tale simply rehashes what we already knew and leaves to many plot points hanging, then it has wasted our time.

City of Ashes isn't a bad hinge... but it's not a great one. It elaborated on some of the mysteries of the first book, but you can tell it's left all the good stuff until the end. It was a bit more of an effort to finish it off than with the previous installment. The one big accomplishment of the book was Cassandra Clare's stunning ability to make me not creeped out by the fact that a brother and sister are looking to get it on for half the book. Hell, I even wanted them to just do it already and I know that's weird. So, kudos to her. A lot of careful writing and character development has lead us to a place where we identify with and understand the feelings of Jace and Clary.

Now that I'm done with this one, I'm looking forward to City of Glass. I even went and bought it while I was out this weekend instead of waiting to get it from the library. So, yes, City of Ashes made me want to keep reading, but not much else.

Rating: B

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm Not Proud to Have Read...

I saw this topic on Home Girl's Book Blog and could not resist. "Write a blog post wherein you 'fess up to reading a book that didn't make you proud."

Okay, the book I'm picking is one I recently read -- Stargazer by Claudia Gray. The reason I singled out this particular book is because it is at the end of a long line of shameful book choices and by the time I got to this place, there is no reason I should have picked it up and read it at all, let alone read it cover to cover in two days, being very entertained while doing so.

I decided to read the Twilight series the Christmas before last when I heard the first book was something like my favorite book of all time, Pride and Prejudice (speaking of a bastardization of great literature). And friends, I loved it. Shamefully, I ate through all four books in a week and by the time I finished, my head was spinning with dreamy visions of Edward Cullen. I breathlessly told my husband the plot of all the books and talked about them nonstop for days after finishing. I even hummed little songs about becoming a vampire. It was getting weird.

So, having read Twilight and having vampire-romance withdrawal, I promptly went to the bookstore and asked if they had anything like Twilight. After much prodding, one of the clerks recommended Evernight by Claudia Gray. "It's about a vampire boarding school," she said and I snapped it up right then and there.

And I read it straight through. It was no Twilight, but it did indeed have vampires and did indeed have romance so I was happy for a moment.

But the more I thought about Twilight and Evernight, the more I realized these were really horrible books. Engrossing though it was Twilight had so many flaws and annoying, silly characters, that there was no way I could actually like it. In fact, I had to hate it, right?

So, I thought to myself, there is no reason I should bother to read anymore of the new Twilight-spin-off vampire fiction out there. Evernight was a momentary lapse in judgment. I'm done with bad books like this.

Then, why oh why, when I was browsing for something to read at the library two weeks ago, did I pick up Stargazer, the sequel to Evernight?

Because I couldn't help myself. Because vampire romance is kind of cool. Because I really do love corny YA books. Because it was a quick and easy read.

And you know the sad part. I'm probably going to read the next book in the series, Hourglass, when it comes out next month. And I requested Evermore from the library yesterday.

Oh, the shame. The horrible shame. Yes, I read bad vampire romances. And I kind of like them.

#11 - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
By: J.K. Rowling
Narrated by: Jim Dale
352 pages (9 hours)
Published: 1999
ISBN: 0807281948
My copy: Borrowed from library (own the book, of course)

Of all the Harry Potter books, I'd have to say Chamber of Secrets is possibly my least favorite. The bit about the flying car is just not that exciting and it just drags in some places (even though those sections do add to the story). I was also rather annoyed by the fact that everyone seems to think they are about to get expelled at every turn. Harry and Ron are constantly ready to pack their bags and Ginny is terrified to tell what she knows about the Chamber of Secrets because she could be kicked out of school. Has anyone, except Hagrid, ever been kicked out of Hogwarts? And that was only because they thought Hagrid had killed someone. So it seems like the standard for expulsion is a little higher than the kids are making it out to be.

That said, the end is rather good and makes a lot more sense in light of the information we find out in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. J.K. Rowling said in an interview somewhere that she had originally intended to explain more about horcruxes in the second book, but, in the end, decided to save it all for the sixth book. I think I wish she had a put a little more into Chamber of Secrets, so everything revealed in Half-Blood Prince didn't seem like a big, too-late-to-introduce-this surprise.

But, I like that those two books parallel each other (just as, in my mind, the first and seventh book do). In Chamber, we meet the young Voldemort and in Half-Blood Prince, we learn more about his family background and his life among muggles. Harry also begins to wonder about the similarities between himself and Voldemort in CoS and then again in HBP. The second book also sets up the relationship between Harry and Ginny, which culminates in their kiss in the sixth book. Even the two new teachers from these books, Gilderoy Lockhart (who is a brilliant creation, by the way) and Horace Slughorn resemble each other in that both use the accomplishments of others to bolster their own importance.

All in all, a great book, though still my least favorite in an excellent series.

Rating: A-

Monday, February 22, 2010

#10 - City of Bones

City of Bones
By: Cassandra Clare
512 pages
Published: 2008
ISBN: 1416955070
My Copy: Borrowed from library

This book was recommended to me by my friend, Cassie, and I have already thanked her because I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also promptly ordered the next two books in the series because it was that good.

Part of it might be that, when it comes to fantasy, I find I like the work of female authors better. Does that sound strange? Well, it's true. For some reason The Lord of the Rings bored me. The one Xanth book I read was okay. But, I consistently enjoy fantasy series written by women. Harry Potter. Twilight (yeah, I know, sorry). Inkworld. And now I think I love The Mortal Instruments series. I will have to get myself some Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler when I'm done to fill the void.

City of Bones tells the story of Clary Fray as she delves into the world of Shawdowhunters and learns about her own mysterious family connections. Though the book is over 500 pages, it was a very quick read and I was intensely interested the entire time. Most of the characters are very well done. Jace and Clary were very cute together (though the witty banter between them seemed a little odd in the beginning, it grew on me by the end of the story). Alec and Isabelle could have used a little more back story to make us more invested in their fate (but maybe that is to come in future books). The actions scenes are well done and suspenseful and the twists and turns the book took were surprising and satisfying. I, for example, did not see the end coming at all. Other readers assure me there's more surprises to come, so I'm looking forward to it.

Rating: B+

It's Monday! What Am I Reading?

Right now I'm working on:

Jane Austen, Selected Letters
Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

I'm listening to:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

And, because we're reading it for book club in the next few weeks, I'll also need to get cracking on:

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.

Last week I finished:

Stargazer by Claudia Gray
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It by Adam Selzer
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

It was a good reading week! Hope this week will be just as fun!

PS - I am also anxiously awaiting the arrival of City of Ashes and City of Glass from the library and Villette (still) from PaperBackSwap, so hopefully those will be on next week's list!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#9 - I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It

I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It
By: Adam Selzer
192 pages
Published: 2010
ISBN: 0385735030
My copy: Borrowed from library

This book was more fun than it had an right to be. I started out a bit annoyed at the main character and her friends (they have that we-are-so-real vibe which can get kind of grating), but she grew on me throughout the book as she grows and changes in her relationship with Doug. The whole thing is kind of like a funny anti-Twilight piece. When Alley learns that Doug is a zombie she decides whether or not she wants to "convert." So she ventures down to her guidance councillor's office to pick up an informative pamphlet called Vampires, Zombies & You: Questions and Answers About Post-Humans for Teens. There are a lot of funny moments like that and I found the whole twist on the I-met-a-dead-guy-and-I-love-him-so-much story to be kind of adorable.

So, yeah, it's cheesy and kind of silly, but in a good way. Plus, I think the message is a little more healthy for teen girls obsessed with Twilight.

Rating: B

PS - Here's the book trailer (very cute):

Monday, February 15, 2010

#8 - Stargazer

Stargazer
By: Claudia Gray
352 pages
Published: 2010
ISBN: 0061284467
My Copy: Borrowed from library

This Evernight series really isn't that good. I only got it out from the library because I had read the first one and was looking for some YA books to read. The story is so-so, but at least it holds your attention (which is more than can be said for most books). It's got that Twilight vibe going on, but it just doesn't have the same sizzle. I pretty much think the main characters should not be together at all (and that's not a good sign, is it).

I believe this is the second in a four book series. I might move onto the other two (when they come out) if I'm bored enough. Otherwise, there must be better vampire fiction out there to read.

Rating: C-

#7 - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
By: J.K. Rowling
Narrated by: Jim Dale
309 pages (9 hours)
Published: 1997
ISBN: 0807281956
My copy: Borrowed from library (own the book, of course)

What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? I must have read the first volume in the Harry Potter series three or four times now, but it just keeps getting better every time I pick it up.

When I decided to re-read all the Harry Potter books this year as part of the Harry Potter Reading Challenge I thought it might be fun to hear all of them on audiobook. I was right. And I'd highly recommend it for anyone embarking on the books again. Jim Dale is perfect. I can't believe the number of voices he can keep straight in his head. I also tend to absorb a lot more detail when listening, whereas, when reading, I might be tempted to skip over a rather long descriptive passage. Audiobook is definitely a new and interesting way to experience the books.

Rowling is a masterful writer. Having read the entire series, I can't help but appreciate all the little details she throws in that come into play in later books, especially the last book in the series. Wandlore. The invisibility cloak. Gringott's. All tiny details that play a small part in forming not just an incredible first novel, but a truly magical series of stories.

If you haven't read these books yet, I feel sorry for you.

Rating: A+

It's What-Am-I-Reading Monday!

I am still working on Jane Austen, Selected Letters.

I started Stargazer by Claudia Gray.

I'm listening to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

I think I am giving Watership Down a rest.

And I'm still waiting for Villette to arrive in the mail!

Happy Reading to me!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bookish Movies

This week, I watched several movies which were adaptions of books I have read (maybe that explains why I've been behind on my reading). They were varying degrees of good and since I love comparing and contemplating these things, I thought I'd summarize them here.

Masterpiece Theater just finished airing its new adaption of Jane Austen's Emma here in the U.S. and, while I did enjoy it, the four-hour long program wasn't without its faults. Romola Garai is a cute Emma, but comes off as a bit too whiny and spoiled for my taste. Of course, I might just be biased, since my favorite portrayal of Emma is Alicia Silverstone's in Clueless. Maybe Jane Austen is right that Emma is "a heroine whom no-one but [the author] will much like." Maybe that's the problem and maybe it is simply a very difficult thing to pull off one screen. Still it's Austen, which always brings me joy. Rating: B

This book was good, but the movie was just confusing. I think they retained some of the themes, but in the end it just seems more preachy and simplistic than the very well done novel. As beautiful as the scenes of Susie in the "in between" were, they just don't fit with the tone of the book as I imagined it. While the novel made me want to keep reading, the movie almost bored me to sleep. That said, Stanley Tucci was very good and very terrifying as Mr. Harvey. He deserved that Oscar nomination. Rating: C-

I remember seeing this back when it first came out (I must have been like 13 or so) and liking it. Even after recently reading the book, which I loved, I still enjoyed the movie even though Coppola has changed a lot of the characters' back stories. Dare I say that I loved the increased sexiness (which is lying beneath of the surface of the text the whole time). Also, the love story between Mina and Dracula might be an improvement over the novel, if only because it explains why Dracula might have wanted to go to London in the first place and why he sought out Lucy and Mina. Of course, the whole Mina loving Dracula back thing wanders a little too far from the original Stoker. Our pure, Victorian heroine would have never intentionally helped such a vial fiend! The end was a bit confusing, too. Mina forsakes Johnathan for Dracula? And what does she do after he dies? Waste away in Castle Dracula? Weird. Good movie though. Visually stunning with lots of interesting twists and updates on its source material. Rating: B

This re-aired on Sunday night, so, of course, I watched it yet again (I own it on DVD, too). Here, I think the actress who plays our heroine does an excellent job of portraying someone who might come off as a bit stupid, but makes her seem endearing and deserving of the knowledgeable, sophisticated hero. Since there are only two films adaptations of this book and the other is an abomination, I am inclined to love this one for the simple fact that it is not horrible. But, in the capable hands of Andrew Davies, the screenplay sticks more closely to the tone and message of the book. Plus, Northanger Abbey is my second favorite Austen novel and Catherine is probably the heroine who most resembles myself (in my younger years, of course. I've become a bit more like Elizabeth Bennett or Elinor Dashwood in my old age), so I have to love this film version. Rating: A

Very funny. Very British. The opening number "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" is to die for. I kind of liked that it was different than the book and had a more "movie-ish" vibe. The casting is great. However, I'm not a huge Hitchhiker's fan, so I can't gush over this one too much. Rating: B+

Monday, February 8, 2010

#6 - Dracula

Dracula
By: Bram Stoker
448 pages
Published: 1897
ISBN: 159308160X
My Copy: A Christmas gift from a few years back

A bestseller in its day, Dracula tells the story of a group of Englishmen who attempt to stop the bloodthirsty Count as he stalks and attacks his victims throughout London. Most everyone probably knows the plot of Dracula. Certainly I did. But that did not make reading it one bit less enjoyable. In fact, the book is really good. Really, really good. I got through it in about two days (which is saying a lot for me lately).

I can easily see why Dracula was as popular as it was in Victorian England. The suspense and horror are so perfectly done, the terrifying scenes are beautifully set, and the love stories are moving. It is especially important to note that much of the now-corny vampire lore created by Stoker (vampires as bats, aversion to garlic and crosses, stakes through the heart, castles in Transylvania), was new to the reader at the time. Dracula certainly owes a debt to Carmilla and The Vampyre, but all vampire fiction, right up through Twilight owes its entire existence to Dracula.

Speaking of Twilight, people tend to criticize the fact that Bella Swan has so many men fawning all over her (a valid criticism, I would say). But look at Lucy Westenra, who has not just two, but three men falling all over themselves, proposing marriage to her, and offering to die for her. Not to mention that she is hunted by the evil Count Dracula so that he might turn her into one of his beautiful undead companions. Take that, Bella!

The form of the novel is also slightly different. It is told in the epistolary form and is woven together with mastery. The various letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings collected in the novel serve their purpose - to provide us with a pieced together narrative that allows us to solve the mystery of Dracula along with its characters. I find that I often have trouble with epistolary novels, but this one seemed to fit the form perfectly (though I did feel badly that everyone had to keep taking notes after witnessing such horrifying events, especially towards the end). It reminded me of the format of Carrie, which took the form of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, and excerpts from books to piece together the events leading up to the novel's climax.

The tone of the novel also helped me understand Jane Austen a bit better (though, of course, she died 80 years before it was published). Many of the Gothic conventions she mocks in Northanger Abbey are alive and well in Dracula (one example: the instant friendships formed between any previously unacquainted main characters reminded me of Isabella Thorpe's hastily formed best-friendship with Catherine Moreland). Oh, and the swooning, the crying, the fainting fits - it seemed like something Maryanne Dashwood would positively adore.

But I adore it, too! And sensible as Jane Austen was, she loved these types of books as well (though she realized them for the escape and fantasy that they were). I think, like Jane, I just love 16th and 17th century Gothic fiction. I don't think there's any other answer. That and this book was awesome. I would heartily recommend it to any fan of horror or vampire fiction or just anyone who loves a good, spooky read.

Rating: B+

#5 - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
By: Douglas Adams
256 pages
Published: 1980
ISBN: 0345418921
My copy: Mooched via BookMooch

Part of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe details the further adventures of Zaphod, Trillian, Arthur and Ford as they stumble about the universe. Here's the official product description (which probably won't make any sense if you haven't read the first book):

Facing annihilation at the hands of the warlike Vogons? Time for a cup of tea! Join the cosmically displaced Arthur Dent and his uncommon comrades in arms in their desperate search for a place to eat, as they hurtle across space powered by pure improbability. Among Arthur’s motley shipmates are Ford Prefect, a long-time friend and expert contributor to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Zaphod Beeblebrox, the three-armed, two-headed ex-president of the galaxy; Tricia McMillan, a fellow Earth refugee who’s gone native (her name is Trillian now); and Marvin, the moody android. Their destination? The ultimate hot spot for an evening of apocalyptic entertainment and fine dining, where the food speaks for itself (literally). Will they make it? The answer: hard to say. But bear in mind that The Hitchhiker’s Guide deleted the term “Future Perfect” from its pages, since it was discovered not to be!

I really liked the first Hitchhiker's book as the plot was more fast-paced, funny, and interesting. This one is certainly has a lot of twists and turns, and is pretty much hilarious, but it didn't hold my attention like the first book did (sorry, Hitchhiker's devotes). I suppose the trilogy (which consists of five books) has to be taken as whole along with the radio broadcasts and television show and movie. You can't really separate out one of the books and review it individually. But that's what I'm doing anyway.

All in all, I'd recommend the series as it is very funny and Douglas Adam is a masterful satirist. I just had to plod through this one a bit.

My Rating: B-
Overall Series Rating: B+

It's Monday? What Am I Reading?

Last week I finished:

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Dracula by Bram Stoker (oh, nearly done... only 50 pages left)

I am still working on:

Jane Austen, Selected Letters by R.W. Chapman (editor)
Watership Down by Richard Adams

And, as soon as I get it from PaperBackSwap I am hoping to add:

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

So, there you have it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Typically British Reading Challenge 2010

Okay, one more...

Timeline: 1st Jan 2010 - 31st Dec 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.

Details:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. There are four levels:
* "Put The Kettle On" – Read 2 Typically British novels.
* "Gordon Bennett" – Read 4 Typically British novels.
* "Bob's Your Uncle" – Read 6 Typically British novels.
* "Cream Crackered" – Read 8 Typically British novels.

3. Any book format counts. Must be fiction not non-fiction.

4. You don't have to select your books ahead of time, you can just add them as you go. Also if you do list them upfront then you can change them, nothing is set in stone!

5. The books you choose can crossover into other challenges.

6. Obviously only British authors count!

I think I'll try for 8 since I tend to read a fair amount of British lit. Plus, I need to find out what Cream Crackered means! Here they are:

1. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
7.
8.

Our Mutual Read Challenge

Maybe since I'm behind on book reading, I should stop posting challenges. Nah!

This one is from The Blog Jar and it's called Our Mutual Read. Basically, it involves Victorian and Neo-Victorian literture. Yay! I think I'm going to be reading at Level 1 (4 books, at least 2 written during 1837 - 1901. The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.). Then, because I love movies, I'll probably take on the period film mini challenge which is to watch at least 6 films that take place between 1837 - 1901 (they don't necessarily have to be based on a book) and post a review.

Great idea! I'm excited to get started!

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
2. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
3.
4.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Am I Reading?

Okay, so January started out kind of slow. I only read 4 books, so I’ll have to catch up in February by reading 12! (I can do it!)

Right, here’s what I’m reading:

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Jane Austen, Selected Letters by R.W. Chapman (editor)
Watership Down by Richard Adams

I’m also considering adding The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in honor of Mr. Salinger’s death.

Good luck, me!