Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Reads

Well, I read 136 books this year, which is definitely an all-time record for me. I've starred the ones below that I gave a 5-star rating. I wholly recommend all my 4-star rated books too.

Happy New Year!

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Book 10 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Nigeria)
Awards: Margaret Wong Memorial Prize; Newsweek Top 100 Books: The Meta-List; TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was first exposed to this book in library school and I was intrigued by the title. Then every time I walked into B&N I noticed that it is on the high school reading lists for this area. So when I saw it on my sister's shelf, I asked to borrow it. It has only taken me a year to read it, but I'm glad I did!

This classic, written in 1958, is about the Igbo tribe in Nigeria during the period of British colonization and the arrival of Christian missionaries. Okonkwo is a local leader who has been successful through his hard work and ingenuity. He has three wives, which shows his status and wealth, and he rules his household with a firm hand, showing very little emotion lest he been seen as weak.

But things do fall apart. Okonkwo's oldest son is not the man he wants him to be.  His favorite daughter is sickly. He makes a horrifying decision at the behest of his tribe. And he spends years in exile over an accident. On top of all that, the white man comes and threatens Okonkwo's way of life and the culture and religious traditions that define him.

This book is incredibly well written. I wish I could study it in a literature class because I know I'm not taking away all the literary gems that are in there. The plot structure is a little loose as the story is more made up of a series of events that have a huge impact on Okonkwo's life. I really was transported away to a different time and place and I think that what I read will stick with me for a long time. But, the book is a tragedy so don't pick it up if you are in the mood for something light. However, I definitely recommend it if you are up for a unique reading experience.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: Borrowed

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Little Brother

Little Brother Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Book 19 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2008)
Book 50 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 4 of 4 for the YA Dystopian Reading Challenge

Awards: Kirkus Editors Choice; Golden Duck Award; Booklist Editors' Choice; White Pine; SLJ Best Book; Publishers Weekly Best Book; YALSA Best Books for YA; Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009); John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2009); Emperor Norton Award (2008)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a YA dystopian novel set in the near future after a terrorist attack on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Seventeen year old Marcus and his friends were skipping school when the attack happened and they were caught by the Department of Homeland Security and sent to a prison where they effectively disappeared. They were inhumanely interrogated and their parents were never notified of their whereabouts. Two weeks later, Marcus is allowed to go home, but he holds onto his secret after being threatened by the DHS. Instead, Marcus designs a series of hacks to get back at the DHS for his treatment and for infringing on the privacy of citizens after anti-terrorism measures go too far.

I heard a lot of great things about this book and I have to agree that it has a very interesting premise. Some readers have criticized the explanations and techie discussions, but those were the parts I really loved. I feel a little bit smarter about national and private security issues and hacking for having read this book.

However, the book is too long and is badly edited. The author repeats himself there were spelling errors and inconsistencies. I felt like Marcus made some odd choices and the sex scenes made me squirm with the immature way they were handled. The other problem I had with this book is that it was very preachy. It's clear that the author has strong feelings regarding surveillance, personal liberties, Fox News, and the state of our government in general. While I think it is good to question our beliefs, having a characters that encourages open rebellion through illegal means with only minor consequences really didn't sit well with me.

I think the author brings up some great points to ponder. I just didn't enjoy the execution of the story as much as I was hoping to.

Download the entire book (legally) for free here.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: BookMooch

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let It Snow

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Stories Let It Snow: Three Holiday Stories

Book 18 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2008)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is just what the doctor ordered. Let It Snow is three fun interconnected Christmas teen romances by three great authors.

Maureen Johnson starts the ball rolling with a tale about Jubilee. It's Christmas Eve and her parents have been thrown in jail for being a part of a Christmas village collector's riot. So instead of attending her boyfriend's annual Christmas Smorgasbord, she hops on a train to see her grandparents in Florida. But her train only gets to western North Carolina before a snow storm blocks her in for the night.

John Green's story comes up next and it's set in the same town where Jubilee is stranded. Tobin's parents get stranded in Boston from the same storm, so he and his friends risk their very lives heading out to the local Waffle House because they know 14 stranded cheerleaders are in there.

Lauren Myracle (got to love that last name for Christmas spirit) wraps all the stories together with a tale of redemption and forgiveness. Addie had just recently split from her boyfriend and she feels just awful about it. To make things worse, her friends come over on Christmas Day and tell her that she's been selfish and self-absorbed. But, Addie has an angel at the Starbucks where she works, and everything comes together perfectly.

I read the whole book in one day. Although I loved them all, I think John Green's was my favorite. All the stories were somewhat implausible, but definitely sweet and charmingly funny.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: Library

The Christmas Sweater

The Christmas Sweater The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck

Book 17 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2008)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is one of those feel-good Christmasy books. I was in the mood for one, and this is a quick read that fit the bill.

Eddie is a 12-year old boy who really wanted a bike for Christmas. But, his dad had recently passed away from cancer and his mom was working multiple jobs to help make ends meet. When Eddie received a homemade red sweater for Christmas instead of a bike, he left the sweater in a lump on the floor in disappointment. Thus began a sad chain of events that left Eddie feeling unloved, ignored by God, and incredibly selfish.

This book is a work of fiction, based on actual events that happened to Glenn Beck. I felt that the last 20 pages where Beck explains what really happened is the best part. The rest is not very well-written and is full of typos. I think if Beck had just written the real story, I wouldn't have minded the loose style editing issues so much. Also, the character of Eddie was just a bratty teenager for far too much of the book and it is all wrapped up too quickly at the end for my taste.

There is no doubt that this is a nice book for a quiet evening by the tree. But, it really wasn't anything to rave about in my opinion.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: Gift

Monday, December 14, 2009

Between Me and the River

Between Me and the River Between Me and the River by Carrie Host

Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: August 1, 2009
ISBN: 9780373892143
Pages: 304
Price: $22.95
Author website

Book 49 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 16 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2009)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. This is the first time cancer has really hit me in a personal way. I was excited to get the chance to review this memoir about a woman who is living with cancer, so I could attempt to step inside my grandmother's shoes for a little while to try to understand where she is coming from.

Carrie Host was not quite 40 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called carcinoid tumors in 2003. She had two teenagers and a 10-month old when she was finally diagnosed after a yearlong search of trying to find the culprit of her symptoms. She and her husband were able to have the best doctors money could buy from the Mayo Clinic to help with her treatment, and while there is no cure, Carrie has battled the odds and continues her fight today.

As a poet, Carrie's writing style is lyrical and she uses a lot of metaphor. I found the river metaphor to be a little overdone, but some of the passages were really striking.
Sometimes, while all is still but the rustle of leaves, I'll hear that angel's wings brushing the ice, and feel that strong pull, lifting my heart from the cold, dark water, and I'll weep.
The author clearly has a very comfortable life financially and she never really addresses that, other than to say she feels guilty that she has good health insurance. I couldn't help but think that most people could not afford to fly from Colorado to Minnesota on an hour's notice to get emergency treatment from the experts, to fly to New York to talk to a specialist, to get expensive jewelry, go on exotic vacations, or to get a housekeeper or a full-time nanny as she did. While I certainly don't begrudge her those things, in fact I think they have truly saved her life, I think an acknowledgment of her financial security might have helped to build a bridge between her and a reader who has no choice but to be treated from local doctors at a local hospital.

Sometimes at the end of chapters, Carrie has a paragraph that begins, "Cancer is like that." Truth be told, I think there are a lot of trials that are "like that" and I think there is a universal application in Carrie's words for whatever struggle you may be going through.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: Publicist Lisa Roe - Thank you!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Book 48 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 15 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2004)
Award: Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My husband has just spent the last two weeks in India. (He gets home tonight! Yay!) It just so happened that my in-person book club chose to read a historical fiction book set in India this month, so it was great for me to immerse myself for a little while into the culture where my husband has been working.

Beneath a Marble Sky details the lives of the royal family during the building of the Taj Mahal in the 17th century. While John Shors does admittedly take liberties with the historical accuracy of the characters, he does bring this part of history to life in a compelling way.

The novel is told from Jahanara's perspective, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, as she recounts her life's story to her (fictional) granddaughters. Even at a young age, there is obvious tension between Jahanara's two brothers, Dara and Aurangzeb. Dara is the heir apparent, but Aurangzeb has a ruthless spirit who will stop at nothing to become the next emperor. Jahanara has an obvious affection for Dara which puts her at risk should Aurangzeb succeed.

When Jahanara is a young woman, her mother dies giving birth to her 14th child. Shah Jahan commissions the building of the Taj Mahal to honor Mumtaz Mahal and Jahanara falls in love with the architect. However, theirs is a forbidden love because she is already married from an arranged marriage to a despicable noble. Political intrigue surrrounding Jahanara's brothers affect the course of Jahanara's life and love to a satisfying conclusion for her, but not necessarily for all the characters involved.

I found this to be a good love story and I even shed a few tears at the end. There is quite a bit of violence in the book which is commensurate with the actual history, but some of it was hard for me to get through. I did learn a lot about what life might have been like in the harem and about relations between Hindus and Muslims during this time period. I found this book to be very enjoyable and should make for a good discussion next week!

Read the first chapter at John Shors website here.

Source: Library

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

This year is my first year participating in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap and I have loved being a part of it. My Secret Santa sent me a copy of Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. I haven't read anything by this author yet, but this book was on my wishlist and I'm super excited to read it. A big shout-out goes to Julie from My Book Retreat. She's from my home state of North Carolina! Thank you!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Book 47 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 9 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Austria)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year when I finished the Orbis Terrarum Challenge, I was sent this book as a prize. I wish I knew which lovely blogger sent it to me, but THANK YOU to whomever it was. I really enjoyed it.

This book contains 10 letters written by Rilke to an aspiring poet. While Rilke doesn't really give the poetry much criticism, he encourages the young poet to extract more of the meaning of his existence, to dig deep, and to make his own destiny. This book is a slim volume, but it has some excellent points to ponder.

Some favorite quotes:
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.

Live awhile in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times... patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
I'm a little humbled by the fact that Rilke was younger than I am when he wrote most of the letters. I'm not an artist or a poet and some of his prose was a little overly intellectual for me. But, I will definitely pick this one up again. It's a good little book to browse. Rilke's insights are stunning.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: Gift

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1) The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Book 46 of 50 for the New Author Challenge
Book 14 of 55 for the Countdown Challenge (2008)
Book 3 for the YA Dystopian Reading Challenge
Awards: Guardian Children's Fiction Prize; Booklist Editors' Choice; Carnegie Medal/Honors; IBBY Honor List; James Tiptree Jr. Award

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Well, there probably isn't much more I could say about this book than has already been said. Most people absolutely rave about this book and I get why. This book is like an action movie. It's intense and fast-paced with a bad guy that just doesn't seem to die no matter what.

The book has a unique premise. Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown which is located in the New World. The males in town make Noise, which means they can hear not only each others thoughts and dreams, but also the thoughts of animals. The women are all gone. Todd was told that they died from a virus because the new planet, inhabited by alien lifeforms called Spackle, was not compatible with females. But so many things Todd has been told turn out not to be true, starting when he hears something that doesn't seem right--silence.

I was definitely sucked in by the plot. But, I was dissatisfied with the character development (I didn't really connect with anyone but the dog), the weird spelling issues (I never got used to it even after 480 pages), the violence and gore (ick) and the cliffhanger ending (the book was just too long to not give me a smidgen of resolution).

Will I read The Ask and the Answer? Most likely. Ness has created an interesting world with moral issues that make you think. It is depressing, but it does have some sweet moments where the good in humanity shines through. It actually reminded me of Ender's Game quite a few times.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a must-read if you really like dystopian sci-fi, but it just wasn't as good as The Hunger Games for me.

Also reviewed by:
Have I missed yours?

Source: Library