Thursday, January 31, 2008

While I went into Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain will Be Useful To You with high hopes, I still half-expected to dislike it. Instead I loved it so much I went right out and bought myself a copy. Right from the first page I just knew this book and I would click. It was so dryly funny and sarcastic and the main character James, a hyper-literate teen not sure about starting college in the fall, was very much a more neurotic and self-aware version of me. James uses his words and language as obstacles to keep others at a distance and lives so much in his head that he has a hard time working things out in the real world. Not that I'd know anything about that at all. Ahem.

While I was out sick I re-read Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends and then its recent sequel, You Suck. Bloodsucking Fiends is still my favorite vampire book and while You Suck had its moments, it didn't have the emotional depth of his last couple of books. Even a lesser Christopher Moore book is still funny and entertaining though, so I had a good time with it. I just wished there was a little more to it.

I couldn't resist the title Tips On Having A Gay (Ex) Boyfriend by Carrie Jones, now could I? The breakup occurs in a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business and nothing stays a secret. And of course, the high school setting heightens the drama. I felt the book tried a little too hard though - like it tried for artsy but came off more as weirdly repetitious. I couldn't fully resist a heroine who drinks Postum though, so I can't say I hated it. I just never found myself fully invested in the story or the characters.

Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian on the other hand, was awesome. It was funny in all the right spots, but tragic and realistic too. You could tell this was a main character and situation close to Alexie's heart. I liked how well-rounded all the characters were, including the rich high school students who could easily have been depicted as racist stereotypes, but instead were given depth and treated with as much understanding as were the residents of the reservation.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clearly my resolution to keep up with posting hasn't worked so far because I'm 12 books behind already. Oh well. The first book I read in 2008 was Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, a Christmas gift from Daisy. I was convinced I was going to hate it based on the reviews I'd read, but I actually loved it. I should have known I would because of my fascination with boarding schools and their insular worlds. Lee, the main character, frustrated me sometimes with her neediness and insecurities, but that was mostly just because she felt like a very real teenager and was probably behaving similarly to how I would have in the same situation. I forget sometimes just how incredibly insecure I was in high school (this will come up again 5 books down the line).

Next I read Dramarama by E. Lockhart, whose books I've been meaning to check out for a while now. I thoroughly enjoyed this story of two friends from a nowhere town determined to make it big when they're accepted at a prestigious summer camp for musical theater and drama. It reminded me a lot of Camp and brought back happy memories of high school theater productions I was in.

I finally gave in and read Twilight and New Moon by Stephanie Meyer. Let me preface this by saying that I read each in an evening because I couldn't put them down. With that said, I found Twilight to be very silly. I couldn't fully succumb to it because every other page I'd either be laughing at the book or at myself for getting sucked in. And the whole vampires can't come out in the day because they sparkle crap? You might as well have them riding unicorns and raising cute and fluffy bunnies too. There was a lot of eye-rolling at that development. I actually liked New Moon better and I couldn't place my finger on why until I got to the very end where the Bella Edward schmoopy show picked back up and my annoyance returned. So there you have it: I'm an unromantic cynic! An unromantic cynic who is considering unethically moving herself to the top of the hold list for the third book. Hee.

Daisy somehow got a hold of an ARC for Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead And The Gone, a companion book to the awesome Life As We Knew It, and I impatiently waited my turn in line to read it. Taking place in the same alternate near-future as Life, it follows a 17-year-old teen in NYC who is left to take care of his two younger sisters when his parents go missing following the initial destruction after the meteor hits the moon. This one bring in religion and an urban setting, giving events that could have felt too redundant after the last book (struggle for food, the weather, sickness) a different spin. I made the mistake of going grocery shopping after I finished it and ended up with significantly more canned goods and bottled water than usual.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

And now a quick roundup of my 2007 reading.

I read 111 books this year: 45 fiction, 39 YA, 21 non-fiction, and 5 short story collections.

My 10-ish favorites of the year in the order I read them were:

1. Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. An absorbing and emotionally devastating look at the Nigerian civil war.

2. The Zero by Jess Walter. Set in the days after 9/11, this book is told from the perspective of an investigator who is loosing his sight and quite possibly his mind. I don't think I turned the pages faster reading any other book this year.

3. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This was gorgeous and way more relatable than it had any right to be.

4. The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian. I still can't think about this one without wanting to break down. I haven't been quite this affected by a book in a long time.

5. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Another apocalyptic story, this one a little more upbeat, about a family trying to survive after a meteor knocks the moon closer to the Earth, causing worldwide disaster.

6. Icelander by Dustin Long. This one was too much fun to leave off and made me remember why I love the Amelia Peabody mysteries.

7. Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. Hilarious and fun, with an enviable way with language and character.

8. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Icelander convinced me it was finally time to tackle Nabokov and I couldn't have chosen a better book to start with. I even cornered my dad to tell him all about it.

9. Hollow Kingdom, Close Kin, and In The Coils Of The Snake by Clare B. Dunkle. I loved that these three confounded my expectations in the best possible way.

10. Long Live The Queen by Ellen Emerson White. Truly an edge-of-your-seat book of survival.

Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, Privilege Of The Sword, and Fall Of The Kings (with Delia Sherman) were indeed, as Claire said, the gayest fantasy books I've ever read. I didn't believe anything could out-gay Lynn Flewelling's, but these most certainly did. All three follow the family of Tremontaine through the generations as it rises and falls in influence and power in society. Fall Of The Kings I thought was particularly strong, deepening the world by weaving in the Northern myths and history, and leaving things wide open for another entry in the series. All three were actually pretty well-written too, if not quite the Oscar Wilde meets Georgette Heyer comedy of manners the pages and pages of glowing reviews that begin each book would have you believe.

The last book I finished in 2007 was Jim Shepard's book of short stories Like You'd Understand, Anyway. I read Project X a couple of years ago, so I had high hopes for these stories. I'm happy to say they met those expectations. The stories in this collection may range from a present day high school football team to Paris during the revolution to the Roman Empire, but nearly all concern themselves with familial tension, most often that between fathers and sons. He probes at the feeling of competition between brothers and the feelings of failure on both sides when a son doesn't fulfill the dreams of his father, universal struggles that make even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster relatable.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell has been on my list for ages but I can't remember exactly what it was that made me have to read it now. Whatever it was, I'm glad because I enjoyed these stories very much. Russell commits utterly to each premise whether it's girls literally raised by wolves or the family of the Minotaur making the great western migration. There is a general theme of children forced to grow up faster than they want to or should have to that breaks your heart a little bit in each story.

Next I read Cherie Priest's Not Flesh Nor Feathers which I'm happy to report was completely excellent after a slightly less compelling second entry in the series. Apocalyptic rainstorms, zombies, ghosts... what could be better?

Then I finished 20th Century Ghosts, short stories by Joe Hill which I'd been reading off and on for a couple of weeks. The title story, about an old theater haunted by a cinema-loving ghost was actually a sweet little love note to movies, but not all the stories contained ghosts or horror (although that was in there too occasionally). Some were odd or pretty out there, but they were never boring.

After that I read Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament, a memoir of growing up Jewish Orthodox and his gradual break from both his religion and his family. There was a lot of anger there, still, but also humor and love. And there were entirely too many parts that made me wince in empathy.

I needed something fluffy after that so I read Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, which is like the YA, (way, way) less pornographic version of Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series. I suspect it was the dress for success scene that brought that comparison home. Heh. It reads like the first in a series and while I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to seek out future entries, I'd probably pick them up if I came across them on the shelf.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I was excited to hear that Ellen Emerson White had a new book coming out, but it was a sequel to a trilogy and I'd only read the first book ages ago, which is not easily available from my library, so I settled for starting with the second, The President's Daughter. In this one, Meg Powers' mother has been elected president and Meg has to deal with being a teenager in the public eye and her family's attempts to keep some semblance of normality while residing in the White House. In the second book, Long Live The Queen, Meg is abducted and has to fight to escape and survive until she can return home, where she finds her physical injuries are only the beginning of how she has been affected by her ordeal. This was an intense book, to say the least. Immediately after finishing it, I dragged my sister to the bookstore so I could get the new one, Long May She Reign where Meg, still physically and emotionally crippled from her ordeal in the previous book, goes off to college. While I read it almost non-stop, unfortunately it fell a little flat. Maybe it was because it was hard to follow Long Live The Queen, or because so much of it seemed to cover the same ground a few times too many, or because I didn't like Meg's boyfriend all that much. Or it could just be that the far too brief cameo of Beverly and Derek left me wanting their sequel instead.


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