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The Hibernator's World Fantasy Tour

The Green Dragon

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Jul 3, 2012, 8:47am Top

Hi everyone! I finally decided to join this group. I'll post reviews for sci-fi/fantasy books as I read them. I just decided to make a goal out of reading the World Fantasy Award winners listed here. This thread is really meant to keep track of the World Fantasy Award winners I've read, but I'll post reviews of other sci-fi/fantasy books as I read them, too. :)

I am ashamed to say the only winner I've read so far is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, though many of the other books have been on my to-read list for a while. :)

Jul 3, 2012, 9:05am Top

welcome! looking forward to seeing your reviews.

Jul 3, 2012, 9:09am Top

Wow. After looking at that list, I'm amazed at how many of those books I've never heard of! I might know the author in some instances, but never heard of the particular book. Amazing.

Jul 3, 2012, 9:22am Top

Welcome! Love your user name, BTW. :o) I'm looking forward to reading your thread!

Jul 3, 2012, 10:14am Top

Thanks for the welcome! I like the World Fantasy Award because it often includes less-heard-of books from foreign authors. :)

Jul 3, 2012, 10:50am Top

Looking forward to reading your reviews!

Jul 4, 2012, 12:41am Top

Whoa, that list contains some I have read and some I should undoubtedly read in the future! There goes my wishlist...

Jul 6, 2012, 10:13am Top

I'll be lurking here, too. Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Jul 6, 2012, 10:41am Top

:) It's nice to have so many lurkers already! My thread feels naked without any reviews...

Jul 6, 2012, 10:54am Top

Hmmm, "naked thread" perhaps that's why there are so many lurkers/peepers! *said with a Groucho Marx multiple lift of the eyebrows*

Jul 6, 2012, 11:02am Top

NAKED? NAKED? OOooooooh... I have to hang out here more often.

Jul 6, 2012, 11:14am Top

I can't wait to read the reviews!

Jul 6, 2012, 12:41pm Top

Down south it would be called a 'Nekkid' thread. ;)

Do you know the difference between 'naked' and 'nekkid'?

'Naked' means you don't got no clothes on.

'Nekkid' means you don't got no clothes on, and yer up to sumthin....


Jul 6, 2012, 12:49pm Top

>13 fuzzi: HA! :D

Jul 6, 2012, 1:59pm Top

That WFA list includes a few books that I've been wondering whether to read. I'll keep an eye out for your opinion of them.

Jul 6, 2012, 3:47pm Top

#13 or 'up' for sumthin' as the case may be...

Jul 8, 2012, 8:17pm Top

Samir and Yonatan, by Daniella Carmi (7/7/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: This book isn't technically fantasy, but it has kids with healthy imaginations. :)

Reason for Reading: I read this for the Middle Eastern literature theme for Reading Globally

My Review 3.5/5 stars
When Palestinian boy Samir breaks his knee, he must stay in a Jewish hospital for a special surgery. There, he faces his fears of Israelis and make a new friend. This is a cute story with the we're-not-so-different-after-all moral. Although it may resonate more strongly with the Israeli kids for whom it was originally written, its translation is a good addition to English-language children's literature as well. It was enjoyable and cute, and has a moral that every child in the world can benefit from.

Jul 8, 2012, 8:18pm Top

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller (7/8/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: Greek Myth

Reason for Reading: This book won the Orange prize this year.

My Review 5/5 stars
On the outside, this book is a retelling of Achilles' actions in Troy; however, Miller has incorporated deeper elements to the well-known story. The Song of Achilles is a celebration of Achilles' humanity, rather than of his God-like martial skills. It is a touching love story between Achilles and his companion Patroclus. It is a story of forgiveness for human flaws. And it shows the reader that sometimes the best part of the story is forgotten in legends. Above all, it's one of those books that sucks you right in...and then leaves you breathless when it's over. Although Song of Achilles is technically fantasy, it is also a book that can be enjoyed by literary snobs and by people who don't know much about Greek mythology. I loved it.

Jul 8, 2012, 8:19pm Top

Yea! I don't have to wriggle in embarrassment over my naked thread anymore! I'm sad I didn't join this group sooner...you guys are very active and interesting! :)

Jul 8, 2012, 8:54pm Top

So are you. :)

Jul 9, 2012, 6:07am Top

Haha! Thanks fuzzi. :)

Jul 9, 2012, 10:38am Top

Oh, Achilles sounds good!
TBR +1...

Jul 9, 2012, 7:51pm Top

#18 & #22 - Oh dear... that does look good.
*tries to resist*
*adds to B&N wishlist*

Jul 9, 2012, 8:12pm Top

Sanne and Clare, I hope you like it as much as I did!

Jul 10, 2012, 8:55am Top

I was afraid that The Song of Achilles might be so very high brow that I would roll my eyes and give up on it. You make it sound very attractive.

Jul 10, 2012, 11:19am Top

Well, it didn't seem high-brow to me...but I DO read a lot of "literature," so maybe I'm biased. It was a beautiful story. There was a definite fantasy component, though it was light--the focus was more on the characters than on the war or on the fantasy. I'd say give it a go, if you find the subject interesting. :)

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 4:43pm Top

Chosen, by Ted Dekker (6/26/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: Young Adult Christian Fiction with fantastic "other world"

Reason for Reading: Ted Dekker is my FAVORITE Christian Fiction author. He's very good at getting a message across allegorically (and not with preachy lectures). Plus his stories are awesome. This is the first book in a young adult spin-off series from his most popular books Circle Trilogy: Black / Red / White.

My Review 3/5 stars
Johnis was disappointed, but relieved, when he was deemed "too small" to fight in the Forest Guard against the evil Horde. However, due to a chance encounter, the supreme leader Thomas Hunter chooses Johnis as one of his four new captains of the Forest Guard. He, and the 3 other new teenaged captains, are sent out on a mission to prove themselves. They end up proving a lot more than Hunter bargained for. Chosen is the first book in a young adult spin-off series from Ted Dekker's popular series Circle Trilogy: Black / Red / White, and is also related to the Paradise series (of which Showdown is the first). This series is meant to work as a stand-alone, but I would highly recommend reading the Circle Trilogy first, since these are the books that build Dekker's fantasy world and Chosen takes place after the events in Red. However, based on reviews of other readers, it's clear that people can enjoy this book even without reading the original trilogy. Either way, this book is good wholesome adventure.

Infidel, by Ted Dekker (7/9/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: Young Adult Christian Fiction with fantastic "other world"

Reason for Reading: Second book in the Lost Books of History series

My Review

May contain spoilers for the first book, Chosen
Johnis has discovered that his mother is still living. He risks his life to follow his heart--which tells him to rescue his mother from the Horde. This second book in the Books of History series follows directly on the footsteps of the first book, Chosen. Since the world is less new to the readers, this second book spends more time developing action and suspense and less time describing the world. Thus, it is a more enjoyable read. It ends, of course, with a cliffhanger, leaving the reader wanting to read the third book.

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 4:44pm Top

Stuart Little, by E. B. White (7/10/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: Juvenile anthropomorphism in "real world"

Reason for Reading: Believe it or not, I have neither read this book, nor seen the movie. :)

My Review
In this classic tale for children, the Little family adopts a son, Stuart...but he turns out to look very much like a mouse! As Stuart grows, he has many adventures within his home and, later, out in the real world. This is an adorable book filled with child-like adventure. Appropriate to be read to young children, or to be read by a 2nd or 3rd grader.

Jul 11, 2012, 6:42am Top

I've got Stuart Little on my TBR Soon list. I've never read it but did enjoy Charlotte's Web. I am an unapologetic reader of children's literature. I didn't get a chance to read it as a kid, why not read it now, right?

Jul 11, 2012, 7:32am Top

Love to see other adults enjoying children's literature...as Morph said, "why not".

I have read Stuart Little several times, and Charlotte's Web. They are different, but both are good.

There's another book by EB White, The Trumpet of the Swan, which I read as a child. I don't recall much of it, but it's probably good, too.

Jul 11, 2012, 9:04am Top

I read The Trumpet of the Swan when I was in the 6th grade...I was ALMOST caught reading it during math class because I reached a LOL moment (I LOL very easily, even while reading). I had forgotten I was in class, and laughed. The facial expression of the kid who was doing a problem on the chalk board was priceless. He turned bright pink because he thought I was laughing at him. Somehow, the teacher either didn't realize I was reading, or she chose to ignore it.

Jul 12, 2012, 2:48am Top

Charlotte's Web is one of my all-time favorites, but the other two, Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan, leave me cold.

Jul 12, 2012, 8:07am Top

Charlotte's Web is certainly the best of them. It was the first book I ever read, so I have very fond memories of it. :)

Jul 12, 2012, 9:43am Top

I'm with MrsLee. I adored Charlotte's Web, both when I read as a y00t and when I read it to my kids. I didn't read Stuart Little until I was an adult reading it to my kids and I just did not get it. Not even a little bit. Give me Roald Dalh instead!

Jul 12, 2012, 12:25pm Top

Roald Dahl is certainly a little spicier than E. B. White. I loved his books when I was a kid. However, I think I read most of the good ones when I was younger, and some of the ones I've read now weren't quite as fantastic as I expected. George's Marvelous Medicine and The Twits just didn't do it for me.

Jul 12, 2012, 12:47pm Top

When my children were small, they discovered and brought home Beverly Cleary books, which I'd never read, wow!

I've read some Roald Dahl, but am not a fan. I don't know, he's just too weird, sometimes.

I did like The Magic Finger, though, as a child.

Jul 12, 2012, 12:49pm Top

Ha. I'd never even HEARD of The Magic Finger...I've read most of his major works. Beverly Cleary certainly is very good. :)

Jul 12, 2012, 1:15pm Top

I buy copies of The Vicar of Nibbleswick to give as gifts. It's pee-yer-pants funny.

Jul 13, 2012, 7:14am Top

Fantasy Media in the Classroom, by Emily Dial-Driver (7/12/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: It's actually non-fiction. :) But it talks about science fiction and fantasy fiction and how to incorporate them into a classroom setting.

Reason for Reading: Early Reviewer's Book.

My Review 4/5 stars
Fantasy Media in the Classroom is a collection of essays which describe why fantasy media and popular culture are useful in the classroom. For instance students can learn the same techniques using popular fiction as they can with an old-school class, but they feel more confident in their analyses because they already feel like they are experts on popular culture. These lessons and confidence can then be extrapolated on to classical literature. Fantasy Media in the Classroom also gives examples of how popular culture can be used to design lessons. This book was written mostly from the perspective of teaching college students, but a few essays talk about high school students. It's possible these lessons could also be changed a bit and used for younger students, as well. I think this book would be useful to teachers, even if they don't plan on fully incorporating popular culture in their classrooms, because it may help them to see the benefit of popular culture references their students make during class...and how such references could be embraced as an interesting interpretation rather than brushed off. I am not a teacher, but I found this book interesting because it helped me to better understand what fantasy media says about psychology/sociology/politics.

Jul 13, 2012, 3:32pm Top

That sounds very interesting--I think I need to check it out.

Jul 13, 2012, 3:35pm Top

It WAS very interesting. Especially the essays about "fusion" curricula that combine serious literature with less serious. There was ONE essay that expounded a little too much on the symbolic depth of Twilight that I felt was going a bit far, but otherwise the book was pretty interesting. :)

Edited: Jul 19, 2012, 9:56am Top

The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman (7/19/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: Young adult fantasy with parallel universes and anthropomorphism

Reason for Reading: I was interested to see where Pullman was taking the Paradise Lost allegory

My Review
Lyra and Will finish up their journey (started in The Golden Compass) while desperately trying to dodge enemies and make the right choices. I enjoyed this book even less than the second book, The Subtle Knife, though The Golden Compass was in the "ok" range. I just didn't feel attached to the characters of Lyra and Will, and I didn't care what decisions they made. There was WAY too much Buddha-on-the-mountaintop both in the narrative and in the dialogue. I realize Pullman had a message he was trying to portray, and it wasn't a bad message (if you ignore all the hateful representations of organized religion)--he wanted to say that you should enjoy and live life here on Earth. What is happening in the present is what is important. Build the "Kingdom of Heaven" here on Earth instead of always denying our fleshy bodies as we look to our afterlife. This is a reasonable message, but I felt as if I was pounded over the head with it--to the point that it was distracting from the action. Furthermore, the action seemed to stop half-way through the book, followed by a long philosophical denouement. I WAS interested in his message, and that's why I continued the book after I didn't like the second...but it was a long haul for me. I don't really understand why this series is as popular as it is? But that's just my opinion. *shrug*

Jul 19, 2012, 10:56am Top

I too was really disappointed with this book; it felt like being beaten over the head by The Message. I found it ironic that Pullman says he hates the Narnia books because of their "blatant" message, but his own book was even less subtle than Lewis'!

Edited: Jul 19, 2012, 11:53am Top

I totally agree Claire. The irony.

Jul 23, 2012, 10:02am Top

Grimm's Fairy Tales ed. Barnes and Noble, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (7/23/2012)

Type of Speculative Fiction: Folklore

Reason for Reading: In preparation for Coursera's free internet course on Fantasy and Science fiction

My Review
In the early 1800's, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected German folklore and published it as Children's and Household tales, claiming that the stories were purely German in origin and that they had not been modified by the brothers. Due to complaints of inappropriate (sexual) content for children, the stories underwent several bowdlerizations and modifications by Jacob Grimm. This collection is an anonymous translation of one of the later (more child-friendly) editions. This is a long book of folklore, and should not be read by someone who's simply interested in reading some familiar fairy tales. Such people will find this book repetitive and tedious. Those people should probably read one of the shorter books that only has the "best" tales. This book would be interesting to people who are interested in the folklore more than the fairy tales.

Personal Note
In my attempt to complete these tales by a certain date, I overwhelmed my senses to the point that I was actually dreaming in the narrative style of Jacob Grimm. And I don't mean I had fairy tale dreams...I had the usual dreams, they were actually NARRATED in the terse, matter-of-fact style of Grimm's fairy tales. For anyone interested, there's a recent New Yorker article on the Grimm Brothers: The Lure of the Fairy Tale. I've made comments on it, and on the introduction to the Barnes and Noble edition of the tales, on my blog.

Jul 23, 2012, 10:04pm Top

I've read a bunch of these tales, in different versions, but was unaware that there were more.

Jul 24, 2012, 6:42am Top

I believe the Grimm brothers finally ended up with 210ish.

Jul 24, 2012, 6:50am Top

Sounds like Hans Christen Anderson. I had the complete works and got about a quarter of the way through. Even spread out it felt like it was the same story told over and over again.

Edited: Jul 24, 2012, 8:50am Top

Andersen had less excuse than the Grimm brothers. He actually invented and wrote his stories, whereas the Grimm brothers were collecting folklore (which, by nature, is repetitive because there are so many iterations of the same story as it changes from storyteller to storyteller).

ETA: Now that I think about it, that doesn't make any sense...he used at least SOME fairy tales that he knew already...but one of the pieces I read about the Grimm brothers said that he wrote them himself...I suppose that means he made changes to the story as he saw fit?

Jul 24, 2012, 9:07pm Top

49> A lot of the "stepmothers" were originally the mothers. Other changes were made to make it more suitable for children. For example, in one iteration of Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off their toes and heel to fit in the shoe.

Jul 24, 2012, 10:21pm Top

(50) I remember that! "There's blood on the shoe, she's not the bride for you" was sung, by birds I think.

Jul 24, 2012, 11:17pm Top

49, 50: And Bettelheim, giving it a Freudian interpretation, says that the slipper stands for a female part wherein the blood represents the sign of virginity.

Jul 25, 2012, 6:11am Top

>52 Meredy: You mean the ones that bled weren't virgins? Because if the ones that bled WERE virgins, then that means Cinderella wasn't a virgin, which doesn't make sense in the context. Unless it implies that she slept with Prince Charming rather than danced with him, which is possible. The version I read was pretty gory, the main changes were the loss of sex, the change from mothers to stepmothers, and the insertion of Christian themes.

Jul 25, 2012, 2:59pm Top

53: I agree, that part is puzzling. Or maybe after several decades I'm not remembering correctly how Bettelheim handled that part of his analysis. He certainly made an anatomical analogy of the inserting of foot into shoe.

I've read that there are more than 700 versions of the Cinderella tale collected from diverse cultures and periods. Some of them, it seems to me, are really a stretch because they don't seem to have enough of the defining elements. But then, I'm no expert, despite having read a number of books on myth, fairy tale, and folkore.

The Juniper Tree is the title of one of the first modern collections of Grimm that I can recall that didn't soft-pedal the violence or change "scary" parts to "silly" parts in a misguided attempt to reassure parents that they were ok for little kids. It was refreshing to read a more authentic-feeling version of so many of the old tales. The addition of cute fuzzy animals (especially those who sing and sew garments) is something for which we can thank Disney.

Jul 25, 2012, 3:04pm Top

Ah well, the stories in this particular collection weren't soft and fuzzy in the slightest. :)

Edited: Aug 21, 2012, 11:44am Top

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, by Eoin Colfer (7/25/2012)

Reason for Reading: The FINAL book in the Artemis Fowl series. At least it better be. :) I suspect that he's going to write a spin-off series, but that's just my own thoughts on the subject.

My Review
In this FINAL book of the Artemis Fowl series, Arty, Holly, Butler and friends must save the world from Opal’s last stand. The plot was fun, humorous, and a little silly. Overall, a good ending to a good series. This book isn’t up to scratch with the earlier books, but it’s better than some of the later books in the series. You should certainly read it if you’ve gotten this far in the series already! From the character development in this story, I’m GUESSING (personal theory) that Colfer plans on writing a spin-off series starring Miles & Beckett. If he did, I’d certainly check it out.

Edited: Jul 30, 2012, 8:01pm Top

Grimm's Household Stories, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; Lucy Crane translation (7/27/2012)

Reason for Reading: Fantasy and Science fiction Coursera text: week 1

My Review
This is a short, illustrated collection of Grimm’s folktales. All of the most famous of Grimm’s tales are in there, without too many of the redundant same-story-but-slightly-different tales that you’ll inevitably come across in a longer collection. The illustrations are enjoyable. The translation has a few small errors (apparently), but overall I think it’s a good place to start with the Grimm brothers.

Personal Note:
I totally forgot to mention that I have my Coursera essay on the Grimm's tales published on my blog: http://rachelreadingnthinking.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-brothers-grimm-household-...

Edited: Aug 21, 2012, 8:53am Top

Renegade, by Ted Dekker (7/27/2012)

Reason for Reading: I want to finish up this series because it's related to a set of books that I have been really appreicating

My Review
When Bilos betrays the team and disappears into the Books, Johnis, Silvie, and Darsal must rescue him. This is a really difficult book for me to review. I’m a huge fan of Ted Dekker, and I’m reading these books because they seem to be the glue that holds together his loosely related books: The Circle Trilogy, The Paradise Trilogy, and the stand-alone book Skin. However, I feel that this series of books suffers from two fatal flaws: 1) Dekker’s trying to be too clever and 2) Dekker’s hammering us over the head with a Message. The other series make sense on their own, this series does not. It’s wildly jumping around from unreal concept to unreal concept, without enough explanation or continuity. The ONLY reason I have an inkling of what’s going on is because I’ve read the other books. And that’s not as it should be. Furthermore, Dekker’s Message is much less subtle in this book than it is in his other works (possibly since this one was meant for teenagers), and the story gets lost in its Message at time. I will continue through this series because I want to know what happens for the sake of the other series. But I’m no longer enjoying it.

Edited: Aug 21, 2012, 8:53am Top

2012 Book 119: Alice in Wonderland Norton Critical Edition, by Lewis Carroll (8/5/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction course

My Review
This NCE contains Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and The Hunting of the Snark. I was pleased with the footnotes, which were helpful in clarifying many of Carroll's jokes. The critical information included some interesting biographies/diaries of Dodgson (Carroll), as well as a few critical essays. I was disappointed in these because although they were mostly good, the editor clearly has some negative feelings about Dodgson's morals and included many unnecessary Freudian-finger-pointing passages. If I were younger or more impressionable, I'd have been left with a very negative view of Dodgson indeed! Because of these attempts at manipulating the readers' good opinions of Dodgson, I wish I had gotten The Annotated Alice instead.

Note about the stories themselves: These were a re-read for me. Although I love Alice and really enjoyed reading the stories with footnotes (I understood them a lot better this time around!), I tend to prefer books with a little more plot development. Scandalous, I know, but what can I say?

If you're interested, I've been keeping blog posts about the Coursera course, and here are the Alice in Wonderland ones:

Alice's Adventures in the Circle of Life

Alice, the Caterpillar, and the Serpent

The Confidence of Alice

Alice Transformed: Coursera Essay (for assignment)

Edited: Aug 21, 2012, 8:53am Top

2012 Book 120: Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini (8/7/2012)

Reason for Reading: Fourth and final book of the Inheritance Cycle

My Review
I can't claim to actually have READ this book. I only burdened myself with it because I wanted to know how Galbatorix was killed (assuming he was, of course). I read the first 300 pages, skimmed the next 350 pages, and skipped the last 100 pages. :) I got what I wanted out of it, which is the important part. All I can really say to those of you who are interested: Paolini's writing got significantly better in this book. Still not fantastic, but he's got potential. He did a much better job of pacing (though it could have been shorter), and the style flowed better than the last two books--it was less pedantic. If you're a more patient person than me and are interested in how the story ends, I think it's worth a read. :)

Edited: Aug 23, 2012, 6:19am Top

2012 Book 123: Dracula, by Bram Stoker (8/15/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction Course. Listened to it on my car ride to MN. :) Didn't finish it in time for the assignment though!

My Review
This review is for the Audible Edition of Dracula, narrated by Alan Cumming et al. (Wow, I just used et al. in a review. That makes me pretty darned special.)

In this classic novel, a group of acquaintances must rid themselves of the sinister Count Dracula who has descended upon London with the eager desire to create a flock of bloodsucking fiends. This is my second reading of the novel--the first being when I was a young teenager. This time, I was impressed by Stoker's ability to set a dark mood and maintain it through the entire book. There was always some creepy fog or a terrified dog or a creepily sleep-walking woman to spook the reader. The full-cast performance was delightful. It really brought the various characters to life. The end of the book dragged for me a little because I was on a long car trip, counting down the last 6 hours in 10 minute intervals. But that's not really the fault of the book. :)

Aug 21, 2012, 8:19am Top

Hibernator, could you please copy&paste the reviews here, like you did in the earlier posts, instead of linking to them? It would be much easier to read!

Aug 21, 2012, 8:55am Top

:) I suppose it IS silly of me to fret about "saving cyberspace." Some part of me fears that all my double and triple postings made the planet rise an entire degree last year. ;)

Aug 21, 2012, 11:33am Top

Thank you! I rarely click on links to reviews.

Aug 22, 2012, 7:55am Top


Aug 22, 2012, 10:46am Top

It is also true for me that I rarely, very rarely, use a link to somewhere else. If it is not here, I may very well not read it.

Aug 23, 2012, 3:07am Top

61: Thanks for your review. I read the book a few months ago and enjoyed the mood and the language as well as the original (not Hollywood) story.

Small side note, since you made a point of it: no period after "et," which isn't an abbreviation. It's the whole word for "and."

Aug 23, 2012, 4:01am Top

This is a DANGEROUS THREAD there are several books I now really really want to read. Especially the Achilles one. But after a trip to Australia my Visa has taken to bed and is recovering

It was a good trip and we saw Pandas!!

Edited: Aug 23, 2012, 6:20am Top

Meredy: Ha! Thanks for the correction. I imagine I've seen it both ways and never thought about it before. It's nice to know the right way. I'm not sure what you mean, though, by saying you read the book and enjoyed it as much as the original (not Hollywood) story? My audible edition was the original book read with a full cast. Which book did you read and enjoy?

SpicyCat: My Mastercard is suffering under similar problems, but I have an excellent library. :)

Aug 23, 2012, 6:51pm Top

69: I guess that was an ambiguous remark, wasn't it? I used "as well as" there to mean "in addition to." I enjoyed reading the original, real, authentic story (in addition to the mood and the language), as distinct from the many Hollywood variants that all lack something found in the original. (I'm just referring here to the Dracula story and not to vampire lore in general, which was not invented by Bram Stoker.)

But it could just as well have sounded like a comparison--I enjoyed A as well as I enjoyed B. That isn't what I meant--sorry.

As for "et al.," aside from the period you used it correctly to mean "and others." It's the same "et" as in "et cetera," which means "and other things."

Aug 24, 2012, 2:09pm Top

61: I love Tim Curry, would love to hear him read all the dark and sinister things that Stoker wrote. Will have to look out for it.

Sep 2, 2012, 3:16pm Top

2012 Book 124: Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, by Robin McKinley (8/23/2012)

Reason for Reading: Green Dragon Group Read

My Review
Beauty must sacrifice her own freedom in order to save her father...she ends up trapped in a castle with a beast who wants to marry her! I really enjoyed this story because it was sweet and simple. It was a refreshing change from all the more recent "twist" retellings of the story. Highly recommended to any fan of children's fairy tales.

Sep 2, 2012, 3:16pm Top

2012 Book 128: The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells (9/1/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera fantasy and science fiction course

My Review
In H. G. Wells' classic novel, a scientist turns himself invisible and wreaks havoc in rural England. This book is a versatile classic because it could be read by someone who is young or who simply wants to read fluff, but it can also be appreciated by more careful readers who are looking for undercurrents of meaning. It's a tragi-farcical romp in 19th century England, but it's also a warning about what people might do simply because they can get away with it. This is a classic that anyone interested in science fiction should read.

Sep 8, 2012, 10:59am Top

2012 Book 131: A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (9/8/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera Science Fiction and Fantasy course. :)

In the post-Civil War era, John Carter enters an Arizona cave and is unexpectedly whisked away to Mars. There, he witnesses the depravity of a "highly developed" race of people who, because medicine helps them to live long lives, they perform population control by warring with each other. In some ways, though, they're happier than people on Earth, because they have no lawyers. John Carter takes Mars (and a Princess's heart) by storm. I'm not a huge fan of pulp fiction, so I expected very little out of this book. Because of that, I was impressed at how "not bad" it was. Actually, it was sort of interesting in a history-of-science-fiction sort of way. It did have some rather racist comments about Native Americans (an artifact of when it was written), and the Princess was a weak annoying little thing whose only virtues were rare beauty and a penchant for getting into trouble so that we could witness the excitement of her rescue (this is an artifact of being pulp). Overall, not too shabby. But not literature, either. I DID wonder whether John Carter was meant to be some sort of pulpy Christ figure. He was very good at saving people. And he had the right initials. ;)

Sep 10, 2012, 8:46am Top

Matched, by Ally Condie (9/9/2012)

Reason for Reading: Needed something light to get rid of all that "meaning" that's been invading my mind from all those "meaningful" books I've been reading. This one was sufficiently fluffy, and was one of my top 5 LibraryThing recommendations. (LT seems to think that I love YA dystopia, which isn't particularly true, but oh well.)

My Review
Cassia is thrilled about her matching ceremony, in which the officials of her government choose her perfect match...her future husband. But when she views her match, she is perplexed--TWO faces show up on her screen. Because of this "mistake" Cassia is thrown into a confusion of emotions and falls for the "wrong" boy. She begins to question the right of her government to make so many choices for their citizens. Perhaps no one is free in this seeming utopia? This was a cute book, and I certainly am eager to read the rest of the series. I appreciate it as one of the few non-violent YA dystopias out there on the market. On the other hand, love triangles are getting rather blase, aren't they? And it's not really possible to write a unique YA dystopia at the moment. Everything's been done over and again. That said, it was certainly a quick, fun read; and it had very likable characters.

Sep 10, 2012, 9:08am Top

Rose Daughter, by Robin McKinley (9/9/2012)

Reason for Reading: More light reading. :) I chose this book because I had just finished reading Beauty, by Robin McKinley and I wanted to compare her two versions of the Beauty and the Beast story. They had a lot of similarities (both were rather canonical retellings rather than "twists." But they were also very different. In the end, I think I enjoyed reading Beauty more, but I found the ending of Rose Daughter more satisfying.

My Review
Beauty and her two sisters were living in the lap of luxury with their successful father when suddenly everything changed. Her father's business failed, and they were left destitute. They made a new beginning in Rose Cottage, where things weren't quite what they seemed. The coming of Beauty's family to Rose Cottage was the first step to opening an ancient curse that would change their lives forever. This was an adorable little story...just as enjoyable as McKinley's first retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. I was skeptical that McKinely could tell the story twice but, although there were some similarities, the two stories were very different. THIS Beauty used her magical gardening capabilities to change the world...

Sep 13, 2012, 12:04pm Top

The Blind Owl

Written by Sadegh Hedayat; Translated by D.P. Costello; Introduction by Porochista Khakpour

Reason for Reading: This is going to be my blog post for the A More Diverse Universe blog tour. If you have any comments on how I could improve it, let me know...because I won't post it until September 24th.

This is also a Persian classic and one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Plus, it fits with the Surreal September theme read, the Middle Eastern Literature theme read, the RIP challenge, and my Classics Club list. I feel really proud of myself for multitasking right now. :)

My Review

In this surreal novella, an unnamed protagonist unburdens the deadly weight on his chest by confessing to his own grotesquely owl-shaped shadow on the wall.

"in order to explain my life to my stooping shadow, I am obliged to tell a story. Ugh! How many stories about love, copulation, marriage and death already exist, not one of which tells the truth! How sick I am of well-constructed plots and brilliant writing!"

In his mind-spinning narration, it is difficult to tell when the events described are cloaked with opium, veiled with madness, or are simple truth. This novel is deeply disturbing in many ways. It narrates horrific events, certainly, but it is the manner that they are conveyed that is frightening. His imagery is surreal. His repetition is hypnotic. His words are oppressive.

"Only death does not lie. The presence of death annihilates all superstitions. We are the children of death and it is death that rescues us from the deceptions of life."

The imagery and symbolism used by Hedayat portrays his personal marriage between Western and Eastern culture. Although this book is considered the essence of Persian literature, there are signs of Poe and Kafka. The Blind Owl bled, vomited, and wept Freudian symbolism.

This was an amazing book, and highly recommended to people interested in Persian fiction or in modernist fiction.

About the Author and Book:
Sadegh Hedayat (1903-1951) was one of the two fathers of Persian fiction, and sole father of modernist Persian literature. He was born to an aristocratic family in Tehran, and grew up during a turbulent time in the history of Iran. After WWI, the country underwent "modernization" and "Westernization." As always happens with modernization, many people felt oppressed by the loss of culture and ceremony...by the loss of what makes them THEM and by the adoption of foreign values. Hedayat was apparently not one of these people. In 1925 he left Iran for studies in Europe. After short-lived attempts at studying engineering, architecture, and dentistry, he dedicated his life to studying Western literature and to learning Iranian folklore and history. From 1937 to 1939, Hedayat lived in India. The Blind Owl was first published in 1937 in Bombay, India with the label: "Not for publication in Iran." At the time of publication Iran was suffering from the oppressive later years of the reign of Reza Shah. Free press was limited, the middle class was ruled with an "Iron Fist," and the bureaucracy was falling apart under corruption.

In Hadayat's later years, his writings attacked the monarchy and the clergy of Iran, which he felt were leading to its downfall. However, he felt alienated by everyone around him in Iran, and moved to Paris. In 1951, he gassed himself in his apartment by plugging all the windows and doors with cotton. He left money for his burial in plain view.

The introduction to The Blind Owl, written by Porochista Khakpour in the Costello translation is well worth reading. She tells about her history with the novel...how her father wouldn't let her read it when she was a child because it had lead to so many suicides among Iranian youths. I get the impression that Khakpour's family was of a melancholic nature and was strongly affected by books of this nature. I found The Blind Owl disturbing, but I didn't experience any inconvenient urge to off myself after reading it.

Personal interpretation that will contain middle-of-story SPOILERS:
I generally roll my eyes whenever the phrase "Oedipus complex" is introduced into an interpretation. However, in this case, I think "Oedipus complex" is exactly what Hedayat was aiming for. The ONLY character named in the entire book was his mother. He described his mother's dancing in sensual detail. He obsessed sexually about all maternal figures in his life, including his aunt and his nanny. He admits to marrying "that bitch" his wife because she reminded him of his aunt (whom he worshiped with an almost sensual passion). He viewed his mother, nanny, and aunt as sexually unattainable...but that view was extended to his wife. He insisted that he had never slept with her. That he had gone mad from her denial of him and her promiscuity with flea-ridden brutes off the streets. I interpreted these obsessive delusions as false. I assumed that he had, indeed, coupled with his wife, but in his madness repressed those memories and created new delusional memories about other men. (On a side note, I'm not even certain his wife was his aunt's child...she may have been the daughter of his nanny...but I don't know why that would matter?)

The Oedipus complex extended towards his feelings for his father, his father's brother, and his father-in-law. He seemed to fear and loathe the very idea of any of these men--they had, in fact, merged with each other in his own mind. Worse, they had merged with his own self-image so that he feared and loathed himself--probably for his unsatisfied sexual desires towards maternal figures.

Of course, I don't think the entire story was about an Oedipus complex...that was just the theme that jumped out at me on my first perusal. The story was about a man who was isolated from the rest of the world. A man who would never belong. A man who had no one to unburden himself to as the world around him crumbled into surreal chaos. The isolation was likely a reflection of Hedayat's own feelings of alienation. The world crumbling around him was likely how he viewed the socio-economic failure of Iran.

I'm sure this is the type of book that you find something new each and every time you read it...even if you meticulously study it for years.

Sep 15, 2012, 7:08am Top

The Martian Chronicles

Written by Ray Bradbury, Narrated by Peter Marinker

Reason for Reading: Fantasy and Science fiction Coursera Course

My Review:
This is a collection of Ray Bradbury's Mars colonization stories which were originally published in pulp magazines over a period of a few years. They are independent of each other in plot, but it is fascinating how Bradbury managed to pull them all together in a cohesive whole which told a story in itself. This book is considered the bridge between classic pulp science fiction (which targeted lowest-common-denominator audiences) and the more thoughtful and sophisticated modern science fiction. The stories have the same raw imagination as pulp, but each one tackles one or more social issues as well. The stories are fast and fun, and yet intriguing.

My favorite story is about two missionaries bent on saving the Martians from sins that we humans haven't even imagined yet. The philosophical discussion of sin and the ironic use of Christian symobolism meshed surprisingly well with the sf-pulpy imagery. Bradbury also touched on evils-of-colonization, race-relations and xenophobia, and politics...to name but a few issues. I was also impressed by Bradbury's expectations of "the future" (1999 - 2020). Unavoidably, some of his themes were dated--we no longer worry about nuclear holocaust and (I hope!) lynch mobs are very rare in the US these days. He didn't foresee the civil rights movement or the cooling of the arms race. Despite this lack of foresight, he showed that humans never change. We may think we're living in an enlightened age, but xenophobia still exists and we're still willing to destroy the history and of an old land in order to set up our new world. Yes, I did feel that the stories tended to be a bit on the dreary side, but for some reason it didn't bother me so much because it was made palatable by Bradbury's fantastic imagination.

This is a fantastic classic that any science fiction fan should read.

Sep 15, 2012, 7:08am Top

Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 9/14/2012

Reason for Reading: Fantasy and science fiction Coursera

My Review:
On an exploratory trip in "savage" lands, three young American men find a country composed entirely of women. As these men learn about the history and culture of Herland, they are at first dismayed but later impressed at the asexuality and absolute social perfection of these women. For the first time, they notice the flaws in their own society and feel ashamed.

I'm having a really hard time deciding what to think about Herland. I tend to prefer plot-driven novels, or at the very least character-driven novels. Herland was neither plot- nor character-driven...it was concept driven. Gilman was trying to convey a set of principles using an allegorical dialog. Gilman felt that women are subjugated by their sexuality. Because their economic happiness depends on their ability to attract men, they resort to jealousies and obsessions with fripperies. In Herland, there are no men...therefore they do not depend upon their sexuality to land them a desirable place in life--they depend only upon hard work and virtue. Since there are no men, they have no reason to be jealous, catty, gossipy, or hysterical. Thus, they are perfect.

My major shock was that I'd previously had the impression that Gilman believed in the healthiness of sexuality. I believed this partly because of a comment in the introduction to the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader, ed. Ann J. Lane, which suggested that Gilman was deeply sexually attracted to her first husband, but that he had felt overwhelmed by her expressions of desire in their Victorian-valued home. However, the women in Herland are completely asexual. They have no sexual desires at all (not surprising, since they have no men). I find it disturbing that Gilman might have been suggesting that sexual desires (outside procreation) may be a male phenomenon? It's also possible that Gilman felt the men had something to teach the Herlanders after all...they could teach them about healthy sexuality. At first, I interpreted the story this way. But after further thought, I decided that useful men are completely out of character in this book. I think she actually intended to convey the idea that sexuality-only-for-procreation was the most sensible and healthy alternative. But I could be wrong. The jury's still out on that one.

In her comments on Herland, Fence objected to the focus of the women on maternity. This issue (like the sex-only-for-procreation issue) is in stark contrast with the views of today's feminists. There's nothing wrong with maternal feelings, but most feminists feel that women should have a choice about maternity...and they may not WANT to be mothers. I think there's a little irony with Gilman's focus on maternity in Herland. She, herself, suffered from the censure of society after she left her daughter under the care of her first husband. Of course, the fact that she divorced her husband for "no good reason" exacerbated the censure (for more on that, read my comments on "The Yellow Wallpaper"). Perhaps the focus on maternity in Herland was expressions of guilt for her inability to care for her daughter due her own illness. I know depressed people DO tend to be wracked by misplaced guilt.

At some level, I approved of the socialist views displayed by Gilman's allegory. I thought it was wonderful how everything was shared among the whole...there was no poverty and there were no insanely rich. This made the socialist education system work perfectly. Educating the children was considered fun by both the children AND the adults. Education was not a burden, but a joy which all members of society shared. However, I think the only way a socialist society like that would work is if everyone is equal in skill, and devoid of individuality and self-serving jealousies. These women WERE devoid of such horrific traits, but they were also really boring and annoyingly perfect.

For the most part, I did not enjoy reading Herland. I found the dialog grating due to the sickening perfection of the women and the irksome sexism of the men. The men's characters were very flat--their purpose was simply to present a contrast to the perfection of Herland. The three men came in three stereotypical varieties: gentlemanly to the point of sexism, brutishly sexist, and imperfect-but-somewhat-objective observer. Other than these characteristics, the men had no personality at all. The women also lacked character partly due to their obnoxious perfection, but also due to their nature as a social "we" instead of being unique individuals. In other words, the perfection and socialism merged them into one character with many names (with the slight exception of Alima who brought Terry's brutish behavior on herself by having a "far-descended atavistic trace of the more marked femaleness, never apparent till Terry called it out.") In other words, the presence of men brought out the bad characteristics of women? Of COURSE they did.

See? Herland needed these men so that they could catalyze atavistic femaleness. This trait could then be bred out of the next generation. Men ARE useful after all!

Seriously, though, the eugenics of Herland was a little disturbing. The officials of Herland apparently got to decide who was worthy of giving birth to none, one, or *gasp at the honor* TWO children. The officials also got to choose how much influence the mother had over the child's rearing. I didn't view this process as racist since I assumed they were all of the same race (at least, they were all white by the time the men arrived), but according to Wikipedia, "Gilman also believed old stock Americans of British colonial descent were giving up their country to immigrants who, she said, were diluting the nation's reproductive purity." So I can't discount the possibility that she DID mean that the women of Herland bred out the "less desirable" races.

I think Herland was an interesting thought experiment, but I personally didn't enjoy reading it. If your'e interested in concept-driven allegories, especially feminist and socialist allegories, then this is the book for you.

Edited: Sep 15, 2012, 9:13am Top

Interesting review. I doubt I'll find time to read it but I do find it interesting that someone went to the considerable effort to write an entire book for this "thought experiment". I was a young woman when the feminist movement hit its most recent "beginnings"; right after/coinciding with the anti-war movement and civil rights movement. I remember the meetings of young people who wanted to succeed in ending racism and the war and I remember when the leadership was assumed to be male, and the women did the "secretarial work". I can empathize with someone wanting to play out the idea of "what might the world be like if we had no men"?

Personally, I am grateful feminism has come a long ways since then and diversity of life styles is more acceptable.

Sep 15, 2012, 9:42am Top

I'd rather have a world with men. It would be more interesting that way. :)

Edited: Sep 25, 2012, 4:41pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Sep 24, 2012, 9:15am Top

The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (9/15/2012)

Reason for Reading: I read this for banned books week (which doesn't start till September 30th this year). I'll be posting reviews of three banned books on my blog that week, and this is the first one.

My Review
David, the eldest of the Stanley kids has had to take care of his three younger siblings ever since his mother died. When his father gets remarried, David has to adjust not only to the new mother, but to a new teen-aged sister. And what a strange sister she is! Amanda dresses in dark flowy clothing, has a triangle in the center of her forehead, and wears an upside-down smile. Amanda begins to teach the Stanley kids about the occult, but soon things get out of hand when they awaken a poltergeist!

This book is on on the ALA's list of the top 100 books banned between 1990-2000. The complaints were that kids reading the book might become interested in the occult (or even learn to practice the occult) from this book. Of course, this is preposterous. This is not a story about an evil little teen-aged witch--it's a book about an angry girl who wants to get revenge on her mother for getting remarried. This is a book about the very real emotions children feel when their parents make life-changing decisions. It's about coping with that anger. It's about love and forgiveness. Any child reading the book will end on a note of acceptance and forgiveness (unless they don't finish the book). I think people who fear a book about kids playing let's-pretend probably ought to lock their doors and hide away...because the real world is a lot scarier than this book.

Sep 24, 2012, 9:16am Top

Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause (9/17/2012)

Reason for Reading: This is my second post for the Banned Books Week 2012 blog tour (it won't be posted on my blog until the last week of September). By reading banned books, I feel that I'm expressing my freedom of speech (or in this case, the author's freedom of speech), but I'm also interested in learning more about WHY people ban books. I don't approve of banning most of the books on ALA's top banned books lists, though for some of them I can empathize with the objections. In the case of this particular book, I understand the objections, though I think banning it only gives the book added attention. Blood and Chocolate is #57 on the ALA's list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009.

My Review

Vivian is a 15-year-old werewolf living happily with her pack in the country when a horrible murder destroys the world she loves. In tragic disarray, her pack moves to the suburbs and tries to get reorganized. In the midst of this chaos, Vivian has an identity crisis and falls for a human "meat-boy." Her experiences trying to fit in with meat-people teaches her a lot about herself. Meanwhile, the grisly murders continue, and the pack must hunt down the killers before they, themselves, become hunted. This book was very engaging. It was interesting and suspenseful enough that I really wanted to know how it ended, despite the fact that I disliked all the characters. Vivian was manipulative and conceited. Her mother had little character other than expressing concern for her daughter and being obsessed with sex. Vivian's meat-boy boyfriend seemed likable enough at first (though not particularly alluring), but then his qualities took a nose-dive towards the end of the book. Honestly, I'm not sure why this book gets such good reviews, but I suppose it's simply because the narrative is so engaging.

My feelings about why this book was banned

I had the feeling while reading Blood and Chocolate that Klause intended this book to be a slap in the face to prudish book-banners. For me, that took a lot of the enjoyment out of the book because I felt like I was being beat over the head with a Message. Even if I agree with the Message, I think a novel's MAIN objective should be to tell a story. If the story is told well, the message comes through in a smooth allegory. This book seemed like Klause was going for shock-value to pump up her sales. The reason I believe that this slap-in-the-face was purposeful and not simply part of the story is because Klause included a conversation between Vivian and her boyfriend about adults that object to certain types of behavior and want to burn his books.

Klause included almost all of the qualities that our book-banners of America hate: explicit sexualization of everything, the occult, disrespect for religious symbols, obscenties, violence, age-inappropriate relationships, and an entire page musing about different ways to commit suicide. None of this was bad enough to scar a child or young teen. However, I feel she REALLY overdid it with the sexualization. You'd think from this book that the defining characteristic of werewolves is that they were unabashedly and continuously horny. This seems to be the defining trait of teen-aged boys as well ;). It was a bit obnoxious. The randiness of every character was SO overdone that it detracted from the story. So in the end, no, I don't think this is subversive literature. But I have no respect for Klause's ability to portray a message with finesse.

Edited: Sep 28, 2012, 9:19am Top

Kafka on the Shore

Written by Haruki Murakami; Narrated by Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur

Reason for Reading: In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, which is Japanese magical realism / surrealism. This is also one of the 1001 Books you Must Read Before You Die, won "best novel" for the World Fantasy Award, and it fits into the Surreal September.

My Review
Kafka on the shore follows two seemingly unrelated characters whose stories collide in surreality. The first character is a 15-year-old runaway boy who has renamed himself Kafka Tamura. Kafka runs away from his father for reasons that slowly reveal themselves as the plot thickens. He ends up in an obscure library, where he must overcome a dark curse. The second character is Nakata, an old man who suffered an injury as a child and lives as on a stipend for the mentally disabled. Nakata may not be very smart, but he can talk to cats, and he has an uncanny ability to accept surreal events at face value, thus providing a unique perspective to the strange plot twists. Kafka on the Shore highlighted the extreme effects alienation can have on a person's psyche. It had some VERY dark undercurrents (and even one scene of brutality that was quite shocking). It was a fascinating story, but after thinking about it for several days, I'm still unable to figure out quite what it meant. Perhaps it was only an expression of dark loneliness and nothing more? Whether I'm missing the deeper meaning or not, I greatly enjoyed reading my first Murakami book, and look forward to reading many more of these fascinating works.

Sep 25, 2012, 4:12pm Top

I really like the way you present your comments on your reading. On the basis of your review, I think I would like The Blind Owl and have added it to my wishlist.

Sep 25, 2012, 7:46pm Top

Headless Cupid looks like it won an award based on that cover, Hibernator! Do you know which one?

Sep 25, 2012, 7:53pm Top

Thanks Meredy! I hope you enjoy The Blind Owl if you ever get to it. It was certainly unique. :)

Jill, The Headless Cupid was a Newbery Honor book, and that's what the cover says. It also won a couple of smaller awards that year.

Sep 26, 2012, 7:39am Top

Zone One

written by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Beresford Bennett

Reason for Reading: I read Zone One for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, which aims to increase awareness of authors-of-color...-of-speculative-fiction. (Is that the correct punctuation for that term?) Zone One is particularly fitting for this blog tour, since it is being considered for this year's Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Though this book is a "literary" zombie novel, so of course it is, by definition, genre defying. ;) I also read this book for Surreal September (75ers) and the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge...though I see people are already posting reviews on October's Halloween thread (75ers), so maybe I read it for that, too. :)

My Review
This post-apocalyptic book takes place in on Manhattan Island (Zone One), where Mark Spitz and his colleges work as "sweepers." Their job is to remove all the straggler-zombies from the area and bag them for disposal. This book isn't plot driven so much as world-building-driven. Whitehead uses beautiful prose to describe the "reconstruction" of America. As spell-binding as his sentences are, however, this flowery language distracts from the few action scenes...making this book not so much about zombies as about compulsive and overwhelming mediocrity. I don't mean that Whitehead's writing is mediocre--not in the slightest!--but that the book is about mediocrity. The mediocrity of Mark Spitz is described in beautifully pregnant prose. In fact, Mark had "unrivaled mediocrity" and all the "advantages this adaptation conferred in a mediocre world." The zombies themselves were a metaphor for the mediocre masses of Manhattan. Many of them harmlessly flipped non-existent burgers over ovens that had broken down long ago. They window shopped in front of boarded up displays and vegged in front of dead televisions. Thus, the book had a rather dark view of humanity...that we are descending irrepressibly into mediocrity.

On top of that mediocre metaphor, Whitehead flirts with an allegory for the post-Civil War reconstruction. He compares the "untold Americans" who were not a part of the reconstruction to "slaves who didn't know they'd been emancipated." I pondered the meaning of this slave metaphor for a long time. Did Whitehead mean that these slaves hadn't been told about the reconstruction? That there were untold numbers of them? That nobody would ever tell their story? Maybe he meant all of that? Following through with his mediocre-zombie metaphor, it seems that Whitehead meant that America is filled both with mediocre masses who live like zombies and their slaves...slaves of technology, slaves to the whim of the mediocre masses, slaves to the unpredictability of a fickle universe.

I had a hard time reading this book because of all the flashbacks and literary musings--I don't recommend people listen to the audiobook version due to these unexpected and frequent changes. I probably would have enjoyed it much, much more if I had physically read it. :) I think this is an excellent work for its meaning and its prose, but it's going to get bad reviews from the zombie-fiction-lovers out there, because, in the end, it's not really about zombies.

P.S. After writing that review, I've decided to give it 4 stars because it made me think...I was originally going to give it 3.5 stars because it was difficult for me to get through and I didn't immensely enjoy it. :)

Edited: Sep 27, 2012, 8:27am Top

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

written by N. K. Jemisin, narrated by Casaundra Freeman

Reason for Reading:
First of all, let me thank Morphi who recommended this book a few weeks ago when I said I was reading authors-of-color...-of-speculative-fiction for the Diverse Universe Tour. This is EXACTLY what I needed after reading all those heavy literary works. This book was fun brain candy, but it also had some interesting messages as well. :)

My Review:
When Yeine Darr's mother dies, she is called for an unexpected interview with her estranged maternal grandfather, the ruler of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Under the guise of adopting her into the family, her grandfather's twisted family holds Yeine against her will in the city of Sky. Presumably, she is a third contender to take her grandfather's place as ruler--but what are his motivations for accepting her (as outcast) into the family? On top of that, Yeine is also being seduced by the charms of the "gods" of Sky...and one of them is the ultimate bad-boy. These gods have been treated as slaves by Yeine's for two thousand years, and they want their own piece of Yeine's new life. Yeine must weave her way through a maze of deceit to decide who her allies are. I loved this book because I was in great need of some brain candy right about now. It's light, fun, fluffy...as long as you approach it like brain candy, you'll really love it. :) Despite it's fun fluffy nature, Jemisin manged to weave in messages about unbendingly dogmatic religions, slavery, women's rights, and abuse of power. These messages do not overpower the story, but they're there if you want to think about them. In my mind, this was a perfect mixture and just what I needed right now. :)

Edited: Sep 28, 2012, 3:04pm Top

Who Fears Death
written by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik

Reason for Reading:
This is my fourth book for The Diverse Universe blog tour, in which we are reading speculative fiction books written by authors-of-color. Who Fears Death was a Nebula nominee in 2010 and won the World Fantasy Award in 2011.

My Review
This book takes place in a post-apocalyptic Sudan, which is peopled by two races--the dominant Nurus and their "slaves" the Okekes. Onyesonwu Ubaig-Ogundiwu (whose name means "Who Fears Death?") is a the daughter of an Okeke woman who was raped and brutalized by a Nuru sorcerer and his genocidal army. Onyesonwu was considered "Ewu," a mixed-race child who brings bad luck and violence wherever she goes. Despite Onyesonwu's mother's lucky marriage to a kind man, the girl spent most of her younger years feeling insecure and angry at the world. However, as Onyesonwu grew, she inherited the powers of a sorcerer...angry powers that she couldn't control without the help of a teacher. This story is the coming-of-age of a young sorcerer destined to wreak vengeance on a violent father.

I am having a really difficult time deciding what rating to give this book. Okorafor's writing was powerful (as was the reading by Flosnik). The story was compelling, though a few sections dragged for me--these parts could have been cut out to make a shorter book with no loss to the story. The genocidal violence and rape were described in disturbing detail, though these details were tactful and necessary. Okorafor used a post-apocalyptic setting to write a powerful story about issues (like genocide, female circumcision, and oppressive sexism) that are current problems in parts of Africa today. In fact, the most powerful part of the story (the consequences of human brutality) were disturbingly realistic and representative of the world many of us Westerners choose to ignore today. But, as disturbing as this book's content was, there was also a ray of hope and optimism. And behind all of this darkness and light, there is the story of a girl who wants nothing more to love her man, her friends, and her mother despite all odds. (Well, ok, she also wants revenge...)

Edited: Nov 3, 2012, 10:27pm Top

Well, I've fallen behind on my reviews in this thread. My problem is that I've only been pasting in reviews from fantasy/sci-fi books. Because I'm not pasting in reviews of ALL my books, I don't always remember to come over here and add in my review. So, instead, I'm going to try giving you ALL my books. You can just ignore reviews for books you're not interested in. :p

2012 Book 149: The Poisoner's Handbook

written by Deborah Blum, narrated by Coleen Marlo

Reason for Reading: October Halloween theme

My Review
This fascinating book outlines the development of forensic science in the 1920's. It begins by describing the poor state of forensics the late nineteen-teens, and pointing out WHY it was so necessary to develop a proper procedure for determining cause of death. I've always taken such things for granted and never even thought about the effort it would take to develop the science--not only scientifically, but also as a social movement. Although the Prohibition theme resonates throughout the book, each chapter focuses on a different poison--including the background/development of the poison, the effects it has on the victim, and the measures taken by forensic scientists to discover cause of death. This book was fascinating on so many different levels. It's interesting as a Prohibition-era history, but it would also be interesting to lovers of popular science. Highly recommended for a little light reading.

2012 Book 150: Assassin's Code

written by Jonathan Maberry, narrated by Ray Porter

Reason for Reading: 4th book in the Joe Ledger series. Figured the brainless action would be entertaining for a long car ride. Also, it fits in nicely with the Halloween theme. :)

My Review
In this fourth installment of Joe Ledger's story, Ledger kicks the @$$ of evil Iranians, a Romanian? weirdo cult, and a group of religious doomsday vampires...all while trying to figure out where the mysterious group of psychotic women fit in to this mess. This book is brainless military sci-fi/horror action at its best. I only gave the book three stars because I started to get bored of all the bad @$$ military action. And it waxed a little too political for me at times. This is also a book that you shouldn't think too deeply about--for instance, why the heck did he bring his DOG for a mission in Iran (when clearly the dog wasn't being used for the mission)? Certainly, the dog HAPPENED to come in handy at times, but it seems poor planning to bring a dog and then leave him pointlessly in the hotel during the mission, so that if things didn't go as smoothly as planned, Ledger would have to go back and get his dog before getting out of harm's way. I also felt some of the "intrigue" plot was rather overcooked. Really? Intrigue in the Catholic Church? Gasp! Never seen THAT in a book before! So, like I said, this book is great if you're interested in some mindless action...just don't think too much. :)

If you liked the rest of the Joe Ledger books, then this is more of the same. If you liked the first and felt "meh" about the rest, then this book is similar to the rest of the sequels. If you haven't read any of the others, pick up Patient Zero (it's good!) and then keep in mind that the rest of the books are less intelligent, but just as much pulpy action.

2012 Book 151: Flesh & Bone, by Jonathan Maberry

Reason for Reading: Third book in the Benny Imura series, and it fit the Halloween theme

Benny, Nix, Chong, and Lilah are on a quest through the zombie-infested Rot & Ruin to find a rebuilt civilization that they can only hope is out there. In the Mojave dessert (doesn't that just scream "Area 51" at you?) they clash with a religious death-cult whose goal is to send all living humans into the darkness before they, themselves, are allowed to enjoy the eternity of dark peace. However, our team of teens also discovers more evidence that somewhere out there civilization is trying to re-exert itself. This book isn't as strong as the first two in the series, but it was still enjoyable. Maberry tries to squeeze in so much action into his books that I go into action overload and start to get bored. I think the first book this series was strongest because Maberry spent a good amount of space developing the characters and setting. But the characters, setting, and plot don't make a whole lot of progress in this book...That space is reserved for extra action scenes. The theme that I appreciated from the earlier books was upheld in this one (zombies were people too, and sometimes the real monsters are human), and there is a newer theme of coping with loss. This theme could have helped the characters develop, but their development was pretty shallow. That said, I'm not trying to tear the book apart...it was a fun read and had lots of action. :) It's good fluff and I'm eager for what I believe is the fourth and final book.

ETA: I notice from other reviews that I might be the only person who feels that the characters didn't develop. Maybe it's just me!

2012 Book 152: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

written by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I'm rereading these books in audio to get an impression of what the series is like as a complete set. This is my first rereading of the entire series.

My Review
Harry hopes his second year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry will be calmer than last year's. However, even before the school-year begins, Harry meets a house elf who is determined to keep Harry from even STARTING his school year. Harry perseveres, however, and delves into trouble yet again when the Chamber of Secrets is opened and some stealthy beast begins to petrify his classmates. Will Harry and his friends be able to stop the beast before it manages to kill someone? Harry also gets his first taste of xenophobia in the wizarding world, when he learns a new naughty epithet (the m-word). And I bet you'd never guess which bratty little villain uses the word? I'll give a hint. He's blonde.

This second installment of the Harry Potter series is just as delightful as the first. It, like its predecessor, is aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum, which suits me just fine. The narration by Jim Dale is quite enjoyable--in fact, I liked this narration better than his narration of the Sorcerer's Stone. He's got different voices for each of the characters, and his voice definitely engaged me.

The entire Harry Potter is a popular book on the "banned and challenged" lists released by the ALA. Personally, I didn't see anything objectionable in this book. Accusations of "satan worship" and "encourages interest in the occult" are silly. There isn't any language or objectionable morals that I can see--other than the fact that Harry, Ron, and Hermione steal, lie, and generally disobey rules. Of course, they do these things with the best intentions, and often because they feel the adults don't listen to them. Also, they don't hurt anyone with their antics (though they certainly endanger themselves). But let's be honest with each other. Would YA books be interesting to ANYBODY if the protagonists were perfect little angels who allowed the adults to take care of all the important stuff? Of course not.

Nov 3, 2012, 10:04pm Top

I added The Poisoner's Handbook to my wishlist, but I think you have the wrong touchstone for yours.

Nov 3, 2012, 10:27pm Top

Ah! Thanks. I took care of it. :)

Nov 4, 2012, 11:09am Top

I've decided to host a theme read on my blog in February. I will be reading books about social justice (or injustice). I would be happy for people to participate by reading books with a social justice (injustice) theme and providing links to their reviews. If you don't have a blog, you can always provide links to your LibraryThing reviews, or guest-post on my blog. :) There are lots of books with social justice themes--both fiction and non-fiction. Feel free to be creative! I'm also happy to get posts that are NOT book reviews, but which discuss social justice issues.

Here's my sign-up post (if you sign-up by Feb 7th, you get entered for a $10 gift certificate from Amazon for every review / blog post you provide).


YES! There ARE science fiction and fantasy books that cover social justice issues. So you CAN participate! ;) I'll just have to think about which books fit. If you have any ideas, please let me know!

Nov 4, 2012, 2:23pm Top

Ooh that sounds fun! I'm in!

Nov 7, 2012, 6:55am Top

Mel: Yay! It'll be nice to have you. I'll put up reminders closer to the date. :)

2012 Book 153: The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for Reading: Fifth Book (publication order) of the Chronicles of Narnia

Shasta grew up as practically a slave to his "father," until he meet a talking horse. Bree (the horse) has been kidnapped from Narnia, a foreign land that Shasta has never heard of. Bree is convinced that Shasta, too, has been taken from Narnia. They escape together, and have many adventures on the way to Narnia. This book takes place during the original reign of High King Peter and his brother and sisters. It was a delightful little book, and complements the Narnia series quite well. I DID have a good laugh at the rather xenophobic treatment of Archenland--most people from this land were portrayed as corrupt, degenerate, and evil. By the way they dressed and some of their habits, Lewis clearly meant for Archenland to be similar to the Orient. This snafu made me chuckle a little bit, since I took into consideration the age in which Lewis was writing...and that he was writing about a fantasy land. In the end, I enjoyed this book just as much as the other books in the series. It is fun, cute, and a delight to read.

Nov 8, 2012, 9:59am Top

See! I remember to come over here when I post EVERY book. :) Now I just have to find time to go by all of your threads here!

2012 Book 154: The Social Conquest of Earth

Written by Edward O. Wilson, Narrated by Jonathan Hogan

Reason for Reading: Group read in our LibraryThing "Science, Religion, History" group.

In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson expounds upon the theories that were set forth in his classic work Sociobiology. His main thesis is that group selection, not kin selection, drove evolution and helped us to develop societies. He compares the way human society developed to the way ant "society" developed (ants are his specialty). He suggests reasons why religion and xenophobia would have originally developed as protective characteristics of groups. This book covers a large swath of material...from ants to human prehistory, to history, to today. I think he did a pretty good job organizing the book considering what a wide topic he was covering. His theories were clear and for the most part convincing. I think Wilson is an atheist, but he did a pretty good job of stating his opinions in an agnostic sort of way to avoid insulting the faithful. The only statement that rather jarred me was when he suggested that there surely exist better ways to find spiritual fulfillment than total submission to God. This statement jarred me because it seemed he was saying that this religious process developed for a reason, but that reason is now obsolete. However, in an earlier chapter, he pointed out that homosexuality developed for a reason, so homophobia is not helpful to society. I wholeheartedly agree with him that homophobia is hateful and ignorant. But it is not particularly scientific to say homosexuality developed for a reason, therefore it's good...religion developed for a reason, but it's obsolete now. What are his reasons for deciding one is good and the other is obsolete? His reasons are emotional rather than scientific. But I'm just being nitpicky here. I think the book was well-written, interesting, and approachable by a non-scientific audience. I had no issues with Hogan's narration--he read the book well, but it wasn't anything worth raving about.

Nov 8, 2012, 10:01am Top

I'm reading the Arden Shakespeare version of Hamlet, edited by Harold Jenkins. Harold Jenkins' Introduction had a LOT of information, and I highly recommend it to someone who's serious about reading this play. Jenkins started by discussing the date of original release. Apparently there is some controversy among scholars about when the play first came out. There's about 2-3 years wiggle room of uncertainty. Apparently, this is an important question since there is a play that was released around the same time called Antonio's Revenge. Either Hamlet or Antonio's Revenge was plagiarized. We're talking the plot, the circumstances, and some of the dialog--all copied. Jenkins comes to the conclusion from his three-paged discussion about dates that Hamlet was released first. Originally, it was generally accepted that Antonio's Revenge was released first and that it was used as "source material" for Hamlet. I wasn't entirely convinced by Jenkins' argument, and am not certain whether most scholars today agree with him or accept the original conclusions that Hamlet was the later play (though I suspect the former). After so much time has passed, and considering that plagiarism wasn't as big a deal in the 16th century as it is now, I hesitate to give Shakespeare all the credit simply because he's Shakespeare. However, Jenkins did provide one argument that I found convincing. Shakespeare was basing his play on a well-known Danish tale. He shouldn't have had any use for an unrelated secondary source like Antonio's Revenge. On the other hand, Marston would have been searching for ideas for a sequel to his earlier play, Antonio and Mellida, and would have had more need for source material.

Jenkins then spends a good deal of space discussing the publication of Hamlet and the differences between existing manuscripts. I skipped that section, but it certainly contained a good deal of information that a serious scholar would find interesting.

The sources of Shakespeare's Hamlet are then discussed. Apparently, it is generally accepted that the major source of Shakespeare's Hamlet was a contemporary play dubbed by today's scholars as Ur-Hamlet. This play was never printed, so we can't compare it to Shakespeare's work, but Shakespeare would certainly have been familiar with the play since it was put out by his own company. The story that we now call Hamlet was first published in Saxo's Historiae Danicae, written at the end of the twelfth century and published in 1514. The story was then retold by the Frenchman Belleforest--translations (or the original French version) were probably what the author of Ur-Hamlet used when writing his play. It is clear that Belleforest was the source material, rather than Saxo's original work, because that Belleforest introduced some dramatic elements to the story which were present in Hamlet. For instance, the adultery of Amleth's mother was Belleforest's idea. Although it is clear that Belleforest is the source of Hamlet, it is unclear whether Shakespeare read Belleforest himself, or simply inherited the allusions from Ur-Hamlet.

There were, of course, elements in Hamlet that were not evident in Belleforest's work. For instance, the complexity of Hamlet's character was Shakespeare's doing. Also, the ghost of Hamlet's father is only hinted at in Bellefonte. During the revenge scene in his tale, Belleforest made passing reference to the shade of Amleth's father--that it may now rest in peace. The leap between a metaphorical shade and a full-fledged haunting was made somewhere between Belleforest and Shakespeare. Jenkins' introduction contains a lot more information about the little differences between Belleforest and Shakespeare with some speculation about Ur-Hamlet, but I'll leave all of that unsummarized so you have a reason to read the Introduction yourself.

Finally, the Introduction ends with a critical analysis of Hamlet. It has been so long since I've read Hamlet, that I feel I need to go back and read this critical analysis after re-reading the play. I'll post more detailed comments on it later. The only thing that really jumped out at me during this first perusal of Jenkins' critique is that he believes that Ophelia died a virgin. I'd always heard that Ophelia and Hamlet had had relations at some point before the action commenced. The difference between these two interpretations changes Ophelia's character immensely. I'll read very carefully this time and come to my own conclusions.

Nov 8, 2012, 7:35pm Top

Now that's a bit of commentary on Ophelia and Hamlet that I hadn't encountered before. I may have to go back to my DVDs to see if I see any of that in the actors' interpretations of the characters on film.

Nov 8, 2012, 7:58pm Top

Yeah, I'm going to watch some films too. I'll see what I think after I read the play. ;)

Nov 10, 2012, 8:58am Top

2012 Book 155: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I read this for a Harry Potter Readalong on my blog. On which I'm falling catastrophically behind. But at least I'll get some of them read before the end of the readalong.

My Review
Harry Potter thinks he's in big trouble when he accidentally blows up his aunt, but luckily for him the powers-that-be are distracted by the shocking escape of Sirius Black from the wizard's prison Azkaban. Black is purported to be "You-Know-Who's biggest supporter." (Though I'm not certain what made everyone decide that Black was the most dedicated supporter, rather than the one who'd made the biggest bang? But let's not question the Rowling.) With the dementors out in force - ready to snatch Black up the moment he rears his unkempt head, Harry, Ron, and Hermione don't have much chance to misbehave. Will they catch Black before Black kills again? I loved this book more this time around than I did the first time. (Mainly because I have a fondness for the entire story now, whereas when I read it, I was just continuing a series that I'd started.) I DID notice, however, a few snafus that made me chuckle. Just little inconsistencies here and there. I didn't notice anything like that in the first two books. Usually I ignore little inconsistencies in YA lit, but these surprised me because I'd always thought Rowling had done an amazing job tying up all the loose ends. I suppose inconsistencies are almost impossible to avoid this TIME around though. I remember reading some comments a while back that said that Rowling's writing developed from a bit amateurish to more skilled as the series progressed. Now I see what they mean. I'll keep an eye out for loopholes in the future, now that I know she has them. I'm curious if she gets a lot better at avoiding them in the later books. Overall, though, excellent stuff. I'm enjoying Dale's narrations more and more now that I'm getting used to his style.

Nov 11, 2012, 8:50am Top

2012 Book 156: The House of Wisdom, by Jim Al-Khalili

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read on LibraryThing.

Many of us were taught that the origins of science were in Ancient Greece but that the Western World fell into the "Dark Ages" where science was lost and no progress was made. This traditional story concludes that the Western world rediscovered the Greek philosophies thus spurring on the Renaissance. A few months ago, I reviewed The Genesis of Science, by James Hannam, which was meant (partly) to dispel our notions of the Middle Ages as a time of darkness, a mire of progress. Hannam then describes how in the early years of the Renaissance, old scientific documents were rediscovered and translated. He only only briefly mentions the fact that those rediscoveries (and the ability to translate them) came from revitalized contact with the Arab world. The House of Wisdom fills that gap, by describing the ways in which the Arab world built upon the science of the Greeks, thus building the foundation for the scientific progress made during the Renaissance. I don't mean to say that Al-Khalili's book is only a gap-filler in the other book, but that the two books complement each other. The weaknesses in each are fortified by the strengths in the other.

The House of Wisdom is an engrossing description of Ancient Arab history of science. Al-Khalili discusses the development of math, optics, medicine, chemistry, and philosophy by sketching descriptions of major scientific figures and their accomplishments. While Hannam's book tended to have a lot of gossipy digressions about the scholars, Al-Khalili tended to focus on facts that were more to the point. This makes Al-Khalili's book more informative, but less entertaining, than Hannam's book. For relief, All-Khalili inserts little passages about his own experiences in Iraq, which were helpful for lightening the mood. One thing I didn't like about Al-Khalili's book is that he is still stuck on the old-fashioned belief that the Western Middle Ages were dark and progress-free. And neither book covered the development of science in China or India.

Overall, if you're interested in reading about Arabic science, I think this book is an excellent place to start.

Nov 12, 2012, 9:30am Top

2012 Book 157: The Black Sheep's Redemption, by Lynette Eason

Reason for Reading: This is one of November's picks for the American Christian Fiction Writers Association online book club. Anyone is welcome to join. Discussions start on the 20th, and this book only takes a couple hours to read.

My Review
In this sweet little Christian romantic suspense from the Harlequin, Charles Fitzgerald has been accused of the murder of his nanny, and the only woman who is willing to replace the nanny is Demi Taylor, a young woman who recently suffered a head wound and can't remember who she is. Fitzgerald's family, who pretty much runs the town, is suspected of hiding evidence on the case. Will they be able to clear his name to everyone's satisfaction? And just who IS Demi, and why does she feel someone is stalking her?

This book is the penultimate book in a romantic suspense series about the Fitzgerald family (who apparently has a very suspenseful and romantically inclined few months during the murder investigation). Although I hadn't read any of the previous books in the series, this book had all of the information needed to understand what was going on. However, there are several loose ends in the book, leaving an opening for us to explore the romantic inclinations of Ryan Fitzgerald AND to discover *dum dum dum* the murderer. (At least I certainly HOPE we discover who the murderer is.) :) I really needed some fluffy reading at the moment that I picked this book up, and this certainly delivered. Light, quick, fun, romantic, and suspenseful. I'm glad I read it, and I'll probably pick up some of the others in the series (at the very least I'll pick up the last book so I can finish the story).

My four-star rating is on the well-you-knew-it-was-Harlequin scale. :)

Nov 12, 2012, 7:31pm Top

the well-you-knew-it-was-Harlequin scale

*snickering in proper appreciation of all that phrase encompasses*

Nov 13, 2012, 7:31am Top

>105 jillmwo: :D Yeah. Exactly. :) But, seriously, it really seems best to give books a rating based on what they're meant to be. If it's a particularly good example of a Harlequin Romance, it deserves four stars I think. I just want people to know that I'm working on a different rating scale than normally here. :)

Book 158: The Marshal's Promise, by Rhonda Gibson

Reason for reading: This is one of November's picks for the American Christian Fiction Writers Association online book club. Anyone is welcome to join. Discussions start on the 20th, and this book only takes a couple hours to read.

My Review
In this sweet little Christian historical romance put out by the Harlequin publishing company, Rebecca Ramsey has been forced by her evil stepmother to answer an advert for a mail-order bride. But upon arriving in New Mexico territories, she discovers that her husband-to-be has been killed. With nowhere to go, she decides to make her home in New Mexico. Luckily, the Marshal offers her a job as his housekeeper. But does the Marshal have an ulterior motive for his offer? Sparks fly as these two learn that communication works better than secrets. This was a very cute little book, and there were some really sweetly romantic moments in it. There were also some tartly romantic moments. ;) If you're looking for a light historical romance, this is a good choice; however, this book has quite a few anachronisms in it so it's not to be read by the seriously hard-core historical fiction readers. This book is meant to be fun and sweet, not cerebrally historic.

Disclaimer: Again, this book is rated on the well-you-knew-it-was-Harlequin scale.

Nov 13, 2012, 11:15am Top

Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1:

Setting: Sentinels stand on the battlements of the castle

Characters: Barnardo, Marcellus, and Francisco of the King's guard; Horatio, an educated gentleman, skeptical of ghosts, friend of Hamlet

Twice recently, Barnardo and Marcellus have had their watch interrupted on the stroke of 1AM by an apparition in the form of the recently deceased King Hamlet. Fearing to speak to the ghost themselves, they had invited the skeptical scholar Horatio. Upon the tolling of the hour, the ghost appears, and Horatio calls out, charging it to speak. But the ghost stalks silently away. Our skeptical scholar (and therefore our audience) is now convinced that the ghost is not a fantasy. Aggrieved, Horatio suggests that the ghost is an ill omen.

The three men then begin gossiping about an upcoming war, for which the ghost might be a portent. Thus, the audience is educated: Many years before, the late King Hamlet had slain in battle Fortinbras, the King of Norway. King Hamlet had confiscated some treasures and lands in that battle, which were given to young Hamlet upon his father's death. The son of the late King Fortinbras, also named Fortinbras, has decided (after brooding for 30 years) to avenge his father's death and seize the lands back from young Hamlet. He's been gathering a band of misfits to wage war on Denmark. (This band of misfits apparently morphs into a well-organized army by the end of the play...nice to have footnotes to point out all the inconsistencies!)

Gossip-fest complete, the ghost reappears and Horatio calls out, commanding it to speak. The ghost is about to answer when the cock crows. The ghost starts, and fades away as on a dreadful summons. Horatio decides that perhaps the ghost didn't speak because it wants young Hamlet. The men resolve to tell Hamlet about the ghost.

My thoughts: Suspenseful first scene. I think it's fascinating the way Shakespeare has managed to introduce several very important points into the scene, without distracting from the ghost. We now know that Horatio is a skeptical scholar, that the ghost is likely the spirit of the dead king, and that Denmark is about to be attacked by the vengeful young King of Norway. All that information flowed so smoothly into the dialog that the audience wouldn't even realize they were being educated. I also like the suspense. What does the ghost want to say? We'll have to wait and see.

P.S. No, I don't think I'm going to make a post for every single scene. But the opening scene is important. :p

Nov 13, 2012, 11:16am Top

The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol
Major Kovalev, a Caucus-made collegiate assessor (in other words, a minor official who has been elevated by his connections rather than his intelligence), awakens on March 25th to discover that his nose is missing. To his dismay, he later sees his nose masquarading around town in the guise of a state councilor (equivalent rank of general). Kovalev absurdly tries to put his nose in its place.

Nikolai Gogol's "The Nose" is a satirical short story written around 1835. It is one of Gogol's well-known Petersburg tales. Gogol is the father of Russian modernism and strongly influenced writers like Dostoevsky. Most literary critics consider Gogol to be a social satirist and protector of the little man; though Richard Pevear, in his introduction to The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol claimed: "Whatever semblance of social criticism or satire there may be in the Petersburg Tales is secondary and incidental." (1) He feels that Gogol included elements of social satire in his stories, but the satire so quickly dissolves into the absurd that this fantastic element should be considered the primary point of Gogol's stories. While reading "The Nose" I was struck by the social satire, but I DO agree that, as quickly as it came, the satire faded and absurdity reigned.

My thoughts/summary (may contain middle-of-story spoilers)

Major Kovalev was a stupid, self-important, vain, name-dropping minor official, but as he desperately tried to regain his lost nose I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Imagine the horror he felt when he awoke to find his nose missing. What would all his important friends think? Would he ever be able to flirt again? This blow was clearly below the belt. He rushed out into the world, impotently searching for his nose when lo! He saw the nose! It was so finely dressed that even Kovalev had trouble recognizing it. At first, he felt chagrin - he wasn't even sure how to address the clearly-high-ranking nose. But it was his nose, after all, and he mustered up the courage to politely suggest that the nose re-join his face. But the nose politely refused to understand Kovalev. Finally, he blurted out: "It seems you ought to know where you belong, and where do I find you?" The nose blithely answered: "Judging by your dress, there can't possibly have been close relations between us." (2)

I had to laugh at that quote. The nose, which had formerly been very intimate with Kovalev, but which is now an elevated rank, pretended that it couldn't possibly have ever known him. Remind you of anyone?

Kovalev then tried to put out a notification in the newspaper saying that his nose was masquerading as a high official, don't let it fool you...and don't let it leave town! But the newspaper office was much more interested in lost dogs and bicycles for sale than the heinous nose-theft. They didn't want the responsibility of such an advert, and so they simply denied that they could do anything about it and suggested another office Kovalev should try. (That reminds me of a time when I called up the customer service of {un-named corporation} and spent a couple hours transferring back and forth from office to office - often the the same office multiple times - to fix a problem that (as it turns out) was an easy fix on the internet.)

The police commissioner was also dramatically unhelpful. The indolent police commissioner had been about to take a nice long post-lunch nap when Kovalev came with his complaint. He should not be expected to start an investigation on a full stomach, the commissioner claimed. "Moreover, they don't tear noses off decent citizens' faces." (2) The police commissioner excused his laziness by blaming the victim for the crime, which, as far as I'm concerned, is crime in itself. A crime that still happens to this day. Whenever we hear "she was asking to be raped - the way she was dressed," the speaker is excusing his inability to do anything useful about a problem by blaming the victim.

I adored this story. I got a good laugh while nodding in emphatic agreement with Gogol's still-relevant criticisms of society. But there are so many other ways of interpreting this work. In his introduction to The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear says "Gogol was made uneasy by his works. They detached themselves from him and lived on their own, producing effects he had not forseen and that sometimes dismayed him." Although this statement was not in reference specifically to "The Nose," it is clear that Pevear (perhaps unconsciously) views the story as an allegory for Gogol's dismay at the unintentional social impact of his stories.

(1) Gogol, Nikolai. The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 2001. ISBN-13: 9780307803368.
(2) Dialog is taken (sometimes paraphrased) from Gogol, Nikolai. The Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, translated by Andrew MacAndrew. Penguin Group. 1960. ISBN 0451524039.

Nov 13, 2012, 4:20pm Top

Have you read others of Gogol's work? I didn't read what you posted here except for the last little paragraph because I haven't read that yet, but he is definitely amusing and was clearly quite intelligent & observant. :)

Edited: Nov 13, 2012, 7:21pm Top

Everything I've read of Gogol's was when I was a teenager. I plan on re-reading a lot of it. Right now, I've only finished (re)reading "The Diary of a Madman," and "The Nose." :) I agree that he was clearly very intelligent - especially since he did the bulk of his writing in his early twenties.

Since I am having trouble interpreting Paradise Lost, I am painstakingly going through and interpreting it. I can then use these notes while I read it for deeper meaning later. To see other posts about Paradise Lost, go to my master post.

Rachel's Notes on Lines 1 - 26 of Book I (Milton's invocation)

Psalm 125.4 - "Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts."

Milton is asking the Holy Spirit to guide him as he tells us about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. He invokes the Holy Spirit as the Heavenly Muse who inspired Moses on Sinai (lines 6-8) and then the spirit of God in the Temple on Mt. Zion (line 10). Milton believes that the Holy Spirit will help him soar above earlier poets, who invoked their muses from the oracle at Delphi (lines 11-16). He asks instruction from the Holy Spirit so that he may "justify the ways of God to men."

Rachel's Notes on Lines 27 - 36 (What made Adam and Eve revolt?)

First, we will describe what caused Adam and Eve to fall from God's favor by breaking the only law that God asked them to obey (i.e. not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). It was the Serpent who first seduced Adam and Eve to revolt. The Serpent's guile was stirred up by envy and revenge, so he deceived Eve.

Rachel's Notes on Lines 36 - 83 (Satan and his minions have fallen from Heaven)

Isaiah 14:12 - "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!"

It happened after Satan's pride had cast him and his rebel angels out of Heaven. Because Satan thought he was equal to his Lord God, he and his host of rebels had warred against Heaven in a vain attempt to place Satan above his peers. But God hurled Satan and his rebels from Heaven - headlong, like fiery meteors bound in unbreakable chains - to crash ruinously into Hell. {Much like the Titans thrown to the pits of Tartarus in Hesiod's Theogeny (664 - 735)} the celestial demons spent nine days and nights lying vanquished in the fiery gulfs of Hell. Satan's doom made him angrier, because he had not only lost the happiness of Heaven, but he now must endure eternal suffering instead. Pissed off, he looked around. Dismay and affliction, stubborn pride and steadfast hate were palpable in all he saw. Hell dismally stretched as far as his immortal eye could see.

Hell was like a gigantic furnace with raging fires - but instead of giving off light, the flames emitted darkness visible. This palpable darkness illuminated sights of woe, regions of sorrow, and doleful shades. Hell was a place where peace and rest would never dwell. Hope would never come here, but instead came endless torture. The torment fed the flames, urging the fire on for eternity. Such was the place that Eternal Justice had prepared for the rebellious. Here, they would eternally remain in darkness, as far away from God and the light of Heaven as 3X the distance from Earth to the far reaches of the universe. {In other words, Hell was located in Chaos...beyond the universe. Milton's Hell was not in the center of the Earth, like in Dante's Inferno.} How unlike Hell was from Heaven, from whence they fell!

Satan saw his companions-in-arms overwhelmed by the tempestuous fires. Weltering in the tempestuous flames by his side, Satan saw Beelzebub - who was his peer in leading the host of fallen angels. Satan broke the horrible silence by saying:

Rachel's Notes on Lines 84 - 126 (Satan tells Beelzebub that he's still pissed off and this war ain't over yet)

{Satan speaks with obscure syntax to show that his passion overpowers reason. I'm trying to ruthlessly clarify it for the sake of my notes, though.}:

"If you are he! But how you have fallen! How changed from him who was so shiny in Heaven! If you are he who joined with me in glorious enterprise...now we join in misery and ruin. Into what pit have we been thrown? How far have we fallen? God has proven himself much stronger than we. Who knew the strength of that mighty arm?! But despite what those powerful arms and His mighty rage can further inflict on us, I do not repent.

"My pride had been injured, so I fought God with my innumerable army of spirits who preferred me as their leader. We fought a battle on the planes of Heaven and shook His throne. So what if we lost that battle? All is not lost! We have not lost our vengeful natures, our immortal hate, or our courage to never yield! What else is there to live for, besides the will to succeed?

"He'll never get me to bow to him and deify his power! We had Him worried...He was afraid he would lose against my powerful army. Fate has given us immortal bodies, so our army will be just as strong as before. But now we know our Foe better! Now, we can wage a more successful war - an eternal war that is irreconcilable to our Foe...that Foe who now joyfully reigns as tyrant in Heaven."

Though he was in pain and wracked with deep despair, Satan boasted. Beelzebub answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 127 - 156 (Beelzebub is concerned that they are now thralls of God)

"Oh powerful prince, you led the embattled angels to war; your deeds endangered Heaven's perpetual king, and made him defend his supremacy (whether that supremacy was upheld by strength or chance or fate...). I regret our army's defeat. We have lost our place in Heaven. The entire army has come as close to dying as our immortal bodies are capable. Our minds and spirits will return to us soon, but we will suffer for eternity in Hell. What if God (who I now believe is almighty, since He could not have overpowered our army otherwise) has left us our spirits and strength intact only so that we can better endure our sufferings? Or perhaps he will use us as his slaves? What good does it do us to have our strength if we are only to endure eternal punishment?"

Satan answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 157 - 191 (Satan says that they're so good at being bad, and decides to recuperate)

"Well, Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable, whether we're active or not. But be sure of this: Our acts will never be for good. Our sole delight will always be to do ill! We will always resist His wishes! If he wishes to bring good out of our evil acts, then we shall pervert His wishes and use good acts for evil. We will pervert His plan!

"Do you see that God has called our vengeful pursuers back to the gates of Heaven? The storm of sulfurous hail that He shot at us has abated. And the raging lightening and thunder has perhaps spent its wrath and will cease to bellow through the vast and bottomless deep. Let us not miss our chance if God's fury has been satiated.

"Look at the dreary plains of Hell, illuminated by the darkness of Hellfire. Let's sail these fiery waves over there, and we can rest (if rest is possible). After we have gathered our strength, we'll discuss how we can offend our enemy, repair our losses, and overcome this dire calamity. We will either gain reinforcement from hope, or resolution from despair."

Nov 13, 2012, 7:28pm Top

Just so that you know there are readers out here (and we're not all lurking), I enjoyed your write-up of Hamlet's first scene. However, I suspect I will have to save the discussion of Paradise Lost for the weekend in order to be able to comment intelligently.

Nov 14, 2012, 9:16am Top

Thanks Jill! It's good to know people are actually reading what I'm writing! Of course, I know I'd have more visitors to my thread if I would find the time to go thread-surfing, but I've been so distracted lately! Soon! Soon!

2012 Book 159: The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

Reason for Reading: Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize

Having suffered through a Japanese slave-camp during WWII, Yun Ling Teoh, a young Chinese-descent lawyer in Malaysia, carries around a lot of anger against the Japanese. However, she'd made a promise to her deceased sister that she would build a Japanese garden, so she reluctantly visits Aritomo - the only Japanese gardener in Malaysia. Aritomo refuses to design a garden for Yun Ling, but he offers to take her on as his apprentice so that she may design one herself. Yun Ling learns to let go of her anger as her friendship with Aritomo grows. But Aritomo has his own secrets.

How can I express what an amazing book this was? Sure, it had a couple of slowish spots (it WAS, after all, a book about gardening) but the story is magical. The historical and cultural backdrop is intriguing (I learned a lot while reading, but didn't feel like I was being "taught"). Because the book takes place in two different times (current day and shortly after WWII), the story unfolds gracefully - allowing the reader to learn the story of Aritomo and Yun Ling at just the right rate...but yet somehow the time also blends together giving an impression of continuity that is particular to Eastern philosophy. On top of that, the more I learned about the story, the more fascinated I was by the two characters. This book is definitely worth your time.

Interpretive note with possible spoilers
One thing that struck me while I was reading this book is that I noticed an inconsistency in what the narrator (Yun Ling) was saying. At first, I wasn't sure whether the author had made a mistake or if he had purposely introduced inconsistencies to show that Yun Ling had either an unreliable memory or was hiding something. I finally came to the later conclusion (though the unreliable memory was possible too). I think it's fascinating that such inconsistencies added to the overall effect rather than subtracting from it. I applaud Tan Twan Eng for his careful writing of this book. :)

Nov 15, 2012, 5:09pm Top

2012 Book 160: Culture and Imperialism

Written by Edward W. Said, Narrated by Peter Ganim

Reason for Reading: Got it on sale from Audible

Culture and Imperialism describes how the language used in literature can powerfully impact our stereotypes of other cultures. Using examples in classical literature (ranging from Jane Austen, to Joseph Conrad, to Albert Camus), Said shows us how imperialism was reinforced by the written word. Then, (using examples including V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie) he illuminates how today's societies - who are so focused on multi-culturalism - read the right books for the wrong reasons. I found this book intriguing. I listened to it on audiobook - Ganim's reading was smooth and engaging - but I'm now tempted to pick up a hard-copy of the book and use it as a reference in my perusal of literature. This book would be interesting to anyone interested in the culture of imperialism or in literary criticism of literature in the imperialist era.

Edited: Nov 29, 2012, 6:26pm Top

2012 Book 161: Pale Fire

Written by Vladimir Nabokov, Narrated by Marc Vietor

Reason for Reading: It was there

In this complex piece of literature, we explore the psyche of Charles Kinbote, an eccentric and obsessive man who is writing the introduction and notes to a 999-line poem entitled Pale Fire by a recently deceased poet with whom Kinbote has become enamored. Nabokov's novel isn't written in novel-form, though. It has four major parts: Kinbote's introduction to Pale Fire, the poem itself, Kinbote's prolific footnotes, and his index. This doesn't really sound like an engrossing story, I know, but descriptions can be misleading. Kinbote's notes are hilarious, sad, and frightening. As the book proceeds, we readers become more aware of the depth of Kinbote's obsessions - we learn more about who he is (arguably, who he thinks he is) and, through the unreliable testimonies of Kinbote, we learn about the passions of the poet John Shade. This is the type of book that has so many layers, you'll never find the core...but you'll be fascinated and laughing in turns while you look. This was my first reading of the book, and I'd have to read it again to decide on my own interpretation. I was really impressed by the audiobook production...this isn't the type of story that lends itself well to audio, but they did an admirable job. There were two readers, one for Kinbote's thoughts and one for the poem of John Shade. Both readers did a fantastic job...especially Vietor with Kinbote. He put JUST the right emphasis on words so that I would catch the humor in the complex word-play. However, if I read it again, I'll probably do it using the written-word so I can flip back and forth. This book is definitely worth a read if you like unique stories and complex psyches.

Nov 30, 2012, 9:59am Top

2012 Book 162: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: Harry Potter Read-along

In this fourth installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry is thrust against his will into the Triwizard Tournament - a competition for which he is his underaged and underqualified. Is someone trying to get him killed? Furthermore, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are experiencing the first pangs of teenaged angst. They all feel misunderstood and a bit angry at times. Will they be able to overcome their emotions in order to quash the rising power of Lord Voldemort? Well, at least they'll have a lot of adventure while they're trying. One of the highlights of this book is meeting the students of the two other large wizarding schools in Europe: The dark and broody students from Durmstrang and the too-formal sissies from Beauxbatons. (Ok, maybe they're not ALL sissies.) This is my favorite book of the series because it has *swoon* Viktor Krum. It is also the first book in the series with "mature" content. It's longer, moodier, and more dangerous than the first three. And, it's the first book in the series to leave significant strings untied - leaving room for more plot development. I'm SO glad Rowling knew what to tie up and what to leave open though. She's managed to leave a reasonable opening without cliffhangers. I really appreciate that. Thank you Ms. Rowling!

Viktor Krum was my first-ever fictional crush. I loved Krum in the book a lot more than I loved him in the movie, though. In the book, he was not only a brilliant Quidditch player, but he was a brilliant wizard. The Goblet of Fire never lies! He wouldn't have been chosen for the tournament if he were stupid like the movie portrayed him. I was actually angry when ersatz-Moody suggested that Karkaroff was the brains behind Viktor. SO not true! *grrrrrr* And the fact that Viktor was so sweetly awkward in the book...the fact that he hung out in the library trying to get up the nerve to talk to Hermione...So CUTE! Ahhhh. I love Viktor even today.

Dec 1, 2012, 6:58am Top

2012 Book 162: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

Written by Mohammed Hanif, Narrated by Nimra Bucha

Reason for Reading: Shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize

After spending over a year in a women's prison on some jacked up manslaughter charges, Alice Bhatti secures a job as a junior nurse in a Catholic hospital in the predominantly Muslim city of Karachi. There, she fights to salvage some amount of pride as she fends off roaming hands and gun-toting suitors. In the midst of this chaos, she manages to save a few lives. But is she performing miracles? Hanif's narrative has some truly beautiful moments, but I was left wondering: What's the point? There wasn't really a story-line...it was just a series of events. The scenery and characters supported the novel, but they lacked plot. This book was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust book prize, and I understand why - it displays the woes of practicing medicine in a religiously-charged, seedy environment. I certainly have a better appreciation, now, for medical practitioners in neighborhoods like this. I was moved by the characters, but not enthralled by the story.

Dec 1, 2012, 9:21pm Top

I've FINALLY finished Act I of Hamlet!

In the first act of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the scene is set. We meet the mournful young prince Hamlet who feels wronged by his mother's hasty marriage to her deceased husband's brother...and by their incessant partying in a time of sorrow. We meet Ophelia, admired by Hamlet, her brother Laertes and father Polonius. Finally, we are handed a juicy bit of gossip (adultery and murder!), which give Hamlet his excuse to vent his rage against the tyrant King Claudius. (For a more detailed summary, look below.)

This is my first time reading Hamlet since I was in high school, and I'm looking at it through very different eyes this time around. For instance, I've always been under the impression that Polonius was ridiculous. But this time, he appeared long-winded, but his advice seemed sound enough. Is he really ridiculous, or just verbose? I was gratified upon reading Harold Jenkins' endnotes, where he suggests that Polonius was not meant to be ridiculous but paternal. Emphasizing Polonius' fatherly relationship develops Laertes' role as an avenger against Hamlet later in the play.

A phrase that jumped out at me on this reading was when the ghost told Hamlet (I.v): "Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught." Interesting. Because I recall Hamlet being very lusty in his anger against the Queen later in the play. Do I remember wrongly? Or is Hamlet disobeying the ghost? I will have to read on and see. Also, what did the ghost mean by "taint not thy mind"? Was the it admonishing Hamlet to keep his mind clear? Because Hamlet either feigns madness or actually goes mad later in the play. Again, did Hamlet disobey the ghost?

The final thing that struck me in Act I was the questionable nature of the ghost. If Horatio (a clear-headed scholar) hadn't believed in the ghost, I would suspect that Hamlet had hallucinated it in a fit of psychotic rage. Hamlet does incoherently rant during the scenes with the ghost. In his endnotes, Harold Jenkins suggests another alternative - perhaps Shakespeare meant the ghost to be a devil - an evil apparition sent to drive young Hamlet to vengeful madness. After all, the ghost has gone below stage, which represents Hell in classical theater. In a later scene (II.ii), Hamlet even questions the nature of the ghost: "The spirit that I have seen May be a devil." However, based on all the swearing which closes Act I, Hamlet does seem to believe the ghost's story, even if the ghost's nature is questionable.

Perhaps I'll be able to answer these questions as I read on...

Act I, Scene i: Summarized in an earlier post

Act I, Scene ii: Only months after King Hamlet's death, his brother Claudius has married the Queen, and wrested the throne Denmark. Claudius scolds Hamlet mourning the dead King and then leaves to continue reveling in his new-found power. Left behind, Hamlet bemoans the disgraceful marriage...How could his mother have married so quickly? And to such a man?! Horatio then rushes in to tell Hamlet about the king's ghost. Hamlet decides that he MUST see this for himself.

Claudius and Gertrude
Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film

Act I, Scene iii: Ophelia believes that Hamlet loves her, but her brother Laertes and her father Polonius both caution her against the young prince. Laertes believes that Hamlet, as heir to the throne, will not choose Ophelia for future Queen. Polonius agrees. "Hamlet is young!" he says. "Don't set your heart on him." Despite her assertions that Hamlet is courting her in a gentlemanly manner, Ophelia agrees to be cautious. After a long-winded speech from Polonius, Laertes departs for France.

Ophelia, Laertes, and Polonius
The Royal Shakespeare Production 2009
Directed by Gregory Doran

Act I, Scene iv and v: It's night, and Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus are looking for the ghost. When the apparition appears, it beckons Hamlet to follow. Hamlet desperately tries to follow, while his friends hold him back. Finally, he orders them to let him be.

Once alone, the ghost demands that Hamlet avenge his death. But it admonishes: "Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught." Hamlet swears to avenge his father's death, and then forces Horatio and Marcellus swear an oath of silence.

Plate XLIV from Volume II of Boydell's Shakespeare Prints
Image taken from Emory's Shakespeare Illustrated

Dec 2, 2012, 7:18pm Top


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)
Directed by Tom Stoppard

Clearly some time has passed since the first act. Enough time that Ophelia has been able to rebuff Hamlet's attentions, for Hamlet to "go insane," and for his royal parents to send off for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to come from abroad. Maybe a few weeks? A couple months? Hamlet still hasn't done anything to avenge his father's death, and he's starting to feel worthless. He's not quite sure whether his father's ghost is a demon sent to tempt Hamlet into a wrongful act, but he feels like he ought to believe the ghost's story. And he ought to have acted on it. When the troupe of actors arrives, Hamlet thinks this is his chance to throw a wrench in Claudius' gears - to make him betray his guilty conscience in an unguarded moment. Hamlet admonishes himself for his weakness - he ought to act on his vengeful instincts, but he lacks the courage.

Some questions that I'm thinking about while reading this:

First, I wanted to see for myself whether I thought Ophelia was a virgin or not. (Remember in my notes on the introduction by Harold Jenkins I said that Jenkins believed Ophelia died a virgin.) During Hamlet's discussion with Polonius, Hamlet first compares Polonius to a fishmonger. According to Jenkins, the daughters of fishmongers are seen as having more than ordinary propensity to breed. Hamlet then says: "Let her not walk i'th' sun. Conception is a blessing, / but as your daughter may conceive - friend, look to't." Now, outwardly, Hamlet referred "conception" to the breeding of maggots under the sun (from an earlier line), but how can there be any question that Hamlet meant also to suggest that Ophelia might conceive a child? But does Hamlet mean "Don't let her out, or something bad might happen to her." Or does he mean "Don't let her out, because everyone will soon be able to see she's pregnant." I guess that's open to interpretation. Later in the scene, Hamlet compares Polonius to the Hebrew judge Jephthah, who sacrificed his virgin daughter. That might be a hint that she's still a virgin, and that Polonius is endangering her.

My second question was whether Hamlet is feigning madness or was really mad. I can see why many people believe he was only feigning madness - his "mad" ranting during this act was calculated to mock Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern. There was a method to his madness. But, as far as I'm concerned, the phrase "fake it till you make it" applies in Hamlet's case. He certainly had enough to go mad over...

Act II, Scene i: The act starts with Polonius instructing his man Reynaldo to spy on Laertes. A very untrusting father, is Polonius. As soon as that important business is through, Ophelia dashes in to tell her father about a shocking encounter with Hamlet. The prince has apparently entered her chamber uninvited, grabbed Ophelia by the arm and creepily stared at her. Then he turned and left the room - eyes cast over his shoulder to gaze fixedly upon the distraught maiden. Polonius gets excited...not only has he discovered the reason for Hamlet's madness (which the King and Queen want to know), but he now has the opportunity to say "Look! I did everything I could to discourage this mis-match, but the Prince is still in love with my daughter...perhaps they ought to marry?" *gleeful aspirations shine in eyes*

Polonius and Reynaldo
The Royal Shakespeare Production 2009
Directed by Gregory Doran

Act II, Scene ii: Hamlet's friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have arrived in from abroad, and Claudius and Gertrude are asking them to check on Hamlet - to discover the reasons for his madness and perhaps soothe the melancholy prince. When they leave in search of Hamlet, Polonius comes with their messengers, newly arrived from Norway. The messengers tell Claudius that Fortinbras' uncle has admonished the prince for threatening war with Denmark, but upon Fortinbras' apology, his uncle has furnished the prince with more money for his army and told him to attack Poland instead. They now ask Claudius' permission for Fortinbras' army to cross through Denmark on the way to Poland.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)
Directed by Tom Stoppard

Hmmm. Does someone smell a ploy? They're just going to allow Fortinbras' army to cross through Denmark? Oh well, it's their kingdom.

After the messengers have been thanked and sent away, Polonius tells the royal couple that Hamlet has gone mad with love for Ophelia. They decide to test this theory later by setting Ophelia loose on Hamlet. (Poor Ophelia.) Then Hamlet walks in. Polonius has a rather nonsensical conversation with Hamlet, partly because Polonius isn't very clever and partly because Hamlet is playing with Polonius' mind. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern walk in. The nonsensical conversation continues with them (and for the same reasons). *Why do Claudius and Gertrude keep sicing idiots on Hamlet? What do they hope to achieve?* Finally, a troupe of actors arrives, and Hamlet decides to use them as bait for Claudius' guilty conscience.

Dec 3, 2012, 10:16am Top

2012 Book 163: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Reason for Reading: I was originally going to give it to my dad for Christmas, but it wasn't as amazing as I thought it would be. He'll have to settle for something else. :p

Jacob has grown up believing that his grandfather's tales of adventure and magical children were a fantasy. However, when Jacob's life is suddenly turned upside down, he must go on a quest to a tiny island off Wales to see the orphanage his grandfather grew up in. There, he discovers that there was some element of truth in his grandfather's stories...and he finds out that his life is in danger. This book was a fantastic idea. Riggs used some unique vintage photographs that he'd borrowed from a few collectors and built a story around the weird images. The photos were fascinating...I really loved looking at them. And I was excited to see what sort of story was built around them. However, the story was a bit contrived. I suppose that it would have to be, given that it's built around some randomly rescued photos...So I Riggs deserves some credit for a good eye and a creative idea. His writing was a bit lack-luster...as I said, it was a bit contrived, and it leaned too heavily on formulaic fantasy. Shades of X-men, Groundhog Day, etc. abound. Nothing wrong with using old formulas, of course - no concept is every fully new - but overall the writing just didn't hold its own. I might or might not pick up the next book in the series...we'll see. I'll probably read it eventually because I imagine Riggs' writing might improve on the second book, and it will seem less contrived if it's based on plot development instead of photographs.

Dec 4, 2012, 11:17am Top

2012 Book 164: Crossed

Written by Ally Condie, Narrated by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono

Reason for Reading: Second book the the Matched trilogy

Cassia has been at a work camp for months now, but she hasn't had the chance to find her lost love, Ky. So, when an opportunity arises for her to be sent "accidentally" to the Outer Provinces she snatches it up. Upon landing in the Outer Provinces, Cassia and her new friend Indie run away from Society, following Ky's path. Meanwhile, Ky has also run away from Society with a couple of new friends. Will they find each other before Society or The Enemy find them? I thought Matched was a cute book - nothing amazing, but not disappointing. Crossed was pretty much the same. This story is more about world building than action or teenanged angst. That makes it unique in the YA dystopia genre right now. I look forward to reading the third, but it's not going to be in my hands tomorrow, by any means.

Dec 4, 2012, 11:21am Top

GoF is my favourite from the whole series. Deep and dark enough to be enjoyable, but short enough (well edited?) not to irritate, unlike emo Harry later on.

Dec 4, 2012, 11:25am Top

Hahaha. Yeah, I loved GoF. :) Half-Blood Prince is a bit TOO angsty, isn't it?

Dec 4, 2012, 11:48am Top

Watching for more of your analysis of Hamlet!

Dec 5, 2012, 8:46am Top

Thanks Jill! It's good to know someone reads that stuff. :)

2012 Book 165: The Rape of Nanking

Written by Iris Chang, Narrated by Anna Fields

Reason for Reading: Reading Globally group on LibraryThing's China and surrounding countries theme read.

In the early 1930's the Chinese city of Nanking was occupied by Japanese soldiers. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed by Japanese soldiers to save money for supplies. Women were brutally raped and mutilated. But the stories of these victims and the foreigners who risked their lives to help them are not often told. Iris Chang wanted the world to know about these atrocities. Her brutal history was very difficult for me to read because the atrocities were described in such detail that I felt sick. I had to take frequent breaks. It was a very engaging narrative, though, so I always wanted to pick it back up again. Chang certainly knew how to write an interesting story! Several times while reading the book, though, I felt as though Chang was too emotionally involved to write a completely reliable narrative. I'm not denying the massacres at Nanking, mind, but I think Chang had a very anti-Japanese view which would have made her prefer the larger estimates for death numbers, to make the disgustingly especially-brutal rapes sound more common than they may have been, and made the Japanese sound purely evil as a whole group without exception. Nevertheless, this book taught me a lot about the relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. As long as the readers keep in mind Chang's emotions, they can learn a lot from this engaging history.

Dec 6, 2012, 7:23am Top

2012 Book 166: The Keeper, by Suzanne Fisher

Reason for Reading: It's the first book in a series. I'll be leading a discussion on the second book, The Haven, from 20Dec - 31Dec for the ACFW Bookclub. Anyone is welcome to join, and apparently you don't have to read the first book to enjoy the second.

When Julia Lapp's fiance, Paul Fisher, postpones their wedding again, Julia blames Roman Troyer, a wandering bee-keeper who isn't too fond of emotional attachments. Blaming Roman is easier than blaming Paul, after all. Julia keeps herself busy trying to regain Paul's attention and taking her frustrations out on Roman while at the same time holding together the crumbling pieces of her family's farm. Her father is having heart problems, and the family needs to stand strong in order to get through these difficult times. This is a sweet and simple romance, with a lot of emotional twists. The entire Lapp family (as well as Roman) are very lovable, and you can't help but root for them. I'm eager to read the second book, The Haven, which tells the story of Julia's younger sister.

Dec 8, 2012, 3:38pm Top

2012 Book 167: Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander

Reason for Reading: This book won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2012

Rownie is one of a flock of orphans under the "care" of Graba, a chicken-legged house-moving witch. His life revolves around running errands for Graba while scrounging enough food to live. When a troupe of goblins come to town, Rownie risks imprisonment by the guard and (worse) the wrath of Graba to see the play. He has soon joined leagues with the goblins in hopes of discovering more about the disappearance of his brother Rowan. Graba is very pissed off. This was a really cute book with a mixture of fairy tale, steam-punk, and Oliver Twist. But the execution wasn't as great as I'd hoped. I took a long time getting into the book...I felt like I should be enjoying it, but just couldn't concentrate. After I got used to the world, language, and characters, though, I enjoyed it a lot more. In the end, it was a good book, but it had potential to deliver more.

Dec 8, 2012, 5:04pm Top

I take it the parallel between Baba Yaga and this book's character of Graba is obvious and the author used it to advantage? Or is this one of the ways that the book falls short?

Dec 8, 2012, 5:24pm Top

Yeah, I'd say it fell short in that respect. He certainly could have done more with Graba's character. As it was, he clearly based Graba off Baba Yaga, but I can't say that he used it to advantage. But then, it was a very short book...It wasn't bad. It just could have been better. Both in eloquence and in development of characters and plot.

Dec 8, 2012, 6:53pm Top

Haven't been by in a while, but just a quick note to say I enjoyed your reading of Pale Fire. I read it many years ago in a class on postmodernism, and we had endless arguments about what Nabokov was actually up to.

Dec 17, 2012, 10:29am Top

Thanks Jim! Pale Fire was certainly a unique book. I would have enjoyed having people to discuss it with! (Sorry for the delay in answering, I've been in the process of moving.)

2012 Book 168: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Written by Jerome K. Jerome, Narrated by Frederick Davidson

Reason for Reading: This was my "monthly random pick" which took me two months to get to. My next "monthly random pick" is The Passage, by Justin Cronin, which I would (in a perfect world) finish in January.

In this classic novel of humor, three men (to say nothing of the dog) decide to cure their hypochondriac ailments by getting fresh air and exercise. They decide to travel down the Thames in a boat. The narrator jumps back and forth between humorous description of their preparations/trip and silly reminiscences of loosely connected incidents about the characters. This is the type of book where, at the end, you're not sure if there was any story in there at all, but you certainly enjoyed the trip regardless. It was a good-natured, happy sort of humor. This is a short book, and certainly worth reading if you like the classics.

Dec 18, 2012, 10:23am Top

2012 Book 169: The Fox Inheritance

Written by Mary E. Pearson, Narrated by Matthew Brown

Reason for Reading: It's the second book in the Jenna Fox Chronicles.

After 260-years of purgatory, Locke Jenkins awakens with a body that seems familiar - yet somehow changed. His friend, Kara, who died in the car crash that killed Locke, also has a achingly similar body...but her mind isn't quite right. Locke and Kara soon learn that their minds had been downloaded and saved centuries ago by the father of Jenna Fox - another victim of the fatal crash. Although Jenna had been given a new life right away, the copies of Locke's and Kara's minds had collected digital dust until Dr. Gatsbro brought the teens back to life in this brave new world. But Dr. Gatsbro's motives are not altruistic. Locke and Kara make a desperate attempt to escape the doctor's nefariousness clutches...and are jettisoned into the foreign world of the future. But can Locke keep Kara from making a terrible mistake?

When I read The Adoration of Jenna Fox years ago I really liked it, but as I was reading The Fox Inheritance, I realized that I remembered almost nothing of the first book (perhaps it wasn't so great after all?). I had to rely on spoiler reviews of the first book, and on the hints-of-what-came-before in the second book to remember. This made the first part of the book rather confusing. I'd recommend familiarizing yourself with The Adoration of Jenna Fox before starting The Fox Inheritance. Although I enjoyed this book, I wasn't as impressed as I had been after reading the first in the trilogy. The Fox Inheritance had some world-building and good characters. It brought some interesting moral issues to the table: Is it ethical to bring someone back to life after they're dead - and risk changes? Is it ethical to use a sentient being that of human-creation for our own purposes, or do they deserve civil rights? These are intriguing questions, but they've been explored in many other books/movies. So, in the end, I liked this book. It was a fun read. I'll probably pick up the third book when it comes out. But I would have been perfectly happy if this trilogy had stayed as ONE standalone book. And I'm pretty sure I'll forget the plot of this book within a few weeks.

Dec 19, 2012, 12:12pm Top

2012 Book 170: The Haven, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Reason for Reading: I'm leading a discussion on The Haven for the ACFW bookclub. Discussion starts tomorrow, but it lasts until the end of the month, and anyone is welcome to read the book quickly and join in the discussion! This is the second book in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series.

When Sadie Lapp returns home after several months of living with her newly-married sister, she comes bearing a foundling baby. She wants the baby to remain a secret until she can discover who the mother might be, but to her dismay rumors immediately start flying around town that she is the mother. On top of all that stress, Sadie is now questioning her own interest in Gideon Smucker, who has been in love with her for years. Does she like him? Or does she prefer Will Stoltz, the city-boy who's living on the farm as a wildlife intern who babysits a pair of endangered falcons that are nesting in the area? This is a sweet romance about the painful effects of gossip and the power of forgiveness. I think this was a wonderful follow-up to the first book in the series, The Keeper. Although you could, theoretically, read The Haven as a stand-alone book, I'm really glad I read The Keeper first. Reading The Keeper helped me to understand some issues that would have gone right over my head if I hadn't read it first. On the other hand, although The Haven continues with themes introduced in The Keeper, The Haven is a very different book because the lead characters are so different. Sadie is a cautious, awkward, unobtrusive girl who (at the beginning of the book, anyway) allows people and circumstances to take advantage of her. She needs to blossom into a more assertive young lady. Although I've read reviews which criticized her personality, I rather liked her. She reminded me of myself when I was that age. Fisher did a wonderful job of portraying the tortured shyness of Sadie - and then Sadie's transformation into assertiveness was very touching. No, her character isn't perfect, she made mistakes - as everyone else in the book did - but she was a realistic character. And one that I loved. If you like Amish romance, you'll like this series. (These were my very FIRST Amish books, to be honest!)

Dec 20, 2012, 8:50am Top

2012 Book 171: The Arcade Catastrophe, by Brandon Mull

Reason for reading: This is a sequel to a book I loved - The Candy Shop War. Plus, I've read all of Mull's books, so I can't stop now, can I?

Nate, Summer, Pigeon, and Trevor believe that things have calmed down since the wicked plans of Belinda White were foiled last year. But when they find out that Jonas White, Belinda's brother, is running a suspicious Arcade in the area the kids are plunged into a new adventure. Because magicians can MAKE magic, but can't actually USE it (and because they're only safe from magical attack if they're in a magical sanctuary - so they're not often mobile), they use magical candy to recruit kids to do all their dirty work. Nate and his friends must use magical powers provided by the Magician/Candyman Mr. Stott to infiltrate White's team. White sends them on a wild and magical treasure hunt for a dangerous artifact. How can the kids keep undercover without providing White unimaginable power? How can they keep such a huge secret from Lindy Stott?

Mull intended The Candy Shop War to be a standalone book, but because people kept asking for a sequel, he delivered. And you know what? I'm pretty sure it was better than the first book! Mull's writing has developed quite a bit since he wrote The Candy Shop War. This book has adventure, humor, and good characters. It was a delight to read. I had a hard time putting it down. Originally, I was skeptical because I'm a fan of keeping standalone books standalone, but I'm really happy Mull wrote this book and I'm eager for the following one. These books are aimed at a slightly younger crowd than the standard YA book...I'd say they're appropriate for 11-year-olds, but could be enjoyed by kids (and adults) of other ages too.

Dec 22, 2012, 5:04pm Top

2012 Book 172: A Christmas Carol

Written by Charles Dickens, Narrated by Tim Curry

Reason for Reading: I read this for a readalong.

Review (contains spoilers )
When grumpy and miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his long-deceased business partner, he gets the shock of his life. Apparently, a person's job on earth is to walk among his fellow men and help them. For those who were too selfish to help, they are doomed to an eternity of walking among men and desiring to help, but not being able to. Scrooge is about to be given a chance at redemption. He will be visited by three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past reminds him that although he'd had a rather dreary childhood, he'd had plenty of chances to make people (rather than wealth) his passion. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him how happy people can be when they are surrounded by the people they love at Christmas. And the Ghost of Christmas Future reveals a dreary future which may come to pass if Scrooge continues on his miserly path. On Christmas morning, Scrooge awakens a new man - someone who knows how important it is to love one's neighbors and to rejoice in their friendship. This is such a great story because it reminds us that wealth does not necessarily make us happy. It reminds us to look at the world through a different perspective. And, it's pretty darned funny.

This well-known story was excellently narrated by Tim Curry...and I'm SO glad I decided to pay the extra couple of dollars for the Curry narration! His voice is soothing yet engaging at the same time. His voices for each character are spot on. And his delivery of the humor was so well-timed!

Dec 23, 2012, 4:08am Top

Not surprising, Curry is a fabulous comedian, so he definitely knows how to deliver it properly. :)

Jan 1, 2013, 9:40am Top

2012 Book 173: The Old Curiosity Shop

Written by Charles Dickens, Narrated by George Hagan

Reason for Reading: I'm making a point of reading all of Dickens' major works.

When Little Nell's grandfather drives himself into gambling debt (in hopes of raising money for Nell's future), they must take to the streets to escape the malicious designs of more than one nasty character. Nell's grandfather increasingly becomes a doddering old fool, and Nell is left to her own devices in finding refuge from the cold, the hunger, and the devious people-of-the-streets. Unbeknownst to them, their good friend (and former servant) Kit is desperately looking for them - praying for their safety and not knowing why they have left. I think this is my least favorite Dickens book so far. Generally, I am able to get involved in the complex narrative and the variety of character in a Dickens novel, but kit was the only character I really cared much about. Nell and her grandfather were so melodramatically pathetic that, although I felt sorry for their situation, I couldn't get myself to really care about the outcome. Perhaps this was just timing - maybe I'd have liked the book better in another mood. But I can't say I'll ever try reading it again to find out. Not a bad book - but Dickens can do better.

Jan 1, 2013, 9:42am Top

2013 Book 1: The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for Reading: I'm finishing up the Narnia chronicles in order-of-publication. This is the penultimate book. I chose to read this book NOW because of a Classics Children's Literature Challenge in the blogging world.

When Digory's evil magician uncle tricks Polly into entering another world, Digory must rescue her. Their adventure heightens when they discover an evil witch and then witness the creation of Narnia. This is the first time I've read this adorable classic. I've heard it was the book that Lewis meant to start the series with, but it was so difficult to write that he put it off until he had developed Narnia a bit more. It's probably good that he did, because I enjoyed seeing references to the earlier books...like the story of how the light-post ended up in the middle of a forest in Narnia. I look forward to re-reading this book later (this year?) when I read them in chronological order.

Jan 1, 2013, 7:24pm Top

Hibernator, have you read Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog? In her time-travel world of Fire Watch and Doomsday Book, an intrepid hero is sent back to Jerome's time on an urgent mission, and even sees the three men in the boat. Hilarious stuff.

Jan 2, 2013, 7:58pm Top

I haven't read To Say Nothing of the Dog, but I intend to. My reason for reading Three Men in a Boat was to prepare for reading Willis' book, in fact. :)

Edited: Jan 3, 2013, 1:20pm Top

2013 Book 2: Losing Christina: Fog, by Caroline B. Cooney

Reason for Reading: I had hit a reading slump and wanted to perk myself up by reading something "exciting." I was browsing through the ebooks at my library, and found this. I remembered how much I loved it when I was a child and thought "I wonder how bad it could be?" So I borrowed it. I'm rather glad I did!

Christina is excited because this year she is 13 and she gets to leave the island she grew up on and attend junior high on the mainland in Maine. Despite her excitement, she is torn by worry about whether she'll be bullied by the mainland kids, who think islanders are stupid and poor. But those worries soon take second place when she realizes that the owners of the bed and breakfast that she and her islander friends lodge at are using psychological torment to suck the souls out of girls. She's terrified as she watches the beautiful and brilliant senior Anya fade away. And soon the psychopaths are after her own mind.

When I was pre-junior high I used to gobble up these Point Horror books like a turkey dinner. (haha. ok, I know that wasn't funny. Just work with it.) There are very few of those books that I actually remember liking though. This is one that has really stuck with me through the years. When I found it in the library recently I thought: "I wonder..." And I'm glad I did, because I found this book terrifying. When I was a teenager, I think I found the spooky psychological aspects of going insane scary. Now, the book is even more terrifying, but for a different reason. Those psychopath adults who have FULL control over those poor children were horrible! They were charming, and fantastic liars, and those kids' parents weren't around to see what was going on. They just believed whatever the adults told them rather than believing their own children. And the things those psychopaths said to the kids! Ohhhhh shudder. Yes, the book lacked subtlety. But the fact that it terrified me even now gets it four stars in my blog! My only complaint (besides the lack of subtlety - which is really due to its target audience) is that it ended in a cliffhanger. This is a trilogy of short books. It really should be one longer book. Even combined, I think the book would still be reasonably short. But it WAS Point Horror, after all. They had to be short.

Jan 4, 2013, 5:35am Top

I really liked this trilogy as a teen. Maybe I should reread it; it certainly sounds as though it holds up well.

Jan 4, 2013, 10:13am Top

Hi Claire! Yeah, it held up a lot better than I expected. It certainly has subtly and maturity appropriate for a 12-13 year old, but I was surprised at how much the book weirded me out as an adult. But then, I find the idea of people psychologically preying on children realistically scary.

Jan 4, 2013, 11:16am Top

2013 Book 3: The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for reading: This is the seventh (and final) book in the Chronicles of Narnia, which I've been reading in order-of-publication. I plan on rereading them all in chronological order using Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward as a guide.

The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia depicts the apocalypse of Narnia. When a shrewd monkey teams up with Calormen to trick the Narnians into thinking Aslan has returned - and they are his spokespeople - Narnia is cut to ruins. Forests are destroyed, Narnians begin to doubt Aslan, and cities fall to heathen invaders. I'm afraid to say this was my least favorite of the Narnia books (though I still liked it quite well!). Intellectually, I know Lewis had to have an apocalypse - whatever begins must also end - but it was still a bit dreary. So although I understand why the apocalypse had to come, I still liked the other books so much better. Not only because they were much more cheerful, but also because they had more fun-filled adventure.

However, despite my misgivings about uplifting-yet-dreary endings, I want to address Philip Pullman's opinions about the Narnia series. WARNING: This commentary will have spoilers for the Narnia series! In his 1998 article in The Guardian, The Darkside of Narnia, Pullman stated his opinion about the Narnia series: “there is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read.” Pullman is an atheist, and he believes that the being-dead-in-Heaven-is-better-than-being-alive-on-Earth philosophy is "life-hating." It is unsurprising, therefore, that he feels The Last Battle is "one of the most vile moments in the whole of children's literature." Happily, I disagree with his anger at this belief in Heaven. Even though I found The Last Battle to be a bit dreary, I appreciated the message of love and Heavenly gift that Lewis was portraying.

Pullman continues to say:
But that's par for the course. Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it.

I agree that Narnia conveys some rather sexist and ethnocentric views, but that's what English literature of that period was like. Lewis (and the Narnia books) are a product of their time.

I don't think any of those arguments is strong enough to merit my discussion alone. The reason I felt moved to discuss Pullman's opinions are in this paragraph (which I unfortunately read before completing the series):
And in The Last Battle, notoriously, there's the turning away of Susan from the Stable (which stands for salvation) because "She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn't approve of that. He didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she'd been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.

When I read this paragraph, I wondered what Lewis actually did do with Susan in the book. But when I read the book, I interpreted those events differently than Pullman: Susan wasn't allowed into Heaven at that time. It was made clear that Susan was in one of the silly stages of life, but it was just a stage. She still had a chance to grow out of it. She hadn't been rejected from Heaven permanently, and it wasn't her time to die. Susan lived. And Susan had the ability to change (just as Pullman points out). Lewis wasn't saying that grown-ups can't go to Heaven. After all, the kids' parents went to Heaven, didn't they? Lewis was saying that Susan was in a phase where she idolized material things - and had thus turned away from her spiritual health.

Also, I'm not certain Susan really is the most interesting character. By Pullman's definition (he-who-changes-is-most-interesting) I believe Eustace's character developed much more than Susan's character. Why is Pullman ignoring Eustace?

What do other people think about Susan's character? Do you think Lewis meant for her to be denied Heaven permanently?

Jan 4, 2013, 12:18pm Top

I agree with you. I have never seen Susan as being permantly out of heaven. She just had some growth of her mind to do. And to me she wasn't the most interesting. Her change from a girl to a material teenager was the normal change. Most teenagers have a material phase. To me the most interesting changes was in the others. In Eustace as you said, in Narnia and other changes. To follow Susan's change would have been a run of the mill young adult book about a girl's road into womanhood.

Jan 4, 2013, 3:42pm Top

*SPOILERS* The characters who came to Narnia came as a result of being killed in their/our own world; at least Aslan used their earthly deaths in that way. Susan was not with them and can be assumed to still be alive in our world. Narnia ends, but there is no indication that our world has ended. Susan's absence is interesting, but there is no indication in the text that she is damned. All the book says is that she is "no longer a friend of Narnia," which I take as meaning that she is (possibly temporarily) "fallen away" from God. I rather suspect that given the chance to go through the line, she would be one of those who feared Aslan but loved him anyway. But I can cite no textual evidence for that.

Jan 4, 2013, 3:55pm Top


>144 trisweather: To follow Susan's change would have been a run of the mill young adult book about a girl's road into womanhood.

Yes, exactly. Her changes weren't really an interesting form of character development. But I think Pullman hates the Narnia series so much that he is letting his hatred blind his logic. He seems to be a fairly intelligent person, but the venomous comments he makes about Narnia seem ill-conceived.

>145 Jim53: Susan's absence is interesting, but there is no indication in the text that she is damned.

Yup. It was left open. She might go to Heaven, she might not. But she's not dead, so we don't know. The dwarves in The Last Battle entered the stable, but all they saw was a stable. They didn't see the paradise that was before them. This was their own choice because they were blinded by their fear of being gullible. So Lewis' point is that people make their own choice whether to enter paradise or not. Susan still has that choice before her...she just doesn't see the choice.

Jan 4, 2013, 7:07pm Top

I've always thought Edmund the most interesting. To be a traitor, then forgiven, then changed and matured. That is a growing up story worth telling.

It is very difficult for unbeliever to grasp and understand the depths of meaning in Narnia, their unbelief makes them bristle at it because it is, without apology, a story about belief. The same goes for believers who bristle because an unbeliever's story doesn't reflect the truths they believe. *shrug* Interesting to see how they both view things though.

Jan 5, 2013, 12:05pm Top

2013 Book 4: The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings, and the Biology of Boom and Bust

Written by John Coates, Narrated by Paul Michael Garcia

Reason for Reading: This book was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

In this Wellcome Trust shortlisted book, Coates describes his research into the feedback loop between testosterone and success in the financial market. When a person has high levels of testosterone, they are prone to risk taking - which generally promotes the market; however, success raises their testosterone levels, which increases their risks and creates bubbles (like the dot-com bubble) which are unnatural and eventually pop. Loss of money leads to decreased testosterone levels and release of stress hormones - which, if sustained for long periods of time can lead to a depressed, risk-averse market. This is when the government should step in and perk up the market themselves. (You can probably guess Coates' politics from that statement, but the book is generally apolitical.)

I found Coates' research quite fascinating, and his writing was engaging to someone who's interested in the topic. I, unfortunately, am not generally interested in finance and so my attention wavered a bit during the finance-heavy bits. But the book was written in an approachable way such that I (who know nothing of the matter) could understand the financial/market bits and that someone who knows very little medicine could understand the science bits. In fact, it was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize because because it makes medicine approachable to the general population. For anyone interested in how hormones/neuroscience/psychology can affect the market, this would be an excellent book to pick up. An easy and interesting read.

Jan 5, 2013, 12:19pm Top

Hi MrsLee! Ah! I'd forgotten about Edmund. That's true. He stepped away from belief and then came back again. It would have been nice to remember that while I was discussing this issue with someone on my 75ers thread! :) I had to give Eustace's character development as an example of how Lewis hadn't intended to say that someone who deviates from belief is automatically and forever damned. Edmund's situation was much more similar to Susan's. :)

It is very difficult for unbeliever to grasp and understand the depths of meaning in Narnia, their unbelief makes them bristle at it because it is, without apology, a story about belief. The same goes for believers who bristle because an unbeliever's story doesn't reflect the truths they believe.

I agree. Not everyone bristles at books that portray a message that they don't agree with, but enough people do! I think it's rather silly to get all worked up over something like that. :) Seems like a waste of energy to me! Disagreements are good for discussion, but not when someone gets so worked up that they're getting angry and rude!

I don't mind reading stories about beliefs that I'm not partial to as long as the message is reasonably subtle - for instance, I wouldn't have minded Pullman's atheist message in His Dark Materials if I hadn't been pounded over the head with it. I think it's poor writing to provide sermons in the dialogue or narrative - regardless of what the message is. Novels are for showing, not telling, philosophy.

Jan 6, 2013, 12:44am Top

Ayup, an author I am fascinated with at the moment is Jim Butcher. He has characters of very strong and seemingly incompatible beliefs who are good friends or manage to work together, at least. Rather than preaching, he leaves room for either belief or unbelief. Terry Pratchett does this some, although I think his mockery of all who take themselves seriously is not so much leaving room, as simply seeing the funny side of all of us.

Tolkien chided Lewis for his strong hand in allegory, but I like them both, and am able to take into consideration each writer and the fact that they had different goals, tastes and styles.

Jan 6, 2013, 1:41pm Top

:) I enjoy it when authors leave room for everyone's beliefs AND when they have a message. And I enjoy it when they make fun of formality and beliefs, as long as they stay within reasonable limits and aren't hurtful. I love Terry Pratchett!

I tend to prefer Tolkien's level of allegory than Lewis' because I like exploring how a message is shown in a story. I prefer not to be told what the message is. But I do like Lewis' writing, even if it lacks the subtlety that I so appreciate. :) Children's books tend to lack subtlety, anyway.

Edited: Jan 7, 2013, 8:15am Top

> 149: I don't mind reading stories about beliefs that I'm not partial to as long as the message is reasonably subtle - for instance, I wouldn't have minded Pullman's atheist message in His Dark Materials if I hadn't been pounded over the head with it.

I agree. What annoyed me most about Pullman's lack of subtlety was that he accused Lewis of blatantly shoving his Christian message down readers' throats, then proceeded to do the same thing in his own books with, IMO, far less subtlety than Lewis used. I know several people who read the Narnia books and did not pick up on the Christian allegory at all. There's no way one could miss Pullman's message!

>150 MrsLee:: I agree with you about Jim Butcher and the way he handles religion in the Dresden Files series. I'm only a few books in but already it's something I've noticed and like.

Jan 7, 2013, 9:01am Top

>I know several people who read the Narnia books and did not pick up on the Christian allegory at all.

Yeah. I'm one. Until the last book that is.

Jan 7, 2013, 11:15am Top

Yeah. I'm one. Until the last book that is.


Jan 7, 2013, 1:18pm Top

2013 Book 5: Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1941. It's been sitting on my shelf for years.

Mafatu is afraid of the ocean because he almost drowned when he was a boy. But in his culture, fear is scorned and laughed at. Mafatu feels that he must redeem his good name and prove that he is not afraid anymore. He climbs in a boat and goes on a voyage, but he soon finds himself shipwrecked on an apparently-deserted island. There, he keeps himself alive by making all of his own tools, weapons, and a new canoe. He battles a tiger shark, an octopus, and a boar. He defies the cannibals when they return to their island. But will he be able to return home? This was a cute book, and I enjoyed the adventure - though it's very short and all the adventure is packed in at a very unrealistic pace. Regardless, I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with it. I think a young reader might find this book fun. It's appropriate for someone reading at maybe the 3rd grade level.

Jan 9, 2013, 11:19am Top

2013 Book 6: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1930 and has been sitting on my shelf for years.

While sitting idly one evening in her antique shop, Hitty, a 6-inch-long doll carved out of Mountain Ash wood, decides to write her memoirs. She begins her narration with her birth into the brave new world of 1830's Maine. Her little girl drags her on many adventures beginning first with their village and ending in a far-off land...where she finds a new owner. Follow Hitty's adventures over a hundred years as she changes hands and lands and occupations. This is an adorable little classic of historical fiction for 8-9 year-old girls. The story is sweet and generally easy to read (though some of the historical references went over my head, and the book succumbed to the racial stereotyping common for books written around the turn of the century). I'm glad I finally picked this one up.

Jan 9, 2013, 11:27am Top

That's such a cool idea, reading the earlier Newbery winners! I remember going back years ago and reading some early Hugo winners and not being particularly impressed.

Jan 9, 2013, 12:41pm Top

Yeah, it's kind of fun reading the old Newbery winners. I'm participating in a Children's Classics themed month in the blogosphere, and I thought these old Newbery books that have been sitting on my shelves would fit in nicely. :)

Jan 9, 2013, 12:54pm Top

Is your edition one that was illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop? I remember seeing an exhibition of her work, which was wonderful, and thinking that she should be as well known as N.C. Wyeth and others of that stature.

Jan 9, 2013, 2:01pm Top

Yes, my edition was illustrated by Lathrop. They were very cute. :)

Jan 10, 2013, 12:47pm Top

Hamlet Act III
Act III is the pivotal act in Hamlet. The prince has been dragging his feet for months trying to force himself to avenge his father's death. At one time, he'd be certain that the ghost was truly the restless spirit of his father seeking revenge; another time he'd fret that the ghost may be a demon sent to tempt the Prince into a fatal and condemning act. In scene i, he has his famous "get thee to a nunnery" fight with Ophelia. Frustrated with his own impotence, he extends the blame of his mother's inconstancy to all women. Maddened at the thought of Ophelia's future marriage to someone else; maddened at what he sees as her certain inconstancy in the future, he demands that she commit herself to a convent. His interaction with Ophelia is observed by Polonius and Claudius, who decide that he is dangerously addled and must be sent away to England (presumably with hopes that the distraction will clear his mind).

In scene ii Hamlet makes pointed remarks during a play, hoping to draw out Claudius' guilty response. Hamlet succeeds in drawing out Claudius, who angrily retorts at the content of the play and stomps out of the room. In the immediate rush of fear at Hamlet's knowledge, Claudius suddenly feels his own guilt. He regrets killing his brother - not because it was a treacherous act in itself, but because he had been found out and might suffer consequences. He kneels down and prays that God help him; he asks forgiveness while simultaneously acknowledging that he's not really sorry that he got the Crown and the Queen, but he is very sorry that Hamlet found out about the murder. The Prince discovers Claudius praying and at first sets his mind upon killing the King here (when the royal back is turned). But then Hamlet worries: if he kills Claudius now, while praying, the King's soul will be clean and he will be dispatched to heaven. Hamlet wants Claudius to be damned, like the late King Hamlet. The prince decides to wait.

In the final scene, Hamlet is summoned to the Queen's chambers, where she tries to talk sense into him. There, Hamlet swells again into his accusatory rage at the inconstancy of women. Polonius, who has hidden himself behind the curtains upon Hamlet's entry, thinks to rescue the Queen from her raving son - but when he calls out, the infuriated prince stabs at the curtains and slays Polonius. With this act, Hamlet's path of revenge is cemented. He has killed once, he has no choice but to continue with his revenge quickly or fail entirely. Shakespeare punctuates this pivotal act with the ghost of dead King Hamlet - who only the prince can see. Prince Hamlet's shock at the escalation of events and the sudden appearance of the ghost muddles his already maddened state, and he rants wildly while the terrified Queen tries to calm him. The act ends with Hamlet lugging the body of Polonius off stage.

Act III, Scene i: The King and Polonius decide to observe Hamlet as he interacts with Ophelia. They tell Ophelia to linger where she is sure to meet Hamlet, and the two men hide. Before noticing Ophelia, Hamlet is deep in his own meditations. To be or not to be? Apparently, Hamlet is considering suicide. Does he know the King is watching? Or is his doubt genuine? There is no indication that he knows the King is near. Personally, I think Hamlet is genuinely considering suicide. He's experienced some terrible blows in the last few months - his father died unexpectedly, his mother married her brother-in-law, and Hamlet is being haunted by the ghost of his father who is making shocking demands of the Prince. Hamlet is tortured by a feeling of failure that he hasn't avenged his father, stress at the idea of killing the King, and doubt about the nature and intentions of the ghost. That's enough to make any sane person consider suicide. The sudden appearance of Ophelia reminds him of yet another failure in his life.

Like Claudius and Polonius, I observed Hamlet very closely in this scene because I wanted to consider the age-old question: is Hamlet mad or is he faking it? I saw no signs of actual insanity, despite Hamlet's nonsensical word-play and his irrational anger at Ophelia. He seemed genuinely enraged at Ophelia's perceived inconstancy, and he blamed her for future inconstancies which she had not yet committed; but sane lovers can also be irrational in this way.

Another question I pondered during this scene was whether Hamlet meant to imply that Ophelia wasn't a virgin (since Harold Jenkins, the editor of my edition, claims that there is no evidence that Ophelia and Hamlet had any pre-action action). And, frankly, I have to agree with Jenkins. There is a lot of double-meaning innuendo during this scene (and the next), but that doesn't prove that they'd been together. Men are quite capable of innuendo in the company of maidens. That proves nothing in itself. So I leave that one open to interpretation.

Act III, Scene ii: In this scene, the troupe of traveling actors put on a play which closely resembles the murder of King Hamlet. The Prince makes continual jibes and probes at the King until Claudius angrily announces that he's had enough and stomps out of the room - which is exactly the guilty reaction that Hamlet was hoping for. Now Hamlet can avenge his father's death with confidence that Claudius is guilty.

This scene is apparently scrutinized closely by critics. The play began with a dumbshow which silently portrayed the murder - but Claudius apparently didn't respond to this dumbshow. The King only responded upon seeing the murder in the spoken play. Critics ask the question: did the King see the dumbshow? Why wasn't he offended by it? Why did he wait until the second enactment of murder before retorting? Some directors believe that Claudius didn't see the dumbshow. They have him turned away from it, chatting with a neighbor. Others believe that Claudius saw the dumbshow, and silently blanched, but wasn't truly provoked until Hamlet's comments during the second enactment. Harold Jenkins (forever the literalist) believes that neither of these two things happened, because otherwise it would have been mentioned in the stage directions. A sophisticated connoisseur of Hamlet apparently watches Claudius during this scene in hopes of determining which interpretation the director has chosen.

Act III, Scene iii: Shocked by the realization that Hamlet knows Claudius' guilt, the King prays for help from God. Hamlet discovers Claudius praying, and almost kills him there...but then decides that if he kills Claudius when his soul is cleansed by prayer, Claudius will achieve salvation. Hamlet wants Claudius to be damned, so he waits a better opportunity for revenge.

The question I asked while reading this scene: Was Hamlet just procrastinating, or did he really not kill Claudius in prayer because he wanted to damn Claudius' soul? Personally, I think he was procrastinating. He had resolved that he must kill Claudius, but he didn't have the nerve to do it in cold blood.

Act III, Scene iv: Hamlet rants at the Queen in her chambers. Polonius, hidden behind the curtains, moves to assist the Queen, and Hamlet stabs him. Hamlet seemed rather surprised to discover that he'd killed Polonius. What did he expect? That the King was hidden behind the curtains? Personally, I think he wasn't thinking. He had worked himself up into a frenzy talking to the guilty Queen, and was surprised by Polonius' sudden call. He stabbed the curtain, not knowing what lay behind it, and only afterwards asked "Is it the King?" His confusion at finally having spilled blood - though the wrong person's blood - is compounded by the sudden appearance of the ghost. This is the first scene where Hamlet truly appears, to me, to have lost his wits. He is acting violently without thought of consequence or purpose. His speech is confused. He is utterly out of his depth.

Jan 10, 2013, 3:46pm Top

Love the photos.

Jan 10, 2013, 3:57pm Top

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Jan 10, 2013, 4:10pm Top

Thanks donnao.

>163 roeldis: Is that spam?

Jan 10, 2013, 4:15pm Top

> 164
Mrs. Bush's classes have just joined LT, and are running amok.

Jan 10, 2013, 10:39pm Top

I've never thought Hamlet mad or insane, at least not until he's committed to destruction. I've thought him intelligent and wordy and liking to play with words, but that doesn't make one mad I hope, or the Green Dragon denizens are in trouble! :)

Love your photos above, too.

Oh, and I was very much under the impression that Hamlet didn't kill his uncle while he was praying because he did NOT want him to have a chance at redemption. Now I'm wondering if that impression was from my reading of the play, or the several versions I watched? I watched the ones with Sir Lawrence Olivier, Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh. I loved each of them.

Jan 10, 2013, 11:28pm Top

Hi Mrs Lee! I guess the madness is open to interpretation since so many people have different opinions. You're right that Hamlet said he didn't want to kill Claudius because he did NOT want him to have a chance at redemption. That's what he SAID. I just sort of think he was procrastinating. ;)

Jan 15, 2013, 11:39am Top

2013 Book 7: Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Reason for Reading: Well, actually, it was an accident. I watched the BBC movie with my mom and she asked me how similar it was to the book. I said that it was very close to the book, but that there were a few things in the movie that I didn't really believe happened that way in the book. So I picked up the book and started reading. Got sucked in. :) I was wrong, though, all three incidents happened in the book.

This is the story of two very different sisters: Elinor is a sensible (yet secretly passionate) young woman who must continuously reign in the wild passions of her mother and sisters - especially Marianne whose head is filled with romantic notions of one-true-love and tragedy. When their father suddenly dies with their newly-acquired estate entailed away to their half-brother John, the sisters are left destitute. John and his wife Fanny descend upon the mourning family within a fortnight and make the sisters and mother feel like unwelcome guests in their beloved home. Elinor soon forms an attachment with Fanny's brother Edward, but Fanny doesn't approve of Elinor's lack-of-fortune-or-name. So the family moves away to a cottage, leaving Edward behind. Poor Elinor must struggle with her own worries about Edward while at the same time monitoring the expensive of the house and trying to reign in the wild, all-consuming attachment of Marianne to the dashing young Willoughby. The romantic hopes of both girls spiral downwards as more and more obstacles appear.

I love this story because I've always admired Elinor for both her passion and her ability to handle all problems that come her way. I also admire Colonel Brandon for his devotion to Marianne despite her ecstatic preference for the younger, handsomer, and less reserved Willoughby. This time around, I also really appreciated Marianne's character. Her youthful ideas about love were cute - and realistic for many girls of 16. :) Her development throughout the story was extraordinary. I loved the way she slowly, cluelessly, began to understand the world around her. I don't admire her, but I think she's cute and very funny. And, frankly, a more interesting character than Elinor (due to her development-of-character).

To be honest, this book is just as much a favorite as Pride and Prejudice. Yes. That is right. I ADMIT that I like this book just as much (possibly a little more) than the beloved P&P.

Jan 16, 2013, 9:45am Top

2013 Book 8: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I've been going through the Harry Potter books by audio now. This is my first time reading straight through the entire series, and by "straight" I mean I finish one every one or two months.

Review (WARNING: Contains unavoidable spoilers from earlier novels!!!)
Voldemort has recently returned, and Harry Potter has spent the entire summer listening to the muggle news for some sign of terror. But it turns out that most people don't believe Harry and Dumbledore that Voldemort has risen, and Voldemort is using that ignorance to his advantage. Furthermore, the Ministry of Magic has decided that Dumbledore isn't stable, and they're interfering at Hogwarts with the addition of a new teacher - the throttle-worthy Dolores Umbridge. *Yes. I wanted to throttle her EVERY time she entered the narrative. That shows excellent caricaturization by Rowling.* This year, Harry must battle the disciplinary hand of the Ministry and skepticism from his fellow students, without losing focus on his upcoming OWL exams. Will he pass Potions?!

This is one of the more complex books in the series (which wins it bonus points with me), but it is also the angstiest book. Harry spends the entire book angry at his friends, angry at Dumbledore, angry at the Ministry, angry at Umbridge, and just plain pissed off in general. His confusion is compounded by his interest in Cho, who is still mourning the death of her dead boyfriend Cedric. Overall, it's a good book because it advances the story and develops character, but I got a bit tired of angsty Harry. This is my least favorite (though still highly enjoyable) of the Harry Potter books.

Jan 17, 2013, 11:16am Top

2013 Book 9: Midnight Riot

Written by Ben Aaronovitch, Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Reason for Reading: Real-life Book Club

Peter Grant is a bumbling, easily distracted constable on the fast-track for a paper-pushing job. His luck unexpectedly turns when a ghost approaches him at a murder scene. Apparently Grant does have a talent - he can see dead people. Suddenly, he is adopted as the sole apprentice of Detective Chief Inspector Nightengale, who heads the supernatural division of the police. Grant is up to his ears in weirdness as he tries to solve the murder while learning the ropes in the unexpectedly supernatural world. I mostly enjoyed Midnight Riot for its interesting world-building and a lot of dry humor. The character of Grant was likable enough - even if he was bumbling - and I suspect I'd grow attached to him after a few books in the series. The plot tended to stray a bit more than I prefer, though. Nothing too bad, mind you, but there were a few moments where I wondered if we were still trying to catch the murderer or just enjoy the scenery. I prefer a little more focus. But these passages were never very long, and the book was, for the most part, quite enjoyable. I'm sure I'll pick up the next in the series some day.

As for the narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith...I think his cadence, tone, and delivery was done perfectly for our character. He was so dead-pan with the dry humor that I sometimes only caught the humor by delayed reaction. Which made it funnier. On the other hand, he was a rather loud (and wet) breather. I figured at first that this was put on for the character effect - but then I realized that such breathing would be difficult to fake unless he narrator was really congested. So...the loud breathing wasn't enough to put me off, but it might be enough to put SOME people off.

Jan 18, 2013, 9:29am Top

2013 Book 10: Preludes and Nocturnes, by Neil Gaiman

Reason for Reading: Group read on LibraryThing

In this classic graphic novel, Dream (The Sandman) is captured by a sinister magician and remains trapped for decades. While he is gone, his kingdom falls apart and dreams on Earth are disrupted. I'm not very experienced with graphic novels, having only read Satrapi's Persepolis before this, so reading Preludes and Nocturnes took some getting used to. But I'm glad I decided to climb out of my comfort-zone for a while - I was REALLY enjoying the book by the time it ended. Neil Gaiman's mind never ceases to amaze me. He's so darkly creative. There are a few issues I had with this book, though. I thought the tie-in to DC superheroes was a bit cheesy - though I recognize that this cheese was do to the development of the graphic novel as a genre. I hear these elements disappear later in the series to leave only the good stuff. Also, I found one incident at the end of the book darkly depressing. It made me very sad to see the dark insides of humanity (as Gaiman and his illustrators see them)...but I guess my emotional reaction is exactly what Gaiman was going for. So, points to him. Overall, this was a promising beginning, and now that I am more used to the graphic novel style, I'm looking forward to enjoying the rest of the series much more - after all, it's only supposed to get better from here!

Jan 18, 2013, 8:11pm Top

I think I should just give in to the inevitable and grab a copy of Preludes and Nocturnes. I tried to read it a few years ago, when I was just starting to test the graphic novel waters. I was put off by the illustrations which I found too bold and flashy and distracting, so I ended up not reading it at all. Instead I picked up the Y: The Last Man and the Fables series (both which I really enjoyed) which have more muted artwork, at least compared to The Sandman. But I keep coming across these great reviews from those participating in the group read that I'm intrigued again. The stories sound so interesting!

Jan 19, 2013, 1:30am Top

I loved some of the Sandman series, others were just too dark for me. My daughter enjoyed them all, then selected the ones she thought I would like. :)

Jan 19, 2013, 8:37am Top

I started Preludes and Nocturnes this morning!

Jan 19, 2013, 10:38am Top

I have yet to read any of the Sandman series, but my daughter requested the whole series through inter-library loan and reread them over break. At some point she wants a slip-cased copy of the set. I really should take a look at them before I take them back to the library, shouldn't I?

Jan 20, 2013, 1:01pm Top

Yes, clamairy, you should, although they can be a very dark vision of the world in spots. The artwork is amazing, and the storylines are very creative.

Jan 20, 2013, 2:33pm Top

>172 sandragon: Sandra The artwork was a bit too bold-and-flashy for me at first too. I tend to like softer, rounder art, more insinuative art. But I got used to it. :) Personally, I found Preludes and Nocturnes pretty fantastic once I got about half-way through.

>173 MrsLee: MrsLee Yeah, I can imagine why some of them were too dark for me. I was a little disconcerted by a scene in Preludes and Nocturnes. I don't mind horror, but I like horror that features monsters rather than horrors that features the dark side of humanity.

>174 Morphidae: Morphy You've probably finished it by now. Hopefully you liked it better once you got towards the end! :)

>175 clamairy: Clare As long as you have them, yes, you should probably check them out. It doesn't take very long to at least finish the first and see if you like it!

>176 MrsLee: MrsLee Gaiman's mind is pretty amazing, isn't it?

Jan 24, 2013, 9:19am Top

I've made a thread for a group read of The Ghost Map taking place in February and March. Anyone is welcome to join!


Jan 25, 2013, 10:11am Top

2013 Book 11: The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

Reason for Reading: Group read

This classic fairy-tale-style story is set in a land where the Goblins and Humans have had a "cold war" for many, many years. Long ago, the Goblins threatened that some day they will steal a princess...and their day finally comes when Princess Irene's nurse accidentally keeps the Princess out after sunset. Luckily, they are rescued by a miner's boy, Curdie - but now the Goblins know where the Princess lives and what she looks like. When the Goblins hatch a devious plot, Curdie and Irene become fast-friends as they act in turn as heroes. First and foremost, this is a fairy-tale. But it is also an allegory about faith. Princess Irene has a great-great-grandmother - a mysterious and heavenly woman that only she can see. Irene's very-great grandmother gives the Princess a magical string and tells her to follow the string whenever she's afraid - never doubting it or deviating from it, regardless of where it may take her. Irene must learn to have faith even when she thinks that the string has led her astray. And Curdie must learn to have faith in a very-great grandmother that he has never seen. This is a sweet story, nice for reading aloud to young children.

Jan 25, 2013, 3:57pm Top

179: This is a sweet story, nice for reading aloud to young children. That's one of the first stories beyond simple picture books that my mother read to me when I was little.

Actually, even before she read it to me, she told me some portions of it, like the scene where the goblins howled because their feet hurt. I was excited to anticipate them and loved hearing them come true, just as she'd told me. I also enjoyed the suspense of a story that lasted over several bedtimes.

I bought this book and reread it as an adult, along with The Princess and Curdie. I enjoyed it all over again, but the second book was a strange sort of letdown.

Jan 25, 2013, 5:57pm Top

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie were two of the books that I nearly wore out as a child. They still sit in my bookcase, but I can't even remember the last time I read them. I think I'm afraid they'll lose their lustre if I revisit them.

Jan 26, 2013, 8:23am Top

Hi Meredy and Sylvia! I rather wish I'd read The Princess and the Goblin as a child (or that it had been read to me). It is the perfect sort of book for that! But I'm glad I read it now, regardless. :) I'll probably pick up The Princess and Curdie sometime in the next couple of months.

Edited: Jan 27, 2013, 2:21pm Top

I made a thread for a February Social Justice Theme Read.


If you will be reading any books about social justice or injustice next month, please hop over to my thread and let us know your thoughts! :) Any book is welcome, but I suggested two fiction group reads: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee and Noughts and Crosses, by Marloire Blackman. I figured that would hit both the literature/classics crowd and the YA/dystopia crowd. :)

Jan 28, 2013, 1:22pm Top

2013 Book 12: The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Reason for Reading: Group read on Green Dragon

When a unicorn realizes that she may be the last remaining unicorn, she leaves her peaceful home on a quest to find out what happened to all her brothers and sisters. Along the way, she picks up bumbling magician seeking his talent and a dour cook looking for her lost innocence. The unicorn soon discovers that the world has changed since she last ventured out. Humans have lost their youthful innocence, and they are no longer able to see things as they truly are - humans have excelled in the art of deceiving themselves.

When I originally picked up this book, I'd expected a cute young adult tale, but never expected such depth. The Last Unicorn is a multi-layered allegory: about lost innocence, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-deception. But these cynical themes aren't the main point. The main point is that only in fully understanding humans can the ethereal unicorns save themselves. Only by sacrificing a piece of their ineffable essence can they form a closer bond to humans. And this closer bond can lead humans to do wonderful things.

Yes, it is a Christian allegory by my interpretation. But I think it's amazing the way Beagle didn't just throw in a Christ Figure and be done with it....The allegory of Beagle's unicorn isn't uniquely Christian - it defies religious boundaries. It is a story of love and innocence that mixes cynicism and hope. Quite extraordinary!

I was also a HUGE fan of the bumbling wizard Schmendrick who (in my opinion) was only fooling himself into believing he wasn't a capable wizard. He's like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz - just the fact that he wanted so badly to be a wizard made him into one. He could laugh at all the people who deceived themselves, as he unconsciously deceived his own self. He reminded me of myself when I'm in a glum mood thinking I'm not capable of anything when, of course, I'm quite capable if I'd stop expecting so little of myself. This book was a good reminder to have faith in yourself and think about the consequences of your beliefs.

Jan 28, 2013, 1:37pm Top

Hibernator, you are evil! I thought this was a book I could pass up, but your review has intrigued me and now I must try it. Poor, poor wish list.

Jan 28, 2013, 2:29pm Top

haha Yeah, LibraryThing is like a TBR bomb, isn't it?

Jan 29, 2013, 10:44pm Top

2013 Book 13: Chi's Sweet Home Volume 1, by Kanata Konami

Reason for Reading: I'm trying to encourage my 9-year-old reluctant-reader nephew to enjoy books more. I thought he might appreciate a graphic novel, and this one is appropriate for young ages. Plus, he's been bonding with my young cat recently, so I thought he'd be able to sympathize with Chi. So far, he hasn't read it - but he says that he will.

Chi is a "newborn" kitten who gets lost in the big, scary world. She is rescued by the Yamada family, who aren't allowed to have cats in their apartment. They search in vain for someone to adopt her, but eventually they fall in love with with chi and decide to keep her. Chi's thoughts, dreams, and fears are all displayed with adorable big-eyed drawings. I had this book read within an hour of its arrival on my doorstep. I was sucked right in to Chi's story because she reminds me so much of my own rescued kitten (both in appearance and attitude). Even if my nephew doesn't ever read this book, I'm SO glad I discovered it.

Jan 30, 2013, 8:42am Top

This is a manga I really want to start reading. It's a bit expensive in the UK though, which is why I keep putting it off. Don't think I can resist much longer though, given how much you liked it.

Feb 1, 2013, 11:46am Top

2013 Book 14: Congo Dawn, by Jeanette Windle

Reason for Reading: This is my first (and feature) book for the 2013 Social Justice Theme Read. An ARC was provided by the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review. The author will be giving away a copy of this book to one lucky reader (shipping in US and Canada only). If you would like to enter into the giveaway, please send me a PM!


When Robin Duncan takes on a security/translator contract in Democratic Republic of Congo, she doesn't expect all of her old wounds to open. Then she meets a man that she hoped to never see again, and she is reminded not only of her disappointment in humanity but also of the senseless death of her brother. Duncan must struggle inwardly with these issues while she maintains military efficiency in her team's efforts to capture a deadly insurgent leader. Soon, she learns that not all is as it seems - sometimes, good seems evil and evil seems good. Sometimes well-intentioned people can become monsters while fighting monsters.

Most Christian Suspense I've read is fairly fluffy, so I was surprised (and impressed) with the meatiness of this plot. I found the intensity of the mercenary action against the insurgency convincing. Often, I found myself unable to put the book down for suspense. The romantic tension was delicious, and added emotional depth to the characters without distracting from the suspense plot. And, of course, I always find stories about social justice medical personnel heartwarming. I also learned a lot about the Democratic Republic of Congo while reading this book. Windle has done a lot of research to back up all aspects of her plot - and it really shines through.

The only con would be a con ONLY to people who specifically avoid Christian Fiction. At one point, the suspense is, well, suspended by a philosophical discussion about why God allows bad things to happen to good people. This discussion would be interesting to any reader of Christian Fiction (i.e. the target audience), and the philosophy is demonstrated in the story by action. For those of you who generally avoid Christian Fiction because you feel it is "preachy," I recommend that you give this book a try anyway. Yes, there is that short section, but the rest of the book is all philosophy-demonstrated-by-action.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I am eager to read more of Windle's works now that I've had this taste.

Edited: Feb 1, 2013, 11:49am Top

Hi Claire! Yeah, it was a pretty adorable book, but they CAN get expensive if you buy them all. Luckily, my library system has a pretty impressive collection so I wouldn't have to buy them if I weren't trying to encourage my nephew to read. (Library books don't work too well for a reluctant reader, because he takes so long to decide to try a book!)

Feb 20, 2013, 8:09pm Top

Hi everyone! I had a family emergency and haven't finished a book all February! But I still have a few books that I read in January and can review now. Hopefully I'll get around to everyone's threads soon!

2013 Book 15: The Lesson, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Reason for Reading: This is the third book in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series. An ARC was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mary Kate (M.K.) has finally reached adulthood and she wants to spread her wings and explore the world. Although she dearly loves her family and friends, she's not sure the Amish life is for her. However, her big plans grind to a halt when she accidentally crashes into the community's school teacher, and she has to teach the kids until the regular teacher has recovered. But she is much more interested in playing detective than teaching. She wants to solve a murder and find out more about the mysterious strangers that moved into town. In this third and final book of the Stoney Ridge Seasons series, M.K. matures, but she is also the same fun-loving M. K. She learns to stay true to her nature while learning (once and for all?) that she should keep her nose out of other people's business. But will she stay in Stoney Ridge, or leave the community to explore the world?

I'm really glad The Lesson gave me the opportunity to tie up all the loose ends on the Lapp family. The book is a quick read, with a light and humorous writing style. M.K. is probably the most complex character in the series, and this exploration of her strengths, weaknesses, and quirks makes for a satisfying conclusion to the Stoney Ridge Seasons series.

Feb 26, 2013, 1:06pm Top

2013 Book 16: Noughts and Crosses

Written by by Malorie Blackman, Narrated by Syan Blake and Paul Chequer

Reason for Reading: Group read for my Social Justice February theme (which didn't go so well this year due to a month of hospital runs....but things are looking more perky now!)

Callum McGregor and Sephy Hadley have been best friends for as long as they remember. But recently their feelings for each other have begun to develop into something...stronger. Unfortunately, Sephy is a member of the dark-skinned upper class of Cross, and Callum is a pale-skinned, low-class Nought. The teens' romantic problems intensify when Callum's family gets caught up in a terrorist liberation organization that Sephy's father (a politician) has sworn to stamp out. Sephy and Callum must learn to love each other in a tumultuous world of hatred. Does this scream out "star-crossed lover" to you? But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? (I got the same Romeo and Juliet vibe from Warm Bodies, which I just finished reading. I think it's fun when the cosmic net of connected concepts captures me.)

I've heard fantastic things about this book, but I wasn't as impressed as I thought I'd be. Maybe it's just because I wasn't in the mood to read depressing race-relations books (and they're all a bit depressing, aren't they?), but this book wasn't a slap in the face of my preconceived notions. It was just another book about racism, much like a book written about a white girl and teenaged member of the Black Panthers. The whole skin-color switcharoo seemed like an unnecessary literary device to me. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it was a bad book...I was just expecting more amazingness, that's all. It was a tragically-sweet love story about a very important issue - racism, and the ease with which we can be swept away by other people's causes. But I think the book would have been more powerful if she'd focused on the realism of the story instead of trying to build a new world that was simply too similar to our own to justify the effort of creation.

Mar 14, 2013, 10:43am Top

2013 Book 17: Mountains Beyond Mountains

Written by Tracy Kidder, Narrated by Paul Michael

Reason for Reading: This was meant to be read for my Social Justice Theme in February, but things didn't work out quite as I'd planned. I finished the book in January, and haven't had the time to review it until now. Better late than never!


In this moving biography of Paul Farmer, Tracy Kidder takes us on a world tour of medical missionary work. Farmer started his mission to save the world from tuberculosis one patient at a time in the slums of Haiti. Practically from scratch, he developed a clinic that would treat the poor. But Farmer not only treated his patients, he listened to them, he cared about each one with individual interest, and he provided food and supplies so that his patients wouldn't be saved from tuberculosis only to die of starvation.

As his mission in Haiti gained more and more momentum, Farmer's expertise on tuberculosis (especially antibiotic-resistant strains) became world-renowned. He was asked to help set up clinics in Peru. He worked with the health systems of prisons in Russia, where antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis was rampant. And he loved each and every patient, regardless of who they were.

While describing the incredible non-stop work of Farmer, Kidder managed to make the doctor more human. I could imagine Farmer, cheerful despite sleep-deprivation shadows under his eyes, flying from one country to another in a worn-down suit that he would never have time to replace. From the book, it seemed that Farmer might pause for hours to have a heart-felt conversation with a patient, even while a room-full of self-important Harvard doctors awaited his arrival. I could empathize with Olivia, Farmer's old flame, who once felt a twinge of satisfaction to realize that Farmer was only human - she could annoy him. Being around someone like that must be exhausting. Kidder painted a brilliant man with limitless energy, unimpeachable morals, and the charisma to make his dreams a reality. I felt overwhelmed just listening to the book. I can't imagine what it must be like to work for him (or date/marry him). And yet, it's impossible for me to not admire him.

I found this book fascinating not only because it was a description of an amazing man with a daring love for humanity, but also because I enjoyed learning more about the social/economic conditions of Haiti. The narrative flowed smoothly between Kidder's personal impressions of Farmer and Haiti to well-researched narratives of Farmer's life outside his work.

I enjoyed Paul Micheal's narration of the book - though I have little to comment on his style of reading. It was one of those audiobooks that I was so absorbed in the story that I forget to be distracted by the narrator - which means Micheal must have done a good job.

Mar 16, 2013, 2:35pm Top

2013 Book 18: Unnatural Issue

Written by Mersedes Lackey, Narrated by Kate Reading

Reason for Reading: This was meant to be included in a fairy tale challenge in the blogoverse in February, but that didn't work out for me too well. But I'm still going to finish up my Donkeyskin books, regardless!

When Earth Master Richard Whitestone's wife dies in childbirth, he discards their newborn daughter Suzanne in a fit of rage. Suzanne is raised as a servant of the household, while her father wastes away in his chambers. After many years, Whitestone develops a new passion - necromancy. When he sees his daughter wandering his lands, he realizes she is the perfect vessel in which to trap his dead wife's spirit. Suzanne must flee her father, and hide in the guise of a servant in another household. But her skill in Earth magic is difficult to hide...

This is a non-canonical retelling of the fairy tale Donkeyskin, and is part of Lakey's Elemental Master series. Although it certainly has charm and originality, it is not my favorite of the Donkeyskin retellings, nor of the Elemental Master series. I felt the premise of the book - a necromantic father, Elemental Masters fighting in WWI, with a touch of romance - had promise. Unfortunately, it just wasn't delivered as well as it could have been. The romance seemed forced, and the war sections uninteresting. Not that it was a terrible book, but it could have been so much better. Lackey is better than this.

But, if you're looking for a fluffy-quick read, or an original fairy tale retelling, this book will certainly deliver that. The narration by Kate Reading was quite good. She did the voices well, and had good timing.

Mar 16, 2013, 2:36pm Top

2013 Book 19: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reason for Reading: This was one of my planned reads for the social justice theme read in February.

When Arnold "Junior" Spirit accidentally breaks his rez-teacher's nose, he gets a piece of unexpected advice: get off the rez before you lose your spirit. Junior decides to go to the all-white high school in a farm town 20 miles away from the reservation. He consequently deals with racism from the whites and hatred from his reservation friends, while fighting the usual teen problems of making friends, succeeding in sports, hiding his poverty, and impressing the girls. This book is hilarious and tragic at the same time. I loved the cartoons drawn by Junior...and I loved his dry, sarcastic humor. The characterization was fantastic - I really felt for Junior during his troubles. But you can't read this book and expect some fuzzy-happy picture to be painted of reservation life. This book is gritty and realistic. Even rather depressing at times. I was really touched at Alexie's honest portrayal of the life of a reservation kid. I look forward to reading more of Alexie's books in the future.

Mar 16, 2013, 2:36pm Top

2013 Book 20: Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

Reason for Reading: Loved the movie and trying to kill reading slump.

R is an above-average-intelligence zombie (he can speak 4-6 syllable sentences!) who is living a doll-drum life in an abandoned airplane - but his un-life gets a sharp slap in the face when he meets Julie, who by all rights he should have eaten. Instead, he takes Julie home and tries to communicate with her. This small act of curiosity on R's part ignites a chain event of new perceptions. The world must crawl out of it's stagnant existence and remember what it was to live.

I admit that I watched the movie first. I generally don't do that, but it just happened that way. I LOVED the movie and had to rush out to get the book. This is one example where I'd say I liked the movie and the book equally. Warm Bodies is unquestionably a retelling of Romeo and Juliet (right down to the balcony scene), but it was certainly the most unique retelling I've read. Additionally, I interpreted the book as a parody of YA paranormal romance - I took it very tounge-in-cheek. So I got a LOT of laughs while reading it. But what I thought was most interesting was the allegory. The zombies symbolized passionless people who have simply accepted life as directed by the ruling body (Bonies, in this case). And R was a zombie who just couldn't quite conform. I loved the idea that a renewal of passion (and I don't just mean romantic passion) could revive R's potential as an individual. One simple act of individuality could change the course of history. On the other hand, I got a little tired at the end of the book of the cheesy internal dialog (and I DO mean internal dialog and not monologue). I think Marion was laying on his philosophy a little too thick. It would have been much more elegant to leave these philosophical discussions out - anybody who was willing to see Marion's philosophy would be able to do so without cheesy dialog. But that was my only complaint about this funny, quirky, and delightful story.

Mar 16, 2013, 2:37pm Top

2013 Book 21: Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

Reason for Reading: Real life bookclub

Camille Preaker is a troubled young woman and a mediocre journalist. When her editor sends her to her home-town in Missouri for investigative reporting on a possible serial killer, she must stay with her emotionally-destructive mother and wild half-sister. As Camille struggles with ghosts from her past, including her own self-destructive behavior and memories of a dead sister, she discovers that the murders are darker and more complex than she'd originally suspected.

Although this book certainly had a good deal of mystery to it, it wasn't really for me. Although I generally liked Camille's character, there were several times when I groaned inwardly at her choices. She was weak and self-destructive. Such characters are really difficult to write well, and Sharp Objects had a bit of a debut-novel feel to it - perhaps Camille's character should have been created by a more seasoned author. Another issue I had with the book is it was simply too dark for my tastes. There was so much ugliness in the book. Violence, self-loathing, sexual exploitation, and more. On the other hand, I DO understand why some people like this book. The key question to ask is - how much ugliness can you deal with? If you like reading about emotionally troubled characters, then this book would be attractive to you. There was a slight redemptive feel to the story at the end. A ray of hope for Camille. I appreciate that I was given that much.

Group: The Green Dragon

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