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paghababian's 75 Book Challenge in 2008

50 Book Challenge

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1paghababian
Edited: Jan 10, 2008, 10:30am Top

I'm back for another year, and I couldn't be more excited. I managed 79 books last year, 4 above my goal. Some were slim, others were massive, but most fell in between.

I like to write reviews of what I read, mostly because I doubt anyone else just wants to look at a list of what I’ve been spending my time with. LibraryThing is great for discussion, and I welcome comments or questions.

1. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips - Fantastic fun. The Greek gods have been living in London for a few hundred years, with their powers decreasing as people stop believing in them. They don’t wander around in togas, however; Hermes rides a motorbike, and Aphrodite’s ringtone is Bananarama’s “Venus.” Apollo is offered a job hosting a television show, where he meets a mortal that wins his heart. The character’s are all terrifically humanized, and London (especially the Tube stations) are vivid.

2. Blaze by Richard Bachman – A very different Bachman book. This is more of a look at the life of Clayton “Blaze” Blaisdell Jr. than a compelling story. It feels much like Of Mice and Men, as Stephen King describes in the forward. Blaze is a tragic and sympathetic character who swings back and forth between trying to do what is right for himself and trying to do what is right for others. He’s the kind of character that sticks with you.

The forward by Stephen King also talks about his process of writing as Bachman – why he used the pen name and how the Bachman books were different from his other stories. Worth a read for any King fan.

*Touchstones hate me.

2paghababian
Jan 22, 2008, 9:57am Top

3. Age of Bronze 3: Betrayal Part 1 by Eric Shanower - Shanower's epic graphic novel of the Trojan War continues. The Achaeans finally reach Asian Minor, where the Trojans don't take too kindly to the ambassadors sent to broker a truce.

Shanower's research is fantastic. This is not a gods and heroes story, but a more life-like retelling of the story.

4. Finding Serenity edited by Jane Espenson - Firefly is one of those shows that you either love or hate. There's really no in-between. Finding Serenity is a collection of essays devoted to the fantastic show (show only, because this came out before the movie). Some essays were weak, while some I just plain disagreed with. Some I didn't care about (I'm not a big Star Trek fan, so the few essays that compared the two shows were off-putting), while others I found fantastic (Firefly vs. The Tick!). This book brought me right back into the 'verse, to the point where I wanted to pull my dvd set off the shelf.

5. Blood is the New Black by Valerie Stivers - aka The Vampire Wears Prada. This is a fun and fluffy book, mixing high-fashion chick lit with the horrible horror books I used to read as a teen. Kate gets a job working at Tasty Magazine, where the rumors are that the editor-in-chief and much of the staff are vampires. She doesn't believe it at first, but things start to get a little too strange for her not to.

3xicanti
Jan 22, 2008, 10:01am Top

I've seen Gods Behaving Badly around, but had never really heard anything about it. It sounds really good; definitely something I'll have to keep an eye out for.

4paghababian
Jan 25, 2008, 10:18am Top

Xicanti, yes, definitely give it a try. It's fun and fast-paced, and I had a blast reading it. (And thanks for adding the touchstone!)

6. The Gunslinger by Stephen King - The Dark Tower is my favorite series, as it has been since I stumbled upon it in the mid-90s. I've been meaning to reread the whole thing since King finished a few years ago. For some reason, I was pulled to the Gunslinger the other night, and I've been hooked right back into Roland's world.

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." It's such a simple sentence, yet so iconic. This is the sentence that sets the reader on the path of the Beams, following the footsteps of Roland, last of the gunslingers, on his quest for the Dark Tower.

At first, the story seems like a straight Western. But hints of other worlds and strange events seep in. Roland begins telling the story of his past, about how the world used to be before it "moved on," all the while chasing that man in black across the harsh desert.

This is probably the weakest of all the books in the series, which is a shame, because many people get turned away by it. Luckily, the revised edition (rereleased when books 5, 6, and 7 came out) is reworked to be a little more approachable and understandable. I enjoyed this book much more the second time through, knowing what I know about the rest of the series.

5paghababian
Feb 7, 2008, 10:20am Top

7. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King - Book 2 of the Dark Tower is more narrative than its predecessor. Roland, with the Man in Black's tarot cards on his mind, finds three successive doors on a wasteland beach. Each door leads to New York - our world - and to fate.

The most compelling of the three doorways (and sections of the book) is The Prisoner. Eddie Dean feels the most human of all the characters in the book and is the person the reader can most identify with. I was particularly struck with the writing when Eddie, a junkie, starts telling his story - the language becomes compressed and fast-paced, like someone itching to get another hit.

8. The Wastelands by Stephen King - Book 3 of the Dark Tower is very story-driven. A lot happens in this book to drive the story forward, vastly different than the scene-setting Gunslinger or the character-driven Drawing of the Three. Ka is pushing the characters along in this book, and a lot of the story happens because ka was there to intervene. The characters pulled from New York begin to have a better grasp on their new world and how to act in it - they are becoming true gunslingers.

The cliffhanger ending leaves the reader jumping for the next book in the series.

6paghababian
Feb 11, 2008, 8:11am Top

9. Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened edited by Jason Rodriguez - Art created from found objects. Postcards can be telling yet cryptic - there's not much room to write a message. This story in this collection of graphic stories starts with an old postcard and builds off of the text and pictures. Some were great, but as a whole, the collection fell a little flat for me. Definitely enjoyable, though.

10. Black Ships by Jo Graham - A moving and wonderfully written story that turns myth into reality. Virgil's Aeneid is an epic poem telling the tale of Aeneas as he searches for a new home for the Trojan exiles. Black Ships presents the same story in a much more approachable and human scale.

Gull, the daughter of a Trojan slave in Pylos, is called to serve as a priestess to the Lady of the Dead. It does not take long, though, for her duties to take her far from her home, traveling with Prince Aeneas and his few black ships as they sail from port to port, looking for a place to once again call home. As they go, she must learn to balance her duties as Pythia and her life as a young, highly-regarded woma amongst her people.

I'm not quite sure why this keeps getting compared to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon... surely a comparison to her Firebrand, with many of the same themes and the same historical time period, would be more fitting... And why is this classified as fantasy?

7sussabmax
Feb 11, 2008, 2:11pm Top

That sounds more like mythology to me, but I am guessing some people are uncomfortable with classifying modern takes on myths as mythology, and they don't think of it as religion, so they call it fantasy because they think of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses as fantastical creatures. I don't understand why people think mythology only refers to stories that are old, though.

8paghababian
Feb 11, 2008, 2:42pm Top

I guess what bothered me about the fantasy classification was that the story may be based on myth, but the telling of it is very much based in reality. Graham has done at least some research on the time period. The most fantastic part correlated to Aeneas' trip to the underworld in the Aeneid, but I thought her explanation of how (via inhaling fumes) made it less so (and was based on archaeological evidence).

And I'm with you, I can think of many stories from more modern times that I would classify as "myth" ;)

9paghababian
Mar 2, 2008, 11:32am Top

11. Wizard and Glass by Stephen King - Book four of the Dark Tower series. This was my favorite of the series for years, mostly because I was a teenager the first time I read it and could really connect to the characters. This time through, though, it felt much weaker, and knowing what happens in future books, I was itching to get through it. The recently published comics also cover much of the same ground, so the story was still fresh in my head.

Wizard and Glass finds Roland and his ka-tet in a world where a plague has demolished the population (sound like The Stand?) Roland feels that it is finally time to give his friends a glimpse into his past, and the bulk of the book is his tale of his time in Mejis, ostensibly counting provisions for the Affiliation. He and his friends, Cuthbert and Alain, end up uncovering a plot to supply John Farson, the Good Man, with what he needs to fight the Affiliation, while Roland finds himself trapped by something more dangerous than war.

This book is long and a little slow, especially when the books on either side have so much more action. The climax, however, is very exciting and screams to be made into a film.

10paghababian
Mar 4, 2008, 9:14am Top

12. Dedication by Emma McLaughlin - A story about a Kate, who used to date this guy who went on to become one of the biggest pop stars in the world. The book alternates between "present," where Kate is ready and willing to show him what he's missing out on, and the past, where we see their relationship grow through middle and high school. The back and forth through time was interesting, and little bits of the story would come out little by little. The writing style, however, didn't do it for me - actions and thoughts weren't always clear, making it hard to understand, but I kept reading for the story. I can't say the ending was what I was hoping for, but it was probably more fitting.

11paghababian
Mar 17, 2008, 8:56am Top

13. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan - A YA book filled with lots of fun and excitement (especially for a classics nerd like myself). Percy Jackson discovers that the things that have always dragged him down in life - dyslexia, ADHD, the inability to stay in one school for more than a year - are really things that make him special. Percy is the son of an Olympian god.

This is a must read for anyone who likes to have a little fun with the classics. It's in the same vein as Gods Behaving Badly, although obviously meant for kids.

14. Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King - Book 5 of the Dark Tower series. Roland's ka-tet stumbles across the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis as they follow the path of the Beam. The Calla folken have just been warned that the Wolves will be approaching in a month - the Wolves who take one from every pair of twins (the majority of the kids) and take them off to the dark land of Thunderclap before returning them as barely a shell of their former being. The gunslingers step up to help, gaining aid in their own quest as well.

After Wizard and Glass, which felt mighty slow to me this time around, Wolves of the Calla is fast-paced and exciting. Books 5, 6, and 7 were released within 18 months of each other, and the story moves through these 3 books with the same quickness.

The characters are all keeping secrets from each other, and watching them dance around the facts is fun... but it hurts a little, too. These people clearly love each other, so seeing them lie to the others (and themselves) can be hard to take.

Father Callahan, from Salem's Lot, plays a major role in this book (and the coming books), so it might be helpful to have read that before reading this book (but it's definitely not required).

12paghababian
Mar 19, 2008, 9:49am Top

15. The Ruins by Scott Smith - A book that talks about archaeologists and ruins? I'm there! It didn't bother me, though, when I realized that neither the promised archaeologists nor the Mayan ruins were actually going to show up in the book. By then, I was too captivated by the psychological horror/thriller (literally) wrapped around the five main characters to care. Smith does an excellent job at building the feeling of terror. Even the formatting of the story, with almost no breaks in the action, help steamroll the story along. The characters, who I thought were too sketchy at first, became more and more real as the horror progressed - I think mainly because the reader can see how each person reacts differently to the situation.

S P O I L E R S

Having finished the book, I realize that the Ruins are not the mine or anything the archaeologists were digging up. I think some people are taking the title a little too literally. The Ruins are what's left of the past attempts to deal with this evil - particularly the little mounds of skeletons dotting the hill. The Ruins are also all that's left of the characters' spirits by the middle of the book. What other word could be used to describe them?

E N D S P O I L E R S

13paghababian
Mar 30, 2008, 1:12pm Top

16. Susannah's Song by Stephen King - Book 6 of the Dark Tower series. For the first time, Roland's ka-tet is broken up. Mia, who has taken control of Susannah, leads the group to the unfound door and to our world.

Having the ka-tet broken up, though, makes this book a little harder to follow. It jumps around through time and space, following three different storylines, so it doesn't have the same continuity that the other books have.

Be forewarned - Stephen King shows up as a character in this book. The first time I read this book, I thought he had become a total hack by doing that, but on further reflection, it seems like that was the only way the story could be told.

14paghababian
Apr 15, 2008, 11:44pm Top

Wow, it's been forever since I've posted anything here. Definitely doesn't mean I'm not reading, though! The Dark Tower will be finished soon...

17. Journal of W. P. Buckner, 3/26/1844-4/30/1845, aboard the USS Constitution - I know, not a traditional book, but I've been skimming through all the journals and logs at the USS Constitution museum, and this was the most interesting one, so I pretty much read it in its entirety. Buckner describes the goodwill tour around the world that the Constitution took, sailing from Boston around Africa, through SE Asia, across to California, and back around South America to Boston. It's a standard log book, recording weather, travel distance, supplies, and events. But more importantly, it's a detailed description of all the different ports of call. In its way, it's almost an ethnographic study of the different peoples encountered along the way. My favorite part was a bit describing a sultan in Zanzibar who was 55ish but looked 70 or 80 -"Is said he has 80 concubines. I suppose that is what makes him look so old." Buckner was also very skilled at drawing, and there are some fantastic sketches of the ports and very detailed maps of the ship's course.

18. Stephen King's Dark Tower: A Concordance Volume 1 by Robin Furth - A must-read for Dark Tower lovers. This was, I believe, put together for King's benefit as he wrote the last three books as a way to refresh him on the earlier four books. It's a handy guide to reference while reading, and the essays in the front were very interesting. It's also amusing to see where Furth went astray in some predictions for what was to come. I love the humor she throws into the entries (like adding that not everyone with the initials R.F. is bad). I'm working on Volume 2 now as I finish the series. I would be curious to see what is removed from the version that has both volumes together.

19. Preserving Field Records by Mary Anne Kenworthy et al. - As an archivist-in-training with an archaeological background, there wasn't much new information in here. However, I think parts of this should be required reading for field archaeologists, as I don't think they are as considerate as they should be about how their files will be preserved. The introduction should also be required reading for archivists dealing with this type of material, as it spells out why certain types of documents are more important than others. The book is quite outdated, with a whole chapter on Machine-Readable Records (punch cards), but the other chapters are still useful.

15paghababian
Apr 22, 2008, 9:44am Top

20. The Dark Tower by Stephen King - There really was no other way this epic story could have ended. I get shivers just thinking about it.

I'm not even going to bother summing this book up. If you haven't read the previous books, pick up The Gunslinger right now. I mean, now. I'll wait for you to catch up... If you've read through book 6, you can't just stop (even though Song of Susannah was a little slow at times). If you've finished The Dark Tower, you know what I'm talking about.

There are very few books that are able to evoke strong emotions in me, but amazingly, this one still manages to do it on repeated readings. (It's the line "...I can plant something. Is there anything you'd think he would like?" "Yes, a rose." that gets me every time.) I won't be forgetting Jake's innocence, Eddie's sarcasm, Susannah's vulnerability, Oy's wisdom, or Roland's steel blue eyes anytime soon. This book is, as Susannah would say, "the good kind, mit schlag."

16paghababian
Apr 29, 2008, 9:29pm Top

21. Imagine Me and You by Billy Mernit - Screenwriter Jordan is lost and confused after his wife suddenly leaves, so he concocts another woman to make her jealous. I really liked the idea behind this, but I just couldn't connect with any of the characters, especially the main character.

17paghababian
May 15, 2008, 8:27am Top

22. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (read via dailylit.com) - This was one of those classics that I've been meaning to read forever, and reading it via RSS made it a little easier - a little chunk was deposited into my reader each day, and I could ignore it if I didn't want to read it right away.

As a fan of sci-fi, I've read plenty of works that are derivative from this, so none of it felt especially fresh. It was well-written, though, and thoroughly enjoyable. It helped that, while I was reading it, there was a great episode of "The Big Bang Theory" that featured this story - the end of that episode was brilliant!

23. The Town that Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey - I'm not sure if I liked this book, but I know that I couldn't put it down. The first half was especially good, and Harvey sure knows how to set the scene... but it seemed to lose direction as it gained momentum towards the end. Overall, though, it was very well written, and if you like a really well developed, creepy setting, this is worth the read just for that.

The town of Bareneed in remote Newfoundland is not what it used to be - the fishing plant, the lifeblood of the community, sits unused. Moreover, people begin to get sick with some sort of breathing disorder that stumps the local doctor. As the sickness escalates, other strange events start happening around town as well.

18paghababian
May 25, 2008, 10:34pm Top

24. Big Boned by Meg Cabot - Third in the Heather Wells mystery series, Big Boned is the weakest of the bunch. Heather Wells, former teen pop star and current assistant director of "Death Dorm" at New York College, is in a good place in her life (for once) when her new boss turns up dead. And in classic Heather fashion, she begins investigating the murder, despite warnings from all sides to just leave it alone. This book has a few good moments (I'm still laughing over Heather thinking her uterus has fallen out while going for a jog), and I'm sure I'll keep reading this series as more books are released, but it's certainly nothing groundbreaking.

25. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer - I first heard about this book from this thread, but I thought it was an older book that I'd just never heard from. When I started hearing about the movie, though, I put two and two together and decided to give it a try. And I'm glad I did. This is one awesome book, and yes, everyone in that thread was right about how hot Edward is. *Sigh* Can't wait to get my hands on the next two!

19paghababian
Jun 4, 2008, 9:13pm Top

26. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris - This book is a weirdly enjoyable look at the slow demise of a group of employees at an advertising firm in Chicago. Told in first person plural, "we" is able to see all the characters at once and yet be none of them. Just like in any office, everyone has their issues and their problems, and just like in any office, they can get blow out of proportion by coworkers.

The constant dread that the characters had over being the next to get fired (or "walked Spanish") was a little hard for me to take, since I was anticiating being walked Spanish at my own job.

The only part I didn't feel fit in with the story was the interlude following the boss for one evening. Although this section was explained at the end, it still felt out of place and disjointed.

27. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan - Book 2 of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Percy returns to Camp Half-Blood to find the tree of Thalia ailing, and he is also plagued by dreams of his best friend, Grover, in terrible danger. He once more teams up with Annabelle, this time on a quest to rescue Grover from the hands of the cyclops Polyphemus and to save the tree, and thus, the camp. The story follows the Odyssey fairly closely (the visit to Circe's island was a favorite of mine).

Just like the first book of the series, this is a great, fun, and easy read for anyone with a passion for the Classics. Riordan is able to bring mythology to life in our world in a way that makes me jealous that I didn't think of it first.

28. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer - Book 2 of the Twilight series. Edward and the rest of the Cullens decide that Forks is a difficult place for them to be, leaving Bella behind to deal with the abandonment. She eventually becomes friends with Jacob, a teen at the La Push reservation, and comes to think that maybe Juliet would have been ok with Paris if Romeo had just left town.

This book didn't quite grab me the same way that the first one did (didn't stop me from finishing it in record time, though). The ending felt much more like a jumping off point for another story instead of a wrap-up of this story. It definitely left me wanting more, though.

20paghababian
Jun 12, 2008, 10:37pm Top

29. World War Z by Max Brooks - After a zombie uprising that leads to a ten-year struggle between humans and zombies, a journalist is sent around the globe to conduct interviews and put together a report based on the events of World War Z. This book, told through the talking-head-style interviews, tracks the path of the zombie uprising and the eventual human victory.

It is a very realistic book - there are many passages where the word "zombie" could easily be replaced with any other foe. The descriptions of events are just as realistic and are quite vivid. Brooks did a fantastic job with this book, and I'd love to see what else he could bring to the page.

30. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer - Yeah, this one pulled me right back in. Edward and Jacob and their clans must band together to protect Bella when yet another threat shows up. Bella can, at times, be too whiny and wishy-washy, but that didn't stop me from racing through this one in record time.

21paghababian
Jun 18, 2008, 9:29pm Top

31. Why Did It Have To Be Snakes? by Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg - The market is flooded with Indiana Jones books right now, and I feel like I picked the wrong one by reading this one. Gresh and Weinberg run through each movie (and the tv show) point by point, giving scientific reasons for what happened. However, because they hit so many points in an order that only ties them together by plot, it was hard to read and even harder to enjoy. First you're reading about South American native tribes, then about how bullwhips work, then about Nazi airplanes and submarines, ending with a section on Judaism. Yes, all of that is central to the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but reading about them in that order makes the book hard to handle.

32. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry - Towner Whitney comes from an established Salem family - the men were traders and merchants and pirates. And the women? Psychics and readers - especially lace readers. Towner comes back to Salem after the disappearance of her great-aunt, Eva, who gave lace readings to locals and tourists alike in her tea room. Towner's mother, May, always an eccentric, takes in abused women and children and teaches them to make lace. But Towner herself has been avoiding lace since her twin sister committed suicide as a teen after a lace reading.

The book is itself a piece of finely crafted lace - read it patiently and all of its secrets will appear in time. Keep in mind that Towner's first paragraph includes the line "Never believe me. I lie all the time." Bit by bit, the details behind Towner's past materialize, knitting a web of overlapping truths and lies, light and darkness, as she herself comes to terms with what has happened to her. Haunting and beautiful.

22paghababian
Jun 27, 2008, 5:22pm Top

33. Pomegranate Roads by Gregory Levin - Levin is a punicologist, or pomegranate specialist, and he spent over 40 years at a Soviet botany station, researching and collecting different pomegranate plants. In this book, he describes some of his adventures to remote places to collect more specimens, and he pays tribute to all the people he worked with over the years.

Some of the book is exciting, with lots of action, while other parts are a slow and overly descriptive. And as always, I wanted to know more about the mythology of the fruit, as I'm sure Levin has heard some interesting stories over the years.

34. The Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan - A Red Lobster in Connecticut is about to close, and manager Manny and the rest of his crew spend their last day tying up loose ends - with the restaurant and with each other. Interesting story, and a very quick read. At first, I was put off by O'Nan's overly descriptive style, but I ended up really enjoying the very real world he had put together.

23vhoeschler
Jun 27, 2008, 5:32pm Top

Thank you for the input on "Gods Behaving Badly". I heard about it several months ago and although the premise is definitely up my alley, I hadn't heard many reviews about it. I'll definitely be checking it out!

24paghababian
Jun 30, 2008, 10:34am Top

->23 vhoeschler: I'm glad you're picking it up! Yes, it's a lot of fun to read, although certainly not earth shattering. Also good in the ancient-mythology-in-modern-day is Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians series (the first two are mentioned above). They're children's/YA, but quite enjoyable.

25paghababian
Jul 10, 2008, 7:05pm Top

Wow, it's been a while since I posted. A few weeks ago, I took part in the 24-Hour Read-a-thon and managed to read 5+ books in 24 hours. Full details of my 24 hours can be found here.

35. Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk - Oh, Chuck, what have you done? I'm a huge Palahniuk fan, but this one felt like he was just cranking something out to meet a deadline.

Snuff tells the story of porn star Cassie Wright, who wants to break records by being filmed with 600 men in one day. It will be her crowning achievement, and perhaps the definitive film in the genre. The story is told by three of the gentlemen (Mr. 72, Mr. 137, and Mr. 600), as well as Wright's (female) assistant. Unfortunately, unlike most of of Palahniuk's characters before this, the characters seemed one-dimensional in their quirkiness.

36. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley - I feel like I've found a sister and friend in Sloane Crosley. Her writing is witty and funny and full of things I wish I could come up with. She's like a female mixture of David Sedaris (for awkward family stories) and Chuck Klosterman (for pop culture references). This is definitely one of the best books I've read this year.

37. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan - Third in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. Overall, the stories are getting a little repetitive, and yet, I couldn't put it down. I'm still totally enamored of the melding of ancient myths with modern life. The first book of the series, though, still holds the most magic for me.

38. Red Eye, Black Eye by K. Thor Jensen - Red Eye, Black Eye is an autobiographical graphic novel, chronicling K. Thor Jensen's 60-day, 10,000-mile Greyhound bus trip across America. There's no real story, just stops along the way, where he met people he only knew from the internet and basically just trusted himself to the road for two months. This is the underbelly of America - no shiny tourist spots (well, he does visit Disneyland... but then vows never to have fun again). It's a very quick read, and certainly not earth-shattering, but quite enjoyable.

39. Queen of Babble in the Big City by Meg Cabot - Lizzie met the man of her dreams and found her calling in France. Now she's moved to New York to try to make both of those things work for her. She jumps into living with her boyfriend Luke, after only a few weeks together, and is forced to take an unpaid job reworking wedding dresses to make her career goals. Of course, things are less than stable, and Lizzie has to stand up for what she wants.

In typical over-the-top style, Queen of Babble in the Big City is an enjoyable, fast-paced chick lit novel. I mean, there's really nothing earth-shattering with this series, but Meg Cabot knows how to handle funny, self-deprecating, driven women. I prefer her books The Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl, or even the Heather Wells mystery series (which begins with Size 12 Is Not Fat), but the Queen of Babble series is a good time. Book 3, Queen of Babble Gets Hitched, was just released, so I'm sure I'll be picking that up soon for a beach read.

40. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson - Octavian is raised in a world of science and is told from a young age that he is an exiled prince of a great African nation. However, when rumblings of revolt shatter the walls of the lyceum, the true nature of Octavian's birth and life are revealed.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party opens in a time and place which are unclear, but as the story unfolds, it is clear that it takes place in Boston just before the American Revolution. The writing style, mostly in the voice of Octavian himself, is therefore very florid and somewhat archaic, making it very hard to digest as a Young Adult novel. In fact, because of the writing style, I can't picture many young adults getting far enough into the book to discover the historical aspects of it. That's not to say that it's not a good book - just that it may be missing the mark a bit.

26paghababian
Aug 2, 2008, 12:49am Top

41. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson - The setup of The Gargoyle sounds a bit like a Stephen King novel (especially his recent books that deal with convalescents) - a horribly burned man meets a brilliant gargoyle carver/mental patient who convinces him to come back to her place after he is released from the hospital. The narrator (our burned ex-porn star semi-hero) isn't sure about Marianne Engel (the artist/schizophrenic) at first, mostly because she claims to be over 700 years old and to have known him in a past life. But he begins to trust her and does eventually end up at her home, where he learns the story of their past relationship.

I really loved this book, but for reasons I can't quite explain. It's not like I have anything in common with any of the characters or their situations. I think it's more the "1001 Arabian Nights" quality of Marianne's storytelling that captured me - the narrator longs to hear more about the perceived relationship between himself and Marianne, but she keeps interjecting other tales of love lost. By the time he understands his feelings for her, though, those other stories are as much a part of him as they are of her. In fact, it was the past-life story, along with the other stories that Marianne told, that were the most compelling part of the narrative for me - I cared more about the lovers from the past than the horrors of the present.

I really enjoyed Davidson's writing style because it wasn't overly fancy. Rather, the story is told by someone who has had a lot of time to reflect on what happened, and as such, is described in very realistic terms. Such a strong narrative is hard to find in a debut book, and I'm curious to see what else Davidson can do.

42. Duma Key by Stephen King - As a long-time Stephen King reader, I know that I'll eventually pick up any book that he writes. I've had Duma Key sitting around for a while - it's pretty thick, and I wasn't up for investing the time in it. But after hearing several times that it was his "return to form," I was ready to give it a try.

And in a way, it is a return to form. The scene is clearly set, the characters (bizarre backstories and all) are well defined, and the strange supernatural villain is creepy as all get-out. But it's also a little slower than his past works - the first two-thirds took me two weeks to read, while the final third was completely gripping and took only two days.

Edgar Freemantle, late of Minnesota, takes up residence on Duma Key in Florida following a disastrous accident. While there, he meets his eccentric neighbors, including the old woman who owns the island, and discovers an unknown talent for painting. But the paintings hold a strange ability to bring his ideas to life, dictated by the powers of the island.

There are many images, especially from the last third of the book, that will be sticking with me for a long time. King is still a master at describing a moment so creepy that it burns its way into your memory. And while I don't think I would recommend this as an entry point into King's repertoire, it is a solid piece of writing that won't be soon forgotten.

27paghababian
Edited: Aug 14, 2008, 12:07am Top

43. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer - Was I right to get so worked up for this book? Yes… and no. The first three books (well, really just books one and three) totally captivated me. Just the fact that they were able to make me think like a 16-year-old again was a testament to Meyer’s writing. But with all the Twilight talk (both about this new book and the horrible miscasting of the upcoming movie), the book just couldn’t meet the hype.

The biggest problem that struck me was that the story read like fanfiction – stories written by fans who can’t give up on their favorite characters. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some excellent fanfic out there, but I expect a little more from someone so in charge of the story and from something I’m paying money for. Breaking Dawn even adheres to the fanfic tenant that the characters you love the most suffer the most – I mean, Bella has always been a little too clumsy, a little too breakable, but come on… really?

Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed the middle section of the book, told from Jacob’s POV. I was highly pissed off at the end of Eclipse, when the narration slipped to Jacob without warning, but in this case, I was relieved not to be in Bella’s head for a little while. And through Jacob, there was much to learn about the way the La Push pack operates.

Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about the finale. There was so much build up for very little conclusion. But I guess that just means that I’ll have to turn to the real fanfic now to find some more good Twilight stories…

44. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - I was never a big fan of the circus as a kid. There was always too much going on, too much noise, too much activity. But when I started watching Carnivale on HBO a few years ago, I loved the gritty, dirty feel of the Depression-era circuses. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen tells a similar gritty, dirty story.

Gruen’s research is what makes this story worth reading. The daily life of a circus is brought to life through the pages of Water for Elephants in a very compelling way. The story is interesting, but I was driven to read by the desire to know more about the time period. Even if you don’t think the subject matter would interest you, this book is definitely worth reading – it would be hard not to be interested in it by the end.

45. The Road by Corman McCarthy - I love dystopian fiction - the grittiness, by definition, highlights aspects of human nature that don't often appear in other genres. So when I heard about Cormack McCarthy's The Road, I was excited - a man and boy walk towards what they hope is (relative) safety. Everything I've read about the book has hailed it as a post-apocalyptic masterpiece - it was even an Oprah book (which, in most cases, is a mark against in my book) and is being made into a movie.

So imagine my disappoint when I read something like this:

Whats that?
Where?
There. Theres a house.
I’ll go take a look. Take the gun.
No, I’m scared.
I know.
What if the bad guys come?
You can come with me youd like.
The man knew he wouldnt want to be alone.
Okay.
Okay.

Note that this is not the text of the book, but it's so damn close, it's hard to tell. I mean, I was expecting some great masterpiece, but all I got a rough sketch of a story with sporadic punctuation and meaningless dialogue. The most interesting parts of the story - mainly, when the man and boy encounter others - were also the most difficult parts to read, as adding more voices than the narrator, the man, and the boy without any indication of who was speaking made it much too confusing. And even if the story and dialogue had been stronger, I don't think I could have looked past the grammar - why use apostrophes in some places but not others! It's maddening, like McCarthy just simply couldn't be bothered to adhere to any rules.

28whitewavedarling
Aug 14, 2008, 11:07am Top

From what I remember it has to do with negatives/positives. McCarthy uses them with positives, but not with negative contractions--well, either that or it's vice versa. When I read it for the first time it bugged me too, though it's frightening how few of my students notice until it's pointed out to them...

29paghababian
Aug 14, 2008, 12:08pm Top

I tried to figure out what he was doing while I was reading, but I couldn't seem to find any reason... what you said sounds like it might be true, though. Plus, I found myself focusing on the apostrophes and not on the story, so I had to stop doing that ;)

30paghababian
Sep 1, 2008, 10:52pm Top

Wow, I've been reading a ton but haven't posted anything in ages.

46. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld - Alice Blackwell is the First Lady, and she lets it be known quickly that everything in the White House isn't as peachy as it may seem. This novel, based roughly on the life of Laura Bush, follows Alice's life, from a tragic event during high school that shapes the way she looks at things, through work as a school librarian, to the courtship and marriage to Charlie Blackwell.

Like Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep, the narrator's voice is compelling and welcoming. It's hard not to want to listen to what she has to say. The emotions are well-developed, and you can really understand what Alice is feeling throughout the book.

The book is split into 4 sections, corresponding to 4 time periods in Alice's life. My favorite was the second section, where Alice is trying to buy a house and has taken on a big project for her library when she meets Charlie at a party.

47. Unmanned, Y: The Last Man, Volume 1 by Brian Vaughan - A sudden disaster leaves the world man-less... well, except for Yorick Brown and his monkey, who may be the only males left. This is the first of 10 books in this series, and it manages to pull the reader in in almost no time. The post-disaster world is brilliantly developed, and I can't wait to see where this series goes.

48. Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum - Apparently, zombie-related haikus are a thing. I've found tons of them online since I found this book. Zombie Haiku is the journal of a man, kept in haiku form. His life is pretty boring, until he wakes up one morning and things start going wrong. He manages to stay zombie-free for a little while, but the haikus get even better after the narrator is bitten. Definitely good for a laugh.

49. Laika by Nick Abadzi - A heart-wrenching, beautifully-rendered tale about the first dog is space. Although this may seem like an odd choice for a graphic novel, the format makes the story almost more compelling. It offers an interesting look into Soviet Russia and the whole space race.

31paghababian
Oct 12, 2008, 5:00pm Top

50. Best Food Writing 2007 - Eh, it was fine. There were some good articles, but nothing blew me away.

51. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris - A friend gave this to me prior to the start of True Blood on HBO, and I quite enjoyed it. It is very similar to the vein of books I read as a kid, especially Diane Hoh and Richie Tankersley Cusick.

52. Steampunk - As an introduction to the genre of steampunk, this was just ok. I skipped quite a few of the pieces, especially the "wild west" ones, which seem to be a completely different genre to me (although I may be splitting hairs here). I'm anxious to explore the steampunk tag on here, because this collection left me less than enthusiastic.

32d_perlo
Oct 12, 2008, 7:57pm Top

paghababian,

your selections are entertaining to me. I also read laika this year and found it to be a wonderful book, even if it had me crying.

33paghababian
Nov 2, 2008, 9:11am Top

Thanks, d_perlo! Yes, Laika was a tear-jerker and one hell of a graphic novel.

Anyway, I'm getting way behind on this, so I'm just going to put up the names of books and will come back and review when I get a chance...

53. When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale

54. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

55. Shadow of Colossus by T.L. Higley

56. Cycles, Y: The Last Man, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

57. Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

58. Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

59. Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

60. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

61. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

62. One Small Step, Y: The Last Man, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan

63. The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden

34paghababian
Dec 1, 2008, 11:16pm Top

64. Danse Macabre by Stephen King - This look at the horror genre through the mid-20th century is a bit dated now, but it still gives a good background on the history of the genre from an approachable source. But then, King could write about trimming his beard and it would be a good read...

65. Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crecy - First in a series of graphic novels about the Louvre, Glacial Period sets an interesting scene. The world has been covered by ice, and a team of archaeologists are exploring and stumble across the museum. I loved seeing the artwork come to life (quite literally), but overall, this quick read wasn't earth-shattering.

66. Pandora Drive by Tim Waggoner - Worst. Horror. Book. Ever.

67. Safeword, Y: The Last Man, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan

68. Ring of Truth, Y: The Last Man, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan - I'm still loving this series. Vaughan has managed to thoroughly create a frightening world run completely by women. Can't wait to get to the end!

35paghababian
Dec 20, 2008, 8:27pm Top

69. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston - Web hasn't done much other than slack off for the past year or so. When his roommate and best friend gets a little tired of it, though, Web takes a job as a cleaner for a company that cleans up after people's deaths. On one of his first jobs, he hits it off with a client as he's cleaning up her father's suicide. And then the trouble starts. The client's idiotic brother, cowboys who have no problem killing one of their own, rival cleaning teams, a can of almonds, fear of taking the bus, and books full of cash only make the story more interesting.

Huston's style is both funny and emotional, the dialogue is fast and witty, and the tone is overall dark humor. I found myself hurrying through the book to get more of the story, but wanting to go slower to fully take in Huston's Los Angeles and all of the strange characters. Definitely a good read.

70. The Host by Stephenie Meyer - After the disaster that was Breaking Dawn, I was a little hesitant to try Meyer's "adult" novel. But a friend lent this one to me, and I wanted to get it back to her soon, so I finally gave it a try.

And I'm so glad I did. The Host is a powerful and moving story that reads a bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers... from the body snatcher's point of view. Wanderer is a Soul, entering her 9th life, this time on Earth in the body of Melanie. But Mel is still present in her head and makes herself known. Wanderer and Mel go looking for Mel's family, whom she had left behind, and in the process, Wanderer gets more out of her human experience than she ever expected.

Yes, the story was somewhat predictable, and yes, some of the characters were a little stock. But despite all that, Meyer had me caring about Wanderer and Mel and all the others - I felt like a third person in Mel's head, sharing all of their thoughts.

36paghababian
Dec 27, 2008, 11:08pm Top

71. Turning the Tables by Steven Shaw - Shaw, co-founder of eGullet, knows quite a bit about the restaurant world and his book is an interesting look into that world. As a lawyer and later as a writer, Shaw always had an outsider's view of how restaurants work, so this book offers a different perspective than, say, Anthony Bourdain or books by other chefs. There are better books out there about restaurant life, but this was still enjoyable.

72. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris - This short book of short stories is a great way to get into the holiday mood. Sedaris is, as always, hilarious, and if you've ever heard him read aloud, you can practically hear his voice as you read the book. The Santa Land Diaries is probably my favorite story in the book, because it focuses on the absurd world of the department store North Pole. My copy is older and is missing several of the stories that newer editions contain - I might have to upgrade sometime soon.

37paghababian
Jan 1, 2009, 10:57pm Top

Well, this is the end! I barely squeaked in at 75 books this year. Next year should be a little easier, though - I'll only be a student for half the year, so I should have a little more time. I tried to get these posted before the year actually ended, but LT was down.

I'll be back for another 75 next year!

73. Rock on by Dan Kennedy - Kennedy recounts his short time working in the corporate world of rock and roll. I loved his humor and sarcasm, and I'm looking forward to seeing him speak in January.

74. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris - Book 3 in the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series. This was my favorite of the series thus far. I enjoyed Alcide, the Were who helps Sookie out in Mississippi, more than I enjoy Bill (which is weird, because I usually favor the vamps - Team Edward all the way!). I've already started on book 4!

75. All in the Timing by David Ives - I've been reading Ives' plays since high school, when I directed the first play in this collection, Sure Thing. It still remains one of my favorites, but there are a few other gems in this book - The Philadelphia, The Universal Language, Foreplay (or the Art of the Fugue), and Words Words Words.

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