Check out the Pride Celebration Treasure Hunt!
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
  • LibraryThing
  • Book discussions
  • Your LibraryThing
  • Join to start using.

Whitewavedarling's 2013 attempt at the Category Challenge....

2013 Category Challenge

Join LibraryThing to post.

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Edited: Dec 31, 2013, 3:48pm Top

So, I don't think I've done this since 2011, when I ALMOST made it...but didn't quite. Considering that I didn't meet my reading goal of 100 books this past year, I doubt I'll make it to 130, let alone 169 books, but we'll see what happens, and I'm loosely going to aim for ten books in each of thirteen categories. To the aim of seeing what happens, I will allow myself to crosslist books, but I'm going to keep track of how many end up being crosslisted.

I've been trying to set more goals for myself as an attempt to manage a bout of depression that I've been battling for a few months now (it's been recurring since I was a teenager, but this is the longest recurrence in more than a decade), so I'm hoping this will help give me some goals to aim for along the way until I get back to normal. Meanwhile, here are the thirteen categories I've come up with....

A. Fiction by favorite authors who I already love (Completed: 10) (crosslisted: 7)
B. Fantasy/Sci-Fi (Completed: 7) (crosslisted: 3)
C. Crime/Thriller/Suspense (Completed: 8) (crosslisted: 2)
D. Horror (Completed: 7)
E. Short Stories (Completed: 9)
F. YA Literature (Completed: 12) (crosslisted: 5)
G. Fiction unrelated to other categories (Completed: 14)
H. Poetry (Completed: 16)
I. Dissertation Category I: Nonfiction related to medical narratives and/or trauma theory and trauma narratives (Completed: 4) (crosslisted: 1)
J. Dissertation Category II: Reading related to HIV/AIDS (Completed: 9) (crosslisted: 3)
K. Nonfiction dealing with politics and/or war (Completed: 4) (crosslisted: 1)
L. Biographies and/or Memoirs (Completed: 8) (crosslisted: 5)
M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories (Completed: 8)

AND, as of Feb 1rst, I'm adding my own version of an alphabet challenge. I'm curious how eclectic my alphabet is, so I'm going to record here how much of the alphabet I get to in regard to titles And authors....

Alphabet by Author's Last Name...

Alphabet by First Letter of Title (not counting articles)...

Dec 28, 2012, 3:34pm Top

And, as we move into the new year, here's a quick list of the various books I have going right now, which won't be done by the first since I have a fewer other things higher on the priority list at the moment...: Tripwire by Lee Child, Cat Miracles: Inspiring True Stories of Remarkable Felines by Brad Steiger, and What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It Edited by Trish Wood and Bobby Muller

Dec 28, 2012, 3:45pm Top

Sorry to hear about your bouts of depression, but as a fellow sufferer - I think you're on the right track with setting yourself goals. I do the same thing (hence my own categories are pretty strict) and I think it works (that and over-indulging in things I enjoy).

Looking forward to seeing what books you end up reading in each category.

Dec 28, 2012, 4:04pm Top

Thanks, PawsforThought, and I just have to add that I'm incredibly amused that we were apparently jotting each other comments at the same moment!

Dec 28, 2012, 6:28pm Top

There's a lot of flexibility built into this year's challenge so you can easily set yourself up so that you have a challenge that is accessible. I'm always interested in what YA books other members read. Happy reading!

Dec 28, 2012, 6:30pm Top

Twins in spirit!

Dec 28, 2012, 6:54pm Top

mamzel, Thanks! Lately, I have to admit to having discovered Jerry Spinelli--I think I was one of the few at my school to not read Maniac Magee in a class, but when I read it recently, I fell in love, so I've been reading his work. I've also been reading some of Alice Hoffman's work, which I adore, though I can't say that I've been as impressed with her YA work as I have with her adult novels.

Dec 29, 2012, 3:14am Top

Looking forward to seeing how your categories get filled up. Hope it goes well for you.

Dec 29, 2012, 12:40pm Top

Spinelli's Milkweed is one of my all time favorites. On the other hand, the acclaimed Wringer turned my stomach, maybe that was the point. I haven't read much by Hoffman but Green Angel was haunting. I loved the covers of that book, too.

Dec 29, 2012, 1:12pm Top

I've been avoiding Wringer because of some misgivings (whether premonition or left over from schooldays I'm not sure....), but I'll have to pick up Green Angel, which I've got sitting nearby. I've only read her Foretelling, and it wasn't bad....but haunting is always a good recommendation in my mind!

Edited: Jun 20, 2013, 10:01pm Top

A. Fiction by favorite authors who I already love

1. Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman (1/1/2013)
2. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (1/14/2013)
3. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (1/22/2013) (crosslisted with F. YA Lit.)
4. At Risk by Alice Hoffman (2/2/2013)(crosslisted with J. Diss. Category on HIV/AIDS)
5. Mistral's Kiss by Laurell K. Hamilton (2/11/2013) (crosslisted with B. fantasy)
6. Don't Call it Night by Amos Oz (3/30/2013)
7. Indigo by Alice Hoffman (3/30/2013) (crosslisted with F. YA Lit.)
8. Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli (4/20/2013) (crosslisted with F. YA lit.)
9. Forests of the Night by James W. Hall (5/17/2013) (crosslisted with C. suspense/thrillers)
10. Dead Last by James W. Hall (6/20/2013) (crosslisted with C. suspense/thrillers)

Edited: Nov 28, 2013, 2:53pm Top

B. Fantasy/Sci-Fi

1. Green Witch by Alice Hoffman (1/27/2013) (crosslisted in YA literature)
2. Mistral's Kiss by Laurell K. Hamilton (2/11/2013) (crosslisted with fiction by authors I already love)
3. A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton (2/22/2013) (crosslisted with fiction by authors I already love)
4. 666 Park Avenue by Gabriella Pierce (6/6/2013)
5. I am Morgan le Fay by Nancy Springer (8/18/2013)
6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (11/20/2013)
7. The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod (11/27/2013)

Edited: Dec 25, 2013, 2:41pm Top

C. Crime/Thriller/Suspense

1. Tripwire by Lee Child (1/20/2013)
2. Pandora's Daughter by Iris Johansen (3/25/2013)
3. No Second Chance by Harlan Coben (5/1/2013)
4. Forests of the Night by James W. Hall (5/17/2013) (crosslisted with A. fiction by favorite authors)
5. Dead Last by James W. Hall (6/20/2013) (crosslisted with A. fiction by favorite authors)
6. Suspects by William J. Caunitz (6/19/2013)
7. The Whole Truth by David Baldacci (11/25/2013)
8. Fear Itself by Jonathan Nasaw (12/21/2013)

Edited: Dec 31, 2013, 3:49pm Top

D. Horror

1. The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom (2/1/2013)
2. Under the Dome by Stephen King (8/28/2013)
3. Ritual by Mo Hayder (9/25/2013)
4. for lack of a more sensible place to put it... X-Rated Bloodsuckers by Mario Acevedo (12/23/2013)
5. again, for lack of a more sensible place to put it... Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille (12/26/2013)
6. Christine by Stephen King (12/28/2013)
7. The Omen by David Seltzer (12/31/2013)

Edited: Dec 11, 2013, 11:38am Top

F. YA Literature

1. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli (1/22/2013) (crosslisted with A. works by authors I already love)
2. Green Witch by Alice Hoffman (1/27/2013) (crosslisted with sci-fi/fantasy)
3. Knots in My Yo-yo String by Jerry Spinelli (1/28/2013) (crosslisted with L. biographies and memoirs)
4. Indigo by Alice Hoffman (3/30/2013) (crosslisted with A. works by authors I already love)
5. Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli (4/20/2013) (crosslisted with A. works by authors I already love)
6. Twenty 10-Minute Plays for Teens Volume I by Kristen Dabrowski (6/3/2013)
7. The Ultimate Scene Study Series for Teens 2: 55 Short Scenes by Debbie Lamedman (6/4/2013)
8. The Ultimate Audition Book for Teens Volume XI: 111 One-Minute Monologues by Type by Kristen Dabrowski (6/5/2013)
9. The Nuttiest Wackiest Funniest Skits Ever by Stanley Snickelfoose (6/10/2013)
10. Ten-Minute Comedy Plays for Kids 7-10 by Kristen Dabrowski (6/21/2013)
11. Crash by Jerry Spinelli (8/24/2013)
12. Incantation by Alice Hoffman (12/11/2013)

Edited: Dec 30, 2013, 4:35am Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories

1. Blue Eyes, Black Hair by Marguerite Duras (1/8/2013)
2. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach (1/27/2013)
3. Waterland by Graham Swift (5/19/2013)
4. A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones (6/9/2013)
5. The Dragon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace (6/9/2013)
6. (for lack of anywhere else to fit this...) All in the Timing by David Ives (6/16/2013)
7. After Lyletown by K.C. Frederick (6/17/2013)
8. The Bushwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane (9/10/2013)
9. Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom (10/6/2013)
10. Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston (12/8/2013)
11. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa (10/22/2013)
12. Querelle by Jean Genet (12/17/2013)
13. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris (12/20/13)
14. Seek My Face by John Updike (12/29/13)

Edited: Jun 15, 2013, 7:23pm Top

I. Dissertation Category I: Nonfiction related to medical narratives and/or trauma theory and trauma narratives

1. Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness by Rita Charon (1/28/2013)
2. On Being Ill with Notes from Sick Rooms by Julia Stephen by Virginia Woolf (5/29/2013)
3. A Leg to Stand On by Oliver Sacks (6/14/2013)
4. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature by E. Ann Kaplan (6/14/2013)

Edited: Oct 17, 2013, 6:56pm Top

J. Dissertation Category II: Reading related to HIV/AIDS

1. At Risk by Alice Hoffman (2/2/2013) (crosslisted with works by authors I already love)
2. AIDS at 30 by Victoria Angela Harden (5/20/2013)
3. Surviving the Fall: The Personal Journey of an AIDS Doctor by Peter Selwyn (6/29/2013) (crosslisted with L. Biographies and Memoirs)
4. Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited: AIDS and its Aftermath by Andrew Holleran (8/22/2013)
5. In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic edited by Marie Howe and Michael Klein (8/22/2013)
6. Po-boy Contraband: From Diagnosis Back to Life by Patrice Melnick (8/21/2013)
7. Last Watch of the Night by Paul Monette (9/2/2013)
8. The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer (9/13/2013)
9. Dorian: An Imitation by Will Self (10/17/2013)

Edited: Oct 24, 2013, 7:56pm Top

K. Nonfiction dealing with politics and/or war

1. What Was Asked Of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It edited by Trish Wood (1/3/2013)
2. Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe (8/26/2013)
3. Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper (10/12/2013) (crosslisted with L. Biography/Memoir)
4. From Baghdad, With Love by Jay Kopelman (10/23/2013)

Edited: Oct 13, 2013, 4:41pm Top

L. Biographies and/or Memoirs

1. Knots in my Yo-yo String by Jerry Spinelli (1/28/2013) (crosslisted with F. YA literature)
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (2/20/2013)
3. Gather Together In My Name by Maya Angelou (6/2/2013)
4. A Leg to Stand On by Oliver Sacks (6/14/2013)
5. Surviving the Fall: The Personal Journey of an AIDS Doctor by Peter Selwyn (6/29/2013) (crosslisted with Dis. Category #2)
6. Woman of Valor by Lihi Lapid (8/31/2013)
7. Po-boy Contraband: From Diagnosis back to Life by Patrice Melnick (8/21/2013)
8. Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper (10/12/2013) (crosslisted with K. nonfiction re. war/politics)

Dec 30, 2012, 2:59pm Top

Welcome back! Looking forward to seeing what you fill your categories with!

Dec 31, 2012, 1:44am Top

Checking in and looking forward to seeing which books you read for 2013!

Jan 1, 2013, 4:03pm Top

lol; I'm looking forward to seeing what I end up filling everything in with as well--I've got plenty to choose from, but never do well with planning ahead!

Jan 1, 2013, 6:20pm Top

Planning, who does that.... I come up with categories and then a potential list of candidates but when comes right down to it, I don't follow much of a reading list, either! ;-)

Jan 2, 2013, 12:17am Top

Welcome back to the challenge! You've got several categories that interest me, so I'll definitely follow along with your reading for the year.

Jan 2, 2013, 6:26am Top

Popping by to drop a star, and offer my support on your battle against depression. Like Paws, I also have some first hand knowledge of it. A good book might not be a cure, but it certainly doesn't harm.

Jan 2, 2013, 11:19am Top

Hi everyone! And thanks GingerbreadMan--funny enough, it's a lot easier to be honest about it on here than in my professional life! And yesterday was a really good day--my reading has suffered in recent months from it, and in recent years from my being so busy, and for the first time in ages, I was driven and interested enough to finish a 300+ page book in a single day!

So, without delay...

A (books by authors I already love...) #1: Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman

Beautifully written, this novel is about a collision of past and present, with the one woman in the center of the novel having been stuck between them for some twenty years, not moving in either direction...until now. Her drama encompasses that of the lives of her daughter and others, and Hoffman paints full portraits of the unique individuals at the center of the novel, bringing a unique flavor to what might otherwise be a more straightforwrad drama. Her incorporations of animals and of landscape are also flawless, making a small town come to more realistic breath than in many other works that specialize more in the small town's charicature.

Simply, the work is one which makes you forget you're reading a novel--at times, the heartbreak and humor here are far too real, and the characters far too sympathetic. Highly recommended for any readers of drama. While this book doesn't veer into the moments of magical realism that bring together my favorite Hoffman works, this will remain one of my favorites of her work, and is the first 300 page book in agest that I've read in a single day.

Edited: Jan 2, 2013, 12:34pm Top

whitewavedarling thank you for your suggestions on my challenge thread, but even more, thank you for setting up such great categories on your own! I'm starring your thread because I'm looking forward to seeing what you read in a number of your categories. I've got the late stage of a chronic disease myself (so sorry to hear about your struggle with depression) so I've got a fascination with medical narratives. I also want to get into reading more memoirs and biographies this year. I'm hoping to read What Patients Taught Me: A Medical Student's Journey by Audrey Young, Match Day: One Day and One Dramatic Year In The Lives of Three New Doctors by Brian Eule, A Nurse's Story by Tilda Shalof, and A Paramedic's Story: Life, Death and Everything in Between by Steven Kelly Grayson. Not sure if you've read any of those!

Jan 2, 2013, 12:43pm Top

infectiousoptimist--It's great to see you here! I haven't read any of those, but I have the works by both Eule and Grayson on my shelves and waiting! I've seen the others and been interested, but just haven't gotten there yet. My dissertation deals with HIV/AIDS, so much of my medical reading is either in that direction, or, more often, looking more at the sociological/psychological side of illness as of late. Meanwhile, you should definitely look into the memoirs by Michael J. Fox--I almost hesitated to recommend it at the time since it's not what one would generally consider uplifting. BUT, even with dealing with parkinsons, he is such an optimist, and he has so much humor in his works that I really do adore them, especially when I'm having a down day and just want a familiar work to dip in and out of!

Jan 3, 2013, 12:25am Top

Currently trying to convince myself to get off the computer for the night but wanted to stop and comment that Here on Earth sounds like something I would like to read, based on your review. I haven't read any Hoffman yet but hope to soon.

..... and now that I have clicked the link to the book page, I am embarrassed to admit that I didn't know that I already have a copy of this book waiting patiently for my on my TBR Bookcase. Since it caught my attention enough to want to buy it in the first place and now to make me stop on your thread to comment on the review you have posted about it, I think I need to consider reading this one sooner rather than later.

Nice review!

Jan 3, 2013, 5:22pm Top

lol--I'm glad you enjoyed the review! And, I'm glad you've got the book waiting--isn't it nice to find that a book is already there in your home and isn't yet another item for the ever-growing wishlist?!? Let me know what you think of it, when you do get there :)

Jan 3, 2013, 5:25pm Top

K (nonfiction dealing with politics and/or war) #1. What Was Asked Of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It by Trish Wood

Not something I'd ever recommend reading all at once, but if you're interested, something which is absolutely making your way through, piece by piece. Highly recommended.

Full Review as posted to the book page:

For readers wanting a powerful look into the minds of the average soldiers who found themselves enmeshed in the Iraq War, I'm not sure there's a better work out there. This collection doesn't attempt to give a full history lesson or background, but it succeeds at giving a broad and varied view to the minds of soldiers--from the foot soldiers to the snipers to the clergy and the medics and the officers on the ground. Rather than get wrapped up in policy or protest, the various voices amount to an unbiased collection of ideas, with no single writer's section lasting more than 15 pages or so, and many inclusions being only 2-4 pages. As the many represented soldiers report their experiences, and in some cases how they ended up signing up for military service, readers are confronted with every side of the Iraq War and the issues wrapped up therein, each presented by the single powerful remembrance of someone directly engaged by the war.

All of that said, this isn't a book you'll want to sit down and read in one sitting. Some of the sections are repetitive, simply because of the nature of the work (though, not as many as you might expect because such an effort has been made to include varied voices who took part in the war at different times and in different roles). And, many of the sections present horrifying material that will make you, very simply, need a break from the remembrances included. But, the work as a whole is necessary and powerful, and absolutely worth reading. Even if you've read a great deal about the war, and stayed engaged with the news as it was being fought, this book will present you with new sides of the stories at hand. And, I would say, the fact that the work as a whole leans neither toward the left or the right is part of what makes the work so worthwhile.

Absolutely recommended.

Jan 7, 2013, 10:53pm Top

Hi! Just checking out your thread and categories. I'm interested in seeing what medical narratives and HIV related books you might read. The first couple of years after becoming a nurse I used to read medical and nursing nonfiction but found I needed to use my non- work reading time to de-stress from work. Those types of books were not helping. These days I'm not even vaguely aware of what titles are out there.
What is the topic of your dissertation?
I second the rec for Green Angel. I'm planning to read the sequel..some day.

Jan 8, 2013, 12:30pm Top

Hey Violet--I'd actually have to be in my office to give you the titles (I can do that later today if you like), but the books directly related to HIV/AIDS are all a few years old, and primarily focused on talking about the place of HIV/AIDS in society moreso than personal narratives or the detailed science of the virus. I'm also looking at books and narratives that deal with the ways in which individuals react to disease, and to that end, trauma theory (which I'm connecting in my dissertation to the experience of having HIV/AIDS). One of the really helpful works I found early on was Illness and Self in Society, and then Trauma and Recovery. I suppose I didn't phrase it all that well for the purposes of the challenge lol, but I just wanted a few catch-all categories for my dissertation. I'll be in my office later today, though, and drop in some of the titles here while I'm there... For right now, what's immediately at hand is the material I'm working on with Alice Hoffman's work, and Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative. I think I may have phrased it so broadly also because my interest is broad--before I began this train of direction, I was reading a lot of work about and memoirs from NGO workers (such as Emergency Sex and Little Princes).

Meanwhile, the dissertation itself is on the place and treatment of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American literature. Originally, I was working with African literature also, but finally determined it would lead to too broad a dissertation topic that wouldn't necessarily leave me in good shape for the eventual job market I'll face. My interest is in the socio-political work of literature, so I'm especially interested in authors that have attempted to deal with HIV/AIDS irregardless of the stereotypes that they then have to combat and deal with in their work, and in authors that have really given depth to the individual challenges associated with HIV/AIDS as opposed to other illnesses; and, also, in the educational and sociological work that the literature does in regard to its readership, especially as related to the works that are read by folks who wouldn't otherwise be looking specifically for material on HIV/AIDS, or might even be scared off from it if given the choice.

Certainly, though, none of this is de-stressing work. If you have any title suggestions, though, I'd love to hear them, and I'll get some of those other titles in here later on today!

Edited: Jan 8, 2013, 7:10pm Top

M (Nonfiction unrelated to other categories...) #1 Cat Miracles: Inspiring True Tales of Remarkable Felines edited by Brad Steiger

And, the above post is probably why I've had this sitting near my bedside for off-moments in between work reading....

There's a full review written, meanwhile, but suffice it to say here that it is exactly what you would expect. The book is filled with tales of unique felines, each account taking up 2-4 pages in sweet and engaging anecdotes as related from their owners to Steiger. My only complaint...even though I know it would have raised the cost of the book, I would have loved some pictures of the respective cats. Regardless, though, it was a sweet and heartwarming work that never failed to make me ever more thankful for my own cats (one of the two of them, admittedly, already on my lap when I was reading in many cases).

Jan 8, 2013, 7:10pm Top

G (Fiction unrelated to other categories) #1 Blue Eyes, Black Hair Marguerite Duras

This was a stressful day of dealing with electricians and repairment, and a cold house with no heat. I picked this up on a whim because of the large print that I could read without extra light, and my lack of energy for my other current reads. What a calm and wonderful surprise.

Full Review:
As unassuming as it is surprising, this is a book about the quietly obsessive love of two individuals who've both become enamoured with the same nearly untouchable and idealized man. What sounds as if it would be torrid or silly or frustrating, though, at the very least, becomes utterly beautiful in the writing of Duras. The graceful passages of the novel, or novella, I suppose, are so simple and honest that the relationship of the man and woman at the heart of the novel is delivered in a manner that nearly comes across as innocent. Though, this is also tinged with a constant erotic pressure so that innocent feelings are tuned also toward undoubtedly adult sense and material.

If all of this sounds jumbled, it may be because the book itself is something of a beautiful puzzle, built for readers to slip through in a single reading. Duras' language and tone are perfectly set, and the interjections on artistry and acting, as if the entire novel is being read and performed on a private stage, add a level of alien maturity that is nearly indescribable when combined with the simply related relationship at the center of the work.

In the end, this is one of those short works that is both clear in its first communication, and yet demaning of a re-read. It is artful, smart, and perfectly tuned for a quiet read and meditation on relationships, love, and what binds one individual to the next for better or worse.

Absolutely recommended.

Jan 11, 2013, 12:51pm Top

H (Poetry) #1 Caught in the Quiet by Rod McKuen

A quick and easy collection of poetry...but not one I'd recommend, unfortunately.

Full Review:
This collection, which is essentially a single poetic sequence and love poem, has some lovely moments. But, for the most part, I found it far too simple and one-dimensional to really enjoy it or want to come back to it. Incredibly minimalist, the poems come together to attempt a love story that is individual, but can be read universally, and the result is a sequence that just doesn't carry much power. Simply, I'm afraid this isn't something I'd ever consider recommending; there just wasn't any unique flavor or power to it, and while it was a quick and easy read, it wasn't anything more at very many moments at all.

Jan 11, 2013, 1:00pm Top

thatnks for taking the hit on that one - not adding it to my WL :-)

Jan 11, 2013, 5:13pm Top

>39 whitewavedarling: I've liked everything I've read by Duras. Not something I'm always in the mood for, but always well worth it.

Jan 12, 2013, 4:18pm Top

Hi guys--and yes, I'll be avoiding more McKuen, and searching out more Duras!

Meanwhile, what might have been my first foray into Uruguayan literature, and what was definitely an overdue re-adventure into the jungles of South America and adventure stories....

E (Short Stories) #1 The Exiles and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga

Primarily set in Argentina and the jungles of the Misiones territory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these are tales of adventure, danger, and the pioneering men of the jungle and times. While some of the stories are comparable to the best adventure stories I've come across, and others are very nearly more along the lines of character sketches of curious characters, the book as a whole paints a vivid illustration of an unpredictable jungle, and the visions within.

Writing-wise, Quiroga's work is comparable to Joseph Conrad, and while it feels somewhat dated at times, that doesn't make it any less enjoyable in the reading. (The introduction and another review also compare him to Jack London and Rudyard Kipling, but I'm not so familiar with their work as to feel safe vouching for that comparison!) Similarly, anyone who reads the book as a whole might also be reminded of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio--bit characters in one story turn out to have larger roles in other stories, and reading the book through as a whole makes for an inter-winding collection that, I think, is stronger and more fluid for the connections (though, without a doubt, the stories generally stand on their own).

In the end, there's no doubt that some of the stories are far more powerful than others, with a few of the clear stand-outs being "Beasts in Collusion", "The Charcoal-Makers", "The Wilderness", and "The Forerunners", all of which are alive with suspense, and truly wonderful depictions of the adventures and horrors of the jungle. (That said, be warned--there are a few horrific moments tied up in these stories, especially "Beasts in Collusion", which horrified me even as I couldn't put it down...) Granted, other stories aren't so powerful here, but the ones I noted above made the full work well worth discovering.

In the end, if you're a fan of jungle or adventure stories similar to the work of Jack London or Joseph Conrad, or if you're in the market for some entertaining short stories which are full of atmosphere and wonderful characters, I'd absolutely recommend this collection.

Jan 14, 2013, 8:42pm Top

And, I finally finished this one....what a read. Not at all what I expected from a Hoffman work, but in the end, I found it much more worthwhile than I expected to at various points within the work.

A (fiction by authors I already love) #2 The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Full Review:
In her Acknowledgements, Hoffman writes that "The Dovekeepers is a novel set during and after the fall of Jerusalem (70 C.E.). The book covers a period of four years as the Romans waged war against the Jewish stronghold of Masada, claimed by a group of nine hundred rebels and their families. The story is taken from the historian Josephus, who has written the only account of the siege, in which he reported that two women and five children survived the massacre on the night when the Jews committed mass suicide rather than submit to the Roman Legion. It was they who told the story to the Romans, and, therefore, to the world." I believe that this base of the story--this heart, really--is both the greatest strength and the greatest downfall of Hoffman's work in this ambitious story.

Those familiar with Hoffman's work will recognize her style, albeit writ large: the book has multiple narrators of various ages and experiences, beset by various challenges. The first difference here, though, is that each voice tells a single large chunk of the story, rather than her more usual practice of cycling between the voices regularly, letting no voice ever really attain full control of the story. In The Dovekeepers, this becomes a problem. While the story covers so much ground and material that jumping between the voices would likely be both jarring and overwhelming for a reader, particularly when the voices aren't always known to one another, the practice of giving each voice a single continuous chunk of the narrative means that readers repeatedly fall into a single voice and get interested in that trajectory, only to be yanked away to another character's genesis and journey. For me, personally, this meant that I had to continually re-enter the novel, and continually gain back an interest that was in full swing until the sudden switch. In the end, I'm not sure the work could have been successfully written any other way and still remain in first person...but then, I also think it might have been the primary fault in the novel, for this reader at least.

Stylistically, the scope also became problematic. The story that Hoffman relates in the acknowledgements, and the history behind the novel, is both loaded and far-reaching. Simply, I have to think that the novel just attempted to cover too much ground, and that what's written/attempted here might have been better suited to a full series of works.

In the end, I'm glad to have read this work, and Alice Hoffman's writing is so gorgeous, as always, that I was never really tempted to forego finishing the book. At the same time, it didn't hold me in the way that her novels usually do, and I didn't feel the same attachment to any character--let alone all of them--as I've come to expect from her narratives. I appreciate the story, and the narrative, and the history, and the incredible amount of research which must have gone into this work. And, I can easily see why critics have been calling this her masterpiece. Still, it is so unlike her other work, and I can only finish my experience with the work by saying that I'm glad to have read it, and gone on the journey, even though I likely won't return. Still, for any reader of Hoffman, or any reader interested in related ancient history, this is absolutely worth looking into, albeit with the acknowledgement that it is not a particularly easy or fast read.

Jan 15, 2013, 2:12pm Top

I had a copy of The Dovekeepers, but ended up giving it away. I was hoping for a story of Masada, but was told that was mostly periphery, but I have been wondering if I should have given it a try after all. Now that I hear about how the narrative is paced, I'm absolutely sure that giving it away was the right decision. Thanks!

Jan 15, 2013, 2:21pm Top

You're welcome, Eva! That was probably the right inclination, though I will say that there was a great deal of material about daily life and the practicing of religion if either of those were in your sights. Meanwhile, you might have them, but just in case, Hoffman lists the following books for further reading...I can't say anything about any of the books, since I haven't looked them up myself, but just in case they're of interest: The Jewish War by Josephus, Masada by Yigal Yadin, Ancient Jewish Magic by Gideon Bohak, Magic in Ancient Egypt by Geraldine Pinch, Every Living Thing, Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel by Oded Borowski, and Daily Life in Biblical Times by Oded Borowski.

You know, for that matter, you might also consider just reading the last two main sections of the book (not the last minor one called "Alexandria"), which is really where all of the material about Masada comes up, and where I believe a lot of her research came in...

Jan 15, 2013, 2:29pm Top

That's a great list - thanks!!!

Jan 17, 2013, 1:36pm Top

H (Poetry) #2 Please Take Photographs by Sindiwe Magona

9. Please Take Photographs by Sindiwe Magona

I love Magona's fiction, and I love reading poetry, so I was really looking forward to this work. Unfortunately, the standard set by Magona's fiction is far too high for her poetry to even begin to measure up to.

Full Review:
While Magona's fiction has a poetic tone, and unquestionable originality, I have to admit that I found both these qualities lacking in her poetry. Many of the poems came across as short socio-politically themed speeches or monologues, with little poetry in the language or the direct expression, aside from the line breaks. While there were some few moments that struck me, much of the poetry came across as overly didactic or melodramatic, leaving all of the wrong elements to the imagination. Her fiction is so concrete as to paint wonderful illustrations of the most beautiful and horrible scenes alike, but this same level of detail was nearly entirely absent from the poetry. I hate to say it, but much of the poetry actually came across as somewhat amateurish, and was a huge disappointment.

Certainly, the poems clearly paint issues and express emotion about situations and events which should be seen and more widely discussed, so the work here is necessary in many ways, as literature may be the best way to educate the world about socio-political issues and problems that readers aren't personally familiar with. BUT, the problem here is that the poetry comes across as too simple, and as too much in that educational vein, to really reach readers on an emotional level (in most cases).

In the end, I would absolutely recommend Magona's work, but I would recommend her prose first. There are some few poems here which stand out beautifully as poems that should be read and shared, but they are so few and far between that, admittedly, I have to hesitate before recommending this particular example of her work.

Jan 17, 2013, 5:39pm Top

>48 whitewavedarling: Interesting! I had a similar reaction when I first encountered Harold Pinter's sluggish over-stated anti-war poetry. I was baffled how someone so great at creating ambience and eerieness in his plays could fall so incredibly flat in another format.

Jan 17, 2013, 7:55pm Top

Oh dear....well, thank you for warning me. His poetry wasn't quite as high on my sights, but I have been planning on getting to it. It may have to do with such imperative emotions as anti-war, pro-rights, etc. I always warn my writing students that it takes more self-knowledge and real thought to be able to write well about something you're incredibly close to, as opposed to something you "simply" care about, but I don't usually translate that idea to poetry... ??? Although, as much poetry as I write, I suppose there are parts of my past which I keep a ten mile distance from my writing, even in a fictional aspect. Hmmm. Something to consider and be wary of when I'm crossing genres to see the poetry of a favorite writer, I suppose....

Jan 18, 2013, 11:46am Top

Interesting dissertation topic. I'm really interested in seeing what books you'll read in your HIV/AIDS related fiction category. I've been avoiding leisure time reading that might be considered work related for so many years I only have one book to recommend in this area. ( checking my LT library I see that I have only three titles tagged "medical', all of which were book club reads) A Life in Medicine: A Literary Anthology edited by Rand Testa is a book of essays and short stories by doctors, nurses, patients and their families. Many are trauma related. I can't recall any stories that are HIV/AIDS related in this book.
Oh, Rod McKuen. In Jr high school (mid 1970s) I used to read a lot of McKuen. He was a real big deal in poetry at this time. I esp liked his book Listen to the Warm. By high school I realized he was more of a popular poet than a good poet. There was a book of poems by students that was published at this time - McKuen was involved in the selection process - that was fantastic. I wish I could remember the title because I'd love to own a copy of that book.
Note to self: avoid the poetry of Magona and Pinter.

Jan 19, 2013, 11:07am Top

Thanks for the title--I've already made note of it! I looked up Rod McKuen as an editor, and came up with two titles: ...as many as oak leaves...Poets in Oakland and I Dream Things That Never Were...And Say Why Not. Neither shows up here on LT, but both show up on Amazon...? If you ever do discover the title, one of these or not, I'll be very curious to hear it!

Meanwhile, the fiction in my dissertation (a lot of which I'll be rereading) is A Day in San Francisco, At Risk, Halfway Home, Acqua Calda, Miracle Cure, and What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day--all types of novels, which will make for a lot of work, but something that won't allow me to get bored! And, of course, all are highly recommended! The fiction that was related (and which I'd recommend!), but didn't make it into the project for one reason or another, included Above the Thunder, Beauty's Gift, the title novella/story in The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and Plays Well With Others.

If you want works that are a little bit lighter, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day and Plays Well With Others are both hilarious. Miracle Cure isn't light, but it is more of a typical thriller/suspense novel as you'd normally get from someone like Lee Child, Jonathan Kellerman, etc., so that's a different type of toe into the subject entirely. Above the Thunder isn't light, but it also isn't as focused in on the experience of HIV/AIDS as the others, which is why I really haven't focused in on it at all in my studies.

I read tons of other related works, but a lot of them were either just not all that well written, or incredibly similar to most of what else has been written, many of them from small independent presses that pretty obviously published the work based on the subject/idea, and not on the quality of thought or execution. And, some of the books "recommended" above ended up not being in my project (from the beginning) because the weren't American works, which I ended up focusing down to. The one work not noted above is another really worthwhile African work called Waste Not Your Tears, but it's incredibly hard to find at this point.

Jan 19, 2013, 11:10am Top

Oh, and of course, there's other related fiction which I haven't read yet, much of which I hope to get to this year, so that will be coming eventually! It's really nice to hear of someone's interest in the topic, especially since I'm normally around folks interested in work from the 1930s or earlier unless I'm at a conference. And, not that I have anything against all the early works, many of which I love, but I'm doing the dissertation for for a reason!

Edited: Jan 20, 2013, 7:43pm Top

C. (Crime/Thriller/Suspense) #1 Tripwire by Lee Child

One of the Jack Reacher novels, this is a fast-paced and well-written page-turner, full of both tension and humor. The characters are as interesting as they are believable--frighteningly so--and I can't imagine a fan of suspense novels not enjoying this. There are also some elements of mystery here, and drama, to the extent that it turns out to be a complex novel worth the time. On a separate note, there are some scenes of extreme violence, written graphically and originally enough that they might get to readers who otherwise pass through suspense novels without much thought to it.

The one drawback to this work is that, because there is so much packed in, it ends up being a long work. And, admittedly, my interest flagged a bit toward the middle. But, considering that the first two hundred pages were incredibly compelling reading, and that the last two hundred pages (of a 558 page book) were the same, I really can't complain.

Overall, this was a everything I want in a suspense novel, if not more, and there's no doubt I'll be picking up more Jack Reacher novels.

Jan 22, 2013, 10:20am Top

D. (Short Stories) #2 A Haunted House and Other Stories by Virginia Woolf

Admittedly, I never would have read this if an editor I'm working with hadn't recommended the title story. And, while I didn't enjoy much of it, that title story and a few others which were reminiscent of Henry James made it well worth the wandering through. (Those short stories I'd actually recommend are few, but they are listed in the full review, pasted just below.)

Full Review:

I should admit: I've never particularly cared for Woolf's writing. And, truthfully and likewise, much of this work didn't impress me at all--simply, I was bored and only reading to read. But, the first story made me take notice enough that I was determined to finish the work, and in the end I'm glad I did. The first story, "A Haunted House", is a short story that carries all of the ambiguity for which we love haunted house stories such as Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House. And, as I got further into the collection, there were other stories which I really found marvelous, envisioned and written in the vein of Henry James.

I believe that, in many cases, it's Woolf's characters that have ruined her works for me. I generally find them to be either conceited or boring, and so their quiet stories leave me numb to any interest in her work. And, truthfully, I felt the same about many of the stories here. The saving graces, though, which I would recommend to any reader who'll enjoy that well-done, graceful, and tantalizing short story they come across, include: "A Haunted House", "Lappin and Lapinova", "Solid Objects", and "The Lady in the Looking-Glass". I've no doubt that I'll be repeatedly revisiting and rereading these four stories, and finding them was more than worth the journey I undertook through the full collection.

Jan 23, 2013, 3:56am Top

Crosslisted as my #1 in YA Literature and my #3 in works by authors I already love...

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Centered on the life of a young Jewish orphan in Warsaw, beginning in the summer of 1939, this masterpiece of historical fiction is as powerful and heartbreaking as it is humorous and sweet. The book is about past and about identity, from the eyes of a young boy who begins with neither, and with only his ability to run. As he grows into a youth who is both a hero and a troublemaker, happening onto friends and make-shift families along the way, readers are exposed to a narrative that cannot be put down or turned from. Simply, this is one of those necessary and beautiful books that will always be read and passed on from one reader to another--at least, I certainly hope it will.

I admit, my only hesitation here is with the ending, from which I wanted more...or even perhaps less. But then, looking back, the book was so striking that I don't know that any ending could have done the full whole justice. Perhaps, really, I just wanted it to keep going.

Strongly recommended.

Jan 23, 2013, 2:58pm Top

I also loved this book. I found it so surprising that one could grow up not knowing his/her name.

Jan 23, 2013, 5:19pm Top

I loved the way threads about names came together throughout the book; at first, it was just a humorous sidebar, and then Spinelli weaved it into so much more. I haven't read anything by him that I haven't liked yet, but this is my favorite I think.

Jan 26, 2013, 9:32am Top

Well, just in case anyone is on blogspot, or enjoys blogs, I thought I'd post here that I've just started a blog at http://www.whatimaginationlookslike.blogspot.com/ I don't know what's gotten into me, or how often I'll post, or how often I'll talk about books, but the blog itself is about imagination and the imaginary. So, in case you're interested...

Jan 26, 2013, 9:15pm Top

#52/53 - Jennifer, I have to admit that I haven't heard of any of those titles. I've added a bunch of them to my wish list. I really like the sound of the Alice Hoffman book.
Milkweed is my favorite Spinelli book as well.
I'm not a blog reader but I checked out your blog spot. Very nice. Yay for Trixie Belden fans! I love Trixie.
Enjoy Once Upon a Time. The first season is very good.

Jan 27, 2013, 5:23am Top

Thanks, Violet! And, I'm glad the titles are of interest!

Jan 27, 2013, 5:28am Top

G (fiction unrelated to other fiction categories...) #2 Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach

This is one from the 1001 books list, a short and interesting narrative, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I don't think a few days will help! So, for now, the full review stands as is, posted below.... And, while I don't normally post how many stars I give, I will here: 3 stars, which, for me, essentially means that at this point I'm not sorry to have experience it, but then, I'm not sure it really affected me in any way, or that I'm happy to have read it either. A true, and rare, middle-of-the-road read for me.

Full Review:

As much a wandering through philosophical conversation and thought as it is a piece of fiction, the narrative here is a fast and surreal read with a fair amount of humor. At many points, I wanted there to be a bit more drama or depth to it all, but then, it's such a short work that it works as what it is, and the simplicity of it is probably its greatest strength. An interesting idea, in the end, but I'm not sure that I wouldn't have been better off reading it in the context of a philosophy class or discussion group. Probably no something I'd recommend to anyone but folks searching out narratives that integrate or build from philosophy and/or faith and spirituality.

Jan 27, 2013, 3:00pm Top

B (fantasy/sci-fi) #1 Green Witch by Alice Hoffman (crosslisted in YA literature)

As short as it is, this is a surprisingly beautiful view into a young girl's mind as she explores what she is without her family, and who she is as a gardner and a writer...or, perhaps more aptly, a recorder and story-teller. With Hoffman's gift for graceful language and just the right details, this book does more to create its own world than many longer YA books can even begin to boast. In the end, I did want more depth and story...or perhaps just more in general...but the short read really was an engaging and lovely escape, filled with magic and belief. Recommended.

Jan 28, 2013, 5:28am Top

I (Dissertation Category I re. medical narratives, theory, and trauma) #1 Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness by Rita Charon

Full Review:

Narrative medicine is the practice of incorporating an understanding of narrative into one's medical work and/or training, and also encapsulates the practice of training workers in medicine to incorporate an understanding of narrative into their work, as well as the study of how narrative can work to enrich and clarify one's experience as a patient or any professional working with ill individuals on any level. This training and enactment is heavy on writing (on the part of doctors, nurses, caregivers, etc.), and heavy on discussion/listening between professionals and patients. Ideally, training in narrative medicine incorporates basic training in close reading and narrative form(s) with medicinal training.

This is an excellent introduction to the discipline and enactment of narrative medicine within medical communities, outlining not only the goals of such ventures, but the eventual benefits and appearance of such a program. Charon goes out of her way to discuss the time element of incorporating narrative medicine into one's practice, and the longterm benefits, arguing that while it might take more time up front with any new patient, the time it eventually saves balances out that extra time. She also gives direct examples of gains and benefits (for patients, doctors, and the communities doctors and other professionals work within), allowing for anecdote to serve her argument as a continuous strength in the work. By describing what training looks like, what writing workshops, responses, and discussions look like, and how quickly benefits can mount for everyone from patients to doctors to medical students and all those surrounding them, Charon's argument makes her points all but irrefutable.

The one significant weakness is the fact that Charon's outlook is, undeniably, idealistic. While she briefly discusses the element of time, one gets the feeling that her discussion is so entrenched in her experience within a private practice that her points are less universally workable than she implies, at least until health professionals are less over-extended. And, while she also points out that some of her patients who take up so much of her extra time are the exceptions, and therefor worth the mentioning, she really fails to discuss how one can determine how much time a patient really requires in terms of narrative listening. Certainly, I'm willing to believe that this often takes care of itself because the patient does, as she says, reach a point where they've nothing left they feel the need to say. But, I also know very well that some folks would never stop speaking if given free rein, and that potentiality needs addressing.

Also connected to time is willingness. Charon makes the briefest of references to two doctors who worked with one of her relatives, and were uninterested in the benefits of listening to or understanding her cousin's (their patient's) narrative. And, this brings up the very real question: what about doctors and/or workers who are satisfied with their current level of relationships and understanding when it comes to patients and colleagues? What about those individuals who aren't interested in what benefits might be gained from narrative medicine? Whether Charon is suggesting that this training be compulsory or elective is unclear, but since she suggests that all institutions and professionals would benefit from such training and understanding, the question has to be addressed. Also, is this training to come from the medical school or the place one begins one's career? Finally, I also believe that some questions of legality and privacy are either overlooked or oversimplified. All of this leads me to the conclusion that, while this work does undoubtedly serve as an excellent introduction to the field and study and necessity of narrative medicine, I'm not sure whether it can in itself provide the full training and outline for such a program.

Charon's work here is an excellent introduction to narrative medicine, accessable to average readers (like myself) as well as those familiar with medicinal and hospital-based practices. And, truthfully, I think it probably ought to be required reading for doctors, and perhaps nurses, if they haven't received other similar training in person. True, for anyone, there are going to be some sections which give more information than necessary (medicinally related for folks like me, narrative related for folks without a degree in English or composition), but the full book is well-balanced and engaging enough throughout that this downfall occurrs far more irregularly than I might have guessed. I'd also say that this might be worth perusing for individuals with close family members dealing with a serious illness or elsewise entrenched in regular doctor/hospital visits, BUT, I only hesitate from making this step because I worry that the world and doctors pictured in the book might do more harm than good if the professionals those individuals are actually engaged with don't quite live up to expectations set forth in the book. Still, there is no doubt in my mind that health professionals should read the work, and perhaps many literature professors as well to remind us of the non-academic benefits of understanding narrative and literature more fully.

On a last note, I have one final doubt that does go entirely unaddressed, though I'm not sure Charon would see it as valid. As someone who has an unfortunate and impractical fear of hospitals, and doctors to a lesser extent, I simply can't imagine dealing with the situations health professionals face on a daily basis. I wouldn't be able to do it, facing illness and death every day. Charon suggests that each patient and each experience be understood more deeply, many of them reflected on at length so that the doctor can understand his or her patient's position. As a potential patient, I understand the innumerable benefits of this relationship. On the other hand, even from this vantage point, I can imagine how emotionally exhausting it would be for doctors. I can only relate my doubt to what can occur in method actors, who use their own memories and emotions to feed each of their character's developments. More often than not, if we look back to the amazing artists who've ended up self-destructing (from James Dean to Heath Ledger and too many others to count), they used a form of method acting to create and then become enmeshed in their characters, working more from emotion than academic study. I have to wonder whether a similar burn-out could endanger a healthcare worker who attempts to put himself in the place of dying or suffering patients on a daily basis. Perhaps this is an overdramatic comparison, but I have to wonder whether or not the lack of distance that Charon argues for is as much a danger for professionals as it is a boon for patients.

Regardless, Charon's work provides a strong and indepth view of a revolution that is being fought for in a significant number of health care institutions and departments,and, at the very least, sets up discussions that should equally engage doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers, and anyone else involved in caring for individuals facing sicknes, disease, or new disabilities.

Recommended to all those with any interest in the subject or in contemporary healthcare.

Jan 30, 2013, 4:04am Top

L (biographies, autobiographies, memoirs) #1: Knots in my Yo-Yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid by Jerry Spinelli

Compared to Spinelli's fiction, this is fairly tame (and somewhat uneven), but it does have its moments. Looking back to his entire childhood, and briefly to the present, Spinelli's self-proclaimed "Autobiography of a Kid" is at its best in the first seventy-five pages and then at the end. There, you see the child who grew into the adult, and the adult, and all of the humor and quirks that made him into the writer he became. In the in between section, at times, it feels almost more like a report or a straight piece of nonfiction (though, for folks interested in sports, this not be so much the case). Thus, as an autobiography, it comes across as somewhat uneven since nearly all of the humor we know Spinelli for comes in the very end, or the first 75 pages or so (of a 150 page book). Of course, it's also built for young readers, which may too far simplify an autobiography for an adult's taste. However, in the end, I'm still glad to have read it, and I'd certainly recommend it to other readers who already love Spinelli's work. They're sure to recommend little bits and pieces of his life as they ended up slipping into his fiction, which was nearly my favorite part of the whole reading experience...the second being how he answered a child's question, in the end of the book, that being "Do think being a kid helped you to become a writer?" At the very least, this question in mind, writerly readers might enjoy reading the very last chapter of the book whether they know Spinelli's work or not. Come to think of it, I may just reread that chapter now.

Simply? Recommended for all those interested.

Feb 1, 2013, 9:37am Top

And, as a curiosity, I've added the following to my first/organizational post on this thread; I'll keep track from here on out and see what happens, but I don't think I'll choose books with these alphabets in mind...at least not until November or so!

AND, as of Feb 1rst, I'm adding my own version of an alphabet challenge. I'm curious how eclectic my alphabet is, so I'm going to record here how much of the alphabet I get to in regard to titles And authors....

Alphabet by Author's Last Name...

Alphabet by First Letter of Title (not counting articles)...

Feb 1, 2013, 12:23pm Top

D (Horror) #1: The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

This is one of those rare horror stories where each ambiguity builds both suspense and plot clarity, and where there are no heroes. Ransom's narrative is a slow-boiling horror novel that begins in a nearly pedestrian manner, and takes some time going forward, to the extent that one might wonder if it really is a horror novel even 100 pages in. By the end, though, the build-up has come to a point of true horror, both psychological and physical, even grotesque. As tales of haunted houses go, this is an original and interesting work, and a fast read. The pacing is all but perfect, and the characters are frighteningly believable. On the other hand, the narrative is so driven by plot, and so empty of sub-plotting, that I never really got to a point where I cared about the characters and their outcomes. I wasn't sure whether to expect the best or the worst, but it was only my interest in the story that kept me going. Thus, the final moments of suspense and conclusion lacked the power they might have held otherwise.

Certainly, I'd recommend this to folks who want a fast-moving plot-driven tale of atmospheric horror. For readers who enjoy horror driven by character, though, or readers who want to find sympathy and connection with the characters at hand, I'm not sure this is the best choice. Still, it was an interesting tale, and the bones of it may stick with me--it just won't garner a re-read or any true further thought. Maybe a truer test of the tale, though--I would pick up further work by Ransom; perhaps, it could have been shorter or given more depth, but it was both entertaining and well-done.

Feb 2, 2013, 5:50pm Top

And, today, a re-read in preparation for my interview with the author...

J. (Dissertation Category on Readings Related to HIV/AIDS) #1: At Risk by Alice Hoffman

There's a full review written quite some time ago, but here, I'll just say that this is one of the earliest novels to deal with AIDS in a smart and well-written fashion, and the only one I know of to tackle the subject of a child suffering from the disease in a worthwhile manner. This is as heartbreaking and powerful a novel as you might expect, but it is also smart and necessary, with many moments of optimism and beauty. Absolutely worth the time.

Feb 2, 2013, 9:19pm Top

I think I'll avoid The Birthing House. It sounds creepy.
You're going to be interviewing Alice Hoffman??!! Will you get to meet her in person? That's so exciting.

Feb 5, 2013, 6:00am Top

I interviewed her yesterday, via phone :) The plan is that we'll meet in person when I'm in Boston next month, but it will have to be a quick meeting since the conference we're both attending will keep her schedule packed. I'd originally hoped to interview her in person at the conference, but this ended up being the better option. I'm still getting my head straight from yesterday, but it was amazing to talk to her in person. We talked about her writing about illness, and writing about AIDS in At Risk, and the socio-political work that literature does :) I need to transcribe the interview, and then I can share some details :)

Feb 11, 2013, 8:09am Top

B (fantasy/sci-fi) #2: Mistral's Kiss by Laurell K. Hamilton

I don't know of anyone who writes about sex and magic any better than Hamilton in this Meredith Gentry series. This installment moved slightly slower than some of the earlier books in the series, not advancing the narrative so much as exploring relationships and showingcasing some massive conflicts, but it will still be enjoyable for fans of the series. Truthfully, I should add that the early part of the novel had me wondering whether there'd be anything in the book But lovely description and sex, to the extent that I wondered whether I'd ever classify a Hamilton book as verging on porn, or just pornographic....But, I'm glad to say that the second portion of the book moved on in a fashion that left that worry to the earlier sections, focusing instead on magic and character and narrative. All in all, this isn't one of the books that keeps me coming back to Hamilton's work, but I enjoyed it for what it was. And, then again, it is her fascinating characters who keep me returning to her work again and again, so maybe it is all the same. Regardless, I don't think anyone who hasn't read the earlier books would get anything much out of this book, but I still recommend the series to lovers of dark fantasy who don't mind an R-rating (for sex and violence, as is always the case with Hamilton in this series) on their entertainment...

Feb 15, 2013, 5:09pm Top

E (short stories) #3 Best American Short Stories 2003 edited by Walter Mosley

Long ago, I read one of the books in this series; I don't remember which, but it was one from 90s. I read all of the stories, and resolved not to pick up another in the series of collections--for me, the stories were too repetitive in tone, in theme, in character, in every way. Clearly, they were chosen by the same person, and clearly, that person's tastes had been unobjectively followed in choosing favorite stories for the year, and to such an extent that the collection quickly became boring.

All that said, this book was a wonderful and unexpected surprise.

One of my professors assigned us four stories in this book, so most of us bought and kept the collection. And, since I had it, I kept reading... Having finished all of the stories, I can honestly say that this was a beautifully varied and talented anthology. True, I wasn't in love with all of them, but I don't imagine any one reader Should adore all of the stories in a collection like this. To my mind, it should be varied with innumerable tones, themes, and types of story. And, this collection held everything I could have asked, and included many stories I'll come back to.

My favorites from the collection, and the ones I've marked to re-read, include the following: "Coins" by Mona Simpson, "Kavita Through Glass" by Emily Ishem Raboteau, "Moriya" by Dean Paschal (maybe my favorite of all of them), "Ghost Knife" by Sharon Pomerantz, "Every Tongue Shall Confess" by ZZ Packer, "Future Emergencies" by Nicole Krauss, "Devotion" by Adam Haslett, "The Shell Collector" by Anthony Doerr (maybe my second favorite...), and "Johnny Hamburger" by Rand Richards Cooper.

After my experiences, I can't necessarily recommend any of the collections in this series, but in this case, it absolutely held up to the standards and goals advertised by the series, and is absolutely worth the exploration. I honestly believe that there's something for Every reader in this collection.

Highly recommended.

Feb 20, 2013, 11:38am Top

H (Poetry) #3: If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting by Anna Journey

Full of whimsy and beautiful graceful language, this is one of those collections that mixes fantasy and fairy tale with concrete character and situation. While the tone of the collection is somewhat unchanging, and thus not as emotionally charged as I might expect in a really strong poetry collection, the images and thoughts are so enjoyable that that lack of seriousness and emotion isn't such a downfall as I might expect (though it is the one fault of the work, this lack of emotional change and charge).

Something like speculative fiction meeting graceful memoir and fairy tale, this collection is worth wandering through--and probably benefits from a reader who reads it in bits and pieces, coming back for more as the mood strikes rather than reading it through in longer sittings, as I did.

Overall, recommended for poetry readers.

Feb 20, 2013, 1:29pm Top

Looking back, I haven't the faintest what held me off from reading this for so long. What a pleasure it was!

L (Biography/Memoir) #2: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The beginning of her series of memoirs, this is a graceful and fascinating journey that serves as a story in itself, reading just so easily and completely (or nearly so) as a novel, if a slight bit more episodic. As a young girl growing up in stages between a small town and a city, immediate family and extended, Angelou's story is both heartbreaking and humorous at turns, but never melo-dramatic or self-pitying. In fact, a story that might easily have been told as a melo-dramatic affair instead comes across as smart, historically telling, and smoothly literary. Here, Angelou paints the story of her childhood innocence and adventures, and every page is worth exploring.

In conclusion, I have to say that this book is well worth the time for both young readers and adults, and should be entertaining for all. Without a doubt, women readers might relate more easily, but this is one of those few books that I could easily recommend to any reader at all, for varying reasons. I can't say whether the installments of her memoir that don't look back on her childhood will be quite so endearing or wonderful--specifically because the innocence and humor of her childhood are such wonderful hallmarks of this work--but I'll certainly try them.

Absolutely recommended.

Feb 20, 2013, 9:03pm Top

Thanks for dropping by my thread. I'll be dropping by yours now, too!

Nice to find another Laurell K. Hamilton fan in the group. Did you see she posted a couple of chapters from her upcoming book on her blog today? http://www.laurellkhamilton.org/2013/02/my-birthday-your-present/

I love your cat picture. Reminds me of my orange boy.

Feb 21, 2013, 11:27am Top

BookLizard, thanks! I hadn't seen that; I have to admit that I've been somewhat behind on both her series the last few years, though I'm enjoying them again so much that I imagine I'll more than catch up this year! And I do love how many animal lovers there are here on LT--even as I type, I've got my orange RJ (the one in the picture) on one side, and my large snoring hounddog Arthur on the other!

Feb 22, 2013, 4:52pm Top

After Mistral's Kiss, this work might have sat on the tbr shelf for quite a bit longer if not for the "Frosty February" challenge, but I'm glad to say that that challenge drove me to pick it up sooner than later. Such a wonderful wonderful read, which I nearly read in a single sitting (but for one chapter on Wednesday and the last two today). So so so so so good.

B (fantasy/sci-fi) #3: A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton (crosslisted with fiction by authors I already love (A))

This is Hamilton at her absolute best, and so far, I have to say that this is the best book in the Meredith Gentry series.

Full of Hamilton's impeccably drawn characters and graceful description, this installment moves more quickly and with more twists than the more recent books before it, and is virtually impossible to put down. Here, Hamilton's penchant for eroticism is well-balanced by plot and character development, and each chapter builds upon the last to make more progress in the storyline than I'd expected from a single work.

Simply, this book is the reason so many of us love Hamilton. You wouldn't want to read it out of order, or I doubt you'd get much enjoyment from it, but it is without doubt Hamilton at her very best. Maybe my favorite book by her yet.

Recommended for lovers of Hamilton and this series--those who were put off by the extra focus on sex in the last book should move on to this one--they'll be rewarded for their devotion to the series.

Feb 22, 2013, 9:48pm Top

It's been a while since I read the series, but I think this was my favorite from it as well. At first, I resented the Meredith Gentry series because it took Hamilton away from writing the Anita Blake series. But I think this was the book that changed my mind and made me appreciate it for what it is.

Feb 23, 2013, 12:57pm Top

I definitely resented it (for the same reason) the first few books, but I think I started enjoying the characters around book 3. This, though, was without a doubt the first book which I enjoyed just as much as the Anita Blake books!

Mar 1, 2013, 9:32pm Top

#70 - your interview with Alice Hoffman sounds interesting. What conference will you be attending?
I'm adding If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting to my list wish. I'm working on collecting fairy tale related/inspired poetry for a challenge category. It should go well with: Why The House is Made of Gingerbread, Kissing the Witch and The Cape is Red Because I'm Bleeding.
Ever since I checked out the books you mentioned above Amazon keeps recommending AIDS related fiction every time I check in there. Have you read Tell The Wolves I'm Home?

Mar 3, 2013, 5:11am Top

I'm actually attending two different conferences in Boston this month, crazily enough--one is NeMLA, at which I'll be reading some of my poetry and talking about how teaching has influenced my writing, and vice versa. The one where I'll meet up with Alice, though is AWP--I leave this Wednesday, and I can't wait! I went to AWP two years in a row (2006 and 2007, I think, though I'd have to look back to the cities/dates to be sure), and at the time I couldn't imagine not going every year. Of course, then I got more realistic about money, and got married, and went back to school...and so I haven't been back since. For those who don't know, AWP is basically three days of writers talking about their work, others' work, and writing in general, with a massive bookfair, constant gatherings and readings, and a whole lot of drinking (well, for me and a lot of others anyway, though not everyone, of course!). The schedule is packed from 8 AM til midnight (though I'll generally wake up late and stay up later!), so I'll come back exhausted, but I'm so excited about finally getting to attend once again, and with a bit of funding help from my department because of the interview :)

Meanwhile, I'll have to look up those collections--If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting will definitely fit right in. I feel as if there's another book I should be thinking of to add to your list, but it's not coming to me at the moment...I'll let you know if it comes to me, and look up those others you mentioned meanwhile!

I haven't read Tell The Wolves I'm Home just yet---it's on my radar, but it didn't make my original reading list because of it being YA since I just had to make some distinctions along the way, and doing a dissertation that combines YA and Adult lit complicates things in a lot of ways (both in the writing and in the eventual job market) unless you're dealing with a single author's body of work, which I considered at one time (thinking about Michael Ondaatje, who I adore), but ultimately decided against because of the job market and thematic interests. So, I'll get to it one of these days, but haven't quite managed it yet!

Mar 3, 2013, 5:47am Top

Meanwhile, a side note since I'm in the middle of too many books right now, and more occupied with puppy and home matters and travel plans than focused reading...

Looking at everyone's challenges, I decided I wanted to be a lot more creative with my challenge categories next year (yep, regardless of what I said earlier, I've given in and started to plan...)...but, I also wanted to do a challenge that would end up encompassing most of my reading for the year. So, ultimately, I think I'm going to end up working more thematically and randomly than anything, and we'll see how it goes. So far, this is what I'm leaning toward. I'm listing them now because I don't want to keep getting distracted by them, and because, while they might change, I like the ideas I've got so far. All of the thematic or cover categories will pick up fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, so we'll see what happens. I'm hoping that, since many of these are based around covers already in my collection, this will get me through some of those dust-collection sections of my tbr stacks...

1--The Sea
I'm always picking up books based on their associations with oceanography and marine biology, but especially in the last few years, I haven't been making time to read them. This is going to change in 2014.

2--Creatures on the Covers
I can't resist books that have gorgeous or fantastical pictures of animals on the covers, especially cats, big cats, snakes, and wolves.

3--Places? Places
Reading reviews this year, I've realized how rarely I read books that really do justice (or at least attempt to) to their settings. I'm always keeping an eye out for books that take place in Spain for my mom, but I rarely think about the place when it comes to my own reading. This category will be for the books that, expected or not, really work to bring a place to life--whether it be a small town that's as "regular" as one could come, or a famous space like Florence or the Amazon. I won't be worrying about exact and specific and "true" in this category, so much as I'll think about whether the book invokes a true-feeling atmosphere and description.

4--Questions of Justice
I pick up books dealing with the law and social justice, especially as related to the environment. Lately, with my dissertation, I've allowed myself to get away from reading them because so much of my other reading is serious. This is going to change in 2014--I want to get back to reading at least a few per year.

5--Who they Might have Been
I've finally gotten back into reading biographies this year, and I want to make sure to keep doing so. I'm sure this category will focus on nonfiction, But then, memoir is always just a little bit fiction as well...

6--Art and Artists
So much of my life revolves around promoting and creating art, it seems I should be reading a bit more about it...I think?

7--The Creepy Cover
I love horror books, but there are some books floating in my tbr piles which collect dust because their covers regularly scare me off. Silly, perhaps, but true. I either want to be scared or I don't, I think (?), so 2014 will be a year to tackle some of these books (some not even horror!)

8--The Seemingly Mundane
There are books who've found their way to my shelves which I don't read, and haven't read, either because their covers or their summaries draw me to put them back each time I consider them. In some cases, they're books by authors I adore, which is why I ended up having them. In other cases, they were give-aways, gifts, or recommendations.



11--The Body
I'm always drawn to covers that feature bodies without faces, be they shoulders or hands or feet or knees or anything else. Somehow, the faces make them less interesting. I'm fairly sure this is how I discovered the Anita Blake vampire hunter series.... In any case, they're floating all over the place! Of course, I also have books dealing with the body as a subject, and they might end up here as well.

12--Houses and Stairways
I adore haunted houses and I adore starcases. This means that I gravitate toward haunted house books and books that have staircases on the front, or even non-haunted house books that just have fascinating houses (that look a bit haunted, haunted or not) on the covers.

13--The Giveaways
I'm ashamed to say that I'm very behind on both Early Reviewer and Member Giveaway books (behind enough that I've long stopped requesting either). Part of the problem is that the books I've received (and haven't yet read) are all either long or very small print, and that I hit a few in a row that were just bad reads. I'm hoping that this category won't be needed by the time 2014 actually gets here, but just in case I'm wrong, or in case there's an all new stack requiring the category...

14--The Lists
Yes, I've got a doc with the 1001 books and a few other lists (awards and what-not) saved on my computer, and I've bolded the books already waiting for me to read them. I've been reading them slowly, unlike some of these other categories, but I want to make sure I carve out a space for them.

Heavens, I didn't realize I'd been so distracted by all this--I suppose it's good to get it down! Now, back to reading!

Mar 3, 2013, 8:53am Top

That sounds like an excellent theme for next year! Good idea to write it down now while it's still fresh.

Mar 3, 2013, 3:03pm Top

Nice categories! The haunted house and stairways theme sounds like a good one. It made me think of House of Leaves, which I see you've read already. Another haunted house book that I'd enjoyed recently was Andrew Pyper's The Guardians.

Mar 3, 2013, 6:23pm Top

I haven't heard of Pyper's work...I'll mark it down now!

Meanwhile, in case anyone's interested, I've updated photos on my profile page so that you can now see pics of our newest addition, Arthur the English Coonhound mix (and our two cats). All are essentially rescues--RJ, the orange one, who's been on my profile since I joined LT is the closest one to Not being a rescue, but considering that I adopted her from a litter at the house of an ex's mother, who had something like forty cats in a fairly small townhouse....well, I consider her something of a rescue anyway, since it was certainly a situation in which none of the cats got enough attention, even if it wasn't quite on the level of being unhealthy living conditions (though, it was getting there!). Gypsy Gray came from a foster home after being an outdoors cat with a family who had 30-some cats they didn't take care of, and Arthur came from a shelter.

Mar 3, 2013, 6:36pm Top

Awww . . .look at those floppy ears! So adorable.

How do the cats feel about the dog?

I'd consider those rescues. As long as you're not buying them from a breeder or breeding them yourself, if you save them from ending up in a shelter or on the streets, it's a rescue.

Mar 3, 2013, 6:42pm Top

Congratulations on your new addition! Very cute, as are the cats. :)

Mar 3, 2013, 6:57pm Top

Arthur is indeed adorable - congrats on the addition!

Mar 4, 2013, 4:30am Top

Thanks, everyone. He's not quite so new since we'll have had him for four months next week, but he's certainly our baby! And he's perfect with the cats--he was the dog at the shelter who they introduced all new additions (cats and dogs) to in order to see how they'd do with dogs! RJ is a bit more stand-offish of him, but she's older, and more set in her ways. Gypsy Gray has actually been seen curling up against him when he gets upset and starts shivering, and he tries to play with her, though it usually ends in us having to take away her cat toys and put them up high on the cat house before he destroys or eats them! I think she understands how much he needed a home just as much as we do, so while she's not always thrilled about sharing attention, I'm pretty sure she's at the point where she's glad to have him around--he's far more playful than our orange fluffball RJ!

Edited: Mar 4, 2013, 8:08am Top

Hi whitewavedarling, thnks for dropping by my thread. I'm just beginning getting used to the group life, fun but deconcerting at first.

Good idea about stating your next year challenge. It keeps your focus on this year without backgroung nagging. Interesting categories, there are a few that are intriguing. I must confess that I'm plotting mine since January ...

I've found your reviews all very thoughtful. I'll have to check some of these books: Here on Earth seems eerie, Les Yeux Bleus, Cheveux Noirs could be a good first book for Marguerite Duras and Milkweed, well it seems like these books that have a great impact way after you finish reading ...

I'm set to have a short stories category next year, as I've never read from this genre, you hit me with a few BB for this one: The Exiles and Other Stories, A Haunted House and Other Stories and Best American Short Stories 2003 are all welcome on the WL.

Mar 4, 2013, 3:30pm Top

Hi electrice :) Those three you mentioned are all some of my favorites for the year so far--absolutely worth picking up. Meanwhile, I really do love short stories...but I'm afraid this next collection isn't one I'd recommend (though the other reviews on LT are more positive than mine) I'll admit... Actually, in general this year, I haven't had great luck with short stories! Some of my favorites, though, if you want recs., are those by Ben Fountain, Keith Lee Morris, and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans. Some of the stories in the Best American collection I read this year Were great, though.

E (short stories) #4 Werewolves in their Youth by Michael Chabon

In nearly every way, this is an incredibly uneven collection. Like another reviewer, I feel that the first three stories are clearly the strongest in the collection. In fact, after reading the first two, I couldn't believe that I'd allowed myself to wait so long before trying Chabon. I'm afraid, though, that it was downhill from there. In the very end, there was a horror story tacked on, which was interesting...and better than the few before it...but still not great or as good as the first few. For me to look at a collection of around ten stories and only be able to say that three or four were truly worth reading...well, that's not a good sign.

In the first three stories, the plots and sentiments are fast and engaging enough to keep up a certain momentum, but even in those three stories, I never really connected to or cared about any of the characters. For me, this was the problem with the whole collection--I never knew enough about any character, or believed in them enough, to really care. It was as if each story were created from Chabon wondering: "What if a __________________ did ________ or had ______ happen to them?" ie. what if a little boy was considered a friend of the school outcast, but wasn't? What if a woman decided to keep her rapist's child? What if... Now, I'm not saying that that's not a good way/place to start a story. I am saying that a good story requires the writer's imagination to go further than creating an interesting character in an awkward situation, and following that single situation through to a stopping point.

Simply, I'm afraid I grew bored with most of the stories, and with the book as a whole. It felt interesting, but so emotionless as to be unmemorable and easily left to the side. I suppose I'll pick up more of Chabon's work since it's already on my shelf, but this obviously wasn't a good start. Yeah, the stories are well-written...but that's not enough to make great stories or good reading.

Mar 5, 2013, 1:46am Top

Your Arthur is very cute, and Gypsy Gray looks a bit like my old girl :-)

Mar 5, 2013, 4:22am Top

Thanks whitewavedarling for the recs. They are now officially in the 2013 BB folder :)

I'll pass on the Chabon one then.

Mar 5, 2013, 4:44am Top

And, now that I've finally figured how to post pictures of our puppy, here he is :)

Mar 5, 2013, 12:50pm Top

We had a Golden Retriever that would pose, without prompting, any time he saw the camera. There is hardly a picture of my son when he was little with old Satchmo in there with him.

May I suggest, for your artist category, Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore.

Mar 15, 2013, 11:00am Top

I wish Arthur would pose for the camera! I'm not actually sure I can wait until 2014 to catch up on my Christopher Moore reading, but if I don't get to that one this year, I'll make sure it goes on the list!

Mar 25, 2013, 10:17am Top

C (Crime/Suspense/Thriller) #2: Pandora's Daughter by Iris Johansen

This was my first Iris Johansen...I haven't decided yet whether or not I'll read more. The story/plot was interesting overall, conceptually, and I was engaged with the characters, but the writing itself threw me off at too many points. Too many pieces of dialogue were either awkward or unbelievable, and too many happenings in the plot were just too contrived to be believable or make sense. That said, it wasn't Badly written--it just wasn't all that well-written either. It did keep me engaged and have a good flow to it, though, so perhaps. In all, rather an enh experience for this reader--not something I regret spending time on, but nothing to recommend or ensure that I come back for more either.

Mar 25, 2013, 10:27am Top

What a cute puppy!!! I would've picked up a book named Pandora's Daughter. Good to know I should probably skip over it in hopes for something better.

Mar 26, 2013, 11:22am Top

lol--I have a feeling that that title, combined with having heard of the author quite a bit, might have been very influential in my finally getting around to it...

Mar 27, 2013, 10:53am Top

H (Poetry) #4 Poem of the Ahead Places by Charles Hansmann

It's hard to find a contemporary poetry sequence that isn't either book-length or written by an already well-established author. More than anything, I think this has to do with the publishing industry since small journals don't generally except long poems--simply, they cost too much money because they take up too much space, so unless you already have a name as an author, they're no accepted. This is why I'm so thankful that some chapbook publishers are taking up the cause of the poetic sequence when they're given the opportunity...

Made up of a single poetry sequence, this chapbook is a fast and lovely read with engaging language and imagery. Produced by Kattywompus Press in Ohio, it's a simple affair that showcases the words. Held together by descriptions of emotion and the natural world, Hansmann's work is solid and careful, well worth the time. The beginning and ending, as it should be, are the strongest parts...but one of my favorite moments came in the part 16, which I'll quote here:

The yellow moon raked, the stars rebuffed,

the fire takes its dark inside.
How old the sky before the sun

interrupts this visit!
All night our flesh is gathered here

like bathers shy of unrefracted bodies,

immortalized ephemera
that pin the whole belief

on darkness turning into day,
substantiated cycles

rumoring a getaway.

On the whole, there are moments when I wanted the sequence to have more clarity or emotional heft, but the sequence as a whole had so many wonderful and surprising moments that I'm glad to have found it, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to lovers of the poetic sequence.

Mar 27, 2013, 9:44pm Top

Finally completed, thanks to the alphabet challenge. Too many times, I just barely started this. Now, I'm so glad I finished it...

H (Poetry) #5 The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje

For years, I've adored Ondaatje's fiction, and enjoyed his poetry, albeit to a lesser extent. I've thought, repeatedly, that Ondaatje's fiction is remarkable for his poetic thought and language, while his poetry is heavier, even trodding, and a bit less poetic than I'd prefer. I've begun this work in the past, which contributed to that view. That said, reading it all the way through, I now see that his more recent work is simply beautiful, as poetic as his prose, and utterly worthwhile.

In a note in the back of the book, Ondaatje notes that this collection includes the poetry he wrote over the course of nearly 30 years--from 1963 to 1990. In the work, for better or worse, that progression shows. The beginning poems are less graceful and poetic, and narrative to the fault that they sometimes feel as if they're pieced apart fiction. The second half of the book, though, is entirely different. The works are perceptive, delivered with careful grace and beautiful language, and tackled perfectly. Those early works are worthwhile in that one gets to see Ondaatje's masterful progression as a poet, and because the narratives there Are interesting and worthwhile, whether or not they read more like poetry or prose. But, in the second half of the book, his poems are perfectly conceived poems, and worth every moment and line--poems that I'll return to for re-reading and re-exploring, which is perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to a poet.

Absolutely recommended, and in this vein, I'll briefly quote two of the poems, one verse and one prose...

from "Rock Bottom" on page 124:

though I am seduced
by this light, and
frantic arguments
on the porch,
I ain't subtle
you run rings
round me

but this quietness
white dress long legs
arguing your body
away from me

and I with all the hunger
I didn't know I had

and, from "Escarpment" on page 188:

"....He turns and she freezes, laughing, with watercress in her mouth. There are not many more ways he can tell her he loves her. He shows mock outrage and yells but she cannot hear him over the sound of the stumbling creek.

He loves too, as she knows, the body of rivers. Provide him with a river or a creek and he will walk along it. Will step off and sink to his waist, the sound of water and rock encasing him in solitude. The noise around them insists on silence if they are more than five feet apart. It is only later when they sit in a pool legs against each other that they can talk..."

So, yes, with such graceful movement and imagery and language and narrative...I have no hesitancy in recommending this work to readers of poetry, or anyone, for that matter, who enjoys a short narrative in any form. And, if you don't like the beginning....keep going, as it took me too long to do.

Mar 29, 2013, 10:54am Top

H (Poetry) #6: The Violence by Ethan Paquin

There's more experiment than focus here, but much of the language is interesting enough to make each individual poem a compelling single piece of work. The problem, though, is that many of them don't have a clear (or even ambiguously communicated) language based meaning when a reader stops to give a poem more careful examination. Especially because of this, the collection as a whole just isn't as compelling as I'd hope for in a poetry collection. Similarly, while there are many fascinating moments of language and imagery, there just aren't full poems that stand out to me as that fascinating or driven. Without poems like that, I probably won't come back to this collection. Without a doubt, I'd probably recommend this book to poets who are practicing experimental work or to readers interested in new experimental writing...but it's definitely not for everyone, or even most.

Mar 31, 2013, 4:54pm Top

A (fiction by authors I already love) #6 Don't Call It Night by Amos Oz

Full review written...but, simply hypnotic. A wonderful wonderful novel to end the month, and highly recommended.

Mar 31, 2013, 5:25pm Top

F (YA Literature) #4: Indigo by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman's brand of magical realism is perfectly fitted into this story of three young friends hoping for something better and more magnificent in their too-prescribed young lives. As always, her writing is graceful and her characters are utterly believable. Simply, this is a short and magical piece of YA lit., and absolutely recommended.

Apr 6, 2013, 6:39pm Top

I need to get around to trying out Hoffman's books one of these days. Looks like you have been busy with an interesting mix of books!

Apr 10, 2013, 6:29pm Top

I have been busy--and not on LT nearly enough, or even reading nearly enough!

Apr 10, 2013, 10:58pm Top

Well, as it turns out, Arthur had a rough night, which means our whole family had a rough night, and so, I ended up writing a related blog post, which has calmed me down even if it hasn't particularly affected the puppy. Heavens. So, in case you're interested...


Apr 10, 2013, 11:43pm Top

Your blog post makes me cry! Arthur is so lucky he has you.

Apr 11, 2013, 9:37pm Top

What an amazing and touch post! with much love, patience and empathy, I believe you and your family will, with time, be able to show Arthur that safety can exist for him.

Apr 13, 2013, 7:04pm Top

That was a lovely blog post. I also enjoyed your reviews of the poetry books.

May 6, 2013, 4:51pm Top

Thanks everyone :) I can't believe I've been away so much! It's partly due to my doing a lot more writing lately, and partly due to spending so much time with Arthur. I've also been spending more time with him outside lately, which means the computer isn't nearby! In any case, the support is much appreciated--we're still going through rough patches on and off, but he has more good days than bad. So, we're working on it; we're lucky to have him too since he certainly makes us smile, and never fails to remind us of what's important.

Meanwhile, I have been reading, albeit slowly! Updates coming immediately....

May 6, 2013, 5:00pm Top

C. Crime/Suspense/Thriller #3: No Second Chance by Harlan Coben (Recommended as a good twisty thriller)

F. YA literature #5: Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli (Recommended, but not as good as his other works)

H. Poetry #7: History of Hurricanes by Teresa Cader (enh.)

M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories #2: Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers by Mark Bailey (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!)

Full reviews written for all....

May 6, 2013, 10:20pm Top

Glad to hear Arthur is doing better!

May 18, 2013, 5:19pm Top

C. Crime/Suspense/Thriller #4: Forests of the Night by James W. Hall

Hall is at his best when writing about the Florida Keys and coastal waters, but even so, the setting of this work in the forests of North Carolina doesn't detract from his expert plotting and fascinating characters. With as many twists and just as much family lore as you'd expect from a Hall novel, this thriller lives up to some of his best works. The main protagonist Charlotte doesn't come close to being as much of a drive as his more well-known Thorn, but she also doesn't drag the novel down, which is all I can ask from one of his non-Thorn novels. And, truth be told, the lesser character Gracie is so strange and well-written (frighteningly believable) that we don't miss the sympathy we'd normally give to a primary protagonist. All in all, this is a well written and twisting adventure of a thriller, and well worth the while. Long-time fans of Hall might miss some of the norms of his earlier works, but they won't be too disappointed with this departure either. Absolutely recommended.

May 19, 2013, 5:56pm Top

H Poetry #8 Rose by Li-Young Lee

At turns heartbreaking and at other moments humorous, Lee always presents his poems with lyrical and haunting detail, impressing upon readers the importance of a single given moment. I'd read many of these poems in the past (a few have been included in more than one anthology), but this was my first time reading the collection as a single long work. And, in the end, this is one of those collections that calls to be read as a whole. With cycles of references to flowers, to the power of memory, and to the simple sound and gift of rain, the poems come together with a larger power than any one of them holds alone. Yet, Lee's elegant style is translated as well into each single poem. Each is accessible, worthwhile, and memorable on its own. There is no filler here, and much to enjoy for both casual readers and long-time lovers of poetry alike. Absolutely, this is recommended, and of those poetry books that I'll pass on both to friends who haven't yet found Lee's work (rare as they may be), and to that reader who might just be considering a venture into pleasure-reading poetry. This full collection is one I'll return to.

May 19, 2013, 6:38pm Top

G Fiction unrelated to other categories #3 Waterland by Graham Swift

With raw bits of esoteric knowledge scattered throughout, and with a fair amount of reflections on the meaning and making of history, as well as teaching, this novel also proves itself as a masterful and complex story worth taking your time over. Wonderful scenes, poetic language, believable characters, and both humor and heartbreak...and, what's more, the novel feels like a step back to another time and has a clear sense of place. Simply, this is absolutely recommended, and it makes me wonder how I never got around to discovering Swift in the past. A wonderful escape and a beautiful read.

May 20, 2013, 3:41pm Top

H Poetry #9 The Republic of Poetry: Poems by Martin Espada

Martin Espada is one of my favorite poets...and this collection is one of his best.

Ringing with tones of fable and of history, this collection is Espada at his best. While each poem is itself a graceful story with clear images and accessible language, each poem is also only a small part of the larger collection that comes together as a focused exploration of various events and persons of Latin America. Whether readers are familiar with Espada's inspirations or not, however, they'll find that the stories and emotions set up here are well worth exploring. Espada is a master at focusing his language and poetics in such a tight and lyrical manner as to reach even the most cynical reader, whether that reader might regularly enjoy poetry or not. Simply, this is a collection for anyone with an interest in poetry, in events and persons written into literature, or simply with an interest in beautiful words and literature. Absolutely recommended for any reader. This will stand as one of my favorite poetry collections of all time.

May 20, 2013, 4:54pm Top

J. Dissertation Category 2--Reading Related to HIV/AIDS #2: AIDS at 30 by Victoria Angela Harden

Harden’s work here is both encompassing and well-documented. With the goal of giving a non-biased history of HIV/AIDS, from its initial recognition on through steps toward scientific description, diagnosis, and progressions in research and treatment, Harden focuses on providing a broad view of the virus. Based toward the average reader’s understanding of the science, as well as a treatment of the political, social, and cultural forces at work in the background, the book provides a great deal of material. Rather than give a great deal of depth to any one person or subject, Harden also moves quickly, allowing for the casual reader to focus in on gaining an overall understanding of the history and issues while knowing enough about the details to find more information. The results are impressive: her work is detailed and well-documented, without providing so much information as to be either overwhelming or confusing.

One of the most impressive features of this work is the attempt to look at the steps toward progress, both backwards and forwards. Rather than detailing only developments that led directly to progress in description, diagnosis, and treatment, or even on developments that directly worked against such progress, Harden endeavors to give an even view to each step forward in history, wherever it might have led (or be leading). This has a couple of effects—first, readers understand the complex cycle of steps and procedures and groups that led toward eventual progress rather than seeing the historical progression as a clearly linear path toward progress. Second, and perhaps more importantly, readers see the ways in which single individuals, political groups, private and public organizations, and societal feelings influenced work on HIV/AIDS. While it’s true that these forces are all acknowledged in other works on HIV/AIDS, they’ve rarely been treated with such unbiased and careful an eye toward cause and effect and detail. Harden also examines the forces which have worked directly against progress, notably including discussions of groups who’ve denied that HIV/AIDS is an actual phenomenon or problem, as well as groups who’ve denied that the virus is spread through sexual contact or that HIV has any relation to AIDS. By refusing to ignore these groups, Harden’s work shoes itself to be more determined than most to present the full picture.

Other features also make the work incredibly successful on a variety of levels. Extensive footnotes provide details for readers who might come to the subject knowing less or needing more information than the averagely informed reader. Glossaries also provide the meanings for the many acronyms that pop up in discussions, as well as meanings for both basic and advanced scientific terms (from HIV and virus on through terms like capsid and interferon). Similarly, these glossaries also provide translations for discrepancies in spelling that appear when one reads material on HIV/AIDS from separate regions and countries. And, of course, the work is current, having gone to press in 2011.

Of course, there are some weaknesses in the work. Because each reader brings a different knowledge base and because Harden is aiming for the middle, any reader is sure to be disappointed with some aspect of the discussion. Her section on communication/media, for instance, fails to mention Rent, which I believe was one of the fundamental cultural works to drive a wide-spread knowledge of HIV in my generation, which was less likely to have seen or know of Angels in America, which is her dramatic focus. Similarly, her discussion of literature is fairly absent, aside from attention to drama. I’ve no doubt that readers more versed in politics, economics, etc. would find other sections to be lacking in some of the depth that they’d hope for. But then, she couldn’t include everything, and her extensive footnotes are more than successful in directing readers to further avenues of discovery. A second major weakness is that, at times, Harden seems to be bending over backwards to be diplomatic. A glaring example of this is when she notes that one of the primary reasons drug companies held off on lowering prices for pharmaceutical treatments was that they had doubts that countries in Africa had the capabilities of fairly distributing the drugs, just as the citizens who needed the drugs might prove incapable of following the recommended treatment schedules. While neither of these points is without some basis, there’s no doubt that profit was a large part of the drug companies’ reluctance in easing distribution. And, obviously, there’s the question of how these points could be proved correct or incorrect without any attempt at fair and affordable distribution. Lastly, Harden moves so quickly through the different issues that an uncareful reader can easily miss important developments and figures (for instance, the initial formation of UNAIDS, the release of Life Before the Lifeboat (2009), and the fact that Latin America is the one region in which newly documented cases of AIDS have been steadily on the rise since the beginning).

In the end, though, these are insignificant weaknesses when compared to the breadth and magnitude of the work at hand. Harden’s discovery and documentation of the first three decades of HIV/AIDS as a global issue, affected by political and social factors, is as impressive as it is necessary, along with being well-written and accessible. There’s no doubt in my mind that any reader who searches this book out, for what it is, will be impressed and find that their time was well-spent and necessary. Recommended.

Jun 2, 2013, 9:44am Top

M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories #3: Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Mowat's writing is wonderful, full of careful observation and clever humor, but what's more wonderful in this particular book is that we're allowed to see one individual undergo the slow move from being entirely influenced by society's superstitions and fears regarding wolves on to being someone who sees how unfair those fears and superstitions actually are. As Mowat learns about the wolves, his amazement comes through in the writing, as does the beauty of the wolves he so closely observes. And, in the background of the book, other characters and government blunders make the book frighteningly comical.

Overall, this is simply an enjoyable and informative read, beautifully written, and hinged on an understated argument for the need for conservation and understanding. Anyone who enjoys nature writing or animals of any kind should read this book. Absolutely recommended.

Jun 2, 2013, 10:12am Top

I Dissertation Category 1: Nonfiction related to medical narratives and/or trauma narratives and trauma theory #2: On Being Ill with Notes from Sick Rooms by Julia Stephen by Virginia Woolf

In the new edition of Virginia Woolf's On Being Ill, available from Paris Press, editors have printed On Being Ill alongside her mother Julia Stephen's nonfiction work, Notes from Sick Rooms, along with thoughtful introductions to both works, as well as an afterword from Rita Charon, one of the leading figures in the relatively new discipline of Narrative Medicine. While any of the works might be well worth reading on their own, this new edition showcases the material in such a way as to highlight different treatments and thoughts on being ill from the specific (and often contradictory) perspectives of a nurse and her patient. For readers interested in Woolf's life, Julia Stephen's work is an invaluable eye into what her sick room must have been like as she was cared for by her mother, and for readers interested in history, the second and longer work by Stephens will be of just as much interest. While Woolf's work is shorter, it is also a startlingly beautiful look into what it means to live with illness, and how this time can manifest itself as both a blessing and a horror.

All in all, the essays in this work make for a short read, but it is also a packed read that begs for further examination, and ends up being well worth the time. Recommended for all those interested in either text, or in the experience of illness at home in the early twentieth century. And, probably, recommended for anyone engaged in caring for loved ones or in nursing practices--certainly, much of what Stephen writes on remedies and food is predictably outdated...but her careful attention to detail and desire mean that many of her concerns are indeed still relevant today.

Jun 2, 2013, 9:48pm Top

L Biographies/Autobiographies/Memoirs #3: Gather Together In My Name by Maya Angelou

While this installment doesn't hold the same humor as Angelou's first autobiography, it presents just as much entertainment and poetic movement. Covering her late teen years, Angelou's movement from childhood into the unsteady footfalls of a young woman is fascinating and full of heart just so much as the heartbreak you'd expect from those years. It also moves just so quickly as a novel, illustrating a talent for narrative pacing that has only grown since her first part, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Anyone who enjoyed the first portion will undoubtedly enjoy this second installment--what is lost with the childhood innocence of that first part is only gained with the ironic observations and hopes served up here. Absolutely recommended.

Jun 2, 2013, 10:01pm Top

E Short Stories: #5: Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr

After discovering Anthony Doerr in one of the Best American Short Stories Anthologies, I immediately ordered his collections...and I'm so glad that I did. In this collection, Doerr develops themes involving memory and loss in particular, evolving worlds and characters that present themselves as being both totally unique and perfectly believable. Each story explores characters who can't help but be fascinating, and no story treads on already discovered territory. And, beyond his originality, Doerr is also an exceptional writer--the prose here is worth savoring, as energetic as it is graceful. Simply: Doerr is my new favorite contemporary short story writer. These stories stand up to the best out there, and I absolutely recommend the collection.

Jun 3, 2013, 9:36pm Top

F. YA Literature #6 Twenty 10-Minute Plays for Teens Volume I by Kristen Dabrowski

It's difficult to find good short material for teens and children to perform--most of what's available is either incredibly dated, or reads like a (bad) afterschool special. And much of it would, very simply, be best described as boring by those same students who might perform it. Unfortunately, this book comes with its own vast set of problems--some of it is inappropriate to teens, much of it is boring, and still more reads like a not-too-entertaining teenage soap. It might have its uses, for some instructors and/or teens, but the book falls far short of its' author's promises.

First, there's language. The book was published in 2004, so you wouldn't expect it be dated...but some of the expressions are more suited to a college student or older teen from the late eighties or early nineties. There's no current slang, but there are slang terms like boning...and I don't know when I last heard that outside of nineties music stations. And, while some of the language might be let slide in teenagers improvising scenes, or simply ignored by teachers, I can't imagine a high-school teacher giving out some of these skits that contain repeated uses of "bitch", "piss", and uncountable "that sucks". Oh, and then there are the derogatory remarks about things or people being "gay"--true, there's always the politically correct teen standing by to say "don't say that"...but it ends up being a repeated exchange that, if not offensive, is also unnecessary.

Then there's the entertainment value. Some of the dramatic scenes here have their moments, but just as many veer off course. And, those same dramatic scenes do short work of attempting to touch on such issues as child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism, etc. In other words, the dramatic scenes veer into after-school special territory, but leave the scenes with no closure at all instead of wrapping them up either too neatly or too seriously. And, where the other scenes try to be funny or entertaining...they're just not, for adults or teens.

Unfortunately, still another problem is the simple practical use of the scenes. Most of the short plays (10 minutes or so long) have upwards of 7-8 actors/actresses involved, if not closer to 14-16. As a result, few characters have more than a few lines; the author seems to specialize in mini-crowd scenes of idle teenage dialogue. True, it's all believable, but how useful is it as a short play?

The book may have some uses. Because the characters are nearly all bare-bones, there might be some use in having students flesh out the characters and add depth to the characters or scenes on their own. Likewise, some of these short plays would work well enough as practice piece--they're nothing you'd want to have students put real work into performing (because, for the most part, they're just not entertaining to warrant the effort), but they do give opportunity for building an ensemble and/or memorizing lines and working at stage business in class. Again, I don't know that most of them are appropriate, but some are and could come in handy for in-class work and exercising, perhaps.

Simply, this isn't a collection that I'd find real use in recommending. Unless you're looking for simple short plays that can be performed by larger groups of older teenagers, you won't have much use for this. In the end, I'm afraid this book just doesn't have much material to offer to anyone--teens will find it condescending and/or boring, and any instructor who hands it to teens is likely to get some calls from parents.

Jun 4, 2013, 9:22pm Top

F. YA Literature #7: The Ultimate Scene Study Series for Teens 2: 55 Short Scenes by Debbie Lamedman

Lamedman writes that her goal is to make short scenes that teens can relate to, built from characters who teens can really understand and develop. In this, she succeeds, and the scenes here are probably well-suited to the highschool drama class searching out scenes for students who are just beginning to explore scene-work. The problems, though, might be expected as offshoots of these goals--many of them will allow students to build or choose characters who are exactly like themselves, meaning that the only acting work involved will be memorization. And, perhaps expectedly, the scenes aren't as entertaining as they might be were the characters more unique or developed. The characters and dialogues are Believable...just not overly original.

Also, while not necessarily a downfall of the book per se, it should also be noted that 90% of the material here is dramatic. There are three or four decent comedic skits (not hilarious, but funny enough to be entertaining once around), but the rest are built from conflict, much of it fairly serious (dealing with death, dating, drugs, eating disorders, etc.).

In the end, these aren't exquisite scenes, but they are age-appropriate and easily relatable if that's all that's being sought out. They are not, though, in any way challenging, which I do find a serious shortcoming of the work.

Jun 4, 2013, 9:52pm Top

Glad to see your review of Li-Young Lee. I haven't read him in a long time, but your review reminds me how much I love his work.

And note to self. Read Maya Angelou!

Jun 5, 2013, 6:32am Top

I'm glad to remind anyone of Lee :) He's so understated that I often forget myself how much I enjoy revisiting him, though I always cycle back. And, yes, read Angelou's autobiographies! (I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of her poetry, which is probably why it took me so long to get around to the nonfiction, but nevertheless...)

Jun 5, 2013, 6:34am Top

M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories #4: Fondling Your Muse by John Warner

First, some confessions: 1) I LOVE the title. I absolutely unapologetically LOVE and ADORE this title. Alone, it would have been enough for me to buy the book. 2) I used to share an office with the author, and since this book came out while I was in said office, I wanted to support the project (contrary to what jokes in the book might suggest, he did not push the book on me!). 3) I'm not a big reader of humor...in fact, I don't even watch many comedies. And, when it comes to slap-stick and/or dry humor, I generally stay away. Thus, without a doubt, I'm simply not the target audience for the book. (Well, except in that I love the title. I Really Love the title.)

In the end, I was amused. I was entertained and engaged enough to wander through the full book, and aware enough to realize that John's dry humor just isn't mine--many readers will find this laugh-out-loud funny and celebrate every page of irony and satire. Unfortunately, that's just not me. There are a Lot of one-liners in this book, and while most are funny, the piling of one on top of another ended up making it a slower read for me.

The point of all this as you try to figure out whether or not to pick it up? Well, it's a gorgeous book, and will likely make every writer guffaw repeatedly (particularly writers of fiction, admittedly), so it certainly wouldn't be a bad coffee table book or humorous gift. So, if you're looking for humor and jokes about writing and writers? Absolutely. On the other hand, if you take yourself too seriously, don't like dry humor, or are actually looking for in depth and sincere writing advice...well, you really ought to go elsewhere.

All that said, though, I'm not a humor person...and I'm still glad to have wandered my way through the book. So, perhaps I should simply say: if you write, wander through a chapter or two, and you'll know pretty quickly whether this will be a favorite or something to pass on by.

Jun 5, 2013, 8:09am Top

Great, honest review of Fondling Your Muse. Now that it's on my radar, I'll keep an eye out for it at the library.

Jun 5, 2013, 9:02pm Top

I'm so glad it sounds like it's up your alley! I adore John, so I had a hard time reviewing it because I know the book just wasn't remotely meant for me!

Jun 5, 2013, 9:04pm Top

F. YA Literature #8: The Ultimate Audition Book for Teens Volume XI: 111 One-Minute Monologues by Type by Kristen Dabrowski

47. The Ultimate Audition Book for Teens Volume XI: 111 One-Minute Monologues by Type by Kristen Dabrowski

I'm not sure If Dabrowski has any experience teaching and working with teens, but the material in this book implies she doesn't. Beyond the fact that the monologues aren't written very well, and beyond the fact that the characters and situations are clichéd and unoriginal, further problems include style and language. Language-wise, I have to say that I wouldn't be comfortable keeping this book on a shelf in my classroom. Inappropriate language is one thing if it's a word here or there, And included within a longer work that is itself worthwhile. Here, there are repeated inappropriate words, most if not all of them gratuitous and unnecessary. Simply, even though they're supposedly written for teens, I'd have to edit many of these before feeling comfortable with giving them to my students.

And then there's style. Many of these monologues aren't what I would call useful monologues. They all but require another person to be present for the entirety of the monologue...and, while no lines are shown for the other person(s), these omissions come off as awkward. Many of the monologues read more like one side of a simple and unentertaining skit instead of a monologue.

In the end, I was incredibly disappointed with this work. I had middle-schoolers try their hands at writing their own monologues last year, and I have to say: every one of them was better and more entertaining than anything in this book. True, the spelling might have needed some work...but they were far better monologues than what I've found here. I can't imagine recommending this book, or making use of more than 3 or 4 of the 111 "monologues" presented here.

Jun 7, 2013, 10:48pm Top

Fondling Your Muse is on my radar too now - very good title indeed!

Jun 9, 2013, 2:18pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories #4 A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones

If, somehow, Quentin Tarantino and Dostoevsky were to combine their efforts and write a piece of southern fiction...this might just be the result. A well-paced and disturbing read, this novel follows in the footsteps of the darker southern and Appalachian works by Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and Ron Rash among others.

Jones' main character, John Moon, is as believable as he is heartbreaking and frightening, and the narrative itself is nearly a carnival of grotesqueries. In the end, the tale's simplicity makes it all the more disturbing, and People Magazine's note that the book is part Crime and Punishment, and part Deliverance, is as on-target as any blurb I've ever seen. This is a fast and dark novel, and well worth the read.

On the other hand, readers be aware: much as you'll think it can't keep getting darker, and much as you might think that Woodrell's foreword exaggerates the disturbing nature of so much that's included....it will keep getting darker, and you will keep being surprised.

Wonderfully wonderfully dark, and one of the few non-supernatural fictions that I still might be tempted to describe as fitting into the horror genre.

Jun 9, 2013, 3:02pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories #5: The Dragon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace

As much as surveillance is a nearly palpable force within this work, the narrative is surprisingly humorous and quickly paced. Lovelace's wonderfully written work is grounded in a shantytown of Trinidad, and rings with the dialects and carnivals of the area, but each of the colorful characters in his narrative is also personally at war with the shadows of a postcolonial reality that makes even festivals seem something of a farce at real living. As a novel and as a narrative, this is an entertaining journey full of humor, love, cynicism, and strength. And as an exploration of postcolonial worlds and feelings, this is also a necessary work of truth and individual terror, held together with themes of surveillance that preoccupy each of Lovelace's characters even as they enjoy their denials of reality or attempt escape. Absolutely recommended.

Jun 9, 2013, 5:47pm Top

B Fantasy/Sci-Fi #4: 666 Park Avenue by Gabriella Pierce

Although I picked this up because I so loved the television series based on it, 666, I just have to say: I haven't the faintest idea how they ended up turning this book into that television show. That said, I loved it just as much in all different ways.

First, I want to note that the only real similarities between this book and that television series is the names of the main characters, which are mostly the same even while the relationships are entirely twisted between mediums. Where the television series focuses on a haunted/haunting hotel, however, this series focuses on a young woman/witch who has only just discovered who she is and the real story behind her past, as well as how her present is tangled up in matters she never would have imagined. The book hinges on moods of romance, mystery, and suspense, and is a far reach from the horror that Hollywood turned it into (much as I loved that horror, it's true). Pierce's writing, though, is luxuriant and graceful, and her narrative is as fast-moving as her characters are fun. All in all, this is a wonderful read, and everything you'd want in a quiet and easy escape.

For followers of the cancelled television series, I reluctantly have to accept (and share): I doubt that any closure for the story-lines in the television show will be found by following this series through. BUT, this is maybe all the more fascinating for what it was eventually turned into, and there are strains of horror here, any of which I can imagine being taken further in future installments.

Simply, I have to recommend it. I had more fun reading this than I've had with a book in ages. Absolutely recommended. It takes a few chapters to take off, giving backstory, but it speeds up quickly and delivers on all of the suspense and questions it sets up.

Jun 10, 2013, 9:42pm Top

F. YA Literature #9 The Nuttiest Wackiest Funniest Skits Ever by Stanley Snickelfoose

Written by a clown, this collection is full of humorous skits built to be short and funny. Nearly all (if not all) are fully appropriate for children, though some might have some language-based jokes that younger audiences might not quite appreciate--no foul language, though, or even really any dirty jokes, so that the worst-case scenario is one of being confused rather than offended. Another plus is that the book contains a couple of skits which are all physical comedy described in detail, no script needed. These couple of skits are ideal for kids who may want to be in front of the audience, but aren't yet comfortable with script-work or with projection (the skits lend themselves to improvised dialogue if desired).

Truly, there are only two downsides to the book. The first is that the majority of the skits are based around straightforward 2-4 line jokes, nearly to the extent that reading the collection occasionally feels like reading a joke-book. For acting troupes or teachers looking for opportunities to fully develop complex scenes or characters, this means there are fewer opportunities than might be had otherwise (though, that said, the format also means that plenty could be added to any scene, or the characters could be individually developed in many directions as preferred by the actor or director). The second possible downside to the collection is that many of the skits require a number of props. Notably, a toy frog, a plastic chicken, a large foam hammer, and a stethoscope make recurring appearances. If the actors are creative, though, many of these props could be overcome, and the skits possibly be made even more amusing, if the objects were pantomimed. There are a few cases in which pantomiming would prove difficult or make the humor unclear, but not many.

Overall, these skits are short, funny, and perfect for students working on script-work, comedic timing, and basic performance skills. The skits are also well-written and built to amuse audiences of all ages (nicely balanced between physical comedy and scripted/language-based comedy), and fully appropriate for children....as might be suggested by the fact that they were written by a clown.


Jun 10, 2013, 9:58pm Top

666 Park Avenue sounds like a winner!

Jun 11, 2013, 10:09am Top

It absolutely is!

E. Short Stories #6: Crash Your Party Dress by Adrian Hunter

Full Review written, but this one isn't for everyone; it's the collection of erotic stories that Hunter posted online in the 90s, and which led him to be one of the first writers to gain a reputation based solely on online work.

Jun 12, 2013, 4:21pm Top

M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories: #5: Zoomy Zoomy: Improv Games and Exercises for Groups by Hannah Fox

Full of games and exercises for team-building, improvisation, and acting skills, this book is a perfect resource for acting and theater teachers, and even for coaches or counselors who might need to pull an entertaining game out without much notice or resource. Built to require little or no equipment, nearly all of these exercises require not resources beyond space and imagination. In some few cases, pencil and paper or something which can be used as a ball (ie. if not a ball, even rolled up socks will do) are needed, but these are by far the minority. Additionally, while all of the games/exercises require a group of people (probably at least four), most are flexible enough that they might be useful and entertaining for groups of 10-30 or more with slight adjustments in some cases. Also, most of the exercises and games listed are quick, meant for introductory or warm-up sessions before major lessons, so most of them will accommodate classes of various lengths.

It is worth noting that, while most of these exercises are suitable for youth, some aren't, for various reasons (maturity levels re. responsibility in trust exercises or exercises that might involve physical contact; complexity of direction/requirement; necessity of emotional maturity; etc.); in nearly all cases, though, even these few exercises could be adjusted for younger students.

Overall, this is a really useful book with plenty of ideas. Fox's explanations and directions are clear and concise with examples in cases where confusion might occur otherwise, and the book is organized to allow for teachers to quickly reference useful sections or exercises meant to build particular skillsets. (On this note, though, I would add that there's a lot of cross-over; I'd suggest giving the full book a look rather than assuming what you'll be most interested in will be placed in that one section--there might be something just as useful which could be expanded from a warm-up to a full lesson, from a team-building exercise to a warm-up, or vice versa, etc.)

My one reservation about the book is that there is some repetition in that many of the exercises call on mimicking or mirroring of others' movements, and in that quite a few of the exercises call on a student's/troupe member's telling a story/anecdote as a beginning. When working with younger students who might be less forthcoming, or with diverse groups in which personal and emotional stories might not be the ideal comfortable impetus for groupwork, some of these exercises might require more leading than the book suggests so that the class doesn't get into overly emotional or personal territory. These cases are rare, but there are some exercises here that I'd be wary of using with audiences/students under 16 or 17 based on my own memory of exercises which got overly emotional in my own high school drama class years ago.

Overall, though, this is an incredibly useful resource. Highly recommended.

Jun 13, 2013, 10:33am Top

H. Poetry #10: Satellite Convulsions edited by Brenda Shaughnessy

Tin House is one of only two literary journals that I always keep subscriptions for, no matter how tight my budget. The content is always fresh, interesting, and well worth the read. And, though they publish quite a bit more fiction than poetry, the poetry that they do publish is top-quality and never disappoints. As might be expected, then, this collection is a wonderful anthology of poems from across their years, and contains some of my favorite poems and favorite authors. Any reader of poems will recognize some of the authors, and discover many new ones along the way. All-together, it's an absolutely wonderful anthology, and perhaps even my favorite when it comes to a diverse collection of contemporary poems.

Highly recommended.

Jun 14, 2013, 7:20pm Top

L Biographies/Memoirs: #4: A Leg to Stand On by Oliver Sacks

Sacks describes his accident, and the jarring experience of feeling entirely dissociated from his leg, with eloquent detail and psychological examination. About three fourths of the memoir is taken up by a careful recounting of his accident and its effects, and following that, his slow recovery. The last fourth of the book is less memoir than medical conclusion, delving into the psychological and physiological background of his experience, the precedents documented by others, and the neurological science associated with the phenomenon, wrapping up not only the experience, but the Type of experience as it is felt and discovered by a significant number of persons; this conclusion also includes some notes on how such a medical dissociation as he experienced can be understood as related to phantom limb syndromes.

Overall, this work is fascinating and easily accessible; the account of Sacks' own experience does at times feel heavy on rhetoric, but I suspect that's a necessary byproduct of attempting to give reality to something that many of his readers have never imagined, let alone experienced. Also on a language level, the last portion of this book reads more like a textbook, and is a much slower read as a result--for readers without any background in medical writings or neurology, this section is heavy on references and reads at a slower pace, but is still well worth the time.

In the end, I'd recommend this work for anyone with an interest in medical narratives or memoir, as well as for doctors and nurses in training since the experience of being a patient is given so much attention and depth in this work.


Jun 14, 2013, 9:41pm Top

Hadn't heard of that Sacks book! Sounds really interesting.

Jun 15, 2013, 7:25pm Top

It was incredibly interesting--the end was just a bit dense coming directly after the rest; rather a switch in tone!

I. Dissertation Category I: Nonfiction related to medical narratives and/or trauma theory and trauma: #4: Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature by E. Ann Kaplan

Undoubtedly, the most useful portions of this book are Kaplan's careful connections between trauma theory (and language and stages associated with trauma) and the experiences of taking in media (particularly as related to film and news). For the most part, this work is done in the first half of the book, with later chapters being more fully devoted to film studies and close readings of these films and projects, including documentaries.

There are some frustrating aspects to this work, however: when not in a mode of "close reading", Kaplan tends to become heavily invested in the rhetoric of her subjects, sometimes asking so many questions (one after another, without break) that they simply become a barrage of quandaries--many of which are never answered, or in some cases, even addressed. Similarly, my impression is that some of her arguments are fairly one-sided. I'm not someone who is particularly versed in film and media studies, but Kaplan sometimes gives scathing critiques (particularly in regard to news reporting) which criticize without giving any suggestion of how things should be approached differently. For instance, she criticizes the fragmentary nature of reporting on war, from nightly news and from newspapers, particularly in her discussion of empty empathy and her argument against pushing viewers to understand one personal story instead of the larger issues; however, she fails to discuss, even briefly, how this might be accomplished when one stops to consider the attention span of the average news viewer/reader and time/monetary constraints of media companies. Also, and perhaps more troublingly, she argues that the problem with these personal stories (of victims, journalists, soldiers, etc.) are unable to transfer any understanding of the larger issues that Should be at the heart of any news coverage. I would argue, though, that the main point of these personal stories is to get audience members interested enough that they'll do their own part in researching or looking into those larger issues, or at least consider them. This may be an idealistic view, but is it less idealistic than attempting to educate on decades-long debates over abstract issues and wars, in the span of a single story or even a half-hour special? Regardless, it felt to me that Kaplan was one-sided, and perhaps even too biased to attempt the discussion, at this point in particular.

Similarly, there were other points when I would have preferred the book be a bit more objective--in the midst of her close-readings, in her discussion of 9/11 monuments, in her discussions of postcolonial contexts in film--and feel less like an airing of her personal views on the given topic. Simply, I wanted more argument with evidence, and more connection to trauma from her later close-readings. Instead, I felt I was often expected to just take Kaplan's word for her conclusions when it came to her close-readings. I've no real doubt that they're useful, but I do feel that there are probably other sides which she's making no effort to show, and that, at times, she gives nowhere near enough detail for someone to actually draw the same conclusions she does without taking her word that the connections, simply, make sense, particularly considering that some of the films she analyzes are admittedly obscure. (ie. She notes at one point that a little girl being strangled by seaweed can remind audiences of a fetus being strangled by an umbilical cord--I'll grant that, perhaps, the film accomplishes this jump, but she relates it as if it's an obvious conclusion based on her description of the scene/plot, which certainly isn't the case.)

In the end, parts of this book are incredibly successful, but other parts come across as unconnected at best, and unsupported or biased at worst, particularly as Kaplan gets further into the work. Also, I want to note that some of the endnotes are frighteningly unhelpful--as if an editor told Kaplan where to place the endnote, but not what for: though I did not read all of the endnotes, a few of the ones I did turn to ended up coming nowhere close to answering the questions I'd had raised by the noted text (which, as you might guess, was incredibly frustrating!).

In the end, I would recommend this work to those interested, but I'd highlight that the earlier chapters are the most useful, and that the connections she says will come through the close readings, as well as the questions she promises to return to...well, those don't always come to fruition in any visible way.

Jun 16, 2013, 10:26pm Top

Well, because this doesn't fit anywhere else, I'm slipping it into this category since I planned on including all of my books in the challenge...

G Fiction unrelated to other categories: #6: All in the Timing: Fourteen Plays by David Ives

Ives' "Sure Thing" stands out in my memory as one of my favorite one-act performances of all time even though it was probably one of the first one-acts I ever saw performed--and, while much of that outstanding performance should be attributed to the fantastic timing and acting involved that day, much of the credit also goes to Ives' outstanding writing. That one-act, though, is only one of the fourteen plays collected here, and all of them are masterful examples of Ives' clever and funny writing.

Many of these pieces, like "Sure Thing", will only be at their best with perfect timing and the laughter of a live audience, but the smart writing and small casts make these more translatable to a reading experience than one might expect. Each one is unique, fun, and resounding with Ives' signature humor and word and timing play. The one long play included here, Ancient History, is also a perfect blend of drama and humor, with just enough crossed lines.

All together, Ives is a dramatic wonder, and this collection is utterly wonderful. Highly recommended.

Jun 17, 2013, 10:36am Top

G (Fiction Unrelated to Other Categories) #7: After Lyletown by K.C. Frederick

This is an average story about an average man with an average past. Writing and pacing? Both average. In other words, there's nothing particularly wrong with this novel. The problem is, there's also nothing particularly right.

As a protagonist, Alan just doesn't hold up the weight of the novel--he ponders and worries and wonders and regrets and wishes...but he doesn't do much else, and none of those wanderings are all that interesting or unique. Just as problematically, we don't see enough about his current life to care about it, or enough of his relationships to really have any feeling for him as a father or as a part of society. Similarly, a lack of focus to the narrative makes each subplot as important to the next--after all, there's no single plot to focus on in determining where the tension Should be.

And, perhaps that's the crux of the problem. What conflict exists is imagined by Alan--and, perhaps most importantly, the reader can tell that the conflict is imagined, and that little or nothing is actually at stake. Perhaps, maybe, Frederick's point is that nothing at all happens in Alan's life...but, one way or another, the nothing happening in this novel was not enough to keep me interested, and I've really no real reason to recommend this book on. I wouldn't pick up anything else by Frederick either, I'm afraid.

Jun 18, 2013, 10:17pm Top

H. Poetry #11: Boss Cupid by Thom Gunn

Smart and raw, these poems are about desire in all its' forms, both admirable and frightening. Gunn is one of only a few contemporary poets who are comfortable writing in form, and that versatility shows here. Unlike much contemporary form poetry, though, these poems aren't burdened by restraint--instead, they seem to celebrate life, and love. While some of the poems require some knowledge of biblical lore or classical mythology for a full appreciation of the content, many of them are far more accessible in nature, focusing on scene and character instead of building from other stories. Throughout the poems, however, Gunn's quick rhythms and perfectly formed descriptions are worth reading and re-reading, particularly when his poems are focused in on single short scenes and the results and questions of desire, as is so often the case in this collection.

Jun 18, 2013, 10:34pm Top

I've never read any Oliver Sacks, but his books do sound very interesting. Also, your dissertation reads sound fascinating, though they may be somewhat intimidating to a non-expert like me!

Jun 20, 2013, 9:59pm Top

I'm not much of an expert in anything involved with my dissertation, but for lit. studies and the fact that I've read quite a bit! The trauma theory can get fairly heavy and difficult reading-wise, but I think everything I've listed here (maybe excepting the Kaplan) is absolutely accessible to lay-readers if you're interested :) If you're interested in the HIV/AIDS aspect of what I'm studying, I'm reading Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine now, which is incredibly fascinating and seems built for readers who don't have prior knowledge of the subject. If you're more interested in the trauma side of my questions, Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self by Susan J. Brison is a short and very accessible read, almost more of a memoir in many aspects! Regardless, none of it should be intimidating (well, subject-matter-wise, maybe, since it is incredibly heavy, but not in regard to difficulty in any case.). In any case, I'm sure you'd enjoy much of the Oliver Sacks--it's just the last few sections that get heavily involved in the neurology and science of things as opposed to the experience!

Jun 20, 2013, 10:02pm Top

C. Crime/Thrillers/Suspense #5 Dead Last by James W. Hall

When I first fell in love with James Hall's work, I didn't really know good writing from bad, at least not in any way I could put to words, but I did recognize his beautiful and suspenseful depiction of one of my favorite places (the Florida Keys), and I also fell in love--from the very beginning--with his fascinating characters, particularly Thorn. Now, more than a decade later, I can say that Hall's books are not only suspenseful and drawn with fascinating and believable characters, but that they're well-written and unpredictable. In the case of this work, though, I have to add something. Normally, I admire the fact that long-time readers can enjoy the return to known characters, but that new readers can come into any book and feel as if they're not missing anything--in other words, I admire the fact that, in general, it doesn't matter what order you read his books in, even where the recurring Thorn is present. With Dead Last, though, I feel differently.

Nearly from the beginning of the book, this more (most?) recent book centered on Thorn felt slightly different. Long-known characters were more present, and somehow, the book had a more personal feel. As the book went on, that intensified--by the end of the work, I felt that I could only really appreciate this one after having read all of the earlier "Thorn" books, and that this was the most personal work for Hall himself. (In brief, I'll say that this last impression has to do with writing--readers who write will recognize what I'm talking about when they read the work, especially if they've read Hall's earlier works and can note the differences.)

Overall, this may end up being one of my favorite Thorn novels. It wasn't the most involved or complex (though it was unpredictable and perfectly paced, as usual per Hall's work) and it didn't really stand out in any particular way from earlier novels. If anything, there was less depiction of Florida's landscape and unique nature, which is part of what I love in Hall's work. In fact, this actually felt like a somewhat simpler read than his earlier works. BUT, this also felt like something of a culmination for Thorn's character; it may not be an ending to the series, but in many ways it felt like a fitting one, if there must be one.

Simply, I'll always love Hall's work. He's the one mystery/suspense writer who I just can't resist, and whose works I've no doubt I'll reread in the future. This book stands up to his reputation and to reader expectations. So, yes, I absolutely recommend it...I just want you to read the earlier Thorn books first.

Jun 21, 2013, 11:18am Top

@ 148 -- I've never heard of James W. Hall, but it sounds like I should definitely give him a try!

Jun 21, 2013, 9:37pm Top

He's wonderful---absolutely my favorite mystery/suspense writer. His works have a touch of southern gothic as well with incredibly strange side characters, especially villains. My only caveat is that his details can sometimes be a bit graphic in terms of sex and violence, but those details/scenes are short, and I wouldn't ever call them gratuitous. You can probably find most, if not all, of his earlier works at a used bookstore :) Let me know what you think if you look him up!

Jun 21, 2013, 9:40pm Top

F. YA Literature #10: Ten-Minute Comedy Plays for Kids 7-10 by Kristen Dabrowski

While these plays are appropriate for children (which I've found isn't always the case with Dabrowski's work), I'm afraid that they're just not all that well-written. Many of the scenes are meant to come across as realistic, but don't, either because of stale dialogue, jumps in logic or contradictions, or pacing/development that just doesn't make sense in terms of a realistic scene. In nearly every scene here, some of the characters just blend together, as if they're multiple versions of the same character. Along the same lines, many lines don't progress the scenes in any manner--they just serve as a few more lines to provide practice for memorization.

While Dabrowski claims that all of these scenes provide monologues which can be used on their own, that's actually a huge problem in itself. Within the scenes, nearly all of the so-called monologues are awkward and un-entertaining; and, as monologues, they're just not that useful, I'm afraid--more stream-of-conscious ramblings than focused monologues that could provide worthwhile practice at character development and acting.

Simply, this book does provide scenes that are appropriate for child actors; however, they aren't good scenes, and many have so many characters involved that the amount of down-time per actor will end up boring students. Likewise, these same scenes have so many lines split between characters that there'll be little practice at memorization or truly coming together as a cohesive ensemble unless teachers take time, early on, to condense characters. The truth is, though, that they might well be better off writing their own.

Simply, I can't recommend this. Even the worksheets and notes at the back could be just as easily produced by any individual teacher as found here.

Jul 4, 2013, 12:18am Top

HI! I'm catching up on threads tonight. Nice review of Boss Cupid. The Man With Night Sweats is the only Gunn I've read so far. Rose by Li- Young Lee is one of my favorite books and he's one of my favorite poets. I read one of his poems at a funeral for a patient who had lived 8 years on the unit where I work.

Jul 5, 2013, 4:08pm Top

Hi Whitewavedarling,

>132 whitewavedarling: You had me at If, somehow, Quentin Tarantino and Dostoevsky were to combine their efforts and write a piece of southern fiction...this might just be the result. I must read the result of this combination: A Single Shot

>133 whitewavedarling: The Dragon Can't Dance is going to the BB folder, it seems haunting ?

>134 whitewavedarling: 666 Park Avenue: I have this one on the hard disk, must take the time and watch it:)

>143 whitewavedarling: All in the Timing: Fourteen Plays, is that the kind of LOL or rather subtle laugh, anyway I'm in ?

Jul 21, 2013, 10:04pm Top

:) I'm so glad I gave you so many book bullets! It's wonderful to see you both visiting--I'm at a camp working sixteen hour days nearly every day, so I haven't had any time at all to visit LT, but I miss it! I'll probably catch up in August! Meanwhile, I haven't had much reading time, but there's been a bit that I'm attempting to catch up on tonight...

Jul 21, 2013, 10:08pm Top

J. Dis. Category #2 Reading Related to HIV/AIDS Book #3: Surviving the Fall: The Personal Journey of an AIDS Doctor by Peter A. Selwyn

Unlike most memoirs that deal with HIV/AIDS, Selwyn's discussion deals almost entirely with the patients and doctors on the margins of the discussion: for the most part, his patients are not gay or involved in any activism; for the most part, the doctors he discusses are not focused on the science of the disease or treatment, but on triage. In other words, Selwyn's patients are drug-users and addicts who garner little to no sympathy in society, or even with their families, and he and the doctors around him are not seeking to make names for themselves--they are simply the ones who must attempt to deal with HIV/AIDS as it attacks the communities they live within. For these reasons, the memoir is worthwhile still, albeit somewhat dated if someone is actually hoping to learn more about the place of HIV/AIDS in our current society.

Written and published in the mid-late 90s, the book is clearly dated when it comes to the science of the virus: treatment has come a long way, and while there is no cure still, there is hope. On the other hand, it's frightening what has Not changed. Stigmatization and apathy are still serious issues, as are misconceptions about who HIV/AIDS affects, how, and where infected populations are growing most quickly. Aside from science, though, Selwyn's voice is notable for its readability and for the fact that he is the average doctor--he's not a rock star scientist attempting research and treatment and fame along the way: he's simply a doctor faced with impossible circumstances and a so-far incurable disease. In discussions of this position, his voice is at its most powerful.

Readers familiar with HIV/AIDS related nonfiction will find Selwyn's work novel only in the fact that it deals primarily with drug users instead of patients infected through sex, casual or otherwise. But, his voice alone is rather novel, even if the territory is old. For this reason, I absolutely recommend this work as a quick read and as a memoir, and one which works poignantly to attempt an understanding of an issue which Still affects all of us, ignored or not. As a witness, Selwyn IS remarkable.

Jul 21, 2013, 10:18pm Top

C. Crime/Thriller/Suspense #6: Suspects by William J. Caunitz

Caunitz's work is incredibly detailed when it comes to the procedurals of police work, but the problem with this is that the details also make the work incredibly dated. But, that aside, it is enjoyable. This is more of an average every-day whodunit than the high-stakes suspense tales that we see coming out every day now, which is rather refreshing. On the other hand, while the tale has plenty of twists, it also has a few too many subplots, and the dialogue is sometimes fairly contrived, if not simply unbelievable. Still, the story is enjoyable, and it provides a decent escape, albeit one you may well feel detached from. It's just not a suspense novel which you can be so sucked into as to feel as if it really is happening at the moment or something which could mean life or death.

Jul 21, 2013, 10:26pm Top

Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature sounds like it could've been terribly interesting but didn't deliver. Just the title alone makes me wonder what effect 9/11 has had on American YA literature. The YAs right now can't actually remember 9/11, but once a year they hear about it at school. What does that do to their imagination and does that have something to do with the dystopia/high-cost plotting trend we are going through right now.

Aug 26, 2013, 2:29pm Top

It's a funny thing--I have a hard time remembering that my summer students (9th grade at their oldest) are all too young to have experienced 9/11, but it is an interesting thought to wonder whether or not that's connected to all of the dystopic stories we're seeing, and their reading interests. I wonder whether our best YA writers are just necessarily turned in that direction, so that that's where the reading trend has gone, or whether there's something in the air that affects taste moreso than what the writers are exploring directly?

Meanwhile, I'm so sorry it took me so long to answer. I got a concussion in late July, and I'm just now getting back to LT since it kept me offline for weeks, and I've just this week gotten to the point where I can be online or reading for any length of time without developing a headache!

Aug 26, 2013, 2:32pm Top

K. Nonfiction dealing with politics and/or war #2: Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

This might not be the most obvious fit here, but Achebe's thoughts deal directly with the way that politics have influenced and interacted with the development of African literatures and African writers--in the end, I think it makes more sense than my placing it in my general nonfiction category...

A collection of three essays, this is a must-read for readers interested in Achebe's work or in African literature. Though the collection goes quickly, Achebe's works are packed with a depth of thought and passion for the history behind the developments and literatures he discusses. Absolutely worthwhile for all those who think they might have a slight interest in the work, and certainly for all those engaged in writing and teaching literature.

Aug 26, 2013, 2:41pm Top

F. YA Literature #11 Crash by Jerry Spinelli

I'm a huge fan of Spinelli, but that said, this is so far my least favorite of his works. Unlike his other works, the humor doesn't come across nearly so smartly, and the characters themselves are simply less likeable than in other works. In part, certainly, the main character isn't meant to be so likeable since readers are meant to see him grow in maturity over the course of the book--the problem, though, is that he is so incredibly unlikeable. And, unlike in Spinelli's other works, I didn't actually believe the transformation he went through.

Simply, this isn't a YA book I'd recommend. Spinelli fans will likely be disappointed, and I can't say that I'll see any reason to pass this one on or come back to it.

Aug 26, 2013, 3:11pm Top

H. Poetry #12: The Habit of Buenos Aires by Lorraine Healy

Healy's poems are grounded in the politics, war, and history of Buenos Aires, and readers with some knowledge or experience of Argentina will no doubt get a bit more from these pages than others. However, all that said, Healy's poems also betray a careful and thoughtful knowledge of human spirits, and a sweet talent for writing simple moments between a few individuals. Her poems are elegant and well-crafted, each one with its own particular place in the work, and the collection as a whole is worth exploring and sharing. And, the true test? Yes, there are poems here which I'll come back to, to re-read, and re-read, and re-read. Recommended.

Aug 26, 2013, 3:19pm Top

B. Fantasy/Sci-Fi #5 I am Morgan le Fay by Nancy Springer

In the end, I have to say that I enjoyed Springer's writing and the details offered to this piece of the legends, and it was a fast and well-paced YA read, beautifully written for the most part. On the other hand, the focal points Springer chose sometimes made it feel less like a YA novel than like a bare-bones writing of an adult work, and I feel pretty sure that I'd be more likely to give the more adult versions of Arthurian works to interested teens, as opposed to this work. I also have to say that it ended incredibly quickly--for the first three quarters of the book, Springer's pacing felt perfect and controlled, but all of that felt lost in the end. On the whole, there were moments when I really enjoyed this read, but I'm just not sure that it's something I'd feel the need to pass on or recommend above others.

Aug 26, 2013, 5:53pm Top

Ouch, sorry to hear about the concussion! Keep taking care of yourself.

Aug 26, 2013, 9:29pm Top


J. Diss Category II: Reading Related to HIV/AIDS #4: Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited: AIDS and its Aftermath by Andrew Holleran

Holleran's essays are a clear look back to the first decade of the HIV/AIDS crisis, centered on New York City and permeated equally by fear and by grief for those lost. In many cases, the essays chronicle the confusion and the sense of helplessness felt in the earliest years when there was virtually no treatment available, and even the hope for a cure that few imagined would still be out of reach decades later. Holleran's mix of the political with the social, and of the personal with the societal, gives this collection the feel of being a view into various windows on reactions to and scenes within New York City as individuals dealt with HIV, and more particularly AIDS itself. While some of the information and debate clearly dates back to the 1980s, and feels so dated, the more striking note for a contemporary reader is how little of the work is actually dated, considering how much time has passed.

On the whole, this work is a fearful look back at the beginning of our country's years dealing with HIV/AIDS, and provides a careful window into what's passed, and what is still ongoing. Holleran's careful attention to individuals, here, is just as noteworthy, and in the end, is the more telling and lasting element of the book as it works as documentation, witness, journal, and elegy.


Aug 26, 2013, 9:47pm Top

J. Diss. Category II: Reading Related to HIV/AIDS #5: In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic edited by Marie Howe and Michael Klein

As powerful as it is various, this collection compiles essays, letters, diary entries, memoir fragments, and brief anecdotes in an effort to collect and broadcast the many experiences and emotions surrounding HIV/AIDS in America. By compiling the voices of teenagers with nearly no knowledge of the disease with writers whose life work has become an attempt at understanding it, and setting up the writing of doctors alongside the writing of victims, activists, and individuals in mourning, Marie Howe and Michael Klein put together an anthology which is at no point repetitive, and which is at every moment necessary and compelling.

Taken together, the voices here represent uncountable experiences with HIV/AIDS, and a portion of our history which should be noted and remembered even as we continue to deal with HIV/AIDS. Expressing every emotion imaginable--from humor to grief, from anger to confusion to love--the works here are compelling acts of witness and writing, doing a work which is worth reading and sharing.


Aug 31, 2013, 6:08pm Top

L. Biographies and Memoirs #6: Woman of Valor by Lihi Lapid

First of all, this isn't a novel. The book's own jacket admits that the book that the book is the story of two women, one of them an author, which makes it at least partially a memoir. But, the other woman isn't a character so much as a half-drawn shadow of a character, and there are strong suggestions within the author's memoir portion that suggest that this other character is in fact drawn from one of her friends and simply made anonymous. So, call the book what you will, but understand that it is not a novel. Including portions of letters to the author, it is at most something of a hybrid, half memoir and half self-help.

However, genre aside, this particular reader found the book insufferable, drenched in self-pity and self-importance. The title is "Woman of Valor", and the truth is that the entire book seems to have no point other than to celebrate how courageous the author believes herself to be. Now, I'm not saying that motherhood doesn't take courage and talent, at least if one is to succeed. I am saying that a lot of women succeed at being wonderful mothers, and that this particular mother's journey isn't anything spectacular. Based on her words, it appears that this is part of her point--she's not spectacular when set beside many other mothers, and all successful mothers are courageous and worth celebrating. Okay, fine. But then, I have to ask: why should I read this book, full of clichés and self-pity as it is, instead of just helping out or loving the mothers around me? Simply, there's no answer. If you agree that being a mother takes a lot of work, and requires sacrifice, there is absolutely no reason for you to read this book unless you simply want to know that others feel the same way, and have doubts on that front.

Obviously, you can tell from this review that I was frustrated, and it's true. The author's self-defeated tone throughout the book makes no argument more strongly than that of believing there's no such thing as a happy ending, no such thing as a happy family, no such thing as a couple that can simply stay in love in the face of adversity. Sure, in the last few pages, she attempts to trump this attitude with a few pages of anecdote that claim she's overcome her self-defeated doubt and pessimism...but that's a light and weak finish to a two hundred page work drenched in self-pity and self-importance.

Simply, I wouldn't recommend this work to anyone, and I'm sorry to have read it. I never would have made it past the first twenty pages if I weren't someone who has a difficult time putting a book down unfinished. And, simply, I kept on thinking that there had to be some pay-off, some reason for the work to be celebrated... I was wrong.

Aug 31, 2013, 8:34pm Top

L. Biographies and Memoirs #7: Po-boy Contraband: From Diagnosis Back to Life by Patrice Melnick

Patrice Melnick's short memoir stands out for many reasons, but perhaps the most poignant is the fact that she takes survival as an assumption, and celebrates moments within life just so much as she explores difficulties and decisions. As a result, despite the fact that the primary focus of this memoir is her decision, and her ability, to live with HIV (Not just to Survive or get through, but to Live), the work as a whole is full of humor and life.

It does take time to get accustomed to Melnick's style--the book as a whole is composed of fragments, mostly anecdotal, that work actively to confuse emotion, time, and place, so that the full work seems something like a collage, with the exception of the beginning and end, which for the most part fill their traditional roles. This style, though, works to echo the many confusions involved in Melnick's role as an individual living far longer than expected with HIV, and the role she plays (by the end) as survivor, woman, lover, activist, and teacher. While the style seems half-hazard in the beginning, and almost lazy at times, it does end up reinforcing the multi-faceted focus of the work, and serves as well as a beautiful illustration of a just-so-complex city, New Orleans.

There's no doubt that this isn't the traditional memoir or narrative, but it is a beautiful hybrid of a work that serves to celebrate the choice to do more than survive hardship, the choice to do more than simply move forward, and the choice to attempt to transcend what science--and everyone around you--may be saying about the body and the life that is, in the end, yours.

Absolutely recommended.

Aug 31, 2013, 10:14pm Top

Ick! A concussion!!! I know those can be really serious. I had a friend who had one and didn't feel quite right until two years later. I hope yours wasn't so serious and that you are back to normal now. The Achebe book sounds interesting.

Sorry to see I am Morgan La Fey wasn't better. I read Mists of Avalon this year and feel there's room for a good, short (emphasis on short) Morgana story.

Sep 2, 2013, 7:29pm Top

Good to see you stopping by :) I think I am mostly back to normal, which is a huge relief--in the midst of people around me telling me stories that were meant to reassure, I also heard a lot of horror stories about concussions! I think Springer's intent may have been to fill that void--certainly, at times, I felt it was in the vein of Mists of Avalon with the strong emphasis on strong females, but then again, it was a bit more than a decade ago that I read that longer work, so it's hard to tell...

J. Dissertation Category II--Writing related to HIV/AIDS #7: Last Watch of the Night by Paul Monette

A collection of essays written by Monette in '92 and '93, Last Watch of the Night chronicles his thoughts on family, spirituality and the church, health and disease, writing, and AIDS, primarily as connected to being gay in America in the 1970s and 1980s. All personal and heavily anecdotal, the essays veer between being sorrowful, angry, and celebratory, though Monette's sarcastic humor often comes through as well. While a few of the essays come off as being overly self-indulgent, most of them are both thoughtful and entertaining, well worth the time for any interested reader. It's worth noting, also, that readers needn't be familiar with Monette's other works in order to get something out of the collection--most of the references to his own writings are general, his primary focus being on more memoir-and-history based interests.

On the whole, the collection is well worth reading for any interested parties, though perhaps not as historically or personal telling as readers might wish.

Sep 2, 2013, 8:15pm Top

D. Horror #2: Under the Dome by Stephen King

King began thinking about this book in 1976, and the time for thought shows in this final product. Centered on a fascinating cast of characters and an all-too-believable small town, this book shows King at his best, and reads like a roller coaster. With significant time spent on characterization, subplot, and suspense, and the main plot split between small-town politics (albeit, hopefully, darker than the average small town's politics) and vintage King creepiness, the book is fast-moving and fascinating. For the first time in many years, I found myself virtually incapable of putting down a King novel, and enjoyed every moment. This is dark enough to engage fans of classic horror, and clever and character-driven enough that it will just as easily engage fans of King's lighter fare. Overall, I have to say: this is one of my favorite King novels.

Absolutely recommended as a thumb-screw, laugh-as-you-winch, hurts-so-good, try-to-forget-how-real-this-could-be absolute wonder of a read. That is, if you want horror, of course. So. So. Good.

Sep 3, 2013, 4:46am Top

>170 whitewavedarling: - and that review bumps it up the to read list - I got this recently and tbh the size has put me off a little, as well as the passing similarity to the excellent die wand good to see that you loved it and will definitely get round to it

Sep 10, 2013, 9:08pm Top

The size put me off for a while as well, even though I love King's longer works. When I picked it up on a whim, though, I ended up reading it in only five sittings! It goes incredibly quickly. I've heard of that work, though I've never picked it up---I'll have to make sure it stays on my radar!

Sep 10, 2013, 9:11pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories... #8: The Bushwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane

Quirky and busy, this is a novel that will either pull you in from the beginning or never quite catch your interest. Simply, it's rather what would happen if Dennis Johnson were to work at capturing the most mundane and unlikable of characters, and with a focus on the ordinary details rather than the spiritual or emotional ones which might engage a reader anyway. There are some interesting moments, to be sure, but nothing at all to really engage a reader in the future of the plot or the characters, or drag one back for more from McGuane. Nothing I'd recommend, I'm afraid.

Sep 15, 2013, 8:46pm Top

J. Dissertation Category II: Reading related to HIV/AIDS #8: The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer

A necessary and heartfelt chronicle, Kramer's play explores the very real personalities and heartbreak that attempted to deal with the beginning years of HIV/AIDS in New York City, and it does so with both detail and humor. Giving as much attention to the necessities of attention and love as to tragedy, the work is a too-real mix of both history and art which both documents and entertains in each scene. Certainly, this is worth the read, and beautifully written.

Sep 29, 2013, 1:22pm Top

E. Short Stories #7: First Love and Other Sorrows by Harold Brodkey

Quiet and understated, these stories have the feel of personal anecdotes related over late-night coffees, and the title of the collection does indeed set the tone for each of the inclusions. Exploring the sorrows of love, in multiple guises, Brodkey's stories come together in something like a quilting of remembrances, and read beautifully. That said, the last stories in the collection are connected by a central character, and even as short as they are, some of the immediacy present in earlier stories just doesn't come across. Still, for lovers of quiet and realistically written stories, these are a pleasant escape for an afternoon.

Sep 29, 2013, 1:38pm Top

E. Short Stories #8: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Murakami's worlds are so complete and believable, as strange as they are, that each story becomes a small journey in itself; you can't help but get carried off by the characters and situations. His take on magical realism is beautifully envisioned, and superb in creation. Even in his short stories, the depth of idea is as realized as it is in his novels, and the writing is as graceful and fast-moving as ever. Absolutely recommended.

Sep 29, 2013, 4:42pm Top

D. Horror #3: Ritual by Mo Hayder

Hayder's work often falls in a gray area between horror and suspense/thriller, and this work is no exception. Hayder's talent for painting the grotesque meshes perfectly with the noir in this mystery, and her writing is as superb as ever. Her characters are as believable as they are flawed, and even the subplots offset major tensions perfectly. Certainly, Hayder isn't for everyone--she's got a talent for painting violence and gruesome scenes which will turn off many readers, if not most, and her flair for capturing the darkness of human nature is what pushes her books so close to the horror genre. But, for readers who want a glimpse of horror in their thrillers and mysteries, Hayder is among the best. Absolutely recommended.

Oct 10, 2013, 6:48pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories #9: The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom

The distinct voices of Goldbloom's work sucked me in the beginning, and I read the first third or so of the work in one sitting. Once the unique flavor of the voice wore off some, however, I grew less and less engaged with the work. The premise was interesting, and I was fascinated with the history behind the work, but the characters were (for the most part) simply unlikable. While I could sympathize with their situations, I still couldn't bring myself to care about the circumstances that they had, for the most part, brought upon themselves. And while I cared about the prisoners who were at the forefront of Goldbloom's ideas, their characters were superficial enough that they never felt entirely real in anything but their effect on Goldbloom's focus characters. In the last third of the book, I found myself reading simply to finish, having long ago been able to predict the trajectory of the novel's conclusion and characters.

In the end, I'm afraid this isn't a book I'm likely to recommend. Goldbloom's experiments in narrative voice were discombobulating and difficult to navigate in the midst of an otherwise traditional narrative, and the book as a whole was predictable once it got going. As fascinating as the Idea of the novel was...I'm afraid that it just wasn't enough.

Oct 11, 2013, 8:36am Top

discombobulating is sucha great word :-)

Oct 13, 2013, 4:42pm Top

It is, indeed!

K. Nonfiction dealing with politics and/or war #3: Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper

In a poignant hybrid of documentary reporting and memoir, Cooper's work explores the events that led him to his current path, his motivations, and a few of the disasters and events which have left the most lasting impressions on his life and his reporting. With about half of the book focused in on his time in New Orleans post-Katrina, other portions of the book explore his own past and questions of grief, the 2006 tsunami, and his time covering wars in Sarajevo and Iraq in particular. Cooper's style is conversational and reflective, and he moves smoothly between issues of politics, personal development, and basic history/reporting. As serious as the book is, though, there's also quite a bit of hope to be found in the anecdotes and struggles Cooper focuses in on. In the end, the work is many things, and can't really be called either a memoir or a full work of journalism--it can, however, be called both necessary and worthwhile. Absolutely recommended.

Oct 17, 2013, 6:57pm Top

J. Dissertation Category II: Reading related to HIV/AIDS #9: Dorian: An Imitation by Will Self

Self's re-styling of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray moves on a heavy under-current of shock, but considering the treatment, that might be appropriate. Full of grotesques and satire, along with plenty of descriptions just as dark as they are humorous, the novel rewrites the idea of Dorian onto a society already punctured by overindulgence in drugs, alcohol, and sex. Played out in the years when AIDS is just becoming known, the novel's focus becomes a trajectory of declining grotesques who either struggle against attaining any moral code, or suffer slowly under the lack thereof. Self's humor and (insane) descriptions keep the novel moving quickly, even with such a serious backdrop as it finds, but the crudeness and plays on moral violence will turn off a lot of readers before the novel is done. For what it is, however, it's an interesting re-write of Wilde's novel, and one which wouldn't have had anywhere near so much power if Self had chosen to set the novel in an earlier (or later) time--as it turns out, the novel becomes a surprisingly introspective condemnation, showing a destruction that was in many ways far too realistic once AIDS took hold in the eighties.

In the end, this certainly isn't for every reader, and even though I read horror regularly, I was tempted to put the book down in disgust on more than one occasion. If nothing else, this speaks to the shock value that Self so often seeks out as the book moves along. But, all that said, many aspects of the book were frighteningly clever and humorous.

Oct 17, 2013, 10:39pm Top

M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories #6: My First Car by James Lecesne

For anyone who has fond memories of a relationship with a car, this is a fun and lovely book. Lecesne collects brief recollections from dozens of celebrities, including athletes, actors, writers, artists, etc....all of them about first cars, all of the memories told by the respective personalities so that the book is full of distinct tones and recognizable voices. Compiling the voices of so many men and women--from Morgan Freeman to Wayne Gretzky, from Andy Warhol to James Belushi, from Dan Rather to Ronald Reagan and Ivana Trump and Liberace and Mel Torme and Stephen King and Hugh Hefner and Ralph Nader--and taking pictures along the way, this brief work is full of humor, heartbreak (for those of us who love to remember our car-based relationships), and history. Not to mention cars.

Probably, this is now my favorite coffee table book, and will keep that distinction. If you or someone you know loves their vehicle, or has loved a vehicle in the past, this work will be well worth your time in tracking it down and wandering through its pages. Absolutely recommended.

Oct 24, 2013, 7:56pm Top

K. Nonfiction Dealing with Politics and/or War #4: From Baghdad, With Love by Jay Kopelman

Much as I'd been looking forward to fitting this short book in, I have to admit: I was a bit disappointed. It may be because I've read so much about war, or because I've read so many memoirs related to animals and pets, but I expected more. It may be, simply enough, that this book needed to be quite a bit longer...or else two separate books. Kopelman's writing and style wasn't bad, and I found the book to be a fast read, but he seemed pulled between feeling the need to explain the setting that he and the soldiers found themselves in (and the accompanying feelings) and describing the relationship he developed with Lava, and the eventual rescue. And, what was there in both regards was bare bones. This made sense in terms of Iraq--the focus was supposed to be the dog, Lava, after all. But, the problem came in the fact that I wanted more about Lava too. I wanted the details and the different relationships and the details of the rescue. Instead, I often felt like I was reading the cliffnotes. In my experience, I should have felt close to tears on multiple occasions as I read a book like this--that expectation/dread is one of the reasons I took so long to pick the book up, much as I wanted to read it. Instead? I think I teared up once. All in all, I'm glad to have read it, and this will probably be a more meaningful book for those who've read Either about the war Or about animal rescue and pet related memoirs...for me, though, I'm afraid I just wanted more. Still, for me, worth reading. And, probably, you'll feel the same in the end if you love dogs.

Oct 24, 2013, 10:11pm Top

Interesting review - I've had From Baghdad With Love in my TBR pile for quite some time, but have backed off from reading it due to my fear of getting to emotional. Based on your review I might be able to read it and not cry too much...

Nov 25, 2013, 4:49pm Top

I was actually avoiding it for the same reason--it was in my stacks for ages. As it turned out, though, it was a lot less emotional than I expected.

Nov 25, 2013, 4:50pm Top

C. Crime/Suspense/Thrillers #7: The Whole Truth by David Baldacci

I enjoyed the characters and storyline, but the writing in this particular work didn't feel up to the standard I usually expect from Baldacci. Pieces of the story also felt more melodramatic than I'd normally expect, making me feel like this one was more rushed than normal. On the whole, I don't think this is one of his best works, but it was still an enjoyable escape and a fast read.

Nov 25, 2013, 5:11pm Top

B. Fantasy/Sci-Fi #6: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I had the pleasure of hearing Neil Gaiman read a portion of this novel aloud a few months before it was published, and at that time, I thought for sure it would end up being my favorite Gaiman work--even in just those few minutes, it felt absolutely magical. Reading it, I wasn't really disappointed, but this won't take the place of my favorites after all. Somehow, it had the power of his short stories for me personally--I was totally transported, but I wasn't quite as touched as I have been by his longer works, except in odd moments that had more to do with single thoughts than overall story. I have to say, though, that I think this work was meant to be read aloud. Short, magical, and conversational, the novel actually begs to be read aloud.

Here, Gaiman really is at the top of his game when he creates the characters and story in this work, and I loved every moment. Either because of the framing or because of the age of the characters, I didn't find myself feeling as connected to the characters as I often do when it comes to Gaiman's novels, but I did love every moment, and recommend it with all my heart. Fun, haunting, and utterly worthwhile.

Nov 28, 2013, 2:54pm Top

B. Fantasy/Sci-Fi #7: The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod

From the beginning, MacLeod's novel is bound up in political ideologies, philosophy, and various factions of rebels and idealists. And, at heart, this is the problem within the novel. More important than plot or character, it seems that MacLeod wants to explore ideas and logical progressions from historical changes, as wrapped up in Marxist philosophy, socialism, and capitalism. Nothing works, and the characters and scientific developments along the way are alternately stuck in the middle or fighting multiple systems at once. While the ideas here, and many of the scenes and characters as well, are interesting and engaging, there's never enough focus on character or the plots of here-and-now (as opposed to historical or ideological or political, as the case may be) in the novel for readers to really gain a footing of interest.

Was I entertained? At many points, I was, just as I was often impressed by the twists and turns MacLeod put together. But was I so engaged that I had to turn the page, or that I was anxious that a particular character triumph or discover some truth? No. And, sadly, I don't really feel the need to pick up the next piece in the series. I can acknowledge MacLeod's accomplishments in this piece, but for me, I desperately needed less theory and political argument, and a bit more development of the characters who might have made me care more about their ideals. Simply, I think that the book just took on too much in this first installment of the series.

Dec 8, 2013, 10:14pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories #10: Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston

Admittedly, this work is far more difficult than Hurston's better known Their Eyes Were Watching God, and not nearly so engaging. The dialect is nearly constant, and sometimes required sounding out, which I didn't find to be the case in her other works. But while the characters aren't ever truly likable, they are believable and telling. Hurston's ability for bringing unfamiliar settings to life is undeniable, and reading this work is no different than being physically transported back to a poor southern town in the early twentieth century.

In the end, the work does hold up to time, even if it won't be a fast or easy read for contemporary readers. Faith, tolerance, race, religion, hypocrisy: all are explored and played out here in Hurston's first published novel, none of them simply, and Hurston's readers are richer for the exploration and for the effort the novel requires

Dec 9, 2013, 7:04am Top

I'm glad you mentioned that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book meant to be read aloud. I have a library hold on the audiobook version, narrated by Gaiman himself, and am looking forward to it.

Dec 11, 2013, 11:39am Top

It's absolutely wonderful :) I have a hard time with audio books because I generally need to be doing something with my hands or else I get lost in daydreams, but if I were going to try another, I'd probably either choose this or his Stardust. I hope you enjoy it!

F. YA Literature 312: Incantation by Alice Hoffman

Set during the Spanish Inquisition and centered on a young girl who doesn't know that her family is hiding the core of their beliefs, this book is both heartbreaking and spirit-full. Alice Hoffman's depiction of Estrella and her family, and simple acts of childhood pettiness that can lead to tragedy, paints the horror of that portion of history with a frightening reality. As much about family as about history, and as much about being true to one's belief in oneself as anything else, this is a powerful work, and well worth reading.

Much as it is meant for young adults, though, it doesn't shy away from the worst moments that individuals faced during the Inquisition. If I were going to pass this on to a young reader, I'd want them to read it with family so that they'd have someone to talk about it with during and after the reading--I think this is a read that requires that attention and time. It will certainly stay with me.


Dec 17, 2013, 11:31am Top

H. Poetry #13: Colaterales/Collateral by Dinapiera Di Donato

Some of the poems here--especially those in the first half of the work--are really lovely, floating on a mix of grace and clever wordplay that makes each poem both worthwhile and memorable. Many of the poems, though, are weighted down by heavy and regular allusions to historical and biblical characters and events. In these poems, it's often difficult to follow the train of the poem, and while the language is still lovely, the meaning sometimes gets lost. It is a lovely edition, with the Spanish text printed to face the English text on the opposite page, but the poetry itself feels unbalanced in many ways. I think I'll occasionally go back to a few of these poems, but I don't see myself feeling the need to reread (or recommend) the collection as a whole.

Dec 17, 2013, 12:03pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories: #11 Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

Set against the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and with much of the novel taking place in the refugee camp of Jenin, this is a powerful piece of fiction about a girl growing up in the midst of conflicts which started long before she was born and will, still, affect her every day. With a torn family, simple desires, and tragedy more familiar than happiness, her life unfolds in the camp, in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and finally in America. While the beginning of the novel is slightly bogged down in history, and it's clear that Abulhawa is struggling to balance history and story in her first novel, the story takes over quickly.

In the end, the novel is striking and delicate, exploring the subtleties of a life shadowed by this conflict while still managing to develop believable and engaging characters and storylines. The book is about struggle, survival, and forgiveness, and it forces readers to examine history and contemporary conflict on an individual and personal level that no reader will fail to relate to. More than any other text I've read, nonfiction or fiction, this made the Palestinian-Israeli conflict something that was alive, and not just a distant blur of war.

Simply, this is not a perfect book, but it is necessary and beautiful, and telling. One of those few novels that everyone should read. Absolutely recommended.

Dec 18, 2013, 12:21pm Top

G. Fiction unrelated to other categories #12: Querelle by Jean Genet

The world of Querelle is immoral, erotic, and steeped in secrets. The prose is consistently poetic and sensual, alternately directed by characters lost to immoral behaviors and characters hiding from their own desires. And then, of course, the characters are all surrounded by sex and murder, if not directly engaging in both.

The back of the edition I own notes that the word "deals in a startling way with the Dostoevskian theme of murder as an act of total liberation", and the reference to Dostoevsky may be why I bought this book in the first place (I no longer remember)...but either way, Genet's treatment of murder is too similar to his treatment of sex to be taken as a totally separate conversation: both are incredibly personal acts, and sensual because of the hand-to-hand connection between bodies, and both are revelations of power carrying or denying their own unique brands of shame and guilt. One of the fascinating things about Querelle, though, is the shame that he (and others around him) feel regarding their homosexual acts even as he feels no shame about violence and general immorality (unrelated to sexuality). Some of the horror of the novel comes from the outright violence, but some also comes from the fact that all of this rings true: it isn't hard to imagine how contemporary society could leave someone feeling absolute guilt about their sexuality, and none for their violence, though (in my eyes) it should be something nearly unimaginable.

In the end, Genet's writing is intoxicating, and his descriptions luxurious and believable. At times, his style reminded me of both Dostoevsky and James, but the story of Querelle is something else entirely. Yes, this graphically violent and sexual...but then, maybe there's all the more wonder in that since it is also a beautiful novel that seems, unlikely as it is, to still reveal what is good.

Dec 18, 2013, 3:13pm Top

H. Poetry #14: Over Autumn Rooftops by Hai Zi translated by Dan Murphy

Graceful and clever, this is one of those collections that deserves reading and rereading, aloud and privately. Hai Zi's poems convey a sense of the natural world and of private meditation in the face of suffering, and as simple as they are, they are just as beautiful. If you read poetry, this is worth your time.

As the first English translation of any of the poet's work, this collection moves in chronological order, bringing together many of Hai Zi's short and long poems from the most prolific years of his short life. The book places the English translations on pages facing the Chinese so that readers who know both languages will probably gain a great deal more from the work, but the edition is attractive and well worth the while even for those of us who only speak/read English. It is, though, a transporting work: regardless of where you find yourself when you read this, you'll gain a sense of calm and warmth from Hai Zi's work, and feel yourself to be journeying with him through villages and along rivers, lost in his meditations.

Simply, I can't recommend this work highly enough. Hai Zi's poems, especially taken together as Dan Murphy has placed them, are brilliant and striking, and the sparse footnotes are just what you would want: explaining just enough about landmarks and cultural history, as is needed for the single poem, and nothing more. Most of these poems, though, need no explanation.

Hai Zi's voice comes across as both intimate and urgent, and every word is worth hearing.

Dec 18, 2013, 4:06pm Top

H. Poetry #15: The Homesteader by A. Van Jordan

Unlike Van Jordan's earlier work, Macnolia, this work becomes so much wrapped up in documenting an idea and a history that the poetry ends up losing some of its power. At times, flashes of Van Jordan's best work appears, but on the whole, this project holds out all of the promise of his other work, and just doesn't deliver quite as much as might be expected. The language veers toward a more documentary tone, losing the emotion of his earlier works--so, while the story is interesting, the poetry is far less memorable. I'd recommend this to readers interested in poetry documenting history or engaging with film or art...but for readers simply interested in worthwhile poetry, I'd point them to Van Jordan's earlier works. He's one of my favorite poets, but while this work explores many of his already established themes (African American history, race relations, poverty, film, artists), it doesn't do so with nearly the grace and power I generally associate with his writing

Dec 25, 2013, 8:24am Top

H. Poetry #16: Tongues of Their Mothers by Makhosazana Xaba

Tingling with sincerity, Xaba's poems are as approachable and varied as they are rich. Varying between reflection and narrative, the poems present themselves as straightforward snapshots built from graceful language and a quiet depth. In a way, many of them reminded me of haiku: you could take them simply in a single quick read, and enjoy them just so simply, or read and reread for another depth of language and meaning.

In the beginning of the collection, I actually wasn't impressed. I found myself turning pages without getting more than a quick and surface enjoyment. After a quick dozen or so poems, though (probably just less than that), Xaba's voice became something more honest and resonating than I'd been seeing, and I began reading and rereading...often not leaving a page until I'd covered a full poem or passage more than three times. Not because of difficulty, but because of the simple and luxurious emotion I was finding in each poem.

In some cases, I could feel Xaba responding to works by Chinua Achebe, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Sindiwe Magona. At others, historical moments and race or gender relations. (My one quibble with the book is that there are some explanatory notes included at the back of the edition, but no indication is made when the events/terms are noted in the book, so that a reader who needs those notes must then go back searching for each relative poem unless they happened to discover them ahead of time.) As a whole, though, the book responds to attempting more than survival--life, individuality, love--in the face of forces outside of one's own control, and in such a varied and careful way that the theme is discreetly and gracefully woven throughout the work.

On the whole, this book is artful and approachable, and rings with importance. I'm looking forward to re-reading many of the poems, and sharing them.

Dec 25, 2013, 2:30pm Top

G. Fiction Unrelated to Other Categories #13: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris

I had mixed reactions to this one. In the early portion of the book, I was really engaged in the first voice Dorris takes on, but before I got very far along I was already beginning to be bored. Toward the end, my interest picked up on some level...but while the work as a whole was masterfully written, and the characters well-drawn, it was also fairly predictable.

The structure of the book felt more like a gimmick than a necessity, and added to the predictability. Early on, though, it felt like Dorris was overdoing a fairly simple (and sentimental) theme, and that the entire work was simply meant to reinforce the strength of familial love and the fact that we don't truly know one another. The novel, though, was hurt by Dorris' focus on structure and on three fairly similar characters, all of whom are hindered by secrets.

By the end of the book, simply enough, I wasn't sorry to have read it, but I was very glad to be done with it. Having felt it was predictable and overly sentimental, I also felt that it celebrated three women as strong and admirable women (in some ways, at least), when I found them less than likable, and simply didn't see the strength of character that was, apparently, supposed to shine through. More than anything, I felt they were all overly sentimental and locked into the past, even though I believe Dorris meant to imply a progression of strength and love over time.

So, yes: lovely writing, lovely characterizations, entertaining moments.... Not such an entertaining or worthwhile story, for this reader at least.

Dec 25, 2013, 2:41pm Top

C. Crime/Thriller/Suspense #8: Fear Itself by Jonathan Nasaw

Jonathan Nasaw has always had a way of sucking me in to each story he tells, and this one was no different. Perfect dialogue, an entertaining story with just enough twists, engaging characters, a believable trajectory...overall, this was everything I could really ask for in a crime novel, and I loved every minute.

As ever, Nasaw is a clever and entertaining writer, and I'd recommend him to anyone who just wants to escape into a good suspense/crime story, at times horrific, and at times just funny and good.


Dec 25, 2013, 2:58pm Top

D. Horror (for lack of a more sensible place to put it...) #4: X-Rated Bloodsuckers by Mario Acevedo

What happens when you ask a vampire to investigate the murder of a doctor turned porn star, and then put him right in the middle of a large-scale conspiracy that's as dangerous to vampires as it is to humans?

A hilarious noir that ends up being a ridiculously page-turning read. Acevedo's pace is perfect in this mystery, and the characters are simply fun. Absolutely recommended.

Dec 25, 2013, 3:55pm Top

M. Nonfiction Unrelated to Other Categories #7: Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness by Ian Tattersall

Tattersall's work is a fascinating exploration of human evolution and the separate species that led up to our own, as well as the true details which make us a unique species. Detailing anthropological discoveries from around the world, along with case studies and experiments related to primates and to psychology, Tattersall moves through the territory of human evolution in an engaging and approachable style. While some of the later chapters verge on being repetitive in some notes from the early broader chapters, and in some cases go into more detail than the average reader might prefer, the work as a whole is worthwhile and readable. Whether the material here is wholly new to readers or somewhat familiar, there's bound to be material here that is worth note and reflection for nearly any reader.

Recommended for any interested party.

Dec 27, 2013, 5:05am Top

There's no category where this book fits, but since I was horrified by it...

D. Horror #5: Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

I had a difficult time getting through this book. In fact, I read the first fifteen pages or so, put it aside out of disgust, and then finally went back and finished it in one sitting--partly out of determination, partly out of curiosity, and partly because quotes on the back of my edition (from Susan Sontag and Jean Paul Sartre) made me think that there just had to be something more to it if I kept going...

It is shocking that this was published in 1928, but I'm not sure how much of the "art" of this work comes simply from the outright shock value of the work. At many points, I was more disgusted by the text than anything, and while this might be noted as an early hallmark of erotic literature, I'd be hardpressed to call it anything more than pornographic since I didn't see any of the subtlety or sensuality of language that I'd generally associate with erotica. And, there was nothing normal here. The work revolved around fetishistic and violent actions and reactions.

Had I known exactly what I was getting into, I might have read the short essay titled "W.C." that appears at the back of my edition, written by Bataille in regard to the writing/history of the text itself. Perhaps, I might have had some slight more appreciation for the art of the novel had I read that first...but I'm not sure, honestly. This wasn't badly written, but the material wasn't what I expected or would have sought out.

Simply, too each their own, and there may well be much merit in this work...and I'm just not seeing it. But, that said, I certainly wouldn't recommend it, groundbreaking and noteworthy text or not.

Dec 27, 2013, 5:30am Top

A fitting read to end one year and start the next, and one I'd recommend to nearly anyone.

M. Nonfiction unrelated to other categories: #8: Be Like Water: Practical Wisdom from the Martial Arts by Joseph Cardillo

I stumbled onto this book while doing some research, and picked it up primarily out of curiosity. Once I began reading it, though, I was so taken in by Cardillo's style, and curiosity, that I couldn't help but continue.

In each short chapter, Cardillo takes on one core principle of the martial arts, explaining how it relates to the art, how he experienced it in his own training, and how it can relate to the average person's daily experiences and aid them in their own personal/professional development. At the end of each chapter, he finishes with explaining an exercise (usually meditation related) to help the reader get a more sincere feel for the principle, and then concludes with a short list of resolutions for moving forward with the principle as a tool for moving forward in life.

In many ways, I think this book could be classified either as philosophy or as self-help. I can't say that I gained something from every chapter, but I did gain enough from the reading that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book. At the very least, it gave me some more tools for mediating conflicts around me and for dealing with colleagues who I tend to have trouble understanding or relating to (few as they are, they are a distraction, for most everyone I'm guessing). On the whole, I do think I benefitted from reading it. And, while I'm not generally an anxious person...I think I will return to this work the next time I'm feeling intimidated or anxious about a decision or relationship.

Last, I'll note that I'm generally skeptical of the idea of meditating--I'm not good at sitting still, and always thought of meditating as something that would require significant chunks of time. Cardillo's approach and exercises, though, felt both approachable and worthwhile, which really surprised me.

I can't say how this would compare to similar books, but I'm glad to have stumbled across it. Recommended.

Dec 27, 2013, 12:46pm Top

Hi Jennifer. Happy New Year!
Over Autumn Rooftops and Be Like Water sound interesting. I've added them both to the book list. Thanks for the great reviews.
Meditation is hard to learn at first. Everyone has trouble learning to still their body and mind. Once you get the hang of it you can spend as little as 15 mins a day meditating - anywhere, anytime. The learning process can be time consuming. I actually prefer chanting meditation - either with a group or with a DVD - to "regular" meditation. It's easier to get to a meditative state when the focus is built into the chant.

Dec 28, 2013, 6:37am Top

Hey--Happy New Year to you too--it'll be here soon! Both of those books were really wonderful surprises. I wasn't expecting to get anything at all out of Be Like Water, but I think I'm going to try going through the chapters again, one per week, as the new year starts, and see how the meditation exercises go. I'll keep in mind your notes as well and see where I end up!

Dec 28, 2013, 3:14pm Top

D. Horror #6: Christine by Stephen King

One of the most satisfying horror novels I've read in some time, King has perfect pacing here, and creates a wonderful villain in the classic old car, Christine. The voices in the work are pitch perfect, and the suspense is near constant. Aspects of the work--technology, slang, etc.--are of course dated, but the details serve up an all too realistic time and place just the same. On the whole, I enjoyed nearly ever minute of this--the masterful mix of horror, suspense, and humor bring the story to full life, and it's a wonderful ride. Absolutely recommended.

Dec 29, 2013, 7:11pm Top

I've only read a couple of King's works but have been wanting to try more. Christine sounds like a good one!

Dec 30, 2013, 4:13am Top

It absolutely is :) You can tell from the writing that it's one of his earlier works--it's not bad, just not quite as good!--but it really was a fantastic read. I would have read it much more quickly if I hadn't forgotten to take it along when I went away for a week or so mid-month!

Dec 30, 2013, 4:37am Top

G. Fiction Unrelated to Other Categories #14: Seek My Face by John Updike

Even though the novel takes place over the course of just a single day, it ranges from the 1930s on through the end of the twentieth century in scope. As an artist is interviewed about her life--her work, her marriages, her children, her artistic husbands, and her thoughts on gender, art, and life as a whole--the novel moves gracefully between a female artist's ever-detailed memories and the long conversation she's engaged in with a young writer and student of art. As the dynamic between the two women changes over the course of the interview, the philosophical questions of art and love are more and more a consideration between them, as are questions of how being female has affected the artist's abilities to simply be an artist. And, of course, the disconnect between the artist and the critic is often at the forefront, humorous and disturbing as it may be at varying points. At the center of the book, though, is passion, which is celebrated.

I can't speak to how accurate the discussions of New York's art scene may be, or to how accurately the interview characterizes the art scene in America at mid-century, though it discusses both at length--I can, however, say that the novel is wonderfully entertaining, and beautifully conceived and written. I'd say this is a must-read for anyone whose life revolves around the creation of any form of art, or the criticism/analysis of it. Though the direct subject is painting, many of the discussions apply just so much to writing, dance, and any form of passion that consumes time, energy, and love without, necessarily, regard for the people affected.

Absolutely recommended.

Dec 31, 2013, 7:36am Top

E. Short Stories #9: Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh by Mo Yan

Written by one of the most recent recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, this collection is an entertaining mix of phantom and reality, socio-political concern and the day-to-day business of life. The stories and characters are all enchantingly believable, even when and where they leave reality behind in favor of something more speculative, often achieving in the process a frightening version of magical realism. There's no doubt in my mind that the stories here will haunt me for some time, and draw me back to re-read and pass on the journeys to other readers.

On a side note, I haven't the faintest idea why the work is regularly labeled as a novel online--it is a collection of short stories, not interconnected by anything but the occasional theme. Regardless, this is absolutely recommended.

Dec 31, 2013, 3:49pm Top

D. Horror #7: The Omen by David Seltzer

This is a fast read, and clearly written with an eye toward film because it is just that quick, but not badly written. I usually avoid books written off of movies because I don't expect much from the writing, but for what it was, this was well done and entertaining. I would have liked a bit more depth and a slower wrap-up, but it was a nice quick horror to pass some time with. I'm sure there's no surprise here if you've seen the movie (which I haven't), but if you're more a fan of written horror, don't give this an automatic pass just because of its connection to the movie.

Group: 2013 Category Challenge

200 members

40,061 messages


This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.




About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 135,516,375 books! | Top bar: Always visible