eleneariel: (reading (jolly good))
1. All Clear, Connie Willis

Basically refer to whatever I said last month about Blackout, only more so because taken together, these two books are AMAZING. And I wondered some throughout about the pacing, but in the end it made sense - although my gosh, these two books need diagrams or cross references or something.

2. ...And Furthermore, Judi Dench

This is written just like she talks, so you can almost just imagine she's sitting in the room with you, chatting away. It's long on theatre stories and short on personal details, and will mean most to people who have some interest in and knowledge of the English theatre world. I enjoyed it, but it left me wanting more - more explanation of theatre things she takes for granted that the reader will know, and more information about what she was doing between shows.

3. Your Brain At Work, David Rock
Although the writing style and before-and-after dramatizations seemed a little hokey, this is full of really scientifically researched information that is helpful for understanding and improving brain function at work.

4. My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
I can't remember who recommended this (unless it was Nancy Pearl), but it 1) wasn't what I expected, and 2) was AWESOME. It was written by the youngest son in a Cheaper By the Dozen-type family who move to Greece on a whim and have adventures and collect animals and it's just really whimsical and fun.

5. At Home, Bill Bryson (audio book)
Bill Bryson has a genius for taking any subject, weaving a whole ton of rabbit trails into it, and making it all fascinating. In this one he uses the rooms in his old rectory in England to explore architecture, social customs, and a lot of random history.

6. The Wilder Life, Wendy McClure

Like many children, Wendy McClure grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. But unlike many of those children, her interest in the world of Laura never really went away, and as an adult she found herself revisiting the books with new interest. It started small: she ground her own wheat berries to make bread like they did in The Long Winter. She learned to churn butter. She started a Twitter account called @halfpintingalls. But before long she was visiting historical sites relating to the series, ranging from Pepin, Wisconson to Springfield, Missouri – at least seven in all.

With equal parts humor and introspection, The Wilder Life explores the uneasy relationship between the real Ingalls family history, the book series, and the television show … and why we still are enchanted by the Ingalls family after all of these years.

I grew up with these books and Laura was often my pretend playmate ... I've even been to her homestead/museum in Missouri. I HAVE SEEN PA'S FIDDLE, GUYS.

7. The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande

Really REALLY liked this one. Gawande is a doctor who took the type of checklists used in aviation and figured out how to use a similar system in hospitals. He was able to prove that using simple checklists cut the rate of infection dramatically and made operations safer.

8. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente

Just absolutely fell in love with this one. It looks on first glance like Alice in Wonderland style silliness, but there's a lot of depth and beauty in those pages.

9. The King's Speech, Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (audio book)

Still haven't seen the movie, but at least I've read the book! The audio book is great because it starts of with a real recording of King George VI speaking.

10. Blood, Bones & Butter, Gabriella Hamilton

I'm not quite sure why this has gotten as much attention as it has - as foodie memoirs go, it's not bad, but there are many better. And when it strays away from food and into Gabriella's personal life, it just gets odd. She enters into a marriage of convenience with an Italian so he can get a green card and doesn't take the marriage seriously at all, but then the next chapter she is moaning about how much she loves him and he doesn't love her back? Not to mention that for the entire preceding portion of the book, she was a lesbian?

11. The Skin Map, Stephen R Lawhead

I'm starting to get disappointed with my man Lawhead. He was positively brilliant with the Song of Albion series and the Pendragon Cycle, and perfectly acceptable with Patrick: Son of Ireland and the Crusades series, but everything I've read after that has been mediocore at best. This book has an interesting premise (certain people can travel both geographically and through time using ley lines, the ancient lines of energy that Stonehenge and other standing circles were built around) but the characters are cardboard cutouts, no dimention whatsoever, questions are raised and never answered, and one particular character who finds herself transported back to medieval Europe without warning or explanation spends NO time angsting about the hows and whys and immediately fits and AND introduces the idea of the coffee shop to poor pre-coffee Europe. *headdesk*

12. The Time-Traveling Fashionista, Bianca Turetsky

Such a great idea (a vintage dress that transports the wearer back to its original time period - the Titanic, in this case), such poor execution. =\

13. Death Cloud, Andrew Lane (audio book)

Alternate title could be Sherlock Holmes: the beginning. Sherlock is 14 and though bright, not possessed of the extraordinary skills we know he'll have as an adult. By the end of the book, we starts to get an idea of how he acquired those skills. It's a perfectly acceptable book, but not brilliant.

14. Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks, Terrance Dicks

Came upon a 10-volume set of Doctor Who books from the 70s, had to read at least one. They're ... not very good. But it's the Doctor!

15. Manning Up: how the rise of women is turning men into boys,  Kay S. Hymowitz

Along the same lines as Save the Males, but better. I think the title says it all.
eleneariel: (reading (jolly good))

1. Strings Attached, Judy Blundell
   Young adult fiction which I liked very much (Blundell has a way of making a creepy/sad/mysterious admosphere throughout her books that I really enjoy). Plot in a nutshell: small town girl moves to NYC to be a dancer, there are secrets and lies and an ex-boyfriend with a creepy gangster father and it's all very 1930s-noir and I LOVED it.

2. City of Glass, Cassandra Clare
   Losing interest in this series so fast. Jace is still being emo. Emo Jace is emo. See emo Jace run away from Clary ... AGAIN.

3. The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten
   A collection of Steingarten's articles as the food writer for Vogue. Hit and miss ... some of them are really excellent, but a lot appear dated (mostly the ones discussing health scares/fads we've all gotten over a long time ago.)

4. Johnny and the Bomb, Terry Pratchett
   Probably the best of the three Johnny book, although maybe I only think that because I'm into WWII.

5. The United States of Wal-Mart, John Dicker
I have neither loyalty to nor antipathy towards Wal-Mart, so I'm not sure why I thought it was a good idea to spend time reading this one. It was repetitive and openly hostile, but redeemed itself slightly when it called Nicholas Sparks an "emotion pornographer." haha, right on.

6. The Dead Beat, Marilyn Johnson

An obituary (at least a well written one) is a small slice of a life. Who was this person? What impact did they leave on the world? How old was he, where was she born, what did he do during his life, who did she leave behind?
In this book Marilyn Johnson has collected stearling examples of obituaries and the writers who craft them. I loved it!

   Clementine Werfel blessed priests at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Strongsville with heavenly desserts, memorable meals and seemingly miraculous coffee.
   The retired parish housekeeper, who died Aug. 2 at 96, routinely walked around the dining table in the rectory, offering coffee to each priest.
   "Would Father like regular or decaf?" the 4-foot-something Werfel asked them one by one.
   Regardless of the priests' individual preferences, she filled all their cups with coffee from the same pot. The coffee drinkers silently accepted what they got, as though Werfel really could turn regular cofee into decaffeinated, much the way the biblical Jesus turned water into wine.


7. Dying to Meet You, Kate Klise
   Really adorable kids book. Charming illustrations!

8. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery (audio book)
   By the time I reached the end of the first disc I was pretty sure I hated this book. It was a whole lot of wordy philosophical ramblings maskerading as a novel, with two main characters who pretty much sit around and think about how much better they are than the rich, shallow people around them. And oh yeah, the plot goes absolutely NOWHERE. For 3/4 of the BOOK.

And then the last fourth came along and broke my heart, in an i-see-what-you-did-thar-and-i-hate-you-for-doing-this-to-me-but-it-IS-brilliant way, if that makes sense. I know that's hardly a ringing endorsement, and I was SO MAD about the ending, but ... yeah. It was strangely worth reading. Er, listening to.

9. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Joshua Foer
   Journalist covering the US Memory Championship becomes interested in the tricks of the trade that allow the competitors to memorize 3 pages of unpublished poetry in fifteen minutes and the exact order of a deck of cards in less than two minutes, starts practicing these techniques and goes on to win the championship the following year. Interesting but not particularly practical unless you are insane, er, really dedicated.


Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily  and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and disappear. That's why it's important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memeries stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.


 10. Blackout, Connie Willis
      I'm going to ditch any attempt at a real review (check here if you want that sort of thing) and just flail around saying that I LOVE this book, you should all read it, it is so real and vivid and wonderful, and captures the ordinary everyday heros of WWII, AND it's got awesome time travel, and I sort of know the ending of the second book already and that makes some parts of this one all the more poignant and yes, I did possibly cry over some of these characters.


eleneariel: (reading (keep calm))
1. The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak (audiobook - great reader!)

Read this because Mark Reads read it. At first I wasn't a fan - the writing was beautiful in a poetic way, but what does it MEAN? And the omnipresent narrator, out-of-order storytelling, and strange interjections were jarring. But then ... I started to get the hang of it, and I started to fall in love with it.

Basically, Zusak managed to rip out my heart and make me enjoy it. And all, somehow, without being overdramatic about it. For all the poetic imagery, it's a story told quite simply and matter-of-factly. It's heartbreaking. It's also beautiful. And it's a worthy addition to the WWII-fiction genre.

2. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

A reread, although the audiobook I listened to before was abridged, so this is my first time getting the FULL story. Controversy, blah
blah blah, I happen to like the plot and characters. (But I like Reardon a lot better than Galt. Heresy?)

3. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

I totally get why this won the Nebula! Like The Book Thief, it's a very powerfully emotional story, but simply told. It takes a lot of talent to write that clearly. I can't believe I'd never read it before now (thank goodness for friends who say READ THIS), but now that I have I'll be recommending it often to oh, just about everyone.

4. The Treasure is the Rose, Julia Cunningham
Step forward if you recommended this one to me! It was delightful - a really classic children's book. Lovely illustrations, clever story, and deeper than it appears on the surface.

5. To Timbuktu, Casey Scieskza and Steven Weinberg
World travel, falling in love, lots of food, new people, adventures ... in an alternate life, this might have been my story. So my practical side won't throw caution to the wind and leave for parts unknown, but I can certainly enjoy reading about it. Casey (Yes, Jon Scieskza is her father) provides the text and Steven the illustrations: a match made in heaven. 
6. The Green Mile, Stephen King

YOU GUYS LOOK I READ STEPHEN KING!! I'm having an identity crisis because I can no longer say that he's the one author I don't read. So, um, yeah. It was really, really good. I never want to read it again, but that's a testament to King's powers of description. If anything surprised me, it was the depth of the story - I knew King was an excellent writer/storyteller, but I didn't expect the emotional complexity that I found here.

7. The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown

This book contains three sisters, one Shakespeare-scholar father (who mostly communicates in the words of the Bard), and a mother with cancer. I don't usually go for the human-drama kinds of books, but this one was really excellent - real without being a downer, funny without being over the top, sad without making me break out the tissues. How's that for a recommendation?

Also the cover art is perfection.

8. One of our Thursdays is Missing, Jasper Fforde

If you've read Jasper Fforde, then you know what to expect. If you haven't, I won't be able to describe it. But if you like books and you like speculative fiction, you should try this ... because Fforde is BRILLIANT, and because I said so.
eleneariel: (reading (keep calm))
Reviews may be even shorter than usual this month (busy! lots of books read!) but as always, feel free to ask for more details about any of them.
1. The Price of Everything: solving the mystery of why we pay what we do, Eduardo Porter
Not as compelling as some of the other similar books I've read (the titles of which I cannot remember now, of course). But certainly interesting as far as talking about the psychological aspects of spending.

2. The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us, Sheril Kirshenbaum
Surprisingly boring. I know, RIGHT?

3. Maskerade, Terry Pratchett
Hahahaha, Opera Ghost! Or rather, Opera Ghost!!!!! <----- five exclamations, notice. Classic Pratchett, excellent as both a spoof of Phantom of the Opera and a straight-up British humor/fantasy book. Again I say unto you: if you've never read a Terry Pratchett book, DO SO NOW. Thank you.

4. Black Heels and Tractor Wheels, Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman, is hilarious. Her love story isn't high literature and there's a fair number of eye-rolling parts (how many times to you need to tell us how great MM looks in tight jeans?), but ... well, she's our PW, and we love her. I laughed out loud so many times during this book.

5. City of Bones, Cassandra Clare
After Clockwork Angel I was eager for more of the Shadowhunters world. But City of Bones started out and it was so modern-day and there were people in nightclubs and riding motorcycles in leather miniskirts (or was it the people in nightclubs with the miniskirts?) and ugggh. The first half draaaaged and it wasn't really the book's fault  - it was mine for expecting it to be all steampunk like Clockwork Angel. But then I got into the characters more and by the end I couldn't wait to get to the sequel. [see #8]

6. Bitter Seeds, Ian Tregillis
THE ENDING YOU GUYS. Give me sequel. NOW. Definitely some creepy alt.history (WWII setting: what if the Germans had created a strange race of superhumans? And what if the British had warlocks on their side?) It took a little time to get really interested in it, and I would have left out the strange warlocks-of-Britian bits, and I wanted more details on the experiments that created the superhumans, but basically ... I just want more of the story. Also, it totally wins for Awesome Cover Art.

7. A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
Audio book, read by the author - a real treat, although there is something odd about Bryson's accent that would catch me off guard now and then. Basically, I love how he can make any topic interesting... Including weeks and weeks of hiking. I almost wanted to go hike the Appalachian Trail after finishing the book ... but notice I said "almost."

8. City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare
[See #5] I need book three now but it's checked out. =\

9. Anne of Windy Poplars, L. M. Montgomery
Obviously a re-read. I used to read the entire series every October until I was overcome with panic at Too Many Books Too Little Time and stopped rereading things unless I had a really good reason to. So I hadn't read them in years and I was missing them and finally realized you don't have to read the entire series at once, it is perfectly acceptable to pick one at random and read it alone. So I did.

10. The Girl in the Gatehouse, Julie Klassen
Oh good GRIEF. Why do I do this to myself. It's Christian romance, the lovely cover art of which tempted me into listening to the audio book. I found the reader annoying, which didn't help, but the story was about twice as long as it needed to be, and was full of all kinds of un-period moments and attitudes and just ... ugh. Skip it.

11. How Young Ladies Became Girls, Jane Hunter
A bit on the dry side of intellectual as far as reading for pleasure, but what a collection of information regarding the changing status of girls/young women in the Victorian period. Highly recommended. And now I'm going to go sell my copy on half.com because it's apparently assigned reading in a lot of women's studies college courses, and thus will fetch me much monies. (YAY half.com.)

12. Only You Can Save Mankind, Terry Pratchett
Pratchett wrote best for kids in the Tiffany Aching books, but this series isn't bad. Cool idea (video games might be ... reality? At least for the characters inside them?) and full of the usual wordplay.  [see also #16]

13. Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, Jessica Kerwin Jenkins
A lovely collection of exquisite things (lingerie, red lipstick, pillow books, the art of hot-air ballooning, water fountains.) Gentle, thoughtful, and contained within two gorgeous red-and-silver covers.

14. Among Others, Jo Walton
This wins Book of the Month. Such a beautiful, moving book - and one that really shows (as if we doubted) that fantasy can be literary too. I'd compare it to Thirteenth Tale or The Swan Thieves except that it's nothing like them save in quality of writing and the ability to keep you up late, late into the night, reading yourself into this haunting and wonderful world.
My love for this book is also not hurt by the fact that Walton dedicates the book thusly: "This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people." Awww. In a way the whole book reads sort of like a love letter to libraries, in appreciation of how even the "weird kids" can find a sense of belonging and acceptance there among the stacks.
Also, Walton is clearly a huge sci-fi/fantasy buff, and the book are full of moments that will have other such fans geeking out.
I did not buy a book called Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson, which has the temerity to compare itself, on the front cover, to "Tolkien at his best." The back cover attributes the quote to the Washington Post, a newspaper whose quotations will always damn a book for me from now on. How dare they? And how dare the publishers? it isn't a comparison anyone could make, except to say "Compared to Tolkien at his best, this is dross." I mean you could say that about even really brilliant books like A Wizard of Earthsea.

I read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in bed last night. I intended to read it quickly and be able to thank Deirdre for it, but it turns out to be hilarious and also wickedly clever, so I could thank her sincerely, because I'd never in a million years have picked it up for myself, as it looks like total tosh. I wonder if the book group have read it?

Finished LotR with the usual sad pang of reaching the end and there being no more of it.
Ya'll, I love this book. Read it.

15. Pop Goes the Weasel, Albert Jack
A collection of histories behind popular children's rhymes and songs. It seemed largely anecdotal, with little in the way of hard facts. The author was always saying "It seems to me ..." or "I think that ..." and therefore while it was interesting to think about some of the conclusions, I accepted very little of it as being actually likely.

16. Johnny and the Dead, Terry Pratchett
[not quite as good as #12. But yanno, it's Pratchett, therefore it's good. Why no, I'm not biased. He's just bloody brilliant, that's all.]

17. Bittersweet: thoughts on grace, change, and learning the hard way, Shauna Niequist
I find myself thinking of Ms. Niequist as the female version of Don Miller. She's so honest and real, with none of this "If you're a Christian, everything will always be okay, life is great, I have no worries" kind of attitude. She lets you know that it's okay to hurt, it's okay to mourn, it's okay to cry, life isn't always perfect but we cling to Christ anyway. Also, she's just a really great writer, and I'm always happy to see really great writers who just happen to be Christians. [see #10 for the opposite. And don't get me started on my Why Is Christian Fiction So Poorly Written, Really Shouldn't We Be Doing BETTER in the Arts than Secular Folks rant.]

18. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
I think this one has garnered a lot of controversy for no reason - it's not nearly the kind of book it's been portrayed as in a lot of reviews. Would I want Amy Chua as a mother? No. But then, I think I was happier as a child pursuing 2340923 different random interests rather than focusing on becoming the next violin prodigy to the exclusion of almost everything else. But is Amy Chua a horrible mother? Also no. And while I wouldn't parent the way she does, she makes some points worth pondering:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it's crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because children will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.
To be honest, I sometimes wonder if the question "Who are you really doing this for?" should be asked of Western parents too. Sometimes I wake up in the morning dreading what I have to do and thinking how easy it would be to say, "Sure Lulu, we can skip a day of violin practice." Unlike my Western friends, I can never say, 'As much as it kills me, I just have to let my kids make their choices and follow their hearts. It's the hardest thing in the world, but I'm going to hold back. Then they get to have a glass of wine and go to a yoga class, whereas I have to stay home and scream and have my kids hate me.

eleneariel: (reading (jolly good))
1. Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare

I (rather surprisingly) LOVED this book. A clever mix of supernatural and steampunk, hilarious characters, enthralling plot. I make no claims that it is well-written, but something about it really caught my fancy and I flew right through it. In contrast, I'm currently struggling through the author's City of Bones, without making much headway. I just can't get into the story... so maybe it was the steampunk-ness of Clockwork Angel that I liked. 

2. Dilemma: a priest's struggle with faith and love, Fr. Albert Cutie

I approached this with a good deal of skepticism; I've generally not been impressed with religious figures who seem to court the media, so the fact that Fr. Cutie used to be called "Father Oprah" for his tv talk show didn't win him any points with me. I sympathetic with his struggle and am truly glad he's found both love and new home in the Episcopal church as a married priest, but I was not impressed  by what seemed his attempts to justify and excuse his actions...and I had to laugh when he described his (at the time future) wife as someone who would "never tempt a priest" when in practically the next paragraph he says, after they realized they were attracted to each other, she sent him a letter asking to become better friends, whereupon they went out to dinner in a secluded restaurant and generally acted as if he wasn't a priest who had taken vows of celibacy!  Also troubling was his obvious bitterness towards the Catholic Church - understandable, given that he was treated more harshly than some priests who had committed illegal acts, like child abuse, but still... not a very Christian attitude to display to the world.

All in all, very interesting.

3. Real Life Journals: designing and using handmade books, Gwen Diehn

Gorgeous ideas for handmade books. I'm not sure if I'll ever attempt any of the more ambitious projects, but they sure are pretty.

4. Year of Disappearances: an ethical vampire novel, Susan Hibbard
I would describe this book as vague: vague writing, vague plotting, vague characters. There's a lot left unexplained, little character development, and a plot that drifts about without reaching any real resolution. The thing that annoyed me most was the vampires-are-better-than-thou tone, liberally sprinkled with environmentalism, as evidenced by the last paragraph:

"Meanwhile, I dedicate this book to mortals, and I leave them these questions: Are you comfortable with the values your society holds dear? When's the last time you looked deep into your own eyes? Do you know the limitations of your vision?"

Poor little book. It's trying so hard to be intelligent, Serious Literature, and just ... isn't quite there.

5. The End of the Affair, Graham Greene

Many years ago formerly-of-LJ Alissa W. (anyone remember her?) recommended this one. In book #9, Susan Hill made a comment to the effect that Graham Greene is one of the few writers who can write convincingly about all forms of love, and this book has it all - lust turned to love turned to revenge. I wouldn't say I enjoyed reading it so much as I just marveled at the craftsmanship of a true wordsmith.

6. Coptic Egypt: Christians of the Nile

Just a little book but informative. I didn't know much about the Copts, but now I do.

7. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell

I had the opportunity to watch the miniseries again, which made me want to read the book again ... so I did. The Squire = <3. He's precious! Forget Roger. ;)

8. The Unidentified, Rae Mariz

I liked this dystopian tale of education turned into a giant corporation-sponsored Game. My attempts to describe this have all been made of FAIL, so do yourself a favor and check out the blurbs on goodreads or amazon - it was unique, fast-paced, and used jargon well. The ending seemed a little rushed and unclear ... but then again, maybe I read it too quickly, since I couldn't seem to put it down.

9. Howards End is on the Landing, Susan Hill

Really, what do book-lovers love to read about more than books about books? Susan Hill decided to spend a year reading books she already owned rather than buying or borrowing new ones, and this book grew out of what she encountered that year.
eleneariel: (Pratchett (logic))
An unexpected roadtrip cut down on my reading this month. =\

1. Fool's Fate, Robin Hobb

   Finished up the trilogy. *sob* <--- pretty much my reaction

2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks
  I think I read this book once before, years ago, but it's been so long that it all seemed new to me; very interesting stories of bizarre neurological disorders.

3. In Small Things Forgotten, James Deetz
   When [livejournal.com profile] ransomedsea , [livejournal.com profile] jkgeroo  and I visited Jamestown, the part I found most interesting was the museum of "small things forgotten" that were dug up while excavating the ruins. Dice, buttons, pins, teeth-and-ear-picks (really!), keys ... all the little bits of everyday life that get lost and forgotten. So when I found this book about the American archeology, I was interested. It was very good but focused less on the "small things" (WHEREFORE THE TITLE, HUH, AUTHOR?!) and more on the architecture, pottery, and gravestones. All very nice, but I was curious about those small things, dangit!

4. Queen Hereafter, Susan Fraser King
   A fictional account of Margaret, queen of Scotland and later, saint. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to admire or be disturbed by her religious-inspired neuroses (Hey Margaret. I'm pretty sure God doesn't find anorexia a suitable expression of devotion), but the gradual building of love between Margaret and her wild Scottish king husband was sweet and realistic.

5. The Water Wars, Cameron Stracher
   Absolutely gorgeous cover art. Unfortunately the plot was hurried in a introduction-action-action-action-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM way, with very little world-building and no very compelling reason to care about the main characters. I do give it credit for not becoming your typical environmental-moralist tale, given the subject matter, but that's no excuse for bad plotting.

6. As Always, Julia, Joan Reardon, editor
   Book of the month. :) It's a collection of the letters Julia Child and her dear friend Avis DeVoto wrote to each other during the writing and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There's a ton of goodness here for foodies, but plenty of other topics as well. I'm hoping against hope that Avis and Julia's witty and conversational writing style will rub off on my in my own correspondence; the letters were absolutely delightful.

7. Save the Males, Kathleen Parker
   Excellent subject matter - the subtitle is "why men matter and why women should care" - but I disliked the crass language Parker often used to make her points, and I just found that her style rubbed me wrong. I still recommend it for the simple fact that it's a message that more people need to here: Men are important.
eleneariel: (reading (keep calm))
1. Fall of Giants, Ken Follett
    I read Pillars of the Earth a few years ago and absolutely devoured it. I didn't remember having any issues with the writing style, so I was really confused when I started this one and it draaaaged the dialog was stilted and the writing generally drove me to distraction. For the first third I kept contemplating giving up on it completely, but 1/3 of a 938 page book is a considerable amount and I hate stopping a book after investing that much time in it.
    Before too long I got wrapped up enough in the characters to keep reading, but the writing never did get better. This makes me wonder if Pillars of the Earth is really as good as I remember. Or perhaps that time period was just better suited to his style somehow. I did learn a lot about WWI reading this book!
2. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, Farahad Zama
   I'm so thankful to mainemilyhoon for mentioning this! It's a bit like a Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency book, only with an Indian marriage bureau. Absolutely delightful. Also, made me hungry for Indian food.

3. Dexter is Delicious, Jeff Linsay
    Speaking of food ... I think this creeped me out more than any of the other Dexter books, which I guess means I find cannibalism worse than serial killers? And yet at the same time it was remarkably tame for a Dexter book. Dexter himself is ... mellowing. But not, we suspect, for long.
4. A Secret Gift, Ted Gup
   A disappointment. The story is inspiring, about a man who anonymously gave money to destitute people during the Great Depression, but the execution of the book was extremely poor ... very repetitive and based on a lot of conjecture.

5. The Last Hero, Terry Pratchett
   My Christmas gift to myself was the luxury of rereading an old favorite. I love the Silver Hoard! And Rincewind! And Leonardo of Quirm! And Carrot! And ... okay, everybody.

6. Fool's Errand, Robin Hobb
   ... and then I spent most of the rest of Christmas lost in the world of the Farseers. I think my favorite thing about Hobb's writing is her timing in revealing mysteries - neither too quickly nor too slowly.

7. Golden Fool, Robin Hobb
   Finished this at ten minutes til midnight. :)

Books from the stack: 1

And thus ends 2010's reading, which means it's time for the 2010 BOOK AWARDS!

First, the numbers:

I read 116 books; 40 adult fiction, 60 adult non-fiction, and 16 young adult. Only 5 were rereads. 43 were from the huge stack of books beside the bed, the ones I want to read soon and then sell, loan, swap, or otherwise get rid of. (The stack hasn't gotten noticeably smaller.) Incidentally, it was an off year - usually I average closer to 150-180 books.

I love looking back over my reading list for the year - it seems to capture my year in a special way. And I love picking out the titles I found particularly memorable. In no particular order:

Best Kid's Book: How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell
Best Young Adult series: Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Best Foodie Book: My Life in France, Julia Child
Best Crime Novel:
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Best Science Fiction Novel: Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde
Best Audiobook/Most Inventive Use of Food in a Novel: Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquieval
Best Non-fiction: Twelve Little Cakes, Dominika Dery

Book I Would Blame My Speeding Tickets On (if I had gotten any): The Driver, Alex Roy
Most Surprising Second Novel: Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova
Author Who Impressed Me Most: Cory Doctorow

Top Three Books I'm Surprised I Loved:
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz
The Help, Katheryn Stockett

Top Three Religious Books:
Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl, N.D. Wilson
Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller
At the Corner of East and Now, Frederica Mathews-Green

Worst Book: Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

And finally, The "Why Didn't I Read This Sooner?" award goes to Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart.

eleneariel: (reading (jolly good))

1. Thornyhold, Mary Stewart
   Such a gem! Romantic, suspenseful, a little mysterious ... it left me wondering why I had passed over Stewart's books for so long.

2. Ah-CHOO: the uncommon life of your common cold, Jennifer Ackerman
A very engaging micro-biography that left me constantly paranoid I was getting sick.

3. Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before, Jean M. Twenge
  I liked this because it's written by one of our own generation (albeit the upper end of that generation), not a cranky old person yelling "dang woodchucks stop chucking my wood kids get off my lawn!" I think it's a fair and honest look at both the problems and strengths of GenMe, and I absolutely LOVED what it had to say about the self-esteem movement and the problems it has created. I'll definitely reread this when I have children of my own.

4. For Your Eyes Only, Ian Fleming
   I was about three stories into this before I realized it was a book of short stories and not a novel that just seemed very randomyl disjointed. Heh.

5. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
   Good GRIEF this was SAD. WHY?!

6. And Both Were Young, Madeleine L'Engle
Apparently this was a controversial book at the time, but I don't really understand why. It was as good as L'Engle usually is, although not one of her very best.

7. Burning Road, Ann Benson
   There seemed to be a lot of loose ends and things not explained, so I rate this lower than her first book. However, historical stories about the plague still = ♥.

8. Peony in Love, Lisa See 
   I loved See's previous (first?) book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but this one didn't quite live up to that standard. It's elegantly written and offers much insight into a mostly-forgotten portion of Chinese history, but I couldn't quite get over the needless tragedy involved.

9. The Little Lady Agency and the Prince, Hester Browne 
   When I went to add this to my Goodreads account, I had read it so fast that I was almost at the end, so it came as a shock to find that it was ALREADY listed as someone I'd read ... back in 2008. I don't think I've ever reread something and gotten so near the end without realizing I'd read it before. I guess that illustrates that while this is good fun and well-written chicklit, it's still forgettable.

From the stack: 6
eleneariel: (reading (keep calm))
1. My Life In France, Julia Child
    Absolutely wonderful. Although it was actually written by her grandnephew (based on her recollections and her and Paul's letters) Julia's voice is so authentic and real in this book! I was captivated. She would have been fun to spend time with ... as long as the talk was on food and not politics.
2. Word on the Street: debunking the myth of "pure" standard English, John McWhortor
    My favorite linguist! He has excellent things to say about language change, and although my interested waned a bit when he got into a lengthy exploration of black dialects, I appreciated what he said about the use of ebonics in education.
3. Let There Be Light: a book about windows, James Cross Giblin
    An older book detailing the history of ... windows! I love microhistories. And I would like to highly recommend this, but I'm afraid it might be hard to find.
4. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
    Perfectly honestly, I hated this book. It was so, so, so, SO depressing. In a different way than 1984 (which I liked) and F451 (which I liked at the time but am not sure I would like now). Of course I'm glad to have read it, but it's one I doubt I'll touch again.
5. The Swan Thieves, Elizabth Kostova
    This is the most captivating literary novel I've read since Her Fearful Symmetry. It's been a long time since I've read anything so wonderful, really, and when I finished all 500+ pages in less than two days, I was just sad to see it end.
    Kostova's writing is elegant and evocative, with layer upon layer of love, desire, genius, obsession and sadness. I don't know how to convey how thoroughly I entered the world she creates within this book. There's a veil of melancholy over everything, and yet I only wanted to stay longer between the pages.
    No, it's not like The Historian ... but that's okay. I was curious to see whether it was the story/history of The Historian that I liked so much, or the writing, and I'm happy to say it was Kostova's excellent writing.
I felt a little cheated by the abrupt ending and there were a few other things that felt off, but it kept me completely engrossed for two days, and that's something few works of fiction do these days.
6. One Good Turn, Witold Rybczynski
    Another microhistory! I know you've all been dying to know the history of the humble screwdriver ... and here you have it.
7. How to Be A Better Foodie, Sudi Pigott
    A collection of quotes, ingredient lists, and foodie tidbits. I expected something a bit more ... substantial, and thus was disappointed.
8. Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller
I liked it. I think pretty much everyone ever has already read this, so I'll leave it at that. For now. 

 9. Dancing in the Dark: a cultural history of the great depression, Morris Dickstein
I can always count on [livejournal.com profile] ruthette  to lend interesting books! And interesting it was, though requiring some time and patience to get through. I thought I had a pretty decent handle on depression-era fiction and movies until I starting reading about dozens of titles I'd never even heard of. 

 10. Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Short stories by the master of storytelling. Warning: most of these are disturbing in some way, some more so than others.
 (Books from the Stack: 7)
eleneariel: (reading (keep calm))
  1. Hot Water, P G Wodehouse
    Wodehouse to me means a relaxing evening with hot tea and toast. Ahhh. I almost never pick up non-Jeeves Wodehouse books on purpose, but this is silly of me, for whenever I encounter one - like this loan from [livejournal.com profile] ruthette - I love them utterly.

2. Deerskin, Robin McKinley
    Beautiful, lyrical, tragic ... and the last two pages are so gentle a picture of trust and love.
    Some have taken issue with Lissar's reaction, or lack thereof, to her particular trauma, but since the story is a fairy tale (albeit of the darker mold, the type no longer told to children at bedtime) with mythical elements, I had no trouble accepting it for what it was.

2. On Paradise Drive, David Brooks
    Part satire, part comedy, part sociological study of what it is to be American.  ho ARE Americans? Why do we think and shop and live the way we do? Interesting but nothing too deep.  (Bobos in Paradise was better.)
3. The Bonesetter's Daughter, Amy Tan
    Just brilliant as usual. If you've never read Amy Tan, please consider giving her a try.
4. Rule Britannia, Daphne du Maurier
    For being one of du Maurier's "lesser works", I found this totally engaging! Not another Rebecca by any means, but funny and shocking and tragic and very, very British. Also, I really love "what if?" fiction.
5. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
    Heartrending, but RIGHT. The ending was the only way it could have been. Rather than listen to me blather hopelessly about it, read this review, which has a uniquely Christian take on the book.
6. The Flight of the Falcon, Daphne du Maurier
    Another old du Maurier! I liked it (Italy, hello) but I'm not sure what was so "gothic" about it. Nevertheless I was informed quite loudly by the cover that it is a GOTHIC NOVEL. Okay, then.
7. The Scavenger's Manifesto: a guide to freeing yourself from the endless cycle of buying more and more new (though not necessarily improved) stuffy, and discovering how salvaging, swapping, repurposing, reusing, and recycling can save the earth, your money, and your soul, Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson
    Random! Not a how-to (most reviewers seem disappointed in this) but rather a celebration of the thrifting/garagesaling/bargain hunting/freegan/and yes, even dumpster diving lifestyles. The authors take themselves a wee bit too seriously. and I obviously don't believe scavenging saves your soul, and I'm not particularly interested in how it saves the environment, but I do think it's FUN. I love repurposing and upcycling in particular.
8. The Bombshell Manual of Style, Laren Stover
     This might merit its own post someday soon. :) It's fun and shallow and tongue-in-cheek and beautifully illustrated.
9. Flapdoodle, Trust & Obey, Virginia Cary Hudson
     Oh Ye Jigs & Juleps! was a collection of Virginia's writings when she was ten years old. Flapdoodle contains letters to her grown-up daughter, but she's lost none of her wit or ability to make words dance across a page.

Books from the Stack: 8
eleneariel: (reading (keep calm))

1. Loose Girl, Kerry Cohen

    A "memoir of promiscuity", this book is nothing but sad. Although Ms Cohen eventually realizes how deadening and empty her life of casual sex was, she never really grasps WHY promiscuity isn't fulfilling. That leaves the ending almost as sad as the rest of the book. (warning: though tastefully presented, the subject matter means that this is not a book for everyone.)

2. Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
    Best book I read this month - and I read it online for free, thanks to Doctorow's views on copyright, for which I love him forever. In a way I think it's a present-day version of 1984, and most worthy of reading for the moral and political issues discussed alone - nevermind that it's also a cracking good read.

3. For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn
    So I found a stash of Christian relationship books for cheap at a thrift store, right? And usually I'm not too impressed by them, but I'm always curious what they say, and I knew I could sell them on half.com or trade them at Paperbackswap. This one ... eh. Fairly shallow, with no startling revelations but several good reminders. She speaks very much in generalities, and I would suggest giving it to your guy and see where he thinks it applies to him ... and where it doesn't. Men are individuals too, you know. =P

4. Remember Me? Sophie Kinsella
    A fluff of a read that was adiquate as a time-killer but, in retrospect, lacking any real worthwhile reasons to read, considering my other options.

5. Boy Meets Girl, Joshua Harris
    Okay, those who told me this was better than I Kissed Dating Goodbye were right, and I so much appreciate that he does admit that different people will have different circumstances and that there's no One Right Way to have a relationship. But the principles he sets forth are good and worthy of pondering how to implement them in your own particular circumstances.
6. Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan
    An old one, a good one, and one worthy of rereading.

7. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
    Why yes, I prefer to wait to read massively popular books until the series is complete. :) Okay, maybe that's not my official modus operendi, but it's worked with Harry Potter and Twilight and now these. I certainly enjoyed this one (read it in basically two days) - it's fast-paced, thoughtful, and keeps the you on the edge of your seat - but I wouldn't say that it grabbed me in the way that my very favorites do. I liked Katniss and Gale and Peeta, but I don't feel compelled to pick a team. :)

 8. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
      Finished this last night at midnight. NOW SOMEBODY GIVE ME MOCKINGJAY.

Books from the stack: 3


eleneariel: (Reading)
1.   The Year of Eating Dangerously, Tom Parker Bowles
      A foray into the world of extreme eating - from super hot chilies to dog meat to insects. Moderately entertaining and slightly more interesting once I realized whose son the author is, but the main thing I took away from this book - after reading time and time again his distress in waking up feeling the ill effects of over indulgence in food and drink and promising himself never EVER to do that again - was that the author needs to learn a little self-control.

2.   The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
       Fun and thoughtful, humorous and serious, sweet and snarky. That's really all you're going to get out of me as far as a review goes. :)

3.   Byzantium: surprisingly life of a medieal empire, Judith Herrin
      A nice overview of the Byzantine empire designed for the layman. Neither too shallow nor too bogged down by details.

4.   Hiding the Elephant, Jim Steinmeyer
      Read this if you have even the slightest bit of interest in magic! The extent of my interest was a sort of "whoa, how'd they do that?" reaction to the movie The Prestige, and I whipped through this book in about two days, so ...
It gives away just enough secrets to be interesting and keeps just enough secrets to remain mysterious. Excellently presented.
From the forward: "Hiding the Elephant is less like a history book than like an unforgettable all-night conversation with a fascinating stranger." Very true.

5.   The Autobiography of the Queen, Emma Tennant
Very much like The Uncommon Reader in tone and content - the style was pleasant but the presentation seemed a bit awkward and disjointed.
6.   Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquievel
      I have mixed feelings on this book. I liked - even LOVED - the style and tone, and the food, and the magical realism. But Pedro was just annoying, and while I had sympathy for Tita, I also wanted to tell her to stand up straight and MOVE ON ALREADY. I didn't buy their great "true love." Doctor John was the only really morally upright character in the whole book.

7.   The Help, Kathryn Stockett
      I was surprised by how much I liked this book.  It was a tricky sort of book to write, and for the most part I think Ms Stockett pulled it off.

8.   If You Could See Me Now, Cecelia Ahern
      Clever premise, awkward execution. Pardon me if I can't believe a love story between a grown woman and an invisible man who is supposedly in his thirties but talks and often acts like a five-year-old.
9.   Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity, Lauren F. Winner
       I have issues with the way many Christians talk (or rather, don't talk) and think about about sex, and this book is an excellent answer to what I see as a common mistakes Christians make when it comes to sexuality. Although the primary reason for the book is a discussion of chastity (what it is, why God calls unmarried Christians to practice it, why it's important), Ms Winner also goes into what I felt were excellent chapters on how to talk about and do sex in a Christian context. Excellent book: this gets five stars from me. I wish all Christians would read it. :)

10. Arthur, King, Dennis Lee Anderson
      Basic plot: King Arthur appears during Britain's hour of greatest need during WWII, takes the roll of fighter pilot, meets a modern-day Jenny (Guenevere), defeats Mordred (fighting on the side of the Huns, of course), and saves England. It was better executed than I expected, but stylistically lacking.

Books from the pile of To Reads: 3

eleneariel: (Reading (is the key))
1. Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
A modern classic that I just now got around to reading.
2. Finding our Way Again: the return of ancient practices, Brian McLaren
I was disappointed in this book mostly because I expected something else - I had ordered it with the understanding that it focused on Orthodox practices. Still, it is not a bad book and is thoughtful in its look at a variety of the "ancient practices" making a resurgence in the modern world.
3. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Stephanie Meyer
I would not have read this at all if it hadn't been for the Twilight connection, and now that I have read it, I would not read it again. It's interesting in its own way ... but really, since WHEN is Edward's hair red? Srsly.
4. The Mill on the Floss, George Elliot
Is it giving the plot away to declare that practically everyone in this story ends up miserable or dead? I enjoyed the tale well enough in the telling, but my, what a downer of an ending.
5. Nuture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Absolutely worth reading if you have kids. Or if you might someday have kids. Or if you have grandkids. Or if you once were a kid. It's not that you should accept every word in this book as gold, but it is certainly thought-provoking.
6. Twelve Little Cakes, Dominika Dery
I so very much enjoyed the reading of Twelve Little Cakes. Dominika Dery has a charming way of writing and even though life was very difficult growing up in communist Czechoslovakia - especially if your parents were dissidents - each tale of her childhood is presented with such love and humor that it really is a "feel good" book.
This is my pick for the month!
7. Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
Another great addition to the pop-science Freakonomics-style books. Honestly, I just love this stuff. There are things you have to take with a grain of salt, but it does give you a lot to think about.  (Also, download Dan Ariely's lecture from the London School of Economics website. You won't be sorry.)
8. God's Gift to Women, Eric Ludy
I think all I'll really say about this is that as usual, the books aimed at men are marginally better (less sappy, more substance), but while I am all for supporting Godly masculinity, there is still something that just gets under my skin about the presentation.
9. Perfecting Ourselves To Death, Richard Winter
I have some perfectionist tendancies (although at a healthy level, according to this book). It was good reading, helped explain why I react to some things the way I do, and ideas of ways to harness perfectionism and use it for good, and not let it impact relationships. Also, this book gets points for being from a Christian perspective.
10. Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, Daniel Pink
I found this "surprising truth" not so surprising, but very true: people do their best and most creative work when they are given the freedom to do it when and how they wish.
11. Jane's Fame: how Jane Austen conquered the world, Claire Harman
I've read more than my share of biographies of Jane Austen, so it was nice that this one focused more on how her books rather took on a life of their own after her death. It still felt like the book could have taken the subject further - or maybe I just had hoped for more discussion on Jane-as-popular-culture.
12. Princess Ben, Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Very charmingly presented fairytale/anti-fairytale, if that makes sense. It has all the classic fairytale elements (a princess, a dragon, handsome prince) but several surprising twists, a dash of magic, a more-or-less traditional ending. The writing seemed a bit repetitive, but I think I noticed it more because I listened to an audio version.

Books read from The Pile ... absolutely none. :(

eleneariel: (Reading)
A short list this month because I spent so much time on the road. I always think of travels as times to read more, not less, but I forget this doesn't really work when you are the responsible adult driving, and not the kid hanging out in the backseat with nothing to do but read.
1. Teaching True Love to a Sex-At-Thirteen Generation, Eric & Leslie Ludy
    I've heard about the Ludy's for years and thought it was time I read something of theirs. This one is billed as being for parents teaching a true and healthy view of sex, romance, and godliness to their children, but I found plenty of convicting and encouraging things for myself. I would definitely reread this if I someday have children. However. There's something about this book and almost all the others like it (Joshua Harris, John and Staci Eldridge, etc.) that I've read that rubs me the wrong way. It makes me squirm uncomfortably in the same way reading Lori Wick does. I don't even want to get in to the reasons why this might be - I'm not completely sure, and I don't want to offend anyone while I'm trying to figure it out. :)
2. Authentic Beauty, Leslie Ludy
    See above!
3. Heist Society, Ally Carter   
    After hearing this described as the "female version of Ocean's 11" I had high hopes - too high. I think if I had gone into with fewer expectations I would have enjoyed it more. It was fine for what it was, but I'd hoped for a little more depth and details, a little more of the dash and romance of crime.
4. Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl: wide-eyed wonder at God's spoken world, N. D. Wilson
    I loved this book so much. I can see how others could have quite different reactions, but I loved the unorthodox, almost chaotic style: it reflects the world we live in, God's world, a world that is like like a tilt-a-whirl you can't get off, but can find beauty and joyfully wild abandon in anyway, at least if you'll only open your eyes and see.
5. This Book is Overdue: how librarians and cybrarians can save us all, Marilyn Johnson
    I liked this book solely because I am a librarian, and I like reading about libraries and books and people who work in and with them. Other than that draw, the book is poorly organized, disjointed, and wanders rather pointlessly.
6. Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz
    I'd always heard that Koontz was a readalike for Stephen King (and he is), and since Stephen King creeps me out, I had also avoided Koontz. Actually, let me rephrase. Nothing so strong as "avoided" - I had never even given a thought to reading him at all. That changed because of reading the graphic novel prequel to Odd Thomas last month, where I discovered that ... Dean Koontz has a sense of humor! This book is still suspenseful, but somehow the humor saved it from being creepy or gruesome to me (I won't vouch for your experience, however.)

Cut for spoiler )
7. A Sweet and Bitter Providence, John Piper
    First time I've ever read Piper. I liked it! He has a pleasant way of writing, and of course it didn't hurt that the book of Ruth is one of my favorites.

Books from The Pile: one.
eleneariel: (Reading (garden))
1. Full Moon, P.G. Wodehouse
    It only took me a couple months to read this ... somehow I just wasn't in the mood for Wodehouse (gasp! Is that possible?) Once I really got into it, it was as mapcap an adventure as ever.
2. Ruslan, Barbara Scrupski
    Fairly non-descript quasi-historical fiction about an impoverished Russian countess who disguises herself as a man and joins the military. The writing is not that great and there are certain content issues but by the end I had actually bumped up my rating from two stars to three.
3. Eyes Before Ease, Larry Beason
    A delightful journey through the mysteries and oddities of spelling.
4. When Hope Springs New, Janette Oke
    You know, just ... yeah. I read all her books when I was nine. I haven't read them since. This was mostly curiosity to see what exactly I was reading when I was young. And actually, of all the Oke books I remember, this one was not quite as cringe-worthy. And the dogs are wonderful.
5. The Society of S, Susan Hubbard
    A very quiet, thoughtful and atmospheric addition to the vamp-lit genre. The ending seemed to peter out in a disappointing manner, but then it is the first in a series.
6. Take Back Your Life, Odette Pollar
    ... I can't remember why I read this. Um. Possibly because I was stuck with nothing to do and this was the only book available?
7. How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell
    SO CUTE. Worth looking at for the drawings alone. Haven't seen the movie and now I almost don't want to because I'm not sure how it could top this dryly humorous tale of vikings, heros, and dragons.
8. In Odd We Trust, Dean Koontz (graphic novel)
    Not bad as far as GNs go, but knowing it was based on a novel made me conscious of how much was being left out. The back contained the first chapter of Odd Thomas, and it was funny and witty and looks like something I might like, which I didn't expect. It may or may not show up on next month's booklist.
9. Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier
    Listened to the audio book in the car ... this is one of my favorite modern classics ever. :)
10. The Driver: my dangerous pursuit of speed and truth in the outlaw racing world, Alexander Roy
    I won't lie: I was absolutely positively enamoured with this book. The writing: not terribly awesome. The content: had some issues. The subject: illegal. But ... I see what would make someone attempt to race cross-country in high-powered BMW filled with radar detectors, laser jammers, and police scanners.
He made it from NYC to LA in 31 hours and 4 minutes. O_____________O
Clearly it's illegal, dangerous, stupid, and expensive. But oh, what a ride.
11. Working in the Shadows: a year of doing the jobs (most) Americans won't do, Gabriel Thompson
    Thompson spent several months each picking lettuce, working in a poultry plant, and as a bicycle delivery boy for a resturant. His conclusion: it's hard work. Some liberal bias, but not enough to irritate me into putting the book down.

Books from the To Read pile: 4

eleneariel: (travel (explore))
In case you've ever wondered how I keep a record of my reading, this is how:

From Misc

I started writing every book down as I finished it in this notebook in 2000. I've experimented with recording the information in a spreadsheet as well, for ease in searching, and of course I keep track now on www.goodreads.com, but I always come back to this notebook. Paper and pen will always be my medium of choice for record keeping.
This month's reading was good and bad. The good: this time I read four books from The Stack By The Bed. Still not great (I'd like to get to where the majority of books come from that stack), but better than the last two months. The bad: only nine books total.
1. Why Things Bite Back: technology and the revenge of unintended consequences, Edward Tenner
    This should have been so good. And it wasn't. While it did well in detailing the (often terrible) revenge effects, it had almost nothing to say in the way of solutions ... and lacking answers, it just read like a long and depressing lists of Bad Things.
2. Unscientific America, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum
     I woudn't have read this if I had realized what a liberal slant the authors hold. Basically, America is falling behind on the scientific front and it is All George Bush's Fault.
3. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
    For the first half of this I was quite certain that it was nowhere near as good as Atlas Shrugged. The main characters were making choices I couldn't really understand, much less sympathise with, and their whole relationship had odd s/m undertones that just didn't seem to match with their characters and were rather disquieting in general. Then the second half came along and almost but not quite changed my mind.
4. Why We Buy: the science of shopping, Paco Underhill
    I need a genre name for books like this and Freakonomics and Blink. I love them.
5. Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart
    WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY LIFE. It's like Victoria Holt, only better written and just ... so atmospheric. It may have become my new comfort read. I'd rank it right up there with duMaurier's Rebecca.
6. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary Pearson
    Thought-provoking YA book that asks questions about ethics and humanity.
7. Better than Homemade: amazing food that changed the way we eat, Carolyn Wyman
    I take issue with the title, obviously, but if you ever wanted to know more about foods - or "foods" - like velveeta, twinkies, marshmallow fluff, and wonder bread, this is the book for you.
8. Time Out for Happiness, Frank Gilbreth, Jr.
    A bit more sober of a look into the lives of the Cheaper by the Dozen family, focusing on Lillian Gilbreth, but still full of charm and love.
9. I Sing the Body Electric, Ray Bradbury
    My word. Some of these short stories just blew my mind. Some were just strange. A few were incomprehensible.

From the Stack: 5
eleneariel: (Imaginary men)

 1. Service Included, Pheobe Damrosch
Yet another inside look at food service, this time from a server's POV. It does provide an interesting look into the workings of a 4 star resturant, but compared to some of the other similar books I've read, it seemed to fall flat. There was a bit too much about the author's personal life, for one thing. That's not to say it's a bad book. It's just not as good as some.

 2. Emma, Jane Austen
I shouldn't have taken the time to reread this, but I was watching the Masterpiece Theater version and wanted a refresher. (Also I just wanted to read it again, because I like it.)
3. The Soul of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Gene Veith
If you recognize Gene Veith's name, it's likely for his work for World Magazine or his association with Patrick Henry College. I picked this up because I'm always interested to see what Christians have to say about fantasy books (I often don't agree), and the second half of this one compares and contrasts Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia. This was fairly light-weight and didn't tell me anything I hadn't heard before. 
4. Need, Carrie Jones
Twilight-wannabe FAIL. And not only because the writing includes such gems as "His voice frustrates out..."
5. What Einstein Told His Barber, Robert Wolke
Quick, fun answers to science questions. But the drawings are GOOFY.
6. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
7. Ayn Rand, James T. Baker
I finally worked up the nerve to read Atlas Shrugged. I went into it knowing only that it was very, very long, and controversal, and being talked about. I wanted to be able to talk about it too, so I read it. What surprised me most is that ... I was engrossed by it. I got so interested in the characters. I was expecting to have to struggle through the 1000+ pages, and instead I dreaded getting to the end.  
(I listened to the audio book, which was somewhat abridged. I've ordered an actual book copy which I'm eager to read as soon as it arrives.)
After finishing it I read a quick biography of Ayn Rand (her life, works, and philosophy). What I quote from below is taken from that book by James Baker, my comments in parentheses.
After the Bolshevik victory her father's business [in Russia] was nationalized, and the family's comfortable life abruptly ended. She would never forget or forgive this reversal of fortune, and she would argue that the most repugnant of Marxist doctrines was the secular altruism that called for the sacrifice of the individual to the common good.
(What I do like about her philosophy is her stirring defense of capitalism, and reading about her background makes it that much more clear why she felt so strongly about it.)

In describing the different types of people who were attracted to Rand's fiction: They [...] were attracted by the strength and resolution of her heroes and heroines, those men and women motivated and directed by rational self-interest. They like the clear eyes and smoke-filled hair and absolute certainty of egoists like Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart. It may have been a task at first to adjust to seeing such figures in modern rather than the usual midieval settings, as titans of industry rather than knights on horseback [...] but once they came to recognize her characters as modern guardians of romance, they delighted in her certainty and adventure. These fans never go deeper than the story line. They read Rand's novels but not her philosophy.
(This pretty much sums up where I am. I like the fiction. Not the philosophy.)

...Rand once again tends to limit rather than expand the human spirit. What was reasonable to her should not be taken as the standard for all men. As a workaholic, she assumed that being a workaholic was rational; and perhaps it is, despite medical evidence to the contrary; but it should not be the only path men of reason are told to take.

(As a philosopher Rand seems to have - not surprisingly - blind spots. Everything is based on her experience, without accounting for different temperments. She also seems to have a conveniently selective memory - she repeatedly stated that when she came to America, a stranger in a strange land, she asked for and expected no help - never mentioning the many people who did help her, and especially those who were instrumental in getting her jobs. )

In short: I love the story of Atlas Shrugged. I love the defense of capitalism (even though I don't agree with all her methods.) I do not love her rejection of religion, I strongly question her portrayal of romantic relationships, am confused by her portrayal of Dagney as both strong independant woman and submissive female, and I roundly ignore the rest of her philosphy as being unimportant to my chief aim in reading Atlas Shrugged: to enjoy the story. 

 8. No Wind of Blame, Georgette Heyer

A lovely little mystery in the spirit of Agatha Christie (now with more quirky humor!)

9. At the Corner of East and Now, Frederica Mathewes-Green
I love love love Mathewes-Green's writing. She is wise and humble and funny and most of all real. I would read anything she wrote, even if it was about paperclips or the color orange.
10. The Illumined Heart, Frederica Mathewes-Green
A very tiny book (perfect for carrying in one's pocket) full of very big wisdom.
11. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
12. The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
Classic twenties noir! And one of the original hard-boiled detectives (Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon) and the most famous of inebriated literary couples (Nick and Nora in The Thin Man.) I had so much fun with these two books. They are witty and clever and keep the reader on his toes.
13. The Nasty Bits, Anthony Bourdain
This is a collection of various pieces Bourdain wrote for other publications (mostly some years ago, it appears). He appears arrogant and brash and way too often foul-mouthed, but I can't help liking Tony; it didn't hurt that he mentioned in the afterward that he knew, reading the pieces again, that he was arrogant and brash and a punk.) All the same, it's not nearly as strong as his other books and lacks cohesion, what with being  a collection of "Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones".
In January I said:
One of my goals this year is to make my To Read Stack* smaller. To that end I have purposed to eschew library books and focus on my own books. Um ... I didn't do so well so far. Only three this month were from the Stack. Better luck in February.
I did NOT do better in February. Only Service Included and The Nasty Bits came from the stack. Sigh.

eleneariel: (Reading (is the key))
1.  Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell

Don't let the dry title fool you: this is very, very readable. Should be required reading for all voters, and most especially - politicians.
2.  Superfreakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Excellent! And fun. I think I read it in an afternoon.

3.  The Well-Adjusted Child: the social benefits of homeschooling, Rachel Gathercole

This didn't tell me anything I didn't know, and it got more than a little repetitious, but it is an excellent thing to hand those well-meaning but misinformed souls who confront homeschooling families with the incredulous "but what about SOCIALIZATION?!"
4.  The Apprentice, Jaquelin Pepin

This was easily the best book of the month. From his early days in his mother's restaurants to his apprenticeship in upscale French hotel kitchens to his work with Julia Child, this memoir is masterfully told and ever so interesting, at least to the food-loving soul.
5.  A Lost Leader, E. Phillips Oppenheim

I have a number of beautiful turn-of-the-century novels, most of which remain unread. This is bound in rich, though faded, navy blue, with gilt accents and a sprinkling of gorgeous illustrations. The story, alas, did not quite meet the standards of the physical appearance of the book, but remains worthy for sheer old-fashionedness alone.
6.  The Coming Dark Age, Roberto Vacca

I read this more for amusement than anything else. Vacca, an Italian, wrote this in the seventies. He predicted in strong language that within a few years modern infrastructure, having been overburdened by the increasing population, would implode and force society to a return to the dark ages. Clearly, he was wrong, and most amusing of all were all the notes I found penciled in the margins, where some previous reader had detailed all the technological advances that had rendered Vacca's predictions false.
7.  Shiver, Maggie Stiefvatar

First, props to whoever is responsible for printing this in beautiful navy blue ink! I always admire a book that doesn't consign itself to plain black text. Second, parts of this were romantic enough to almost make me catch my breath (and romantic in a sweet, young love way, not a here-have-a-sex-scene way.) But third ... oh my gosh Sam is such an emo-werewolf -kid. Also HELLO, could we get any more improbable with the conveniently inattentive parents who don't even notice their daughter has a werewolf living in her bedroom. So it gets points for inventive use of werewolfs and better-than-average writing, but next time please don't skimp on plot believability, okay? And we are so over the emo thing. No more having guys sitting around with "sad eyes", strumming a guitar and writing songs about loss and sorrow.
8.  Round Ireland With A Fridge, Tony Hawks

One morning after a late night at the pub, Tony Hawks woke up with a hangover and a note beside his bed stating the terms of a bet he had apparently agreed to while under the influence: that he, Tony, would hitchhike around the circumference of Ireland in the space of thirty days ... with a fridge. So, like any good and decent Englishman, he promptly bought a fridge and started hitching. And then he wrong a book about it. The writing might be amateurish, but the stories of the people he encountered make it worthwhile.
9.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, Jeff Kinney

Fun. :) There's something about the drawing style that I find irresistible.

10. The Day the World Came to Town, Jim DeFede

One of the lesser-known events of 9/11 was the grounding of many flights headed to the USA when our airspace was shut down. A number of these planes landed in Gander, Newfoundland, where the Ganderians stepped forward to help the stranded passengers in a truly spectacular way. Covering as it does such a number of individual stories, this book is a bit disjointed, but well worth reading.
11. A Few Figs from Thistles, Edna St. Vincent Millay

I like Edna St. Vincent Millay very much, although I am not sure that I understand her as well as I ought.

12. Principles of Personal Defense, Jeff Cooper

A very short book detailing some of the character traits useful in preparing oneself to be able to defend themselves. Mr Cooper comes off as slightly paranoid, but doubtless very well prepared.
13. Monsoon Diary, Shoba Narayan

A memoir of growing up in India as told primarily through food - I found her adjustment to western life most interesting.

14. The Outcasts of 19 Schayler Place, E. L. Konigsburg

Funny! Random! Quirky! Slightly implausible!

15. 1215: year of the Magna Carta, Danny Danziger

This was much better than In the year 1000, the other book I've read by Danziger. More in-depth, I think, and just better written.

Next up: Book Awards 2009!
eleneariel: (Fashion (Scarlett))
1. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, Maureen Corrigan

A book about books - good but not stellar.

2. Women and Money, Suze Orman

This month I created a budget for the first time ever (my natural frugality is such that it's never been necessary, but I decided it would be a) good practice, b) a sort of challenge or game, and c) it would be nice to have an accounting for everything coming in and going out) and as such thought that reading a few financial books might be in order. Orman presents good advice in a clear and concise manner, though I found I was following most of it already.

3. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

Suddenly I decided that a reread of Jane Eyre was an absolute necessity. I love this book SO MUCH.

4. Fragile Eternity, Melissa Marr

Wicked Lovely was interesting and fairly unique. Ink Exchange, its companion novel, was okay. Fragile Eternity ... oy. BORING. I had to force myself to finish it. Everyone sat around whining and nothing ever got resolved - in fact nothing ever really HAPPENED and it seemed like an exercise in frustration. At least until the last chapter or so when things started to get interesting again, but by that time it was too late. I probably won't be reading any future books by Marr.

5. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 7, Hiroma Arakawa
6. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 8, Hiroma Arakawa
7. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 9, Hiroma Arakawa
8. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 10, Hiroma Arakawa
9. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 11, Hiroma Arakawa

The farther on this series goes the more it becomes my Favorite Manga Evar (in fairness, I've read more than a volume of only four different ones?) But anyway, this is GOOD. Very good.

10. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

Really glad to see a young adult book written by a guy; male authors seem in short supply. I'm always glad to find something I can really recommend to my teenage boys that they won't immediately deride as "too girly." What I loved: the changes in fonts. The unique (as far as I know) premise. The scary-but-we're-not-sure-why Village-like creepiness. The relationship between the two main characters. What I didn't: good GRIEF could we stop with all the depressing young adult lit already?! Every. Single. Time these kids look like they're going to get a break, something even more terrible than the last terrible things happens. And Mr. Ness, I know this is going to have a sequel but is a semi-happy ending, or heck, even any kind of an ending at all REALLY so much to ask for? And speaking of, why are there so few stand-alone books anymore? Why must everything be part of a series? Still, I liked it.

11. Echo in the Bone, Diana Gabaldon

Certainly the pick of the month. The only problem I have with this book is that it took so long for her to write and publish that I've forgotten many of the things from previous books that would have been helpful to remember (like the circumstances of William's birth). With any other series I would have gone back and reread them in preparation for the new book, but I don't exactly have time to read six 700+ page books right now. *facepalm* (As with all of Gabaldon's books, I recommend this with the caveat that it has adult content.)

12. Emotions Revealed, Paul Ekman

The title makes it sound like this is a self-help kind of book, but it's really mostly about the actual physical signs of emotions and how the slightest tightening of this or that facial muscle can reveal a person's emotional state. As such it is liberally illustrated.
eleneariel: (Reading (is the key))
 1.   The Cult of Personality Testing, Annie Murphy Paul
I mean no offense to the many of you who like personality tests and know your INFJ/ENFP/HTTP/whatevers by heart, but I've never really been a fan - used merely for fun, maybe, but even then I have a problem being "told" who I am or being labeled and put into a box. That's just me personally, though - what was interesting in this book was the subtle and not-so-subtle ways some of these tests can be used by schools, businesses, and other institutions, and the ways these decisions can affect your life - not to mention the serious question raised about how accurate these tests are anyway (not very, according to this book).
This excerpt pretty much sums up both the book and my reservations about personality testing:
In life, he observed, our actions are driven not only by our personalities, but by the situations in which we find ourselves. We adjust our behavior according to our role (worker, parent, friend), to the occasion (a meeting, a family outing, a party), and to a thousand other details of our ever-changing environment. Such mutability, though "acknowledged in the abstract" by personality researchers, was ignored by them in practice, largely because it seemed to defeat the possibility of accurate measurement. From the time the very first personality tests were developed, psychologists attributed stable, consistent personalities to their subjects - not because they had proof such personalities existed, but because the task of assessment would be much easier if they did.
The Rorschach and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory imagine us as an assemblage of ailments, the sum of our sicknesses; they are like "mental thermometers," in the words of one critic, equipped to detect illness but incapable of describing health.
These tests have serious real-life consequences, in our classrooms, courtrooms, and workplaces. And [...] the narrow, self-interested way we've been imagined by institutions has left us without a satisfying way to imagine ourselves. 
2.   Lunch Lessons, Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes
I blogged about this one rather extensively here: I liked it!
3.   Fruits Basket Vol. 1, Natsuki Takaya
A bit of fluff, really, but I bought the first couple for the library and needed to read one to know what it was like and who to recommend it to. Very girly, but innocuous.
4.   Feeding Frenzy, Stuart Stevens

Two American friends go on a wild European road trip in a vintage Mustang (whose brakes sometimes work) on a quest to eat in all of Europe's 3-star restaurants on consecutive days. It's a witty and madcap adventure, although I felt there was a little something lacking when compared to many of the other fantastic food memoirs out there.
5.   Light Raid, Connie Willis
Engrossing, as WIllis' books usually are - although as so often happens, I was left wishing more had been explained (I am particularly curious as to why all the grecian overtones to Hydra corp), but the plot was tight, the romance charmingly un-mushy and just right, and ... well, reader, I liked it.
6.   Sweet Love, Sarah Strohmeyer

It was pink and had a cupcake on the cover. So I read it.  Plus I've read some of Strohmeyer's other books and found them to be rather original and charming for chick-lit. This one didn't really work for me, though. It started out light enough, but randomly fell into several deep un-funny storylines that didn't go with the tone of the rest of the story, and the ultimate romantic pairing just didn't seem right. Too much was left hanging unexplained.
7.   Hip-Hop Matters, S. Craig Watkins

This is a good example of how I am curious even about things I have little to no interest in. Hip-hop and hip-hop culture is not my thing at all, and yet I saw this book and was all like, "hm, I should read that." And it was interesting.
8.   Flight, Sherman Alexie

Easily my pick of the month, although with the caveat that it's - harsh. There's harsh language, a harsh storyline, and harsh questions brought up. I read it in the space of just a couple of hours, mostly because it was too painful to keep reading and yet to painful to put it down. Rather than try to describe it, I'll direct you to the New York Times review, and just tell you that I think it's one of those Important books that speak to the deeper parts of humanity, and it'll make you uncomfortable, but I think it's important to read. Particularly for those who work with troubled kids in any way.
9.   Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 4, Hiromu Arakawa
10. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 5, Hiromu Arakawa
11. Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 6, Hiromu Arakawa

I'm kind of rationing these because I could just sit there and read them one after another! Winry is really becoming one of my favorite characters. Aw.
12.  Virus of the Mind, Richard Brodie

The writing sort of annoyed me at points - it seemed weirdly informal for the subject matter, also he kept using the word "kablooey" - but the mind-controlling memes/mind viruses are something I find endlessly entertaining.

What brand soft drink do you buy? The ones that sell the most cost twice as much as unadvertised store brands. The extra money goes into television advertising, sending out the spores of ever more penetrating mind viruses that literally take control of your mind and make you push your shopping cart over to their shelf. Successfully programming your mind to believe that you prefer that brand, advertising agencies are among the most brazen and calculating of the mind virus instigators.

July 2011

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