Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Great 2009 Reading Roundup!

Well, I am mostly just proud of myself for sticking to a goal born last New Year's Eve. I can't say that I stuck to any other goals I had then. Stuff like losing half my body weight (i.e. getting so thin that people start rumors about my potential health problems - I put that one in for you, Nora!), achieving financial stability, traveling, becoming fluent in foreign tongues, becoming proficient at various musical instruments (shout out to my neglected concertina!), reaching organizational nirvana through the use of a label maker, and mastering various domestic goddess skills (knitting, pastry making, sewing, to name a few). And I can't forget to mention my hopeful plans to learn to skateboard and tap dance.

I didn't do any of those things (well I did purchase a lot of the accessories to accomplishing those things if that counts for anything) but I did force myself to record everything that I read even when it pained me to do so.

I realized that I don't read nearly as much as I think that I do. I realized that I could buy no new books in 2010 and still not run out of fresh reading material. And I realized that deep down I am a teenage girl when it comes to my reading tastes. Which is odd because when I was an actual teenage girl I read much more literary fiction and classics than I do now. I don't think that I read any YA as an actual YA. Maybe I was trying to be a grownup back then and now I'm grasping at my fleeting youth as I get closer to the big 3-0.

So I am kicking off a series of posts with my thoughts on the best of what I did end up reading this year. I'm sure that next year not only will I be a skateboarding, tap dancing, concertina playing, French speaking anorexic (among other achievements) but that I will have better reading adventures to report. Hopefully in 2010 I will read more classics and more books in general. Less TV, less celebutainment, and less wallowing in general will make this possible I'm sure.

I'm starting off with my favorite YA titles and nonfiction titles of the year. Still to come are favorite books for grownups, mysteries, fluffy bathtub reading, and favorite book boyfriends of 2009.

Edited 1/2/10
So, I started doing all making all these lists a few weeks ago when I was in a better mood and now I just want them to go away! So my reading audience of one will just have to live in suspense never knowing what would have made it onto my favorite mystery and book boyfriend lists. Also that is why there is a marked difference in the amount of effort I put into the lists that are posted. I am not so strong on follow through.

Lastly, audience of one, I made the lists before reading (and loving) Wintergirls and The Queen's Thief series. These would definitely have made the Best of lists.

Best Young Adult Fiction of 2009

I don't know what more I could say about this book that I didn't say when I first read it at the start of the year. I am so amazed by it and by all the feelings and memories it stirred up for me. I also love that this was a random library find for me that I knew nothing about when I started reading. I wish I could have more of those fortuitous library moments. I whole heartedly agree with (and wish I was as eloquent) as these two reviews:

"The plot is gripping and the characters powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that make this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget." Kirkus Reviews

"An uncannily funny book even as it plumbs the darkness, Speak will hold readers from first word to last." Horn Book

"How I Live Now is the first-person story of Daisy, a smart, stroppy, self-absorbed 15-year-old who arrives from New York's Upper West Side to stay with her English cousins. The four cousins are romantic, bohemian and enjoy an eccentric, faintly feral pastoral idyll of an existence in a rambling English country house, mystically in touch with nature and, indeed, with Daisy."
from The Observer review

How could you not love a book like that? I could not put this one down and revisiting for my end of the year round up has me wanting to reread it again.

This is one of those books that creates a world I would like to live in. Mostly because I want a beach house stocked with boys who think I am pretty and perpetual summertime with no obligations. I'm so glad there is a sequel coming!

Beautiful & sad with an original plot. I cried reading this one.

This book made my stomach hurt. Incredibly sad and very well written.

These two are some of my favorite books of any genre I read this year. I've reread both a couple of times and I am in such knots for Derek. Things will not be ok if he does not end up with Chloe in the next book. My feelings on this might have even surpassed my intense bitterness about the ending of I Capture the Castle. Clearly, fictional characters are supposed to end up with whoever I deem best!

I love the romance in this story and the bonus that there is a sequel coming out. Pretty cover art as well and I greatly appreciate that the sequel has matching art. Nothing better for my OCD book tendencies than lining up matching editions on my shelves.

Creepy, creepy story but beautifully written. I was so mad when I finished reading it. There had better be some answers in the sequel or my rage will have to continue festering. And after watching Bella scream like her internal organs were being harvested from her still conscious body during New Moon I want more than ever to see her kill some zombies in the movie version of this. It would be perfect!

Great atmosphere with an intensely suspenseful plot. It inspired me to buy (but sadly not to actually read yet) some noir.

These are both so clever and hilarious. I loved them both but I honestly loved all of the E. Lockhart books I read this year. She is consistently entertaining.

Swoon. John After made me read this book twice. And if I'm being truly honest I've read certain sections more than twice- it's really that good! John is just so tortured and good and dreamy all rolled into one. I love this book! Still really hate the cover, though.

Historical fiction that is illuminating of the time period but never in an awkward way. It is a very well done book. I couldn't stop thinking about the poor, taxi dancing heroine for days afterward. And the fact that I really need to reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

I want to go to Italy and kill unicorns! And if that is too much to ask for I'll settle for just going to Italy and having a Marisa Tomei in Only You type adventure with a really cute hair cut.

Book Three needs to come out now! I love these books so much! And I love that the crazy hype was actually legitimate and deserved. But mostly I love Peeta!

Best Nonfiction of 2009

Columbine, Dave Cullen
Creepy, stressful, amazingly detailed, so very sad, and completely unforgettable.

Inspiring and guilt inducing all at the same time. Guilt inducing if you are a teacher that is.
Makes me so amazingly grateful to be teaching rich little babies. I couldn't deal with the sad and frustrating situations described in this book but I'm glad that someone can.

My first author reading and autographed book! This book makes me want to be a better recorder of my own life experiences and is also quite the tear jerker.

Fascinating. It also fueled my desire to be a book collector (not in an illicit way of course)
Clearly it also fueled my desire to be rich and frivolous.

The rest of the best of 2009 lists, lazily compressed into one post

Best Fluffy Escapist Bathtub Reading

Soulless, Gail Carriger
  • This wins for having a time period realistic yet spunky spinster heroine and a dreamy werewolf romantic interest. And an awesome cover. Oh and an engaging story.
Size 12 Is Not Fat series, Meg Cabot
  • In the part of my mind where I am a successful author Meg Cabot is my archnemesis. How does she write so, so many books? I loved Heather and I love that she doesn't lose weight to land a man. And there is something about the NYC dorm setting that takes me back to watching Felicity obsessively with my own college roommates.
Major Crush and The Boys Next Door, Jennifer Echols
  • I adore Jennifer Echols! I would happily live inside either of these books. So cute and fun!
Secret Society Girl series, Diana Peterfreund
  • Poe tops my book boyfriend list so that already lets you know the affection I have for these books. There's also the vicarious Ivy League experience you get when reading these without having to endure student debt and crushing pressure to achieve. Also the satisfying and suspenseful plots with well drawn characters help.
Simon Romantic Comedies, the entire group
  • These books have contributed a great deal to keeping me sane this year throughout various small child induced states of rage and weariness. Bubblegum cartoon cover art mixed with a large font size, predictable in a good way happy endings, and reliably readable in an hour or less. The ideal bathtub reading.
Best Literature for Grownups

Go With Me, Castle Freeman Jr.
  • short, chivalrous, creepy, AMAZING ENDING!
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, Nicholas Drayson
  • "A charming love triangle in Nairobi, Kenya, forms the center of a novel that manages to be both sweet and gripping." -Publisher's Weekly
The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Troews
  • sad, weird, hilarious
Lolita, Vladimir Nabakov
  • "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."
The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawak
  • "Ogawa weaves a poignant tale of beauty, heart, and sorrow in her exquisite new novel." (Publisher's Weekly)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

This book definitely lived up to the hype surrounding it. I am not one for graphic crime stories so even though I was impressed I won't be reading the next 2 books in the series.

I love Lisbeth! What a fascinating character. I read a review that called her a "feminist avenging angel" and I agree completely. I spent a lot of time worried for her in the book and then wanting to cheer out loud when she got her revenge against her attacker. That scene was crazy-go-nuts in an excellent death-to-perverts kind of way. I was seriously grinning at 2am when I read that part.

The mystery in the story was clever and kept me awake reading far longer than I had planned to because I just had to know the ending. Now my only complaint is the very last page. That made me mad on Lisbeth's behalf and since I don't plan to read the other books I want someone to post a detailed wikipedia entry full of spoilers so I can know if Lisbeth ever tells Mikael how she feels about him. The internet has let me down so far in providing answers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Keturah and Lord Death, Martine Leavitt

I am not a fan of this book's title and that had held me back from picking it up when I first heard about it. However, I am so glad that I finally read it because it was awesome!

This book is so fascinating. It is a really clever story. I started reading it in the car on the way home from the library and didn't stop until I finished (don't worry I wasn't the one driving). The writing is beautiful and poetic, the characters lovingly drawn, and up until the last page I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I also wasn't sure what I wanted to happen which is unusual for me. In the end I was satisfied with the resolution to the story. This is definitely a book I will be purchasing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Prada & Prejudice, Mandy Hubbard

This book is cute, high quality fluff. It is ranks up there with my favorite Simon Romantic Comedies. My only complaint was that I think even a ridiculously uninformed and naive 15 year old would understand that "Lady Henrietta" is a title and not a snub to anyone addressed as "Miss Rebecca". That rankled me a bit but the rest of the book is cute and fun. Good escapist stuff.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The King of Attiola, Megan Whalen Turner

"Tell me a story, then," said the king. "Keep me occupied."
"A story?" Phresine was surprised. "What makes you think I can tell stories?"
"Insight," said the king. "Go on."
Phresine protested.
"A story, or I am getting up," threatened the king, and twitched the bedcovers aside.
Phresine, in her turn, conceded defeat. "Very well,"and she smoothed the bedcovers back in place. " I have just the one in mind."
"As long as it isn't instructive."
"How do you mean, my lord?" Phresine was prim again.
"I mean I'm not appearing in this drama. I don't want to hear the story about the wayward, self-indulgent boy who learns the error of his ways and grows up to be a model of decorum and never cuts anybody's head off for spite." (p.272)

Bookshelves of Doom
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

Needless to say I loved this book! Too tired & sugar high to think let alone to write anything (that's becoming a common problem for me).

The Queen of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner

"Calf love doesn't usually survive amputation, Your Majesty."

Megan Whalen Turner is an amazing writer! Not only was this book engaging and suspenseful with its intriguing plot twists but the emotions the story stirs are, for lack of a better descriptor, weirdly compelling.

I read this last night and was unsettled by the romantic twist but after thinking about it more, talking to Nora, and reading reviews online I've come around to being incredibly impressed with this author's abilities to change my quite strong opinions about her characters. I was crushed and so angry/sad (there should be a word for that mix of emotions) for Gen when he returned home to Eddis. I love the Queen of Eddis and Gen's father. The scenes of Gen recovering and trying to figure out a new way to live are so well done.

Maybe I should have seen it coming what with all the flashes of the sad and confused Queen of Attiola throughout the book but I was still very much on "Team-She's-a-Vicious-Bitch" when it became clear that Gen wanted to marry her. I wasn't sure for quite awhile if I should believe his stories of watching the queen and loving her for years. He is after all quite an accomplished liar. This is where the weirdly compelling feelings come in. I kept thinking that Gen might have some strange from of battered woman's syndrome but in the end he really does love her. Which makes me feel a little weird too. But maybe feeling weird about someone being in love with the person who maimed them is the appropriate response. The closing pages of this book are seriously intense. In a good way, of course.

So I'm glad I finally picked these books up. The only problem now is having to wait to read the 4th installment and hoping that there aren't 5 year waits for future volumes.

links to reviews that better convey the awesomeness of these books:

The Thief reviewed at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy

The Thief reviewed at Bookshelves of Doom, where I heard about it in the first place

Angieville reviews The Queen of Attiola

The Queen of Attiola at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner

I'm currently battling the desire to sleep away my entire vacation, eat away my entire vacation, or just sulk away my entire vacation. All things that are making it hard for me to read 17 more books before January 1, 2010 thereby reaching my self-imposed OCD goal of reading a nice even number of books by year's end.

This book made it slightly easier to keep going though. It is very clever, suspenseful, funny, & original. I'm excited to read the 2 sequels and then Nora and I are going to book club it up.

Intelligent thoughts on The Thief might come later (maybe) when I'm done watching Scrooged and eating candy in front of the fire place.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Dark Divine, Bree Despain

This is a book I have been waiting to read in the same way I wanted to read Beautiful Creatures. And I am starting to really wonder about the wisdom of getting overly excited and having super high expectations for debut novels based only on cover art, promotional summaries, and author blogs. But I am hesitant to just jump right in and say I didn't like this book for several reasons:

#1 Any book that I read following Laurie Halse Anderson is going to seem pedestrian at best and a waste of my time at worst. Even though this is a completely different genre than Wintergirls it is still hard not to constantly compare the quality of writing. And Laurie will always win.

#2 I wonder how much my own expectations contributed to my disappointment. I think if this book had a Simon Romantic Comedy cover and I just picked it up innocently knowing nothing about it I would have liked it. Probably even really liked it. But it is in "take-me-seriously-I-could-be-the-next-Twilight" hardback featuring creepy-pretty cover art on a shiny black background. How could that not set the stage for something more than what The Dark Divine ended up being.

So I guess my verdict would be mixed feelings on this one. I wanted it to be amazing and it wasn't. But it was interesting and entertaining at times. On a teen supernatural fluff scale of Vampire Diaries being drivel (0) and Twilight or The Summoning & The Awakening being high art (10) this falls in the middle with the Alyson Noel books or Deadly Little Secret being passable ("in a pinch") but one would definitely put them down for a while if Golden Girls was on TV (5).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

Dear Laurie Halse Anderson,

Why are you so great? That is all I want to know. How do you do it?

Sincerely, Me

Seriously. She is amazing. How does she remember so much about being a teenage girl and use those memories to create specific and unique characters who are at the same time universal? It goes without saying that Speak is one of the best books I've ever read. It is incredibly well written but part of my opinion does come from my own personal high school experiences. That book was a book made for me. I wish I had read it when I was 15, 16, 17. I think it would have helped me so much then. It helped me now as a fully fledged grownup.

So, Wintergirls has been on my shelf all year ever since it came out. I knew I wanted to read it because I plan to eventually read everything that Laurie has written but I just never picked it up. I think part of me was a little scared to start reading it. I knew it would be sad, depressing, and most likely quite painfully brutal to read. But I was also sure it would be amazing. And I was completely correct in my predictions.

I read it in one sitting alternately panicking about what would be on the next page and crying my tired little eyes out. The moment with Lia and her mom discussing how mothers can recognize their babies by scent. I could not stop crying! It is just so, so sad and tender. I could probably write forever about this book but I don't want to go there at the moment.

What I liked the most came at the end when Lia got angry at all the wasted time and experiences she had missed along the way being so utterly consumed by her illness. I relate to that. I think there is a line that you come to where you can decide you want to work on getting better or that you are going to keep working at whatever self-destructive tendency you've been dealt. I remember feeling that way that if I didn't wake up and start doing something different years would go by and I would be the same sad person. Did I want to be 25, 30, 40 dealing with the same issues?

And I loved the last page:

"There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward: an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn't matter anymore. I am thawing." (p.278)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fallen, Lauren Kate

This was an impulse buy yesterday at Costco based mostly on the creepy-pretty cover. I read the entire thing last night and was not regretting my random purchasing for once. Lauren Kate does a great job building suspense and a creepy atmosphere (matching the creepy cover very nicely). I loved the romance and the characters were really well done. The plot was a little reminiscent of the Alyson Noel Immortals series but in a vastly superior way. The Immortals series seriously aggravated me when I read them. Its a great premise but irritatingly executed. I love that the idea of a couple finding each other in multiple lives over and over again was taken up by a more skilled writer. I can't wait to read the next one in this series.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How It Ends, Laurie Wiess

This book was incredibly depressing! It was probably not the best choice for me at the moment considering I am in the midst of yet another illness induced depression/seasonal affective disorder couple of days. I had thought from the blurbs I'd read it would be a story more about a teenage girl growing up and dealing with My So Called Life type moments but instead the story was a lot heavier with an emphasis on the really creepy and sad life experiences of the elderly neighbors of said teenage girl. This comment from the book sums it up better than I could:

"I can't take this story," I said, turning off the CD player. "First it's a tragedy, then a horror story, then a romance, and now it's what, a back-to-the-land thing? It's a roller coaster, Gran, and no matter where I think it's going, it never goes there." (p. 297)

I was also stunned by the sheer number of issues that were touched on in this one novel. We had animal taxidermy, animal rescue, euthanasia, Parkinson's disease, health care for the elderly, illegitimacy, eugenics/sterlization, foster care/orphanages, Nazis/horrific war violence, venereal diseases, teenage love, and I am absolutely positive that I have forgotten several other topics that you could build an afterschool special or lifetime tv movie around... needless to say A LOT was going on in this book.

Which ended up being a little too much for me but I did enjoy isolated parts of the book. I loved the brief sections describing Helen & Lon's happy early days of marriage. That was very sweet and touching. I also liked how stable and good Hanna's parents were even though they were pretty much background characters. I liked Jess a lot too and wish that he had a bigger part in the book. And I thought Hanna's teenage girl angst and excitement were very realistic- almost annoyingly so! But I know from experience that being a teenage girl is a very obnoxious stage of life to endure.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lips Touch: Three Times, Laini Taylor

I saw this mentioned in NPR's 2009 Best YA Fiction list and was intrigued. The cover art is a little vivid to my taste but I am so, so glad that I ordered this one. It is such a clever book. 3 short stories (novellas? I never know which term to use) all centered on the theme of kisses with some serious consequences. The stories are supernatural and otherworldy and so beautifully written. I liked the illustrations within the book, the experience of reading shorter stories, and the overall feel of this book. Everything comes together in a lovely way. My favorite story is "Spicy Little Curses" because in the end I am always going to be a happily ever after kind of girl.

I also loved discovering that the author has fun pink hair and a baby named Clementine! What a cute blog! I'm excited to read more of Laini Taylor's books.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Crush Du Jour, Micol Ostow

Another super cute and super fast reading Simon Romantic Comedy. This one was a little weak on leading man but strong on spunky heroine and funny one liners so I was ok with that. I liked reading all the descriptions of the food at the restaurant, the cooking class, and of Laine's own creations. Cuteness all around. And now I am a happy teacher who just has to grit her teeth through one more day with demon babies until vacation!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Silent on the Moor, Deanna Raybourn

I am pretending that this pretty UK cover on the left is the edition that I bought at Borders. I really don't understand marketing- particularly why one would assume that only UK readers would be drawn in by the promise of vintage looking fonts, an engraving-type illustration of the moors, and an authentic looking Victorian woman on the cover but to lure American readers one would need to see heaving bosoms with tawdry, inaccurate sartorial choices. In short the type of cover that makes me want to fashion my own dust jackets so I can read with no shame in public.

So I was very relieved (after I finished being irritated) to find the pretty UK versions that I now want to order. Which I totally plan to do. By book 3 I have had a complete about face in opinion on this series. I loved this book and I love the characters. I love Lady Julia and Brisbane and Portia and Mr. Pugglesworth and Morag and pretty much everyone else. I also loved the humor in this one, the Wuthering Heights references, and most of all I loved the ending. I am really glad that there is a 4th book coming out and I hope that the series will be ongoing.

Now that I am on friendly terms with Lady Julia I want to go back and reread Silent in the Grave and potentially get over my issues with it. I think owning my own pretty copies of these books will probably help me with that as well. I do think Silent in the Grave has one of the most clever openings I've read in a long time which I can't believe I didn't mention in my initial thoughts:

"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."

Silent on the Moors is definitely my favorite of the 3 books. Here are some favorite lines:

"Oh, isn't that just like a man to ruin a thrilling romantic gesture by leaving as soon as you've come rushing up here to sweep him into your arms and declare your love for him?"

...even if her clothes look like something out of a primer on modesty.

"I offered because I knew you would never be able to resist the chanace to play the coquette and thrust yourself at Brisbane."

"Oh, yes. I mean to marry him. But not because I want him to give me a life. I want to marry him to share the life I already have. The difference, I think you will find, is a significant one."

All in all, a very satisying book. There were a lot of excellent swoony parts near the end that I very much appreciated as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Silent in the Sanctuary, Deanna Raybourn

Even though I had some issues with the first book in this series, Silent in the Grave, I liked it well enough to pursue the sequel. And I am really glad that I did. The pace of the story moves much quicker in this one and there was much less of the obnoxious anachronistic attitudes that bothered me so much in the first book.

All combined this story had an engaging and suspenseful plot, much less dithering by Lady Julia, and was overall a much more satisfying book to read. I stayed up way too late to finish the book in one sitting last night as opposed to the first book that I had to force myself to keep reading over a stretch of about a week.

My big (and really only) complaint about Silent in the Sanctuary is the horrific cover art. Unfortunately, the cheesy romance novel bare shoulders cover on the left is the one I was forced to buy at Borders. The cover on the right is just so, so much prettier. I will admit that I am easily shamed enough to feel that the bookstore clerk wouldn't judge me and make snap judgments about me being a a sad cat lady getting my smut fix if I was buying the pretty and much classier cover. Sadly that was not an option for me. Even sadder is the fact that this book is not a smutty romance but a well done historical mystery.

I also really don't like when book covers in a series don't match so its frustrating to read this post at the author's blog and realize that the new direction is with the shoulder flaunting covers not the pretty England evoking covers. I liked seeing I'm not the only one who agrees about the new covers either. (

Now I am excited to read the next installment. I am hoping for more Julia & Brisbane quality time!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters' has a wonderfully distinctive and entertaining voice. I loved Borrower of the Night when I read it earlier this year and I have had Amelia Peabody on my list ever since then. Especially since I read this enthusiastic review of Crocodile on the Sandbank at the Book Smugglers.

I am too tired and routine-childhood-illness-as-an-adult-depressed to write anything clever about why I enjoyed reading this but I loved the book. Amelia is hilarious and frequently wielding a parasol as a weapon while telling people that she is "on the job". The romantic tension and bickering between Emerson and Amelia is so much fun to read. Here is one of my favorite Emerson moments:

"Not wounded, not dying, merely enjoying a ladylike swoon," said Emerson's familiar, detestable voice. "Allow me to congratulate you, Peabody; it is the first time I have seen you behave as a lady is supposed to do. I must make a note of it in my journal."(p.217)

I am looking forward to reading the rest of Amelia's adventures. And to being free of diseases carried by children.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, Leanna Renee Hieber

This book was a mild letdown to me. I had read such fevered and excited reviews online referencing gothic novels, Greek mythology, forbidden romance, Victorian London.... it seemed impossible that I wouldn't love (or at least like) this book. But as seems to happen to me more often than not having overly high expectations leads to disappointment.

All in all it was moderately entertaining and a quick read but I never really cared for any of the characters. I ended up skimming a lot of the ominous magical parts. I did like how Percy spoke so many languages and how her physical appearance was so intriguingly described. At this point I don't see myself being interested enough to read the sequel when it is published.

Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn

This is difficult for me to sum up in a few words. It's much easier when I love it or hate it but this one falls somewhere in the middle. The story was clever and engaging. I was definitely hooked and wanted to keep reading but there were many stretches that felt slow and in need of editing to me. I didn't need to read about Lady Julia dithering back and forth for several paragraphs every time she did something reckless. I also didn't need to read her frequent asides of "if I had known then what I know now" throughout the book.

I did really like Julia and Brisbane quite a bit though. The characters were much stronger than the drawn out writing style. This book definitely fell into the "girls who are forward thinkers ahead of their time trap" which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Small doses of that I can handle but this was a little much for my taste. It takes me out of the story and has me questioning the author's motives. Which is not what I am looking for in a reading experience.

Despite these issues I did really enjoy this book and I am planning to read the next two installments as soon as I can get them from the library. I am definitely hoping for more Brisbane & Julia romance them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Paradise Lost: Book One, John Milton

As seems to happen more speedily each year the holidays have arrived. I can't believe there are only 20 days left in 2009 and that means only 20 days left to add to my reading list. When I started this blog last January I was absolutely convinced that I would read many more books than I have at this point. So in the grand tradition of last ditch cramming I am attempting to get the numbers up. Why does it really matter? It doesn't, of course, but I tend to be pretty OCD about these things.

Which brings me to Paradise Lost. Not only have I not read as many books as I anticipated but I also have read a steady diet of Young Adult, fluff, or some combination of Young Adult & Fluff. Paradise Lost is one of those "someday I'll read that just not today" books for me so yesterday in my self-pity shopping trip to Barnes & Noble I took a deep breath and bought a copy.

Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing heavenly Muse. (1-6)

What in me is dark,
Illumine; what is low, raise and support!
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men. (22-26)

tears, such as angels weep, burst forth, at last
words interwove with sighs found out their way (620-621)

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading the first book. The poetry is beautiful and clear.

I have been using the following sites for more information:

Milton Reading Room

Gustave Dore's Paradise Lost Illustrations

Monday, December 7, 2009

30 Guys in 30 Days, Micol Ostow

Today is Monday/Monday string beans/All you hungry children/Come & eat it up!

Today is also the first day in 5 years of teaching that it actually snowed at school! Completely bizarre and beyond freezing. And hopefully it will never happen again. Snow on the ground made for some exceptionally giddy and intractable babies today. Which leads to a cranky teacher by the time the bell rings.

It is also another day of my new life as someone who works out. Which all leads me to a familiar place in my life: the bathtub at the end of the day with a Simon Romantic Comedy.

I liked this one a lot. The writing really stood out from others I've read in this series. It was engaging and funny without being overly silly or unrealistic.

And in an odd way I wish that I had read this book back in college for flirting inspiration. College girls (& boys, I guess) don't realize that they will probably never be in another situation in life with so many potential romantic partners. Therefore they should seize the day and put themselves out there more.

I couldn't take Claudia's challenge now even if I wanted to seeing as I rarely see a guy within my age range on anything remotely approaching a daily basis. Which really isn't a poor, pitiful spinster statement its just a fact.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare

Nora and I watched the hilarious Shakespeare Retold version of Taming of the Shrew last night. Now I can't stop wanting to tell people to "swivel". Moaning Myrtle and Seth Starkadder are amazing in this! Having never read the play, I decided to read it today.

Then, of course, I had to see what Harold Bloom had to say about it:

"Petruchio gets to swagger, and Kate will rule him and the household, perpetually acting her role as the reformed shrew.

The swaggering Petruchio provokes a double reaction in her: outwardly furious, inwardly smitten.

Roaring on the outside, Petruchio is something else within, as Kate gets to see, understand, and control, with his final approval.

From this moment on [IV.v. 1-22], Kate firmly rules while endlessly protesting her obedience to the delighted Petruchio, a marvelous Shakespearean reversal of Petruchio's earlier strategy of proclaiming Kate's mildness even as she raged on."

I agree with Bloom's description of one of my favorite moments in the play:

"There is no more charming scene of married love in all Shakespeare than this little vignette on a street in Padua:


Husband, let's follow to see the end of this ado.

First kiss me, Kate, and we will.

What! in the midst of the street?

What! art thou ashamed of me?

No, sir; God forbid; but ashamed to kiss.

Why, then, let's home again. Come, sirrah, let's away.

Nay, I will give thee a kiss: now pray thee, love, stay.

Is not this well? Come, my sweet Kate:
Better once than never, for never too late."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

I feel like I had been waiting for months and months to get my hands on this book. The authors have a great blog and did an amazing job promoting this book. I knew I wanted to read it almost as soon as I heard about it and was so frustrated to have to wait for so long. That is one of my few minor complaints with this book. I wish I hadn't heard anything about it until there was about a week until its release date. For me, I got really (overly) excited about the book which led to me being irritated that I couldn't read it right away which led to my ridiculously high expectations that no book could possibly fulfill.

I did really enjoy reading Beautiful Creatures but it was not without some bumps along the way for me. It is a long read which I normally love but somehow in this one it felt a little "Breaking Dawn/Harry Potter 7/Where is your editor?" to me. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book but there were just some stretches of the narrative that got a little sluggish and wordy in my opinion. Another sign was that I was able to put this one down for days at a time which is definitely out of character for me when reading something I adore.

My only other issue was with Lena, the romantic lead, Lena was a touch too precious for my taste what with the writing on her hands, her special necklace-o-found-objects, & her poetry. Pause for Wodehouse to better explain my feelings:

"I don't want to wrong anybody, so I won't go so far as to say that she actually wrote poetry, but her conversation, to my mind, was of a nature calculated to excite the liveliest of suspicions. Well, I mean to say, when a girl suddenly asks you out of a blue sky if you don't sometimes feel that the stars are God's daisy-chain, you begin to think a bit." (Right Ho, Jeeves)

I did like the suspenseful and romantic storyline with all of its nods to Southern atmosphere (loved the DAR, the Civil War flashbacks, and the descriptions of the food). I also liked the many literary references and of course all the magic. Macon Ravenwood was definitely my favorite character followed by Marian the librarian (whose name makes me want to break into song) which is sort of frustrating since they are minor characters and I would have liked to see more of them. The scene when Macon reveals himself to the town in the school board meeting was one of my favorites.

I love that Marian quoted Robert Herrick's beautiful "Christmas Carol, Sung to the King in the presence at White-hall" and I especially love that Lena's cousin Ridley uses Jessica Rabbit's line about being drawn bad... which makes me wonder if the teen girl target audience of this book has ever seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And that makes me feel old because I can remember when that was a risque movie among my set of friends!

I am definitely excited to read the upcoming volumes that are planned in this series and am hopeful that the writing will get better and better because the ideas and the themes are totally up my alley. And I will totally go see the movie version that is being made.

This book made me realize that I prefer reading books that I know nothing about. Going into a book with no expectations or preconceived ideas makes for a much more powerful experience. I mean how could I not feel a little let down by a book that promoted its lovers like this:

I liked Ethan and Lena but they are no Romeo & Juliet, they're not even Edward & Bella. And I was really hoping they would be.

More on Romeo & Juliet

from Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom

"Chaucer's ironic yet amiable religion of love... is the essential context for Romeo & Juliet

love dies or else lovers die

the virtual identity of the torments of love and jealousy is a Shakespearean invention later to be refined by Hawthorne & Proust

the sexual becomes the erotic when crossed by the shadow of death

Romeo and Juliet is unmatched, in Shakespeare and in the world's literature, as a vision of uncompromising mutual love that perishes of its own idealism and intensity

[Juliet's] sublimity is the play and guarantees the tragedy of this tragedy

The permanent popularity, now of mythic intensity, of Romeo and Juliet is more than justified, since the play is the largest and most persuasive celebration of romantic love in Western literature."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Deadly Little Lies, Laurie Faria Stolarz

Finally an impulse buy that didn't enrage me after reading it! Clearly, I have a serious problem when it comes to buying books that I am 99.9% sure will be exceedingly insubstantial & ridiculous. I bought this book based purely on the pretty cover (which is the reason I bought the previous book in the series). Whoever is designing these covers is hopefully making at least some money from them because the cover art is the only thing attracting me. That and the fact that I will pretty much buy & attempt to read anything when I am in the right sort of mood (read: overwhelmed by my life).

I wasn't too impressed with the first book but I actually really enjoyed this one. I was slightly shocked by how much I liked it. Hopefully the next book will have the same designer giving me pretty art & the fancy kind of smooth paper for the dust jacket. And I really hope Laurie Stolarz continues to write in this style- that way I can forget about the first book. My only request would be for more Ben & Camellia quality time in the next one. I didn't like them being apart for so long and then having just a taste of reconciliation on the last few pages.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

"a sea nourished with loving tears" (Act I, Sc. I)

Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite Shakespearean plays but I hadn't read it in a very long time. And I am not feeling awake/intelligent enough at the moment to do more than record a few favorite (& familiar) lines:

"Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is!" (Act 1, Sc.1, 181-186)

"O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh! Eyes, look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O, you,
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death." (Act 5, Sc. 3, 109-115)

And what kind of teenage girl circa 1996 would I be if I didn't mention the Leonardo DiCaprio movie version. I have so many memories of repeated viewings at sleepovers. Although our main focus of discussion was how to achieve Claire Danes' braided updo from the party scene rather than the actual play.

Oh the hair, the music, the ridiculous expressions on Paul Rudd's face... what's not to love?

Having not watched the Zeffirelli version in a long time I am struck by how much Romeo looks like Zac Efron which is slightly distracting, even the hair is Efronesque. Regardless, I do love this movie.

And finally some lovely Angel Corella & Alessandra Ferri.

Shadowland, Alyson Noel

I don't have much to say about this book. It reminds me a little bit of The Vampire Diaries series which in my particular case is not a compliment. I was only able to soldier on reading this tedious story because I am a stickler for closure and I thought this was the 3rd book in a trilogy. So to be irritated throughout the entire thing only to have an ending that leaves the main characters in a situation almost identical to the one they were in on the first page followed by a full page letting me know I can purchase the next volume in the series next summer.... Yeah, I was more than annoyed. But now I have crossed over to an irritated place that will not waste my money on the next book in a weak moment. I will patiently wait for someone on wikipedia to let me know what finally happens to Ever & Damen. Meh, indeed.

And I am loving all the negative Amazon reviews that sum up my feelings quite nicely.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bright Star: Love Letters & Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne

I don't know how I have reached this point in my life and never read John Keats' letters to Fanny. I was familiar with Keats' poetry of course and had always heard vague mentions of his ill fated love affair before his death but I had never read further. Which, if I do say so myself, is really quite unlike me seeing as I spent a fair amount of time being obsessed with the Browning's letters in the past. But I digress.

Normally I hate movie tie in editions of books but this one sold me with its pretty font and promise of a beautiful SLA to borrow a term from a favorite blogger . I haven't seen the movie yet because it is only playing in snooty movie theaters that would involve driving more than 5 minutes (5 minutes being the current home to theater commute time for repeated viewings of TwiMoon). But now I have some motivation to get there.

The letters are so heartbreaking & beautiful. Its funny to read something on such a higher plane after being so immersed in Twimania over the past week. Its not that I had started to think Edward was this amazing romantic hero but I had been thinking he makes a few swoon worthy declarations to Bella. And that right there is a sign that I have been lingering too long in the world of teen fiction & need to have an intervention with my self.

Here is appropriate swooning material for non-tweens:

"For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. I almost wish that we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days- three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain." (I)

"I will imagine you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a heathen.
Your's ever, fair Star, John Keats" (III)

"I cannot exist without you. I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again- my Life seems to stop there- I see no further. You have absorb'd me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving... My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love... I could be martyred for my Religion- Love is my religion- I could die for it. I could die for you. My Creed is love and you are its only tenet..." (VIII)


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