Reading Notes and Book Quiz

To be completely honest, I haven’t been doing a lot of reading lately. We just got the Sims 3, and I tend to play computer  games in spurts–obsessively for a week and then not at all for a month. It is certainly addictive, though!

I finally finished putting away all the books we got last week, and if I can’t figure out the camera trouble soon I’ll just post about the acquisitions without pictures. I’m also about 100 pages into Shannon’s Way, which almost doesn’t seem like a sequel. Next up in the TBR pile are The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Simon the Coldheart, and Murder on the Links, in no particular order. I also need to choose what classic to tackle next, perhaps Moll Flanders?

I don’t often take quizzes but this is a fun one! And with six yes/no questions there are 64 total possibilities. I don’t think there is a list of all the answers, so if you take it I’d love to know what book you get.

Book Quiz, from Blue Pyramid


You’re The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

by C.S. Lewis

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed
quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you’re re-enacting Christian theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust in zoo animals.

Well, I’m not sure how accurate the result is but that’s okay. I love this book and also both movie adaptations, the recent Disney one and the old cartoon. I used to watch it all the time when I were little, especially because the copy we recorded from the library was on the same tape as The Rescuers. Lucy is one of my favorite characters!

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Emma, Volume 2

I was able to read Emma: Volume 2 in about forty-five minutes at work today, and found myself really wishing it was longer. At the end it was almost a shock to find myself still at the store and not actually in Victorian England!

This picks up with the story of Emma and William where Volume 1 left off. Even as they admit that they mean something to each other, class differences seem to forbid their courting. Circumstances soon leave Emma no choice but to leave London behind.

Again it was not very action packed, but the real beauty is in the art. There are some fantastic street scenes, as well as the Crystal Palace. I don’t think the faces Kaoru Mori draws are particularly unique (William and his brother look identical), but she is a whiz at showing emotion through expressions and gestures. The pages where Emma packs to leave have zero dialogue and are unbelievably poignant. It’s not what you might expect from manga. If you do a Google search for “emma kaoru mori” there are some images from the series that others have put up, to get a taste (the black and white ones are better than the covers). I don’t want to paste any into this post because of copyright issues, but I wish I could.

I’ll have to put the next volume on hold at the library, but I’m not sure what to do after that. You can probably guess where this is going…

Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 11:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Murder on the Eiffel Tower

“He couldn’t explain his determination to get involved in this business. Did he just want to prove he was wrong to suspect his nearest and dearest? Was he trying to establish Kenji’s innocence? Or wasn’t it more a simple desire to impress everyone?”

First of all, I absolutely  love the cover of Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner (pseudonym for two sisters). I didn’t absolutely love the book, partly because it wasn’t quite what I expected, but I did enjoy it and it was a good follow up to Black Elk in Paris.

The newly unveiled Eiffel Tower is the center of attention of the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris, for more reasons than one when a woman suddenly dies from a bee sting. The press seems skeptical that a sting would cause instantaneous death, especially when it happens again. But if not, who or what is causing it, and why? Bookseller Victor Legris, friend to the newspaper following the story, gets caught up in it when those around him begin to act suspiciously. His business partner Kenji Mori seems to be hiding something, while newspaper illustrator Tasha is always at the scene of the crime. Victor must unravel the web of connections to reveal the true criminal mastermind.

I was expecting a classic-type mystery, whereas Murder on the Eiffel Tower falls much more towards the cozy end of the spectrum. And I think in some way that’s my issue with this book. If boiled down to the premise and slightly reworked mystery this could be a brilliant and tightly plotted novella. Instead an equal part of the book is devoted to Victor dreaming about Tasha, and spying on his friends just in case they maybe are involved.

Victor’s character is also somewhat immature. At nearly thirty he comes across as practically adolescent, which may be the case today but doesn’t ring true for a century ago. His relationship with Tasha seems fueled by intrigue and fantasy rather than any real sentiment. He constantly leaves the bookshop in the hands of  the assistant Joseph, and neglects his own health as well.

The book is not without its merits. Though I did figure out the mystery I was kept guessing for a while, with some of the twists. There is humor as well, especially coming from young Joseph and his interactions with customers. Above all, the book is well researched in presenting 1880s Paris, with details about the Exhibition as well as trends in art and newspaper printing.

Overall, it reads like a first novel–not a candidate for any “best” lists but still showing a lot of potential. Apparently three more of the eight Victor Legris books have been translated so I’ll have to look for them at the library. I’ve a feeling the mysteries will flow more smoothly if he is not investigating his friends.

This book, translated from French by Isabel Reid, is my third for the Lost in Translation challenge.

Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 4:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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Booksale Loot 1: Series Books

Here’s the first round from the booksale this week. I tried to separate everything based on category, which I had to do to shelve them anyway. More to follow later! (Sorry for the poor quality of the photo; I didn’t have batteries for the camera and had to use my phone.)

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I realized a while ago that I don’t necessarily have the budget to actively collect these series, but I still pick them up when I see them to fill in the gaps from my childhood in the hopes that I’ll pass them on someday. Most of these are out of print, so I’m not going to link the titles.

Nancy Drew Files: #95, An Instinct for Trouble
Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Supermysteries: #10 High Survival (I saw this first, but my cousin still gets reading rights)
Hardy Boys Casefiles: #8 See No Evil, #12 Perfect Getaway, #36 Running on Empty, #77 Survival Run. I’ve noticed over the years that these are much easier to come by than Nancy Drews–I suppose boys are less nostalgic?

The Hardy Boys: #2 The House on the Cliff . This is one of the Applewood reprints, a replica of the book as it first appeared back in 1927 and not the revised text widely available today.

The Bobbsey Twins and the Circus Surprise, #25. I seem to be in the minority for having loved these as a child, but there are several photos kicking around of little me buried in one of the purple spines. And I still love the line illustrations.

The Boxcar Children, #33 The Pizza Mystery and Special #13 The Mystery in New York. My mom said to me, “You mean there are Boxcar Children’s you don’t own?” Well, my old copy of The Pizza Mystery was also secondhand and evenually turned out to have mildew, so I was glad to replace it. The other is one of the ones published after I outgrew Scholastic Book Club orders -I think the series is up to over a hundred books now! My dad asked the same thing when he saw me unpacking these.

A Time for Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen. I still can resist buying Dear America books when I find them used. They are extremely accurate historical fiction, and look so pretty lined up on the shelf.

Robin Kane: The Mystery of the Phantom by Eileen Hill. I was unfamiliar with this mystery series put out by Whitman in the 1960s, so I figure I’d check it out.

Next up will be the suspense books I found…

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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1984: Follow-Up

“The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.” —1984

I never understood the point of introductions to books. They so often contain spoilers that I never read them until after I’ve completed the novel anyway. I was happy to see that instead this edition of  1984 had an afterword written by Erich Fromm, whose definition of love we memorized in high school (“the active concern for the life and growth of that which you love”).

Fromm focused on the context of the utopian/distopian novel and it’s political warnings. In reading this I realized that my reaction was more horror at the situations and events surrounding Winston than the general state of things described. I tend to latch on to character and see things at an individual level rather than look for sweeping implications (unless they are to my own life). I felt a sense of doom for the world as portrayed in the novel, and a philosophical interest in the issues raised, but did not necessarily see it as a political warning until I forced myself to really think about it.

Perhaps I simply “doublethink’ and believe in the best–love, truth, freedom, equality, justice–while at the same time knowing that in many parts of the world they do not always occur, including our own backyard. In my eyes love is the best solution for everything, and the key to this is something mentioned in the book and often overlooked; all people everywhere are pretty much the same. Everyone has a family, a friend who cares about them, a birthday, a favorite food, a lucky number, a secret dream. To love your neighbor as yourself is to look at someone and see how much he actually is you, and how much of him is inside yourself. And when this happens you cannot help but love. We share the same struggle, and the only way to survive is to join together and find strength in each other, striving for a reason beyond our own mortal existence.

1984 was a warning written during a time of Cold War and atomic uncertainty. I can’t even begin to try and figure out its exact political implications today (other than pegging the Middle East as an unstable area), but I do know that its message is still an important warning as to what happens if we allow ourselves to let go of what truly makes us human.

Sorry for getting all philosophical, but once I get going it’s hard to stop. This is definitely a book that will stay with me, and I’m not sure whether that confirms or contradicts the quote at the top. If you’ve read 1984 as well I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Published in: on July 25, 2009 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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1984

“To dissemble your feelings, to control your face, to do what everyone else was doing, was an instinctive reaction. But there was a space of a couple of seconds during which the expression in his eyes might conceivably betrayed him.”

For a long time I considered myself lucky for having evaded George Orwell’s 1984. I had read portions of Thomas More’s Utopia, which mostly seemed a sequence of dry descriptions and outdated opinions disguised as the explanation of a “real” place. And yet 1984 seemed so popular among books on Facebook; even my brother, who doesn’t read much beyond Star Wars and Redwall, admitted enjoying it. I don’t like to read books just because I “should,” but I felt a growing curiosity towards 1984 and decided to give it a go.

I’m not quite sure I can summarize, for those unfamiliar with this book. Suffice it to say that in the “future” year of 1984 Winston Smith is an ordinary man, which is perhaps his greatest strength and perhaps his downfall.

For me, the genius of 1984 is that it is fiction, and thus all the more powerful. Orwell paints a convincing picture and says not “here is what should be” or “here is what shouldn’t be,” but rather “here is what is.” The reader must decide how to respond by testing out the attitudes and reactions of the people in this world. At many points I found myself conflicted and unsure who or what to believe.

1984 is in some ways a sci-fi thriller, and yet one of its biggest assets is believability. It was quite easy to accept completely the world Orwell sets forth even after only a few chapters. Every detail is set forth, from daily routines to the modified language of Newspeak. Most convincing was Winston himself, who I not only believed about but believed in. I found myself deeply invested in the characters and their fates, alternating between horror and hope.

Regardless of which emotion was foremost, there was also fascination for what Orwell had to say. Even the thirty pages in the middle exerpted from a document held my attention, though I wished they were broken up a bit more. The book is a commentary on political practices, and above all raises many philosophical issues.

What is the meaning or purpose of the past, and does it exist at all beyond our own consciousness? I don’t think the past is ever completely objective (history is written by the victors), but I also believe that who we are is defined by where we have come from, and that admitting fallibility is a sign of strength. Reality is not always pretty. I am much more of an optimist than a realist, and daydream as much as the next person (probably more). But I also know when to come back down to earth and face facts, as much as I wish that beleiving in something would make it true. Only by acknowledging and confronting reality are we only ever able to really change it.

One thing that surprised me a bit about this book was the modern writing style. Sometimes I equate “classic” with “dense,” but this was a much quicker read than Dickens and still managed to be both descriptive and cohesive. There may be many books that I like better than this for enjoyment, but on a literary level I think 1984 is brilliant and memorable.

This book is on both the Guardian and 1001 Books lists. It is my third out of five for the Classics Challenge. As a fallback I may also use it for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category of the Guardian Challenge, but this has reminded me that I actually don’t mind fantasy done well and have until February to read something else.

Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 11:38 pm  Comments (2)  
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Library Loot

Well, our trip to the booksale this morning was a success–my mom and I ended up without sixty books between the two of us, including some great finds. I’ll have to post about them gradually and get them cleaned and sorted.

In the meantime, I stopped at the library on my way to work tonight to pick up two holds that had come in.

library-lootThe first is Emma: Volume 2 from Kaori Moru’s Victorian England manga series. I’m anxious to find out what happens to Emma and William, as the first volume seemed to be mostly character set-up.

The other is Shannon’s Way, by A.J. Cronin. Having just finished The Green Years I figured I should read the sequel while the characters are still fresh in my mind. I believe this book picks up when Robert Shannon is finally at the university.

I had to renew Murder on the Eiffel Tower, as I had only just started it, and I’m also about halfway through 1984. It’s quite a surprising read!

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

AAUW Book Sale

Every summer there is a huge book sale in Devon (this is the 39th annual), and my mom and I have been going for the past six years or so. We’ll be there when it opens tomorrow morning with my aunt and cousin as well.

I’ve missed the last few library sales from being away at school, so this is the one event where I really let myself splurge. It’s always a chance for me to snag books by authors I collect, rediscover favorites from childhood, and even find treasures I never before knew existed (like Carolyn Wells’ Patty books). I’ve got my list all set, so I’ll let you know what I find!

Published in: on July 21, 2009 at 7:32 pm  Comments (2)  

The Secret Adversary

“Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything,  go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused.”

When Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley draft a newspaper ad in Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary, they have little idea of the challenges that await them. Five years ago during WWI an American girl named Jane Finn disappeared carrying government papers that are now of vital importance to the British government. In addition, it is believed that she has fallen into the hands of an enemy group seeking the papers and led by the mysterious Mr. Brown. He is so nondescript that almost no one knows his identity, including his own associates. In this complex affair of bluffs Tommy and Tuppence must try to succeed by wits and sheer determination where so many others have failed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, and though it’s another of the few I read years ago I remembered only the premise. So much for my earlier argument of needing to “save” the classics for old age! She had me switching my suspicions back and forth, and each time the solution seemed plausible until she pointed out another detail that made me gasp in admiration.

I think one of my favorite things is that Tommy and Tuppence are two equal sleuths, as opposed to the standard Holmes/Watson setup. In addition, they do their detecting separately, which has two effects. First, the reader at any given moment knows more overall than each of them individually, which creates suspense and gives more of a fighting chance at puzzling it out. Second, they bring different sets of skills to the table so that one of them is generally more suiting to specific situations than the other. Tuppence gets by mainly on a combination of impetuosity and instinct while Tommy is more deliberate and sorts through facts in his head until they work out satisfactorily.

I think my only complaint agaist this plot is that an early coincidence hinges on the “unusual” nature of the name Jane Finn, which causes those involved to remember it. I find it a perfectly ordinary name, but I suppose it was selected to be distinctly Midwestern American. Perhaps it is only unusual if your own name happens to be Prudence Cowley!

This book is on the Guardian list of 1000 novels, which suprised me because only three are included and this is not one of her best known, I think. Next up in my monthy Agatha Christie quest is Murder on the Links, the second Hercule Poirot mystery.

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 11:55 am  Comments (2)  
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Gringolandia

Last month I recieved Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s Gringolandia as a prize in MotherReader’s 48-Hour Reading Challenge. This provocative new young adult novel is not the type of book I would necessarily pick up on my own, but I’m glad I read it.

When Daniel’s father is imprisoned in 1980s Chile for a newspaper publishing government crimes, he, his mother, and his sister Tina must move to the US and start a new life. Marcelo Aguilar is released early six years later but returns to them a broken man, battered physically and mentally from torture. Daniel must try to reconcile his image of his father as a hero with this alcoholic who dreams of returning to Chile, as well as deal with his own guilt. Meanwhile his girlfriend Courtney, passionate about writing and social justice, wants to share Mr. Aguilar’s story with the world.

Miller-Lachman doesn’t shy away from tackling many serious issues in this book. She raises questions such as what the responsibility of an individual witnessing injustice is, and whether fighting it is worth the cost to one’s self and family. In addition, she doesn’t gloss over the physical and mental torture and its side effects. The novel is at the same time a politcal exposé, a moral dilemna, and a coming of age story, as Dan must come to terms with his father and his own identity. I did find Courtney’s character somewhat forced though, especially as one section of the story was told from her perspective.

I know very little about South American politics, but a brief author’s note at the beginning outlined the basic details of General Pinochet’s regime. I was still shocked at both the horrors themselves and their aftermath. The cover image itself is a photo of a pool used for submersion at a torture center in Santiago, now part of a park for human rights. At one point in the novel Mr. Aguilar speaks at Boston College as part of a national tour. I had to ask myself: would I have gone to such a talk, or would I have been too busy with other activities and schoolwork? I’m afraid the answer is probably the latter.

I would recommend this book only for older teenagers, as in addition to the torture scenes there is also sex, drugs, and drinking. However, it’s a good way to become knowlegable about important events, as in my experience schools do little to cover recent history. This is especially true in that world history usually stops around the Middle Ages, whereas US and European history are taken up to at least the 1970s. I was always rather indifferent about this issue, but I’m increasingly realizing that despite a good education I know much about centuries past and little about the regions and events that will dictate tomorrows history books. Perhaps fiction is the first step towards filling the gaps, and if so more writers should be unafraid to grapple with troubling issues.

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 11:07 am  Comments (2)  
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