Sacrificial Magic (Downside Ghosts #4)
Author: Stacia Kane
Publication Date: 3/27/12
Publisher: Del ReyBlurb(GR):
When Chess Putnam is ordered by an infamous crime boss—who also happens to be her drug dealer—to use her powers as a witch to solve a grisly murder involving dark magic, she knows she must rise to the challenge. Adding to the intensity: Chess’s boyfriend, Terrible, doesn’t trust her, and Lex, the son of a rival crime lord, is trying to reignite the sparks between him and Chess.
Plus there’s the little matter of Chess’s real job as a ghost hunter for the Church of Real Truth, investigating reports of a haunting at a school in the heart of Downside. Someone seems to be taking a crash course in summoning the dead—and if Chess doesn’t watch her back, she may soon be joining their ranks.
As Chess is drawn into a shadowy world of twisted secrets and dark violence, it soon becomes clear that she’s not going to emerge from its depths without making the ultimate sacrifice.Review:
While I may have a few intelligent
things to say about this book later (such a dirty word), I have to admit right now that there's one thing about the series that keeps me coming back: who else do you know in Urban Fantasy who has the moxie to introduce the main love interest like this?'Not real verbal, are you, Terrible?’This time he glared at her, the greenish lights from the dash highlighting the astonishing ugliness of his profile. His crooked nose – it must have been broken several times – the way his brows jutted out like a cliff over the ocean, the set of his jaw. She held her hands up, palms out. ‘Okay. Just making conversation.’‘Dames always wanna talk.’‘Not like there’s anything else they’d want to do with you.’”
What’s this? He doesn’t make the heroine swoon in two seconds flat? He speaks in gutter slang? And he’s not even hot
for god’s sake? What is this world coming to? And that’s not even the half of it: he’s not rich, he’s not powerful (except maybe in physical brutality), and he doesn’t have women crawling all over him (much).
I’m always a little surprised by my complete fascination with Terrible. He’s nothing like what I would ever want in real life: a huge, ugly, brute of a man with Elvis hair who dresses in bowling shirts, drives a 69’ Chevelle, barely speaks, and is very good at hurting people? Swoon...? I mean, let me just tell you a few things about the real-life person I've chosen to spend my life with: he wears nerd t-shirts, he drives a Prius, the closest his hair has ever been to a styling product is the conditioner I forced him to start using, and he spent all of this afternoon playing with a gyroscope.
But that’s the gift of Stacia Kane. She describes everything with such dimension that it’s impossible not to get immersed, not to get attached. A dirty, noisy, violent ghetto becomes a home. A rigidly puritanical ruling body fond of executing people and ignoring the poor becomes a place of safety. An ugly thug becomes a sexy, smart, sensitive person. A drug addict becomes a hero. A relationship between these two, something that I’d normally dismiss as doomed to failure, is suddenly something that I am very invested
I’ll admit that I was nervous to start this series, because addiction is something that I have a lot of experience with and I can’t tolerate when it’s treated lightly or used as a gimmick. But Kane never glorifies or trades on Chess’ addiction. It’s a constant presence in the novel; it colors everything that she does, but it’s not exciting. It’s a chore.
Reading about Chess’ endless search for her next high, her next emotional insulation, is exhausting and it feels very realistic.
It’s been over a year since the release of City of Ghosts, but it was very easy to fall back into this world and these characters. I was initially quite surprised when I read the first few pages and saw that they were in third person. I could have sworn that these books were in first person! The memories I have of Chess’ insecurities, doubts, and self-hatred are so vivid. This is an extremely intimate third person narration, and now I realize that it’s the perfect choice for Chess. Chess, who would do just about anything to drown out her memories and feelings, who would never acknowledge them openly. It’s as if the third person here were actually one of her personal demons, sitting on her shoulder or living inside her head, whispering things like Everyone leaves you eventually. Might as well just assume it’s going to happen. That would be the smart thing. Might as well just push them away first.
I spent the first three quarters of the book feeling almost traumatized by how closely some of those passages resembled my own
inner monologues. But then, (and I promise promise not to give anything away) there’s a part at the end that made me soar. It made me remember that even as trauma and damage are hollowing you out, they’re making you deeper. They’re making you capable of feeling more
. They’re turning you into yourself.
The main reason that I am not giving this five stars is that I feel ready for more. As a reader, I am ready to know more about this world. I think that it’s completely believable (and interesting as hell) that Chess would work for The Church without really questioning the facts of their history or their underlying motivations. And I think it's believable that she’d work for Bump under duress and not demand better for herself. But, I am ready to know more about the Church and its motivations. I am ready to see the bigger picture here and focus less on the smaller hauntings/summonings/mysteries. And although I don't think it would be realistic for her to become fully healed, I am ready for her to start at least wanting
more for herself.
If you are a fan of this series, this one is not to be missed.
It’s the best yet, in my opinion. If you haven’t read these and you love urban fantasy, I suggest that you get the first one right away. And if you haven’t gotten into urban fantasy, but love complex, interesting characters and gritty stories, then I’d definitely give these a try.Perfect Musical Pairings
That’s right, I said Pairings.
I inhaled the first three in this series back in 2010 and I never reviewed them. Now’s my chance to make up for that! (SOME MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!)For Terrible:
Modest Mouse – Spitting Venom
Of course only an eight and a half minute long, weirdly addictive song will do for my Terrible. This song is about two people who argue and “spit venom” at each other, so much so that it seems that the best thing to do would be to just end it. But then, repeating through the final minutes is “Cheer up baby, it wasn’t quite so bad, for every bit of venom put out the antidote was had,"
which makes me a little emotional when I think about Terrible and Chess.
And now, for your amusement, I will describe my feelings about this song using quotes about Terrible. Press play and come along with me.00:00
– “You look like Elvis vomited you up.”00:55
– She hadn’t known he had feelings.1:27
– “I don’t think you could be invisible anywhere.”3:27
– Still the same features, the lumpy nose and the jutting brow and the hard, dark eyes, but not ugly anymore. Full of character.4:15
– I sink you, that I will not be sunk by you.
– "I knew you'd find me."8:29
– “Yeah. Yeah, I do, shit Terrible I really love you-“
*hits replay for the twelfth time*For Chess:
Modest Mouse – Little Motel
And of course these two would have similar songs. There are so many parallels between them. This song is about that gut-twisting feeling of the clock running down on a relationship. It’s that feeling of doom, of knowing that you’re going to be by yourself again soon, of worrying that the other person won’t even miss you.
Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story
Editor: Kelly Milner Halls
Publication Date: 12/28/11
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
What do guys and girls really think? Twelve of the most dynamic and engaging YA authors writing today team up for this one-of-a-kind collection of "he said/she said" stories-he tells it from the guy's point of view, she tells it from the girl's. These are stories of love and heartbreak. There's the good-looking jock who falls for a dangerous girl, and the flipside, the toxic girl who never learned to be loved; the basketball star and the artistic (and shorter) boy she never knew she wanted; the gay boy looking for love online and the girl who could help make it happen. Each story in this unforgettable collection teaches us that relationships are complicated-because there are two sides to every story.Review:
I cannot start my review of Girl Meets Boy
without commenting on its cover. I mean, seriously, look at it! This photo must be the most awkward I have EVER seen. Even Jim C. Hines probably would not undertake replicating this pose
, because in which universe is it comfortable, never mind romantic? This cover would have worked if it were designed to be ironic, but alas, this is not the case. It is meant to be taken seriously. As you can see from the blurb, the anthology's goal was to present a series of stories about (romantic
) relationships from the points of view of both parties involved. In theory, considering how differently relationships can be perceived by the participants, this is a very strong concept for a short story collection. However, such approach to story telling, I think, works only if the points of view are drastically dissimilar and do not rehash the same events, etc. There are not many authors that can pull off the double narrator structure (How to Save a Life
by Sara Zarr
comes to mind as an example of success). More often than not, what happens in many such works, especially romances, is that two narrators are used only for doubling the dosage of love angst and lusting. Unfortunately, only a couple of story pairs in Girl Meets Boy manage to use the anthology's concept effectively, in those stories people do, in fact, view the relationships they are in differently. The rest of the double stories follow the weaker route, wit
h happy romances viewed exactly in the same light by the couple. In those cases, only the first, original, stories in the pairs are worth reading, and second stories often appear to be fanfictiony rehashes of the same thing.Why such a high rating from me then?
Well, even though the high concept of the anthology isn't explored to the fullest in Girl Meets Boy
, the collection itself is pretty strong. The contributors are almost uniformly critically acclaimed and their stories are generally well written and offer a good variety of romantic teen relationships - you have happy and dangerous romances, couples from different racial, ethnic, religious backgrounds, straight and gay couples. Diversity and quality of writing is what distinguishes Girl Meets Boy
from many other YA anthologies.3.5/5 stars
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I turned this movie on last night, feeling like an intrepid reporter. I had come prepared: my dog-eared copy of Holes, a thick pad of paper, and a pen. I planned to take extensive notes. I had the remote poised and ready to pause this thing at the exact moment of any potential inconsistency, so I could immediately look it up in the text.
The film opened and I chuckled smugly as the boys came into view, digging holes while wearing hats with flaps to protect their necks.
Protective hats? Pah! I know for sure that wasn’t in the book. I smell a Disney-fication! I was going to bust this thing wide open. I paused it, flipping quickly through the text, and then found this:
“He was also given white sneakers, an orange cap, and a canteen made of heavy plastic, which unfortunately was empty. The cap had a piece of cloth sewn on the back of it, for neck protection.”
Okay…guess I’m wrong about that one. Moving on…
As this movie went from scene to scene…following the book almost to the word on some pages…maintaining almost everything…even the tricky flashbacks which I was 100% sure that they’d never be able to duplicate in film…even the food served in the cafeteria…I realized that this was actually the most faithful film adaptation of any book I’d ever seen. EVER.
My notes are one half-filled page and are comprised of things like, “Kate Barlowe = HELL YES” and “Wasn’t the nail polish red in the book, not pink?” (I was really grasping at straws on that one.)
What are the chances? My first Book vs. Movie post and I have almost no differences to speak of! But, I will soldier on! I’m not a fancy blogger with three posts under her belt for nothing (that’s right, I said three). So basically what I'm saying is that I'm here today to eat crow and tell you all how awesome this movie is.
There are a few other minor differences, but they're so minor that it feels sort of petty to bring them up. For example, Stanley’s Dad is developing a way to recycle sneakers in the book, and accidentally comes across a treatment for foot odor. In the movie, he’s trying to cure foot odor all along. Some of the scenes are switched around (although nothing major). There’s an added scene about the yellow spotted lizards, and everything about Stanley’s day in school (prior to his arrest) is cut out (which I think was about 1-3 pages total in the book). See? It’s barely worth mentioning.
Design by Jan McCauley: A much more authentic looking Stanley Yelnats
Okay, so I actually do have ONE complaint: the casting of Stanley. In the book, he is a tall, heavy boy who’s often confused for a bully even though he’s quite meek on the inside. He’s also teased at school about his weight. I loved that Stanley’s outside would become a label. In the movie he’s played by a young Shia Labeouf, and while I liked his performance well enough, he definitely doesn’t look anything like the Stanley Yelnats that I know. He looks like a skinny, non-threatening nerd.
Other than that, I think the casting is just about perfect. They’re all just how I imagined them. There’s X-Ray, the leader, with glasses that are “so dirty that Stanley wondered how he could see out of them.” There’s Zero, the smallest in the group, who’s so much smarter than everyone assumes. There’s Magnet the thief and Armpit the mentor and Zig-Zag, who’s described as having “a big round head with wild frizzy blond hair that stuck out in all directions.” They definitely captured that!
The adult parts are also wonderfully cast, with the exception of John Voight, who gives such a crazy performance as Mr. Sir. The only word for it really is cartoonish. He creeps around exaggeratedly, squinting his eyes and making wild gestures. It’s just odd! There’s a bit of a change there as well: cartoonish Mr. Sir gets a very cartoon-like comeuppance in the movie that’s not in the book.
The other performances are all wonderful. Sigourney Weaver as the warden is quietly frightening and obsessive. Tim Blake Nelson is a smiley but cruel “nice guy” with a beard and a perpetually sunburned nose as Mr. Pendansky. And Patricia Arquette and Dulé Hill even made me a bit teary with the Kate Barlow/Sam flashbacks.
Overall, this is a wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite children’s books. (My review of the book can be found here
.) I highly doubt that other fans of the book will be disappointed. They really nailed it!
After the Snow
Author: S.D. Crockett
Publishing Date: 3/27/12
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Fifteen-year-old Willo was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family, and he knows just who to talk with to learn where they are. He plans to head across the mountains and make Farmer Geraint tell him where his family has gone.
But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone - he doesn't have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl - but Willo just can't do it. However, with the world trapped in an ice age, the odds of them surviving on their own are not good. And even if he does manage to keep Mary safe, what about finding his family?Review:
I feel neither here nor there about After the Snow
. From literary standpoint, the novel
is written skillfully. The book's narrator, 15-year old Willo, a half-wild boy raised to be able to care for himself in a world of almost endless winter (Earth appears to be back to the Ice Age in After the Snow
), is not of overly educated stock. He can barely read, he speaks in a dialect (akin to Saba's in Blood Red Road
or Todd's in The Knife of Never Letting Go
) which is sure to put off many readers, if I am to judge by the early reviews of the book. Not me though. Language and the narrative style are the best part of the novel, in my opinion. They fit the desolate, possibly post-apocalyptic landscape and Willo's nature boy persona very well.The beginning of the novel is particularly enthralling. After coming back from hunting, Willo finds his mountain home
empty and his family gone. He suspects that their neighbor, who first impregnated and then married Willo's 14-year old sister, has something to do with the disappearance. So Willo embarks on a freezing cold journey to visit this neighbor and to figure out what happened to his family. He has only his sled with a few necessary for survival items, his knowledge of living in rough conditions and his memories with him. Some of those memories are pure gold:Magda got her books in that cupboard. Some of them are proper interesting - like the one about every kind of decease a sheep gonna get if you just let it alone and don't go checking under its tail for maggots and under its wool for maggots and behind its ears for maggots. I tell you, sheep must be like a big pile of shit to flies, cos they sure gonna get a maggoty disease just by standing still. Or be falling off a cliff or giving birth in a snowy ditch or some other trouble if you're gonna believe what that book tell you.
(I don't know what it says about me, but I read books for voices like this and and for bits of information like this.)
Things get even more exciting when Willo meets a dying of cold and hunger girl and her little brother in an isolated shack. At that point I was very much looking forward to a survival- in-a-snow sort of story.
To my regret, my expectations never materialized. A series of unfortunate events (involving wild dogs and cannibals!) brings Willo
to a government-controlled and guarded city, and here After the Snow
transforms from a post-apocalyptic survival story into a dystopia. The settlements appears to be of a totalitarian, oppressive kind, with a very tight security from outsiders and a necessity for everyone to have "papers." But it all made no sense to me. With a lot of military guarding this place, there is very little order inside. And whoever in this regime suggested living in tents (!) in this climate definitely lacked basic common sense. Overall, the main conflict of the story - which is, apparently, a tension between people who live in the "official" settlement and those, who like Willo's parents, decided to live separately and fend for themselves in the mountains - made very little sense to me. The novel lost me then.
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I wish I could be more positive about After the Snow
and recommend it for more than just the writing style, but I am more inclined to suggest a couple of other wintery reads for those who want something of the kind, but better plotted - Marcus Sedgwick's Revolver
and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness
We all have them: books we pretend we’ve read; books so covered in the dust of good intentions that we’ve forgotten we already own two copies *cough*The Jungle*cough*; those awful books glaring at us from the nightstand. I spend a lot of time browsing the internet looking at lists of things, especially book-related things and those lists are all well and good, but they are basically meaningless to me. Does this mean I won’t try to read all the National Book Award, Pulitzer, Printz, and Newbery award winners? Hell no, that is very much still on my agenda. I guess when I said "meaningless" one sentence ago I merely meant of lesser importance than my own handmade and extremely well-thought-out list. Yeah, let’s go with that. I actually sat down and looked through my books and my to-be-read lists to see what I had and to analyze my intentions and objectives. A high priority for me is cutting down the number of stunned looks from people who find out I haven’t read something.
1. The last two Twilight books. I never finished these because I was so bored by the plot of New Moon that the thought of continuing on felt like I was signing up for a voluntary colonoscopy. If I wanted to read about a teenager who can do nothing but mope around for an entire book, I’d look into a mirror and tell myself to get a life because I should never want to read about that. Nevertheless, I HEAR that books 3 and 4 are better and though it is depressing to me, a lot of people want to talk about this series. I’d prefer it if all those people adapted to me and read better books but we all know the universe doesn’t work that way. So I will read these two books.
2. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor: This is the one book I am most chickenshit about. I’ve been hearing about this since I was released from my mother’s womb and not so coincidentally, I’ve also been dreading it since then. What if I don’t like the stories of the woman I was named for? Does it get any more embarrassing than that? I’ve made it 28 years but I can’t make it another while actually considering myself a respectable, well-read person. Stay tuned on this one.
Another high priority is getting through the books on my shelf that make my heart hurt when I look at them: GIFTS. My biggest hurdle in this arena will be motivating myself to read more nonfiction. My dad always buys me books related to my interests, for sure. But they are also primarily nonfiction books and it is so much easier for me to just shelve them and get back to my genre fiction. Here are some of my gift books from the list:
3. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
4. Solovki by Roy Robson
5. Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
6. Ireland by Frank Delaney
7. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Next up? Series I’ve started and need to finish or catch up on. In some cases, this just means one book. In others, it means I’ve majorly dropped the ball and need to run the entire length of the field to catch up. These are some of my slacking series:
8. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (1 behind)
9. The Grimspace/Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre (4 soon to be 5 behind)
10. The Newflesh series by Mira Grant (1 soon to be 2 behind)
11. The Native Star series by M.K. Hobson (1 behind)
12. The Unearthly series by Cynthia Hand (1 behind)
13. The Baker Street Irregulars series by Robert Newman (8 to finish)
14. The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French (2 soon to be 3 behind)
15. The In Death Series by J.D. Robb (4 behind)
And series I’ve wanted to start for ages:
16. The Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve (3 to catch up)
17. The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (4 to finish)
18. The Fionovar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay (3 to finish)
19. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett (only going for ONE here, way too much of an investment to go for the entire series)
20. The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness (3 to finish)
21. The Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger (4 soon to be 5 to catch up)
22. The Mary Russell books by Laurie R. King (11 to catch up)
23. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold (at least one)
24. Charles de Lint’s Newford series (at least one)
I have so many reader friends and their opinions mean a great deal to me. There are a few adjectives that are a quick sell for me in a review and when any of my friends use words like “perfect,” “horrifying,” “shocking,” “life-changing,” or “favorite,” I’ve already added the book to my to-be-read list before I finish reading their sentence. Here are some books I will read because they are other people’s favorites:
25. As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
26. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgalov
27. All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
28. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
29. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
30. Madapple by Christina Meldrum
31. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
32. Between Shades of Gray by Rita Sepetys
33. Kristin Lavransdattar by Sigrid Undset
34. Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver
35. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
36. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
37. The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
38. The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell
39. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
40. The Taste of a Man by Slavenka Drakulic
41. Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks by Donald Harington
42. The Stand by Stephen King
Young Adult books I’ve heard wonderful things about:
43. Chime by Franny Billingsley
44. Being Billy by Phil Earle
45. Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres
46. Split by Swati Avashti
47. The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan
48. The Survival Kit by Donna Frietas
49. How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr
50. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
51. The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
52. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
53. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Perhaps my favorite part of the list is the section of books I pretend I’ve read. There are a few books I’ve had multiple conversations with people about—long, drawn out discussions of the author, the history, why I liked it, why I didn’t, etc. which provides me with a lot of smug satisfaction that my lies were believable. It always reminds me of that Oscar Wilde quote: “I love talking about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about.” I get some sort of sick enjoyment from being able to make conversation about anything.
54. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (I’ve been on two architectural boat tours in Chicago so I’ve got a few factoids in my back pocket)
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago (I’m surprised I don’t have more on the list where I’ve only seen the movie yet persist in discussing the book like I’ve read it)
56. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
57. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (!)
58. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (in which I tell them about Cormac Tweets and then I divert the discussion to useful skills for the apocalypse)
59. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (This one is easy. Let’s just talk about how creepy some songs by The Police are…)
60. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (these people don’t want to talk about the book anyway, they want to talk about existentialism)
61. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (I base all my knowledge of this one on a tiny excerpt included in our sixth grade reading textbook)
62. On The Road by Jack Kerouac (Have to be able to converse with the hipsters. See also: Dave Eggers, Confederacy of Dunces, House of Leaves, DFW, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Jonathan Lethem)
63. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (I like these conversations because whoever it is probably loves comics so I can quickly change the subject to comic books and movies.)
I’m probably most looking forward to the following section: Children’s and middle grade books that I want to reread or experience for the first time.
64. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
65. The 15-book boxed set of Roald Dahl (I saw this at Costco for $25! Best deal ever!) - includes Fantastic Mr Fox, The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Magic Finger, Esio Trot, Matilda, Danny the Champion of the World, Going Solo, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, The Giraffe and the Pelly and me, Boy Tales of Childhood, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, George's Marvellous Medicine
66. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
67. Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
In terms of lists that I find online, I always get most excited about science fiction and fantasy lists. I am so far behind on the classics in both genres that it honestly makes me question my devotion to the genres. These aren’t all classics but they’re still on my list:
68. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
69. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
70. 1984 by George Orwell
71. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
72. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
73. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
74. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
75. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
76. Earthseed by Pamela Sargent (for my YA space genre fix)
77. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
78. Green Rider by Kristen Britain
In an effort to be able to cross SOME classic literature off of my Pulitzer/National Book Award lists (since at last count my Pulitzer list was somewhere around, oh right, ONE book), here are some classics for my list:
Some of the many classics lurking around my house.
79. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
80. Middlemarch by George Eliot
81. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
82. All The King's Men by Robert Penn
83. Animal Farm by George Orwell
84. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
85. My Antonia by Willa Cather
86. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbull
87. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
88. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
89. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
90. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
91. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
92. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
And the catch-all group, to round it off. These are books that don’t necessarily fit in another category but I’ll read them, gosh darn it!
93. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
94. The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
95. Beloved by Toni Morrison
96. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
97. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
98. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
99. The Magus by John Fowles
100. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
101. The Things They Carried by Patrick O'Brien
102. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
103. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
104. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
105. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
106. The World According to Garp by John Irving
107. The Alienist by Caleb Carr
108. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
109. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
110. Shhh, I still haven’t read Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning.
I thought for a while about the time constraints and how long it will take for me to realistically finish off every book in this list. There are only 110 numbered spots but when I include the series, it is about 150+ books. Considering I read between 100-150 books a year, I think it is plausible that I could finish all of these books in 3 years. So it's set. HEAR YE, HEAR YE: Let it be known that I will finish every book on this list by February 23rd, 2015. Be sure to check back on that day, three years from now. Write it down in your Trapper Keeper so you don't forget.
Do you have a list of books you're trying to finish? Will you share it with me? I'm fascinated by them. Do you think something is omitted from my list or that something shouldn't be there? TOUGH LUCK! Just kidding, but I'm not going to change it. It took me a long time to wheedle it down to where it is now. In the next few weeks, I'll post the whole list on a separate page under the top navigation bar so you can watch my progress...that is, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing. Come on, there must be more list makers and lovers for crossing off things around these here interwebz!
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Publication Date: 3/1/12
Publisher: Amulet Books
Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
was my second "cancer book" in as many months. Although both Jesse Andrews and John Green had the same intention - to write a story about cancer that was different
from those other tearjerky novels, in my eyes, Andrews was much more successful at stepping away from melodrama and cliches of the genre than Green. Of course, Andrews does not (yet) have a publicity platform of Green's magnitude to promote his novel, so I am glad to be able to help him out a little, because, from my perspective, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
is a better, more honest, more real book than The Fault in Our Stars
It is better mainly because it does not try to force you into feeling all the obvious things we are expected to feel reading stories about young, terminally ill characters. There is a certain compulsion to idealize cancer kids, lives ending so tragically early and all that. It is also pretty common to practically guilt you into feeling sorry for their specific predicament. But I like that Andrews allows his characters, even his hero, to be resentful and maybe indifferent towards or burdened by the illness, that his cancer-stricken patient is not an ever-so-wise, heroic saint, that there are maybe no life lessons to learn from such personal tragedies. Maybe having a dying girl in your life is just an event that will
affect you in a major way, or maybe it will not
and that would be okay, too.Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
is not all about cancer though, in fact, the dying girl subplot plays only a relatively small part in Greg's story. It is more about Greg defining himself, stopping to play so safe, about bringing a little more focus onto his future and about understanding of who he is. The author might be a little coy repeating again and again in his narrative that there is no point to this novel, but there is one.
Another good thing about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
is that it is very funny. The success of the book with a reader will depend a lot on what he/she finds funny though, because, admittedly, the novel is filled with jokes of the bathroom variety, you know, boogers, boobs and boners. But it was funny to me nevertheless.
Great dialogue, self-deprecating humor (albeit occasionally too
self-deprecating to be not annoying), vulgarity, wacky secondary characters, fresh (to me) approach to portraying cancer - I enjoyed it all and I hope you will too.4/5 stars
The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
Publication Date: 4/10/12
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Blurb(GR): It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.
But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.
Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. It’s tense and exhilarating and I felt immediately drawn into the story. As it opens, the main character Nora is reeling in the aftermath of the gruesome murder of her best friend Chris. And then we are immediately thrown back into the past, where we get to see just how amazing and complicated Nora's relationship with Chris really was. Instant grief! Instant Intrigue!
There’s also a very nice romance between Nora and the quiet, nerdy Max that’s neither simple nor easy.
“Max, on the other hand, was hard. Convoluted and cloudy, full of things I wasn’t supposed to ask and places I knew better than to go. With Max, I didn’t have to pretend.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about.
Nora is a sympathetic, down to earth voice of reason, even as the plot of this book becomes more and more farfetched. She’s funny and dry, but she has a lot of understandably tender areas. Her grief is dealt with beautifully and never feels superficial.
“I had a copy of the photo tacked to the wall by my bed, and I had to leave it there, because it was a piece of him. That’s what death did – it turned trash into talismans. A CD he’d burned, a notebook he’d doodled in, a sweatshirt he’d worn: holy relics.”
The mysteries, while creepy and compelling to begin with, soon become convoluted and silly. The historical mystery centers on a manuscript that’s been studied and obsessed over for centuries by various scholars and fanatics, who have all failed to decipher it. Enter Nora, with her minor fluency in Latin, and a small group of undergrads and voilà!, suddenly it’s all being solved. Granted, there is an attempt to explain this later with a little “The Matrix”-type logic. But it’s still incredibly hard to believe.
The clues themselves are “hidden” in locations that it’s impossible to believe would remain undisturbed for centuries. For example, the first clue has been sewn into the lining of one of the obsessed-over books. Really? No one ever thought to x-ray the book or examine it further? It takes Nora about two minutes to dig it out. They’ve all also been conveniently left behind in parts of the world left untouched by development – so mass disasters, wars, new construction, and even just every day wear and tear are not issues. They are in code. Nora’s up-until-then completely absent Dad pops in randomly to solve the first one, and then fades back into non-existence. The codes are something like this:
In the third hour of the third day of the third year of the new millennium, I wrote this poem. THIRD.
I LIVE HERE IN A SPRAY TAN BOX OF ION SKIES.
Whoever solves this wins a prize!*
So, okay maybe Nora's codes are also in Latin. But still...would something like that really stump scholars for centuries? And there are so many other absurdities in this story. I mean, just as a hypothetical scenario...which may or may not have anything to do with this book…
If your best friend were murdered, and it turned out that a mysterious group of fanatical killers were to blame; if they were coming after you next; if the thing they wanted most was a dangerous, powerful machine…do you think the best option would be to track down every element of said machine for them and hand it over for their use in the tiny, foolish hope that they’d leave you alone after that? Just because it worked in Mission:Impossible doesn’t make it a good idea.
And in a related and equally hypothetical scenario…
If a boy arrived out of the blue, claiming to be the cousin of your best friend (even you admit that they look nothing alike); if that boy started showing up wherever you were – at your dorm room, at your brother’s grave, on your school trip…TO FRANCE; if you caught him in obvious lies several times; if he were conveniently fluent in several obscure languages and could beat off six armed men with a knife…would you trust this boy? With your life? Admittedly, he does have a “strange comfort in his voice”, so you know.
There are a few interesting questions raised by this book about faith vs. knowledge – Is it better to believe something without evidence or to demand proof? But none of them are really explored any further than the initial asking. The ending is confusing and frenetic, with “twists” that I saw coming a mile away and a bunch of loose ends that feel ham-fistedly tied together into sloppy knots. I really wonder if this was initially planned as a series, and then hastily converted into a stand-alone.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Underworld – Born Slippy
This song is so mellow and gorgeous at the beginning, with a slowly building tension that evolves into a full-on techno dance fest right around 1:16. By the end it’s almost unrecognizable (especially if you have the super long 9 minute version). At least with this song, you can just turn out your lights, break out your glow sticks and shout LAGER LAGER LAGER while pretending you’re back in the 90’s. I don’t want to give away too much about the ending of this book, but it’s hard to dance to melting human flesh.
*The prize is knowing that you’re a smarty pants!!
It's unsolicited recommendation time again! We've actually gotten a lot of hits on the blog for people searching phrases like "books for people who like..." and "if you like..." so I'm excited to do another in our series of "If You Like This, You Might Like That," since my first post seems to be coming up for people on Google searches. As always, I'd love to know if you have any contributions--let me know in the comments. Last time, the wonderful Chachic recommended Eva Ibbotson's work A Countess Below Stairs
to fans of Downton Abbey
and I quite agree. And we're off...
If you like wordplay and epistolary novels, you should read Ella Minnow Pea
by Mark Dunn. In it, a town revers the man who created the pangram
, "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." As the letters fall off the statue in their town center, the residents see it as a sign that they should remove them from usage in daily life. One by one, the letters disappear from the book as well, to rather hilarious results at parts. You can fly through this one in no time at all.
If you liked Unwind
by Neal Shusterman, contemplating whether or not you'd want to clone a person, or if you just want to read an awesome YA book that doesn't get enough play, you should try House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer. House of the Scorpion
is set in a future where there is a section of land between the US and Mexico called Opium that is used for cultivating drugs. It deals with issues like slavery, cloning, classism, and socialism and quite obviously, drugs.
I happen to love everything Bill Bryson
writes. His style is engaging and I always find myself chuckling while I'm learning a metric ton of interesting factoids about every topic he covers. I've yet to jump into his A Short History of Nearly Everything
, but his travel books are some of my favorites. If you enjoy commentary and travel books, love the vignettes on NPR shows like Fresh Air, can laugh about getting lost, or love learning random facts about things, you should check him out. Oh, or if you judge how awesome a place is by how much great stuff you have to eat and drink, he's a kindred spirit. I recommend I'm A Stranger Here Myself
, In A Sunburned Country
and A Walk in the Woods
If you are a person who loves to learn a lot about an occupation and how things work while you are reading fiction and you enjoy reading about insane serial killers, definitely read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
. (Am I the only one who DVRs "How It's Made?
") I always wondered how scents like fresh laundry, grass, and cotton candy could be bottled and now I know (perhaps a little too creepily well) how this is done. It is also a great book for people who, let's face it, don't read a ton of "real" literature and want to up their street cred. Beware the ending
. (I see on Goodreads that this book's ratings are are all over the place, in general and among my friends. This frightens me a bit but I say go forth and read, then come back and tell me what you think.
I think I must've been a weird kid. Looking back, my favorite books are mostly the ones that are completely whackadoo, but I wouldn't want it any other way. My two favorite series were Betty Macdonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series
and Louis Sachar's Wayside School series
. Both series are early chapter books and accessible to most elementary-aged kids but they are so much more valuable because they are books I still enjoy as an adult and that parents will enjoy themselves when reading along with their children. In Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
, a quirky neighborhood woman who lives in an upside-down house helps to modify behaviors of local children in bizzare ways. I only just found out this minute that the books were originally written in the 1940s and 50s! The Wayside School books are set in a school that was accidentally built one classroom per floor vertically instead of spread out. Each student is weird in their own way and I still remember a bunch of their individual stories 15+ years after I first read them. (I also love Holes
, by the same author.)
Like girls who do math? Reading about the Mexican-American experience? You should read What Can't Wait
by Ashley Hope Pérez
. Published by Carolrhoda Lab, which is a publisher I actively check to see what they are releasing with giddy anticipation, What Can't Wait
will appeal to people who enjoy the Fuentes brothers books by Simone Elkeles
but maybe wish they were more about self-examination than romance. I am excited to read her new release, The Knife and the Butterfly
Are you the type of person who daydreams about what it might be like to be in someone else's brain for a day? Freaky Friday social experiments? I'd love to be Kelly Link for a day, or actually, in many short story authors' brains. They are a hard sell and often times I find short story collections to be inconsistent. Pretty Monsters
is fantastic. The only negative is that I wish each story was later developed into a full-length novel! I still smile thinking about the image of an entire kingdom in a handbag. If you like fantasy and short stories, you are missing out if you don't give this one a try.
I hope one or more of these books will strike your fancy. Do you have any book recommendations based on liking random things?
The Obsidian Blade (The Klaatu Diskos, #1)
Author: Pete Hautman
Publication Date: 4/12/12
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Kicking off a riveting sci-fi trilogy, National Book Award winner Pete Hautman plunges us into a world where time is a tool - and the question is, who will control it?
The first time his father disappeared, Tucker Feye had just turned thirteen. The Reverend Feye simply climbed on the roof to fix a shingle, let out a scream, and vanished - only to walk up the driveway an hour later, looking older and worn, with a strange girl named Lahlia in tow. In the months that followed, Tucker watched his father grow distant and his once loving mother slide into madness. But then both of his parents disappear. Now in the care of his wild Uncle Kosh, Tucker begins to suspect that the disks of shimmering air he keeps seeing - one right on top of the roof - hold the answer to restoring his family. And when he dares to step into one, he's launched on a time-twisting journey - from a small Midwestern town to a futuristic hospital run by digitally augmented healers, from the death of an ancient prophet to a forest at the end of time. Inevitably, Tucker's actions alter the past and future, changing his world forever.Review:
Good time-travel YA fiction is hard
to find. Really hard
. The Obsidian Blade
is a whopping #2 on my list of good time-travel YA sci-fi (#1, in case you are interested, is Singing the Dogstar Blues
). Even though I am giving this novel only 3 stars, I assure you, it is good. The main draw here is the time-traveling system, that includes a series of disks that were engineered by people of the future and that transport you to various significant points in human history. These points range from the Crucifixion of the Christ to 9/11 and more.
Like any time-travel story, The Obsidian Blade
requires some effort to keep up with the characters' jumps from one event to another, with changes in setting, with time paradoxes and crossed paths and swallowed years. But not even once does Hautman waver and stumble into a plot hole. I am not sure how he managed to track it all, but every time jump and every after-effect of it in this story seems logical and inevitable. Hautman raises questions of faith and fate, challenges readers to think if our destiny is pre-determined or our free will guides it. Exciting stuff.There are two reasons for my not rating The Obsidian Blade higher.One, this novel, to my disappointment, reads not like YA, but like a children's/middle grade novel.
Although Tucker is mostly 14 in this story, he appears to be much younger, still playing with his toy truck and engaging in activities equaling in their childishness to banging dumpsters with a stick. (The only reason I am bringing this up, because I have a couple of 10-year old neighbors who just love
banging those dumpsters. I personally don't understand the thrill, but my husband does. Apparently, he did the same in the grade school. There are some things I will never understand about boys and men and what they find to be a good time.) There is no helping it, I prefer my stories a tad more mature, dealing with teen age issues, rather than following preteens whose main preoccupation is being annoying and constantly putting themselves at a risk of being injured .Two, it takes a looong while to get to the sci-fi part of the book. Almost half of The Obsidian Blade
is just setting the ground work, introducing main players and watching Tucker being bored or stupid. My attention held only barely during those first 150 pages. After this 150 page mark, though, is when the story finally gets going.Normally, I do not stick with series if I give its opener 3 stars or lower, but here, I might make and exception and get back to it. I am intrigued by the world and the task Tucker and Lahlia have ahead of them. 3/5 stars
Today, we're happy to have one of our favorite people visiting for a guest post, Jo from Wear the Old Coat
. (her blog title is based on the quote, "Wear the old coat and buy the new book," by Austin Phelps
) Her assignment, which she chose to accept, was to write "something" about classic literature. After you read her thoughts, I'm sure you'll understand why she was one of the first people who came to my mind for a guest post.
When the lovely ladies at The Readventurer asked me to write a guest post for The Year of the Classics
, the first thing I felt was panic. Well, OK, that’s a teensy lie. I felt joy and happiness to be invited to be part of one of my favourite blogs… but then there was panic. You see, I have a dirty secret. A secret so dirty that I have kept it close to my chest since I was sixteen. I live in fear that it will be discovered one day.
I don’t like classics. What?!
Yes, that’s right, I don’t like them. I’m peeved by period drama. I’m bothered by bonnets. I’m sick of sideburns. I…have…an…aversion…to… Austen. I know. I know. I’m a horrible human being. I’m going to be smited down by the literature goddesses. I am up to my eyeballs in debt because I call myself a literature student (Seriously, can they take degrees off you if they find out?!) yet I don’t like the classics. But there was no way that I was going to tell anyone, and at least not broadcast it on a blog as brilliant as The Readventurer, so I smiled (um…via e-mail) and agreed. Then I ran to my bookshelf and stared at it blankly, hoping inspiration came soon. My eyes skimmed across my YA shelves, passed my graphic novels and landed on my grown-up section. And, guys, it was meagre
. So after a few moments of making pledges to buy and read more books that have main characters who have reached puberty, I noticed something: It seemed my grown-up shelf had been sponsored by one particular author--Edith Wharton
Now, I hate it when people ask me what my favourite book is. For me, that’s the equivalent of asking me: “Hey Jo, if your house was on fire and you could only save one member of your family, who would you choose?” But if I had to think about it, and I mean really think about it, I would say my favourite book of all time is Ms Wharton’s The Age of Innocence
. I first read TAoI
when I was in my third and final year at university and I was searching for a topic for my dissertation. I had already decided that I wanted to write eight thousand words on literature set in New York but that’s about as far as I had got. So after a few internet searches and standing in Waterstones, waiting patiently for inspiration to move me, I discovered Ms Wharton.
I am a quick reader. I can get through a book in about a day, two at the most, but it took me almost a week to get through The Age of Innocence
and this was for two reasons:
1) I had to stop every page to write down a quote and to run to my housemate and yell “I have
to read this bit out to you, it’s possibly the most heart-breaking scene in the entire world” in her face.
2) It would have been a literary sin to have rushed that book.
I never actually got the chance to write my dissertation on TAoI
because of reasons I won’t bother going into here, but I have to say that out of all the books I read during my degree this is the one that affected me the most and it is the one I will always, always remember. Ms Wharton was a master of telling stories. When you’re reading her books you think you know exactly what is going to happen and then she trips you up, completely and utterly. And not even in the “Oh god, I just tripped over the pavement but I managed to still walk away cool because no one noticed” kind of way. I mean truly trips you up. The “Oh god, I’m lying on the floor and people are stepping over me
and an old man just had to stop and help me up” kind of way.
Normally I hate books like that because it often feels like the author is doing it just to be clever, but you know when you pick up one of her books that it is Ms Wharton who is in charge and there’s no point arguing.
When I pick up a book by her, I know instantly that I’m going to be in for a brutal yet exquisite journey. Is there anything more you want from a book?
Her characters are immaculate. Just when you think you’ve got them worked out they do or say something that makes you realise that you have got them completely wrong. They may not be the most likeable characters, they may not always do things that you agree with and they might be so blind that you just want to throttle them, but they are real
. Countess Olenska is definitely one of my favourite heroines of all time and Newland Archer… well, I have lots of love for that poor, unfortunate man. (Don’t even get me started on Lily from The House of Mirth
Wharton's wit was and still is unmatched. She could see the world and society in a way that no one else could. She depicted New York society with such fearless honesty that you almost feel like you are there with her characters, eavesdropping on their conversations and sitting next to them as they look out across the theatre and first see the person that will change their entire being.
And her writing? Well, I’ll let that speak for itself… “In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”
– The Age of Innocence “Archer reddened to the temples but dared not move or speak: it was as if her words had been some rare butterfly that the least motion might drive off on startled wigs, but that might gather a flock if it were left undisturbed.”
- The Age of Innocence “She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.”
– The House of Mirth
Absolutely stunning, no?
Of course I can’t talk about The Age of Innocence
without mentioning that fantastic adaptation by Martin Scorsese
. (who, funnily enough, was one of the two directors I eventually did my dissertation on) And I know this is a book site but… shh. This is definitely one of my favourite book-to-film adaptations. You should definitely check it out if you ever have the chance. But read the book first!
Jo, I'm not sure how much this makes me want to watch the movie. -F
You might wonder, if I’ve only read two books of hers (at the moment), how she can be my favourite author.
And you’d have a point. Can an author be your favourite if you’ve only read two books of hers? I’m going to say yes. If an author can stop you in your tracks with her stellar writing, then yes. If an author can make you fall in love with her characters, then yes. If an author can shock you so much with their ending that you actually have to go and buy cheesecake to make you feel better (actually happened), then yes. If an author can reduce you to a quivering wreck at the mere mention of yellow roses, then yes.
It’s funny how much of a Wharton fan girl I have become in recent years. It seems that, when my birthday and Christmases come round, the go-to present for me is something Wharton related.
I have books. I have trinket boxes. I have jewellery.
Jo's Beautiful Wharton-related Christmas Presents!
Dear Ms Wharton,
You have not only written two of my favourite books but you have also taught me something incredibly important about myself. I take my classics modern.
“Each time you happen to me all over again.”
Jo. Other Modern Classics I Love: Mrs Dalloway
by Virginia Woolfe. [Goodreads
by Kurt Vonnegut. [Goodreads
] A Room With a View
by E.M Forster. [Goodreads
] Vile Bodies
by Evelyn Waugh. [Goodreads
] The Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe (This was another book I was originally planning on dissertating with… I was about 100 pages in when I found out I had to change my subject… but I didn’t stop reading. 730 pages later..) [Goodreads
] Good Morning, Midnight
by Jean Rhys. [Goodreads
A huge thank you to The Readventurer for giving me a venue for my Edith Wharton love-fest. I hope that you enjoyed my post or
were so bored by reading it that you ran out instantly to purchase your own copy of The Age of Innocence
and/or The House of Mirth
Either way, I win!
Thanks, Jo! One of the best things about classics is that most of them are past their copyright years so you can read them for free on your e-readers or online. If Jo has you uncontrollably drooling for some Edith Wharton, you can get The Age of Innocence for free on Amazon
. (along with more of her works) And don't forget to visit Jo at her own blog, Wear the Old Coat
. Our own Catie uploaded her review of The Age of Innocence into our archives, so you should check that out here
. Happy reading!