Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Reading

I apologize for not keeping up with my book posts. Here you'll find May, June, and part of July. Check back at the end of the summer for the rest!

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I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar: A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups, Sharon Eliza Nichols
The featured mistakes are humorous, but the editorial asides often less than witty. Also, an overabundance of apostrophe errors -although highlighting an obvious flaw in our cultural understanding of our own language and providing a troubling commentary on the failure of our educational community as a whole - tends to foster a slight feeling of monotony after the first few chapters. I find Nathan's "Proof That We're Getting Dumber" collection both more varied and enjoyable. 3/5

Fair Blows the Wind, Louis L'Amour
I don't mind flashbacks, but this one felt overdone. Still, one can always count on Louis L'Amour for a decent story with lots of action, detail, and just enough emotional texture to lend depth to the tale. Worth reading, but not his best ever. 2/5

The Cherokee Trail, Louis L'Amour
I actually picked this one up forgetting that I'd read it before. About thirty pages into it, the story clicked, but I was having such a good read that I kept at it and slurped the entire thing down in a day. The story's good enough to stand a second reading: lots of action, humor, and intelligence. It's one of my favorite L'Amour books, and unlike his usual fare, actually has a woman as the central character. Oh, and Temple Boone? *fans face* 4/5

Agent to the Stars,
John Scalzi
Protagonist Tom, a Hollywood agent, takes on the mind-boggling task of making a race of smelly, gelatinous aliens presentable to the world. Witty, biting, well-plotted, and extremely entertaining, with just enough substantial subtext to give the story value.

One caveat: true to the setting, the characters' language can be rather appalling at times. I advise discretion for more conservative readers. 4/5

Blackout, Connie Willis

According to the customer/reader reviews, people either love it or hate it. Me? I LOVED it. Guided by the sure hand of Connie Willis, readers experience all of the tension and drama that we've come to expect along with subtle touches of humor and pathos that lend so much humanity to her writing. I'd say it's a must-read companion to her other time-travel stories in Doomsday Book, "Fire Watch," and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Can't wait for the companion volume to be released this fall! 4.5/5

The Kane Chronicles, Book 1: The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

As excited as I was to get my hands on this new offering by Rick Riordan, I certainly took my time finishing it. Part of the delay was a result of a VERY busy weekend, but I'm sorry to say that the other part was just a general lack of interest on my part. All of the elements that made Percy Jackson a hit seem to be there (the humor, the mythology, the awesome chapter titles) but for some reason the story just didn't seem to jive for me. Oddly enough, one thing I actually LIKED was the dual-narration, and that's generally something that I do NOT care for in a book. So strange. At any rate, I will be finishing the series and although this did not live up to the extremely high expectations that my love for the Percy Jackson series had raised, I will say this is much better than the majority of what's out there in children's fiction. 3/5

Shakespeare's Sonnets, William Shakespeare

Second time reading these all the way through, although of course some of them I've read time immemorial. (I'd like to blame that on school, but I really can't.) The three things that struck me this time through were as follows:
1) Shakespeare gives me a little nod in #132. Thanks, buddy!
2) He plays around with "foul" and "fair" quite a bit throughout the sonnets, which makes me wonder if those concepts were part of his focus all through his career, of it those particular sonnets happened to be written around the same time as Macbeth (in which "foul" and "fair" are running themes. I suppose this could be researched, but I'm just not up to that level of scholarship).
3) I don't remember noticing before that he uses his own name in several wordplays. I suppose where there's a Will, there's a way! (Sorry!)

Favorites: #23, 27, 36, 42, 60, 116, and 139. Favorite quotes would be too many to share! 5/5

The Want-Ad Killer, Ann Rule
The stars are for the writing, of course, (which with Ann Rule is always superb) but certainly not for the story, which was tragic! Am astounded not only at how long it took investigators to pin the murders and rapes on Harvey Carrigan but at just how twisted and mentally ill the man actually was. 4/5

Trial Run, Dick Francis
Borrowed from Bethany while we were on the road (as I left my other true crime story on a coach bus). Not at all displeased with my first foray into Dick Francis. Writing passable, humor fair to moderate, plotting interesting. Nothing stellar, but a good solid read. 2.5/5

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
I honestly don't understand why this is one of his lesser-known works. The plot is of course rather intricate, as most Dickens plots are, but not impossible. While I will admit to having trouble keeping up with all the characters in some of his longer novels (Bleak House being one), I had no such difficulties this time. The characterization is absolutely stunning, with characters like Pancks, Young John, Mrs. Finching, and Mr. F's Aunt absolutely leaping off the page. Everything about this book charmed me: the chapter titles, the original illustrations, the mind-bogglingly complex sentence structures seamed together so flawlessly, and of course the tender sweetness of Little Dorrit soaring over it all. 5/5

Henry IV: Part 1, William Shakespeare

Watched a performance of this at The Globe when we were in London earlier in the month, and decided that a read-through would be the way to get everything cemented well in my mind. I must say, having read and studied Henry V out of sequence, the scenes regarding Falstaff's death will make MUCH more sense to me now!

I absolutely adore the ridiculousness in the beginning (the double theft of Prince Hal and Poins) and the play-within-a-play feel in the middle when first Falstaff then Hal pretend to be the King. Hotspur's melodramatic pronouncements had me in stitches, and the only disappointment here would be the relative static quality of the small female roles, although in a play of this nature that is only to be expected.

All the seriousness of war sobers the later acts and, along with the gravity of the first scene, bookends the play nicely. 4/5

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe,
Bill Bryson
I've finally read the end of this one (as I left my copy on a plane earlier in the summer) just today, standing in the aisle at Barnes & Noble. I only had the last chapter left to read anyway: a short little bit about Istanbul.

When it comes to hilarious travel bumbles, absolutely stunning descriptions, and delightful verbal manoeuvrings, nobody does travel writing quite like Bill Bryson. 4/5

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson

After reading this book, I can certainly sense a difference between his earlier and later writing: not just the style has changed, but the overall tone and perspective has changed as well. For the better, of course!

Here in The Lost Continent, young Bryson comes across as difficult to please, truculent, and eager to judge/insult. Although this lends humor (especially during his visits to small Midwest towns) it does become a bit wearing after a time. 3.5/5

Shadow of the Lynx, Victoria Holt

Victoria Holt, how are you so awesome? You make the central characters seem sympathetic even when I don't particularly like them; you keep me on the edge of my seat in wicked suspense; you make me wonder if happy endings are possible, then make me wonder if I even want a happy ending. VH, you have ruined all other Gothic suspense novels for me, probably forever. In short, thank you for being you! (It's almost enough that I'll forgive you for everything you wrote as Philippa Carr!) 3.5/5

Light Raid, Connie Willis

Third complete read-through of this ridiculously enjoyable futuristic spy thriller. 5/5

Jingo, Terry Pratchett
Good times, convoluted plots, and laughs aplenty. I would like to point out that were Carrot real, I would hunt him down and wed him. (Also, have the strange feeling that I'm missing a lot of back story, having read none of the books between this one and Guards! Guards! Must make up for the lapse.) 3/5

Dragon Keeper: Volume 1 of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin Hobb

When it comes to creating fully-developed worlds with well-expounded histories, cultures, and social mores, Robin Hobb reigns supreme. The ideas both of delving further into the Rain Wilds (and beyond) and of exploring dragon/Elderling lore intrigued me, and I must say that the novel lived up to my expectations on those fronts.

This series follows the way of the Liveship books when it comes to grit. Not to be too explicit, but I'd say one particular storyline took to the same tune of one that set me slightly against the Liveship tales; actually it's the same tune in a slightly different key, if you get my drift.

That being said, I respect Robin Hobb's ability to build suspense, tightly interweave her threads of conflict, expose human nature, and win my concern and sympathy for a wide array of characters, even the those of doubtful morals and lifestyles.

I don't think anything she'll ever write will live up to the standard she set in the initial Farseer trilogy, but I am willing to keep reading along just in case she does. 3.5/5

Dragon Haven: Volume 2 of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin Hobb
Tore through this one in fewer than 24-hours less out of infatuation with the storyline than the sheer drive to overcome the suspense of how it would all turn out in the end. Even when I come to despise a fair number of her characters, the drive to push onward through her tales cannot be denied. One thing I will say for Robin Hobb is that she's never failed to be gripping. Failed to be morally satisfying, compassionate, lyrical and restrained? -Yes, of course. But boring? -Never. 3.5/5

2 comments:

  1. Little Dorrit is the only one of these I've read and I agree that it should be more popular. Have you read The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls? I think you might like it.

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