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Wow, this week went by slowly!

It’s finally the weekend, and it couldn’t have come any slower. This was one of those weeks where it went by so slowly that I almost feel that it should be next week by now.

But, the week is over now, and I have a lot of bookish things on my radar that I wanted to share.

Currently, I am still reading The Waste Lands by Stephen King. While it’s hard to put down when I’m reading it, in the last couple of days, I haven’t been able to squeeze in time to read! So, I’m hoping that I can get some reading done this weekend, although it’s unlikely that it will happen because I’m gearing up for…

Mad Men! The two-hour season premiere airs tomorrow and I can’t wait! I will be writing about all things Mad Men tomorrow, and will probably re-watch most of season 4 on Netflix all day before the premiere. I am in love with this show–I consider it to be the most consistent, well-developed series on television to date. I can’t wait to see what’s going on with my favorite characters in this new season! How many of you are as excited as I am?!

Also, I mentioned it earlier this week, but now it’s official–Dewey’s Readathon is back! Sign-ups are here! I have officially signed up to read for 24 hours on April 21st, and I hope you will too. I know my buddy Kyle at A Reader’s Pensieve is doing it, but I’m urging the rest of you to set aside the day to do it as well! And, YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO FOR THE FULL 24 HOURS! (I’m looking at you SJ) Just sign up and read for however long you can go! It’s about all of us setting aside a bit of time to read as a community. We can update our reading progress on our blogs or over on Twitter and root each other on. I enjoyed reading alongside Jillian, of A Room of One’s Own, during the last readathon–we checked in with other through the wee hours, and at the witching hour of 3:00 a.m., when you’re reading a super-creepy book like The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, it’s really nice to know someone else is out there still reading as well.  It’s just a very cozy feeling, knowing that you’re reading alongside (virtually) with the rest of your community. Just consider it, please?!

Another bookish event on my radar is Suvudu’s Cage Match 2012 event. Basically, characters from some of the best science fiction and fantasy titles are pitted against each other in a fight to the finish. Participants for this event have included Tyrion Lannister, Zaphod Beeblebrox, The Wicked Witch, Lady Jessica, Bast, and Mr. Wednesday (to name only a few). Check out the round 3 bracket here. The event is almost over (I found out about it on Wednesday, but it’s been going on all month!), but I’m enjoying reading the recaps of the past matches. So far, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Anomander Rake, Moiraine Damodred, Kelsier, Mr. Wednesday, Granny Weatherwax, Kylar Stern, and Erevis Cale are still in it. I’m only familiar with Zaphod and Wednesday, but the cool thing about this event is that it provides me with exposure to characters whom I might want to read about in their respective sci-fi and fantasy titles. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun for fans. I recommend you all check it out!

Finally, I signed up a few weeks ago, but the event has officially started, so I’ll announce now that I am going to take part in The Sarah Addison Allen Challenge hosted by Quirky Girls Read. For those of you who don’t know who Allen is, she writes lovely magical realism novels that always take place in North Carolina and always have something to do with delicious food. When I was in a reading rut last year, I picked up a copy of Allen’s Garden Spells simply for the lovely book cover, and I was surprised to find that I loved it. Her imagery and tone is like drinking an ice-cold Arnold Palmer on a hot summer day. So, for this challenge, I will read all four of Allen’s books in April, and, on the weekend, I will cook or bake something inspired by the story I read. For example, for The Girl Who Chased the Moon, I will bake Hummingbird Cake, as that’s one of the main character’s specialties. I believe that Allen even provides a recipe on her website. It’s gonna be delicious!

This will be my last week of teaching before a month-long Spring Break. So, if I’m not consistent in posting this week, just know that I’ll be a constant presence in April! I can’t wait!

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Please note: This list is compiled in no particular order. It is simply a list of my favorite books for this particular genre read in 2011.

Adult Contemporary Fiction

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (British)

Really enjoyed this novel. It worked as a comedy of manners with a sweet love story. Pettigrew’s son infuriated me regularly, and while I was often angry while reading, it was very hard to put down.

Empire Falls

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (American~Pullitzer Winner)

This wonderful novel included excellent, well-rounded characters, a page-turning plot, and a haunting development at the climax. Highly recommended to anyone.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (American~Mystery/Crime)

Beautifully written, creepy at times, with edge of your seat thrills. While the Coen brothers did an amazing job with their film adaptation, the novel will provide you with more context and understanding of the plot and characters.

March by Geraldine Brooks (American~Historical Fiction)

Paralleling Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, this novel considers what Jo March’s father’s experience was during the Civil War. The language and descriptions were moving, and I actually think that I prefer this novel over Alcott’s classic. Like Little Women, it is based upon the actual life of Amos Alcott and draws it sources from Alcott’s journals and letters, as well as from the writings of Walden and Thoreau, who were friends of the Alcotts and appear in this novel. Very good historical fiction!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (American~Historical Fiction)

A very good novel with fully developed characters and an interesting plotline. I was full of nervous energy as I read each chapter.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (American~Pullitzer Winner)

Remember, this is my list. And I loved this book! I loved the characters, I loved the themes, and I loved the alternative writing structures utilized throughout the novel. Loved it! 5 stars loved it! However, so many readers hated this book, ripping their hair out hated it, that I have a special recommendation for those who are interested: if you check it out, read the first three chapters. If you don’t like them, stop. That simple. Nothing to get angry about. My full review will appear next week. But, I loved it!

the peach keeper

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Sugar Queen, and The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (American~Magical Realism)

Allen is the master of Southern magical realism. In each of these novels, Allen spins a magical thread into what is simply a lovely depiction of a North Carolina small town and its delightful residents. I love all of Addison’s beautiful novels. Recommended for any occasion when you just need a breath of fresh, sweet air!

Young Adult Fiction

Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (Fantasy/Horror)

One of the scariest books I’ve read all year, and it’s a children’s book! Highly recommended for its imaginative plot and creepy pictures. Gaiman is a master!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Historical Fiction)

This historical fiction novel was very haunting and sad as it followed the short tragic life of a young girl in WWII Germany. Was also a very unique novel as it was narrated by Death.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Science Fiction~Dystopian)

A rather sad dystopian novel. I had been hearing about how wonderful this book was for years, and I was pleased to see that it lived up to its expectations. Highly recommended to all of you dystopian lovers out there!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Science Fiction~Dystopian)

Really enjoyed this dystopian YA novel. Check out my review here.

Tomorrow’s Post: Top Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Read in 2011


I’ve read a lot of really good books this year, so compiling a list of the top ten best was rather difficult for me. However, I will be listing my favorite books for each particular genre all week with no limitations except for what was my favorite (my classics list will be rather long), so this list will simply be the best of the best. For me, the best books are the ones that I will never forget, and will probably re-read in the future. To further narrow it down, my top ten will only include books I read for the first time this year, no re-reads. So, here’s my top ten with mini-reviews for each and the genre it is associated with.

Please note: This list is compiled in no particular order. It is simply a list of my favorite books in 2011.

A Dance with Dragons

1. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Fantasy)

The long-awaited fifth novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series. It certainly lived up to my expectations with the return of most (if not all) of my favorite characters, twists and turns on every page, and my most favorite epilogue of all time (So that was his hidden motive!)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic Horror)

I loved this novel by Jackson. It was an excellent kick start to my readathon in October. Here’s my review.

The Walking Dead

3. The Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman (Graphic Novel~Horror)

This graphic novel series is unique in its unflinching depiction of a group of survivors in a world decimated by zombies. Kirkman has no problem killing off favorite characters in the most heartbreaking ways, and that is one reason why this series is so amazing.

The Glass Castle

4. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Memoir)

This well-written, very emotional memoir chronicles a very unconventional, nomadic life. Wells was the daughter of very unconventional parents who move their children all across the country. The parents come off as very unfit, and Wells relates how their life was seen as an adventure when she was young, but then grew to be tiresome as she matured and differentiated from her parents’ life philosophy. Contains some shocking scenes which often anger and polarize readers. I will never forget this well-written memoir-it’s one of the few pieces of biographical writing that I truly enjoyed.

What Jane Austen Ate

5. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool (Nonfiction~British Literary History)

I love this book! I always keep it by my side when reading classic British literature, which is often. It includes explanations on the differences between Town(London) life and country life, occupations, titles, illnesses, food, games, dances, and more. It also contains a map of England, which I mark up with the locations of scenes from each novel I read.

Coraline

6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (Children’s Literature~Horror)

One of the scariest books I’ve read all year, and it’s a children’s book! Highly recommended for its imaginative plot and creepy pictures. Gaiman is a master!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

7. Divergent by Veronica Roth (Young Adult~Science Fiction/Dystopian)

Really enjoyed this dystopian YA novel. Check out my review here.

Jane Eyre

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Classic British Literature)

The best book I’ve read all year! I can’t believe I’ve been sitting on a copy of this for 10 years. Loved the plot, loved the characters. One of the finest novels I’ve ever read.

Wives and Daughters

9. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (Classic British Literature)

This might be my #2 favorite book of the year. Very amusing classic written in the vein of Austen. The characters are excellent, the plot is solid, and I laughed out loud numerous times. I highly recommend this novel to fans of classic novels.

A Room with a View

10. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (Classic British Literature)

Really loved this classic. Read my review here.

Honorable Mentions (Includes re-reads of 2011)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

11. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Adult Contemporary Fiction~British)

Really enjoyed this novel. It worked as a comedy of manners with a sweet love story. Pettigrew’s son infuriated me regularly, and while I was often angry while reading, it was very hard to put down.

Empire Falls

12. Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Adult Contemporary Fiction~American)

This wonderful novel included excellent, well-rounded characters, a page-turning plot, and a haunting development at the climax. Highly recommended to anyone.

the peach keeper

13. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (Adult Contemporary Fiction~American)

Allen is the master of Southern magical realism. In this, her most recent novel, Allen once again spins a magical thread into what is simply a lovely depiction of a North Carolina small town and its delightful residents. I love all of Addison’s beautiful novels. Recommended for any occasion when you just need a breath of fresh, sweet air!

14. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Classic British Literature)

Not in my top ten only because it was a re-read. Love this novel, have always loved this novel, and will probably re-read it again!

15. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (Fantasy)

Again, a re-read, so not in my top ten. My favorite entry in the Song of Ice and Fire series! Full of action, twists, intrigue, shocking deaths, and a major cliff hanger ending. Love, love, love this series!

Tomorrow’s Post: Top Classics Read in 2011!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.


• The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
• Audiobook: 5 cds; narrated by Nancy Travis
• Publisher: Hatchette Audio; 2005
• ISBN: 1594830657
• Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction; Magical Realism
• Recommended for: Anyone who likes to be bogged down by sensory details, figurative language, multiple beaten-to-death themes, and false characterization.
 

 Disclaimer: I don’t read too many books that I dislike. When I do, I tend to be very passionate and sardonic in my review. Just a warning on tone…

Quick Review: The Ice Queen was dull and hard to get into with far too much going on, most of which I couldn’t care less about.

How I Got HereIn the last year, I have fallen in love with the novels of Sarah Addison Allen and her particular style of magical realism. I have been seeking out other magical realism novels and had previously read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I hoped that this book would satisfy my desire for more magical realism. Also, this book satisfies a task for the  Fall Reading Challenge.

The Book: Goodreads’ synopsis:

From  the bestselling author of Practical Magic, a miraculous, enthralling tale of a woman who is struck by lightning, and finds her frozen heart is suddenly burning.

Be careful what you wish for. A small town librarian lives a quiet life without much excitement. One day, she mutters an idle wish and, while standing in her house, is struck by lightning. But instead of ending her life, this cataclysmic event sparks it into a new beginning.

She goes in search of Lazarus Jones, a fellow survivor who was struck dead, then simply got up and walked away. Perhaps this stranger who has seen death face to face can teach her to live without fear. When she finds him, he is her opposite, a burning man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches. As an obsessive love affair begins between them, both are forced to hide their most dangerous secrets–what turned one to ice and the other to fire.

A magical story of passion, loss, and renewal, The Ice Queen is Alice Hoffman at her electrifying best.

My Analysis and Critique: The Ice Queen was dull and hard to get into with far too much going on, most of which I couldn’t care less about. Hoffman’s writing felt forced and over the top. She overused sensory details and figurative language, her characterization felt false, the themes were numerous and stretched thin, and her protagonist made a huge character judgement that had me yelling at my speakers (audiobook, remember?).

Alice Hoffman, meet Dan Brown. Have a baby. He or she will be an excellent writer!

It is rare that I say this, but Hoffman shows too much! She really took the old adage “Show, don’t tell” to heart. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate colorful descriptions of setting and characters, and there is really nothing better than a dead-on metaphor. Yet, Hoffman gets carried away! Every tree has to be described, every observation explained through simile. I get it- she’s the ice queen- she’s cold! You don’t have to beat me over the head with a gazillion literary devices to get me to understand! How many ways can you describe the color red? Hoffman has probably utilized each and every one. Everything in this book is shown to the umpteenth degree that I began to despise figurative language! Here is an example from the first paragraph:

Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things. They burn your tongue the moment they’re spoken and you can never take them back. They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you. I’ve made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old. Not the sort of wish for ice cream or a party dress or long blond hair; no. The other sort, the kind that rattles your bones, then sits in the back of your throat, a greedy red toad that chokes you until you say it aloud. The kind that could change your life in an instant, before you have time to wish you could take it back. 

Rather nice for an opening paragraph, but this goes on and on and on! In the first chapter, more than half of the paragraphs contain some sort of figurative language. Perhaps this is why it was so easy to space out. She told very little, her plot didn’t feel concrete enough. She needs a dose of Dan Brown- he could teach her a thing or two about telling…

I’ve got a few more pages left to write…just enough to squeeze in one more irrelevant theme!

The Ice Queeweighs in at a measly 211 pages. Yet, Hoffman manages to explore at least nine major themes and topics! She explores wishes (as read in above excerpt), the protagonist as “Ice Queen”, lightning strikes, fairy tales, the relevance of colors, death, reading habits, uniqueness as a personality trait, and then, for good measure, she throws in butterflies during the last chapter. I’m not even sure I covered all of the themes here. She does a poor job in writing on all of these themes and topics, either because she beats them to death, or throws them in momentarily and then drops them. Some of these themes she pursues strongly, even seeming to base her entire novel upon them, only to reveal briefly at the end that there was no creedence to them: the narrator was wrong, that wasn’t what it was about at all.

I couldn’t give a damn about you…No wait! I love you! Let’s move in together!

Hoffman’s characters make uncharacteristic choices. Sometimes, they just disappear all together. I would go into more detail, but that would mean spoilers, and even though I believe you will choose NOT to read this book after reading my review, I still try not to do spoilers. I think the above heading illustrates the erroneous ways of Hoffman’s characterization. Perhaps if Hoffman spent less time on sensory details, figurative language, and over/underarching themes, the choices her characters make would make more sense. But, she doesn’t really do much with characterization, so it all feels false and forced.

What?! No! No! That’s not what that means! How can you say that?!

So, as I have illustrated, Alice Hoffman’s The Ice Queen was a rather unmemorable experience as it just seemed to drag on…except when it didn’t. There was one little tiny plot twist that had me arguing with Nancy Travis and her Three Men and a Baby voice.  The protagonist, a librarian, snoops into her sister-in-law’s circulation records and discovers that she (the sister-in-law) has just returned a book titled “A Hundred Ways to Die”. This causes our busybody, uniformed librarian to conclude that her sister-in-law wants to kill herself. What?!? Are you kidding me? As a reader of a variety of genres, I was offended by this gross misjudgement. Last year, I bought a book titled Demons and Demonology and The Witch’s Magical Handbook. Am I a witch? A satanist? Heck no! I hope to write a book one day dealing with the paranormal, and books with witches and supernatural creatures always fascinate me. So, I’m doing research! How could a librarian make such a ridiculously based judgement? She goes on to confront her sister-in-law, who reveals it wasn’t for her, but for someone else who might want to kill themself. I still say that’s stupid. Just another illustration on why this book is poor, poor, poor.

Don’t read this book. Just. Don’t.

Links:

  1. Goodreads reviews

• The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
• Hardback: 292 p
• Publisher: Doubleday, 2010 
• ISBN: 978-0-385-50112-5
• Genre: Adult Contemporary/Magical Realism
• Recommended for: Anyone interested in adult contemporary fiction with magical realism leanings and/or dysfunctional family fiction.
 
Quick Review: This story is a tease. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a tease as it doesn’t tell the story it advertises. It is also a tease as it begins plot lines that never feel resolved. It’s a good read when you read it for tone: it demonstrates well the sadness and awkwardness associated with a family that hides its dysfunctions. Yet, if you’re looking for a clean plot, this story isn’t it.
 

How I Got Here: I was looking for a light read after Outlander (not too many characters, setting, politics, plot twists), and needed to read this for a task in the Fall Reading Challenge. I also really love Magical Realism, especially when it relates to food.

The Book: Here is Goodreads’ synopsis:

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s  privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden: her father’s detachment, her mother’s transgression, her brother’s increasing retreat from the world. But there are some family secrets that even her cursed taste buds can’t discern.

My additions to this synopsis: Rose can taste the emotions of anyone who has prepared her food, which upsets her both physically and mentally. Henceforth, she attempts to avoid foods that are not factory-made (not created by humans). She also goes on to learn that the other members of her family also have some otherworldly abilities related to other senses. Overall, Rose (and the reader) learns how to cope with somewhat typical family dysfunctions that are made known through atypical sources.

My Analysis and Critique: I enjoyed this book. It met the needs I had at the time, as a break from epic fantasy and plot twists. However, if you are looking for book that offers a good feeling at the end, this isn’t the book for you. It felt incomplete.

I feel that to understand this book, one really needs to consider what Bender’s purpose was. If it was to tell a story about a dysfunctional family that struggles to find happiness through different mediums (eating processed foods, disappearing, adulterous affairs, running), then Bender has succeeded. However, the book has been marketed as a story about a girl who struggles with this magical ability to taste emotions in the food she eats. This story isn’t told, or at least, it isn’t explored and resolved.

Most reviews of this novel express frustration with the incompleteness of the novel. Why the members of this family have magical abilities is never explained. I’m okay with this. However, it truly did feel as if Bender created some plot lines that are never resolved. She sets up a romantic plot line between the Rose and another main character that just stops. That was a bummer. Also, Bender starts to explore the possibilities of Rose’s food-tasting abilities, but at the end, readers are still never quite sure what those may be. In addition, there is an inordinate amount of time spent on Rose’s brother, Joseph, and his abilities, and the reader is left wondering “What about Rose?”. Joseph gets closure, why not Rose?

In the end, this story may best be summed up as a tease. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a tease as it doesn’t tell the story it advertises. It is also a tease as it begins plot lines that never feel resolved. It’s a good read when you read it for tone: it demonstrates well the sadness and awkwardness associated with a family which hides its dysfunctions. Yet, if you’re looking for a clean plot, this story isn’t it.

Links:

  1. See Goodreads synopis and reviews

No work today thanks to last night’s blackout in San Diego! Here’s a rare chance to see downtown San Diego in the black:

Book Blogger Hop is a weekend meme hosted by Crazy for Books in an effort to spur on connections between book bloggers. This week’s prompt asks:

“Many of us primarily read one genre of books, with others sprinkled in. If authors stopped writing that genre, what genre would you start reading? Or would you give up reading completely if you couldn’t read that genre anymore?”

I really don’t stick to one genre. In fact, I get sick of just one genre. I can only read one or two books of a certain genre in a row and then I have to change it up or I get bored.

According to Goodreads, this year, I mainly read Fantasy, Classics, Paranormal Romance (both adult and Young Adult), and Non-Fiction. In 2010, I mostly read Young Adult (of the Fantasy and Science Fiction persuasion). However, the subgenres of these vary widely.

I’m a mood reader, meaning I read whatever I’m in the mood for. I was supposed to start reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss this week, but I had just finished Outlander and was NOT in the mood for another epic novel. So, I picked up the lighter The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (see below for opening lines and my current take on the novel), a magical realism novel of 250+ pages. After that, who knows what I’ll be in the mood for. Luckily, I have fantasy, science fiction, classics, and horror to choose from.

Are you as eclectic of a reader as I am? A mood reader?

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted at A Few More Pages every Friday. Bloggers are to copy the first lines from the current book that they are reading and reflect upon it. I love the first lines of books, even having devoted a couple pages in my writing notebook to them. So, this is a meme for me!

It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon, a warm spring day in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light breeze moving east into the ocean and stirring the black-eyed pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes.

My mother was home, baking me a cake.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Bender begins her magical realism novel in media res. This book chronicles a girl’s unique ability to taste the emotions of a person through the food which that person has prepared. She first learns of this ability at nine, when her mother bakes her a lemon cake for her birthday. When the young girl tastes the cake, she is overwhelmed by the taste of her mother’s dissatisfaction with her life, her loneliness, frustration, and helplessness. Understandably, this is a bit too much for a kid to know about her mother. From then on, she tastes her older brother’s annoyance with her in his ham sandwich, the lunch lady’s sadness in her doughy pizza, and seeks solace in factory-made processed foods such as a bag of Doritos, which taste of nothing.

These opening lines neatly set up the tone and setting of the novel, and readers are immediately immersed in the main conflict. I’m about half-way through the novel, and so far it’s definitely interesting. This poor girl has to avoid food made by those she knows, unless she wants to be swept away by their emotions!  Basically, this book uses this unique ability to help tell the story of a young girl dealing with a dysfunctional family and how she struggles to keep the family together.