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Archive for the ‘challenges’ Category

Half World

with 21 comments

Today I am participating in the A More Diverse Universe tour to raise awareness of POC authors in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. This is Aarti’s brainchild, and you can read more about it on her announcement post. To see a list of all of the participants, check out this post.

Aarti’s announcement post included some suggested authors, and although I did some research and considered other authors, I ended up choosing one of her original suggestions…Hiromi Goto. Why? Well, for no other reason than I liked the expression on her face. I have known a few people whose face (to me) just radiates serenity and happiness…it’s a look that is mesmerizing to me. Whether or not the person is really serene and happy is another story (and in Goto’s case, it could be said that it’s a mask hiding an evil genius for disturbing characters). But when I saw Goto’s picture, my first thought was that she had The Look. So, that’s how I ended up reading Half World. Partly for the story. And partly for The Look. Yes, yes. I know I’m weird.

To quote Goto’s website, “Hiromi is an active member of the literary community, a writing instructor, editor and the mother of two (big) children. She has served in numerous writer-in-residencies and is currently in BC, working on an adult novel and a graphic novel.” There’s a great interview with her over at indiebound that I recommend, as well as this blog post which is incredibly apropos.

Now…on to the book.

Half World is the story of Melanie Tamaki, a young girl who is pretty much an outcast. She has no friends and a mother who has checked out. One day she returns home from school to find her mother has disappeared. Then she gets a mysterious and threatening phone call (on a disconnected line…cue Twilight Zone music). Come back to Half World, Mr. Glueskin says. Or else. And so the scary times begin.

I’ll let the character Gao Zhen Xi explain Half World:

“The Three Realms-the Realm of Spirit, the Realm of Flesh, and Half World-are meant to be connected. We should move from one to the other, in due time, as each individual lives, dies, half lives, then becomes Spirit. But someone or something divided the sacred cycle, dooming our Realms to an ungenerative deterioration. I don’t know why! I don’t know why!” (p. 100)

Melanie ends up on a quest through Half World to save her mother, and to return the Realms to the connected state that is supposed to be. Of course, Melanie has NO IDEA what she is doing, but she finds some helpful (albeit odd) friends to help her stand against the evil Mr. Glueskin, a baddie of the highest (not to mention most disgusting) order.

While I normally avoid comparing authors to other authors, I’m gonna do it with this book. But I’m not comparing the writing, just the mood. It was like reading Geek Love and Charles de Lint at the same time. Fantastical almost creature-like people (like Geek Love but not) in a dreamlike setting (like de Lint but not). So I ended up with that same disgusted appreciation for the characters I had throughout Geek Love and that same dreamy happiness that de Lint inspires that makes me sad when the book is over.

AAAAAAAND. There are illustrations. Major bonus points for illustrations. Not that the book needs bonus points. I truly lucked out in my choice (hah…maybe I should choose all my reads based upon the expression on the author’s face). The illustrations are by Jillian Tamaki (yes, just like Melanie) and look like this:

Only the ones inside the book aren’t in color. But that’s probably a good thing. Who wants to see Mr. Glueskin in color???

This is Teen book (long aside: I actually checked this out at the library. When I asked the librarian where the YA (and I said Y-A) section was, he looked at me with a blank face. “Young Adult?” I tried. And then I swear he sneered, “The Teen section is over there.” Ass.).

Anyhoosie. I wouldn’t classify it as solely YA (or even Teen). This is one of those smartly written YA books that will appeal equally to teens and adults. Go Goto.

Written by softdrink

September 23, 2012 at 6:44 am

The Stephen King Project

with 17 comments

I am totally cheating. I wrote this post earlier this week and was going to wait ’til next week to post it, but then I was looking over the daily blogging topics for BBAW and realized that it answers today’s prompt: What does book blogging mean to you?

I love the blogging community, especially its sense of adventure and fun. Which usually leads me into reading territory I normally wouldn’t venture into. This is the perfect example:

I am way late to this party. Like nine months late. But if you’d asked me back in January if I’d planned to read any Stephen King this year I would’ve said, “Well, I have 11/23/63 on my shelf…I might read that. Maybe. But I’m not really into King.”

And then the Standalong happened. And it was so much fun! And then somehow Princess Clown Nose and I suckered ourselves (and a bunch of you) into reading IT. Also…so much fun! So I really have no good reason NOT to join The Stephen King Project. Which means…consider me joined.

My goal is to read three books. I am cheating and retroactively counting The Stand. IT will be #2. And who knows about the third. I’m wondering if I can actually squeeze 11/23/63 in by the end of the year. Or I might try to read something for Banned Books Week. If I can find anything short…although I have my doubts that Mr. King even knows the meaning of that word!

And Natalie? I’m sorry I ignored this for nine months. To be honest, I don’t even remember when you first posted about it! That’s how successful I was at ignoring King.

Written by softdrink

September 12, 2012 at 6:00 am

A More Diverse Universe

with 6 comments

Last week Aarti posted this on her blog, BookLust:

I know your TBR list is huge. I know your commitments are many. I know that there are so many things on which you must take a stand, and it can be exhausting to make reading a political activity. But this is so important to me, and I really think it should be important to you, too. None of us lives in a monochromatic world, and yet the fact that terrifying hate crimes still occur makes it clear that we do not fully understand or trust each other. And maybe part of the reason is because the media we consume does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society. And books are such a massive part of the media we consume that we should demand and fight for those that do represent minorities and those that do present the world from a different perspective than the one we are used to. So please – participate. You may just discover a character or an author or a setting or a story that will completely change your life.

And because she is so right, and so eloquent in her argument, I’ll be participating in the A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour later this month.

Go check out the full post for all of the details. And I’ll see you back her later this month for my discussion of Hiromi Goto’s Half World.*

*Which I might have read Sunday night in one sitting, it was that good.

Written by softdrink

September 4, 2012 at 6:00 am


with 24 comments

Jane Austen
First published a long time ago
272 pages in my Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition


Some random things:

1. I read this for A Classic’s Challenge (except I didn’t do any of the challenge posts this month). Originally, I was going to read Emma. But when I went to the bookstore and saw the size of Emma, I wimped out. Then I saw this adorably creepy cover of Persuasion, and I decided to read it instead. Seriously. I chose my Austen based on the best cover. Okay, and the shorter length. Hey, when you’ve failed multiple times at Pride and Prejudice, cute covers and shorter lengths become very important.

2. The cover is by Audrey Niffenegger (yes, the author who is also an illustrator). Isn’t that cool?

3. There’s also an intro by Colm Tóibín, but I skipped it. Intros to classics and I historically don’t have a good relationship.

4. My thoughts on the book itself? Well, they go something like this…hmmm, this Austen, she ain’t half bad…oooh, tension, way to go Austen!…good lord, she sure can get in her jabs at shallow women, way to go Austen!….okay, it’s kinda boring since nothing’s happening….damn, Wentworth can write a love letter, I think I’m in love, even if I know nothing else about the man…hey wait, they probably spoke five times in the whole book and suddenly they’re back together??? what’s up with that?

5. I have officially finished an Austen. Will there be more? Maybe, maybe not. Okay, probably not.

6. You know, I’ve been to Bath twice. I’m not crazy about it, either.

7. I typed Austin instead of Austen through this entire post before I thought that might not be right and I googled it and then had to go back and correct my typos. Between Bath and the typos, I think I’ve been banned from ever joining any Austen fan clubs.

Written by softdrink

February 28, 2012 at 6:00 am

The Stranger

with 31 comments

The Stranger
Albert Camus
Translated by Matthew Ward
123 pages
First published in 1942

This is a most unfortunate choice of covers (especially since it’s the edition that I own). It reminds me of the cover for Beat the Reaper, which you may recall was my least favorite cover for 2011. This is the cover for the original US edition, which is way better, in my opinion:

Also, another note on book covers…I know many of you raved about Bad Marie last year. Although I never read it, I saw the cover plenty of times. Enough times, in fact, that when our main character acquires a girlfriend by the name of Marie, I instantly visualized her as the woman from the cover of Bad Marie. Kinda strange, since I’ve never read that book, but it just goes to show how much of an impact covers can have on me.

So. The book. I have no idea what inspired me to buy this book. But it’s been hanging around for awhile, so I put it on my list for the A Classics Challenge. And about the best thing I can say is that it was short (which means it’s not even the end of January and I can say I’m making progress on my challenges!). The worst thing I can say is that Camus was a philosopher. I should’ve known better, because philosophy and I have a long history of dislike. I just don’t get it. To the point that it makes my head hurt when I try.

Where was I? Oh yeah…the book. Our narrator, Meursault, is a bit detached from the world. When the novel opens, his mother has just died. He goes to the funeral, but he’s more overwhelmed with tiredness than grief. In the days following his mother’s death, he becomes involved with Marie, and his neighbor Raymond, a mean man obsessed with beating his mistress because he believes she cheated on him.

When the mistress’s brother (they are Arab, and none of the Arabs are given names (also…did I mention this book is set in colonial Algiers?)) starts to follow them, Raymond gets a bit twitchy. Eventually there is a confrontation and Meursault ends up shooting a man. Similar to his mother’s death, he shows no emotion or remorse. And it’s this detachment and lack of emotion that results in his eventual conviction and death sentence.

Evidently there’s a lot of absurdism and maybe a touch of nihilism and existentialism reflected in the book, but if I tried to explain any of that I think my brain would explode. There’s also Meursault’s denial of God and his eventually acceptance that life just has no meaning.

Like Meursault’s lack of emotion about life, I pretty much had no emotional response to this book. While it isn’t the worst of the classics I’ve ever read (hello, Brothers K), it didn’t do much for me, other than put me to sleep (actually, I think that was the cold I was coming down with, but with 5 pages left to go, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open).

Written by softdrink

January 25, 2012 at 6:00 am

Albert Camus

with 12 comments

As part of A Classics Challenge, this month we’re asked to discuss the author that we’re  currently reading. The first prompt is an overview of the author. Since I’m reading The Stranger, I present Albert Camus:

Albert Camus was born in 1913 into a Pied-Noir family, a term that refers to European colonists of French Algeria. Camus’ father died in WWI and he grew up in a poor neighborhood of Algiers with his mother. By working a series of odd jobs he was able to put himself through school at the University of Algiers. Camus went on to be a novelist, journalist, and philosopher.

He also appears to have been a smoker.

Camus believed in absurdism, the idea that humans are caught in a constant attempt to derive meaning from a meaningless world. He was also at various times in his life, a communist, anarchist, pacifist, and defender of human rights. Despite not believing in the institution of marriage, Camus was married twice.

Camus’ novels include The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956). His philosophical writings include The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and The Rebel (1951). He also wrote many plays and essays. In 1957 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He died in an automobile accident in 1960.

Written by softdrink

January 17, 2012 at 6:00 am

The Memory of Love

with 17 comments

The Memory of Love
Aminatta Forna
445 pages


This is the first book I’ve read from the newly created Shelf of Doom. And despite it’s slow start, I’m pretty happy with it.

(Except for that ending…holy crap people! The ending!!)

(And the fact that it takes a good long while before you understand that you’re in Sierra Leone…unless you just happen to read the book description.)

(And the ending. Have I mentioned the ending?!?)

So what we’ve got is a cast of intertwined characters and a reader who doesn’t really begin to understand just exactly how they’re all intertwined until about 2/3 of the way through the book.

    • Adrian is an English psychologist who has come to Sierra Leone to help out as best he can. He also falls for the mysterious Mamakay.
    • Kai is young doctor who has committed to staying in the country, despite the fact that his best friend has found a seemingly happier life in America. His also got some major sleep problems, but he won’t say exactly why. And he’s obviously still in love with the absent Nenebah, although he won’t explain her absence, either.
    • Elias Cole is dying. And he wants to tell Adrian his life story, which mostly seems to involve how, when he was a university lecturer in the 1960s, he fell in love with the beautiful Saffia, who just happened to be the wife of another man.

Between 1991 and 2002, more than 50,000 people died in the Sierra Leone Civil War. While the novel never talks about what caused the war, it does go into great detail about the casualties, both physical and emotional. Adrian is particularly interested in the post-traumatic stress and fugue states that people are experiencing as a result of the war.

Along with the stories about the civilian victims of the war, Forno explores the idea of silent collaboration. Is it worse to have actively been involved in committing atrocities of war, or to be a person who implicates others by revealing small pieces of potentially damaging information? And what does it say about a person’s character when they end up in a mental hospital as a result of the acts they committed compared to those who deny any culpability for their actions whatsoever?

There’s a lot to think about as you read through this book (not to mention that ending that I just can’t quite seem to recover from! I mean really! How could he??). I did think it was a tad too long, mostly because the story took awhile to get up to speed, but I ended up really liking it. Despite the ending.

Written by softdrink

January 12, 2012 at 6:00 am