75 Books...More or Less! discussion

Archive (2009 Completed) > Paula's Books

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #1 The House on Mango Street

I didn't feel like this was a "novel," per se, as the only two connected elements were the narrator (Esperanza Cordero) and Mango Street. But that doesn't make this book not a great one; in fact, elements that normally don't work in novels (i.e., no concrete passage of time but rather a reliance on a vague passing of a year; a combination of "vignettes" as opposed to traditional chapters; lack of a plot with the focus instead on characters) do work in this one and make it different from most books on the market today.

I felt that this book is almost autobiographical (based on the last pages of the book as well as on the specific details used for characterization) but doesn't necessarily have to be. That that particular line between fact and fiction isn't clear is intriguing to me and leads me to give in to the narrator even when she deliberately contradicts herself in certain places in the book. Also, the blurring of child-like awareness and adult recognition makes Esperanza balance both qualities in a realistic way.

I think the main reason why I like this book is precisely because I like Esperanza. Readers may not see what she's up to all the time in the book, but her narration shows her thoughts without telling them explicitly. A fast read with realism and almost unrealistic hope blended together quite well.

message 2: by Karol (new)

Karol Wow! Very interesting review, Paula. Thanks!

message 3: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments Thanks! I do my best. :)

message 4: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #2 My Brother Sam is Dead

[includes spoilers:]

What I like most about this book its its focus on the shades of grey that are the real issues in times of war; very infrequently is there a true polarity between the issues said to be at the heart of the battle, and even less often is there an obvious "winner" and "loser," as each side has major losses to deal with.

Before getting to the last pages of the book, readers already know what's going to happen by virtue of the book's title itself. But the real "story" is what goes on within the family of a soldier who has gone off to war. The war in which this takes place is the Revolutionary War, but I doubt that even that matter much beyond offering a setting in which the story can take place, as the internal battles are ones still happening within every person today in the same situation.

From the beginning, lines blur between Tory and Patriot, mainly because the narrator, Tim, doesn't know the difference between them. He's young and isn't happy that his brother, Sam, leaves (or gets kicked out, depending on whose viewpoint you consider) and joins the Patriot regime even though his family lives among and sympathizes with Tories. Life goes on as usual until the battles come too close to their home in Redding. Even routine yearly trips cause catastrophe, as Tim's father is attacked and arrested, and eventually dies on a prison boat that supposedly is full of Patriot prisoners.

The story also is part bildungsroman, as Tim is forced to take the places of his father and brother until the war is over (which happens after Sam is killed for an act he never committed). He even at one point tries to rescue his brother the night before his execution.

The realities of war through the eyes of a child often are the most telling ones (try The Book Thief for an example of that) and hit emotional truths more blankly and directly. This is useful as a way to try to gauge how people lived during the Revolutionary War, but also is as relevant today as it might have been had it been written two hundred years ago.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #4 The Don't-Sweat Guide to Taxes

Not the most up-to-date tax guide, as it was written six years ago, and not terribly specific in regards to tax law (although it can't possibly be unless it's a manual), but good for a complete novice who wants a better understanding of tax preparation.

The idealism in the book (such as about how good it is that the government gets part of our money and why that's a good thing in the first place) drove me crazy to read through, but pointing out things (like how each person's goal should be to break even on April 15 and not taking raises and promotions simply to be in a lower tax bracket is ridiculous) that are helpful if generalized made me more willing to put up with the over-idealization (seriously, who has time to put together a "tax team" if you don't have a business?).

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #5 Books that Changed the World

What I liked most about this book is that the books specified were not simply literature books. Taylor includes books from the fields of science, law, and, of course, literature to determine what the 100 most important ones were. There is little room for controversy overall (although, seriously, the phone book? Beowulf, which was omitted, trumps that any day--even though at first it was a piece of oral tradition eventually recorded), but a couple could be questioned (why HP and not LOTR?).

This seemed like a rushed publication in that I did find some minor punctuation and grammar errors (very few, and not those that actually are differences between British and American grammar), but for the most part the language is clean and the references up-to-date (the next HP movie, for instance, is mentioned as being released in 2009--wasn't the HP6 movie delay not announced until this past summer?). Where applicable, author timelines are included and snippets from pieces referenced are given, which is incredibly helpful. Also, while the majority of each section for the book being discussed gives a basic description of that work, historical background information also is included.

This book is great as a catalyst for discussion among academics and non-academics (who happen to be prolific readers) alike.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #5 (since apparently I can't count) Midsummer Night's Dream

Not one of my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, but a fun, short one to read. It's a little ridiculous, a little farcical, but, then again, it's only a dream, right?

The edition I read has footnotes that are to generate classroom conversations (which I can tell because it often refers to other of Shakespeare's plays and themes that carry over). It also has a short section of commentary by the editor.

Quick to read, comes to an easy, tidy solution. A good example of one of Shakespeare's comedies.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #6 Night

Horrifying and captivating; every time I read this, I'm through it in a few hours because I'm unable to put it down. It's particularly harrowing to read after recently reading The Book Thief, too, but this book is so important that it must be read anyway.

This is Elie Wiesel's personal narrative of living in the concentration camps in Europe during WWII. The language is sparse, mainly because there obviously is no need for ornamentation. It also is graphic and not for the feint of heart to digest all at once.

One automatically thinks of Anne Frank, not because Elie dies (clearly he doesn't) but because his father does just months before the war ends. Other people specifically are mentioned by name, as those who both survived and did not, and this is not only a testament of their existences but a praise of each life that suffered through those camps.

This absolutely is a book that is essential for each and every person to read. It's difficult because it's dire, but that's why it needs to be read again and again, so that it can't happen again.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #7 Nick & Norah's Infinite Play List

There are two things this books does that get on my nerves. The first is the dual character perspective, which more often than not does not work in a novel, especially one under 200 pages. Since there are two authors, one male and one female, it reads like it was written in a kind of tag-team style, where one person writes a chapter then the next builds a chapter from the other character's perspective from the one previously written. It's like the author duo is a machine churning out new books in an effort to be efficient. And the repetition caused by the constantly shifting perspectives just got to be too much for me; I feel like the book was at least 4-6 chapters too long.

The other thing that drives me crazy is novels told in the present tense. The "trick" of that is to make the events that occur in the novel build to an intensity that isn't necessarily... necessary. I mean, I know this is a book about teenagers, and I know that's how teenagers seem to think--about the things happening to them as the most important events ever to happen to them, every single time anything happens to them--but that doesn't always make for good reading.

That being said, the story itself is a bit old hat: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, all within the span of a few hours in a crazy evening out. But the references to making mixed cds for people harkens back to the good old days when boys and girls who liked each other made tapes to show that they liked each other, or for themselves when said love of his/her life is out of it, etc. The complex relationships teenagers tend to have with each other is expressed very well, and there's no holding back on what and how they're feeling.

I'm probably just too old to read these books anymore; I certainly felt that way early on and never shook that suspicion.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #8 Boy Meets Boy

Only last night, when I started to read this, did I realize that this book was written by one of the co-writers of Nick & Norah's Infinite Play list. The style is exactly the same: present-tense narration, teen angst, and a simple, predictable plot. If nothing else, Levithan is consistent.

The other thing that bothered me is that this town in which his characters live and interact is not a realistic place that can exist today, and it might take some people some time to figure this out because it's showcased in a very "anyone lived in a pretty how town" kind of way--like it really could be Anywhere, USA. It's been a long time since I was in high school, but there's no way that it's all that easy for so many openly-gay kids to be interacting so peacefully and naturally together with straight kids. This may be the author's wish or projection, but we're not there yet, and to present the story as though we were there seems misleading to me.

On the flip side, I think choosing a drag queen as a quality star quarterback and having other characters act against common stereotypes is pretty brilliant. I like that teenage emotions and problems extent to both gay and straight communities in this book while simultaneously having coming-out problems remain as real and relevant as they have to be. I think I'm just not a fan of the way in which Levithan tells the story is all, even though it's a story that needs to be told. And, fortunately, it's not all about the main character Paul (even though we're only in his head--which I can live with more so than I could going back and forth between Norah and Nick), because that would be annoying.

In the end, Levithan's basically trying to retell a commonly told story in a new way; it will be nice for him to try to tell a new story instead.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #9 Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code

I'm again not liking this book as much as I did the first, but it gets better until around the half-way point. Watching Artemis fail is amusing, perhaps because he's supposed to be so brilliant, but mainly because it's his emotions that are getting in the way of his otherwise perfectly planned plots.

I'm kind of not caring about the further development of the Fowl family, quite honestly, as Butler is family enough to do the trick for me. But I like how intricate the plots are by Colfer, who is brilliant enough in his own right to foreshadow important things for unsuspecting readers. He's a great storyteller, and I look forward to reading more of this series some time in the future.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #10 The Curse of Blessings

I felt like I was reading The Tales of Beadle the Bard again, but that doesn't make this a bad read. In fact, almost in spite of myself, I ended up liking this book very much.

It's a compilation of parable-like tales, ten in all, that sometimes depend on religious tradition in order to give a moralistic resolution to each story. This makes sense, as Chefitz is a Jewish leader and probably tells such stories on a regular basis. I wish that more of them were his own and not simply altered tales he already is familiar with, but I guess I can't say anything since I've never heard any of them before.

This would be a nice way to tell moralistic stories to children without having to worry about blatant paternalistic, patriarchal, or misogynistic messages (although, now that I think about it, not many women were even in any of these stories...); the morals still come across loud and clear.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #11 Empire Falls

What I found to be really remarkable about this book is its ending, not because it's so action-packed (especially in comparison to the rest of the book) but because the reader's sense of foreboding builds so subtly throughout the book until one can figure out which character it will be to cause the inevitable catastrophe.

Actually, this entire book could be a study in subtlety, because the nuances in each character are so lightly illustrated as to catch the unsuspecting reader off-guard. This is mainly due to the slowness of the dawnings of each revelation to the novel's main character, Miles Roby; in fact, even readers who typically skim (and this is a pretty big novel, so skimming for some is inevitable) can pick up subtle hints that show, for instance, who Charlie Mayne really is and who is Charlene's lover. Luckily, Miles eventually figures this out (at the very end of the book, of course)and more, so one can't be completely frustrated by his seemingly selective understanding of the things going on around him.

Also, very few loose ends are left at novel's end, which is what I prefer when I read a stand-alone book. I'm curious to find out if Miles really did ever inherit the Empire Grill, but in the end it doesn't really matter. I also wish I knew if Tick ever had contact again with her summer love interest since her scheduled rendezvous obviously couldn't be kept. We do find out who was responsible for Cindy Whiting's accident as well as exactly what was wrong with John Voss and why he acted so strangely all the time. (His story is the most tragic, on several levels, and incredibly disturbing, so we had to know that his disappearance wouldn't last, leaving the reader unresolved over his fate; I knew there had to be a reason why I kept thinking of Pearl Jam's song "Jeremy" every time he was mentioned.)

The book ends rather abruptly, though, and perhaps too happily (if that's the right word to use to describe the ending). I mean, for the sake of the book innocents had to be taken to show the randomness of some violence (amid the deliberate planning that was used), but it's almost too tidy that Tick gets out alive. The Catholic dependency also is dropped maybe too quickly, considering how tightly Miles holds on to that during the first three parts of the novel, but I suppose that's not necessarily all that important a thread to hold on to. Also, the shifting perspective throughout the novel is absolutely essential so that the reader can pick up (more quickly than Miles can, at least) what's going on with other characters' motivations (although probably the best character-building moment comes from Cindy Whiting in her last face-to-face interaction with Miles, which shows just how tightly readers hold on to Miles's perspective, which isn't necessarily always the right one), but near the end we're so far removed from Miles that getting back inside his head seems forced, as a way to simply bring the novel to its conclusion.

Still, this is an amazing book overall simply because of the way it so accurately portrays the positives and negatives of small-town life. It doesn't have to be talking about a Maine city specifically to ring true to those who've experienced such an environment where everyone knows everyone else as a rule because that's just how it is. It picks up intensity as the end looms near (and one can't help but wonder exactly where the book is going or how it's ever going to make it there) and becomes less and less easy to put down.

message 14: by Dawn Michelle (new)

Dawn Michelle | 3067 comments MAN! I SO wish I had your talent of writing reviews!!

I have Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist on my "to-read" pile, and now I am just not sure. I dislike books like that and I REALLY trust your judgment. At least I know I won't be rushing out to buy it ANY time soon!!

That said, I AM going to go out when I can and get your #2 book AND Empire Falls. Both reviews TOTALLY captivated me. Amazing!

When I was SNOWED IN at my mom's I got TONS of reading done. That is why I am ahead of you. But don't worry. I don't expect that to last. I know how you get! One good weekend and you will blast through like 15 books! :-) LOL

message 15: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments Well, I certainly try to blast through that many on a good weekend! I may manage to finish a couple other short ones this weekend, so that's something. Plus, someone in my book club lent me a book (I have to search around for it now, of course, because it's been on my floor for a couple months) and I want to give it back by the next meeting!

BTW, Empire Falls is a book I borrowed a couple years ago (I watched the Superbowl with her this past weekend) but finally got around to reading because of said book club. If nothing else, it makes me read books that have been sitting around!

I'm glad the review of Empire Falls and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist were helpful (as well as all the others I throw together; you know I can't help myself!). If anything, get N&N at the library or read part of it in your preferred bookstore to see if you like the style of writing. I did forget to mention in my review that teenage sexual tension is *everywhere* so, again, I just might have been too old to read all that; I lived it back in the day, so I'm over it now! (I have no idea how the movie parallels the book, or not, as I've not watched it myself. Methinks I'm skipping out on that, based on what I read.)

My Brother Sam is pretty wonderful. It's YA, but that doesn't make the topic juvenile or any less relevant than what kids that age go through today. One of the little kids I tutored kept telling me I had to read it because it was the best required reading he ever had to do. As usual, it takes me some time to get around to books recommended to me (how long has Odd Thomas been sitting on the floor?), but that one I'm sure you'll enjoy.

Is it snowing up where you are now? It snowed last night here, so I had to dig the car out in order to get home from work last night. Fun! (Or not.) But it's warming up (again) so there's not much snow on the ground anymore. I'll give it a week to start snowing again!

message 16: by Dawn Michelle (new)

Dawn Michelle | 3067 comments We don't have much snow here in Toronto. Its been bitterly cold though. So much so, I haven't been out much. Went out last weekend, but that is only because the husband lured me with a trip to the used bookstore, which,for some odd reason wasn't as good as it normally is. Sigh. That is NOT to say I didn't get any books. Just not any of the really GREAT deals I am used to! And I am really surprised he took me there..he has been hinting at Book-Rehab for me. I think he finally got around to COUNTING all the books I have stashed away on shelves. Well, that and I was complaining about my lack of shelf space. Oh well! He will live.

I am really looking forward to reading My Brother Sam. It just sounds really good. And I like that a KID actually recommended it to you. That is awesome.

Its funny...the books I want to read right now are the ones that I DO NOT have. Sigh. But I am reading a cute one right now. Maybe NOT as great as it was praised, but right now, it still has me engaged. We shall see how it turns out.

BTW, my parent's have had (by now) over 200 inches of snow. Almost 40 of that came while I was there. THAT is why I read a lot. We went NO WHERE! :-)

message 17: by Dawn Michelle (new)

Dawn Michelle | 3067 comments Oh yeah...

I think I will pick up N&N when I am at Indigo next and try reading it there. I don't think I want to buy it. And I KNOW I am skipping the movie. I mean, seriously!

message 18: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments Yeah, most of the kids I work with don't read anything, but that one was a pretty smart one and actually would read (at times, between soccer games) independently. One of my SAT students liked the HP and Twilight books, though, so that's something!

I don't think I can get a measurable amount of the snow outside, mainly because it melts right after it falls. However, it keeps falling when I'm working so I continually have to un-bury the car at night! The temperature is supposed to go up, so maybe I'll have a few days off from that duty. I can't even imagine 40 inches, let alone 200! I'd get some reading done, too, if there were that much because I wouldn't bother venturing outside in that mess!

I was a bit disappointed at the used bookstore by me the last time I went, too. My plan was to browse after picking up the book I ordered (months ago for my book club, although I think that now we're not going to read it at all), but the woman working inside (I've never seen her before) kinda shoved me out almost as soon as I stepped inside. It looked dead in there since it was snowing outside (argh!) and no one else was around, but maybe she was doing inventory or something. At least I got through a good portion of Empire Falls before I went to work that day.

How nice of your husband to take you to the used book store, though! I've been smuggling books in, pretty much one at a time, in the hopes that no one will notice. But I couldn't help myself and indulged in a B&N online sale, so hopefully I can sneak that inside without anyone noticing! Have I entered a parallel universe? Because I feel like I should be a character in Fahrenheit 451 or something. ;)

I'm getting through Levine's The Wish right now. So far it's okay, but I'm only about 30 pages in so I'm saving judgement for later.

message 19: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #12 The Wish

This book was pretty good. I'm still torn between whether I wanted the wish that was granted to have been real or imagined; Levine chose the route of it being real, but I think there also would have been good possibilities for the book's ending had Wilma's popularity been because she simply reached out to others. Not that that's realistic in any way, but still, since such a large part of the book was with her struggle over what she really wanted vs. what she thought she had to get because of the wish it would have changed the story's ending remarkably.

Two things bothered me, though. The first is that there weren't really any negative ramifications through Wilma's popularity (except when the wish ended), and that contradicted what Wilma had been told just before it was granted. The other thing is that, even at the end of the book, Wilma still was obsessed with being popular even though I thought she should simply have been happy with having more friends (and a boyfriend to boot). But that could just be my cynicism coming into play. Otherwise, it's a cute, fast read for those who like this type of story.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #13 Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception

I was glad that this book was able to not concern itself too much on the Fowl parents. Instead, it focused on Artemis's own transformation from criminal to hero as an independent decision based on his concern for others who are important to him.

Actually, there isn't all that much of Artemis in this story, but that's okay, too, as the nemesis from The Arctic Incident, Opal Koboi, is after everyone who helped thwart her last series of dastardly deeds. Not only does Artemis need saving (and reminding of his relationship to the People), but he also needs to help Holly clear her name because she was set up as the murderer of her former superior.

The one thing that always bothers me about the Artemis Fowl books is that I can't always figure out exactly what's going on. Generally I don't bother to picture what I'm reading, but I feel like I need to when reading these books since many events take place underneath the Earth's surface. And I just can't picture these places and contraptions. Luckily, I can read through them and still understand what's going on, but that still does take away a little bit of the story for me.

Otherwise, the beat goes on, and it's obvious that Artemis comes back to help Holly again in her future endeavors outside of the LED. It's a quick, exciting book to read that furthers the series as well as the characters within it.

message 21: by Randy (new)

Randy (rpetrick333) Hi - you mentioned The Book Thief in a review you did of another book. Just curious if The Book Thief is worth the time. How did you like it and how would you rate it? Thanks

message 22: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments I loved The Book Thief; my review is posted near the bottom of this page: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1.... I read it last year, so I included on my "50 Books A Year" list.

The Book Thief took me about a day to read because it so compelled me. In short, it was fascinating to read a WWII book from the viewpoint of a non-Jewish child. Read my review if you'd like, but, just so you know, I included a few spoilers in it. I hope you enjoy the book, too!

message 23: by Dawn Michelle (new)

Dawn Michelle | 3067 comments That book is HIGH on my TB list. I have read so many great reviews about it that I just cannot wait to get it.

I am heading into the states again...bringing like 10 books with me and plan on buying some as well, as
I have coupons for both B&N and Borders. YAY!!!
I will have some access to a computer, so I will try and input as much as possible.

It was WARM here today..did it get warm for you all and did you get rain like we did? It just poured here!

message 24: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments It's around 60 today! No rain (yet) but I'm giving it a couple days since it's been snowing on and off for the last couple weeks. :)

Definitely use one of your coupons to buy The Book Thief (that's what I did at the end of last year) since it's not that expensive to begin with and it's hard to find in used bookstores (no copies in mine at all since I started to look for it). Did you ever get Breakfast with Buddha?

message 25: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #14 What Puppies Do

It's basically just a gift book for dog lovers, but what makes this slightly better than "just a gift book" is that the photos, all in black and white only, are stunning and precisely show each emotion or activity listed on the page to its left. There really isn't much to read, but that's okay, too, because most gift books of this nature stick useless quotes all over the place. This book definitely will light up the eyes of any dog owner.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #15 Harry Potter and Philosophy

Clearly this book is intended to be read by an audience that may or may not be familiar with philosophical principles but is a fan of the Harry Potter series. What this book does is use those Harry Potter books as a way in which to explain certain philosophical concepts by using explanations from the HP series. The essays included (there are a total of sixteen) may not always be deep, detailed philosophical discussions, but all of them, to varying degrees of success, are thought-provoking.

Some of the pieces I have read before, such as the one concerning time travel in PoA, but most are new to me. That being said, I was disappointed that the essays had not been updated to include information concerning the last two books in the series (the first edition of this book was written after OotP but before HBP). Still, I feel that I'll read the HP books in a new way the next time I pick them up because I'll have so many new things to think about that I mainly had forgotten.

Overall, the tone is instructive without being condescending. Skip over the introduction and author bios., as they are so manufactured that you might want to gouge out your eyes and never start reading the actual essays (some of which also, annoyingly, use HP characters as examples to explain more difficult concepts). But give the essays a chance because they will further enhance the reading experience of the HP books.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #16 Persuasion

This book would have four and a half stars, but in the end I gave it five precisely because of its penultimate chapter. Anne really is almost too good to be true, as she constantly is good to those who could care less about her, and yet she's not as annoying or malleable as Fanny from Mansfield Park. She also doesn't have quite the loose tongue as Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice and she's not as conniving as Emma from her own book (although she is rich).

Although there are many ironic instances and conveyances, especially at the beginning of the book, they are tempered with something close to wisdom, perhaps Austen's own since this was the last novel she completed. We know how the book will end, of course, but I had the hardest time trying to figure out how it would get there until the last few chapters. I think Austen is masterful, though, in being able to hold the suspense until the very end of the book.

What's good about the Oxford edition of this book is that the original ending is included (which I haven't read yet but plan to do so soon). Also, the introduction and explanatory notes are helpful on explaining details that otherwise would be read over or not understood. It may not have the critical essays that Nortons tend to have, but it's enough to give further explanation without interfering with the story itself.

A good, short Austen book for those wary of her writing style!

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #17 Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

Even though books involving time travel drive me a little crazy (given the many laws of physics that are bent to accommodate them), this one still was quite enjoyable; I'm really, really becoming a fan of the Artemis Fowl series, and I hope it continues for a long time.

Anyway, in this particular book, Artemis en crew are called on to save a group of demons from their planet slipping through an interrupted time warp from their previous state of limbo. But mainly because a female counterpart genius has made things a mess by trying to use the demons as her way to winning a Nobel. Puberty also has its place in the novel, as Artemis and his fellow genius Minerva seem to develop a crush on each other (although, unfortunately, that plot's almost dropped entirely mid-way through the book).

Again, if one is able to suspend one's beliefs long enough to just enjoy the ride (and there's much to enjoy, as the series is very funny--especially in this book, with sly references to Harry Potter and other fantasy series), then this book will be a difficult one to put down. It's almost impossible to predict how it will end (although we know it has to be with Artemis succeeding, since there is at least a sixth book in the series), but the wait is completely satisfying.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #18 The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

This book really only deserves closer to three stars, but I bumped up the star count because the prose itself is so well-done. I mean, the book's biggest problem is that it's unclassifiable: It's intended to be a collection of short stories based around the same character but, really, only the title story is a stand-alone short story. It certainly can't stand alone as a novel, and two of the stories are simply misplaced, as "The Best Possible Light" isn't even about her, and "You Could Be Anyone" is in the wrong voice (plus, it's almost completely autobiographical).

There are seven "stories" of varying length in total in the book, and they mostly follow Jane around through adolescence into adulthood. Clearly the best story out of the lot is "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing," as it's the only one that is a short story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. A couple extra details may be gleaned about Jane's character from a couple other stories, but this one is fine on its own without the additional details. The almost multiple personalities are the best part and also make this story stand out from the others, which sort of blend together after awhile. It does end with a cliched chick lit. happy ending, but it's so engaging that I can deal with it.

Bank is funny, although most of this is better when she reads it aloud herself. Finding the title story should be sufficient for anyone who wants to get a load of Bank's "schtick," as it's the best one out of the bunch.

message 30: by Paula (new)

Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #19 All Stressed Up

A gift book for those who appreciate Maxine's pessimistic views on all things annoying in life (which accounts for pretty much everything). There are no surprises here, as the book is composed of full-page comics, one per page. They are funny, and they are the kinds of comics you'll find in any other Maxine publication.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #20 Off Keck Road

It's odd how similar this book is to Empire Falls, even though it's only a quarter of its size and about an area on the other side of the United States. It may be minimalistic instead of expansive, but Off Keck Road perfectly describes small town life and its inapplicability in today's world. People don't necessarily change, but places do; attachment to place is vastly important, which is why the end is, in many ways, heartbreaking. The perspective wanders among various characters, but it begins and ends largely with one (Bea Maxwell) who doesn't fit in and yet is the only one left. There are wealthy and poor, and the lifestyles of each is in many ways very different, but they remain consistent with what one might expect.

One thing that struck me was how closely I identified to Bea's character; I guess living in a small state is like living in a small town, and the continuous push-pull of expectations and desires is felt by everyone. Character, not plot, is what drives this novella forward, so one has to be interested in the characters if one wants to keep reading to the end. Also, reading this in as few sittings as possible makes it easier to keep track of who is related to whom, who lives where, and what time period currently is being described because the book hops around in time and amid characters in a non-linear way. I think the trouble I had keeping all the details straight in my head was due to picking it up for short periods and reading just a chapter at a time.

Worthwhile read for someone willing to put in the time to read it and invest oneself in the characters. This book doesn't aim to take ant positions or make any big points, it just follows small-town people around, like regular people do every day.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #21 The Waves

This is another book that's not meant to be read by everyone. There isn't actually a "story" being told, per se, but rather a reflection on the meaning of life and how one's perception of it changes throughout the course of it. The perspective alternates among six very distinctive characters and the story is told as a first-person account of sensations and feelings. There is no plot but there are symbols everywhere (the main one being the waves of the sea, of course, as the general ebbing and flowing of life, and wave imagery offers a framework for the book itself). The book also doesn't necessarily come to any conclusion or solution to the meaning of life (especially since there are six different characters reflecting on their lives), except that death is inevitable.

Mostly heavy stuff, but this can be expected from Woolf (this, in fact, is more of what I expected before I ever read any of her long pieces). It's "modern" and experimental, and it's circular and repetitive (another symbol of life itself). It defies categorization, too, so this has to be undertaken those things in mind ahead of time; otherwise, someone probably would put this down, never to be picked up again (which is a shame, considering some of the beautiful images recorded by Woolf). Worth the time for those willing to put some into it!

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #22 Poetry as Insurgent Art

I picked this up on a whim today, and I'm glad I did. While I don't go out of my way to read Beat poets, I've been a fan of Ferlinghetti since I read a poem of his in a copy a teacher handed out in high school. This particular collection contains four poems and a prose piece; the first two poems are new or new-ish, and the last two poems are from the 1970s. The prose piece also is from 1978 and is a critique of current poetry (which I daresay Ferlinghetti still holds to be true considering its inclusion in a book published just a couple years ago) that considers it "well written" prose or "poetic prose."

The newer poems seem to be ideas strung together sometimes by a thread. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it begs the question: has even Ferlinghetti succumbed to turning poetry into prose? There are some very good lines (such as, "Poetry assuages our absolute loneliness in the lonely universe.") and some controversy as well (such as, "The war against the imagination is not the only war. Using the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster as an excuse, America has initiated the Third World War, which is the War against the Third World."), but I didn't exactly hear the "Beat" in them. This is unlike what I felt when I read the second two poems, which had a very Slam-poetry feel to them; the read rapidly (which is, I think, the intention; I can also imagine Ferlinghetti shouting them by the time he reaches the ends of each) and have clearer threads to follow.

This isn't to say that I wouldn't want to drop everything and go listen to him if he ever reads near where I live, because I'd love to hear him read this out loud himself. He's always been a bit of a radical and clearly still is (as the title of the book would imply), and he's as passionate about fighting for what he believes in as he was back where there still were Beats. He encourages other poets to try to do the same thing, to be innovative and peaceful while still causing a riot.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #23 Valentine Place

Frankly, I was surprised that so many good poets and critics, like Ashbery and Hollander, actually praised this book. The poems themselves read like prose pieces (that's what I get for reading Ferlinghetti last, right?) and largely were about adultery. It could be my own fault that I didn't really like this collection, as none of the poems really spoke tome, but I'm not so sure.

There were a few nice images to be found every now and then, and it was strange to read "The World Trade Center" in a book published in 1996, but that's pretty much all that stopped me from skimming through the entire book. Many poems just were too long (the better ones were the shorter ones), and some were outright confusing. Not a collection that induces me to read more by Lehman.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #24 Looking for the Pale Eagle

This is quite a good collection of poems, even though the variety is a bit of a hindrance. I kept thinking of poets like William Carols Williams and W. D. Snodgrass in terms of Meats' structure. His images are his own, and they are tight, stark, and pretty impressive.

The shorter, "experimental" ones are interesting but perhaps would be better as a submission for a literary magazine or journal (only because they take away from the more traditional poems that can be found in the book). I wish I knew more about the midwest and its animal life, because it features prominently in collection, and my own ignorance keeps me from appreciating it as it's meant to be. Still, these poems are imaginative and insightful, and really quite beautiful.

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Meghanly | 253 comments I love your reviews! I have knocked The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing off my Library Hold list, freeing up valuable space! :) Thanks for sharing -

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments No problem, I'm glad to help out! Maybe I'll get back to prose books by the end of this week. ;)

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #25 Lucky Life

The poems center around aging and death. Most also "take place" in New Jersey, which makes me wonder why/how there are so many Jersey poets (especially Jewish poets from New Jersey). Stern makes plenty of religious and mythological allusions, so it's obvious that he's well-read. He also apparently likes Van Gogh (I do as well).

I thought the poems were complex but not necessarily saying anything new. (Of course, they were written over thirty years ago.) Some are long-ish, while most are fairly short. Stern doesn't use too many poetic devices, so they certainly don't inhibit one's reading of the poems at all. I might like to see more of them, actually, since they read prosaically. Overall, this is a good book for those who want to get into Stern's work.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #26 Meadowlands

I'm not going to do this book justice, because of the way it's written, but I'm going to try.

Basically, this is a poem cycle based on the relationship between Penelope and Odysseus from The Odyssey, except it's a relationship placed in modern times which refers to events that happened about a decade ago. This is a post-Odyssey recollection, but the poems move around in time and perspective (some poems shift back and forth between Penelope and Odysseus); some of the funniest, in fact, are from the point of view of Telemachus.

The poems themselves are well-crafted and original, and they vary in length from just a couple lines to a couple pages. Lines take advantage of subtle poetic sound devices and break at perfect spots. And even though the poems concern fictional characters, one can imagine anyone having the same thoughts and discussions that Penelope and Odysseus have.

This imaginative update is fascinating, but would be best understood by those who know The Odyssey; otherwise, the character shifts and event references may not always make sense.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #27 History of My Heart

This book was published about twenty-five years ago. It's divided into three sections and includes poems that are very traditional: they have regular meter, line length, stanza size, and poetic devices (end rhyme, alliteration, etc.). They also tend to be very personal, if not exactly confessional.

I think that the strongest poems are those contained in the third section of the book. The title poem is the only one in section two, as it is a fairly long poem on its own, and begins, presumably, on the night of Pinsky's conception. Death is a common theme carrying itself throughout the poems in the book, but not every poems deals with it explicitly.

I'm not sure if I can see or hear any echos of William Carlos Williams in this book, but it won the prize names after him. It's an obvious choice for those who prefer traditional poetic styles and themes, though, and this is a pretty good book of poems by a former poetic laureate of the country.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #28 Jersey Rain

Kind of boring, actually. I mean, Pinsky had, for the most part, the same technical style that I noticed in History of My Heart, but these poems just seemed... not very interesting or particularly inspired. The alphabet ones (especially the second, which, I think, is supposed to be a prose poem) threw me off; they seemed like assignments he gave to his students that he, on a whim, did on his own and used to fill in some extra pages. I also didn't get much of a sense of place, even though this should have more to do with New Jersey considering the title chosen for the book. (That poem, which shares the book's title, also didn't seem to have much to do with New Jersey.)

Overall, the poems just aren't tight enough to be as good as the ones in History of My Heart, and they're not universal enough to engage me. I may save my other Pinsky books for later to read.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #29 The City in Which I Love You

This collection of poetry pretty much sums up Lee's beliefs in poetry, especially in lines like this from "The Room and Everything in It":

it had something to do
with death... it had something
to do with love.

In a guest lecture he gave more than seven years ago, Lee said that the only two subjects worthy of poetry are death and love, and this book encompasses poems that split those subjects pretty evenly, even by combining the two subjects into single poems. The book is divided into five sections, some with one or two long poems and others with about a half-dozen. To me, the strongest section of poems is IV, because those are the most complex and, therefore, the most interesting to me.

In fact, complexity rules this book of poems, as each poems leads to a place that the reader is pretty unlikely to guess. I think this is why I like him so much as a poet, because Lee never fails to surprise me with his unusual turns, usually towards the end of a poem. His lines also end in places that at first seem strange but make more sense as one continues to read. "The Waiting," overall, is my favorite poem from this collection.

Lee is always a worthwhile read, and I'm eager to peruse the other volume he wrote that still is waiting on the shelf for me.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #30 Speaking French in Kansas and Other Stories

I had forgotten how talented Bob Day is. Oddly enough, he was my poetry professor about ten years ago, so reading his short stories is strange but rewarding.

This book is a collection of seven previously published short stories. Most of them are about the size of short-shorts, but the last story, "Four Wheel Drive Quartet," is the longest (and is part of its own book) and most complex. All the stories take place in Kansas (hence the choice for the title of the book), even though the narrator is not always there. They also all are first-person narratives. My favorite stories are the first two, "Speaking French in Kansas" and "Chloe in the Canoe," simply because both say so much about Kansas culture.

I definitely want to read Day's novel now that I know how good his prose is. I feel like I'm still learning from him even though he's not my professor anymore!

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #31 The Ten-Year Nap

This is a long, meandering book that's told from multiple points of view. It hops back and forth in time between chapters, and it just sort of ties all its ends up loosely. But the brief humorous moments are the ones I really loved, as I've heard Meg read them aloud before, and those moments are what, finally, allowed me to finish the book.

One criticism of this book I've frequently read is that Meg doesn't really take any sides about women working or not working after they've gotten married and had kids. But I don't find this to be a problem at all, since it allows readers to examine all walks of life and choices that women make according to their circumstances. Some are better than others, of course (the scandalous affair of one of the minor characters immediately comes to mind), but that really doesn't make the occupations those women chose either good or bad.

Another frequent criticism I've read is that Meg uses stereotypes a bit too frequently in this book. And that may be true as well, but that might have been a lazy way for Meg to work out some early kinks in the novel that simply applied to minor characters whose stories weren't necessarily all that important, so I'm willing to forgive that as well. Especially since, in the end, Meg is a flat-out good writer, and I look forward to reading more of her books soon.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #32 How to Regain Your Virginity

A silly book that's intended to be outrageous. A few of the pieces actually are very funny, but without the pictures that accompany each piece of "advice" the pieces themselves wouldn't be all that humorous. Still, a fun read for a bored person with a sense of (sometimes naughty) humor.

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #33 The Catcher in the Rye

This can't exactly be called a bildungsroman (no matter what anyone says) because Holden does little to change as a character. He may mature slightly over the last couple pages of the book, but he's still hardly different from the person he's describing himself to be as he tells the psychoanalyst (which we don't find out until the end of the book, although it's hinted at throughout) his own story. In fact, the majority of the story is what happens to him over the course of two days after he's been kicked out of his most recent school.

What's really good about the story, though, is the slow reveal of information about Holden that helps build his character into something more than a spoiled, whiny, aimless rich kid. There's unresolved tragedy in his life and true feeling that he doesn't know how to express. Other characters who appear throughout the novel also comment on Holden's seeming inability to cease his immaturity, but, ironically, it's his little sister (which, I suppose, is part of the significance of the title of the novel) who helps him start to realize that's what he needs to do.

This is a first-person narrative with an unreliable narrator who simultaneously is good-hearted and self-centered. He also is beaten up twice (it's funny that the only two times he's ever been in a fight happen within hours of each other) and used badly by his peers, mainly because he's unable to defend himself (and doesn't really desire to, either). His self-worth had hit rock-bottom, and ultimately he has to make the decision to grow up and decide what the future will hold for him.

This is a good introduction to Salinger, as well as an accurate peek into the mind of an adolescent. I can't believe I somehow went through my teenage years without reading this!

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments #34 Book of My Nights

Another good collection of poetry from Lee. Most of these are about insomnia and either what he's thinking about which causes it (usually death) or how he feels the following day. Maybe there are a few too many unanswered questions left in the poems, maybe there are a few too many bird references, but this still is a solid group of work from Lee. He tends to go in unconventional directions, and it's those that make these poems worth the work it sometimes takes to read them.

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Dawn Michelle | 3067 comments Am going to pick up "Catcher" as soon as I can find a copy that isn't a ton of money! I am looking forward to reading this and seeing what its all about!

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Paula (paulagrin) | 148 comments I really liked it! When I told one of my SAT students I was reading it, he told me it was one of his favorite books. I can't wait to see what you think of it! And it's pretty short, too, so it shouldn't take you very long to read. :)

My copy is old; I got it at a used book sale for I think .75 about ten years ago, so you should be able to find a copy at your used book store. I'll actually be going to mine soon to drop off some books, so I'll look and see what they have there (just to look and see).

message 50: by Dawn Michelle (new)

Dawn Michelle | 3067 comments Its funny. I have looked in the used bookstore here and they are almost as much as in the regular bookstore. SOOOOOO, I am hoping to pick one up at a yard sale or a flea market or something like that.

I don't know why I veered away from it. I am actually looking forward to reading it. I also need to get "Lolita" and read that. When I found out what that was about, I was SO surprised. Everyone makes it out that the girl is the bad influence when its NOT that way at all. Interesting.

Besides all that...how's it going?

OH OH OH...BNL won a Juno (Canadian grammy's) for "Snacktime" and Steven wasn't there to accept the award with the band and from everything I have heard, the band is REALLY glad to have broken with him. I think its really sad.

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