Challenge: 50 Books discussion

Finish Line 2009! > Mary Rose's in 09 (So nice I'll do it twice!)

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message 1: by May (new)

May (twowordsnohyphen) 1) The Sword of Shannara - Terry Brooks

My Aunt bought me a few of his books for Christmas because she thinks if I like J.R.R. Tolkien, I must like all fantasy. That being said, the book was decently good. I saw the Tolkien allusions, but any author who mentions elves will most likely get compared to Tolkien, which isn't necessarily always fair.
But I think what sets Brooks slightly lower than Tolkien is his inability to tell a story with a cohesive theme. It's a good story, and the plot held my interest, but as for character development or any themes or motifs, they were few and far between. And I think it's that cohesiveness that transcends sci/fi or fantasy into something on Tolkien's level.
Overall I liked the book, but I wouldn't compare it to Tolkien in any way. It has its own separate identity, and once you stop relating it to Tolkien, it becomes a pretty good book.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 2) The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling

I dressed up for almost every book release. I cried so hard when Dumbledore died, and even harder when I finished the seventh book. I eat Harry Potter for breakfast lunch and dinner. How many stars do you think I gave this book??

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 3) The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

I gave this book five stars because not only is it wonderfully written, but it is clearly, painstakingly historically accurate. I don't recommend this book to everyone, and in fact Eco said in his post script that neither would he. He pointed out that the first 100 pages are a weeding out so to speak of readers who would not enjoy it, and he was quite right. The first 100 pages are filled with a lot of medieval church lore, sort of setting the background for why what they speak of is important.

Another thing I loved about the book is that Eco wrote it in the style of a 14th century manuscript, and it reminded me a lot of other medieval works I had to read in school. But at the same time it seemed quite relevant to what is happening in today's world.

It's the juxtapositions I love in the book: heresy vs. orthodoxy, church vs. state, light vs. dark. This is an extremely well-written and meticulous book, and I appreciate that Eco took the time to write it for nerds like me.

message 4: by Danine (new)

Danine (dulcemea) Mary Rose wrote: "3) The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

This book is also on my to read list. I enjoyed your review and am inspired to dust off my copy. :)

message 5: by May (new)

May (twowordsnohyphen) 4) The Elfstones of Shannara - Terry Brooks

This is the second in a series my aunt got me for Christmas (see the 1st post), and this book was actually better than the first. The dynamic between the characters was more interesting than the first book. It sort of had the same corny theme about believing in yourself and having self-confidence like the first, but...sometimes I like corny. And I actually didn't see the end coming, which is saying something because I can usually guess an ending. But I assumed Brooks would have a conventional and obvious end, and this ending, while in-keeping with the story line he created, I didn't think was obvious or terribly conventional. Overall, I gave it 4 stars.

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Tiffany | 1746 comments Mod
Mary Rose wrote: "3) The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

Your review has me excited (and nervous) to read this one. A friend recommended it to me years ago, and bought me a copy, but it hasn't made it to the top of my TBR list yet. After reading your review, though, I might bump it up closer to the top!

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 5) A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

I am a firm believer that the book chooses you, and you shouldn't read a book before you're ready. My theory has been further proved with this book. This was my third attempt reading it. The other two times I couldn't get past page 40. But this time, I was looking at my bookshelf, and something just clicked and out of the blue I said, I'm going to read A Tale of Two Cities.

And it was phenomenal. This was my first Dickens novel, and I really enjoyed it. The other two times I didn't notice what a sarcastic bugger Dickens is, but this time I was laughing out loud. The observations he made over 200 years ago are still true today; that's why Dickens' novels are timeless. Even though the story was old, there were a lot of modern themes. A man being persecuted for his background; trying to do the right thing. And the most modern part of the book, and why it's not traditional, is that innocence does not win out. Innocence is shown to be useless and ignorant. Sidney Carton is the ultimate anti-hero, though he finally finds redemption - but he does it through lies and underhandedness.

The only qualm I had, and apparently a lot of people had it as well, is Dickens' portrayal of women. Lucy made me want to just gag. Miss Pross was an insane caricature probably meant to be funny, but by today's standard, just sad. And Madame Desarte is the only one who had promise of being interesting, but Dickens' managed to make her static as well.

In short, Dickens' had no clue about women, but he could write the hell out of men. It's a good read, and well-deserving of being called 'classic.'

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 6) The Wishsong of Shannara - Terry Brooks

This is the third in the Shannara series that I got for Christmas, and by far my least favorite. The characters of Brin and Jair were soooooo boring. At least in the other books I thought Brooks wrote a few good foil characters, and of course the action was good, but in this one there were no good contrasts; and the action parts were few and far between long "journeying" parts.

Wishsong was a chore to read, and for about a week I questioned my love of reading, which is sad. But I finished the book because it was a present. Out of all three books, I think the second was my favorite being the right combination of fantasy, action, and (what Brooks considers) character development. This is one of those books you read and you think, "I probably could have done a better job writing this book, and definitely done a better job editing it."

But, if you're a lover of the Shannara world, by all means venture forth and read. There's a good story tucked in there somewhere, but in all 500 pages it struggles to come out.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 7) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer

After the disaster that was "Wishsong" I picked this book up because it seemed like something that almost everyone could find something in it to enjoy. I was right. It is a little mass-markety for my taste, but it was a good read.

This book's movie equivalent (not in story, or anything) is probably Beaches. A book that mostly women will enjoy, though I think a guy could find something to like too, and it's fairly cathartic (though Beaches is incredibly more sentimental). It was a nice, quick read, that keeps you smiling while you read it. A lot of people may turn their noses up at a book like this, but I think anyone who has the talent to make people smile or laugh out loud because of something on a page deserves recognition.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book is that it wasn't another WWII sob story. Note that I am not calling WWII a sob story, it was an atrocity and stain on human kind, but I think as of late there have been a lot of WWII storylines in the media - books, and movies, namely. This book wasn't like that at all. It really seemed like real, honest people talking about their lives during the Occupation on Guernsey.

The book is written in the style of correspondences between a group of people, with one author threading through the whole narrative. Shaffer has a remarkable gift to evoke different characters in each letter. This is remarkable because most authors rely on description to (sorry for the redundancy) describe the characters, but Shaffer can't really do that in the form of letters. Despite that, her characters really came to life, and I had a thoroughly good time reading her novel.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 8) Death at Intervals - Jose Saramago

At first I was really interested in the story - a country where death stopped. Ok, you've got me. So the first half of the book is sort of the social implications of what would happen if we didn't die, which was really interesting. And I was impressed that Saramago could carry a fictitious thing so completely into fruition. But then, we find out that death is a woman who is going to start killing people again, only through violet colored letters that come a week in advance. Ok, there's possibilities for that, I was still with him. Then, a letter gets returned to death, and Saramago writes 40 pages about it aaaand...he lost me. It seemed to me there were two different stories being told, each would be very interesting if flushed out - but they weren't.

His writing style was very interesting. He uses a lot of commas, so I read fast, but had to re-read because I missed things. I like a traditional grammatical work better, unless the author throws out the rules for a reason - but it didn't seem like Saramago had a reason, it seemed like he was just lazy.

The book had a lot of promise, but it didn't deliver. And by the end, I was left wondering which story he was really trying to tell.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 9) First King of Shannara - Terry Brooks

This is the last (or first technically) book in the series my aunt bought me for Christmas, and frankly I thought it was the best by far. Now, you may ask "Why did you read the prequel last?" Here's my reasoning: 1) Sometimes they're meant to be read after a series (i.e. - The Silmarillion although not a prequel per se should still be read after) 2) It was written after the series and the author did not specify that it must be read first (i.e. - The Magician's Nephew). So, I read it last, and I think there are arguments for and against this.

For: The Armageddon theme is not touched upon in detail, so that might be confusing. Brooks adds small details that only matter after reading the first one.

Against: The third book wouldn't have been so shitty if I had already read this one. There's a whole scene towards the end where you meet people and I was like, what the heck? What do they have to do with anything? And they were referenced in the prequel. But that would only have improved the third book minimally, so overall I'm for reading it last.

This was the only book (I think) where Brooks was able to do character description and not make it on some level cheesy, and it was easily relatable. The story of Tay Trewfynwood completely had my attention, and seemed very relevant and poignant.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 10) The Reader - Bernhard Schlink

I feel like I've been reading a lot of Holocaust books lately, but they've all been good so no complaints here.

The thing I really liked about The Reader was that Schlink didn't waste words, everything was very succinct; but that didn't make the book seem short or terse, it was like Schlink said everything he needed to say, and no more. It was really refreshing because the books I've been reading lately have all had ridiculous descriptions that go on for so long, but with The Reader, Schlink proved less is more. There wasn't more character description than necessary, but I got his point completely.

I also loved the moral questions he raised about Germany in post-WWII. And I liked that he left them up to us to decide. Overall, 4 stars.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 11) Rant - Chuck Palahniuk

This is my first foray into Palahniuk literature (with the exception of Fight Club the movie which is really only half an exception), and I was pleasantly surprised.

Rant is written like an oral biography, so it's just a bunch of people talking, which is originally what drew me in, and Palahniuk sort of made it seem like Rant is a serial killer, which I was also drawn to. But the end of this book was something I never could have predicted in a million years after reading the front page and the last line (which is how I decide to buy a book). I love when I have no idea what's going to happen, because that's not usually the case.

In terms of writing, stylistically it was good. Each character had their own pacing and vibe which helped me get into the story right away.

message 14: by Molly (new)

Molly | 330 comments Mary Rose wrote: "10) The Reader - Bernhard Schlink

I feel like I've been reading a lot of Holocaust books lately, but they've all been good so no complaints here.

The thing I really liked about The Reader was tha..."

What a lovely summary - makes me want to dive right in - but I'm reading Suite Francaise so I don't think I'll venture into another WW2 setting for a while.

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Mary Todd (marytodd) | 924 comments congrats on your first ten!!!

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 12) Peril at End House - Agatha Christie

This was my first foray into Agatha Christie novels. I read The Name of the Rose, and really enjoyed it. It was, in my opinion, first and foremost a mystery novel. The fact that it was set in the 1300's at a monastery is really secondary, as was the historical detail the author added - though both of those factors made the book incredibly enjoyable for me. So I thought, why not try a more traditional mystery novel? It was all right, nothing to comment about. The revelation at the end wasn't what I expected, but overall I found it mediocre.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 13) Freakonomics - Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt

Dubner and Levitt write endlessly about how their book has no unifying theme to it, and time and again I said "So what?" Who cares that it doesn't have a unifying theme? Or rather, perhaps I did see one so I didn't see what all the fuss was about. In a broad sense, the book uses hard data to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Sometimes things aren't what they seem, sometimes they actually are. Maybe that's too broad for a lot of people, but it worked for me.

I thought a lot of their arguments were interesting, and I applauded the creative use of a usually boring subject - economics. (At least I'm bored by it.) The revised edition includes a lot of stuff at the back, blog posts, notes, etc. I had no idea this book was so widely disputed and caused such a rift, especially the crime-abortion link. But I think anyone with an ounce of common sense in their head, who reads non-fiction books with a grain of salt, will find the arguments compelling and legitimately backed.

I think Levitt and Dubner relied heavily on "turning your thought upside down" but I'm fairly open-minded to any possibility, and I don't put anything past human beings. If you're like that, you might be less wowed by their findings. But, if you come from a pretty homogeneous environment, without a great deal of diversity, some things might surprise you.

message 18: by May (new)

May (twowordsnohyphen) Wow it's been a long time. I've been super busy - not busy enough not to read (never!!) but busy enough not to post or write reviews. Anyway, here are the books I read since my last post:

14) Papertowns - John Green (Nerdfighters FTW! DFTBA!!)

15) Let it Snow: Three Holiday Stories - John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle (I'd say DFTBA again but...oh what the heck DFTBA!) (Please don't judge that I read them months after Christmas...)

16) Blackberry Wine - Joanne Harris

17) The Rule of Four - Ian Caldwell

18) Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco

19) The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way - Bill Bryson

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 20) Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

The original ending was waaaaaay better, for my modern sensibilities. I guess after everything Pip goes through, I think he deserves someone better than Estella. Perhaps if I saw her suffering I would think she's good enough for Pip (not that I think he's all that great of a person, but Dickens wrote him realistically which I like). Overall it was good though, it's a testament to Dickens that something written so long ago is still relevant today,

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 21) Jazz - Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison was the first book of hers that I read. I really enjoyed it so I decided to pick up Jazz. This was definitely a let down after Song of Solomon.

Most of the time I was reading this I felt like I was reading a college student's creative writing assignment on description. Her description was great, and she excellently captured the whole feel of Jazz and that time period...but a page-turner that does not make. The story was thin. And it was upsetting because there is a more intricate story there. Maybe she's assuming that her reader picks up on her subtleties and generalities and fills the story in on their own, but I like a little direction now and then.

I probably would have given this two stars, due to lack of plot, but her excellent description and evocation of emotion saved it.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 22) Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracey Chevalier

I read a few reviews of this book that mention Chevalier's flat characters. But I didn't think they were flat, just incredibly nuanced. She stayed true to Griet's character, which may make some characters seem flat, but you have to look at them like Griet does, and then try to see them as the world might, or a third person narrator, then they were dimensional. By no means is she psycho-analyzing characters in her book, but they are by no means flat.

I also loved the relationship between Griet and Vermeer. I can see how some people could be disappointed, but I think when you meet someone who is talented like that, there is an attraction, and part of it is sexual, but part of it is...undescribable. Griet was attracted to him as a painter, not him as a man. And that dynamic was really interesting.


The only problem I have with the book, and the reason I gave it three stars and not four, was the scene where Griet lost her virginity. You're telling me that because Vermeer saw her hair, she figured she could have sex with Pietr? I see how Chevalier constructed that, but the way she executed it was incredibly lacking. I was with her up until then. I mean I was still sort of with her, but not as much as before.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 23) Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

I picked this up at my local English library, without knowing anything about the author. English books are slim pickins in South Korea, so I don't complain too much, I just shut up and read. So I was slightly surprised when the lesbian love scene occurred, because I definitely wasn't expecting that in a novel described as "Dickensian;" which, by the way, I have a problem with. Just because a novel is written about the same time period and includes characters of similar social status does NOT a Dickens novel make. That's like saying anything with Elves set in another magical world is "Tolkiensian" or whatever adjective you would derive from his name.

I suppose mostly I'm just peeved about reviews of the book that I read that described it as feminist Dickens. Oxymoron much? But I digress...

I enjoyed the story, there were a lot of twists and surprises, which is nice because I can guess the ending to many books, and I generally liked it. But (always one of those), I feel like the characters didn't really transform. I mean, their situations changed, and things happened to them, but I didn't feel like there was a soul-shaping moment for anyone. I was tempted to give this book 3 stars, but the fact that I made it all the way through definitely bumps it up to 4.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 24) Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

The only other Gaiman I've read is Good Omens, which isn't even totally Gaiman, it's half Pratchett, and Neverwhere, so I'm somewhat acquainted with his style.

That being said, I liked it. I think that's what a short story compilation should be. I don't normally like reading a book of short stories because then I feel guilt about not getting attached to any of the characters and I have trouble getting into the individual stories. I liked the Introduction at the beginning, it made me feel slightly detached from the get go, and I just read the stories as stories, not trying to identify with a character, or become psychologically wrapped up, I just escaped into each story and that was enough.

I think Gaiman's writing style also lends itself well to short stories. I read some reviews about how people thought he could be trite and smug at times, but I didn't see it. It seemed to me as though he was transcribing a story that someone was telling. Sometimes you read prose in your head and it sounds cool, but you read it out loud and it changes somehow. But with Fragile Things I felt like you could read the story in your head, but you wouldn't lose anything if you used your mouth. The book was like short story story-telling.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 25) The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

I picked this book up on a whim. I read the back of the book and it sounded kind of lame, but I figured what the heck so I opened up to the first page and I was completely captivated. But then, I love Gothic literature. I feel like this was the perfect story line to write a modern Gothic novel, because today, no one could write in the Gothic style without either a) intentionally or otherwise mocking the style, or b) being mocked endlessly by the majority of critics. It's about a woman who lives inside books, they're her world. So she's able to write somewhat Gothic-ly, but then also through the characters she's able to step outside of that style and sort of say, "Why isn't that Gothic of me?" without being pretentious or goofy.

It did take a bit before I could get behind the big unveiling of Vera Winter's secret, though. I see how everything led up to it, but when it was revealed I could help a little "...really?" escaping my mouth.

But otherwise, elegantly written, compelling, and powerful. It was a wonderful read, one of the books that I'm jealous of other people for not having had the enjoyment of reading it yet.

message 25: by May (last edited Jul 26, 2009 10:01PM) (new)

May (twowordsnohyphen) 26) Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

The only other work by Austen that I've read is (surprise surprise) Pride & Prejudice. I thought P&P was quite cleverly written and the flow and development of characters very natural.

I guess the difference, for me, between the two is that Mansfield Park seemed to be more about the story. Yes it centers on Fanny Price but, Fanny is such a demure character that everything she does is kind of boring, so other, more wily, characters were added in and at times the book as a story and the book as a character study seemed at odds with each other.

But one thing I do love about Austen is her side characters, people not in the main plot but still in the story. There are people who seem like short character sketches to me, and I enjoy them so much. They seem so accurate, and I can think of people like that, even today, which I view as an accomplishment. My favorite character from Mansfield Park was probably Mrs. Norris, in that love to hate her kind of way.

But ultimately, Mansfield is as well-written as P&P, but in my opinion, less compelling, so I gave it three stars.

27) The Gathering - Anne Enright

I picked this up randomly at a book store, read the first few pages and was on the fence, but the fact that I read not just the first page but the first several, for me means I'll be drawn in. And I was drawn in to her story. I read a lot of reviews about how depressing the book was, or it was pretentious clever writing,and I see where people are coming from. But but but, I saw truth there. The way she would describe her grief, where it lived in her body, was true for me. Her relationship with some of her siblings, also felt true to me.

I read a review that said that an author should always spell out for you what their story is about, they should give you clues or hints to direct you, but I don't think so. I think the author should write the character, and if the character doesn't help you out, then at least it's true to the author's intentions and ideas. It's funny I search for truth in fiction, but I think it's there and easier to come out sometimes.

Granted, this is a bleak story, there's little hope in sight, but I enjoyed reading the broken memories and musings of a grieving woman.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 28) Made in America - An Informal History of English in the United States - Bill Bryson

I read Bryson's other study on the English language, The Mother Tongue, previously and absolutely loved it. But, I am a huge grammar and language nerd, so loving that book isn't much of a stretch. In the Introduction of Made in America Bryson expressly tells the reader he's going to write most things through anecdotes because he found that was the best way of explaining American vocabulary. In terms of reaching the widest audience, I agree completely. The anecdotes made it easy to read so if someone is curious about American English, but is afraid of being bored or technically-termed-out, then this is the book for you. But I found towards the end of the book it was less about the language and more stories from American history that didn't bring much new knowledge of the language, but he did have some interesting stories about American figures. His first book, The Mother Tongue, was 5 out of 5 for me, but Made in America was 4 out of 5.

29) Naked - David Sedaris

This is the first Sedaris book I've ever read. After dozens of friends saying "Read this! He's hilarious," I figured I'd give it a go. I suppose I did find it funny, or I think more accurately I found it witty. So I wasn't laughing out loud as many reviewers and friends said, but I did think he was clever. As to people who hated the book because of Sedaris' personality, I think that's kind of pointless. You didn't like the stories he told about his life, ok that's fine but you have to separate that from his writing. Most writers are terrible human beings, but that doesn't stop us from loving Dickens or Hemingway. And on a personal level, I think his encounters that people so loathed, are true of so many people. Sedaris presents perfectly the mediocre America man. So be appalled at your neighbors, not at a best-selling author who dares to be average.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 30) The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

31) Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond

...I'm too hungover to review either of those books. But they were both really good.

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May (twowordsnohyphen) 32) The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

33) South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami

34) Sarah's Key - Tatania de Rosnay

35) The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart

36) Just Breathe - Susan Wiggs

37) The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan

38) The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey - Trenton Lee Stewart

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