Friday, August 27, 2010

Musings of a New Grad Student

Today marks the close of my first week as an Information and Library Science student! I have classes on Monday and Wednesday for a total of three classes and nine credits. This is considered full time for a graduate student. Wowie, am I glad I didn't sign up for more classes as I was tempted to do! The courses I'm taking are: Cultural Foundations, Conceptual Foundations and Computing Foundations.

First thoughts: *Gurgle, gurlge* I'm drowning! Presentations, interviews, assignments - already?
Second thoughts: No, it's not that bad. Thanksgiving break is only 13 weeks away. =/
Final Thoughts: If I get through next week I'll make it through the semester. If I make it through the semester I can make it through the program. So, this week and I'm set for the next two years. =)

Highlights of the Week:
  • I have some well-informed, interesting and personable teachers.
  • My classmates are also personable people and are already helping me learn things I never knew.
  • I'm learning HTML and it's fun!
Don't be surprised if my reading/reviewing pace slows considerably. However, I've got a few post ideas in the works, hopefully a guest post and a new weekly feature so, stay tuned! Oh, yeah, and there's my work space. The downside is that I don't have a desk big enough to accommodate my cluttering studying needs. The upside is I get to sit in a huge overstuffed chair which is great for reading.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Finally, I finished it! Freely admitting my laziness, here is a summary from Shelfari:
First came a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility that unleashed the product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gave way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

The first two hundred pages were painstakingly slow for me. If it wasn’t for the hype and the fact that I generally enjoy dystopias, I’d have put it down and forgotten about it. After page 400, I was more or less enjoying the read. Things keep slowly escalating but I can’t say I ever felt sucked-in until the last fifty pages.

The best parts were when the narrative broke out of the standard third person point of view for snippets of emails, journals and logs. I enjoyed these parts a lot which broke up the string of events and offered glimpses into the pre-vamp past, vamp-infested present and the suggestion of a unique unknown future.

The characters felt real to me except for the Sister Lacey – she was a mystery. I didn’t understand why she came to the U.S., why she felt connected to Amy, or what exactly her role was in the big picture. A statement on religion or religious beliefs? Maybe just about preserving innocence? I don’t know.

My favorite character was Michael or “the Circuit.” He gave me some hearty chuckles. I also really liked Peter with his self-doubt and conflicted feelings. I realize Amy is a link between everyone but, I felt the novel was really Peter’s story. By the end I was enjoying the party that forms and travels together. I’m not normally one to read for characters but I did with The Passage. I wanted to see how each character would deal with new situations. I wanted Peter to find some answers – about his family, his future and himself.

As for themes, I’m sure there plenty to be sucked out of the novel but none left as big an impression on me as the idea of camaraderie – hoping, supporting and believing in each other when there is not always a real good reason to do so.

What I feared most did happen. The novel ends with a giant teaser. After 766 pages I wanted some more wrap-up. The end was an “oh, my gosh what does that mean? What happened!” type of moment that does make me want to read the next book. After spending so much time with these characters I feel too invested in them to just leave them hanging.

Who should read The Passage: those who like a more thoughtful use of the vampire theme, those who enjoy “quest” stories or dystopias. But it’s definitely not for the faint of heart; The Passage is the first of a planned trilogy.
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 2010     Pages: 766
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Purchased on Amazon

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Winners of A Sizzlin' Summer Book Giveaway!

Thanks to all who participated! There were 106 individuals entered in the international contest and 57 for the U.S. only contest. Chosen at random from my spreadsheet using my husband's fancy calculator, the winners are...

Cherry Mischievous  -  Mockingjay (awaiting email confirmation)
Carol Wong  -  This Is Me From Now On (awaiting email confirmation)
Angela Z  -  Summer at Tiffany (awaiting email confirmation)
Kristina Barnes  -  Sapphique (awaiting email confirmation)

Congratulations to the winners!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Northanger Abbey Finale: Chapters 24-31

This post is part of a readalong and contains plot references/spoilers! Here are links to my other N.A. posts: Chatpers 1-9, 10-15, 16-23

I finished this novel while reading in the car so I didn't take any notes which means I don't have quotes or reactions to specific chapters. However, I'll give you my overall impression.

In many ways I was happy with this ending. Catherine finally realizes how absurd her gothic projections have been. She manages to learn from her mistakes and begins interpreting people and circumstances correctly.  I thought it was a sign of maturity that Catherine took Henry's mild chastisement and, realizing her errors, refused to let her imagination run wild anymore. I was worried Catherine would return to Isabella and was glad she did not renew the friendship.

Concerning the romance, I was left feeling mystified. What exactly drew Henry and Catherine together? I didn't feel privy enough to Henry's thoughts to know why he pursued Catherine. He didn't seem particularly passionate about her except at the end when he rode out to her house. Do you think Henry was motivated by love or by a desire to prove his independence to his father, the General? Perhaps a little of both? I'm thinking Henry knew he liked Catherine right away and only waited to to get to know her more before proposing. As far as I remember, Catherine was always transparent with Henry (correct me if you find places where she was not) even when it embarrassed her to be. Perhaps Henry was happy to find someone who was easy to read because she was honest - unlike the General Tilney, Captain Tilney and the Thorpes.

My favorite aspect of Northanger Abbey was Austen's way of reminding us we are reading a story and how this story differs from other Gothic novels. Austen tells us Catherine is the heroine even though she is rather ordinary. Austen tells us how anticlimactic scenes are, like Catherine's banishment from the Tilney's and uneventful journey home. It is not enough that Austen shows us these things but by telling us it reinforces the humor of each non-scary, non-special moment.

Overall, I give N.A. a thumbs up. This is my third Austen read and it did not disappoint.
Publisher:  Broadview, 2002 (originally in 1818)    Pages: 280
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Purchased from Amazon

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Mystery Cave Awaits!" or "Gone Camping!"

Be back next Tuesday night! One last hoo-rah before school! Books I'm taking: The Passage, Northanger Abbey, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Vampire Academy, The White Queen, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. Admittedly, I won't get to/through them all but I like to have options!  

A Shocking Discovery at The Book Blogger Hop

How many books do you have on your to be read shelf?
The shocking number: 130 physical books

Tis the question for this week's Book Blogger Hop and I'm a bit shocked to find this number out. What about you all? Were you shocked to know how many books are waiting to be read on your shelf? I guess when my books look all nice and organized on my shelf it's easy to forget just how many there are! They've been slowly accumulating. There are more books on my digital TBR shelf on my Shelfari and Goodreads. And I didn't count devotional type books or library books either. If I read two books a week for the next year I wouldn't get through them all! And I'm starting school soon so my leisure reading time is sure to be cut. What do I do! A few, maybe ten, of these were children's books so they'll read fast but... I fear I too have gone crazy for books! Swing by Jen's Hop post in the link above, sign up your blog, and check out other's posts to find out how many books are waiting on their TBR shelves.

So, I was supposed to have finished Northanger Abbey by today as part of a readalong. However, I haven't been able to find it for the past three, epic fail! I was looking forward to finishing it, too, so hopefully as I pack tomorrow it will turn up.

Pack? Yes, I'm going camping this weekend (leaving Sat. morning) and will be back next Tuesday night! Lots to do: dishes, grocery shopping, drop the cat off at a relative's, brother-in-laws coming to town to go with us... and I have to be up in five hours for work! I hope to finish N.A. (if I can find it) and continue working on The Passage. Okay, signing off!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Who needs college when we have Rick Riordan to educate and entertain us?

My husband took a college course this summer called “Classical Mythology” and he kept coming home boring me to death with ancient stories of gods’ family abuses, murders and intrigues. I took a course awhile back in which we read Homer’s The Odyssey, The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus (great plays, btw), and three plays by Euripides (which I also enjoyed). I even “stared” as the evil Medea in a classroom performance (in which my American Girl dolls, Samantha and Molly, played my dead babies. I dressed them in “togas” from pillow cases).

While the original Greek stories are full of drama, drama, drama The Lightning Thief offers a lighter approach to classical myths. While not a parody, The Lightning Thief was actually pretty funny.

I enjoyed Percy’s point of view as a 13-yr-old struggling with ADHD and dyslexia who finds out he’s a demigod – a child with one mortal and one immortal parent. He winds up at Camp Half-Blood (for demigods) to find himself in the middle of a family feud between the gods on Olympus. He accepts a dangerous quest to put things straight and to clear his name of theft.

Along his journey, that spans the continental United States, Percy encounters several mythological characters including Medusa (avert your eyes!), Ares (god of war), Hades (god of the Underworld) and my favorite scene of the book was with Procrustes (“The Stretcher”). Riordan brings these ancient characters into the 21st century in surprisingly clever ways while remaining true to the gods’ traits. The Greek gods are known for acting selfishly, constantly making mistakes on a colossal scale, and they are still at it in Riordan’s book.

This is a great adventure story for kids while teaching them about mythology. Why bother with Greek mythology at all? Our own society, or “Western civilization,” borrows much from the ancient Greek. From language to architecture, story-telling to mathematics, philosophy on education to government, our shared “Western” culture has been built on the work of many Greek thinkers. These myths investigate human qualities they thought were important – human qualities taken to extremes by gods, heroes and anti-heroes in order to test, if only hypothetically through story-telling, humanity’s potential strengths and weaknesses. This is just one reason why Greek stories are so interesting and still relevant.

Riordan’s story offers the best of Greek mythology. It tells us enough about a myth without revealing the often sexual/brutal natures of these myths. The book mentions that gods have affairs with mortals and sometimes between the gods. This is as racy as the book gets. I don’t think it’s any shocker to kids these days that some adults have affairs or how they complicate life.

Percy thinks he’s just a “mistake” to his immortal father (I teared up when he thought this). Other “half-bloods” struggle fitting in with step-family members. I think children occasionally feel, if only for brief moments, that they don’t belong in their family. In this way, I think any kid can identify with Percy and his desire to find “family.”

Other themes in this book are friendship (I loved Grover!), trust, betrayal and self-confidence. All around, this was a fun read. I really enjoyed the mythology and the story was original and captivating. I recommend readers be at least 9 (the vocab may challenge them but shouldn’t hinder their reading pleasure. However, plot twists may throw them). Readers may wish to keep a “glossary” of Greek names since they can be hard to keep track of. I was surprised there wasn’t one in the book.
Publisher: Hyperion Books, 2005     Pages: 377     Source: Purchased from Amazon
Rating: 4.5 Stars     Recommended Age: 9 and up

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why Even Big Wigs in Publishing Read YA Lit (and why you should, too)

Here's a sneak peak at an essay that comes out in Sunday's NYT: The Kids’ Books Are All Right by Pamela Paul. I think anyone, YA lover or not, will appreciate this short essay.

I couldn't agree more on why Young Adult Literature is such a great genre and why it's worthwhile for adults to read as well. If you're not into YA I challenge you to read this essay and see if it doesn't change your mind. Here are a couple quotes I liked:

“I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives.” Yes! It seems like so much of contemporary adult fiction has forsaken plot. Readers like it when something actually happens! The way a story unfolds and the way it is told are just as interesting as character development, language and issues explored.

Y.A. may also pierce the jadedness and cynicism of our adult selves. A clean and unfiltered perspective can do wonders for one's attitude and view of life's circumstances. Perhaps this is why children seem so hopeful?

In my opinion, childhood is not a phase of life to be forgotten. "I grew up" does not have to mean I must abandon the aspects of childhood, like innocence and curiosity, that made it such a special time of life. "Childish" characteristics can be honed and used in our adult life.

There are times in YA lit when a character freaks out about something, that he thinks is life-shattering (like who sits next to who at lunch), which is actually silly to an adult. But these situations give me perspective on things I think are a big deal. How big a deal is it if I forgot my coupons on double coupon day? How big a deal is it if the vending machine stole my change? How big a deal is it if my husband forgets to pick me up from work? Or if someone cuts me off at an intersection when I have the right of way? Adults blow things out of proportion all the time. We're not that different from teenagers and their little dramas.

So, I think there are plenty of lessons for adults to learn from children's and young adult literature. If nothing else, you'll be in for a good story!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Northanger Abbey Update: Chapters 16 – 23

This post is part of a readalong and contains plot references! For a recap of what happens in each chapter, or to find other participants' thoughts, see Jennifer’s post here.

Chapter 16: I love this quote by Catherine: “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible” (141).

Chapter 17: I couldn’t believe how carried away Catherine gets dreaming about Northanger Abbey, hoping it would be eerie and mysterious. Consider this:

Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney – and castles and abbies made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill (147).

I’m beginning to suspect Catherine only likes Tilney because he said he lives in the Abbey which she associates with her gothic novels.

Chapter 18: Isabella actually says something smart: “Modesty, and all that, is very well in its way, but really a little common honesty is sometimes quite as becoming” (149). She could stand to take her own advice. But I think Isabella’s point is that she can’t believe Catherine could be so blind as to not notice her brother’s intentions towards her.

Isabella says something shocking: “…there are more ways than one of our being sisters” (150). It appears Isabella may a) value Catherine’s friendship so much that she want to be sister either by marrying each other’s brothers or marrying the Tilney brothers or b) she’s just admitting that she is going after Captain Tilney without regard to her engagement to James. Either way, Catherine seems to miss the statement and its implications (no surprise there).

Chapters 20-21: I was smugly happy with Catherine’s disappointment with the Abbey. I thought it served her right. But she rebounds with hopes that the inside will be more to her liking. She doesn’t seem to care much about the people that actually inhabit the house which is sad.

I howled with laughter when Catherine discovered the paper in the chest was only a receipt. Is this girl going to learn her lesson in this novel or become a tragic figure after all?

Chapters 22-23: The General is seriously creeping me out. He is rather mysterious, although I think Catherine’s assumptions about him (seriously, locking up his wife?) are way off. I’m getting the heebie-jeebies… does he like Catherine? Where is Henry? He’s hardly around which makes me wonder if he really does like Catherine. I’m expecting an episode of sorts with Miss Tilney’s mother’s portrait. But that is for next week’s reading…

Book Blogger Hop gets Musical

So, for this week's Hop Jen used my question! Yippy skippy! I asked, "Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?" It really isn't a party till the music gets started!

I listen to music maybe 50% of the time when I read. When my husband doesn't have a movie going (very distracting to read to but I'm learning how to block out nearly anything) here are some tunes I like to have playing quietly in the background:

Sigur Ros is a band from Iceland with a very melodic sound. Don't try to make sense of what they're saying. In many of their songs, he isn't saying anything. Voice is just another instrument. Here's a link to one of my favorite songs by them: (it wouldn't let me embed the video).

Godspeed You! Black Emperor is from Canada and is hard to define, perhaps post-rock (what wiki tells me). They're like rock meets classical music. Most of their tracks are looong and their cd covers don't have their band name on it so you might never know who you were listening to - weird huh? Anywho, here's one of my favorites by GY!BE. It's very post-apocalyptic feeling:

Other bands I like to listen to when reading are: Thom Yorke (from Radiohead) and Bon Iver (lovely alternative music).

I hope you enjoyed my reading music. I"ll spend some time this weekend checking out everyone elses'.

In other news, I'll be posting my next Northanger Abbey update sometime this evening. I'm nearly 100 pages into The Passage and things are heating up so hopefully I'll make good progress through it this weekend (I actually have a whole weekend off work! Yay!). Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The premise of this book didn’t grab me but I’ve heard so much about Stargirl I decided to read it and now, it’s one of my favorite reads this year. A quirky girl shows up at high school, playing a ukulele and wearing crazy outfits. Leo, the narrator, falls for her. But when the school turns on Stargirl, Leo must decide how important being part of the group is to him.

This story is great! At first I was skeptical (because of the buzz) and slowly made my way through the first few pages thinking it was a cute story. But the writing was awesome and turned what was just cute into relevant and riveting. I wish more YA authors could learn to write well, truly well, because it makes such a huge difference.

Spinelli creates very real characters. I loved Stargirl and Leo! From the independent spirit to the pack follower, the miss populars to the loners, Leo and Stargirl experience a range of statuses and emotions that any teenager can identify with at some point.

Once I got into the story (it didn’t take long) I could not put it down. I was rooting for Stargirl. I didn’t want to see her sacrifice herself to fit in with the crowd. I was often upset with Leo for pressuring Stargirl to do so. But I could totally understand where Leo was coming from. It’s not easy to stand out sometimes. And it’s not always easy to stand with a friend who is a target. I loved the Ocotillo dance scene! It was probably my favorite part. I liked the ending and think it felt natural.

For such a short novel this story packs a punch. It’s funny and cute while addressing a very real issue for teens – pack behavior vs. independence and the cost of each. I highly recommend this book for teens or anyone looking for a fun summer read.
Publisher: Knopf, 2000     Pages: 186     Age Recommendation: 12 and up
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: garage sale (I can’t believe someone got rid of this book)