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2013
January
<a href="http://buecherwald.livejournal.com/21549.html><i>The Turning,</i> Francine Prose</a>

The Turning by Francine Prose

I went to Barnes & Noble recently to buy a copy of The Fault in Our Stars for a school friend, and I decided to spend a bit of time browsing.  I wanted something new to read--I've not read anything besides fanfiction since the start of this past summer, and it was time to read an actual book--and decided on The Turning by Francine Prose.  I recognized the author's name, but only placed it when I returned home and Googled, discovering that Prose wrote After, a book I read back in 2008.  I remembred only half-liking After, but decided to read The Turning anyway.

The epistolary novel opens with Jack writing a letter to his girlfriend Sophie from the ferry that will take him to his summer job.  For the next two months, Jack will be looking after two children who live on a secluded island with no internet, no phone reception, and no television.  He's optimistic about the summer, if only because it's his one chance to raise enough money to attend college with Sophine once they're out of high school.

Once on the island, however, Jack's letters are filled with the strangeness of the house and the children there.  He speaks of unspoken secrets, of eerie dreams, of locked rooms and faces peering through windows.  And as his letters become more erratic and his days stranger, he's left to wonder: what secrets does this island keep, and what horrors is he about to discover?


Further thoughts . . . Collapse )

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

One day, back last spring, I was wandering through Barnes & Noble when I noticed a book called 13 Reasons Why. It was still in hardcover and I had absolutely no money to my name, but I desperately wanted to buy it. I picked it up, carried it around, and ended up putting it back before I left.

This summer, when I moved to Topeka, I checked 13 Reasons Why out of the library. I intended to read it, along with the other half-dozen books in the stack I checked out, but then school started and I just didn't have time. I returned it, reluctantly, and carried on my way.

Which meant that it was one of the first books I purchased for my Kindle.

13 Reasons Why is about a boy. A boy named Clay, who comes home from school one day and finds a package on his front porch, addressed to him. When he opens it, he discovers that it's a series of seven cassette tapes, their sides numbered. There's no note, no explanation, so he does what any teenage boy would: he pops one in his dad's tape deck and pushes play.

And discovers that the tapes are from a classmate. Not a big deal, right?

Except for the fact that, a few weeks earlier, that classmate had killed herself.

Through one night and seven tapes, Clay is lead on a journey. His friend's last journey, where he might find out the reasons why she killed herself.

Further thoughts....Collapse )

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

It's hard to qualify The Woman in White.

It's one part social drama, one part mystery, one part love story, one part sneaky conartistry. It's life and death and mistaken identity, it's nefarious purposes and clever criminals, it's bright shining stars and little white lies -- all wrapped up in a single book. I'll do my best to do it justice, but I probably won't be able to.

Walter Hartright, a drawing-master and teacher, is out of work and a little downtrodden about it when a friend sets him up with a job in the country. The night before he leaves, however, he runs into a woman in the road, dressed all in white, who tells him the story of how kindly she was treated in the same town, when staying at the very house Walter's about to be delivered to. Before he can find out more about the woman, she disappears into the hubbub of London, and Walter carries on to Limmeridge House. There, he meets the beautiful Laura and her clever half-sister Marian, and is pulled into an eddy of remarkable events that extend to an engagement set up by Laura's father, an Italian count, ten thousand pounds, and the secret held by the woman in white.

Told in narratives by all the main (and less-main!) characters, the story spans months, cities, plot twists, and answers the question: who is this woman in white, and why is another of the characters so afraid of her?

Further thoughts....Collapse )
As many of you can guess about me -- mostly because I'm sure many of you are like this in your own lives -- there are more books on my shelf than I have time to read. I have a habit of going to a bookstore to browse and leaving two at least two novels; the only thing that's improved this, really, is that I no longer live down the street from Changing Hands. The problem is that I read less now that I've started law school (as you've probably noticed) and still keep acquiring books. Something must be done!

Which is when batteredhaggis pointed me to this challenge she found. Needless to say, I was in.

Off The Shelf!

The goal? Starting January 1st, for an entire year, read as many books that you already own but have not yet read as humanly possible. You can buy new books, but you can't count them for the challenge. There are various "levels" of the challenge, but instead of setting a number, I went through my bookshelves today and came up with the books I most want to read. This list is by no means exhaustive -- I would say it is about half of the books I own but haven't read -- but they are the ones that when I went around, I said, Yes. Yes, those.

I will add some depending on what books (if any) I get for Christmas, given that I asked for a handful from my mother. (She enjoys buying me books because I am one of roughly two people in our entire extended family who reads.)

The list is below the cut, not in the order I intend to read them. Though The Woman in White is the book I'm letting myself start after finals, so it may be off the list before January 1.

Thirty-five titles.Collapse )

Fun facts about the list (because you know you're curious):
+ Seven are non-fiction, two are memoir.
+ Five are considered "young adult" novels.
+ Six adult novels are fantasy, one is a mystery.
+ Five are considered "classics".
+ Seven are in hardback, ten were bought used, two are hand-me-downs, and three were gifts.
+ While I have read other books by eleven of the authors, there are only two repeat authors on the list.
+ Fourteen are by women, and twenty-one by men.
(And please don't trust my counting too much, I'm not very good at it!)

Othello & Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Haunt Me Still put me in the mood to interact with the Bard, so I checked out both Othello and Macbeth from the Topeka public library. The former was checked out mostly because batteredhaggis told me to, and the latter because Macbeth is featured heavily in Carrell's book, but they had themes in common (such as manipulative people who destroy other peoples' happiness and, eventually, their own. An accidental little connection, I promise, but one that kind of worked out anyway.

I'm not going to bother writing long reviews of these, given that they are Shakespearean plays, but suffice to say I enjoyed both of them quite a bit!

Othello tells the story of Iago, a manipulator of the highest degree who endeavors to convince Othello, a Moor who is a high-ranking officer in the army, that his new wife Desdemona is cheating on him. Using everyone he comes in contact with, including men who are ostensibly his friends and his wife, "honest Iago" manufactures events and coincidences that convince Othello his wife has slept with one of his most trusted soldiers, and then tries to arrange that every one of the people he used ends up dead. Everyone who trusts him as an honest, good man -- the whole cast -- is deceived until his endgame goes awry. He never explains fully his motivations -- did he hate Othello? Did he love Desdemona? Did he have a problem with their interracial marriage? Was he defending a friend? -- and ends the play taking a vow to never explain them. HE is, without a doubt, one of the more complicated villains in literature, two-faced enough that I in part finished the play wondering what exactly compelled him to do what he did, and ruin the lives around him so blithely and completely.

On the subject of villains, Macbeth's Lady Macbeth is far more manipulative and black-hearted reading her as an adult than when I read Macbeth when I was in the fifth grade. When Macbeth, a Scottish thane, is told by three witches that he will someday be King of Scotland, his wife is the one who comes up with the plan to kill the current king, and to frame his guards, and is the one who sets him down the path to ruin. She constantly snaps him back on his path to ruling even when he wavers, and says that she would have done the killing herself if he didn't look so much like her father. But the problem with her actions is that they drive her mad, much like the prophecy Macbeth hears from the witches -- that he will be king, but king without heirs to follow him -- becomes self-fulfilling. Ruining Duncan ruins Macbeth, who is killed and beheaded months after taking the throne. I ended up wondering if maybe the ultimate manipulators were the witches, who set the entire series of events in motion.

I am not generally a big fan of Shakespeare's tragedies -- I've always preferred the comedies -- but more than Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet, these two are solid plays I deeply enjoyed, even if they were, essentially, about the badguys.

Haunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carrell

A year and change ago, I read a lovely little gem of a book called Interred With Their Bones. Part The DaVinci Code-style thriller and part Shakespeare-heavy quasi-scholarship, it featured the accidental heroine Kate Stanley as she tried to track down a missing Shakespeare manuscript. When I heard Carrell was writing a sequel, I was intensely excited. Even as the sequel was delayed, once and then again, I prepared myself for a rollicking, suck-you-in adventure like Kate's first.

Haunt Me Still opens with Kate headed to Scotland, where she's been made an offer she can't refuse: direct a production of the Scottish play, Macbeth, using some of the finest actors in the world -- and starring, in part, elusive actress Janet Douglas who was set to play Lady Macbeth forty-some years ago before she disappeared from the public eye forever. On the eve of rehearsals, though, strange things start happening at the castle (rumored to be that of the actual Macbeth, centuries earlier) that Douglas calls her home: Kate has strange dreams, blood covers the hilltop, and a knife that history forgot appears. When murders and kidnappings start to point to a manuscript of Macbeth no one has ever seen, Kate is sent on a wild goose chase four hundred years in the making, hoping to find papers that never existed.

And save a life.

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Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I love YA books, which we've already firmly established, especially ones with wit and charm. It's why I reread The Westing Game as often as I do, why The GiverS is a book that always warms my heart, why I devoured Nick Hornby's Slam, and why I bitterly disdain the whole "vampire" fad that's taken over in the last few months. I'm perpetually on the lookout for interesting, amusing, fun YA literature, so when a friend recommended Skulduggery Pleasant to me months ago, I kept looking for a used copy at the used book store. I found one just before moving to Kansas last week and swore to take it with me and read it on the car ride.

I obviously didn't read it in the car, but I did read it in my apartment.

Skulduggery Pleasant is a detective. And a sorcerer. And a skeleton. As you take this all in, consider: Stephanie Edgley's uncle has died and she's been left his fortune. When she spends the night in his house, alone, she's attacked by a strange man asking her for a key, and the man who comes to her rescue is Skulduggery Pleasant, a walking, talking, animated, intelligent, magic-wielding skeleton. Consider also that there's a world of magic and mysteries she's never known existed all around her, and that she wants to get to the bottom of this attack -- and her uncle's death -- as much as Skulduggery does. What you get, then is a girl and her skeleton, off to save the world.

A typical YA setup, really.

Which is the problem.

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The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

When I was in elementary school, I was in a gifted-student pull-out group called "Challenge." (This created some confusion when, in middle school, I discovered that all the other gifted programs in the district were called "enrichment" and that "challenge" sounded like "challenged" and led people to assume I was in another kind of resource room three times a week.) Amongst all our other crazy projects and assignments, part of what we did in there was read and discuss various books. I don't remember all of them we read, but we did Anne of Green Gables, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Giver, The Lemming, Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, and, in fifth grade, an edited version of Macbeth. I enjoyed most of these books but the one I always wanted to read was one that my teacher skipped for us. (She liked to rotate the books in and out.) I mostly wanted to read it, I admit, because she had the students keeping track of things on note cards and they had a dedicated bulletin board to it and I was kind of jealous.

I decided to read the book myself a few years later, and it was instantly my favorite book. I bought a copy for myself and read it several times in a row. The copy got battered so I replaced it with a new one in college and read it a couple more times between then and about a year ago. Because a year ago, I was taking it home from school to reread and, when I got my bag in the house, it wasn't there. I thought I left it at school accidentally, but no. I wondered if I'd dropped it, or lost it, or something else entirely. Imagine my surprise when I found it under the back seat of my car a couple weeks ago! I purposely squirreled it away for reading on this trip, because I read fast and know the book well.

The Westing Game is about sixteen people and an eccentric millionaire. When Sam Westing dies, he calls sixteen people to his estate for the reading of his will. They range from a restaurant owner to a judge to a thirteen-year-old girl, from a bird-watcher to a dress-maker to a young bride-to-be. And one is a bomber, one is a thief, one is a bookie, and one is a mistake. No matter their titles, though, they are all told they are heirs to Westing's two-hundred-million dollar fortune and his empire of paper products as long as they can solve the mystery of his death: who among them, these sixteen near-strangers, took his life? With each of them assigned a partner and a few cryptic clues, the heirs find themselves struggling to answer Westing's question and win his high-stakes game, one he seems to be pulling the strings in, even from the grave.

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