Some new challenges & events

There are some wonderful events and challenges coming up that I am really excited about.  First up, The Steampunk Challenge, hosted by The Bookeeper.

What is steampunk, you may ask? In a nutshell, it is

a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

New Oxford American Dictionary

From what I could tell, there are no levels, which I like.  I hope to read two books, possibly more, within the next year, as this challenge runs October 2010-October 2011.  The only book I know for sure I want to read is Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield.

Did you sign up for The Steampunk Challenge?  If so, what are you reading?  If not, please feel free to toss some suggestions my way anyway!

The YA-D2 challenge hosted by Bart of Bart’s Bookshelf! This is the second year I am signing up for this challenge.  I have been reading much YA dystopian fiction of late, so this is the perfect excuse to dive back in.  I hope to complete level 2, which means I am attempting to read 2-4 books from October 1-December 19, 2010.  I plan to read some, or all, of the following books.

The Dead and the Gone, Susan Beth Pfeffer

The World we Live in, Susan Beth Pfeffer

A Killing Frost, John Marsden

How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff

Beyond those three, I am not completely sure what else to add to my list.

Did you sign up for YA-D2?  If so, what are you reading?  If not, please feel free to toss some suggestions my way anyway!

Last, but certainly not least, is Dewey’s 24 hour read-a-thon, which commences a week from this coming Saturday, on October 9. Don’t you love that button?

I am busy compiling my list.  It is probably at least 10 books deep right now.  I have been busing coming up with YA and graphic novels to buttress my pile with, as those seem to be two genres that work really well with the read-a-thon.

I am not going to post my read-a-thon pile until late next week, but I am excited to hear what you’re considering reading for the read-a-thon!

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Book Review: Fingersmith

Fingersmith

Sarah Waters

Penguin Group

592 pages

Sue Trinder lives in Victorian London with her “adopted” family, who makes a living by thieving, a trade which Sue is readily a part of.  Sue’s mother was out to death by hanging, so Sue has always considered herself part of a seedier society.  She is close to Mrs Sucksby, who she considers a mother figure, and other than their profession, life is pretty normal for Sue.  Or at least relatively so!  That all changes when Gentleman comes along.

Gentleman is known by Sue, Mrs Sucksby and the rest of the “family” as he dabbles in their trade and shows up quite often at their home.  One particular night when he shows up though, his objective is to get Sue on board with a scheme of his.  Gentleman is currently working as a tutor in the country home of a man and his wealthy niece, Maud Lilly.  Maud cannot receive her inheritance unless she is married.  As is well known of the time period, this really means her husband will inherit the money, which is all a part of Gentleman’s grand plan.  He wants Sue to come to the home as Maud’s maid and act as a go between for himself and Maud, all the while encouraging Maud to accept his favor.  In turn, he will convince Maud to marry him and become the controller of her fortune.  For her part, Sue will be rewarded with a fraction of the Lilly fortune.

The synopsis I gave you only begins to cover a few pages of what becomes one of the most plot riddled books of all time.  I mean that only in a good way.  Fingersmith can easily be equated to a roller coaster ride, because that is what it feels like.  The twists and turns that are thrown at the reader make it a thrilling book, with the reader having absolutely no idea what will be hurtled their way next.  It was the type of book that I would be gasping in shock through, which, who doesn’t love that!

The gothic element in Fingersmith is unparallel and is what Waters does best.  The grittiness of living in Victorian London coupled by the gloominess of Maud’s mansion was so palpable.  I felt like I was actually living there, completely involved in the story.  And I wanted to be there!

Sue and Maud were both such real characters.  The development was superb and they were both sympathetic despite their obvious faults.  In fact, I couldn’t decide who I cared for more.  I am pretty sure the honor would have to go to Sue though, as she was so misguided yet she never gave up.  Gentleman, on the other hand, was a complete lost cause.  You would be hard pressed to find a villain more vile than he.

Is it just me, or does it seem like I write the shortest reviews for the books I love the most?  The problem with writing a review for Fingersmith is that it is so good, you want to encourage everyone to read it, while not spoiling any of it.  I feel like it is best to write the barest of reviews while just expounding, over and over again, the fact that this is an excellent, phenomenal book.  This one will definitely be included in my Best of 2010 category.

Other Reviews:

Caribous Mom

You’ve GOTTA Read This!

Care’s Online Book Club

Rhapsody in Books

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Book Lust

things mean a lot

A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook

Eclectic/Eccentric

The Zen Leaf

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble.

This book counts towards the Women Unbound challenge and the GLBT challenge.


Book Review: The Sealed Letter

The Sealed Letter

Emma Donoghue

Mariner Books

416 pages

Helen Codrington and Emily “Fido” Faithfull are the best of friends.  They’ve certainly had ups and downs in their friendship, but who hasn’t? Helen has been away in Malta for seven years when she returns in 1864 and runs into Fido in England .  The two pick up right where they left off and quickly become close again.  Fido is well aware that Helen’s marriage to Admiral Codrington was on rocky territory when she last saw the couple in 1857, but she is hopeful that they have turned over a new leaf.  Oh, how wrong she was!

Fido soon discovers that not only has the marriage not improved, but Helen has started behaving in a licentious way.  She is having an affair with one of her husband’s colleagues and goes so far as to have relations with him in Fido’s own home.  Fido has long been for the rights of women, especially when it comes to the idea of women having gainful employment.  She owns a press that runs a women’s magazine and thus seems to be someone ahead of the fold.  However, when it comes to real life, Fido is pretty innocent and naïve.  She is shocked at Helen’s behavior but is quick to believe all of the rigmarole and excuses that Helen tosses to her left and right.  Helen’s husband, the Admiral Codrington, is a tad brighter than Fido however, and he begins to see Helen for the master manipulator that she is.

Admiral Codrington catches Helen in a lie one night, and instantly his suspicion is alight.  He has someone follow her for days in the hopes of discovering whether or not she has retained her virtue.  As I am sure you can imagine, he hits pay dirt.  Enter one of the more notorious divorce trials of the Victorian era.  Once the Admiral discovers the siren ways of his wife, he wants a divorce.  It’s not that easy in Victorian England though.  While the man obviously has the upper hand, he has to prove his wife’s ills without himself being guilty of causing her behavior.  If the Admiral can convince the jury that Helen behaved the way she did through no fault of his own, he would be granted a divorce and never have to pay Helen a dime, nor let her see their two daughters.  Should it be found that his actions did, at least somewhat, warrants Helen’s behavior, then they would only be granted a legal separation.  Obviously the latter is much more beneficial to Helen, and she sets about doing whatever she can to ensure that her husband will not be 

Fido gets caught in the middle of the warring couple and is forced to discover that her true friend may not be the person Fido originally thought she was.

I finished this book in bed one night.  I was tired and should have fallen fast asleep the second my eyes closed, but I could not stop thinking about this book.  It was such a catch-22.  I loathed Helen.  It would be impossible not to.  She willingly steps all over anyone she can in order to get what she wants.  She knows Fido is a faithful friend, and she uses that to her best advantage.  And yet . . . maybe Helen has no other choice.  Is she not just a product of her times?  She has absolutely no options open to her.  She’s unhappy in her marriage and seeks contentment elsewhere.  For that, she is cut off from her lifestyle and children forever.  It seems grossly unfair to me.  That being said, she put herself in an even worse position by casting out everyone that loved and cared for her.  Even her husband wasn’t a bad guy.  So as you can see, either way Helen was damned.  That doesn’t excuse her behavior, but maybe it mitigates it just a little.

The Sealed Letter is based on a true story.  Donoghue did a fantastic job weaving fact and fiction together.  It can be difficult to tell a true story while still injecting enough fiction into it to interest the reader.  In comparing this book to another book of the same nature, 31 Bond Street , by Ellen Horan, Donoghue’s effort is much greater and more successful.  I just felt that she used every scrap of truth when possible, and I really appreciate that.

If you’re a fan of Victorian based literature, you must check out Donoghue.  She reminds me a bit of Sarah Waters and the other book I’ve read of hers, Slammerkin, is exceptional.  I can’t wait now to read Room!

Other Reviews:

A Bookworm’s World

So Many Books, So Little Time

Tiny Little Reading Room

I bought this book, most likely from Barnes & Noble, although I can’t be 100% sure.

This book counts towards the Women Unbound Challenge.  Given that it won the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for best lesbian fiction, I suppose it also counts towards the GLBT challenge.



RIP V

Yes, it is that time of the year again!  Did autumn sneak up on you this year?  Because I feel like summer just started! No matter though, because I am ready to whip out my footie pajamas and lounge on my couch with a good book and some hot apple cider!

So for this challenge, I decided to go for Peril in the First.  I waffled back and forth, unsure if I would finish four books but I figured I would go for it and if I don’t read four, oh well–it certainly won’t be the first challenge where I fall short!

To qualify for this challenge, a book must meet at least one of the following categories.

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

As for my tentative list, here it is–

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness

The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters

Faithful Place, Tana French

Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt

Obviously my list is subject to change, as it typically does.

I am super excited to start this challenge.  For anyone who would like to join, you can find the sign ups here.

Book Review: Shortcomings

Shortcomings

Adrian Tomine

Drawn & Quarterly

104 pages

Ben Tanaka is a your typical twenty something.  He lives with his girlfriend Miko in San Francisco and works as a manager in a move theater.  He is not quite content with his life though.  Miko is doing her best to keep their relationship alive, but Ben is having none of it. He puts no effort into his relationship, yet is suprised when Miko decides to move to New York for film school.

Although he was against her leaving, Ben is quite the playboy.  In fact, one of the issues in his relationship with Miko is the fact that he has an attraction to “white” girls, ie non Asians. He quickly tries to pick up a young girl who works in the same movie theater as he does.  When that doesn’t work, he moves onto a bisexual woman, who ends up dumping him to return to her ex girlfriend.  Eventually Ben realizes he misses Miko, so he follows her to New York . . .

My experience with graphic novels is extremely minimal, so I am still finding my ground and discovering what I enjoy.  I enjoyed Shortcomings immensly.  I am always amazed at how much can be conveyed through a short graphic novel, and this was no exception.  I was completely drawn into Ben’s life and his relationships.  I rooted for him but I also chastised him.  Like a lot of twenty something men, Ben had no idea of what he wanted and was not mature enough to give Miko the respect she deserved, even if he was unable to provide her with a loving relationship.

Shortcomings has only whetted my appetite for more graphic novels.  I would also be interested in reading more of Tomine.

Other Reviews:

Avid Book Reader

Booklust

The Zen Leaf

Jenny’s Books

I borrowed this book from my local library.

This book counts towards the GLBT challenge.

Book Review: Dismantled

Dismantled

Jennifer McMahon

Harper

432 pages

So I think we’re all familiar with the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  I hate to say it, but when applied literally to actual books, it’s hard NOT to.  So I admit it, and I am not ashamed at all—I always judge a book by its cover!

Dismantled is the perfect example of how I am affected by covers.  I saw it and I instantly wanted to read it. The girl on the cover looks both a little bit creepy and a little forlorn. And it seems more artistic than just a cutesy little girl.

The premise of the book makes it even better.  You have four college friends—Suz, Winnie (fka Val), Henry and Tess—who call themselves the Compassionate Dismantlers and spend the summer after graduation together in a little ramshackle cabin living in the middle of the woods in Vermont.  To understand what the Dismantlers are all about, here’s their creed—

To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart

And there you have it.  They like to dissect, perform arson and basically just mess with people.  In fact, I wasn’t a big fan of the Dismantlers.  Suz was the group leader and to say she cared little about anyone else’s feelings would be putting it mildly. She just seemed like a raging bitch who expected everyone to bow down to her as she trampled all over them.  I am guessing it was some type of insecurity but I didn’t feel like the reader was given enough personal information about her to make a judgment either way.  I’ll just say that she had me more frustrated and irritated than any other character I’ve read about in a long time.  Any one else have that reaction?

Ok, so all of a sudden the Dismantlers summer ends in a horrible, tragic way with the death of Suz.  Obviously part of the mystery to the reader is how did she die? Why?  McMahon kept us in suspense!  All we know is that Tess and Henry, now the married parents of a nine year old named Emma, feel an enormous amount of guilt over what happened to Suz.  So when she all of a sudden seems to be haunting them, they try hard to ignore it while still coming to terms with what happened ten years earlier.

Did I like this book?  Honestly, I am not quite sure.  As far as a mystery goes, it was actually pretty sucky if you want my opinion.  Did I see it coming?  No.  The things that were happening though were so wacky and hard to string together though that I really couldn’t fathom what was going on.  It seemed like a novice’s attempt at writing a mystery.  I found the book readable and, like I was telling my sister, it reminded me of The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, albeit a subpar version.  Even so, it had that comparison going for it.

In a nutshell, I really disliked two of the main characters (Winnie and Suz), while I felt that Henry and Tess were both too passive.  For instance, their marriage is falling apart but they keep expecting the other person to make a move to fix things.  And then you have the unbelievable twists and turns of the story.  So while entertaining, this book definitely had some major flaws for me.  Even so, I would recommend it as a great summer read.

Other Reviews:

The Book Zombie

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Lit & Life

Bookalicious

Chick with Books

drey’s library

I borrowed this book from my local library.

This book counts towards the Debutante Ball challenge!


Book Review: Rubyfruit Jungle

Ruby Fruit Jungle

Rita Mae Brown

Bantam

256 pages

Where to start with this one . . . ?  I can’t say what drew me in about this book but it has been on my radar for years.  I have never really read a book focused entirely on a woman who is coming into her sexuality and discovers she is a lesbian.  Such is the case with Molly Bolt.  Molly is growing up in a rural area and from the start of the book, despite the fact that she is not even a teenager yet, she is a very sexual person.  Her actual experience begins when she has sex with her cousin Leroy, although, not to worry, they are not technically related since Molly is adopted.  Molly doesn’t seem to get much pleasure out of her trysts with Leroy and she begins to also hook up with a girl her age, which she finds much more appealing.  Eventually, right before Molly moves to FL at the end of sixth grade, she is able to spend the night at her friend’s house and things turn even more heated.

Eventually, during college, Molly’s sexuality is thrown out into the open after she and her roommate are caught in a compromising situation.  This being a few decades ago, her college does not take the matter lightly and they withdraw Molly’s scholarships so that she is unable to continue with her schooling.  She returns home to her mother in FL but is immediately thrown out onto the streets because her mother is unable to abide by Molly’s sexuality.  Molly moves to NY and meets women while working to make ends meet and hopefully fulfill her dreams of being a film maker.

Molly is a likeable character.  She is full of sass and very headstrong—definitely a leader.  She is very matter-of-fact and doesn’t take crap from anyone, which constantly causes her to butt heads with her mother Carrie.  The ridicule Molly faces for being a lesbian would get most people down but she didn’t even flinch.  Her devil may care attitude really helped her achieve her dreams and continue living the way she wanted to live despite the oppressiveness she faced due to her sexuality.  However, she is very cavalier about sex to the point where she never really has a relationship with anyone—it’s just all about the sex.

Rubyfruit Jungle was kind of like soft core porn in the sense that the whole book revolved around sex.  It was as if the entire book were written around the sex scenes.  Personally, I have no issues with sex scenes in books—it makes no difference to me whether there is sex or not but in this book, there just didn’t seem to be much substance.  That is a shame because Brown touched on so many issues that really affect the GLBT community but none of those themes were really built up in the book.

Rubyfruit Jungle left much to be desired.   It is worth reading if you are interested in GLBT issues and it is a great choice for the GLBT challenge but the execution just wasn’t there.

Other Reviews:

Bryan’s Book Blog

I borrowed this book from my local library.


This book counts towards the GLBT challenge hosted by Amanda at The Zen Leaf.