Sunday, October 23, 2011

Read-a-Thon: Hour 24

Which hour was most daunting for you?
The ones at the beginning- I hate getting up early!

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Mysteries are always good- Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, that sort of thing.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
None- I always enjoy it!

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I love the books read database, and I'd like to be able to see it.

How many books did you read?

What were the names of the books you read?
Cargo of Eagles- Margery Allingham
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For- Alison Bechdel
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother- Amy Chua
The Butterfly Cabinet- Bernie McGill
Death of a Travelling Man- M.C. Beaton

Which book did you enjoy most?
Death of a Travelling Man

Which did you enjoy least?
Cargo of Eagles

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I often have a hard time with the spring one, as responsibilities mean I have little of the day to devote to reading, but I'll be here next fall!

Read-a-Thon: Hour 23

It's hour 23 and I'm still reading! Now working on Margery Allingham, Cargo of Eagles.

Read-a-Thon: Hour 20

I'm still here! It's hour 20 and I'm still reading. I'm nearly done Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I've been enjoying it. My goal is now to finish this book and one other before the readathon's end.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Read-a-Thon: Hour 19

It's hour 19 and I'm still reading. I've also eaten too many M&M cookies (bleh.) I've finished three books, and now I'm reading Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which has caused so much controversy. It's really interesting!

Read-a-Thon: Hour 16

I'm at hour 16 and I've finished two books:

Death of a Travelling Man by M.C. Beaton
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel

The mini-challenge for this hour is rereads. I must admit, I am not one to reread books. There's so many unread books I want to get through, that I don't like to spend my reading time on re-reads. That said, I have lately been rereading some favorite books from my youth. This year I've been focusing on the Nancy Drew series. I read all of them when I was young, and now I'm going back through them slowly. I'm shocked by how outdated they are; they never seemed so outdated when I was a kid (even though that was in the eighties and many of them were written in the 30s and 40s.) Still, it's fun to revisit what I enjoyed as a child.

Read-a-Thon Hour 15

I've not been blogging very much this readathon, in part because I prefer to spend the time reading. I've also been mixing some other responsibilities with my reading: some time at the ice rink, and I took a nap, because I want to make it to the bitter end. I'm now in the middle of three books, all of which I hope to finish in the next two hours:

The Butterfly Cabinet, by Bernie McGill
Death of a Travelling Man by M.C. Beaton
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel

I'm also watching Skate America (figure skating competition) while reading.

Having fun thus far- will soon be making dinner.

Read-a-Thon: Hour 3

It's hour three, and I'm participating in the book puzzle mini challenge. My puzzle describes the book I'm currently reading. Have a guess:

Read-a-Thon: Hour 1

It's 5am in the Pacific Northwest, and here I am starting another readathon. I am not a morning person, so...yawn. The coffee is brewing.

Here's my answers to the opening meme:

1)Where are you reading from today?
Washington State, USA

2)Three random facts about me…
I'm a figure skater (in fact, I'll be going to the rink later, with a book)
I teach history
My favorite color is lavender, but you might have guessed that from my blog.

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
Too many, at least 10.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
No, it's much less daunting if I just plan to read.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
Have tasty snacks. Read the sort of books you normally plow through and can't stop.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Nothing to Envy

This book had a profound effect on me. Like many, I came to this book with little knowledge of North Korea, aside from what is on the news. And that's no accident, the country is highly secretive. This is what makes Demick's book so groundbreaking. By interviewing six defectors Demick is able to offer an unprecedented look into the lives ordinary people live in this communist dictatorship.

The stories in this book present a country where millions suffer from miserable deprivation. People are starving, reduced to eating grass and tree bark. Most of the country no longer has electricity. Pervasive malnutrition has collectively stunted the country's growth.

Meanwhile, the North Korean government offers a program of constant brainwashing, requiring constant supplication to the leadership. Detractors are sent to gulags, as are their relatives. The government practices a policy of "tainted blood," suggesting that any malcontent had tainted the blood of their family by three generations, meaning that grandparents and grandchildren are also undesirables needing eradication.

Demick's care and persistence in collecting these stories is admirable. Even more so is the courage of these North Koreans to tell their stories. Their families have faced retribution for their decision to leave. It is truly astonishing the level of isolation and brainwashing that the government has managed to accomplish. This is important reading for everyone. Such shocking human rights abuses must be made public.

Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel and Grau, 2009) ISBN: 0385523904

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: Death of a Glutton

A conference descends on Lochdubh's hotel, and shenanigans abound. The conference is a matchmaking weekend, a dating agency's attempt to match up its most difficult clients. Things seem promising to the potential lovebirds. All hope turns to despair when the agency's unpopular co-owner, Peta Gore, arrives and ruins everyone's good time. Peta is an enormous glutton, shoveling in all edibles within a hundred foot radius. She manages to disgust everyone. When Peta turns up dead, trussed like a roast pig with an apple in her rmouth, no one is particularly sorry. Still it falls to Hamish Macbeth to investigate.

I found this installment in the Hamish Macbeth series quite entertaining. Peta Gore is an amusing character, and I was excited to discover who had actually killed her. Beaton manages to maintain a comic tone while creating an killing off an entirely unsavory character. I would certainly recommend this one.

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Glutton (St. Martins, 1993) ISBN: 0312087616

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Chile Death

China Bayles is a former trial lawyer turned herbalist, and this installment in the series finds her investigating the death of an unpopular insurance salesman with a peanut allergy. During a chili cook-off Jeff Cody ingested some chili laced with peanuts, leading to a quick demise. Some think death is an unfortunate accident, but China is convinced otherwise.

During the investigation China is also dealing with her boyfriend's recovery from a gunshot wound. The nursing home where he is recuperating seems suspicious to China, opening another possible mystery. Signs of possible abuse and a very evasive director keep China attuned.

This book is definitely light reading, but it was mostly enjoyable. One of the things I like about this series is that China is a former lawyer, her boyfriend is a cop, and they collectively have more respect for law, police procedure, and due process than one generally finds in a cozy mystery. This is not the sort of book in which a random knitter, barista, antiques seller, or other such character mishandle evidence and take over a murder investigation. That was refreshing. I'm sure I'll read more in the series when I'm looking for light entertainment.

Susan Wittig Albert, Chile Death (Berkley, 1999) ISBN:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Down from Cascom Mountain

This is a novel about grief and about moving on after a loss. Mary and Michael Walker arrive on Cascom Mountain in New Hampshire to spend the summer at Mary's childhood home. Mary has deep roots attaching her to the mountain, Michael is a newcomer. Just days into their summer Michael falls off one of the mountain's cliffs. Mary is left widowed. When Michael's estranged father arrives he and Mary, along with several alienated teenagers working on the mountain for the summer, start to forge connections and work out their problems.

This was a perfectly acceptable book, but nothing really stood out about it. I was never especially invested in Mary or Callie, Mary's teenage friend. The most interesting character in the book is Tobin, a bright but shy teenager, recovering from years of abuse at the hands of his mentally ill mother. Sadly he is a fringe character. Williams writes very believably about grief, I just wish that the book had more plot to add to the emotion.

Ann Joslin Williams, Down from Cascom Mountain (Bloomsbury, 2011) ISBN: 1608193063

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: The Oriental Wife

Louisa, Rolf, and Otto grow up as childhood friends in Germany. With Hitler's rise to power these Jewish children scatter: Rolf and Otto to America, and Louisa to Switzerland and England. Louisa is desperately seeking companionship, particularly male companionship, and she has a habit of attaching herself to men as the needy girlfriend.

When Louisa makes her way to New York she begins a relationship with Rolf, who has always been obsessed with his childhood friend. A seemingly needy Louisa suits Rolf just fine, but a health issue soon after their marriage leaves Louisa in a different state entirely. The book proceeds to examine how their marriage evolves. Character weaknesses come into full relief.

I found this book to be uneven. There were two things happening in the book which didn't seem to fit together. Louisa being a submissive wife was not all that closely tied to the accident and its aftermath. I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second. I also found the treatment of Nazi Germany to be uneven. It sometimes seemed incidental, even to characters who were trying to get family members out in the shadow of death camps.

Evelyn Toynton, The Oriental Wife (Other Press, 2011) ISBN: 1590514416

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: When She Woke

Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, this book describes a world in which women are primarily valued for reproduction, and in which the state has complete oversight over the private activities of individuals. This is a world in which extreme religion runs the government in the name of "morality."

Most important to this story, the government has developed melachroming as a means of punishment; it dyes the skins of criminals according to their crime. Protagonist Hannah Payne has been dyed red after being caught having an illegal abortion. "Chromes," as they are known, are constantly subjected to harassment and vigilante justice. Many do not survive. As Hannah tries to adjust to life as a chrome her world, formerly sheltered, starts to open. She begins to rethink previously held assumptions, as she sees the underside of policies she previously considered humane.

In this novel Jordan has created a world that is frighteningly believable. The book is clearly a statement on the dangers of dissolving the boundaries between church and state, and serves as a reminder of the dangers of a justice system that reverts to arcane methods. Jordan has created The Scarlet Letter for the 21st century. The book is imaginative, frightening, and definitely made me think.

Hillary Jordan, When She Woke (Algonquin, 2011) ISBN: 1565126297

Review: Death of a Dreamer

Hamish Macbeth's Scottish Highlands are visited by a delusional and slightly irritating artist. When said artist turns up dead the locals are not necessarily surprised, and it falls to Macbeth to work with a new and ambitious (and female!) detective to uncover the murderer, if there is one. Most of the locals think the death was a suicide, as the artist, Effie Garrand, has recently been rejected by the manly object of her delusional lust. Before the case is over Hamish finds himself in danger.

This was my first Hamish McBeth mystery. The plot was engaging, and I was interested in the characters. Given that I jumped into the middle of the series, there are a few things I'd like to understand better. It seems that Hamish has some issues with women. He has a seeming gaggle of former girlfriends, and refuses to marry any of them, though this is clearly making him miserable. I'm hoping to get fuller picture of this when I read more books in the series, which I am certainly planning to do.

M.C. Beaton, Death of a Dreamer (Warner, 2007) ISBN: 0446618136