Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children #1) by Jean Auel (1980)

An earthquake rips a 5-year-old girl from her family and she wanders alone until she is rescued by a kind-hearted medicine woman named Iza. But Iza is Clan and it is apparent that the child, Ayla, is not Clan. She is clearly human, but of a different kind, distinguishable by her high forehead, blonde hair, and straight limbs. Nevertheless, the Clan accepts her and raises her, but will she ever really be one of them? The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first in Jean Auel's well-known Ice Age saga that recently came to a close with 2011's The Land of Painted Caves.

The Clan of the title is a group of Neanderthals, and Auel has taken what is known about them (at the time of writing, anyhow) and created a whole society. I have to keep reminding myself that a lot of this was made up and there is much we don't know about this extinct species of human, but she makes it very vivid and believable.

Auel's Neanderthals have active spiritual lives, constantly trying to please the spirits they believe play large roles in their lives. Each person has a totem, the spirit of an animal they are associated with and which protects them. Male totems should be stronger than female totems, and which totem is yours is determined by the Mog-ur, or spiritual leader of the group. It is determined that Ayla's totem is the cave bear, a decidedly male totem, which causes much consternation among the Clan. Their memories also play an important role. In addition to one's own memories, each person has access also to the memories of their ancestors, and even a larger racial memory. They can all access these memories together, joining their minds telepathically. Ayla does not have this ability, yet another feature that sets her apart.

Although the novel contains dialogue, it is explained at the beginning that the clan's language is primarily a sign language. They aren't capable of the range of sounds that Ayla makes. Her laughter and tears are strange and alarming to them until they get used to it. They are unable to lie, or to count very high, and are surprised by Ayla's cognitive leaps which are out of their grasp. Ayla is a new breed, and therefore a threat to some in the clan. Though she lacks the deep memories they have, she is capable of a different kind of understanding, and isn't held back from changing and learning new things the way they have been.

Even in this first book of the series we know that these people have remained unchanged for a long time and will be dying out, and I'm curious about how that theme progresses later in the series. The rules forbidding women from hunting, it is explained, may have been helping the clan towards its own demise. Because only women with no desire to hunt were allowed to survive, the adaptability of the race was curtailed. It is a huge shock when it's discovered that Ayla is drawn to hunting.

Perhaps because of her innate differences, Ayla was constantly getting into trouble for acting in ways that were unacceptable for women. Women were forbidden from even touching tools used for hunting, but Ayla defies these rules and learns to use a sling to hunt. Every time Ayla broke a Clan rule, I thought "When will she learn?" But I think it was her innate qualities which drove her to behave in ways unacceptable to the group, to know more things, to make discoveries they couldn't, and she found it extremely difficult to live by their rules.

I was quite interested in the day-to-day life of the clan, their hierarchies, and the treatment of women and those considered deformed. A lot of mundane tasks were fairly captivating to me, like gathering herbs, cooking, hunting, the specifics of cave living - really, a lot of the same things I love about the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. (Right down to the cave living - remember when the Ingalls family lived in a dugout?) Equally fascinating were some of the less common, but still important, practices and rituals. The punishment for serious crimes is the death curse, in which the Clan decides a person is dead and refuses to see or interact with them, either temporarily or permanently.

I grew to really like the characters, especially Iza and her brother Creb, the Mog-ur, who acted as Ayla's parents. The interpersonal relationships in the novel were probably the best part for me, which is no surprise since I prefer character-driven novels. I liked watching Ayla win over person after person, each distrusting the new stranger until they got to know her, or learned something about her that they were able to fit into their limited worldview. One Clan member, however, would not accept her - Broud, the hot-headed young man destined to become leader one day. The relationship between Broud and Ayla provided much of the tension in the story and was painful to see, but also believable given the combination of Clan traditions and his personality.

I've been wanting to get around to reading this forever and now that I have I want to just move on to the second book. Right now I have other books that need to take priority (so many book groups!), and I fear I will then get distracted and never come back to this series. But I hope I do, because I can't help but root for Ayla as she makes her way through the harsh, ancient world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011), narrated by the author

I first read Bossypants back in 2011 soon after it was published. When I heard how good the audio was, I rather wished I had listened instead. My interest was renewed while reading Lean In, in which Fey was quoted a number of times, so last weekend on a long drive to and from Maine I finally listened.

I wasn't quite as impressed with the audio version as I had hoped. Fey still sounds more like she's reading than talking, which I suppose is just because of the style of her writing. There were bits I couldn't hear because she drops her voice, and my car is rather loud. If your car is more of a luxury vehicle than my Toyota Yaris, this may not be a problem for you. But just be aware, the volume of her voice varies quite a bit. Still, it was enjoyable and just the right mix of smart and funny for a car trip. (Also, note that the book has a number of photos. They're included on one of the CDs, but obviously impossible to look at while driving.)

Looking back at my previous review, I can see that I focused more on her personal stories than her career. Because I just finished Lean In, this time I was especially interested in her work experiences. Comedy has its own set of unique problems, it appears, such as a strangely common idea that women aren't funny. Which just led me to spend 20 minutes watching clips of Saturday Night Live on YouTube. Now, where was I? Oh yes. Tina Fey doesn't fucking care if you like it. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what she says in the book: "We don't fucking care if you like it." When men dismiss ideas like Kotex Classic, it's because they are men and don't understand, not because it isn't funny. Another stumbling block Fey ran into was the idea that nobody would be interested in a sketch that featured only women, proved very wrong by sketches like this one about a joint message from Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, which is not only one of the most memorable moments on SNL but contains a very real message about women and the media.

Like Sandberg, Fey also addresses the problems of working mothers, as well as general observations about the expectations that come with being female. She acknowledges the pressures to look a certain way, but dismisses them, and that is the real crux of her brand of feminism I think - she chooses not to care what others think and what they expect from her and instead trusts in herself. This message goes hand in hand with Sheryl Sandberg's and these two books compliment each other nicely. If you still haven't read Bossypants, give it a shot. You too will be inspired to head over to YouTube and rewatch all of your favorite Tina Fey moments.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (2013), narrated by Noah Galvin

On the morning of Leonard Peacock's 18th birthday, he packs a gun in his backpack along with four gifts. The gifts are for the four people who are most important to him: his elderly neighbor Walt with whom he watches Humphrey Bogart movies; a young woman he developed a crush on when she handed him a religious pamphlet at the subway; a guy from his school who lets Leonard listen to him practice his violin; and his favorite teacher, Herr Silverman. Once he distributes these gifts, Leonard plans to take his gun and murder his former best friend before killing himself. It's going to be a hell of a day.

As Leonard visits each of these friends in turn, he reveals his story about each one and why they are important. It's clear early on that Leonard is fairly lonely, which is reinforced by the distance between him and the people to whom he's bringing gifts. His mother is a self-absorbed fashion designer who lives in New York most of the time, leaving Leonard alone in their home in Philadelphia, and his father is out of the picture. Still, the major reasons for his plan are shrouded until late in the story.

I was skeptical about the premise of this book at first - I'm so sick of hearing about teenagers taking guns to school to blow up their classmates and/or teachers. Do I need to read about it in fiction too? But I wanted to give Matthew Quick another chance after Sorta Like a Rock Star, which I thought held promise even though I didn't love it. I'm so glad I did.

Leonard is in obvious pain, but is so smart and funny I couldn't help but like him. I knew he must have a good reason for what he was planning and through the entire book I just knew the tragedy would be averted, because how could you kill this character, Matthew Quick? Of course I won't tell you what happens but I'll say that I loved this book the whole way through.

I loved the stories about his friendships with the four characters he has gifts for. They are all very different people, but Leonard appreciates them all for who they are and how they have touched him. I especially liked his relationship with his neighbor Walt. All they did together was watch Bogart movies, and their conversations were built entirely of quotes from those movies, and somehow it was just very sweet.

Interspersed with the stories are letters from the future, from Leonard's life after a nuclear holocaust, where he lives in a lighthouse with a wife and daughter. Though I had no idea through a lot of the book whether they were supposed to be actual letters from the future or fiction, they were still some of my favorite parts.

What ultimately sold me on trying this book was listening to a sample of the audio, which proved a great choice. I'm pretty sure that Noah Galvin is actually a teenager, and he perfectly captures Leonard's character. I could probably listen to this guy read anything. And in fact, it turns out he also narrated one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. If I decide to tackle Perks a fifth time, I'll be sure to try the audio. As for Leonard Peacock, you probably can't go wrong with either format. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Raven Stole the Moon

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein (1998)

It's been two years since Jenna and Robert's son drowned on their trip to Alaska. Jenna has been unable to get past it, and on the night of the second anniversary of the event she leaves Robert at a party near their home in Seattle and goes back to where it happened. Jenna's Native American grandmother lived in nearby Wrangell, and it is here that Jenna begins. She learns about an old Tlingit legend about creatures called the kushtaka and becomes convinced it is they who have her son.

I really liked the premise of this book, but ultimately it required buying into Native American mysticism. As the story progresses it becomes apparent that the kushtaka are supposed to be real, and Jenna begins pursuing spiritual help in the form of a shaman. It's a very unusual story, and quite different from what I expected based on the cover blurb and Goodreads descriptions, neither of which hint of the magical realism in the story.

I almost put the book down a few times, but stuck with it because I liked the idea of this bereaved mother running off to Alaska, visiting her grandmother's abandoned house, and getting to know some of the locals. I so badly wanted her to just start a new life for herself, which of course was impossible given the loose ends of her husband and the rest of her life back in Seattle. As it progressed, the aspects of the story I liked gave way to more about the kushtaka but by then I had read the majority of a 400+page book so I wasn't going to stop there.

None of the characters were fleshed out quite enough, but I really thought I would have liked Jenna and her new Wrangell friend Eddie more if I was able to get to really know them. The shaman David Livingstone was also a complicated character who I never quite understood as well as I should have. Perhaps the idea for this story was just a bit too ambitious.

This is all not to say that it's a bad book. I think a different person, someone who is more interested in Native American religion or who is more open to unusual spiritual themes would appreciate it. It just wasn't for me.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lean In

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (2013)

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg examines why women are still not holding leadership positions at even close to the same rate as men. She tells stories from her career, rounding them out with facts, statistics, and information gleaned from studies. In addition to all the external societal factors, she says much of what holds us back is internal. Sandberg also includes concrete advice to help break through these barriers to achievement.

I had many "YES!" moments while reading. Early on, Sandberg talks about a common experience among women when being praised that we feel undeserving and guilty and will be found out. This "impostor syndrome" is part of a larger problem of women consistently underrating themselves and, therefore, not reaching as high. She cites a report from Hewlett-Packard which discovered that women only apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of the criteria, whereas men apply if they meet 60 percent. I've heard this before - it was one of my major takeaways from Library Leadership Massachusetts and changed the way I was conducting my job search.

External factors also hold us back as well, but women are just as guilty of gender discrimination as men are. In one memorable study, people of both sexes were given resumes to review and evaluate. The resumes were identical except for the first name of the candidate - one was a male name and one a female name - and yet the evaluators consistently rated the male resume higher. This includes the female evaluators. Sandberg also recounted an experience where she was called out after a talk for continuing to take questions from men in the room after saying she was done with questions. The women had all put their hands down, but the men didn't so she kept taking their questions.

Some have criticized that Sandberg takes a narrow view of women, only writing about wealthy, heterosexual women. Although she occasionally throws in some facts and statistics outside of this limited scope (such as when she notes that same-sex couples share household responsibilities more equitably) that is largely true. But so much of this book comes from her experiences that it would be presumptuous to try and speak for women in vastly different situations from herself. I'd love to read a book about similar issues as applied to more working-class women, but I just think that would be a different book written by a different author. I'd love to compare the experiences though.

Two or three chapters are devoted to the problems of balancing motherhood with career, a well-worn topic that is not relevant to me or the growing numbers of women who are deciding not to have children. Obviously it is a necessary topic in a book about women and their careers, but I could have stood a bit less of it. (Women with children may feel differently.) It was still fairly interesting though. Sandberg notes that the media and many individuals continue to remark on how she balances her career with motherhood, yet never ask the same questions of her husband or other fathers with high-powered careers.

I should also note that Lean In is less than 200 pages and reads easily because of Sandberg's conversational tone. If you're still trying to decide whether or not to try it, I recommend watching her TED Talk which is quite inspiring. Even though I have no desire to lead a company I found a lot of valuable insight in Sandberg's book. I really enjoyed it, and I think there is something for everyone to learn from it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2012)

Fifteen-year-old Ari doesn't fit in with the kids at school. He doesn't quite fit in with his family either. His siblings are all 11-12 years older than he is, and his older brother - who none of them talk about - is in prison. Ari likes his parents ok, but his father served in Vietnam and doesn't talk his experience, though clearly he is still carrying it with him. But one summer, Ari meets a kid named Dante, who also doesn't quite fit in, and they develop a friendship that is not only meaningful to them, but which also brings them closer to their families.

There is so much going on this book. One of the major events was a serious accident that was a catalyst in bringing Ari and Dante closer together, and the repercussions played out throughout the novel. Both characters are Mexican-American and they live in El Paso, which is pretty unusual and underrepresented in literature. Ari's parents were emotionally inaccessible in some ways, and didn't understand how much it hurt Ari that they refused to tell him anything about his brother, yet they were decent people who obviously cared and wanted to be supportive of him. (And I loved that both characters had good parents who have prominent roles in the story.) I don't think it's a spoiler to say that sexuality is one of the main issues in this book. Partway through it becomes clear that Dante is gay, and I thought this theme was handled in a way that was both subtle and realistic.

It's hard to do it justice, and I'm really failing, so you may just need to take my word for it that this is a great book. The writing is sophisticated yet still very accessible. I began reading it early one evening and finished the next morning. I never read that quickly, but I just flew through this book. I didn't want to put it down.

I started looking to see if the author has written anything else and it turns out that ALL of his YA books have won awards or been listed among top books for teens. He is obviously very talented and I hope to read more of his work. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who likes young adult fiction, or really anyone who just likes good books.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Allegiant by Veronica Roth (2013)

This is the third and final of Roth's trilogy that began with Divergent and continued with Insurgent, so beware that there are spoilers here for those books.

At the end of Insurgent, we learned that the factions were a result of the world becoming unmanageable and violent. The city was created with these factions to restore order and cultivate particular values in its people. When enough people began showing strengths in more than one area - people who were called Divergent, like Tris - it was time to leave the city and help save the outsiders who were presumably still killing each other.

When Allegiant begins, Tris and some others do leave the city, but when they arrive at a place called the Bureau of Genetic Welfare they learn truths that are even more shocking than what they had learned previously. Reeling from this new information, Tris and Tobias must make extremely difficult choices.

The first two books in this series were narrated in first person by Tris, but in this final volume the story alternates between Tris and Tobias. This is a pretty typical mechanism, but unfortunately their voices were almost identical. That's not terribly unusual either but it does make things a bit confusing now and then.

Mostly I liked how the story progressed and thought it was a good ending to the series, even if certain aspects of the resolution seemed a bit too easy. There were some surprises at the end, and I have to admit that I like the choices Roth made. As with the other books in the trilogy, the interpersonal relationships were complicated and nuanced. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing for Tris and Tobias, but Tris's relationship with her brother was even more interesting and some very tough choices had to be made near the end. There was an epilogue that took place a couple of years in the future but, thank goodness, didn't go the Harry Potter or Mockingjay route. It gave you enough about how things turned out, without leaving you feeling strange and unfulfilled. All in all, I found a lot to like in this series and was satisfied with its conclusion.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Good House

The Good House by Ann Leary (2013), narrated by Mary Beth Hurt

Hildy Good is a sixty-something real estate agent in the small fictional town of Wendover, MA. A year or so ago, her family staged an intervention for her alleged alcoholism and she is still resentful. Now she drinks only in secret - and of course in moderation. Hildy is trying to sell a house owned by a rather challenging couple who want to move so their son can go to a school that will be better for his disabilities. She has also lately befriended a newcomer to town, the much-younger Rebecca who, though married, is having an affair with her therapist. Meanwhile, Hildy is rekindling a decades-old romance of her own.

I'm so glad I heard Ann Leary speak at the Boston Book Festival. Although The Good House was on my to read list, it wasn't a very high priority. But I was so taken in with Leary's humor and stories of her own alcoholism that I downloaded the book from Audible soon after. At first, I thought the story was just ok, and it took me a bit to get into it. But then I became more and more invested and interested and really loved it by the end.

Hildy was such a fantastic character, whose foibles and humor were quite endearing. She knew everything that was going on in this town where she had spent her life, and I really enjoyed seeing it through her eyes. I really loved the small town aspects of this book, how everyone knew everyone else and had so much history they couldn't escape. (I love that in books, just not so much in real life, hence the reason I live in a city far from where I grew up.) She was known for being a bit psychic, but readily admitted it was no super power, just a good ability to read people.

As the novel progressed, so did Hildy's drinking and I became rather worried for her. She was completely disillusioned about her own ability to moderate herself. There were times she was able to go weeks without drinking, which she did to prove to herself that she could stop. But it was so easy to see why she thought the way she did, and why she was so bitter towards her children for getting involved in her life. If a grown adult wants to sit at home and drink an entire bottle of wine before bed, what business is it of anyone else?

This book and this narrator were made for each other. I probably would have liked the book anyhow, but the way that Mary Beth Hurt read Hildy's narration made her character really come alive for me, and I think some of her choices in tone and style added a great deal of feeling to the story. I highly recommend listening to the audio version.

What a great story about a small town and all its secrets! There was an interview with the author at the end of the audiobook, and she revealed that originally Hildy wasn't going to be the main character. It was going to be primarily about the affair between Rebecca and Peter, but Hildy's voice kept coming through so strongly that she ended up becoming the protagonist. This was clearly an excellent choice, as Hildy told the story of the town and some of its inhabitants so very well, even through (and maybe because of) her alcoholic haze.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Knitting

I started a new sock project almost immediately after finishing my last pair. Like those, this is a pattern from Cookie A.'s Sock Innovation. This pattern is called Eunice.

That is the completed leg. It's fairly short, but adding another pattern repeat might use too much yarn so I'll follow the instructions. The heel flap has it's own chart, and thank goodness I checked for errata because the chart is very different from what's printed in the book.

I'm using Cascade Heritage sock yarn, which is my go-to yarn recently. I bought a bunch just before Windsor Button closed down. The needles are from Signature Needle Arts and they are a dream to knit with. I opted for the stiletto version - a very pointy tip - and love it. They are a true size 1, which you can't get from my standard Addi Turbos. I usually knit socks on size 0, but sometimes you want a 1 and I'm very glad to have some now.

Since this pattern is pretty chart-heavy I can't take this project on the bus. My bus knitting recently has been the Geodesic Cardigan, which I'm happy to report is going much more smoothly since the Great Yarn-Winding Debacle of a few weeks ago. I'll show you progress on that project next time!

Happy trails, Nibbles

Poor little Nibbles died during surgery yesterday. I miss him already.

He didn't really like to sit still for photos, but this is the most recent one I have. I took it in August shortly after his brother Biscuit died.

Nibbles had been having some mysterious health issues that we thought was either kidney failure or diabetes, and then he developed some abdominal swelling that was quite alarming. I took him to the vet and, assuming it was a tumor, I left Nibbles there for surgery. I knew there was a possibility that the vet wouldn't be able to remove it, in which case Nibbles would probably just be euthanized. As it turned out, he had some sort of massive abscess on his bladder, and the surgery released some built-up toxins which killed him pretty quickly. Which I suppose is better than having to make the decision to euthanize, and better than having him gradually feel worse and worse.

Here's a less blurry photo of him from last January.

Nibbles was very friendly and social and enjoyed being petted. He also loved people food, from broccoli to potato chips, it was all extremely exciting for him. I really liked having him around. Goodbye, Nibbles!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (2012)

In the strange little village of Hemmersmoor, a few childhood friends who are now adults and haven't seen each other for a while meet at a funeral. In a narration that switches between four characters, flashbacks to a series of vignettes from their childhood creates a weird and twisted story of murder, incest, and betrayals.

It's hard to know where to start with this one. This was a weird little book. Imagine Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle mating with Grimm's Fairy Tales and this might be the product of their union. It's got that eerie Jackson style, but the killing is quick and brutal and matter-of-fact like a fairy tale. I hardly know what to make of it, but believe me, I clutched onto this thing and read it in just a few sittings.

When a cooking contest results in unease, villagers band together and murder one of the participants. A young boy kills his sister, another group of boys let a friend take a wild risk knowing that he's sure to die, a man smashes his daughter's face into a mirror, scarring her for life. Each time one of these horrible things happened, I was shocked, and when it seemed like another sinister act was about to take place I thought "Surely, not again..." But it did. It always did. And despite the number of murders, the most significant betrayal in the book cost its victim only a scholarship.

Also, is that the creepiest cover EVER? That is most of the reason I wanted to read this in the first place. Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is quite unusual and not for everyone, but at 200 pages it's not much of an investment time-wise. I recommend trying it if you like Shirley Jackson or Ray Bradbury, or just want something bizarre and creepy that packs a bit of a punch.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (2013)

This might be the opposite of the last book I read. I read it in about two sittings, laughed the whole way through, and will probably read it again. Maybe even soon. I've been a fan of the Hyperbole and a Half blog for a while now. Brosh doesn't publish frequently but her comics are worth the wait. Each one is a pretty long comic essay about some event in her life. Her drawing style is simple, yet conveys a wide range of emotion, and in her stories she somehow manages to really pinpoint the most ridiculous aspects of the human (and canine) condition.

I admit I was a little skeptical when I first heard that Hyperbole and a Half was going to be a book, because I am suspicious of blogs that become books. My first concern was whether there would be any new content, and I'm happy to report that there is a ton of new content. I enjoyed many stories that were new to me, and I was more than willing to also enjoy the familiar ones again. That's the thing with Allie Brosh's comics - they're just as funny the 12th time you read them.

I don't think I will ever get tired of "Adventures in Depression." My favorite part is when she is berating herself one day while eating.

I mean, not to belittle the very serious problem that is depression, but being able to write about her experiences with such candor and self-deprecating humor is really a gift to the world. If reading this doesn't actually lift your spirits (and how could it not?) at least it will show you that you aren't alone.

Many of the stories are much more light-hearted. In one, a goose gets into her house and terrorizes her boyfriend Duncan. In another, she recounts an incident in which she went to great lengths to ravage her grandfather's birthday cake. Her dog, who she kindly refers to as "simple" is also a frequent subject of her comics. It is amazing how expressive Brosh's simple drawings of her simple dog can be.

There is very little in this world that actually makes me laugh out loud, but Hyperbole and a Half does, over and over again. I'm so glad to have this book in my house because sometimes I really depend on these comics to cheer me up, and it's nice to have some in print in case I ever find myself needing cheering and the internet is out. If you're new to Allie Brosh get yourself over to her blog immediately, and then go get the book. You won't be sorry. But don't blame me if you pull a muscle from laughing too hard.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (2012)

While finishing her education at Cambridge, Serena Frome is recruited for British intelligence agency MI5. Project Sweet Tooth funds writers whose political views are in line with the government. Serena is sent to hook an upcoming writer for the project, pretending she's with a philanthropic organization, very quickly finding herself in a relationship with him. As you might expect, being a spy means that Serena's life and relationships are fraught with secrets and betrayal.

This novel is less spy and more relationship than I expected. The whole reason Serena gets into MI5 is because of her relationship with a professor, and then she gets into a relationship with her very first (and last) recruit for Sweet Tooth. Not to mention the other, less important, relationships she has in between; basically, she gets romantically involved with every guy she ever meets. It was just so unprofessional too, especially the one with Tom Haley, the author. How does she expect anyone to take her seriously? And how does she think that relationship will go since it's based entirely on lies? I got a little irritated with her.

But Serena isn't all bad, and in fact she's interesting in some ways. She loves reading but studied mathematics because she happened to be good at it. Her parents, because of some vaguely feminist notion, persuaded her that she owed it to herself to go into a field where women are underrepresented if she has a talent for that subject. So she did, but she always maintained a love of books, even the most lowbrow. I loved this as well - she kept trying to convince everyone that even the most pulpy novels were just as good as literary award-winners.

Other than discussing Serena's character, I'm having a hard time finding much to say about Sweet Tooth. There was little I disliked and, in fact, I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but even though I finished just a few days ago, I already barely remember it. In this way, it is definitely different from McEwan's other books, which haunted me long after I finished them. But I had heard that it was different from his other novels and in fact it seems like people who like McEwan don't like this book and vice versa. So it's hard to know whether or not to recommend it. I liked it, but not nearly as much as his other books.

Friday, November 1, 2013

R.I.P. VIII Challenge Wrap-up

October is over and with it the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge. I read the following books for this challenge:

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Slaves of Obsession by Anne Perry
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
14 by Peter Clines

I really liked all of these books a lot. I'm especially happy that I finally read 14, as it's been on my list to read for quite a while now and I think I needed this push to finally prioritize it. It was very unusual and creative and just fantastic. I highly recommend it. Even the Anne Perry book was a particular standout for that series. Her books are comfort reads to me in a way because I always know what to expect, but this one was especially good. The Stephen King book was especially well timed for this challenge, though I would have read it whenever it came out. When Nights Were Cold was also a priority since I had ordered it all the way from the UK. (It's still unavailable in the US, but there are some used copies on Amazon, and I highly recommend it.)

I had hoped to finally read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, but although I checked it out of the library and even renewed it at least once, I never quite got to it. I also wanted to read Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye which my library was supposed to have available, but I looked all over the place and couldn't find it. Until yesterday, when I was walking past the display of new large print books and spotted it lying there completely out of place. I've read only a few pages so far, but the style reminds me a bit of Shirley Jackson and that is a good thing.

The R.I.P. VIII review site is here if you'd like to read the reviews of other participants, which I recommend. There are almost 500 reviews there now, from somewhere around 200 different blogs.

I don't frequently participate in reading challenges, but I'm glad I took part in this one. It was fun, seasonally appropriate, and has encouraged me to read a couple of books I had been putting off for quite a while. I look forward to participating again next year!