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16 April 2008 @ 02:05 pm
342,745 Ways To Herd Cats: Reading Challenge!  
You know me and books.

342,745 Ways To Herd Cats

The point?
1.) You recommend ten books.
2.) You read books from others' recommendation lists.
3.) You review others' recommended books.
4.) Other people will be reading and reviewing your recommended books.
5.) Everyone falls in love with more books.
6.) Challenge runs May 1 - November 30, 2008

My Recommendations

1. Strandloper by Alan Gardner

A strange mix of realistic narrative and incantatory folk materials by Garner (author of a number of YA and children's fantasy novels) results in a work that is likely to leave most readers scratching their heads in bewilderment. Set in the late 18th century, it's the story of William Buckley (a real person, the dust jacket informs us), an English villager who, having performed in a reenactment of an ancient fertility ritual, is arrested, charged with "lewdness and Popery," and transported to a prison camp in "New Holland" (Australia). After escaping, Buckley is taken in by a tribe of Aborigines (who call themselves "the People") and soon thereafter comes to be revered as their hero-god Murrangurk, whose appearance was long ago foretold in the prophetic creation ritual they call "the Dreaming" (at which skill the transformed Buckley proves almost preternaturally adept). Eventually spotted by white colonialists, Buckley/Murrangurk/Strandloper (this last term denoting a further incarnation) is employed as a translator and given a "King's Pardon," then returns to his Cheshire home for the mixed blessing of a hesitant reunion with the woman he formerly loved, who may have borne his child. All of this is related in a crabbed, terse prose compounded of rustic British slang, Miltonic verse, folk songs and nursery rhymes, and the ornate language of both Church of England rituals and the Latin Mass. It's often very beautiful, especially when describing tenets of the Aborigines' faith ("In the Beginning, when the waters parted, and the Ancestors dreamed all that is, and woke the life that slept, the sky lay on the earth, and the sun could not move, until the Magpie lifted the earth with a stick"). Too often, though, this severely gnomic fiction scorns to render scene or incident clearly, leaving even the most willing reader unsure of what's happening on any given page. This may be a marvelous novel. It's hard to tell. (Kirkus Reviews)

2. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Originally published in THE NEW YORKER and then as part of the collection CLOSE RANGE, Annie Proulx's short story packs a punch. Cowboys Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar find love or something like it watching over a herd of sheep one summer on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain. Their lives diverge and intersect again and again as they simultaneously resist and are drawn into a doomed, impossible romance. (AudioFile)

3. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Christian can almost be forgiven for not reading the Bible, but there's no salvation for a fantasy fan who hasn't read the gospel of the genre, J.R.R. Tolkien's definitive three-book epic, the Lord of the Rings (encompassing The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), and its charming precursor, The Hobbit. That many (if not most) fantasy works are in some way derivative of Tolkien is understood, but the influence of the Lord of the Rings is so universal that everybody from George Lucas to Led Zeppelin has appropriated it for one purpose or another.

Not just revolutionary because it was groundbreaking, the Lord of the Rings is timeless because it's the product of a truly top-shelf mind. Tolkien was a distinguished linguist and Oxford scholar of dead languages, with strong ideas about the importance of myth and story and a deep appreciation of nature. His epic, 10 years in the making, recounts the Great War of the Ring and the closing of Middle-Earth's Third Age, a time when magic begins to fade from the world and men rise to dominance. Tolkien carefully details this transition with tremendous skill and love, creating in the Lord of the Rings a universal and all-embracing tale, a justly celebrated classic.
(Paul Hughes)

4. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

No writer has been more efficiently overshadowed by his imitators than Ernest Hemingway. From the moment he unleashed his stripped-down, declarative sentences on the world, he began breeding entire generations of miniature Hemingways, who latched on to his subtractive style without ever wondering what he'd removed, or why. And his tendency to lapse into self-parody during the latter half of his career didn't help matters. But In Our Time, which Hemingway published in 1925, reminds us of just how fresh and accomplished his writing could be--and gives at least an inkling of why Ezra Pound could call him the finest prose stylist in the world. (James Marcus)

5. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Adult/High School-Iselle, the royesse (princess) of Chalion, and her lady-in-waiting, Bertriz, need a new tutor. Cazaril, the man chosen for the job, has been scarred, physically and mentally, from secret betrayals by the very people who now rule Chalion through Iselle's uncle, and who seek to control her younger brother, the heir, as well. To rescue the royesse, and save Chalion, Cazaril must play matchmaker between Iselle and the prince of another realm, fight off assassins, lift a century-old curse, and risk everything-learning not to run from his own love for Bertriz-along the way. Bujold weaves a convincing and captivating fantasy world, well researched, with magic that works and gods that live without destroying the balance of this medieval society. Cazaril's life is rich with detail, and plays a part in the conclusion. The villains are believably motivated. The young heroines are deeply sympathetic characters as well. Readers will find themselves rooting for the good guys, while still uncertain that all can end without at least one of them suffering a dire fate. A finely balanced mixture of adventure, swordplay, court intrigue, romance, magic, and religion makes this book a delightful read. (Paul Brink)

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom... Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor—qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved? (The Guardian)

7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen considered Elizabeth Bennet "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print". Readers of Pride and Prejudice would be hard-pressed to disagree. (Alix Wilber)

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

"Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands. 'Be very still,' he whispered, as if I wasn't already frozen. Slowly, never moving his eyes from mine, he leaned toward me. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold cheek against the hollow at the base of my throat."

As Shakespeare knew, love burns high when thwarted by obstacles. In Twilight, an exquisite fantasy by Stephenie Meyer, readers discover a pair of lovers who are supremely star-crossed. Bella adores beautiful Edward, and he returns her love. But Edward is having a hard time controlling the blood lust she arouses in him, because--he's a vampire. At any moment, the intensity of their passion could drive him to kill her, and he agonizes over the danger. But, Bella would rather be dead than part from Edward, so she risks her life to stay near him, and the novel burns with the erotic tension of their dangerous and necessarily chaste relationship.

Meyer has achieved quite a feat by making this scenario completely human and believable. She begins with a familiar YA premise (the new kid in school), and lulls us into thinking this will be just another realistic young adult novel. Bella has come to the small town of Forks on the gloomy Olympic Peninsula to be with her father. At school, she wonders about a group of five remarkably beautiful teens, who sit together in the cafeteria but never eat. As she grows to know, and then love, Edward, she learns their secret. They are all rescued vampires, part of a family headed by saintly Carlisle, who has inspired them to renounce human prey. For Edward's sake they welcome Bella, but when a roving group of tracker vampires fixates on her, the family is drawn into a desperate pursuit to protect the fragile human in their midst. The precision and delicacy of Meyer's writing lifts this wonderful novel beyond the limitations of the horror genre to a place among the best of YA fiction.
(Patty Campbell)

9. The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan, of royal lineage, was born with physical impairments on a planet where these are very rare. He tries to make a place for himself by going into the military, but he's defeated by his disabilities. A visit to his grandmother on Beta Colony changes everything when he finds himself the leader of a band of mercenaries... This is an engaging space opera. (AudioFile)

10. Yvain, Or The Knight with the Lion by Chretien de Troyes, trans. by Ruth Harwood Cline

The poem's wiki. More than any previous translator, Cline succeeds in translating energetic exchanges between characters and the playful tone of the narrator. (Translation Review)

Personal note: 'Reviews' for Yvain don't really exist. Most 'reviews' focus on the impact the story has had on literature, and the foundations the story has historically in Celt and Latin tales. That's all fine and good, but I value Yvain because it is a heart-thumping story of romance, of heroism, and of brotherly (or slashy?) love. There are surprise twists and breathless moments that surpass the sum of its history and impact.

Book Reviews

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Where to start? This book was monster-long. Of the HDM trilogy, I liked this book the best, I think because it hit on some of the things I really like about sci-fi in particular: exploring different ecosystems and cultures in a scientific framework, and that's what Dr. Malone throughout this book. Even in the world of the dead and on their journey there, wasn't this what Will and Lyra were doing? Most of the book kept up great momentum and interest, but I felt the climax itself was weak. I actually wasn't sure it had happened until it was over. Everything just before that, and all after that, seemed really drawn out unnecessarily, and this was an instance where I felt like the romantic element was a little forced. Not that I don't believe Will and Lyra felt those feelings for each other, but at that age I have trouble imagining them express it as clearly as they did. The totally adult-like behavior of them made the situation unbelievable to me. But I dwell on the bad! The plot was mostly very unique and ingenious. There were a few obvious loopholes in the ending, but since it's a children's book, I'll forgive it its loopholes. It's definitely not going to be a favorite of mine anytime soon, but it was an interesting and refreshing read. All the same, I'm pretty glad it's done. The audioplay is exceptionally done except they replaced Will's and Pan's voice actors in this book, which threw me off.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Although I've seen the movie, it has been a while and I guess I had forgotten how it ended-- or really anything about it-- because this book was one big mystery, with surprise after surprise. When the climactic surprise was revealed-- the culprit behind the mysterious attacks-- I was honestly totally blown away. I kept thinking there must be some mistake. I don't know if it's Voldemort's entirely inhuman nature, or what, but the idea of him as a simple teenage boy astounds me. Plus, I was a Tom fan from the moment I 'met' him. He seemed so sensible and respectable and handsome. Most of the book was great. I will complain that after Hermione was petrified I missed having her in the plot. I loved Jason and his accusations, and I loved Fred and George in the book, especially. I did think the end was a bit absurd, though. Forks simply solved everything-- forgive the pun-- rather magically. It was too much of a fix-all for me. I don't quite get Lockhart's purpose in the book other than comedy (and to cause us to all feel waves of relief at having Lupin around?), but I really did love him after he had his memory erased. Then he was just adorable. I also feel Ginny was highly underdeveloped as a character. So much attention is paid to nearly every other Weasley in the character development area, but poor Ginny just comes across as easily frightened and quite. Yet, in the first book, Ron says she ordinarily never shuts up. Is that Ginny gone for good? Anyway, I love the characters and I love spending time with them. They make me laugh. This is again an audiobook, the British version and narrated by Stephen Fry. It's perfect. I almost couldn't imagine reading the books. Listening is so immersive.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Having seen the movie, I was aware that this book was going to be a tough read, but the book was both harder and easier than the movie-- harder in that it dove deeper into the darkness, but easier in that it gave the reader more handholds, more happy memories and hopes to cling to (God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs!). I really understood and connected to Harry's turbulent and complex emotions throughout the story. I correctly expected to be frustrated by the Ministry of Magic and its antics, but I was pleasantly surprised that the plot in the book is a lot more delicate and well-explained than I found the movie when I saw it. I am also really surprised by how emotionally involved I got with some of the characters. I did find the overall plot and theme of this book overwhelmingly dark at times, and the humor not enough to balance it out considering how horrible Harry's school environment was this year, but just as Harry does, the reader makes it through somehow, helping bring the reader into the story. It's odd to be reading a fantasy novel and wishing you had an escape from it! I do think it's a sign of a book that's primarily about people foremost, though, and not about enjoyment. That being said, I mostly read for enjoyment so it's not something. One way in which the book overshadowed the movie was the antics of the Weasley twins, which were more purposeful and ingenious in the novel than on screen. The primary way, however, in which the book was superior to the movie, was in the treatment of the death of a main character. In the movie he was too quickly seemingly forgotten, whereas the book makes it clear that he can never be forgotten.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

My opinions on this book are mixed. The writing style was informal and light, and I appreciated the way it conjured a more Chretien-like faerie-story atmosphere very effectively. The character of Yvain was refreshingly unique as far as fairytale damsels go, and at points the story was unpredictable and interesting. Other portions of the plot, as is often the case in adventure fairy tales, rather more predictable, and other characters, such as that of the witch queen, were more cliche. I did not read the illustrated version, and I've been told that I should get my paws on it ASAP, and I intend to. The biggest disappointment I had with this book was the ending. Leaving off that it as cliche, I found it very unsatisfying emotionally that Tristran runs off and leaves his family-- Louisa who cried over Christmas!-- forever, without so much as a proper emotional goodbye for the reader. He is quick to call a stranger "mother" and to treat her as such, which I find odd, despite that she gave birth to him. I felt he was destined to join the two worlds somehow, not to leave one behind seemingly without emotion. The fact that he doesn't stay in Wall or really return to Wall leaves his Heroes' Journey incomplete, and I think the reader can sort of sense that, as the final part of the Heroes' Journey is to bring back what he has learned to his own people, but Tristran never does it. I was also distressed that the mystery of the small furry stranger was never solved. It was a good fairy tale and well written, but emotionally pretty two-dimensional.
Current Location: University of Minnesota
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jt_dominguez on April 16th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Very interesting...I'm glad this starts in May, because I have so much stuff to do for the end of April. :-P

So, did you write the reviews of the books you recommended?
jt_dominguez on April 16th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
Wait, now I feel stupid. I see that you gave citations, so obviously you didn't write them. :-P
Bloody Jack Flint: Tiana Angry Hushrhye on April 17th, 2008 01:04 am (UTC)
I could have written my own! I would have preferred to. But I think this way is more impartial? Of course, I did write a review for Twilight (and ironically, mine was much less flattering! But I squeed reading this review). I've also reviewed Brokeback, but no one read it because it was about ten pages long ^^
prpl pen: *glomp!*prpl_pen on April 16th, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad that you're doing this too! ♥ I just put up my book list earlier this afternoon. I AM SO EXCITED TO SEE ALL THE DIFFERENT BOOKS PEOPLE LIST. :D
Bloody Jack Flint: Tiana Angry Hushrhye on April 17th, 2008 01:05 am (UTC)
Yeah! I actually only joined because I saw you post your list. I must have missed your earlier post about it. I'm always up for books. It feels like feeding my soul and mind at the same time. Reading feels good.
Flying Mint Bunny: normal 04haro on May 28th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
Oh Ginny was really quiet in this book firstly because she was so shy around Harry and secondly because she was so scared about the diary situation. Ron points out that she never shuts up but she's totally bashful around Harry (in this book at least). Ginny definitely comes out of her shell a lot after this book and she's really a very ballsy character. She is AWESOME in book five. She isn't in book three much though. I think Jo chose not to focus that much on her character because she didn't want us to suspect her but yeah you don't really get to know her well until later on.

Edited at 2008-05-28 10:40 pm (UTC)
Bloody Jack Flint: InuYasha Startled Hushrhye on May 30th, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)
I figured as much, but she's nearly as developed as Charlie and Bill, which is a little frustrating! I guess I can remember her from book 1 when she didn't know Harry was around, but she came off as so much younger than she is then.
Constructive Interference: Glassesgoodguyseatpie on June 18th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)
OotP is my favorite of the HP series. It also introduces my favorite character, Luna. You'll see ;-)
Bloody Jack Flintrhye on June 18th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
Luna's definitely... unique! I feel really bad for her though about her mother.
accio abarero!: Normal-54abarero on July 16th, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
Re. Stardust
The sky pirates plot and the ending are two things that I definitely prefered in the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd definitely check it out.
Bloody Jack Flintrhye on July 16th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Re. Stardust
He, the plan was to watch it tonight, in fact! We were having a movie night at astrogeek01's anyway, and turns out she owns it, so I promised I would finish the book before tonight.