Monday, August 25, 2008

RIP III Challenge

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the RIP III Challenge. This challenge runs from September 1- October 31.

(from the challenge post):

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

There is just something about this time of year, when the ghosts of past Autumns and the Autumn to come chase away the dog days of summer, that entices one to read books that fit into the above categories.
It was a desire share the love of eerie, creepy, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night literature that brought me into the online reading challenge game for the first time back in September of 2006. My goals today, in this its third iteration, are no different than the inaugural R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge:

1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.

It is that simple. Read on.

I am choosing Peril the Second, which says "Read Two books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose." Instead of having a pre-set list of books I have to read, Carl suggests posting a pool of books to choose from. This will also give other participants some ideas of what to read. I will choose two books from the following:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel has been described as one of the most influential books in the history of America, as hundreds of thousands of copies were sold the first year it was published. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe, he said to her,"So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" While he may have been exaggerating in this statement, Stowe's book was (and is) an extremely powerful picture of all aspects of slavery.

Though the main story revolves around Uncle Tom, an honest, hardworking slave, who is also a loving husband and father, there are several other stories that unfold as well. When plantation owner Mr. Shelby finds himself in a great amount of debt, he believes his only choice is to sell some of his slaves, or he will lose other valuable property, such as land. The slave trader who is collecting Mr. Shelby's money decides on 2 slaves that will settle the debts. The first is Tom, who is not only tall and strong, but also trustworthy and submissive, and the second is a good-looking child named Harry, who will fetch a good price in the slave market. Harry's mother Eliza overhears this deal and decides to make a run for Canada, rather than give up her beloved son. Her husband George recently ran away from his master as well, after undeserved harsh treatment. Eliza and Harry have been treated very well in the Shelby household, but Eliza would rather risk her life than live comfortably without her son. The reader follows Eliza and Harry through their frightening journey to try to find freedom.

Tom does not run away, though he hears of Mr. Shelby's decision to sell him. He says goodbye to his wife and children, and tells them to trust in the Lord as he does, and he hopes to see them again one day. Mrs. Shelby makes a promise to Uncle Tom that she will do everything in her power to buy him back. Tom has strong faith in God, that no matter what happens to him, no matter where he ends up, he will always be kind, loving, and do as he is told. He knows his time on earth is short, compared to the eternity he will spend in heaven. Tom goes through both happy times, and extremely wretched times, but he never loses his faith.

St. Clare and Evangeline, Ophelia and Topsy, and Cassy and Emmeline are other characters the reader meets. They all have different stories, and all of their lives are touched and changed by Uncle Tom and his love and faith. Through this cast of characters created by Stowe, the appalling institution of slavery is demonstrated. During this time period, many argued that slaves were better off being slaves, because they were given food and a roof over their heads. Some slaves had kind masters, who took very good care of them. However, no matter how rose-colored the situation can be painted, slavery at its best is still believing humans to be property and not worthy of freedom. America was founded on the very principle of freedom. "Is there anything in it glorious and dear for a nation, that is not also glorious and dear for a man? What is freedom to a nation, but freedom to the individuals in it...To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To him, it is the right of a man to be a man, and not a brute; the right to call the wife of his bosom his wife, and to protect her from lawless violence; the right to protect and educate his child; the right to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own, unsubject to the will of another" (398). How could a nation founded on these principles, say it is OK to own, trade, sell and treat humans as if they are animals?

Not only are Southern slave owners depicted, but Northerners as well. Though some considered themselves abolitionists, they still looked down upon those with darker skin. As said by the southern St. Clare to his northern cousin, "We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro, but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe" (324). Stowe points out that if one despises the institution of slavery, but does absolutely nothing about it, they are no better than those who own slaves.

Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin brought tears to my eyes more than once. Stowe did not just write a powerful story, but she brought to light the evils of slavery, and through her book, appealed to Americans to do something to stop allowing it to happen.

Date completed: August 24, 2008
# of pages: 464

Sweetsmoke Giveaways!

Annie at Reading, Writing and Ranting is holding a giveaway for a signed copy of "...Sweetsmoke, the literary debut for author David Fuller. Part-mystery, part-historical and all heart, Sweetsmoke is the story of Cassius, a secretly literary slave on a tobacco plantation and all he will risk to avenge the murder of a woman he loved dearly. Cassius proves that even against the backdrop of Civil War, where there is love, no death will be inconsequential." You can read the first chapter of the book here. For the official booksite, click on this link:

In the first chapter, Emoline Justice, a women who means a great deal to Cassius, is killed and Cassius means to avenge her needless death. After reading the first chapter, I am itching to get my hands on the rest of the book! It will be released on Wednesday, August 27.

Update: For more chances to win an autographed first edition of Sweetsmoke, Wendy at Caribousmom is also holding a contest. You can have up to five entries if you do a little research on the booksite.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I finished reading Arundhati Roy's award-winning The God of Small Things almost 2 weeks ago, but I've been procrastinating on writing a review for several different reasons. First, I can't stop watching the Olympics! I am a fairly competitive person, I grew up playing sports (as did my 3 siblings), and I just love watching these amazing athletes! Second, I've been rather bogged down in reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. I don't dislike the book, but it is long and requires rather slow reading. Lastly, I don't exactly know what I think about The God of Small Things. It was the 2nd book for my (in real life) book club, and a perfect example of why I wanted to be in a book club. I probably wouldn't have ever picked up this book to read on my own, but I'm glad I did. This is a book that NEEDS to be discussed with others.

Rahel and Estha are "two egg twins" who both have vivid imaginations and don't even need to talk to communicate with each other. The majority of the story takes place in Ayemenem, India, when they are seven years old, and the entire book revolves around the happenings of one single day. The occurrences of the day are not told in chronological order AT ALL! In fact, in the first few pages of the book, we learn that Sophie Mol has died. Who Sophie Mol is, how she came to be in Ayemenem, how she died, and how that affected the twins for the rest of their lives is what the rest of the book entails.

Though I was curious to piece together the events of that fateful day, I was mostly captivated with Roy's writing. Her descriptions are incredibly vivid, whether she was describing clothing, what a building looks like, or even how a particular noise sounded. Most of the descriptive language is from the perspective of a seven-year old--a smart, imaginative seven year old-- "Rahel found a whole column of juicy ants. They were on their way to church. All dressed in red. They had to be killed before they got there. Squished and squashed with a stone. You can't have smelly ants in church. The ants made a faint crunchy sound as life left them. Like an elf eating toast, or a crisp biscuit" (176).

However great her descriptions, Roy's use of repetition and the way she places words together to form new words is what is most interesting to me about her writing. When I think back on reading this book, I know I will remember several phrases because of their frequent appearance on the pages, such as "things can change in a day," "Locust stand I," "Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age," and the most haunting, "loved a little less." All of these phrases represent the major themes within the story.

This was not a fast read for me. I had to get used to Roy's writing, and I frequently re-read passages to try to understand the meaning behind the words. The story is not a happy one, and there are several rather disturbing events throughout the book. However, I am glad to have read it, and as I have not read very many books set in India, this was a learning experience for me as well. Arundhati Roy is an excellent writer, and I believe this is a book that I could read again. Since I now know the order of events, so I won't be trying to figure out what happened, I could focus on the writing and the allusions within the book.

Date completed: August 11, 2008
# of pages: 321

Other reviews:
Trish's Reading Nook, Things Mean a Lot, Reflections of Me, Caribousmom

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (and completed challenge)

After her 30th birthday, Laura thinks she is destined to be an old maid. However, when she meets Henry McAllan, who is several years her senior, she finds a man who is strong, knows what he wants, and will make a good husband. Two daughters and several years later, Henry makes the decision to buy a farm in the middle of Mississippi and move his family (including his crotchety father), whether they want to go or not. His original house plans fall through, and the McAllan family is forced to live in the old farmhouse with no plumming, electricity, and when it rains (as it often does in the Mississippi Delta), they are completely cut off from town. Racism is prevalent in this time, and old Pappy McAllan always has something nasty to say about the Jacksons (the black share tennants).

Life on the farm is hard, and Laura has a difficult time trying to adjust. When Henry's younger brother Jamie returns from the war (WWII), she feels a lift in her spirits, as he is handsome, charming, and easy to love, even though he has a drinking problem. When Ronsel, the son of the Florence and Hap Jackson also arrives home from the war, trouble starts brewing. Though he is a war hero, and has been treated as one for the past few years, back home, he is seen as just another black sharecropper. He is reminded that he is not allowed to use the front door of the store, and cannot ride in the front seat of a white man's car. He and Jamie strike up a friendship, as they feel a camaradarie from being soldiers in the war. However, in this town, it is not ok for a white and black man to be friends, no matter the circumstances, and this causes serious problems not only for Jamie and Ronsel, but also for their families.

Mudbound is written through alternating perspectives--Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, Florence and Hap. Hillary Jordan does an excellent job with this, and the reader is able to feel and understand the different characters' throughts and actions much better than if the story was told in third person. The tone of the novel is often bleak, but true to the situation that each particular character is experiencing. Mudbound has a true southern ring, with the descriptions of the landscape, the day to day lives of the people, and the dialect.

I would describe Mudbound as a poignant story, full of despair and hate, but also of love and hope. Hillary Jordan wrote a memorable first novel, which won the Bellwether Prize for fiction. I would definitely recommend Mudbound, and I am hoping Jordan is working on a second book!

Date Completed: August 3, 2008

Number of pages: 324

Read these other reviews of Mudbound: Thoughts of Joy, An Adventure in Reading, Maggie Reads. If you've read and reviewed it, please let me know and I'll add your link!

This is the third and final book for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge. The three books I read were:

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.

While I enjoyed all three, Mudbound was definitely my favorite. I think I read more Southern fiction that I originally thought, which makes sense since I am a southerner! Maggie is such a great host and held several fun contests along the way! Thanks for a fun challenge, and I look forward to participating next year!

One more thing...Maggie is holding a unique contest called State of the Mule. Sadly, one mule in Mudbound met his death by gunshot wounds--page 109. "Then I'm gone send hail big as walnuts down on that mule, making that mule crazy, making it break its leg trying to bust out of there...the next morning after you put that mule down and buried it..." (this passage sounds a bit odd, as Hap is speaking as God after he experiences a series of bad luck). Poor little mule :(

Monday, August 4, 2008

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (and first completed challenge)

Stephanie Plum has run out of luck. She recently lost her job and has not been successful finding a new one. She has had to resort to selling her appliances and furniture for money to pay her rent and bills. With no other options, Stephanie decides to visit her cousin Vinny, who runs a bail bonding company. Though she has absolutely no experience tracking down and bringing in rather shady and dangerous people, she believes she can handle the job--just until she makes enough money to get out of debt.

However, her first case is not only a murder suspect, but an old childhood acquaintance--Joe Morelli. The more she becomes involved with the case, the more in danger her life becomes. What started out as a way to make a quick $10,000 becomes an investigation into multiple murders and a drug ring. Stephanie knows she is running out of time to find the evidence she is looking for, and every day her life is in even more danger. Joe saves her life more than once, but all the signs point to him as a murderer. She must figure out whether he is a good or bad guy--her life depends on it.

I don't think I have read any negative reviews of the Stephanie Plum books, but I must say I was quite disappointed. I did not find Stephanie to be hilariously funny, as so many find her to be. I am aware of the fact that I have a rather strange sense of humor and the things I generally find funny are not at all humorous to pretty much everyone else. I think that this is just not my type of book. I couldn't just sit back and enjoy it for what it is, but I kept thinking that it was very unrealistic and no one would really make the bad decisions that Stephanie does over and over. I feel like I am missing out, because I know that many people eagerly await the next installment in the series, and I don't quite understand why.

Date completed: July 30, 2008
Number of pages:320

I don't know if this is actually considered chick-lit, but I am going to classify it as such. The main character is a young women, and the story is about her career and love life. Even though there is the mystery/detective type angle involved, I think the other criteria fit the chick-lit bill! With the completion of this book, I have completed the chick-lit challenge, which was to read 3 chick-lit books by September first. The three I read were:

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

My favorite of the three was Love Walked In, but I have decided that chick-lit is not really a favorite genre of mine. In my somewhat limited experience with these types of books, I usually find myself really annoyed at the main character. She is usually shallow and spends most of her time, energy and money on finding a man, or many men. For once, it would be great to read about a young intelligent woman, who makes sound decisions, doesn't sleep around, and is a good example to those around her. Any recommendations?

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Marisa de los Santos' first novel, Love Walked In, is a unique story about love and family. Each chapter alternates between Cornelia, a woman in her early 30s who loves old romantic films and is the manager of a local coffee shop in Philadelpia, and Clare, a girl of 11 who barely knows her father, and who's mother is in a mental downward spiral. While Cornelia narrates her own portions, a third person narrator tells Clare's story.

Cornelia and Clare are both strong female characters who both ache for someone to fill a particular void in their lives. Cornelia longs for a child of her own, and Clare (while she loves her mother), needs a strong parental figure to take care of and understand her. When they meet, they both recognize a kindred spirit, even though there is a 20 year age gap. This friendship enables them to get through several difficult circumstances and heartaches and helps both of them find a place where they feel they are loved and needed.

Although I found last 1/3 of the novel to be a bit too neatly wrapped, overall this was an enjoyable read. Cornelia was far less shallow and annoying than many other women in chick-lit-types of books that I have read. De los Santos has written another book, Belong to Me, and while I'm not running out to the nearest bookstore to purchase it, I would definitely consider reading it when I'm looking for something light and entertaining.

Date completed: July 29, 2008
Number of pages: 307

Read Natasha's review at Maw Books Blog