Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 2012 Wrap-Up

Here's a summary of my book-related activity for January. This month I mostly focused on catching up on the few NetGalleys and review copies I had received in December. I was also on a self-imposed book buying ban in order to try to catch up after buying too many books in December!

Books I read (linked to the reviews)

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (TBR pile)
The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds by Sally Dubats (new book)
Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories by various authors (review copy)
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice (re-read [but this time in audio!])
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (review copy)
Caught in Crystal by Patricia Wrede (NetGalley)
The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice (re-read [but this time in audio!])

Books I bought

I was a good girl and didn't buy a single book in January. It was SO HARD you guys!

Books that magically appeared in my mailbox!

Aaaaah so exciting!!

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Progress on challenges

Tuck Everlasting was my January book for the Read Your OWN Library! Challenge.

I completed the following letters for the 2012 A-Z Book Challenge: B, C, G, I, S, T, and V. (I'm on a roll! Haha, except obviously this challenge gets harder as you go and you have less letters left to choose from...)

I read 2 books for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

I read 2 books for the 2012 Anne Rice Challenge. You can still sign up!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Author: Katherine Boo
Publication Date: February 7, 2012
Length: 252 pages

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a work of narrative non-fiction, meaning that it reads like a novel, but it's true. This was my first time reading such a book. One thing I noticed was that I'd be reading it, and thinking how moving the story was, and then suddenly I'd be hit with the realisation that these are real people and real events.

The book tells the stories of people living in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai. As the city around them grows and prospers, with luxury hotels sprouting up all over the place, these people live in makeshift shacks and sort through garbage to sell to recyclers in order to feed their families. Yet, somehow, they still manage to have hope. Abdul, a garbage sorter, is determined to lift his large family out of poverty. Manju plans to be Annawadi's first female college graduate, while her mother Asha hatches scheme after scheme in her attempts to reach the middle class.

I couldn't help but feel hopeless, though, when reading about the corruption. The police officers, doctors, politicians... all of them make threats and ask for money under the table. When people living in slums have to pay what little money they have just to keep the police officers off their backs, it's no wonder they can't make a better life for themselves.

As for the writing, Katherine Boo is truly amazing. Besides making non-fiction as pleasant to read as a great novel, she writes with an objectivity that is quite impressive; rather than an angry rant, which is what most people would probably produce after witnessing what she witnessed, Boo has created a narrative that would force anyone to feel for the people whose stories she's told. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a must read.

5 stars.

This book counts for the 2012 A-Z Book Challenge.

Full disclosure: Free copy received from the publisher.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Piling Up on Friday - January 27

Piling Up on Friday is a new weekly meme from Finding Your Gibbee. All you have to do is list the books you added to your to read list this week.

Hopefully I won't be doing this meme every week, because that would mean that I'm acquiring more books than I should be! As it happens, I've been on a book buying ban this month, so I haven't bought any new books, but I did get a new NetGalley...

This week, I added The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry to my to read list. There's kind of a funny story behind that... I've been trying not to request any NetGalleys for a little while, since I'm a bit bogged down with books at the moment, but NetGalley sent out an email specifically about this book, so I was taking a look. Then, I went to click the More Info button for this book to read more about it, and accidentally clicked the Request button instead! (Haha, maybe accidents are my subconscious making its desires known...) So, now I have the e-book. I'll be reading it in early February, and I must say I'm quite looking forward to it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

Title: Interview With the Vampire
Author: Anne Rice
Narrator: Frank Muller
Publication Date: 1976
Length: 14:28 (audiobook)

I've read this book twice before, but this was my first time listening to the audiobook. I'll start with a review of the book itself, and then review the audiobook in terms of the narrator, the atmosphere, etc.

In case you're not familiar with the book or the movie (which is pretty true to the book), here's a quick summary. A boy who regularly interviews people about their life stories interviews a vampire named Louis. This is the frame for the story, which Louis tells the boy, starting with his life before becoming a vampire in the late 18th century, going on to describe his time with Lestat, the vampire who made him, and Claudia, the child vampire that joins them later. It's a very angsty story indeed.

A lot of people don't like Louis in this book, saying that he's whiny, but I've always considered him a great protagonist. He's wonderfully tragic. In fact, I've often found myself not caring for Lestat in this book, even though I love him in the books that he narrates. I guess I really tend to buy into Louis' perhaps unreliable narration. This time, though, I liked everyone (except, of course, for Santiago, whom I will hate forever).

Overall, it's just a great story, and one that must be read by anyone who likes vampire fiction, as Anne Rice is truly the master of this sub-genre. I love her vampire mythology (though, really, I love all vampire mythologies; Anne Rice, Joss Whedon, Stephenie Meyer... they all have different mythologies, and I adore them all). One thing I like about this mythology is that there are specific ways a vampire can die, but if a vampire gets strong enough, these ways might not work. That's something you don't see quite so much in Buffy or Twilight, and I think it adds a certain something.

As for the audiobook qualities: In general I really liked the narrator. Frank Muller has a great voice, and I loved the way he changed his voice in a subtle way for each character, managing to make it clear that he's voicing a little girl without doing a stupid falsetto. This is something I really respect in a narrator and I can't stress it enough! The main complaint I have is that the narrator was American, and therefore made the pronunciation error that Americans tend to make: he pronounced Louis like Lewis. Ok, I know that's not a huge deal, and I did get used to it pretty quickly, but it just irked me. [Aside to Americans: You have Lewis already. Why do you take Louis and turn it into Lewis too?!] Anyway. Also, Armand's voice was too deep for a pubescent boy. But other than that! The narration was excellent. I'm just very picky.

5 stars to both the book and the audio format!

This book counts for the 2012 A-Z Book Challenge and the 2012 Anne Rice Challenge.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories

Title: Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories
Author: JoSelle Vanderhooft (editor)
Publication Date: October 2011
Length: 440 pages

First off, let me just say that it is so amazing to read 400 pages of steampunk with no male main characters. That alone makes this book worth reading for anyone who's feeling a little under-represented in the genre. Similarly, the stories take place all over the world, not just in Victorian England, so there's a lot more cultural diversity than is typical. Yay!

As for the individual stories, as usual with short story collections I liked some more than others. However, I definitely liked more than I usually do in this one. For example, in the first story, Journey's End by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall, a material from asteroids is used to build engines, which causes ships to become sentient. After some decades of serving her crew, a sentient ship chooses a crewmember to fly her to her death. In Playing Chess in New Persepolis by Sean Holland, people from around the world participate in a chess tournament with giant steam-powered chess pieces of their own design, where both their technical abilities and their chess skills are put to the test. In The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho, the reader is shown a fascinating concept of the afterlife, in which people go to Hell, and then try to stay there rather than be reincarnated, and for belongings people have whatever their descendants burn for them.

So overall, while there were a few stories that didn't really do anything for me, I think there were more stories that had truly original ideas, really captured the essence of steampunk, and were really well-written stories that kept me interested and entertained.

4 stars.

This book counts for the 2012 A-Z Book Challenge.

Full disclosure: Free copy received through a Goodreads giveaway.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My TBR shelf by pages

I had some spare time on my hands a few days ago, and decided to count my "long" books on Goodreads, where long is not well-defined but has something to do with number of pages. It all started with me sorting my to read shelf by number of pages, and saying "oh look, I only have 4 books on my to read list that are over 1000 pages!", and then Mr. Towering Pile told me that books are long if they're over 300 pages, so I should count that. And that's how I ended up counting how many books I had over various lengths, from 300 to 1000. To make a long story short, I decided to keep this list of numbers, and see what the difference is at various times throughout the year. Because I'm cool like that! Ha..ha...

So these are the numbers as of January 17, 2012:
>1000 pages: 4 books
>900 pages: 6
>800 pages: 12
>700 pages: 19
>600 pages: 30
>500 pages: 57
>400 pages: 105
>300 pages: 178

Since I have 648 books on my to read shelf at the moment, that means that 470 of them are less than 300 pages long! I find that statistic comforting, somehow. Like, maybe that means I won't be in my 70s when I have finally read all the books I own.

On a related note, I've decided to read at least the three longest books on my to read shelf in 2012! This is just for fun and to make my to read shelf less intimidating. Between that and my normal reading, those numbers up above should go down a lot this year. I realise there's a Chunkster Challenge that would be appropriate for these goals, but I find that challenge too elitist for my liking (it's nothing personal, I just don't do challenges that are based on the idea that audiobooks and e-books are less "impressive" than paper books).

So, here are my 3 longest books:
  1. The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll (1293 pages)
  2. Shōgun by James Clavell (1211 pages)
  3. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (1043 pages)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blacking out tomorrow to stop SOPA

In case you aren't aware (I just found out today when I visited Wikipedia), tomorrow a lot of websites will be blacking out in protest of SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), a piece of proposed American legislation that is BAD for those of us who like a free and uncensored Internet, ie. all of us.

Therefore, even though this is not happening in my country, I have decided to black out my blogs tomorrow. I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause (though obviously I won't be posting any new content while my blog is blacked out).

For more information about SOPA, see the Wikipedia article.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winners of the Grimoire Chronicles giveaway!

Last week, I hosted a giveaway for The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds by Sally Dubats. Those who entered got a chance to win one of 5 copies of Sally's e-book. As it turns out, 6 people entered, which would have left one rather disappointed participant. However, Sally has generously decided to give all six entrants a copy! Yay!

Therefore, I will soon be e-mailing the following people to congratulate them, and then Sally will be sending them their free e-books:

  • Jamie Godsafe
  • Liza Lambertini
  • Dana Williams
  • Shannon McLaughlin
  • Rachel Vessar
  • Stephanie Knowles
Congratulations to our winners! And thanks for entering!

If you didn't enter the giveaway, and you want to buy The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds, you can get it on Smashwords (affiliate link).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday: January 13

Book Beginnings on Friday is a bookish meme hosted by A Few More Pages. Here's how you participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. Then go add your link here.

I'm currently reading (or rather listening to) Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. Here are the first coupla sentences:
"I see..." said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window. For a long time he stood there against the dim light from Divisadero Street and the passing beams of traffic. The boy could see the furnishings of the room more clearly now, the round oak table, the chairs. A wash basin hung on one wall with a mirror. He set his briefcase on the table and waited.

Note: If you're an Anne Rice fan, you should join the 2012 Anne Rice Challenge!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds by Sally Dubats

Title: The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds
Author: Sally Dubats
Publication Date: July 9, 2011
Length: 259 pages

Note: I'm hosting a giveaway of this book here, running from Jan. 8 to Jan. 15, 2012! Enter to win one of 5 copies of the e-book!

The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds is the first book in what will be a series of 8, each of which will focus on a different sabbat (the holidays that Wiccans and other Pagans celebrate). This one takes place at Samhain, ie. Hallowe'en. The main character, Cassie, is a Wiccan, who uses her witchcraft to find out why she's missing part of her memory, and how that's connected to the mysterious and attractive Trenton.

I was really excited when I heard about this book, because books with Pagan characters are unfortunately few and far between. I was not disappointed. Sally Dubats weaves a wonderful fantasy story, while incorporating aspects of real-world Wicca in a way that makes sense even to those of us who don't know a whole lot about Wicca.

Sometimes Cassie frustrated me with the things she did, but over the course of the story you really see her grow as a person. I liked how characters that were initially introduced as people that Cassie didn't really like turned out to have more to them than meets the eye, and became important parts of the story, with Cassie gradually realising that she had misjudged them.

As for the plot, it really kept me guessing! I don't think there was a single time while reading this book when I thought "Oh, I saw that coming!". Trenton and his family are so mysterious, and I was constantly wondering what would happen next. It is definitely a page turner! I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

This book counts for the 2012 A-Z Book Challenge and the Mount TBR Reading Challenge (just barely; I bought it on Dec. 28!).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Publication Date: 1975
Length: 139 pages

When Winnie Foster runs away from home and goes walking in the nearby woods, she finds a boy, Jesse Tuck, drinking from a hidden spring. Soon, the Tucks are kidnapping Winnie, because she's discovered their secret: they're immortal, because they drank the water from the spring. They explain to Winnie why she can't tell anyone about their secret, and that there's a dark side to being immortal. Things get complicated, however, when a man follows Winnie and the Tucks and wants to sell the magic water to make his fortune.

Tuck Everlasting is a charming children's classic. While it doesn't go into a deep debate about the pros and cons of immortality, it has a simpler message that is basically if everyone were immortal, soon the world would fill up and that would suck.

Winnie is a funny little girl (she's only 10, unlike in the movie where she's a teenager). And the Tucks are all so lovable. The book is short, so there isn't really deep character development for any of the characters, but I think that's ok since it is a kids' book that's pretty short, and the story is good enough to make up for it.

Also, I have a favourite line, but it would be a bit of a spoiler to tell it to you. So if you read this book (or already have), it's the last line that Tuck says in the book. So funny! :-)

4 stars. I've been reading such good stuff lately!

This book counts towards the Read Your OWN Library! Challenge (hosted by The Beauty of Eclecticism) for January. For February, my book for the challenge will be Stolen by Kelley Armstrong. This book also counts for the 2012 A-Z Book Challenge and the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Giveaway: The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds

It's time for The Towering Pile's first ever giveaway! Sally Dubats, the author of The Grimoire Chronicles: Veil Between Worlds, has graciously offered up 5 copies of her e-book! Here's the blurb from Smashwords:
The Witches' New Year looms, and the Veil Between Worlds thins. Seventeen-year-old Cassie heads home from school and meets Trenton, a beautiful boy with an enchanting voice. Darkness blankets the encounter so Cassie forgets she ever met him. . . and what he did to her. For other girls the lost time would be the end of the story, but Cassie is Wiccan and she uses her intelligence and authentic witchcraft to remember the truth. Her spell sets in motion a mind-blowing adventure that takes her to another dimension, the astral plane, where anything is possible and a dangerous romance with Trenton blossoms.

But who. . . or what. . . is Trenton?

The story is fantasy. The spells are real.

I read this book last week, and it is a real page-turner! My review will be going up in a few days. In the meantime, sign up for the giveaway in the Inlinkz below! It'll be open for one week (until end of day Jan. 15), at which time I'll choose 5 random entries and notify the winners by e-mail. Since this giveaway is for e-books, obviously it's open worldwide. :-) Good luck!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Bitten (Women of the Otherworld #1)
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publication Date: 2001
Length: 372

Bitten, the first book in the Women of the Otherworld series, is written from the perspective of Elena Michaels, the only known female werewolf. Since running away from the Pack, Elena has been trying to live a normal human life, repressing her werewolf side. When she gets called back to help deal with trouble on Pack territory, she finds herself once again torn between two worlds, and two men.

I just re-read this book because I'm planning to read the rest of the series soon, and I remembered that I'd enjoyed the book when I first read it years ago, but it was even better than I remembered. Elena is a great main character. She's strong and independent, but also flawed. I found I could really sympathise with her struggles between the human man who represents her desire for a normal life but can never know her secret, and the man she can't resist, but whom she can't forgive for his betrayal.

I also love the mythology in this book. I've always preferred werewolves that are people who actually turn into wolves, rather than weird half-human half-wolf things. I also like how they have the natural instincts of wolves, and that even affects their behaviour in human form.

5 stars. I'm really looking forward to finally reading the rest of this series!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publication Date: 2011
Length: 348 pages

When Jacob was growing up, his grandfather told him strange stories about his childhood in an orphanage on an island in Wales. He even showed him pictures of the children there who were peculiar, like the girl who could levitate and the boy who was full of bees. Years later, when Jacob has stopped believing in those stories, his grandfather's last words to him send him on a quest to discover the truth about the peculiar orphanage.

One of the neatest things about this book is the pictures. They are actual vintage photographs that the author found in the collections of various people who collect old photographs. So all the pictures, however they were created back in the day, were not altered for this book. And knowing that makes them quite creepy! I mean, just look at the cover! (I totally judged this book by its cover, and defend that as a totally valid way of choosing books.)

I'm having trouble thinking of what else I can really say about the book without giving spoilers, since there are certain major plot events that happen pretty early in the book. But this book is enchanting. It is delightful, with a hint of mystery and a dash of creepy. I have read some negative reviews of this book that say that too much is revealed too soon, but personally I didn't mind. Even after the bigger mysteries are solved, there's still adventure, and I still wondered what was going to happen next.

5 stars.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Random Reads

I found a new feature/meme/thing! Well, new to me. Random Reads started at I'm Loving Books in November, but I just found out about it today. Basically, the idea is to pick a book at random from your TBR pile (for example using random.org and your Goodreads to-read shelf) each month. I absolutely love the slogan: "In honor of the books who always get picked last." Haha! I totally have books that fit that description.

January's pretty packed for me, trying to catch up on NetGalleys, review copies, etc., so I probably won't have time to do this this month, but I'll definitely start in February. Most books that could get picked for this would also be eligible for the Read Your OWN Library! Challenge, so on busy months I could overlap the two. Maybe that'll stop me from cheating on the challenge by always picking quick little YA reads. :)

I hope you'll join me in this fun little game of chance!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Note: Since I read the first 12 books of this series before I started this blog, but just now read the last book, this is a review of the whole series.

Title: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Author: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Publication Date: 1999 - 2006
Length: 13 books

A Series of Unfortunate Events tells the story of three orphans named Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. The first book, the Bad Beginning, starts with the children learning of the death of their parents in a fire that destroyed their home. Mr. Poe, a friend of their parents', is in charge of finding a home for the Baudelaires, a task at which he fails miserably, putting them with one dreadful guardian after another, starting with the terrifying Count Olaf.

The first three books in the series were definitely the best. In The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, Olaf is a great villain. You'll find yourself hating all adult characters for their intense stupidity, but in a way that makes for a great story.

Spoiler Alert if you haven't read at least book 5

Although, it's not until Book the Fifth, The Austere Academy, that the ongoing mysteries of the series really get started. The Baudelaires meet the Quagmire triplets, who I wish had more of a role in the rest of the series than they did. The Quagmire's do some research to try to help the Baudelaire's, but all they can tell them is the cryptic acronym VFD before they're dragged away by Count Olaf.

End of Spoiler Alert

The problem I had with this series was that you don't get enough answers. I know that's supposed to be part of its charm or whatever, but I would have liked more mysteries to be solved. As it is, don't expect very many of them to be explained at all. (Note: I haven't read Lemony Snicket's autobiography yet, so to be fair, there could be a few more answers in store for me, but I rather doubt it.)

Also, there's a theme in the last few books that I don't particularly care for. The Baudelaires start to think of themselves as almost as guilty as the villains. They keep parts of their story secret because they're afraid that others will see them as bad people. The trouble is, they never do anything bad. In fact, I'd argue that they're too good. There comes a time, when the system has obviously completely failed you, and your life is constantly in danger, when most normal people would try to defend themselves even outside of the law, but the Baudelaires are determined that Olaf should only be punished through the justice system, even after that fails utterly. It just seems a bit unrealistic. I mean, the guy is trying to kill them.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like the series overall. The writing is clever, the characters lovable. The mysteries, for all I wish that they were solved, were delightful, and really kept me curious. And even if the later books were in some ways not as good as the earlier books (which were truly wonderful), the series still deserves to be read in its entirety, because the Baudelaires' story is one that should not be cut short.

Oh, and a note about The Beatrice Letters: I was right. That book should have waited until after the end of the series. It came out shortly before The End, but made no sense. Having read The End, a lot of The Beatrice Letters finally makes sense to me, and I wish I'd waited to read it until after the series. For once, I go against publishing order!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Anne Rice Challenge: Reviews

The time has come! The 2012 Anne Rice Challenge begins today, and continues until December 31, 2012. If you haven't signed up for the challenge yet, you can still sign up any time before the end of November.

This is where you can link to your reviews. The inlinkz will be open until the end of January 2013, so you'll have plenty of time to get all your reviews in.

Personally, I'll be starting with a re-read of Interview With the Vampire. I hope everyone's looking forward to some great contemporary gothic fiction! Or some Christian fiction, or some erotica, depending on which books you've picked out for the challenge. :) Good luck everyone!

Update: I've had an idea! For your name in the Inlinkz, put your name, and then in brackets put the name of the book you're reviewing. That way it'll be easy for everyone to read reviews of a particular book. :)

Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook

Title: Unraveling Isobel
Author: Eileen Cook
Publication Date: January 3, 2012 (the day after tomorrow!)
Length: 304 pages

Isobel's mom has just married a guy she met a few months ago on the Internet. Now Isobel has to move away from all her friends in her senior year of high school, to go live in an estate on a small island. Her new stepdad's name is Richard (which Isobel says is just a fancy version of Dick), and he has a son Isobel's age named Nathaniel who is gorgeous but who will now be her step-brother. Things are not looking up for Isobel. Then she starts either seeings ghosts or going crazy, and much plot ensues.

I really, REALLY like this book. The writing really put me right back in a teenager's shoes (admittedly not that long ago for me) to the point where I could feel everything Isobel was feeling, which I've always believed is enough to make a book pretty darn good in and of itself.

I have a crush on Nathaniel. He is several years younger than me and also a fictional character but my FEELINGS don't know that! Ahem. Moving on.

Isobel does seem to make some pretty stupid decisions at times (Oh yes, let's tell mom again that I saw a ghost. That will definitely be effective and not at all make her think I'm going crazy.), but people do that in books all the time and it didn't really bother me (except that sometimes I'd yell at her, kind of like I do when I watch horror movies and people run upstairs).

Oh, also, there are mysteries, because Dick's first wife and daughter died 7 months ago in mysterious circumstances, so there are rumours afoot! Add to that ghosts, annoying cheerleaders, and a light dose of teen angst, and you've got yourself a mighty fine read.

Full marks on whatever scoring system you might use!

Full disclosure: Free ebook copy received from the publisher.