Monday, October 31, 2011

Books I Read This Month - October 2011

I read a ton of books this month, knowing I would not have much time to read in November because of NaNoWriMo.

Also, today is the last day to submit to the Dinosaur Writing Contest! I would love to receive some more submissions!

Here are the books I read this month!

Peace, Aimee

The Duel – Anton Chekov
When Levsky’s lover’s husband dies, he is afraid that he may have to marry her, but he doesn’t want to because he has too many gambling debts. The girl is a bit of a tart though (obviously, since she was cheating on her husband) and kind of ends up with this other guy, who is just about the opposite of Levsky. There are some well-rounded characters here. The Literary Lab has a great post about this book here.

Vida – Patricia Engel
This is the story of the life of a young Columbian woman growing up in the US. Great emotion and great characters, this is a pretty good book that I would recommend. It says a lot about young girls living in the American culture.

The Pearl – John Steinbeck
Super depressing, but that’s John Steinbeck for you. A poor man finds a pearl while fishing and the greed of the town results in very bad, sad things…

Mercier and Camier – Samuel Beckett
I didn’t really understand this book… I may have to reread it eventually. It’s about these two guys who kind of wander around town and talk about strange things. There were funny bits, and I wish I’d read it deeper, because I feel like the theme was Samuel Beckett’s main aim in this book. He’s really great with dialogue, and his use of props in this book was clever.

The Wild Things – Dave Eggers
This is based on the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Dave Eggers also helped write the screen play for the children’s movie. This book is a more adult version (as it’s a novel and there is some strong language in parts) but it is told (in third person) from the kid’s perspective. I really liked this book. The writing was great, and the pacing was brilliant. The character of Max was extremely well developed, and I really enjoyed the theme and how Dave Eggers revealed it. I would definitely recommend this book to just about everyone.

House of Meetings – Martin Amis
This novel is about two brothers and girl named Zoya in a love triangle in Soviet Russia during the time of Stalin’s labor camps. It was interesting, but it was a bit contrived. The more I read of Martin Amis, the less I’m impressed. I loved Time’s Arrow, but maybe the rest of his stuff isn’t as great as I thought it would be.

When We Danced On Water – Evan Fallenberg
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I posted about it here.

Twenty-Seventh City – Jonathan Franzen
This is Jonathan Franzen's first novel. I've read Freedom and The Corrections, and I liked both of those. This book, however, was a bit different. It focuses more on politics and the city (and country) as a whole, rather than the American family and society. I don't particularly agree with a lot of Jonathan Franzen's opinions and views on American culture, but he is very good writer.

Light Fell – Evan Fallenberg
See When We Danced On Water

What Is the What – Dave Eggers
A beautiful portrait of a young man escaping Sudan to find a better life. I’ve been on the brick all month of deciding whether or not to bold this one, to put it on my ‘love’ list… But I didn’t love it enough to want to reread it eventually in my life, so I guess I won’t. However, my indecision led me to redo the books tab and put in italics all the books I really liked. Didn’t absolutely adore, but I liked them a lot. So there.

Bag of Bones – Stephen King
Novelist widower goes to visit his vacation home and falls in love with a young woman who has a daughter, but there are ghosts and stuff. Classic Stephen King. Pretty good book.

The Disappeared – Kim Echlin
It’s obvious that a lot of research had to go into this book, and the writing, in particular the descriptions, is fantastic. However, this book is a bit pretentious. There are some unnecessary descriptions that don’t add anything to the emotion or the plot of the story. But it was a good book for getting the vibe of the Pol Pot era in Cambodia. The narrator, a Canadian girl who falls in love with a Cambodian man, was not fully developed, in my opinion. Every action she did and every word she said was devoted to expressing her love for the man, and she seemed like she was not very sure of herself, as if she needed a man in order to be a person. I didn’t feel like I knew her at all, and I did not see what the guy saw in her at all… So, the plot of this book wasn’t fantastic, but the history was rich, intriguing, and very well done. I have mixed feelings about this book, but it was up for a few prizes, so I guess some people loved it.

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
This was the Blog Book Club book for this month. Here is my post about it!

Hummingbirds – Joshua Gaylord
Man this was a good month of books for me. I really enjoyed this one. It takes place in an all-girl’s school in New York. There are two male teachers who kind of dislike each other for some pretty good reasons, but they have a very cool dynamic that makes a lot of sense. The girls in the school are teetering on the brink of adulthood, which, ahem, shows in their interactions with their male teachers. The characters in this book were fantastically developed. I almost bolded this one as well.

The City of Falling Angels – John Berendt
John Berendt’s semi-non-fiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is one of my absolute favorite books of all time, and I love the movie too (John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, and Jude Law? Brilliant, top notch actors). But anyway, I had to get The City of Falling Angels too. It’s more non-fiction than his other book, as he uses the peoples’ real names and such. It’s about Venice. Berendt draws such an amazing portrait of Venice that I can picture it in my mind, every street corner, every person there, and how daily life plays out in Venice. But I’ve never been there, so my mind could totally just be making it all up. However, since this is a true story, the plot is not extremely catching. There are parts that seem too factual. Although I may have had overly high expectations because of my high opinion of his first book. But I sure do love the titles of his books!

The Rachel Papers – Martin Amis
Like I said earlier, Time’s Arrow is one of my all-time favorite books, but some of Martin Amis’ novels are a little too raunchy and creepy for my tastes. This is his first book, not creepy but definitely raunchy. It’s about this guy celebrating his twentieth birthday. He’s sort of a Holden Caulfield type of character, only he’s obsessed with literature and seducing women. This story describes him falling in and out of love with this girl named Rachel. It’s sort of as coming-of-age story, as well, though he doesn’t seem to grow up much in the end, in my opinion.

Revenge (Tennis Stars’ Balls Revenge) – Stephen Fry
My obsession with Englishmen goes further than just the young, attractive, heterosexual ones. In fact, I’m obsessed with British culture in general. So who better to read than the English cultural icon Stephen Fry? This book is loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s about a man who is unjustly incarcerated and goes insane. When he realizes what happened to him, he enacts revenge. The language is fantastic, and the characters are well-developed. I really enjoyed this book.

After Dark – Haruki Murakami
Focusing on the lives of two sisters, this story takes place over the course of one night, from midnight to seven in the morning. Great character development and an interesting theme.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

This month’s blog book club book is Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. It’s one of those crazy bestsellers than everyone read and loved, and they went to see the movie make of it too. I saw the movie long, long ago and don’t remember much except the brilliant scene where they’re sitting in the jeep and you can see the water vibrating with the T-rex’s footsteps before you can hear it. Ooh, I loved that bit. But anyway, this is about the book…

Jurassic Park is a sci-fi thriller about scientist who clone dinosaur DNA to open an amusement park for people to come see extinct dinosaurs. Like a living museum, essentially. When a few of the scientists’ family members go there for a sneak preview, there is a mad thunder storm. The electricity goes out, causing the dinosaurs (in particular the massive Tyranosaurus Rex) to escape from their cages. What a great plot!

Michael Crichton (1942-2008), was a bestselling author, screenwriter, producer, and director. He created the extremely popular television series ER. Jurassic Park became a series, as well as a series of pop-culturally iconic films, with Stephen Spielberg, of course. I’ve only had the pleasure of reading on other book he wrote, Congo, which I pretty much adored.

Stylistically, Jurassic Park is quite the case study. As a science fiction thriller, it is fast-paced and contains short, crisp sentences that keep the action and adventure flowing. I pretty much devoured this book in one sitting because the pacing kept me on the edge of my seat. I absolutely loved the what-happens-next vibe. However, the characters to me did not seem to be completely drawn out. This happens a lot in thriller novels, since the thrill and the plot are most coveted by the author and by readers. Characters are not so much ignored or forgotten as they are not entirely necessary. In Jurassic Park, we do not know much about the characters, but we do care, of course, and root for them when they face a carnivorous giant T-rex. Well, it may be because two of the main characters are children, and no one likes to see a little kid get hurt. There are two characters, though, the opposing forces, protagonist Alan Grant and antagonist John Hammond. These two, though we don’t get much of their background, have well-developed values and are therefore important thematically.

There is a lot going on in this novel thematically. There is too much to say about it in one blog post, so instead I’ve decided to give you a simple list:

1. Nature – let it be, dinosaurs must have gone extinct for a reason…
2. Human curiosity, paired with power and money, will probably end up going too far
3. People go through some incredible dangers just for entertainment
4. “Fail-safes” usually fail

So there you go. If you read Jurassic Park this month (or ever, really) what did you think of it?

Peace, Aimee

P.S. Monday 31 October is the last day to submit for the Dinosaur Writing Contest! If I do not receive a sufficient number of entries (I’d say at least five) then I may have to close the contest. So, please submit! It should be fun, and the prize is awesome!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Important Update!

Going to school and working at the same time is very time-consuming. With only the weekends to do homework and have a social life (haha), I'm finding it extremely difficult to make the time to write. As you can tell by my blog, I've had to cut down on some fun things in order to make room to do the things that are the most important to me. I will not be shutting down this blog, but I will not be posting regularly. I will continue to post the Books I Read This Month, at least until the end of the year (since I have a 100 books in a year goal), and I will still have the Blog Book Club and the themed writing contests for November and December. In 2012, however, I have not officially decided what I'm going to do with this blog. Until then, please participate in the Blog Book Club and the writing contests. If I do not get enough participants, I may have to put this blog into hibernation for a while until my schedule calms down.

Because I have not received enough submissions for the Dinosaur contests, I am extending the contest another week. The last to submit will be Monday 31 October 2011, Halloween. This means I will announce the winner on Friday 4 November 2011, after I announce the next blog book club and writing contest. If you haven't noticed, I have changed the prize from a 1000 word critique to a 2000 word critique to encourage more submissions. Click here for the contest guidelines. I would love it if you would join in on the fun!

Thanks for bearing with me.

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My New Favorite Author: Evan Fallenberg

I discovered a new author a couple of weeks ago. Evan Fallenberg. He has written two books and has translated a few from Hebrew to English. I read his two novels, and I adore them.

Light Fell, his first novel, is about a fifty year old man hosting a family reunion with his five sons, having not been at a gathering with all of them together since he left his wife for a man twenty years before. Set in Israel, this book focuses on the tension between sexuality and religion and reveals the truth of love and forgiveness.

When We Danced on Water, his second novel, is also set in Israel. There is a long, tense flashback to World War II in Berlin and Poland. The two main characters, 40-something waitress Vivi and ballet dance choreographer Teo, both have difficult pasts drenched in war and obsession. The ending to this book, the last two chapters, I didn’t quite understand, but it did not ruin the story for me in the least.

Evan Fallenberg is an amazingly talented writer. His language is the most beautiful I have ever read. His diction and voice are brilliant. I think I started crying on the second page, that’s how beautiful the writing is. I started reading When We Danced on Water because it was one of the last books I bought from Borders before it closed, when there were about 100 books left in the store and were 90% off, not thinking much of it when reading the blurb on the back. I was swept off my feet in surprise at this book, and I realize that I would not have even given it a second look if it hadn’t been two bucks in the closing sale. After reading this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for three days and had to go online and order Light Fell just to see what else this guy had to say, and I am glad to say that I love Light Fell just as much When We Danced on Water, maybe even more.

This author is very brave. Homosexuality, Judaism, rape, and war are just a few of the things he explores in his two novels. After reading his books, I have learned a lot about the risks writers take and the passion that is necessary to write a novel. The minute this guy publishes his third book, I’m buying it.

Peace, Aimee

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dinosaur Writing Contest!

With our dinosaur theme for this month, the writing challenge should be dino-mite!

In 1000 words or less (there’s no minimum length) write something (flash fiction, a poem, anything!) about a person (any age) lost in the woods who stumbles upon something rather dinosaur-ish (egg, fossil, actual dinosaur, whatever!). This is fairly open-ended, encouraging your creativity!

Please send your submissions to cheesepuff5292@yahoo.com by Sunday 23 October 2011. I will announce the winner(s) on Wednesday 26 October 2011 and will post my own dinosaur story the next day.

The winner(s) will have their story/poem/whatever posted on my blog on the 26th, and they will also receive a 2000 word critique of their manuscript (or whatever they want critiqued) by me! I’m totally qualified, don’t worry. :)

Good luck, and I can’t wait to read your submissions!

Peace, Aimee

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blog Book Club October 2011

Over the course of October, read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, then on Friday 28 October 2011, post about it on your blog or join in on the discussion in the comments of my post!

Peace, Aimee

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Theme of October 2011: Dinosaurs!

According to Wikipedia, “Dinosaurs (from Greek: δεινός terrible or potent, and σαύρα lizard) are a diverse group of animals that were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period (about 230 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous (about 65 million years ago), when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of most dinosaur species at the close of the Mesozoic era. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved within theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period. Some of them survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, including the ancestors of all modern birds.”

My blog theme for October 2011 is Dinosaurs. I hope you enjoy the things I have in store!

Peace, Aimee