March 2010


Since I’m on a roll here with challenges, I decided to add just one more to get around to reading what has been forever in my TBR — my chunksters.   Every time I look at those daunting mountains of pages, I silently give them a promise of tomorrow. Tomorrow for these doorstops, though,  never comes.

February 1, 2010 - january 31, 2011

Hence, the 2010 Chunkster Reading Challenge for all those lazy bones, too weary to read a 500-page tome from their pile!  This challenge runs from February  1, 2010 ’til January 31, 2011.  Although this post is over a month late, there’s still time to hunker down with our thick, fat books and get reading them over and done with.  Who knows, six hundred pages  may just not be enough if you’re loving the story.

To participate in this challenge, you need to pick an option (with their funny titles) and commit to  them for the year :

1.  The Chubby Chunkster — at least 3 books

2.  Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? — at least 4 books

3.  Mor-book-ly Obese — at least 6 books  OR 3 tomes of 750 pages or more

Not any thick volume , though, qualifies as a chunkster.  A chunkster in this challenge is an ADULT fiction or non-fiction book ,450 pages or more if printed with an average typeset or 525 pages or more if done in large fonts.  A book categorized as YA then does not qualify as, being light and easy reads, do not really fit in the host’s idea of a challenge.  Tee hee!  Tough luck, huh?

Since I’ve been eyeing my tomes with trepidation, I choose the easiest option, The Chubby Chunkster.

My three picks for this challenge are :

1108 pages

Review :  The October Horse — Colleen McCullough

650 pages

Review :  Wolf Hall —- Hilary Mantel

900 pages

Review :  The Crimson Petal and the White — Michel Faber

Ok, no turning back now….

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March 20 - June 20, 2010

Since I signed up for the Once Upon A Time reading challenge, I wondered what Callapidder Days, another blog where I joined last year’s Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009, had up for this season.  I was delighted to find out that it started Spring Reading Thing 2010. Its time period of March 20-June 20, 2010 coincides nicely with my other reading challenge.

Although spring is non-existent where I’m at, and instead I’m right smack in the middle of a burning summer, this challenge is still right up my alley because one has the choice of piling on the pressure or not. That and the fact that I love to collect pretty buttons for my sidebar.  😀

All this challenge wants is that you set your reading goals, whatever they may be, and simply enjoy your books.  No pressure for reviews, blog posts, number of books to read, and all that.  Hopefully on the way, this challenge will help you discover new books and authors through reviews posted by more blog-inclined members.

For this challenge, I shall use the same list of books I have set in  Once Upon A Time IV .  Kill two birds with one stone, and all that…

Again, my list :

1.  Anansi Boys —- Neil Gaiman  

2.  Last of the Amazons —- Steven Pressfield 

3.  The Secret Ingredient — Jane Heller 

4.  Mortal Love —- Elizabeth Hand

5.  Hush, Hush —– Becca Fitzpatrick 

I’ll definitely be adding more if I get to be done with this list before time’s up, my ultimate goal being to reduce ze TBR pile.  In this vein, another self-imposed law then is necessary:  no new books! Everything must come from my pile as of this date, March 23.

With these two goals in mind, it’s on with the challenge…

Pat of Here, There and Everywhere (2nd Edition) writes about another reading challenge by Stainless Steel Droppings.  A great site with a very gothic feel to it,  it hosts the annual  R.I.P.  Challenge which leads readers to discover new books in the gothic, horror, mystery, thriller, suspense, and dark fantasy genres.

This year, between March 21 to June 20, the site poses the Once Upon A Time IV reading challenge.  To get into the spirit, the “challengee” must settle on a book or books on any or all four categories :  fantasy, folklore, mythology,  fairy tale.

As with the other challenges of the site, Once Upon A Time IV strives to be flexible.  From allowing  just a one-book read for the entire period to demanding a tackling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” in addition to four books,  the challenge permits readers  to choose just how much pressure they would like to take on.

My option of choice,  Quest the First, challenges me to read a total of five books in any of the four genres mentioned.

I’ve chosen my five to be :

Genre : Fantasy

Review :  Anansi Boys — Neil Gaiman   

Genre : Mythology

Review :  Last of the Amazons — Steven Pressfield 

Genre : Fairy Tale

Review :  Mortal Love — Elizabeth Hand

Genre : Fantasy

Review : Hush Hush—Becca Fitzpatrick

Genre : Fantasy

Review : The Secret Ingredient — Jane Heller  

A red check mark indicates that the book  has been read.   You may find the links to my reviews just below each one.

I’m looking forward to an escapist summer.  Hope I get a vacation to go with my books.

smiley

Book 1

My, this summer is sizzling HOT! The grass on my lawn is tanned to a crisp and  ice cubes aren’t being formed fast enough to satisfy our lust for cold, cold drinks.  The heat has made me lethargic and so this blog has been  dozing on its virtual hammock as well.

Amid the El Nino heat though,  Percy Jackson was good company for ice cream binges and beach trips.

Author :  Rick Riordan

Publication Dates :  2005-2009

Book 2

Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

The Review :

I’m opting for not writing a synopsis this time, as I have given one for the first book, The Lightning Thief, several weeks ago.  (My review here. ) I find that giving a summary of a book in a series (other than the first one)  sometimes gives away the ending of the plot before it.  So, it won’t do to spoil anyone’s reading pleasure with some guess of a previous book’s ending now, would it?

On this note,  I shall review the series as a whole, which is a set of five action-packed books for kids aged 9-12 years.  However, the story is so interesting that even li’l ole me was hooked from page one!

Book 3

Despite being written as a children’s series, the story actually appeals to a wide age range, from kids to their parents; hey, maybe even grandparents!   Why the appeal?

First of all, the books are hip, fast and made for light reading.  Riordan makes sure he tickles his young readers’ funny bones with humor specifically geared toward the target age bracket.  Although some of his jokes may seem too corny in some places for mature readers, these I’m sure sit quite well with those in their preteens and early teens.  But hey, he does have some well-placed wit that would make anyone chuckle from time to time.

Second, the interesting concept of Greek mythology modernized with 21st

Book 4

century culture is just too different to pass up.  Kids and adults alike have an enjoyable time escaping in a world where Olympus is the invisible 600th floor of the Empire State Building; Poseidon’s son is a regular kid at school with a ballpoint pen for a sword; Hermes has winged sneakers; Dionysus wholly drinks diet soda ; or one of The Furies may just be your strict, scary pre-Algebra teacher.

Third, there seems to be something for everyone.  Stuffed with scrapes and adventures , the story  revolves around characters who rely on their individual powers and magical stuff to make fights and getting-out-of-tight-spots interesting and fun.  Those inclined toward Greek mythology would have an amusing time with Riordan’s  modern take on them.  Those who don’t have a clue would actually find they have missed out on some really great ancient  legends and perhaps get themselves to surf on who these dudes were :  Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, etc.    Then, there’s a budding romance to delight young girl readers.  However, parents would be so relieved to note that this series is quite wholesome.  There isn’t a whiff of mature content, implied or stated, that sometimes sneakily plague a great many YA books.

Book 5 (The End)

Fourth, there are a lot of pretty cool characters to like and relate to.   Hey, even the monsters are great!

I feel Riordan’s strongest books were the first and last ones, where his writing style was most entertaining.    Moreover, he ended his series quite well.   Vastly entertaining for both young and old, this series is one of those you may not want to miss out on.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Author :  Tom Rob Smith

Publication Date :  April 29, 2008  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

ISBN-10: 0446402389

ISBN-13: 978-0446402385

No. of pages : 448

The Story :

It is 1953.  Stalinist Russia is adamant at being a utopian state  where equality and  contentment are the core of its existence.  For where contentment thrives, there could be no crime or evil, the spawns of Western capitalism.

Leo Demidov is an officer of the MGB, the state secret police and guardian of these ideals.  Leo believes in the system and sees the necessity of arresting anyone that is remotely suspected of undermining those very goals.  Unfortunately in an environment that breeds mistrust, Leo falls victim to suspicion as well.

With a humiliating demotion in which he and his wife, Raisa, are shipped to a small town and his parents sent to live in squalor, Leo comes to terms with finally realizing the futility and wrongness of the communist system.

Meanwhile, the impossible has been happening.   Children are being murdered across one side of the country and all murders are brutally done in the same fashion.  A serial killer is on the loose,  but authorities refuse to consider the possibility of a Western style criminal in their midst.

To survive emotionally, Leo must have a purpose.  With a strong patriotic sense despite his disappointment in the government, Leo with his wife, Raisa, make it their personal missions to stop the murders and prove the existence of an insane killer,  one no one wants to admit to.

The Review

If I were to list books that have made an impression on me, Child 44 would definitely make that list.  It opens with a gripping first chapter which promises to keep you glued to the book ’til its end.

Tom Rob Smith does an admirable job of depicting the Soviet Union under the dangerous and repressive regime of Stalin with vivid descriptions of a dystopian society (only this was real) blanketed in fear, mistrust, and poverty.  His well-reasearched background aptly describes  Stalinist Russia where  its control-paranoid government assumed guilt until innocence was proven so that most of those arrested were summarily sentenced without adequate trial.  Moreover, in the pursuit of contentment and equality,  ideals of a communist society, it  was inconceivable for the system to admit to the existence of crime outside the political sphere;  hence criminal acts such as serial killing was an aberrant phenomenon maintained to be strictly a by-product of Western freedom and capitalism and therefore cannot exist logically in a communist state.

It is in this environment that his character, Leo, must root out a serial killer, defying official state denials of the existence of such a criminal.  Leo,  is an ardent believer of the Soviet system.  Everything Leo works for is for the collective  good.  As a ranking officer of the KGB’s predecessor, the MGB, he flushes out dissident citizens or those deemed to be dangerous to the state’s equilibrium and ideals.    But when Leo suddenly realizes that his latest prisoner was undoubtedly innocent,  his purpose of helping maintain the perfect state crashes to meaninglessness.   A real patriot at heart and despite a humiliating demotion, he decides to still have faith in his country , just not in his government, and sets about making a personal mission of rooting out a serial child killer, despite the dangers of incurring the disapproval of the MGB.

Smith injects great realism in this book.  His very much flawed hero deals with events that rarely reward his efforts,  believably true in such a milieu.   Moreover, he draws from genuine events in Russian history such as the Holodomor, the horrendous famine between 1932-1933 where millions, especially in the Ukraine, perished of starvation.  Accounts have mentioned numerous cases of cannibalism at this time.  These, the Gulags,  the excesses of  party leaders, the general misery and hopelessness  were hushed behind an Iron Curtain which trapped all that did not conform to the Communist ideals of a utopia.    The angle of the serial killer is patterned after a true-to-life Soviet child murderer,  Andrei Chikatilo, nicknamed The Butcher of Rostov or The Red Ripper, who sexually abused, tortured, and murdered women and children,  from 1978-1990.  The author simply borrows his story and places it within the timeframe of 1953.

The writing is predominantly narrative;  characters’ spoken lines aren’t many and are all in italics, a rather uncommon lay-out which veers from the traditional presentation of a dialogue.   It’s refreshingly different but it works quite well.

As a debut novel, Child 44 is superb.  The strongest asset of this book  is it’s well developed atmosphere.  The setting is palpable, the characters and events seem so real that I could not stop turning the pages until I reached the end at 3:30 a.m.  However, it isn’t perfect and sadly, events toward the ending came out a bit contrived and questionable which tarnished the reading experience a bit.   It is just a teeny blight, however, not enough to render the book a disappointment.    In fact, other readers may be perfectly happy with its conclusion.   Overall, a marvelous, marvelous read!


My Mark :  Outstanding!   (Would have merited Excellence, if not for that little smudge)

Snagged this book from the shelf for a light, easy read to tide me through a long car wash.   I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t let go.

Author :  Rick Riordan

Date of First Publication :  June 30, 2005  (Hardcover)

Published First By :  Miramax Books

My Edition’s Publication Date : 2006

My Edition”s Publisher :  Miramax Books-Hyperion

ISBN-10: 0786838655

ISBN-13: 978-0786838653

No. of Pages :  400

The Story :

Twelve-year old Percy Jackson thought he was a normal kid struggling in school with not so normal problems of dyslexia and ADHD.  With only a loving but harried mother to turn to from his smelly, nasty step-father, dismal report cards, and unpopularity, Percy has resigned himself to being a nobody with no future  until he is attacked by his pre-algebra teacher.    Suddenly his world turns upside-down and nothing seems as it once did.   Even his best friend isn’t normal!

Percy finds out that he is a demigod,  son of Poseidon.  But Percy’s problems aren’t over.  They have just begun.

Zeus is furious and accuses Poseidon of stealing his master bolt.   Since no god can directly steal from another, everyone in the immortal world suspects Percy of  having been put up to it by his father.  Unless the bolt is returned in ten days, Mount Olympus (address at the 600th floor, Empire State Building), will erupt in war and spell a terrible doom upon the Western world.

Percy, together with a satyr and Athena’s daughter, set out to find the bolt, discover the thief, and avert a catastrophe of mortal and immortal proportions.

The Review :

I made a good decision to watch the movie before I read the book.  I was quite happy with the cinematic version, which I found cute and different from other fantasy movie tie-ins out there for kids and young adults.    If I had read the book first, the movie would have been sort of a let-down because this book is brilliant!–simple, funny, and a totally absorbing read.    I spent a very blithe two hours at the car wash, immersed in Riordan’s  wonderful mix of Greek mythology and the 21st century.

However, many have been quick to point  this out as a Harry Potter-ish novel, drawing similarities with the threesome questing group; Camp (school) for half-bloods where they train their powers (the term “half-bloods is also used in this book); like Harry,  the main character Percy is unwanted by a step-parent/s;  as Harry, Percy is also charged with a mission to stop dark forces;  etc.

Now that it the similarities have been drawn, I admit they do exist.  However,  The Lightning Thief feels and reads so differently that I bet not many readers were aware of them (I, included)  until the fact was specifically pointed out.  So no, you will not be reading a Harry Potter-like novel with this.    Instead,  you get  a wonderful treat of getting lost in the world of  gods, goddesses, demigods, and immortals.

Now those who weren’t so particularly interested in Greek mythology would perhaps be drawn to know more about the deities after  seeing how Riordan breathes his own kind of life into them.  He incorporates the legends into our time so that they come out  fresh yet true to their own original stories…and a lot of fun!    Loads of wit  and  adventure plus charming characters simply compel you to want more of the escapism.   I wouldn’t be surprised if there has been a resurgence of interest in classic Greek myths.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Written simply, this is a book a nine-year old would undoubtedly take to.  However, so will his parents.  Riordan adeptly writes in that fine line that makes his stories so appealing to both young and old.    This should be a wonderful book for a parent to read and bond with young kids or a good thing to momentarily bridge the age-induced interest gap between parents and their teeners.    The appeal to a wide age range explains Riordan’s tremendous success with his series.

As of this date, Riordan has published a total of five books for the series.  Once you’ve had a taste of  The Lightning Thief, you’d surely want the savor the sequels.

In A Nutshell :

Hip, young, snappy, and funny, Riordan’s writing simply grabbed my attention from page one with the chapter title, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher”.     Who wouldn’t break into a smile on reading something like this :

Glancing back, I got my first clear look at the monster.  He was seven feet tall, easy, his arms and legs like something from the cover of Muscle Men magazine — bulging biceps and triceps and a bunch of other ‘ceps , all stuffed like baseballs under vein-webbed skin.  He wore no clothes except underwear — I mean bright white Fruit of the Looms–which would’ve looked funny, except that the top half of his body was so scary.    —- p.50

The Lightning Thief should be one of the best children’s books written this decade.  Easily a bookshelf gem!

My Mark :  Excellent!