Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: A Year in Review

Two thousand eight began much like any other year. I was looking forward to meeting new people and visiting new places as I journeyed through the pages of my books. Like the year before, I hoped to whittle my way further into my TBR collection in an attempt to clear some shelf and floor space. I planned to participate in a few year long challenges, armed with lists of books I had been wanting to read for quite some time. I was excited and ready to go.

Although the year before I was already reviewing books for a couple of different book websites and on the rare occasion was asked to review a book by an author, I never anticipated the flood of requests and opportunities that came my way this year, offers of books in exchange for reviews. Many book bloggers found themselves in the same predicament. It was both flattering and exciting, and oh so tempting.

I learned quickly that it was okay to say no, but not before I found myself drowning in books. I am still playing catch up and imagine I will be for awhile. I am much more selective about the books I accept for review. Even then, I was only agreeing to review books I thought I might like. (having broad tastes like I do can prove to be a downside in this instance). Since I read for pleasure and not for pay, I do not want to waste my time on something I will not enjoy. As my friend Florinda said on her own blog not too long ago, I am a reader first and foremost, a reader who likes to share my thoughts and opinions on the books I read.

I love the thrill of finding a new book in my mailbox, of reading something not yet or barely released, and of spreading the word about books and authors that are worth reading. I have very few regrets about the direction my reading has gone this year, and look forward to seeing what the future holds. I do hope to get back to some of my own books this next year, as well as catch up with my current commitments and continue to test drive new authors and new books. I just need to find the right balance.

When I look back on my reading this year, I feel satisfied. I rated no books lower than 3 Stars out of 5, which on my scale is a simple "good". Looking over the books now, I can see a couple of titles that I probably could mark a little lower, however, at the time I read them, I obviously felt they were worthy of the mark I gave them. Funny how time can impact our impressions.

At the other end of the spectrum, no book wowed me enough to earn my highest rating, a fact that at first disappointed me. I am usually not so stingy about giving away that top spot. Whether I was being more critical or none of the books I read quite reached that level for me, I do not know. Regardless, several of the books I read this year do stand out. They might not have earned 5 Stars, but they certainly have my respect and recommendation.

Top Nine Favorites for 2008:
  1. The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
  2. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
  3. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (although in two volumes - I am exercising my discretion to count them as one for the purposes of this summary)
  4. Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland
  5. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
  6. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
  7. Killing Rommell by Steven Pressfield
  8. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
  9. The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier
When Kerrie over at Mysteries In Paradise mentioned that she was compiling a list of favorite crime fiction novels, I, of course, had to jump on the band wagon. I actually was quite surprised at just how many crime fiction novels I read this year.

Top Ten Favorite Crime Fiction Novels for 2008
  1. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
  2. Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland
  3. Out by Natsuo
  4. Death Without Company by Craig Johnson
  5. Shot Girl by Karen E. Olson
  6. A Grave in Gaza Matt Beynon Rees
  7. Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson
  8. Sun and Shadow by Åke Edwardson
  9. Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
  10. Baby Shark by Robert Fate

Longest Book Read ~ Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer (757 pgs)

Shortest Book Read ~ Judenhass by David Sim (77 pgs)

Oddest Book ~ The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (runner up: Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace)

Best Setting ~ Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

Best New Series ~ The Sheriff Longmire Series by Craig Johnson

Best Crime Fiction Novel ~ The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

Best Fantasy Novel ~ Far World, Book 1: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage (runner up: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling)

Best Graphic Novel ~ Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Best Nonfiction Book ~ The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

Old Favorites ~
Linda Fairstein
Colleen Gleason
Charlaine Harris
Alice Hoffman
Karen E. Olson
J.K. Rowling

New To Me Authors I Will Definitely Be Visiting Again ~
E.A. Benedek
Kevin Brockmeier
Colin Cotterill
Joycelynn Drake
David Ebershoff
Åke Edwardson
Robert Fate
Steven Galloway
Anne George
Karen Harrington
Joshua Henkin
Adrian Hyland
Craig Johnson
Natsuo Kirino
Michelle Moran
Steven Pressfield
Matt Beynon Rees
J. Scott Savage
Jennie Shortridge
Amanda Stevens
Gayle Trent

2008 Reading Trends ~

Total Books Read ~ 84
Total Authors read ~ 72

Total New To Me Authors Read ~ 62

Books Read by Genre/Type* ~
35 Crime/Suspense/Thrillers/Mysteries
20 Fiction
13 Nonfiction
11 Fantasy
8 Graphic Novels
1 Horror
1 Science Fiction
5 short story collections
*cross-genre books counted in multiple categories.

Authors Read by Gender ~
33 Females
37 Males

Books Read by Authors' Gender ~
40 Females
42 Males
2 Multiple Genders

Books Read by Rating ~
0 Outstanding/5 Stars
9 Very Good +/4.5 Stars
33 Very Good/4 Stars
22 Good +/3.5 Stars
20 Good/3 Stars
0 Fair/2 Stars

Book Size ~
16 Pint Size Books (200 pgs and Under)
38 Intermediate Books (201-350 pgs)
26 Substantial Books (351-500 pgs)
4 Doorstop Books (501+ pgs)

Books Read by Type ~
21 Hardback Books
50 Trade Paperback Books (20 Advanced Reader's Editions, ARE)
12 Mass Paperback Books
1 e-Book

Books Read by Year of Publication ~
46 in 2008
21 in 2007
4 in 2006
8 between 2000 - 2005
5 in the 1990's

Books Read by Narrative Voice ~
37 1st Person
28 3rd Person
16 Both
3 Nonspecific Voice

Book Sources ~
52 from authors, publishers, or publicists
30 from my existing TBR collection
1 won in contest
1 loaner

Best reading month ~ December (15 books)
Worst reading month ~ April (3 books)

Reading Challenges Participated in ~ 7 (1 carry over from year before)
Reading Challenges Completed ~ 4

Top Five Movies Of the Year ~
  1. Dark Knight
  2. Milk
  3. Wanted
  4. Wall-E
  5. Iron Man

Top Five TV Shows of the Year ~
  1. The Wire
  2. True Blood
  3. Dr. Who
  4. Lost
  5. Closer

This has been a challenging year for me in many respects, but one of the things that stayed constant in my life was my love for reading (that and my awesome husband who has yet again proven just how unselfish and loving he is. Oh, and the animals too. Life would not be the same without my furkids). The books I read this year provided me with the opportunity to step outside of my own shoes, study the world and share in others' joys and pains, and even escape when I most needed to. I learned; I was entertained; I was moved to tears and laughter and forced to think outside the box. I am a better person for it.

The book blogging community is like a home away from home, and I appreciate all of the support and friendship so many of you have offered to me since I began blogging. When I was at my lowest this year, you were among those who encouraged and inspired me. We celebrated our successes together, offered support during the rough times, grieved together for the loss of a friend, and shared a bit of our lives with one another.

I hope each of you has a wonderful New Year. May you be blessed with good health, lots of laughter, happy memories, and many great books.
Happy Reading!

Books Read in 2008

(Archive of books read in 2008--updated monthly)

January 2008
1. Breathless in Bombay by Murzban F. Shroff (2008) - Fiction (ss) - 306 pgs - 4 Stars
2. The Skin Gods by Richard Montanari (2006) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 395 pgs - 4 Stars
3. Smoker by Greg Rucka (1998) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 402 pgs - 3 Stars
4. Critical Space by Greg Rucka (2001) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 490 pgs - 3 Stars
5. Patriot Acts by Greg Rucka (2007) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 338 pgs - 3.5 Stars
6. Merciless by Richard Montanari (2007) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 402 pgs - 3.5 Stars

February 2008
7. Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace (2007) - Fiction - 355 pgs - 3 Stars
8. Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein (2006) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 397 pgs - 3.5 Stars
9. Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (2008) - Crime Fiction (MYS) - 322 pgs - 4.5 Stars
10. The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari (2008) - Nonfiction - 200 pgs - 4.5 Stars
11. Blood Poison by D.H. Dublin (2007) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 295 pgs - 3 Stars

March 2008
12. Fangland by John Marks (2007) - Horror - 354 pgs - 3.5 Stars
13. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Readers by Anne Fadiman (1998) - Nonfiction - 162 pgs - 3.5 Stars
14. The Fisher Boy by Stephen Anable (2008) - Crime Fiction (MYS) - 337 pgs - 3 Stars
15. Say Goodbye by EJ Rand (2008) - Crime Fiction (MYS) -216 pgs - 3.5 Stars
16. A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 340 pgs - 4 Stars
17. Killer Heat by Linda Fairstein (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 368 pgs - 3.5 Stars

April 2008
18. The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier (2008) - Fiction (ss) - 267 pgs - 4 Stars
19. The Murder Notebook by Jonathan Santlofer (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 390 pgs - 3 Stars
20. After Hours At The Almost Home by Tara Yellen (2008) - Fiction - 261 pgs - 4 Stars

May 2008
21. No One Heard Her Scream by Jordan Dane (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) 362 pgs - 3 Stars
22. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (2005) - Crime Fiction (MYS) - 354 pgs - 4.5 Stars
23. The Lost Prince by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (2008) - Horror - 316 pgs - 3 Stars
24. The Arthurian Omen by G.G. Vandagriff (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 322 pgs - 3 Stars
25. Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese (2007) - Fiction (ss) - 134 pgs - 4 Stars
26. Admit One: A Journey Into Film by Emmett James (2007) - Nonfiction - 196 pgs - 4 Stars
27. Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield (2008) - Fiction - 295 pgs - 4.5 Stars

June 2008
28. Beneath a Buried House by Bob Avey (2008) - Crime Fiction (M) - 226 pgs - 3 Stars
29. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (2007) - Fiction - 428 pgs - 3.5 Stars
30. Tarnished Beauty by Cecilia Samartin (2008) - Fiction - 339 pgs - 3.5 Stars
31. Moving Forward: Taking the Lead In Your Life by Dave Pelzer (2008) - Nonfiction - 192 pgs - 3 Stars
32. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran (2007) - Nonfiction - 466 pgs - 4 Stars
33. Apples and Oranges: My Brother
and Me, Lost and Found
by Marie Brenner (2008) - Nonfiction - 268 pgs - 3.5 Stars
34. Nightwalker by Jocelynn Drake (2008) - Fantasy- 370 pgs - 3.5 Stars

July 2008
35. Death Without Company by Craig Johnson (2006) - Crime Fiction (M) - 271 pgs - 4 Stars
36. The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith (2008) - Fiction - 209 pgs - 3.5 Stars
37. Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson (2007) - Crime Fiction (M) - 288 pgs - 4 Stars
38. Criminal Vol. 1: Coward by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (2007) - Crime Fiction (GN) - 128 pgs - 4 Stars
39. Tragedy in South Lebannon:
The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006
by Cathy Sultan (2008) - Nofiction - 172 pgs - 3.5 Stars
40. Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen (2008) - Nonfiction (Memoir) - 210 pgs - 4 Stars
41. Watches of the Night by Sally Wright (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 245 pgs - 3.5 Stars

August 2008
42. Aberrations by Penelope Przekop (2008) - Fiction - 241 pgs - 4 Stars
43. Far World, Book 1: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage (2008) - Fantasy (YA) - 419 pgs - 4 Stars
44. Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah & Joel Shlian (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 356 pgs - 4 Stars
45. Rises The Night by Colleen Gleason (2007) - Fantasy - 334 pgs - 4 Stars
46. Matrimony by Joshua Henkin (2007) - Fiction - 291 pgs - 4 Stars

September 2008
47. The Bleeding Dusk by Colleen Gleason (2008) - Fantasy - 346 pgs - 4 Stars
48. Janeology by Karen Harrington (2008) - Fiction - 246 pgs - 4 Stars
49. Out by Natsuo Kirino (2003) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 400 pgs - 4 Stars
50. Murder on a Girls' Night Out by Anne George (1996) - Crime Fiction (M) - 244 pgs - 3.5 Stars
51. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995) - Fiction - 286 pgs - 4 Stars
52. Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse (2007) - Nonfiction - 279 pgs - 4 Stars

October 2008
53. The Tenth Case by Joseph Teller (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 388 pgs - 3 Stars
54. First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 400 pgs - 3.5 Stars
55. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (2008) - Fiction - 587 pgs - 4.5 Stars
56. Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino (2008) - Fiction - 199 pgs - 3.5 Stars
57. A Jolly Good Fellow by Stephen V. Masse (2008) - Crime Fiction S/T - 203 pgs - 3 Stars
58. All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris (2007) - Fantasy - 323 pgs - 4 Stars
59. From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (2008) - Fantasy - 359 pgs - 4 Stars
60. Imaginary Friends edited by John Marco (2008) - Fantasy (ss) - 304 pgs - 4 Stars
61. Love & Biology at the Center of the
by Jennie Shortridge (2008) - Fiction - 367 pgs - 4 Stars

November 2008
62. Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent (2008) - Crime Fiction (M) - 260 pgs - 3.5 Stars
63. The House on Tradd Street by Karen White (2008) - Fiction/Fantasy - 329 pgs - 3.5 Stars
64. Shot Girl by Karen E. Olson (2008) - Crime Fiction (M) - 302 pgs - 4 Stars
65. Red Sea by E.A. Benedek (2007) - Crime Fiction S/T - 408 pgs - 4 Stars
66. Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer (2008) - Crime Fiction (M) - 362 pgs - 3 Stars
67. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (2005) - Fantasy (YA) - 498 pgs - 3.5 Stars
68. Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace With Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage by Linda C. Wisniewski (2008) - Nonfiction (Memoir) - 158 pgs - 3.5 Stars
69. Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill (2007) - Crime Fiction (M) - 272 pgs - 4 Stars

December 2008
70. Sun and Shadow by Åke Edwardson (1999) - Crime Fiction (M) - 388 pgs - 4 Stars
71. The Devil's Footprints by Amanda Stevens (2008) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 377 pgs - 4 Stars
72. Baby Shark by Robert Fate (2006) - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 270 pgs - 4 Stars
73. New Moon by Stephanie Meyer (2006) - Fantasy (YA) - 563 pgs - 3 Stars
74. Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer (2007) - Fantasy (YA) - 629 pgs - 3.5 Stars
75. Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer (2008) - Fantasy (YA) - 757 pgs - 3 Stars
76. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (2008) - Fiction - 235 pgs - 4.5 Stars
77. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (2003) - Nonfiction (GN) - 153 pgs - 4.5 Stars
78. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi (2004) - Nonfiction (GN) - 187 pgs - 4.5 Stars
79. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (2007) - Nonfiction (GN) - 232 pgs - 4 Stars
80. Judenhass by Dave Sim (2008) - Nonfiction (GN) - 77 pgs - 3 Stars
81. Slow News Day by Andi Watson (2002) - Fiction (GN) - 160 pgs - 3.5 Stars
82. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon & Georges Jeanty (2007) - Fantasy (GN) - 136 pgs - 3 Stars
83. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One by by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, Bill Oakely (2000) - Science Fiction (GN) - 192 pgs - 3 Stars
84. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (2008) - Fantasy (YA) - 111 pgs - 4 Stars

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Graphic Novels: Reviews & Challenge Wrap Up

Persepolis and Fun Home are reasons why people should read graphic novels. Those who follow my blog know my husband is a regular reader of graphic novels. He introduced me to them early on in our relationship, helping me to understand that graphic novels are so much more than just books with pretty pictures and blurbs.

I eagerly signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge at the end of last year, looking forward to diving into my growing TBR stack of graphic novels. Admittedly, this was the one challenge I figured I would finish before the end of the year. Piece of cake, I told myself. And yet, here I am only a day and a half away from ringing in 2009, and I nearly did not make it. Despite the pleasure I find in reading them, they still tend to play second fiddle to my usual reading choices.

After finishing The Cellist of Sarajevo, I had a choice to make. What book should I read? How should the year go out? Looking over my reading this year, I still have yet to find that book that completely wowed me. I could try and figure out which book in my TBR Collection might be the one, but somehow, that did not really appeal to me. I did not want to feel like I had to rush through any book, especially one that might be good enough to earn my highest rating. Maybe I start on another review book, after all, I have quite a stack of those. And then I saw the books I had chosen for the Graphic Novels Challenge sitting in a corner on my bookshelf, where they sat all year. With a little time on my hands thanks to a planned vacation, I decided to make a mad dash attempt to finish this one last challenge.

The Graphic Novels Challenge required that I read at least six graphic novels this year, and I had agreed to read eight. I managed to read one book for this challenge earlier in the year. My husband had slipped a copy of Criminal Volume 1: Coward onto my TBR pile a while ago, sure I would like it. He was right. And it was a great way to start off the challenge: a crime fiction graphic novel about a thief, caught in a tight spot.

Next up was Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, both books 1 and 2. Persepolis has gotten quite a bit of attention in recent years, and a movie was even made based on the books. In many ways, Persepolis is Marjane's coming of age story, of her finding her footing at a tumultuous time in her country as she grew from child to womanhood in Iran during the Islamic and Cultural Revolutions. And yet this book is so much more than that. The novel touches on the toll war takes on ordinary people; oppression, specifically that of women; and about the difficulties of being an immigrant, including the loneliness and hardships of starting over. It is also a story of endurance and strength, of hope and dedication.

What stood out for me most in the novel was how Marjane's parents stood up for her and supported her choices, even when they knew she was going to make mistakes. Their love for their daughter came through in the pages, as did her love for them in how she portrayed them.

This is a story that could have been told with just words, but it would have been a much longer book. The author's choice to tell her story through words and art is very effective. It is the combination of words and pictures that draw the reader in. The black and white artwork is bold and stark, fitting for the story told. The characters are well developed, their individual stories and feelings coming to life on the pages. I was moved to tears and laughter as I read the two volumes of Persepolis. This is one I cannot recommend enough.

* * *

I followed that up with Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, an autobiographical graphic novel. Fun Home is another book that is much more than what it appears to be on the surface. The book tells the story of Alison and her father, of their relationship before and after his death. She never quite felt like she understood him when she was growing up and it was only after she came to understand and accept that she was a lesbian that she learned her father had long hidden his own homosexuality, hiding it behind a wife and three children. Alison's story is tragic on many levels, but there is also humor and clearly love for her family etched in just about every frame. It was only after her father's death that she was really able to know the man. The reasons surrounding his death raised their own questions and doubt in her. While her mother chose to stay with her husband all those years, it was quite clear that she too had suffered, and her pain and resentment emanated off the pages.

An aspect that stood out for me throughout the novel was the juxtaposition of Alison and her father. How similar and yet different they were. Alison could not help but compare herself to her father, looking for commonalities and perhaps answers about her own identity. This was brought out in both words and through the artwork in a very natural way.

Alison Bechdel's artwork was very telling. She captured the emotions of those in her book. Much like I found with Persepolis, the author's story could very well have been told solely in words, but it has a much more powerful and meaningful effect told in graphic novel format.

One facet of the book that will attract book lovers is Alison and her father's love of reading. At one point in the book, while describing her parents, the author writes, "I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms." [pg 67] True to her word, Alison Bechdel's entire book is full of literary references and comparisons. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "I didn't understand why we couldn't just read the books without forcing contorted interpretations on them." [pg 200] I am sure many of us can relate to that sentiment.

Both Fun Home and Persepolis deal with heavy topics. In both cases, the authors open themselves up to the readers, sharing their painful stories. These are books well worth taking the time to read, even by those who shy away from reading graphic novels.

* * *

I did make one substitution for the Graphic Novels Challenge. Instead of reading Aleksandar Zograf's Regards From Serbia, which I still plan to read at some time in the future, I picked up the copy of Dave Sim's Judenhass, which my husband sneaked in between the graphic novels I had yet to read.

Judenhass is a different kind of graphic novel. It is more message than story. I am really not sure what to say about this one. It is powerful and moving, and it made me feel angry and ashamed for the world's part and lack of action during one of history's most terrible moments, that being the Shoah, or Holocaust. Judenhass is Dave Sim's remembrance not only to the horrors of the time, but the prejudices and ill will that lead up to it. The author writes that given the views and prejudices about Jews for so many years, centuries even, the Shoah, was, in fact, "inevitable." The images throughout book are haunting; the quotes from respected as well as those not so respected historical figures, including political leaders, authors, and other well known people say it all.

In the Acknowledgments and Bibliography section, Dave Sim writes:
Unfortunately in this age of diminishing attention spans it seems to me that there is also a need for distillations of the facts that allow even the slowest reader and the most reluctant teacher to comprehend and convey some measure of the enormity of the Shoah and the profound level of enimity against Jews which made it possible. I hope that JUDENHASS--with roughly a 25-minute reading span--will serve that purpose.
It most certainly does.

* * *

I followed the serious reading material up with something lighter. Andi Watson's Slow News Day was the perfect segue. A wannabe TV sitcom writer takes a job as an intern for a small town newspaper in England. The newspaper is struggling and advertising is slowly edging out the actual news stories to try and keep the paper afloat. Katherine Washington is hoping her experience at the paper will provide insight for a project she is working on. She is teamed up with the Wheatstone Mercury's sole newspaper reporter, Owen, who takes his job very seriously. It is no surprise that he resents the young woman's encroachment on his turf, especially someone who is not as dedicated to the job and the outcome as he is. Both comic and touching, Andi Watson's novel is delightful and entertaining.

* * *

Next up was Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty. This particular graphic novel picks up where the television series left off. Where once she was the only vampire slayer on earth, she is now one of many, and she has taken it upon herself to help train and organize those like her to fight demons and vampires. In this novel, Buffy and friends are threatened by an old enemy and an army that want Buffy dead. With Joss Whedon at the helm, it was no surprise that the witticisms and humor from the TV show came out in the graphic novel as well. Light, action packed and fun, it was good to visit with Buffy, Willow and Xander again, if only for a short while. Even in the comic world, Willow is the witch no one should dare mess with.

I finished off my graphic novel marathon with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw and Bill Oakley. Set just before the turn of the 20th century, six extraordinary literary figures are united to fight against an evil that threatens to level England. I had seen the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen years ago and was curious what the graphic novels might be like. This first installment proved to be a rollicking adventure. Mina Murray of Dracula fame held her own amongst the men she fought along side: Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Hawley Griffin and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were filled with colorful artwork and stories that were impossible to put down. They were a cap to an enjoyable graphic novel adventure.

* * *

The Graphic Novels Challenge gave me the opportunity to finally read those graphic novels I had been meaning to get to for some time. I wish I was better equipped to discuss the artwork of these novels in a way that they deserve. While words and art both tell the story in these books, the artwork itself is what most stands out and makes these stories what they are. The images on the pages say so much more than words could ever say. I admire the artists and their ability to tell a story through art so effectively.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi (translated by Mattias Ripa & Blake Ferris)
Pantheon, 2003
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 153 pgs

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon, 2004
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 187 pgs

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel
Mariner Books, 2007
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 232 pgs

by Dave Sim
Aardvark-Vanaheim, 2008
Nonfiction (Graphic Novel); 77 pgs

Slow News Day
by Andi Watson
SLG Publishing, 2002
Fiction (Graphic Novel); 160 pgs

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home
by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse Books, 2007
Fantasy (Graphic Novel); 136 pgs

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One
by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, and Bill Oakley
America's Best Comics, 2000
Science Fiction (Graphic Novel); 192 pgs

Monday, December 29, 2008

Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort. A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity. There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were. Then the visible world exploded. [First Paragraph]

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Riverheard Books, 2008 (ARC)
Fiction; 235 pgs

Whenever I begin a new book, I write down the title and basic identifying information in my note taking reading journal (not to be confused with my formal reading journal which is where I keep all of my reviews). This is one of those books that inspired me to start jotting down notes even before I began reading the first page.

I did not know about Vedran Smailović before beginning The Cellist of Sarajevo. I had no idea that there really was a man who sat in the middle of a square during the recent war in Sarajevo playing his cello for twenty-two days, mourning the loss of the twenty-two people who died in that very square due to a mortar attack. It was that very incident that inspired author Steven Galloway to wonder and then write about such a man. Or, at least, how such a man might have impacted those around him. While all the characters in the novel are fictional, the author hoped to capture the truth of the flavor of war, the struggles and suffering as well as the endurance and kindness that could be found amidst the ruins and dangerous streets as bullets and bombs found their marks.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is not so much the story of the cellist himself, but of three individuals who were doing what they could to survive in their beloved and war-torn city. They each are struggling to survive as best they can and have suffered much loss since the start of the war. They long for better days, and yet hope is often fleeting.

There is Arrow, a young woman whose future changed irrevocably the day the war began. A former university student who is skilled in the sport of marksmanship finds herself in a position she never could have imagined herself in. Her skill is a great commodity during the war and Arrow struggles to hold onto her humanity at a time when hatred and survival are stronger forces. Arrow’s story was the story I found myself most drawn to. I cannot imagine what life would be like for someone in her situation, forced into a position where killing becomes second nature. She had led such a normal life, with everyday dreams and hopes, only to have it all taken away and shattered by war. Arrow found a way to rationalize her actions, but at what cost to herself?

Kenan, once a clerical assistant, struggles to survive and support his wife and three children. Without electricity and water, they have to make due as best they can. Every four days or so, Kenan makes the dangerous journey to the brewery for clean water. He dodges sniper fire and mortars. The route he chooses to get to the brewery could mean life or death. He must always be careful, always alert. He is consumed by fear and doubt. He worries about his family, wishes life were back the way it once was.

Then there is Dragan, a 64-year-old man who works in a bakery. He is one of the few still employed in the city. He had sent his wife and son away before the start of the war and has not heard from them in months. He hopes they are safe and away from the danger. Dragan has cut himself off from his past, those he used to know, choosing instead to isolate himself as much as he can socially. A chance meeting on the street as he waits to cross an intersection that is being targeted by a sniper reminds him of what he has lost.

Through each of these character’s stories, the author illustrates the hardships and desperation of war. There is greed and corruption that make some rich and fat while others, like our main characters, starve and live in poverty, barely able to make it through each day. The random shootings and bombings could end anyone’s life at any moment. Death and injury have become a way of life. Fear hangs in the air and festers. And yet, even in all of that, there is a glimmer of hope. People reach out to each other, sometimes in the most simplest of ways. Even in war, the kindness and generosity of men and women are not completely lost. Their strength and hearts are what will pull them through and help them survive.

The fictional cellist in the novel brought his own brand of hope to the people of Sarajevo. However indirectly, he changed the lives of many who heard him play, including the lives of Kenan, Dragan and Arrow. Steven Galloway’s novel is both poetic and haunting. His prose is simple and raw. The Cellist of Sarajevo is not a novel I will soon forget.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

Thanks to Riverhead Books for providing me with a copy of this book.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Salon: Reflections

The New Year is fast approaching and, as always, I find myself reflecting about the year that is nearly behind me. I am not quite ready to tally up my statistics nor pick out my top reads of the year. There is always a chance I may fit in one last book, no matter how unlikely.

I could easily blame the Christmas holiday for my lack of attention to my books this past week, but that would not entirely be true. My Christmas was quite relaxing and laid back. My husband and I had a Lord of the Rings movie marathon Christmas Day, watching all three movies in their extended versions. I was reminded of just how much I love those movies: the beauty of the scenery, the unforgettable characters, and a story that never fails to captivate me. Seeing the movies makes me want to read the books all over again. Alas, there are so many books I want to read and not nearly enough time to read them.

Yesterday I spent a good part of the afternoon in Sarajevo, wandering the streets during a war that destroyed so many lives, as wars so often do. My thoughts about Steven Galloway's novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo, are still swirling around in my head, and I am not quite ready to put them to paper. I hope to at least post a review of the book before the year is out.

Earlier in the month, I mentioned wanting to get caught up with my reading reflections from five years ago, and now seems as good a time as any to make good on that promise. I managed to read seven books in December 2003. One in particular stands out for me. It made my list of favorites that year.

As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeny (2002)

Emma Sweeney lost her father before she was born. He was a Naval pilot during the Cold War and died an early death. However, he left behind a legacy of love and humor, which carries on in the future generations of his family. Upon her mother’s death, Emma Sweeney came upon a stack of letters tucked away in her mother’s dresser draw. Emma’s father wrote the letters in 1946 to her mother, when he was stationed in the Pacific. Her parents had met 11 days before her father was shipped out. This book is a love story, one that deeply touched my heart. John Sweeney, aka Jack, was a gifted and humorous writer. His letters carried me back to 1946, made me feel the growing love he felt for Beebe, his future wife, and reminded me of my own love story. I also couldn’t help but think of my own grandfather and wish that I had known more about his earlier life, before my mother and her brothers came along.

It was also at that time when I first discovered Linda Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper, sex crimes prosecutor series. I actually considered not reading more of the series after reading that initial book, Final Jeopardy. However, an article about the author and her career that I came across in the spring of the following year inspired me to give her another try. Linda Fairstein's series is one of the few I am completely caught up in. I especially like how the author weaves historical tidbits about Manhattan into the modern day crime stories.

December of 2003 was a month for seconds as well. Anne Perry's Callander Square and Alexander McCall Smith's Tears of a Giraffe, both seconds in series and my second book by each author, proved to be enjoyable. While the female protagonists in both books are more gentle in their approaches at getting to the bottom of a situation, readers should not mistake that as weakness. Charlotte Pitt and Precious Ramotswe are intelligent and strong women.

No December is quite complete without a war story, and Michael Frayn's Spies fit into this category nicely. The novel is about two boys who weave together a tale of intrigue about one of their mothers, deciding that she is a German spy. They set out to spy on her and what they discover will change the course of their lives.

I finished off 2003 with two holiday themed books, one being Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich, and the other, Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Interestingly enough, I had very nice things to say about the first in-between numbers book by the author of the Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter series. If you were to ask me today what I thought of it, I would not be quite so kind. Time has a way of shifting our memories. My opinion of Skipping Christmas, however, has not changed much over the last five years. I found it to be quirky and funny yet predictable.

When I look back five years from now upon my reading experiences of this year, I wonder what I will discover. Will unexpected books stand out in my mind? Will I come across a thought I jotted down that surprises me? I look forward to finding out.

Week in Review:
Review of Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
Review of Sun and Shadow by Åke Edwardson
Review of The Devil's Footprints by Amanda Stevens
1st in a Series Wrap Up

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

1st in the Series Wrap Up

What was the goal of the 1st in the Series Challenge 2008? How did you do?

The goal for this particular challenge was to read 12 books that were the first in a series. I took several liberties with this challenge to make it look like I completed it successfully. At least for my piece of mind. Whether anyone else counts it as a success is another matter entirely.

I managed to read one book from my original list. That being Murder on a Girls' Night Out by Anne George. This year was just not a challenge year for me. I started the year with good intentions, but, well, my reading took off in another direction and the reading challenges suffered for it as a result. I am not sad about that and neither should you be on my behalf.

And yet, here I am, summing up a challenge I bent all the rules to just to make it look like I finished it. Go figure.

All of the books I read for this challenge are first in a series, save for one. I am counting Sun and Shadow as a first, however, because it is the first in the series to be published in English in the U.S.A. The true first in the Erik Winter series has yet to be translated into a language I can actually read, and therefore, does not count as the first book in the series at this point in time. At least by my rules.

I also played loosely with the term "series". All of the books I read for the challenge are in fact, by my definition, first in a series. It's just that in many cases, the second book has yet to be published. I suppose you could argue that a 1st in a series can only be a part of a series if there are books that come after it already available. I chose to ignore that technicality and took the authors at their word that there would be later books in the series to follow.

In one case (The House on Tradd Street), I am not really sure the book counts as a first in a series per say. It is the first of two at least.

So, did I really complete this challenge? Probably not. And if there were prizes being offered (which as far as I know there are not), I would definitely not count myself among those qualified to win any. Still, it's fun to say I did finish this one for the sake of this summary. And for my ego.

What books did you read for the challenge?

What was the best book you read for this challenge? Your least favorite?

I enjoyed each of the books I read for this challenge and would be hard pressed to name one I did not like. Craig Johnson's Sheriff Longmire Series is by far my favorite new find of the year. Cold Dish was the starting point of what has become a fruitful relationship.

Did you try any new-to-you authors? Will you seek out other books by these authors?

Every author for this challenge was new-to-me. I definitely am looking forward to continuing on with the many series I began reading for this challenge. Fortunately for me, a few of the authors have books in the series I have yet to read available already, including Åke Edwardson, Robert Fate, Anne George, Craig Johnson, Stephanie Meyer and EJ Rand.

Many thanks to Joy for hosting the 1st in the Series Challenge this year. I apologize for taking such liberties with your wonderful challenge and will try to do better at sticking to the actual rules in future challenges.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Review: The Devil's Footprints by Amanda Stevens

We’re the same Sarah. Not outwardly, of course. But inside, our souls are mirror images. [pg 57]

The Devil’s Footprints by Amanda Stevens
Mira, 2008
Crime Fiction (S/T); 377 pgs

Sarah DeLaune was 13 when she first met Ashe Cain. He was mysterious and dark, coming at a time in Sarah's life when she felt most alone and out of place. He disappeared just about the time Sarah's older sister was brutally murdered. Rachel DeLaune was killed at the site of a town legend, in an Arkansas farmhouse where it was believed the devil had visited 70 years before, leaving behind his cloven footprints. Sarah does not recall that fateful night, the memories buried deep in her subconscious.

Fourteen years later, Sarah is making a name for herself as a tattoo artist working and living in New Orleans. She is haunted by her past, struggling to survive as best she can despite the night terrors and insomnia that plague her. When she gets a call out of the blue from her former boyfriend, Detective Sean Kelton, she does not know what to think. Their relationship did not end on good terms and he was the last person she wanted or expected to see or hear from again.

A body had been discovered bearing an unusual tattoo. Sean wants Sarah to take a look at it and offer any insight as to the creator or the crime. Sarah's past collides with the present when cloven footprints are found at the scene of the crime. She is forced to remember events she most wants to forget--lives could depend on it.

Sarah is scarred by her past and is guarded as a result. She does not easily let people in. Sean was the one person she let get the closest to her, and even he betrayed her in the end. Sean himself is not without his ghosts, his own past a dark spot in his life. All of the characters in Amanda Stevens' novel, in fact, have their own secrets, and are mired by their pasts in some way. They are complex and flawed. The dichotomy between dark and light is played out in many ways throughout the novel, not just on the back of one of the murder victims in the shape of a tattoo.

Amanda Stevens' The Devil's Footprints is an exciting and fast moving novel that takes readers from a quiet small town in Arkansas to post-Katrina New Orleans in Louisiana and back again. The plot is intricate in execution, and readers get a feel for just how tormented Sarah must feel as events unfold. Author Amanda Stevens is definitely an author to watch for. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2008.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Check out Amanda Stevens' website to learn more about the author and her books.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Came Early!

I was elated when I came home after a long day at work yesterday to find an Amazon package waiting on my back doorstep. This is the first year I took part in the SantaThing, hosted by LibraryThing. And what great fun! I almost did not participate because I was worried I would never be able to pick books out for someone I hardly knew. Fortunately, there were several wonderful people who offered helpful suggestions, a few of which landed on my own wish list.

My Secret Santa turned out to be Myckyee from BookBound. BookBound is a completely new to me book blog, and I have to say, discovering it has been a Christmas present all by itself. Myckyee has great taste in books, not to mention dessert.

Myckyee's gift to me included a copy of Maria Doria Russell's The Sparrow, a book I had actually been eying for quite a while now, and Plum Island by Nelson DeMille, an author who I have been wanting to try. Myckyee did an excellent job of figuring out just what I might like. Thank you, Myckyee!

The kitten was not included in the package. Anya insisted on being in the photo, or maybe she's hoping for first dibs at reading the books.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: Sun and Shadow by Åke Edwardson

First Sentence: It had started raining.

Sun and Shadow by Åke Edwardson
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Penguin, 2005 (Originally published in 1995)
Crime Fiction (MYS); 392 pgs

With the new millennium approaching and preparations being made to ensure the year 2000 rolls in without too many hitches, the Gothenburg police have their hands full. For many, it is business as usual, but for others, the weight of the job has become burdensome. A gruesome double homicide will take all of their attention as they try and track down the elusive killer. The investigation takes the police into the underground world of black metal and unconventional sex, eventually leading them in a direction none of them want to go.

Erik Winter, the youngest Detective Chief Inspector at the age of 39, is at the helm of the investigation. He is conscientious and intelligent, doing his best not to miss anything that might lead them to the murderer. As the investigation unfolds and paints a dark picture of a struggle between good and evil, Erik's personal life also demands his attention. His girlfriend has just moved in, they are expecting a child, and those prank calls that once he so easily dismissed are becoming more troublesome.

The novel jumps from character to character, offering a broad perspective of the lives of the characters and the ongoing investigation. This includes a look into the mind of the killer. There are several minor stories at play amongst the bigger plot line. The main story takes a while to build as the foundation is laid and readers are introduced to a host of characters, many of whom will prove to be an integral part in the events that unfold. The slow set up is perhaps the novel's weakest feature, and yet it works just the same.

Sun and Shadow is a character driven crime fiction novel. Author Åke Edwardson gets into the psyche of his characters offering a close look at each of them and their motivations. What readers see at first glance is not necessarily the same impression that will be held by the end of the book. For many of the law enforcement officers, the job has taken a toll on their lives. What they see and experience touches them, sometimes haunts them. That extends beyond just the authorities. It holds true for other characters in the novel as well: the vicar and her daughter, the abused boy, and the doctor who feels like she doesn't have enough time to offer her patients. The killer could be just about anyone, and the author keeps the reader guessing for most of the book.

The streets of Sweden have a personality all their own as do the streets of Marbella, Spain, where Erik Winter spends a short time, visiting his ailing father. People go about their business, moving in and out of the shadows, carrying their burdens with them. The grayish skies, rain and white snow are fitting backdrops to such a dark tale.

Sun and Shadow is the third book in the Erik Winter Series, but the first translated into English for American publication. The Swedish setting could not be more appropriate; the characters are well developed and the story itself is compelling. Åke Edwardson is an author to watch for. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2008.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill

First Sentence: The post office box was eighteen across, twelve down, and it had a loop of wool wound around the door so Dr. Buagaew wouldn’t miss it.

Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, 2007
Crime Fiction (MYS); 272 pgs

Anarchy and Old Dogs is the fourth book in Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series. Siri is the national coroner of Laos, albeit reluctantly. At 73 years of age, he wants nothing more than to retire and live out the rest of his years in peace. That does not prevent him from taking his job very seriously nor following the leads to wherever they may lead.

When the body of a blind man is brought to the morgue after being hit by a runaway truck, Siri and his team set out to identify the unfortunate man. They discover what appears to be a blank note in his pocket, only to learn the message is written in invisible ink. To complicate matters, the letter is in code. Joined by Phosy of the local police, Siri sets out to the town believed to be the blind man's residence. They learn the man was a dentist and are directed to his wife, who explains her deceased husband liked to play chess through the mail, suggesting the code might be chess moves. It all sounds very logical on the surface, but Siri isn't willing to let it die there. Is it really as simple as it sounds or could there be something more worrisome afoot?

Set in the mid-1970's, author Colin Cotterill's novel captures Laos in an interesting part of the country's history. The new government, the Lao Democratic Republic has only been in place for 18 months. The Soviet and Vietnamese influence is strong. There is much political turmoil in the country. In his younger years Siri had been among those who sought the change in government, fought alongside the resistance in favor of a more socialist and fair government. A youth's idealism had been dashed many times over as reality set in. The situation in Laos continued to be fraught with tension and strife. The author adeptly offers the reader a feel and taste for the environment in Laos during that time period as well as takes the reader into the heart and mind of the people.

Dr. Siri Paiboun proves to be an interesting character. Charming and funny, he is both old fashioned and forward thinking. Despite his age and desire for a quiet life, Siri has a spirit about him that is contagious. Although not explored fully in this particular novel, most likely an ongoing feature in the series, there is thread of mysticism that runs throughout the novel. Siri hosts the spirit of a Shaman, which sometimes allows him to communicate with the dead. It fits nicely into the story and does not come across as over the top at any time. If anything, it offers a good balance between the doctor's strong scientific preference and his spiritual side. The other characters in the novel are well crafted and just as intriguing. It is clear that they are devoted to Siri and in doing what they believe is right.

The story itself took a convoluted route to reach the end. It seemed to meander a bit, but as a first time reader of the series, it provided me with the opportunity to get to know the characters and a bit of their history, particularly that of Daeng, Civilai and Siri, all old friends whose idealism and political leanings had helped bring them together all those years ago.

Colin Cotterill weaves a complex tale of political intrigue, friendship, dreams, and disappointments. I look forward to reading more this author in the future. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2008.

Rating: * (Very Good)

I highly recommend you stop by Colin Cotterill's website for a visit. It's a neat site.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Salon: A Week with the Cullens

My town was blessed at the beginning of last week with two days of nearly nonstop rain. The area desperately needs hydration and fall never seems quite complete without a few storms coming this way. Days like that only increase my desire for curling up with a book on the couch or cozying up under the covers in bed and reading for as long as I want. Unfortunately, duty called and I did have to brave the roads and go to work.

Still, I was able to spend some time lost in the written world, making my escape to another place if only for a short time. It wasn't my intention to spend so much time with the Cullens and Bella Swan, but that is where my reading took me. I managed to finish Stephanie Meyer's New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn this past week, even fitting in the portion of Midnight Sun that the author has posted on her website. Cold, rainy and overcast weather seemed a fitting backdrop for reading the rest of the popular series.

I am not going to write my usual reviews for any of these books nor will I be providing summaries of the books (you can read my review of the first book in the series, Twilight, here). I have been working them through my mind, trying to think of what I might say, but each time I come up empty. These books have garnered so much attention, bad and good and everything in between in recent weeks, months, and even years. Readers have analyzed, criticized and raved about these books beyond what I would have imagined possible--or even found necessary. I have followed discussions that end in bitterness as those who love the books defend them at every turn and those who do not care for the books berate them and rip the series apart, finding fault in every corner. The passion, whether out of love or disgust, the series brings out in people is, well, amusing to me.

I am not trying to minimize the impact the books have on anyone nor am I saying that people should not have strong opinions. I do like it when books get attention and encourage discourse. I just find it to be a fascinating process: which books are put on that pedestal, how the public reacts to those books, and how the craze and trends evolve. There are those people who shake their head in wonder at such hoopla and others who jump right on the wagon to see what it is all about. It is an interesting phenomena all the way around.

Reading a book is an intimate and personal process. We each are drawn to different aspects of a book, repelled or pulled in for different reasons. A character that I may find appealing may not be appealing to someone else. How I perceive a character could be quite different from how someone else perceives that same character. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. It is just one of the many facets that makes reading and the discussion of books all that more intriguing. I have enjoyed reading the various reviews of the Twilight Series immensely. If I have one regret, it is that I paid too much attention to them before reading the series for myself.

I put off reading the Twilight Series until after the fourth and final book of the series came out. I went back and forth about reading the series at all for quite a while, weighing the positive with the negative. I like vampire fiction. I don't especially care for young adult fiction, however, and too much romance bores me. I was not sure what I would think of this young adult vampire romance series. I took a chance and dived in, deciding to ride the wave like so many others.

I finished the series feeling satisfied. The Twilight Series was a good escape for me. It was just what I needed at the time in my life when I read it. Sure, Bella is annoying as all get out (I was about ready to pull my hair out a few times, especially in New Moon), and I wasn't quite put under the same spell by Edward or Jacob that so many fans seem to have been. Of all the books, I liked Eclipse the best. It flowed the smoothest and was the most suspenseful and action-oriented. I have no major issues with Breaking Dawn, which has garnered a lot of criticism among readers everywhere. I did not feel the same sense of betrayal by the author that so many others have expressed. It seemed a fitting finale, in my mind, although there were a few minor things I might prefer had been done differently. I especially enjoyed the last 300 or so pages of that final book--even holding my breath on a few occasions as events played out.

I liked Stephanie Meyer's take on the vampire world. It is always interesting to see what direction an author will go when creating his or her own stories around the fictional creatures. Will the author stick with tradition and borrow from myths already written or go down a completely new path, recreating the history and image of the vampire, different from we all have come to expect? In Stephanie Meyer's case, she borrowed from the old as well as created anew, and, for her series, it worked well.

I nearly did not read the partial draft of Midnight Sun after reading the author's note Stephanie Meyer included before she offered the link on her website. I feel a little guilty that I went forward anyway, despite the author's preference that I not. Midnight Sun is basically Twilight from Edward Cullen's perspective. I have mixed feelings about whether the book is necessary at all, mostly in the direction of hoping the author will leave things the way they are, but that really is not for me to say. The author has to do what she feels and thinks is right--it is, after all, her story to tell. The author has put the completion of Midnight Sun off indefinitely after a good portion of it landed on the internet against her wishes.

Overall, I found the Twilight Series entertaining and fun. For those who like comparisons: no, I did not enjoy it as much as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series and it will never live up to Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series. Twilight will not be counted among my favorites, although I imagine it will linger for quite a while in my memory, and I may even find myself rereading the series someday. I enjoyed the time I spent in Stephanie Meyer's world and am glad I decided to take the trip.

Week in Review:
Chunkster Challenge Wrap Up
Review of Baby Shark by Robert Fate
Bookish Chatter

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chunkster Challenge Completed

What was the goal of the 2008 Chunkster Challenge? How did you do?

I set out to read four books over 450 pages long between January 7th and December 20th of this year, and I am happy to say I did manage it! The only thing I failed to do was link my reviews on the designated blog site in a timely fashion. How I could forget to do that, I do not know. But I did. My reviews are linked there now, just in the nick of time, but I still feel like a bit of a cheat (just wait until my wrap of of the 1st in the Series Challenge--then you'll know just how big of a cheat I am).

What books did you read for the challenge?

I had intended to read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy for this challenge, but I never actually managed to make it too far into that particular tome. I haven't given up hope of one day reading it though. It just wasn't the right time. The four books I did read for this challenge were not very challenging as they were all rather quick reads despite the length.

What was the best book you read for this challenge? Your least favorite?

The two historical novels were among my favorites this year not only in regards to this challenge, but in my overall reading for the year. Nefertiti took me into a part of history I know so little about and The 19th Wife shed light on a history I was familiar with, but had not known in such detail. Both were intriguing books with characters I instantly related to and wanted to know more about. I also was quite drawn to the modern day story in The 19th Wife.

Twilight was a fun escapist novel, even if I occasionally rolled my eyes. I enjoyed losing myself in Stephanie Meyer's tale. I managed to read Twilight in less than a day, much to my surprise.

I really only picked up Critical Space by Greg Rucka to read in preparation for reading Patriot Acts, the latest in the Kodiak Atticus series, which I had volunteered to review earlier this year. The books are so intricately tied together that reading them out of order would have proved detrimental to my overall enjoyment and understanding of Patriot Acts. While I liked Critical Space on some levels, I am not sure it is a series I will seek out in the future if the author continues with it.

Did you try any new-to-you authors? Will you seek out other books by these authors?

Greg Rucka was the only author of the four mentioned above that was not new to me. I really enjoy Greg Rucka's Queen and Country series and will definitely be sticking with that as long as he continues to write books for the series.

Of the three new-to-me authors, I plan to read more by each of the authors. I already have one of David Ebershoff's earlier books in my TBR collection as well as Michelle Moran's most recent book. And I currently am reading the second in the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer.

I appreciate all of the hard work that Dana over at So many books, so little time put into the 2008 Chunkster Challenge this year. Congratulations to all the other participants who completed the challenge and to those who gave it a try. It was a lot of fun!