I post reviews on books you recommend to me. You argue with me or agree with me. We have fun all around, and I get enriched. Hopefully.

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

I picked this up a week or two ago at Chapters, and started actually reading it one Tuesday or so, finishing it two days later. Some of the language is a little less PC that what one might expect to read nowadays, but that was to be expected, seeing as how it was written in the 60s, as near as I can see.

Anyhow, it's the story of a mentally-disabled man who has the opportunity to undertake a surgical procedure to 'cure' his mental retardation. It's been tested out on a mouse named Algernon, and worked exceptionally well, so they find someone who is eager to learn and improve, and get his consent to do the test. The book is told in journal-style, through "progress reports" that Charlie writes, detailing everything that's going on with him, what he thinks and feels and remembers and so on.

The story is really interesting and well-written; you get to see Charlie as he progresses through his development, winds up romantically and emotionally involved with a few women, and finds the flaws in the procedure. I had a lot of sympathy for Algernon, and also for Charlie, but he has a fairly resigned approach to it all. It's hard to feel really sad for him, because he doesn't feel sad for himself.

I'm sure if I'd studied this book in high school or university like most other people I'd feel differently about it -- same with Of Mice and Men, which I also enjoyed -- but this one was nice. I know Ben's about half-way through it right now and is also enjoying it.
posted by Jen on 11:54 AM

Monday, August 16, 2004
Read recently:

The Cinderella Rules, by Donna Kauffman
Dear Prince Charming, by Donna Kauffman
Hot & Bothered, by Susan Andersen
Undead and Unemployed, by Maryjanice Davidson
The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
Deception Point, by Dan Brown
Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown
All my friends are superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman
Cerulean Sins, by Laurell K. Hamilton
Cravings, by Laurell K. Hamilton, Maryjanice Davidson, Eileen Wilks, Rebecca York
Bedside Manners, by Josey Vogels

... and I'm sure there are others, I just can't think of them off the top of my head.

posted by Jen on 12:49 PM

Sunday, August 24, 2003
The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler

I dithered over buying this book for the longest time. I was always worried that it would be a bunch of wonky things that wouldn't speak to me. Instead, it was interesting. It had funny moments, and touching moments, and moments when I was nodding my head and saying to myself, "This is what I was trying to say in this or that article." I really enjoyed it, and it made me wish that I'd auditioned for the production of The Vagina Monologues that I'd noticed advertised at my university in third year. I took the tag, but never followed up on it, and reading the book made me wish I had.

The Secret Language of Girls, by Josey Vogels

Another book I picked up and set down countless times, this one was funny. It delved into subjects that are difficult to discuss in groups of guys (my usual crew), and it again had me nodding my head in agreement at times. It talked of how it is that women communicate, why relationships with women are important, and how it is that women relate to one another, both in their private lives and their business lives.

One of the parts that made me laugh the hardest was the "glossary" at the back, "explaining" how it is that men ought to interpret such common phrases as "I'm fine" and "That feels good." I wished in a way that she'd discussed issues of sex and how women discuss sex a bit more thoroughly, because I think it would've been hilarious to read her take on it, but no matter. I highly recommend both books.
posted by Jen on 10:31 PM

Sunday, August 10, 2003
The Classics

The last little while has seen me make a concerted effort to read some of the classics that I never read and feel I ought; especially if it means helping out my writing.

I've read a few classics in the past: Watership Down, by Richard Adams, which I simply adored. I highly recommend this book every chance I get, and I plan to reread this and Animal Farm, by George Orwell, in the near future. The grammatical phrasing on that one might be kinda weak; I read Animal Farm years ago, and I enjoyed it.

Anyhow, I recently read Dracula, by Bram Stoker, and I enjoyed it. It's an epistollary novel (welcome to my English classes and them staying with me), which seemed to be a fairly common occurance in the older genre. It's interesting to see how vampires have evolved since their "creation" through Stoker, and particularly how they're treated by Stoker and by someone more current, such as Joss Whedon, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both the movie (which I haven't seen) and the television show.

During my consumption of Dracula, I took some time to read Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Again, it's interesting to see how Mr. Hyde is portrayed differently in movies and subsequent treatments as from the book. The book is quite short, and easy to read; in fact, nearly half the story is told after the main character has died, which was a neat way to learn about him. It's an interesting take on the dual nature of people, and of how repressing all of our negative characteristics can lead to problems.

From there, I moved on to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Again, an interesting novel; well, novella, really. I had no real preconceived notions about the book, and I've certainly not seen the movie, but time machines are a common concept in television, movies, and books since. Wells' story was again told in flashback -- a story within a story, as my high school English teacher was fond of saying (as in the case of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) -- and it was not what I expected. I'm not sure what I expected, but the story I got wasn't it. Wells' view of the need for work and the threats that pure leisure lives can pose was interesting considering the near-snobbish main character.

Last night, I finished Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. I'm not generally a fan of dystopian literature; The Lord of the Flies was a turn-off to me, if I may be honest. I found Huxley's treatment of women in Brave New World to be somewhat dismissive, and I don't know if that was simply my reading of it, or if he was actually against women. The concept of freemartins, and women being entirely responsible for birth control, not to mention the fact that Linda was hideous, bloated and ugly, whereas Lenina was somewhat dippy, and couldn't "see" the same things that Bernard, Helmholtz, and John "The Savage" could see.

I'm sure I should've gotten much more meaning out of some of the conversations that took place in the book -- deep meanings about life, the universe, and everything -- but frankly, I'm reading for entertainment or enrichment first. I'm not studying these books for a class, or anything like that, so I'm getting out of them whatever I feel like getting out of them. :)
posted by Jen on 8:14 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Striptease, by Carl Hiaasen
Skin Tight, by Carl Hiaasen
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
Getting Lucky, by Susan Andersen
Scold's Bridle, by Minette Walters

I think that's it for now. Keep watching. :)
posted by Jen on 4:08 PM

Friday, February 14, 2003
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

This was the first time I have read anything by Agatha Christie, and I enjoyed myself. My class has been studying Victorian mystery literature, so having a more modern text was a welcome change. Not that I’m denouncing Victorian literature, but sometimes all of the excusing and posturing and what was and wasn’t acceptable can get rather tiresome.

I didn’t realize that Christie wrote so recently (she died only in 1974), so while it wasn’t exactly completely new material, it was nice to hear mention of cars and telephones in a novel for a change.

I can’t say too much about the book without ruining the twist ending – and it is quite an interesting twist – but I have to say, and I don’t know if it’s my problem or a comment on the material, but I had a hard time keeping the details of the book in my head. I would read a few chapters, put the book down, pick it up a day later and have a hard time remembering that which I’d read the time before. I don’t normally have that problem – at least not so pronounced – but I hesitate to blame it on the book, ‘cause it’s not as if the book was boring.

Rather, the construction of the story was quite good, and I did enjoy it. I hesitate to say any more without spoiling the book, but overall the characters were enjoyable and it was interesting to view the detective from a more removed outsider than I had with Watson’s viewing of Holmes.

Speaking of whom…

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This novella completed our mini-compendium of Sherlock Holmes tales. In class, we covered eight short stories (if memory serves, the first short story ever written onwards, more or less – conversely, the third story in which Holmes ever appears), and the Hound was the first story written after Holmes had been killed off; at least, according to my professor.

Anyhow, this story was one I’d read years ago as a child, and it was the condensed children’s version – with illustrations! – but I didn’t remember much of it at all. The only problem I had with the version I read this time around, and it was the same problem I had with The Moonstone, is that there was a great deal of it that was annotated. In most cases, this meant that it was explaining various bits of slang, news references, or references to items that we might have around anymore. Fair enough. What I had a problem with was when it made reference to clues or bits of information that Conan Doyle (or Collins) took out of the text. The notes at the back of the book sometimes provided hints that I would not have otherwise gotten (such as, “the person in the dogcart, based on the description, obviously had to be so-and-so”) and I found that somewhat frustrating. I have confidence in my own intelligence, suspicions and ability to reason, so I would have preferred to piece things together on my own.

Nonetheless, the story itself is quite interesting. It never ceases to amaze me how mystery authors can present the crime, most of the clues, and the suspicions of the detective(s) in the first portion of the book, then spend the next hundred pages, numerous chapters or number of “days” (for example, the crime in The Moonstone took over a year before it was solved) adding minor details here and there, fleshing out suspicions and concepts, before the crime itself is solved.

In the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the reader is absorbed with trying to determine whether or not the rumored hound truly is supernatural or even an actual fact. In addition, the reader is caught up in wondering how it was that other Baskervilles have been killed, and whether the current one – the heir of the family manor – will be next… and if so, when.

It’s not the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read, but it was a good one. I happen to have a compendium of Sherlock Holmes stories, I believe it is all of the Holmes stories, and I look forward to reading them. Conan Doyle knows how to move a story along, and he has a quick wit about him. Holmes isn’t a perfect figure; he can be arrogant and he is addicted to drugs, and it’s nice to see flaws in such an otherwise unshakeable character.

Basket Case, by Carl Hiaasen

Continuing my trend of Carl Hiaasen novels (I’m currently reading Strip Tease, which was turned into a rather bad movie featuring Demi Moore, Ving Rhames and Burt Reynolds), I finished off Basket Case a few days ago.

I commented last time that there appeared to be a trend of sorts in Hiaasen’s novels, at least of the two I’d read up until then; this novel helped to break that trend. Basket Case has as its main character an obituary columnist who delights in tormenting his editor and scheming ways to get back onto the front pages, where he had originally been before insulting the owner of the newspaper.

The book deals with the apparently accidental death of a washed-up rock star, someone familiar to the generation to which the protagonist, Jack Taggart, belongs. As he studies the circumstances and the widow more carefully, Taggart realizes there is more to the story than just a simple death, and he pries.

The story is written with Hiaasen’s increasingly familiar eye to humor and entertainment, and if death is something that turns you off, this one is a safer read than the others I’ve covered; there are only three or four deaths (I can’t give an exact number without spoiling one of the mysteries) and they’re not described graphically at all.

Hiaasen’s characters are fun to read, because they’re written as real people with real quirks and foibles. People have flaws, they have oddities, but they’re still fun to read about. For the most part, his characters are written fairly much along the “good” or “bad” axis – it’s easy to pick the good guys from the bad, at least in this story – but sometimes his characters aren’t so easily classified (as in the past two novels of his I’ve read). The reader can feel sympathy for the character in question, and understand why he or she may be doing what he or she is doing, but not agree with the methods.

Overall, once again I’d classify this one as a good beach read, and the plot is certainly not difficult to follow; I didn’t have the problem of losing particulars of the story in between readings. Certainly a book worth picking up, as any of the others I have written about today are.
posted by Jen on 3:08 PM

Friday, January 31, 2003
Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen

This is the second book by Carl Hiaasen that I’ve read, and I certainly enjoy his work so far. The writing is absorbing, and I find that once I start one of his books, I want to keep reading until I finish it. I’ll certainly keep buying his books when I encounter them, and I know that he has quite the library that I’ll be able to collect.

So far, I find that there are similar elements to the books of his I’ve read; they’re based in Miami, and there is one main character that feels that the people and the tourists who are in the area are ruining it. In the first book that I read (Tourist Season), there was a character that was actively trying to harm people; in this second one, he was isolating his attention to one particular character.

Hiaasen also has the entertaining habit of introducing characters, giving us a quick background on them and how they’re bad people (usually), then either harming them or killing them off. It’s fairly entertaining, and there are little moments of justice to carry you over until the main villain(s) receive their brand of justice.

It’s difficult to classify his books, although so far the bookstores appear to be resorting to “fiction”; there are elements of romance, of intrigue/suspense, of humour… they’re rather well-rounded, but perhaps a bit on the pulpy side. At the same time, I’m not reading his books expecting great literary insights, so the beach-read style of it satisfies me. They’re well-written beach reads, and that’s not a common thing to find.

Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie

I’m a great fan of Jennifer Crusie’s work, and wait with baited breath to read each new novel she puts out. I first was exposed to her writing when she wrote for Harlequin Romance, and followed her into the fiction genre when she left the corporation.

Her books involve real people – women who are flawed, who are frequently a bit older than the standard romance novel heroine, men who are interested in women in general, the heroine in particular, often because of her flaws and foibles, her quirks and the unusual aspects of her character – and they consistently involve dogs. Each book, to the best of my recollection, involves a character that either finds a dog (at least with regards to the fiction novels), or already has a dog (more the Harlequins). The dogs are generally not the focal point of the story (except for Crazy for you), but play an important role for the heroines. Sex isn’t always perfect, especially the first time, but something that the characters can improve upon and enjoy.

The dogs are traditionally mutts of indiscriminate breed, and are frequently ugly by traditional standards, but loved and appreciated nonetheless, and this is something I really love to read about in books. I don’t go looking for books that specifically feature this, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when it’s encountered.

The protagonists in the books are not angels, nor are they devils; they’re merely real people who have lived real lives and taken their knocks. Her books usually have a crime of some sort in it; either murder, stalking, forgery (as in this book), with a great deal of cover-up involved. Both the men and the women work to improve the situation – the women aren’t helpless or useless, but often do require the assistance of the man in order to solve the crime. This isn’t to say they wouldn’t be able to manage it on their own, just that it’s aided by the man… when he has all of the facts, which isn’t always the case.

The one minor complaint that I do have is that Crusie often simply dumps a whole bunch of names into her books, and sometimes takes some time to explain how the characters are related to one another; at least, that was somewhat evident in this book in particular. On the whole, however, I found it a real page-turner, as I do with all of her books, and would heartily recommend it, and the rest of her library, to anyone interested in the genre. Her works are another type that is difficult to classify: they incorporate romance, mystery, intrigue, and suspense. However, I’d likely put the romance around the top of list; it’s usually more of a focal point than with other fiction authors, but closely intertwined with the mystery and suspense. If you’re looking for another high-quality type of beach read, by all means, explore Jennifer Crusie’s works.
posted by Jen on 4:42 PM


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