Tag Archives: A-Z reading challenge 2013

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Published: 1966

Genre: YA fiction

Length: 196 pages

Setting: Cornwall, 1960s

Interest: It’s the first book in the Dark Is Rising series that I picked up to read to my kids at some point. I offered a couple of choices for Miss Adventure to pick for her bedtime story (we’re taking a little break from the Anne of Green Gables series to flush L. M. Montgomery’s writing style out of my brain) and she chose this one. I’ve never read the series, so I was happy with her choice.

Summary: Simon, Jane, and Barney are on vacation in Trewissick, staying at the Grey House with their Great-Uncle Merry. While they’re exploring the old house one day, they find an ancient manuscript. Great-Uncle Merry is able to decipher the message. It described a series of clues to find the hiding place for the Holy Grail from Arthurian legends. There are dark forces trying to find the Grail as well, in the form of the Wither’s and Mr. Hastings. The children search for the Grail’s hiding spot while Great-Uncle Merry leads the Wither’s and Mr. Hastings on a wild goose chase. It’s a close call as to who will end up with the Grail, but the children succeed in the end.

Final thoughts: This seems like a sneaky magic book. So far, the book is just your standard adventure-with-kids story. Kids find an old map, have to decipher the clues and find the treasure before the bad guys do. No magic, but many hints. Is Great-Uncle Merry actually Merlin? Who are these dark forces after the Grail? What’s the secret behind using the Grail? I’m going to guess the magic quotient increases as the books go on (kind of like you see in the Game of Thrones series).

The children are the main characters, and they are good role models who work together as a team to solve the riddle. Each sibling has a different personality, so there’s someone to bond with for most readers. For once, the parents aren’t completely AWOL (that’s always an annoyance to me reading the story – where are the parents who are letting their kids jaunt around everywhere unattended?), just not integral to the plot. They usually let the kids go off and do their own thing, but the parents do make a regular appearance.

As a read-aloud, it’s OK. The chapters are too long to read easily in one sitting, and there’s no logical break points within the chapters either. I also found it annoying to have to keep saying “Great-Uncle Merry” whenever he was on the scene. When you’re reading it to yourself, your brain can just skip over the whole set of words, but you can’t do that in a read-aloud. Regardless, we’ll be reading the rest of the series. I want to know what happens to the Grail and the children!

Reading challenges fulfilled: 39/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and an O in my Title Alphabet Soup Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Published: 1952

Genre: portal children’s fantasy

Length: 121 pages

Setting: the Great Eastern Ocean in the world of Narnia, a few years after the events of Prince Caspian

Interest: It’s the fifth book in the Chronicles of Narnia that I’m reading to Mr. Curiosity

Summary: Lucy, Edmund, and their annoying cousin Eustace are magically transported onto the Dawn Treader, a Narnian ship carrying King Caspian on a voyage as far east as possible. They are looking for seven Lords sent East by Caspian’s Uncle, and hoping to find Aslan’s country as well. The Dawn Treader quickly moves into uncharted territory, but on each island they find evidence of at least one of the Lords they are searching for. On one island, Eustace is turned into a dragon. On another, they find a pool that can turn anything into gold. On a third, they find invisible helpers that need Lucy to turn them visible again. On a fourth, the island is covered in darkness. Finally, they come to an island that is the last in the world. From their, they journey ever eastward, until they reach the actual edge of the world.

Final thoughts: A fun little adventure story, with an imaginative variety of escapades for the crew to be involved in on each different island. However, I found Aslan’s appearances to be quite annoying in this book. Every time someone gets stuck, Aslan appears to magically fix the problem, looking disapproving the whole time. Even worse, in the last chapter he appears as a glowing, white Lamb that morphs into a Lion. The Christ imagery was just a bit heavy-handed. Time to take a break from the series.

The book does make a good read-aloud, though. The chapters aren’t too long, so I could read one a night in 10-15 minutes. The names are a bit odd, but nothing too hard, and the text flows quite nicely when read aloud.

Title comes from: Descriptive

Reading challenges fulfilled: 35/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a V in my Alphabet Soup Title Challenge

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Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Published: 1971

Genre: fiction

Length: 353 pages

Setting: Brewer, a small Pennsylvanian town, July 1969 (the moon launch and landing was on the news)

Summary: Janice decides to leave Harry (aka Rabbit), mainly because he’s refused to have sex with her ever since their baby died. Harry is left taking care of their teenage son, Nelson, worrying about his mother, who has Parkinson’s disease, and working as a linotyper at a dying printer’s. Harry ends up taking in a run-away teen, Jill, who keeps her place in the house by sleeping with Harry. Harry’s also convinced to take in Skeeter, a civil rights conscious, young black man who skipped out on parole. Skeeter tries to educate Harry and Nelson on the difficulties living as a young black man. He also brings drugs into the house, which Jill cannot resist. There is a fire and Harry’s house burns down, killing Jill. Skeeter leaves ,and Janice wants to come back, but Harry isn’t sure he want her.

Final thoughts: I don’t see the attraction to the Rabbit books that many of the critics have. I will say, there were a lot of major events going on in July of 1969 – the moon landing, race riots, war, drugs, sex. With all that’s going on, Harry just kind of floats along. He’s presented with Jill who expects she needs to provide sex to live with Harry, so he has sex with her. Skeeter shows up, and Harry lets him stay until Skeeter burns the house down, even though Skeeter makes for many difficult situations.

Title comes from: The main character’s nickname is Rabbit and it’s the second book he’s featured in.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 96/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a U in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (20/26)

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Freedom Incorporated by Peter Tylee

tyleepother09Freedom_IncorporatedPublished: 2005

Genre: science fiction

Length: 513 pages

Setting: various points on a future Earth

Interest: It was a random book on my Kindle that fulfilled a letter in my author challenge. You can get the book yourself at ManyBooks.

Summary: Jen, Samantha, and Cookie are activists working together to hack into corporate computers. They live in a world where advertisers rule, Echelon monitors all internet and mobile traffic, there are portals that can instantly transport you anywhere, and everyone has a microchip in their spine for identification and monitoring purposes. They are trying to open people’s eyes to the corporate control over everything, but are labelled as terrorists because of their actions. Dan Sutherland is a bounty hunter tasked with bringing Jen into custody, but she’s also being hunted by Raven, a cyborg who wants to kill Jen, and Esteban, who wants to turn Jen into a sex slave. Esteban captures Jen, and Dan tries to find her. In the process, he learns that the material used in portal technology is unstable. They all get into Uniforce (the company hiring the bounty hunters), kill the upper management, and put Jen’s father in charge of the corporation.

Final thoughts: This was a book that tried to do too much. I liked the world and the premise that corporations had essentially taken over all the public and government functions. The bounty hunter plot was nice – who was going to get Jen first? The by the book Dan or the crazy cyborg Raven? The problem was, we had about four other subplots running around as well – some revenge, sex slaves, a conspiracy to hide a technological problem, infighting at Uniforce. It was a bit too much to shoehorn into one story. A fair amount of blood, sex and violence as well.

Title comes from: The lack of freedom people in society had and the power of the corporations.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 95/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a T in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (19/26)

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The Sanctuary by Raymond Khoury

Published: 2007

Genre: thriller

Length: 432 pages

Setting: mostly the Middle East, present day, but also Europe in the 1700s

Interest: I was looking for an author’s whose last name started with K and remembered enjoying another of his books, so I snagged this one from the library.

Summary: We follow two distinct timelines. In the 1700s, Sebastian is looking to fix a formula while being hounded by the Prince of San Severo. There are hints that Sebastian doesn’t age as other men, and that’s why the Prince is after him. In the present day, there are several researchers and a soldier on the lookout for instances of the Ouroboros. There was an ancient secret society associated with the symbol that the archeologists Evelyn and Tom were researching. Jim Corben, a soldier, also discovered the symbol when he was trying to capture the hakeem – a doctor doing highly unethical research into longevity. They all come together when Farouk tries to get Evelyn to buy some smuggled antiquities, including a book inscribed with the Ouroboros. All the players try to obtain the book with the hakeem willing to use lethal force to reach his goal of immortality. Both timelines come together at the end of the book.

Final thoughts: A good enough story that was saved by a twist half-way through the story. It’s in the same genre as Dan Brown’s books  – take a bit of interesting, unexplained history, and fit a conspiracy/supernatural explanation to it. I enjoyed the setting and the flashbacks also added quite a bit to the story. I was glad they did find the solution to the formula in the end and the hakeem didn’t survive. I usually want the bad guys to get their comeuppance.

Title comes from: The place where the secret was discovered and kept for hundreds of years.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 94/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a K in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (18/26)

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

Published: 1979

Genre: technically science fiction, but felt more like historical fiction

Length: 264 pages

Setting: mostly near Baltimore, MD around the 1850s

Interest: Butler is one of the Grand Dames of science fiction and also important as a writer of color. I’ve sadly never read any of her works and decided to rectify that omission. It helped that she fulfilled a letter in my author challenge.

Summary: Dana is a black woman living with her white husband in 1976. They’ve just moved to a new house when Dana gets dizzy and wakes up on riverbank with a young boy drowning nearby. She saves the boy, but is threatened by the father and wakes up back in her own time. Dana discovers the boy, Rufus, is her ancestor, and she’s called back to his side every time his life is threatened. Dana saves him each time to ensure her bloodline. She only goes back to her own time when she fears she’s in mortal danger, so she spends quite a bit of time in Rufus’ household as a quasi-slave. In one jump, her husband comes with her, but isn’t touching her when she jumps back to the present so he’s stuck in the past for a time. Dana tries to influence Rufus so he’s not so cruel to his slaves, but is only partially successful.

Final thoughts: I enjoyed the book, although I have a hard time considering it to be science fiction. Yes, there was time travel, but it wasn’t ever explained. That’s fine within the story – you just accept that it happens and never really wonder how, but there’s no “science” to it. It’s more of a historical fiction book. I thought the same of Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, and as long as I approach it as a historical fiction book, I enjoy it much more than as a science fiction book. In this case, there was a black person from modern-day having to fit into antebellum Southern society. It’s amazing how easily Dana falls into patterns of the day and slavery. It’s definitely told from a unique perspective. When Dana’s white husband gets caught in the same time period but has a totally different experience because of his skin color, it really made you think. The transition back to modern life and the feeling that something was lacking was also quite thought-provoking. All in all, a good book, but I want to read one of her more solidly science fiction books as well.

Title comes from: Dana was always summoned back to save Rufus’ life and he was her ancestor. They are kin and kindred spirits.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 92/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a B in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (17/26)

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The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Published: 1993

Genre: fiction

Length: 337 pages

Setting: mostly Killick-Claw, Newfoundland, and it’s environs, present day when it was published

Interest: It won a Pulitzer Prize and fulfills a letter in my author reading challenge – a two for one book!

Summary: Quoyle is a bit of a loser – he’s hopelessly in love with Sunshine, his wife who sleeps around whenever she gets a chance, and works on and off at the local newspaper. When Sunshine and his parents die and his only friend moves away in quick succession, there’s nothing keeping him in Mockingburg, NY. His aunt persuades him to move back to the family home in Quoyle’s Point, Newfoundland, with his two daughters. Turns out, the home hasn’t been lived in in decades and is falling apart, but they still try to make a go of it. Quoyle gets a job at the local newspaper. He’s assigned car wrecks and shipping news. Turns out, he’s pretty good at writing little articles about the ships that are in port. Quoyle quickly becomes part of the local life – going fishing, building a boat, and even courting a local widow. His girls also make friends, and Quoyle starts to become much more confident and successful in his new home than he ever was in Mockingburg.

Final thoughts: I really grew to like this book. In the beginning of the book, Quoyle is such a loser. He knows he’s failing at everything but can’t manage to improve his life. I really found him annoying. However, once he gets to Newfoundland, the story got much more interesting. I loved the setting and the feel of a small-town, fishing community. Quoyle also starts to make improvements in his life and be less whiny. I ended up rooting for him to get the girl and the job at the newspaper.

Title comes from: One of Quoyle’s first assignments when he got to Killick-Claw (across the bay from Quoyle’s Point) was to get the shipping news for what ships were in port for the local paper.

Awards won: Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1994 and the National Book Award for fiction in 1993

Reading challenges fulfilled: 89/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, an X in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (17/26), and 13/12 in the Award Winning Book Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Published: 2005

Genre: military science fiction

Length: 314 pages

Setting: far future Earth and off planet colonies

Interest: I read his blog and enjoy his writing, so I figured it was time to read one of his books as well. This is the first in a series so it was a good place to start.

Summary: John Perry joined the Colonial Defense Forces on his 75th birthday, as many 75 year-olds do. The CDF turns these old people into soldiers by transferring their consciousness into new and improved bodies. John goes through basic training with some friends he met on the transport to the base. He is then assigned to a platoon to fight aliens and nearly dies in the battle of Coral. He is rescued by Special Forces, including someone who looks like his dead wife. He then fights with the Special Forces to retake Coral, which gives him special status as being the only realborn ever to fight with Special Forces (or the Ghost Brigade, as they are colloquially known).

Final thoughts: A good military sci-fi book. The cover compares the book to Heinlein, and I definitely see the connection, especially to Starship Troopers. Scalzi presents an interesting concept to set up an army since you can only join from the U.S. if you’re 75, and once you join the CDF you’re considered legally dead on Earth and can never go back. However, it’s the only way to get off planet if you’re from the U.S. Nothing too deep, but a lot of fun to read and definitely worth checking out the others in the series.

Title comes from: The main character is an old man put in a young person’s body and sent to fight any war the CDF sees as important.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 89/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and an S in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (16/26)

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or the title to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe

Subtitle: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

Published: 2010

Genre: nonfiction, gardening

Length: 287 pages of text, 323 pages with appendices

Interest: I can’t remember why I put this book on my reading list in the first place, but I’m always interested in reading about how to improve my gardening techniques.

Summary: There really are two parts to the book. In the first part, Deppe discusses her approach to gardening. As climate change makes the weather more variable, it becomes important to garden so you get some results, even under less than perfect conditions. If one crop fails, you should have a back-up in place. She also gardens with minimal inputs, which helps ensure some harvest even if you can’t get the fertilizer, pesticides (she uses none) or irrigation on when exactly needed. In the second part of the book, Deppe discusses the particulars of growing five staples the can realistically (and tastily) feed your family – potatoes, eggs (chicken or duck), squash, beans, and corn. For each, she provides specific varieties that grow easily and taste good, and how to plant, harvest, store and keep seed for next. She also provides recipes to use the vegetables and eggs.

Final thoughts: I will admit, I enjoyed the first half of the book the most. I just don’t have a big enough gardening space (nor the desire to find more) to start growing pounds and pounds of staple crops. The specific varieties she recommends probably won’t work for me either since she’s in the Pacific Northwest and I’m on the Great Lakes. Much different climate. Even so, I found the book quite interesting and worth it to read just for the first few chapters. She certainly makes it sound easy to grow the staples she recommends, and I do wish I had enough space for chickens. Someday!

Title comes from: Deppe emphasize resilience in her garden – multiple varieties of each staple that germinate and ripen at different times so if a problem arises, you hopefully don’t lose everything. Multiple staple crops, and saving seeds are also a strategy she emphasizes.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 88/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a D in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (15/26), and 16/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for agriculture

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or the subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Published: 2013

Genre: fiction

Length: 368 pages

Setting: U’ivu Islands in Micronesia and Stanford, 1950s to the present

Interest: It was in the new book section of my local library. I picked it up because it sounded vaguely familiar (and fulfilled a letter in my author challenge). The setting and scientific aspect of the story drew me to bring it home.

Summary: Perina Norton is a med student in the 1950s and he doesn’t really want to practice medicine. He gets the opportunity to take part in an anthropological trip, along with Tallent and Esme, to find a lost tribe in Micronesia. They find a tribe on Ivu’ivu that has been segregated from outside influences from decades. They also find the dreamers, a group of natives who are much older than any in the tribe. In fact, their bodies don’t seem to age the way everyone else’s does. Norton discovers it’s because each one of them has eaten an opa’ivu’eke (an endemic turtle). Norton takes some of the turtle home with him to conduct experiments on and he confirms the evidence provided by the dreamers in his lab. Sadly, that confirmation results in the degradation of the culture and land of the Ivu’ivuans and the extinction of the turtles. Norton continues to go back, adopting over forty children from the island almost as penance for his actions.

Final thoughts: A fascinating story told as a memoir of a scientist’s life, down to footnotes and journal references. I had to keep reminding myself it was a fiction book and not nonfiction. The story on the island of discovering the dreamers and what they meant was a curious mix of banality (everything gets routine) and hope, and then it all crashes and burns in the end. No one from that initial trip ends up with a successful life. Norton probably holds it together the longest, but at the same time I think he drops the lowest. The island is ravaged and Norton’s personal life descends into pedophilia (the very end takes a bit of a turn into “adult situations”). I do love the fact he managed to find someone to run away with and start over at the very end. Maybe this time he could be happy. I also loved how the author represented science – it’s not glamorous most of the time, but there are flashes of insight and greatness (that can easily be lost).

Title comes from: The dreamers were found wandering among the trees of the forests on Ivu’ivu.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 86/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a Y in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (14/26)

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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