November/December '08 Reviews

1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Pao (Nely)
2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Nely)
3. Wendy (Rebecca)
4. Flowers for Algernon (Lauren
5. B isf for Burglar (Lauren)
6. Blindness (Teresa)
7. The Gathering (J)
8. Tricia (An Abundance of Katherines)
9. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Nely)
10. Cath (Mortal Engines)
11. The Kite Runner (Lauren)
12. Alice(The Idea of Perfection)
13. Jill (The Remains of the Day)
14. Dead Until Dark (Nely)
15. Teddy (My Sister\'s Keeper
16. Teddy (The Kite Runner)
17. Jill (The English Patient)
18. Robin (The Bridge of San Luis Rey)
19. Charming Billy (J\'s Review)
20. Teresa (The Sun Also Rises)
21. Tara (Mystic River)
22. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
23. Rebecca @ The Book Lady\'s Blog (The Time Traveler\'s Wife)
24. Callista (Mixed Up Files...)
25. Sheri (The Kite Runner)
26. Robin (Becoming Naomi León)
27. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Lauren)
28. Teresa (Water for Elephants)
29. Nely (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
30. alisonwonderland (The House of the Scorpion)
31. Teresa (Offshore)
32. The Time Traveler\'s Wife (Lauren)
33. Inkheart (Nely)
34. alisonwonderland (The Eyre Affair)
35. Susan Whelan (The White Tiger)
36. Teresa (On Chesil Beach)
37. Doubt (Nely)
38. Corinne (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress)
39. Corinne (The Road)
40. alisonwonderland (The Zookeeper\'s Wife)
41. Amy(The God of Animals)
42. Rebecca @ The Book Lady\'s Blog (The Remains of the Day)
43. Tricia (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!)
44. Tricia (The Hunger Games)
45. Lisa Hill (In a Free State, Booker Prize 1971
46. Lisa Hill, Fly Away Peter, Australia-Asia Award 2008
47. The Ghost Road (Caribousmom)
48. Heart-Shaped Box (lesley)
49. M (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)
50. Stiff (Lauren)

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The God of Animals-Aryn Kyle

Audiobook(Read by Lillian Rabe)
Aryn Kyle

Alice Winston is a 12 year-old-girl who is growing up on a Colorado horse farm. Her mother suffers from apparent depression rarely leaving her bedroom. Her sister Nona, the pride of the family and the showing circuit, gets married and runs away leaving Alice alone to help her father run the barn. They are always short of money and her father is always trying to find a way to make ends meet even though it means doing things that they’d really rather not such as boarding horses for rich people.

Alice is walking the painful line where she isn’t quite a child nor is she an adult. She is forced to deal with several difficult things for a 12 year-old: the death of a classmate, her mother’s emotional problems, her sister’s abandonment, and feeling that she will never please her father. Plus, she is dealing with all of the normal 12 year-old things like her first kiss, her first heart-breaking crush, and finding her niche among her peers.

This book didn’t turn out to be anything like I thought it would be. I am not a particular fan of either westerns or horse stories. However, this is a beautiful story of a young girl dealing with the ordinary difficulties of coming of age as well as the individual difficulties unique to her life. I spent a lot of time alternating between wanting to shake the snot out of Alice’s father and feeling really sorry for him for the way his life worked out. I also had the same reaction to her sister Nona. Alice just seemed to be a tumbling along in their wake. She does eventually find her footing though not before suffering a few painful missteps. In the end, I was left admiring them all because even though they made bad choices at times, they made the best that they could from the circumstances of their lives.

I found this book touching and well worth reading. (4/5)

Famous journalist sentenced to prison.
Mikael Blomkvist, editor of Millenium magazine, is found guilty of slandering billionaire financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom.

Henrik Vanger, C.E.O. of the powerful Vanger Corporation revives hunt for solution to niece's disappearance.
Harriet Vanger vanished 40 years ago from secluded Hedeby Island.

Lisbeth Salander declared legally incompetent

Computer hacker Lisbeth (code-name "was") loses control of her own affairs. The notoriously delinquent 24-year-old surveillance agent could not be reached for comment.
If you were to ask me what types of books are the hardest to write reviews about, normally I would say it was those books that were just mediocre in that they didn't inspire great enjoyment, but they also were not so terrible that you were tempted to wallbang them. Despite the fact that this book is definitely NOT one of those mediocre books I find myself struggling to decide where to start. The main reason for this is that there is just so much going on in this book.

There are in effect three major strands within this novel. The first is the story of Mikael Blomkvist. He is a investigative journalist and publisher who, as the book opens, finds himself on the wrong side of the law, found guilty of libel against wealth financier Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Not content with winning his case, Wennerstrom seems determined to destroy the magazine that Blomkvist runs with his best friend and on/off lover Erika Berger. Mikael decides that his best course of action is to make himself scarce to give the magazine the best chance of survival.

Enter wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger. After conducting his own investigation into Blomkvist, Vanger offers him an unusual opportunity. He wants Mikael to move to the country and live on the island where many of the Vanger family make their homes, and write a family history. The more important task for Mikael is to investigate the disappearance of Vanger's niece Harriet some 40 years prior. This investigation has run into dead ends almost from the beginning and yet on his birthday he receives a gift that can only be from the killer, if there was a killer, seemingly to torment him until the end of his life.

As Mikael investigates it becomes clear that there are many secrets in this powerful family - feuds between family members, fanatical Nazism, abuse, and many other unpleasant secrets. Even Mikael cannot believe what he finds out!

The third major character is Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is a ward of the state due to the fact that she is perceived to be incapable of managing her own affairs. In fact, she has socialisation issues, but is a brilliant hacker who freelances to perform background checks and the like.

As Lisbeth and Mikael come together, events take turns that are difficult to imagine, and in the hands of a lesser writer could become over the top and unbelievable. Luckily for us, Larsson mostly avoids the potential pitfalls in such a dramatic story! That doesn't mean to say that this is a perfect book because it isn't by any means! As you read through the latter pages of the book, there appears to be at least one, if not two, possible natural endings but instead the book carries on for a further 50-100 pages, almost as though the author realised there were too many loose ends to be carried onto into the next book.

Lisbeth is unique. She is someone who skirts on the edges of society and of the law. She is edgy and difficult to those around her with lots of issues that she needs to deal with. Most of the major characters are well defined and there are very few two dimensional characters throughout the book.

Orginally written in Swedish, there are some issues with editing and translation. At one point for example he is talking about a road name where he says it was obviously enough called Stalagatan (or something like that - I've returned the book now so can't check). As someone whose only exposure to Swedish is the product names at Ikea, it was nothing obvious to me, I can tell you!

I noticed on Larsson's website that there is currently a movie being made of this book. For a first book this is an assured, complex, edge of the seat thriller that has so many different themes. Larsson died after handing in the first three books in this series, so his planned series will never be completed. However, I can't wait to read the next books in the series and to enjoy the ride that he was taking me as a reader on for as long as I can!

This book was the winner of the Boeke Prize and Glass Key for the best Nordic crime novel of 2005. In my opinion, these awards are well deserved. I highly recommend this book.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham, et al.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall
Bill Willingham, et al.

I'm a big fan of Fables judging from the fact that I actually read what volume I can find, which somehow translates to my reading the series out of order at times. Yeah, tsk tsk tsk. But this anthology is special indeed. It's not exactly part of any of the ongoing Fable arc but more of a backstory (uh, backstories) that give us a glimpse of the lives of our favorite Fables before they all sought refuge in Fabletown.

And what better way to start the storytelling than to have Snow White sent as an ambassador to the Arabian Fables? All stories therefore follow the route we all know as Scheherazade's plight with the Sultan when Snow White realized that she had to keep her wits with her in order to relay her mission not to mention keep herself alive in the process.

Ten stories in all, eleven if you include the backbone, A Most Troublesome Woman illustrated by Charles Vess, which basically covers Snow White's arrival at the palace and her eventual discussions with the Sultan that goes on until the end of the book. Ten stories? Yes, ten. Some give light to what we know of our favorite Fables. Others are new tales of Fables even I barely know (or I'm not sure if they even appeared in any of the Fable volumes just yet).

The Fencing Lessons is the real story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in relation to the series, obviously. Remember in the first volume where Snow White was easily angered at the mere mention of the dwarves? Here we meet a very much in love newlyweds - Snow White and Prince Charming - so the question remains, what happened? Well this one sheds some light into the topic and somehow started the breakdown of the marriage. Lavishly painted by John Bolton and well told in fact. Though I think Snow White here pretty much resembled Chinese actress Shu Qi on a handful of angles. Seriously.

The Christmas Pies is a short and sharp story on how the Reynard the Fox outwitted the goblins and helped a bunch of animals escape the homelands.

A Frog's-Eye View is the heartbreaking tale of Prince Ambrose, the frog prince. We are familiar with him as the janitor of Fabletown yet we have no idea of his story altogether. Oh goodness, probably the saddest part of the anthology altogether and ably illustrated by the much-loved James Jean.

The Runt is Bigby's story, of how he came to be the Big Bad Wolf we used to hate in the tales. Again we encounter Mr. North as Bigby's father.

A Mother's Love is a very short tale of loss and enchantment.

Diaspora Part 1 bring us the sisters Snow White and Rose Red around the time they were fleeing the soldier's of the Adversary. Along the way they encountered the Gingerbread House where uh, they find the witch in the oven. Yes, that's Frau Totenkinder. This is where the story break into The Witch's Tale, in which the powerful witch detailed her betrayal and eventual accumulation of power through the practice of her craft. Then Diaspora 2 concludes with the sisters taking the witch with them and ended with a wolf. Oooh and uh that part we all know from the short story included in Fables: Legends in Exile.

What You Wish For is basically a short story telling people to be careful. Hahaha!

Lastly, Fair Division as illustrated by Jill Thompson, is Old King Cole's tale of sacrifice during the time of his and other Fables' escape from the homelands.


The stories are all so engaging I didn't want it to end. In fact I reread it just now. I've probably reread it twice since I finished it a month or ago. Well, considering that I can't find a copy of Wolves and I'm itching to ramble about Sons of Empire already I only have this to reread. So yes, I jumped over Wolves. Hahaha.

And I can't seem to choose a favorite from among the stories though I love Diaspora (with The Witch's Tale included) since we see the difference between Snow White and Rose Red more clearly and the sibling dynamics is so real. Plus, I always have a soft spot in me for Frau Totenkinder. And now I know why this witch is helping Fabletown. I adore the drawings done by Tara McPherson. It's whimsical, colorful and so cartoony and somehow brings us back to the times when we were kids and fighting with siblings and such. Or maybe that's just me. Then the shift to Esao Andrew's take on The Witch's Tale is simply unnerving.

Oh poor Ambrose! Now I understand him more! And King Cole as well! And like it or not, even Prince Charming.

Can I stop now before I ramble myself into oblivion?

Oh and people new to Fables can actually pick this up ahead of any of the available volumes as it is a prequel. I can imagine those reading this one first and then pursuing the series altogether. The nuances of characters will make more sense or there's a deeper understanding to them once you've read this one. I mean deeper than your previous knowledge of them through the different volumes obviously.

I'll stop now.

Get this, read this and enjoy!

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall won the Eisner Award for Best Anthology in 2007.

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan

There are writers whose stories you forget after you put the book down. Or let's say you enjoy a novel and consider it one of the best reads of the year and yet a few months after that you can barely recall the intricacies of plot or the manner of writing, only the feeling that at the time you turn in the page you were smiling like crazy. Then there are writers whose stories haunt you after turning the last few pages of the book. And not just that, the story nestles in your brain and much as you want to expunge it (oh gee, such a strong word) you can't. You feel like you lived in the story. You know the characters or rather you thought you know the characters and yet the author expertly tricks you to his chosen reality.

I've read Amsterdam at least a couple of weeks ago. I still can't get over it. Let's see why.

There are three ex-lovers of the now-deceased but very much married Molly Lane attending her funeral. One, Julian Garmony, is a politician with high hopes of becoming a Prime Minister in the near future. The other two are friends Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday. Clive is a musician, a composer selected to present his latest masterpiece in a program at the turn of the century. Vernon is the editor of a newsmagazine with a steadily declining readership. All three shared a past with Molly at different times in her short life but she married a rich publisher named George Lane.

After the funeral George contacted Vernon and showed compromising photos of Julian Garmony taken by Molly. Considering Julian's promising political career and the fact that his politics isn't well-liked, Vernon pursued to have the photos published, something that Clive didn't like as he takes it as an affront to the memory of Molly. The rest of the story details the events of Vernon's pursuit, of Clive's struggle to compose music, of Julian's composure in public on the imminent publication of the photos and eventually, of an ending that in part was expected by me and yet the real ending (so to speak) particularly the last paragraph or so was a complete and total surprise it pulled the rug off my feet. Because in that last few sentences of the book you think you know what the story is all about and yet, alas, you're completely off the mark. And once you accept it as that you realized that you've been taken for a ride and you very well understand the reasons why. Irony is a good weapon of choice indeed.

On another layer it is a story of friendship. Molly Lane died of a debilitating disease with such swiftness that the two old friends thinking of a future filled with the pain and suffering similar to Molly's promised each other that they'd help each other end it all if and when necessary. It's the kind of friendship forged in years of companionship, a friendship that never doubts until now, when Molly is dead is everything is not as it should be.

To me it's another delicate handling of a story that could've gone completely wrong in another writer's hands. And McEwan is a masterful storyteller capable of fine-tuning the characters until the feel so real to the point you wish you could wring their necks or scream at them, somewhat.

While the politics can be treated simply as such and the portrayal of news hounds as is, I loved the way McEwan managed to make composing music read like you're listening to it. Well, maybe that's just me. I'm tone deaf and I couldn't sing to save my life (gee, I've been using that phrase a lot lately) but I love listening to music. I love separating different instruments in my mind. I love shielding other sounds and retaining just the melody one time, just the guitars another. Again, it's just me. And McEwan captures composing music in a manner that is understandable to someone like me.

I've read four McEwan stories so far, all four different and yet all managing to disturb me one way or another. Disturb in a good sense, that is. I'm sure to read his other novels and he's elevated now to the ranks of writers I'd follow to death. Or something to that effect.

Not very many people share my adoration of McEwan or this book but to me it's always a case of hmmm, what works for me uh, works for me. Right?

Amsterdam won the Man Booker Prize of 1998.