Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm Alive!

These last few weeks have been murder on my reading schedule and my brain. :) Working two jobs is tough, especially when it's the Christmas season and one of the jobs is in retail. I have three books that I need to review and am starting in on my next book as soon as I finish writing this post. I apologize for the lack of content on both of my blogs. The next several days are looking a bit better--I actually get some time off!--so I'll be taking care of posting and reading and all the other stuff that goes along with running two blogs.

Hope that you're all have a good week!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gabriel Reads will be back up and running this weekend!


Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey and is a a chance for book bloggers to share what they read last week, what they are currently reading, and what they are reading next. It's also an opportunity for us to share other things that we did during the week.

I actually had a pretty productive week last week in terms of reading and blogging, although the last few days I haven't done much due to having to work 36 hours from Friday through today. It's why there was no post on my other blog yesterday and why there won't be one for today either. 

So here's what I've been up to in the past week:

What I Read Last Week:
-Foop! by Chris Genoa
-They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher Buckley
-The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

What I'm Currently Reading
-The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer's Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill by Tristan Gooley

What I'm Reading Next:
-Royal Flush by Scott Bartlett
-No Impact Man by Colin Beavan
-The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde 

What's Been Going On Over at The Mind of Gabe?
-Monday was a post that had been originally written for this blog: Teach a Man to Fish: Cultural Illiteracy and the Decline of the Informed American
-Tuesday I talked about how living with people can make you sick...literally: Relationships Are Like Petri Dishes
-Wednesday I ranted about income inequality: Income Inequality: The Rich Kids of Instagram
-Friday is Fandom Friday at The Mind of Gabe. I shared a fun bit of Doctor Who fan art I found on the web.
-Saturday I shared my thoughts on the audacious claims by Hostess that the Bakers' Union strike was to blame for their going out of business: Are You Kidding Me, Hostess?

What are you up to this week?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving China the "Bird": A Review of Christopher Buckley's They Eat Puppies, Don't They?

Title: They Eat Puppies, Don't They?
Author: Christopher Buckley
Edition: Twelve (Hardcover, 2012)
Pages: 335
How I Came by This Book: The cover caught my eye when I saw it on the shelf at my library.

About the Author: Christopher Buckley is the author of fourteen books, among them Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir and Thank You for Smoking, which was made into a movie in 2005. He first visited China in 1974 as a guest of the government. He did not eat any puppies, but, out of politeness to his hosts, managed to choke down numerous sea slugs, the memory of which still makes him shudder. A spontaneous attempt to present Chairman Mao with a jar of American peanut butter resulted in his nearly being gunned down by unamused palace guards. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Katy, and yellow Labrador retriever, Jake, who no longer retrieves, preferring things to be brought to him.

Synopsis: In an attempt to gain congressional approval for a top-secret weapons system, Washington lobbyist "Bird" McIntyre teams up with sexy, outspoken neocon Angel Templeton to pit the American public against the Chinese. Then Bird fails to uncover an authentic reason to slander the nation, he and Angel put the Washington media machine to work, spreading a rumor that the Chinese secret service is working to assassinate the Dalai Lama.

Meanwhile in China, mild-mannered President Fa Mengyao and his devoted aide Gang are maneuvering desperately against sinister party hard-liners Minister Lo and General Han. Now Fa and Gang must convince the world that the People's Republic is not out to kill the Dalai Lama, while maintaining Fa's small margin of power in the increasingly militaristic environment of the party.

On the home front, Bird must contend with a high-strung wife who entertains Olympic equestrian ambition, and the qualifying competition happens to be taking place in China. As things unravel abroad, Bird and Angel's lie comes dangerously close to reality. And as their relationship rises to a new level, so do mounting tensions between the United States and China.

Review: I had read a different Buckley novel, Little Green Men, a while ago, before I even started this blog, and wasn't quite sure how to take it. I liked it, especially all the bits before what I considered to be a lackluster ending. The same goes here for Buckley's latest, They Eat Puppies, Don't They?

Bird McIntyre is an aspiring novelist and lobbyist trying to drum up anti-Chinese sentiment. When the Dalai Lama collapses in Rome, Bird gets an idea: make people think that the Chinese have attempted to assassinate him. Everyone loves the Dalai Lama, right? That'll be sure to make Americans hate the Chinese. Teaming up with single mom neocon Angel Templeton--with all the slick and sickening spin of Ann Coulter, just with more personality--he feeds lies about the Chinese to an Indian newspaper, setting off a series of events that could have devastating consequences. Satirical in nature (but too close to the truth about lobbyists and neocons for it to be laugh-out-loud funny), the novel pokes fun at the media, war hawks, the right, the left, and everything in between.

This is a novel about the rich and powerful and the mischief they get up to. There are a few characters--Bird's wife and the war hawks Lo and Han--that are obnoxious and need to be smacked upside the head, but the rest of the characters are actually pretty likeable. Bird is a little too incompetent to be believable as a highly-desired defense lobbyist, but he's likeable enough for the reader to overlook that. Angel is an absolute horror when it comes to what she believes, as well as her war-loving personality, but the bits with or about her son give her an interesting softness that is lacking in some portrayals of women in politics. The stand-out characters are actually Fa and Gang, the dove-ish Chinese leader and his faithful sidekick, and Bewks, Bird's Civil War-reenacting brother. These three are reason enough to read this book, especially for Fa and Gang's bathroom conversations (a necessity given that his house is bugged and the only way for them to talk is to keep water running in order to garble their words) and Bewk's brothers-in-arms coming to Bird's aid at the end of the novel.

A lot of this novel made me uncomfortable because of the racism and the disdain for others that a lot of the characters express. Angel and Lo are the biggest perpetrators of this, but there are a lot of conservative people saying a lot of horrible things. Yes, the novel is a satire, and yes this aspect of the novel is meant to caricature certain types of people, but I still couldn't help but shake my head every time someone said something ridiculous or offensive. There are far too many people in this country who hold racist beliefs and who will openly articulate them for me to find these caricatures funny. Knowing that Buckley is the son of National Review-founder William Buckley (and that he wrote for the publication for a while) makes me even more uneasy about it.

The novel goes pretty strong for a while. The plot is twisty-turny with pretty much everyone planning at some point to assassinate the Dalai Lama. The story develops at a nice pace, with some great diversions, like Gang's sudden addiction to American fast food or Angel's on-air verbal sparring matches with Winne Chung, the chair of the U.S.-China Co-Dependency Council (complete with a literary cameo by Hardball's Chris Matthews). The eventual resolution of what becomes the main issue of the novel (which I won't give away but which I will say involves a dispute over the Dalai Lama) is ingenious and actually shows that Bird isn't a complete moron. But there were some parts of the end, mostly involving a surprising development in Bird's spirituality, that fell flat and were sort of unbelievable.

In the end, I liked this novel well enough and would recommend people read it but it's not one that I read over and over again. It's a timely piece of fiction that satirizes the current zeitgeist regarding China and which manages to show the complexity of the issue in a very prescient way, but Angel's constant conservative babble and Bird's odd transformation at the end left me feeling a

I'm giving They Eat Puppies, Don't They? four out of five Gabriels.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

This Is Your Brain On Drugs: A Review of Chris Genoa's Foop!

Title: Foop!
Author: Chris Genoa
Edition: Eraserhead Press (Paperback, 2005)
Pages: 293
How I Came by This Book: I picked this up during my latest library book sale adventure.

About the Author: Chris Genoa was born in Philadelphia, went to college in Virginia and London, and has a special place in his heart for New Orleans. He is the author of Foop! and Lick Your Neighbor, both available from Eraserhead Press. He lives in Brooklyn.

Synopsis: There are strange happenings going on at Dactyl, Inc., the world's first and only time travel tourism company. So strange that Joe, a tour guide, is promoted to the new position of Chief of Probes. His first probe: find out who's been traveling back in time and torturing his boss in rather disturbing ways.

Joe finds himself catapulted from his dull life into a surreal journey where a blind hog-tying monkey is one of the sanest creatures he meets. Traveling through a past where the only thing that changes the present is death, while dealing with the fabric of space-time slowly unraveling, Joe stumbles into the middle of events that threaten both Earth's future and past.

Review: The cover of this novel was what caught my eye. It's a fish in a light bulb full of water. Awesome, right? And yet it has absolutely nothing to do with the novel so that's the last you'll hear of it. *le sigh*

I don't really know where to start with this book. I wanted to like it so badly, especially because it had me laughing right from the first sentence. But in the end there was far too much about it that I didn't like.

Foop! is a strange novel set sometime in the future--a slightly dystopian, mad-cap adventure about a man named Joe who gives tours in the past. People come to Dactyl, Inc. to travel back in time and witness historical events from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to The Great Supernova of 2015. Joe gets caught up in a strange series of events involving the torture of past versions of his boss and ends up being followed by a strange Duo of men he has nicknamed Boogedy and Nibbles, getting mixed up with a cult lead by the delusional Ba Hubba Tree Bob, and playing the world's weirdest game of Bingo. And no, I really can't make that make sense. No matter how hard I try.

The book is full of plot holes, forced humor, and overly surreal events. It was as if Genoa had taken the best bits of Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide series and the film Brazil, took them out back behind a shed, and shot them. He then took all the parts that people didn't like and decided "Yes, this is how I will write this book." His strong beginning meandered out of control as events got unnecessarily weird and the humor started to become a crutch rather than the asset it had originally been.

The writing itself isn't too bad, although there were some editing issues, including the fact that occasionally the font was bigger in some places than it was in others. There's no real character development and none of the characters were particularly likeable. The book is chock-full of weird people doing weird things for no reason.

There are probably people out there who have read this book and loved it. I have an ex who probably would have adored it if he had read it. I, however, was just glad that I was able to get through it.

I'm giving Foop! 3 out of 5 Gabriels.


Friday, November 16, 2012

What Have You Done?: A Review of You by Charles Benoit

Title: You
Author: Charles Benoit
Edition: HarperTeen (Hardcover, 2010)
Pages: 223
How I Came by This Book: The author, Charles Benoit, lives in the Rochester area and came into the bookstore that I work at during Banned Books Week. He mentioned that he'd written a YA novel that had been banned for content in Florida and, me being me, I checked it out of my library.

About the Author: Charles Benoit is a former high school teacher and the Edgar Award-nominated author of three adult mystery novels. You is his first book for young-adult readers. His second young-adult novel, Fall from Grace, is out now. He lives in Rochester, New York. You can visit him online at

Synopsis: This wasn't the way it was supposed to go.

You're just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can't be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?

There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them?

Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late?

Think fast, Kyle. Time's running out. How did this happen?

In his stunning young-adult debut, Charles Benoit mixes riveting tension with an insightful--and unsettling--portrait of an ordinary teen in a tale that is taut, powerful, and shattering.

Review: The first thing that I notice about the well-dressed man who has just walked into the bookstore is his hat. I'm a girl who loves hats. Hats are kind of my thing. I wear them all the time. Fedoras. Newsboy caps. If I could get away with a beret, I would wear one. I don't think my face is the right shape.

This hat is small and brimmed and I can't help but wonder where he found it. He's just looking around so I decide not to bother him but as he walks up to the front counter he notices I'm reading. In response to his query as to which novel I'm buried in, I tell him that it's Catcher in the Rye and that I really feel as if I should have read it when I was younger because I can't stand Holden Caulfield. I'm reading it for Banned Books Week, I explain. It's really the only reason why I'm reading it. He mentions that he's an author and that his book, You, was banned in Florida. "Oh boy," I think. "A self-promoting author. If I mention I've never heard of him will he be offended?" All I say is that I'll check it out someday, not sure if I really mean it or not. But curiosity catches hold of me and I end up searching out the title of the book at my library a few weeks later. Lo and behold, there it is. "All right," I say to myself, reaching out to grab it off the shelf. "We'll see how this goes."

Read this book. Seriously. Don't even stop to read this review. Okay, do stop to read this review, but only because I took the time to write it. But then go and read this book.

Charles Benoit's novel of teen angst, smirking boys, and personal responsibility for our actions is taut and well-paced. I see that phrase all the time, but I always thought it was one of those things that book reviewers at big magazines and newspapers threw in to make their reviews a little longer. This book is the definition of both "taut" and "well-paced." And "gripping." And about a dozen other overused adjectives that sometimes actually are necessary to describe a novel.

Kyle Chase is a 15-year-old boy who screwed up in middle school and had to go to Midlands instead of the better high school he could have gone to. He's bitter, angry, rebellious, and lost. Oh, and did I mention? He's you. Or, rather, you are him.

The whole novel is told in second person, which gives it a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure flavor. The problem is that the adventure has already been chosen for you. There's no turning back, no changing what is to come for you. You are hurtled through the first semester of your tenth-grade year at breakneck speed as you make one poor decision after another. In the end you will pay for your actions, learning all too late that your teachers were right: you are responsible for yourself and there are repercussions for behaving badly.

Does anyone else remember these? And the fact that you almost always died horribly? Good times.

The great thing about the second person narrative is that you are just as lost and bitter and alone as Kyle. You don't know anything that he doesn't know. You don't know if Ashley likes you back. You don't know what the deal is with the mysterious new kid, Zack. You're learning things right along with Kyle. You are fully immersed in the story like no other novel has immersed you before. (Unless, of course, you've read a second person POV novel before. I haven't, so this was all new to me.) In the end, you are just as shocked about how things have ended up as he is. Even though you, the reader, knew all along that something was coming, you aren't quite prepared for what it is.

Benoit's characters and dialogue are realistic and well done. Being a high school teacher obviously taught him a lot about teenagers because he nails it. All of it. He grabs you, the reader, and pulls you into the psyche of a teenage boy who feels like he could have been you in high school if things had been different. Hell, maybe he was you in high school. The other characters--Zack, Jake the Jock, Ashley, Kyle's friends, teachers, parents--are both recognizable figures from real life and stock characters like those featured in the latest teen move. There's a little bit of both in each of them, which makes for easier story-telling as well as easier immersion into Kyle's world. His attitudes are also recognizable. Anyone below the age of at least thirty who has gone through the public school system will remember having some of those very same thoughts when they were younger. I know I did.

I think my only real issue with the novel is that the foreshadowing is thick and obvious. And yet, just as the synopsis says, "There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them?" While the reader will definitely see them, Kyle does not. And he should have. They were blaring at him from everywhere. In the end, he has to learn a hard lesson because he didn't pay attention on the way there. That's the novel's real message: what you are doing is important and can change life for you in ways you never imagined. There are clues all around you as to how your life is going. Look for them. Listen to them. Don't make the same mistakes.

This is a powerful novel, superbly crafted, and well worth the read. Go. Now. Don't hesitate for a moment. Just pick it up and read it. I promise you won't be sorry.

I'm giving You five out of five Gabriels.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Which I'm Actually Ahead of the Game

I spent all day reading yesterday so I didn't get a chance to really put a post together for today. I am, however, a book ahead!

I read Foop! and They Eat Puppies, Don't They? and am now reading The Imperfectionists, which I wasn't even planning on getting to this week. I still have an e-book to read so I'm not quite done with the books I listed on Monday, but I'm getting there. This may actually be a productive week. :)


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thou Art God: A Review of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land

Title: Stranger in a Strange Land
Author: Robert Heinlein
Edition: Ace Books (Paperback, 1991)
Pages: 525
How I Came by This Book: Ben from Dead End Follies suggested that I read this book in a comment on my review of Out of the Silent Planet. I obtained it from my library.

About the Author: Robert Anson Heinlein was an American novelist and science fiction writer. Often called "the dean of science fiction writers", he is one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard science fiction". He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality. He was the first writer to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s, with unvarnished science fiction. He was among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era. (from Goodreads)

Synopsis: Stranger in a Strange Land, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth's cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love. He founds his own church, preaching free love and disseminating the psychic talents taught him by the Martians. Ultimately, he confronts the fate reserved for all messiahs. (from

Review: This novel took me ages to read. And by ages, I mean weeks. It's not that it wasn't an enjoyable read or that it was too difficult or anything like that. I just never found time to read it outside of my job at the bookstore. In fact, I didn't make time to read anything the last few weeks. And for that I apologize.

Anyway, Stranger in a Strange Land was originally released in the 1960s as a much shorter book than the one that I read. As Virginia Heinlein states in her introduction to this edition of the book, "This book was so different from what was being sold to the general public, or to the science fiction reading public in 1961 when it was published, that the editors required some cutting and removal of a few scenes that might then have been offensive to public taste." I've never read the original version that was published, so I don't know which scenes they might be, but I can probably guess.

The story revolves around the Man from Mars, Valentine Michael Smith, born to human parents but raised by Martians and brought back to Earth as a young man. He has to learn how to be human and is helped along the way by newspaper columnist Ben Caxton, nurse Jill Boardman, writer/doctor/lawyer Jubal Harshaw, and a cast of strange and quirky characters who all coalesce around the Man from Mars as he changes from a naive but oddly talented man-Martian to a willing and able but hated Messiah.

There was a lot about this book that I liked: the characters were interesting, the dialogue was fascinating, the philosophical questions that were raised made me think. Heinlein often tells the story rather than showing it, which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, but he is a skilled writer who can spin a good yarn. The character development is mostly smooth and believable and the end result, though predictable, is satisfying. All-in-all, this was a good read and one that I would probably pick up again. HOWEVER...

There is a LOT of sexism, homophobia, and misogyny in this novel. Jill's comment about rape being the woman's fault "nine times out of ten" is just the tip of a very large iceberg. You might think that I'd accept the "He was from a different time" argument, but I won't. One of the things that bothers me about science fiction is that these authors are able to envision a world in which space travel is possible or where people can move things with their minds but not one where women are seen as equal and the LGBT community is accepted. Up until recent science fiction television shows like Caprica and Stargate Universe, there were pretty much no real gay or lesbian characters in sci fi. Heinlein's characters create a worldview in which jealousy doesn't exist and to love one is to love all and yet there is still rampant disdain for homosexuality and women. The followers of Michael's church are living in one big naked commune in the end and yet they still hold onto the prevailing attitudes of the day on some issues. Why challenge some notions and not others?

The book covers such topics as human sexuality, love, religion, human nature, and scores of other things that the world's religions and philosophies argue about. It may offend some in its treatment of religion, but for others it may be inspiring. For some it may have no effect at all. It will definitely make you think, however, about the things that you hold dear, the things that you think that you "grok".

I'm giving Stranger in a Strange Land 4 out of 5 Gabriels. It loses half a Gabriel for the sometimes tedious storytelling that could have been solved by showing not telling and it loses another half of a Gabriel for it's ideas on women and homosexuality. Definitely an interesting book, but sometimes it will make you want to throw it across the room.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the girls over at The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they post a prompt and ask book bloggers to answer that prompt in the form of a top ten list.

This week's prompt is: Top Ten Books I'd Want on a Deserted Island

If I were going to be on a desert island, which isn't really my idea of a good long-term vacation, I'd want two types of books: favorite books and long books.

1) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: This falls definitively under the category of long books. When else am I going to get a chance to read this except when I'm lying around a small island in the middle of nowhere waiting for the others to construct a coconut radio?

2) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: And I obviously mean the version with all five books in it. A favorite and a long book all wrapped up into one awesome package. Besides, where else would the word's "Don't panic" be more appropriate?

3) Imajica by Clive Barker: Another favorite book that's also a long book. Its story of a world so far away and yet so close would be a good way to ignore the fact that my own world is so far away and yet so close.

4) The Stand by Stephen King: The really long, uncut version, of course.

5) The Landmark Herodotus: I've read The Landmark Thucydides and I own this one as well but I haven't actually sat down to read it yet. I'd need a good, long, map-ridden Greek history book in order to get through an ordeal like being stranded with a bunch of plane passengers that I can't stand and an invisible polar bear.

6) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: I love this book and I feel like reading it from time to time would help me feel better about not being back in the midst of civilization. "Oh right," I would say, briefly looking up from my book to watch small boys slaughter a pig, "that's what sucks about modern society."

7) When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris: Actually, you know what? I'd want, like, a large volume filled with his essays. That way I'd never run out of things to laugh about. In fact, I'd probably just take Sedaris with me and ask him to write me funny stories on tree bark or something.

8) The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis: You know, the one that has all of the books in one volume? Again, people, I'm looking for things that are long. Who knows when that raft we'll make from gum wrappers and paper clips will be finished?

9) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: This is one of my favorite novels ever and I can read it over and over again without getting sick of it.

10) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Out of all of the books I've read for this blog, this is the one that I still love the most. As I sit on that island, thinking about the zombie apocalypse that I narrowly escaped by stealing a boat and sailing out to my own private Idaho, I'd want something beautiful and moving to keep me company.


Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm always excited when I'm able to do an It's Monday! What Are You Reading? post because it means that I, you know, actually read something.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey and is a a chance for book bloggers to share what they read last week, what they are currently reading, and what they are reading next. It's also an opportunity for us to share other things that we did during the week.

I finally finished the book that I had been reading for, like, two weeks and then managed to read a second book in a grand total of about four hours. Granted, one was over 500 pages and one was barely over 200, but it still should not have taken me a couple of weeks to read one book. I have absolutely no discipline or skill at planning my time. Must work on this. :)

What I Read Last Week:
-Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (review will be posted on Wednesday)
-You by Charles Benoit (review will be posted on Friday)

What I'm Currently Reading:
-Foop! by Chris Genoa

What I'm Reading Next
-Royal Flush by Scott Bartlett
-They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher Buckley

What have you guys been up to recently?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Mind of Gabe

The Mind of Gabe, my personal blog, officially came online today. Tomorrow I'm reposting something that was originally posted on this blog, but I'm in the process of writing posts for this week so there will be new content for you.

Feel free to follow me on that blog as well. If you have a personal blog that you'd like me to follow, leave a link in the comments or just follow me on GFC and I'll follow back. Let me say "follow" a few more times, eh? Followfollowfollowfollowfollow.

Okay I'm done.


In Which I Have a Backlog of Books to Read

I'm a collector of books. A connoisseur, as well. But mostly just a collector. I grab books from bookstores, book sales, libraries...basically wherever I can find them. And then they sit around while I read other books that I've found. If my books were children, CPS would have come after me for neglect a long time ago.

Which is why I'm making a promise. I will acquire exactly zero new books until I have read the following:

-The 20(!) books that I recently bought at a library sale
-You by Charles Benoit
-No Impact Man by Colin Beavan
-The Iron Heel by Jack London
-In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster
-We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
-The Occupy Handbook edited by Janet Byrne
-They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher Buckley
-The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer's Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill by Tristan Gooley
-Rich, Free, and Miserable: The Failure of Success in America by John Brueggemann

Plus I have several e-books that I need to read and review for authors who are patiently awaiting said review.

This moratorium on acquiring new books does not extend to books that people send me for review, so feel free to contact me if you're interested in having me read something. You can find my review policy here.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Tale of the Lazy Blogger

The Tale of the Lazy Blogger

Once upon a time, there was a lazy blogger. She didn't post anything on her blog for several days even though she didn't have to work much during that week. She just sat around at home browsing online and watching TV. Her readers were sad, especially her boyfriend, who tends to mention when she hasn't posted something (except for this time 'round, but that's probably because he's feeling sick this week).

The lazy blogger looked at her blog and said, "Don't worry, little guy. I'm almost done with my current read. You'll have content again soon."

And everyone in the land of Blogger was happy once again.

The End.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday Freebie

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the girls over at The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they post a prompt and ask book bloggers to answer that prompt in the form of a top ten list.

Sometimes the TB&TB girls give bloggers a chance to have a say in what the topic is going to be, whether it's by declaring a "rewind" day in which we choose a topic that has already been used or, as is the case this week, by letting us choose a topic we'd like to do.

My topic this week is: Top Ten Books I'd Reread in Order to Review

1) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: I loved this book the first time I read it and have been meaning to read it again.

2) The Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis: Okay, so this one I have to reread in order to review it. I went back to it a few weeks ago with the intent of sitting down to review it and realized that I couldn't really remember much about it. Unlike Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, this one just didn't stick in my head. I will be rereading it in the next month or so in order to finally complete my review of Lewis' Space Trilogy.

3) The End of Nature by Bill McKibben: I tried reviewing this book once and found that it had been too long since I had read it for me to remember much about it. Life at that point had been a little crazy and reading so many books on the same topic (climate change) at around the same time proved to be too much for my busy brain. I'll read it again soon so that I can properly write a review of it.

4) Imajica by Clive Barker: I had planned on rereading this one and reviewing it last year. I got about halfway through it, too. But stuff intervened and I realized that I needed to move on to a different book if I was going to actually read anything else that month. I would like to attempt this again at some point in the future, maybe even as a read-along.

5) Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.: I read this book sometime during the summer after sophomore or junior year of college and thought it was both hilarious and insightful. I'd love to post a review, especially since I haven't yet read anything by a Native American author for this blog. Actually, come to think of it, I've read very few novels that weren't written by white Brits or Americans. That needs to change.

6) Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer: I read this book during college and, while I knew there was a sequel, I didn't realize that it was going to be a series. I'd like to reread it so that I could read the rest of the Last Survivors books.

7) Ibid: A Novel by Mark Dunn: Yet another novel that I read for fun in college, this book written entirely in footnotes was funny, quirky, and unique. I would definitely read it again so that I could inspire others to do so.

8) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Dreaded by students everywhere, I read this book the summer before grad school started and thought it was the funniest thing I'd read in ages. I don't get why people dislike it so much and I would like to reread and review it in order to share just what it was about this novel that I loved so much.

9) The Lady Julia Series by Deanna Raybourn: I've already read and reviewed Dark Road to Darjeeling and The Dark Enquiry (not to mention that Don purchased Silent Night, a novella staring my favorite female Victorian detective, for me the other day and I'm dying to read it), but I'd really love to go back and reread the first three novels in the series and review those as well. While I gush about Raybourn a lot and you probably all get sick of hearing about her, I really do love her work and want to spread Lady Julia love all over the World Wide Web.

10) Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh: This is that novel that I keep saying I'm going to reread and review and then never do. Someday I'll do it. Honest.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Don't Forget to Vote Tomorrow

This post is primarily for my American readers (although if you're not from the US but your country has voting for whatever reason tomorrow then you can include yourself as well) and it's in place of my usual It's Monday! What Are You Reading? post. I'm still reading Stranger in a Strange Land. I have several days off this week so I'm hoping to crank through a couple of books. *crosses fingers*

I'm here to remind you that tomorrow is an important day. A day where you get to exercise a basic right as an American: the right to vote.

I come to you today not as someone trying to tell you who to vote for. I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican, a Communist or an Independent. I don't care if you're going to vote for one of the two main candidates or a third party candidate or if you do what one guy I know does--write in Brett Favre for every presidential election. Whether you support the candidate that I support or you support a candidate that I would never want to see voted into office ever, it is a right, a duty of all Americans to vote.

Don't tell me that your vote doesn't count. It counts--at the federal, state, and local level. It counts for ballot initiatives and other measures that you may or may not support. If you don't use your right to vote and someone gets voted into office that you don't like or a vote about an issue that you are passionate about (gay marriage, taxes, the right to arm bears, whatever) goes a way that you don't like, you have no real right to complain. You didn't speak up, others like you didn't speak up, and the people who did speak up got their way.

Vote tomorrow. Vote for what you believe in and hold dear. Vote for issues that you care about, issues that you are educated about. Vote. Exercise your right. Perform your duty as an American. Stop complaining and start having your say.

Vote Tuesday the 6th. It only takes a few moments and it can make a big difference.



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Charnel House No. 5: A Review of Patrick Suskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Title: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Author: Patrick Süskind
Edition: Hardcover (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
Pages: 255
How I Came by This Book: The copy that I actually read (a paperback that I bought at a library sale) is gone now, donated along with just short of 200 other books. The copy that I'm using for this review (almost a year after I originally read it) is a hardcover edition that my library had.

About the Author: Patrick Süskind was born in Ambach, near Munich, in 1949. After a problem with his hands made it impossible for him to pursue his ambitions as a concert pianist, Süskind enrolled in the University of Munich, where he studied medieval and modern history. His first play, The Double Bass, written in 1980, became an international success, performed in Germany, Switzerland, at the Edinburgh Festival, in London, and most recently at the New Theatre in Brooklyn. Mr. Süskind lives and writes in Munich.

Synopsis: The year is 1738; the place, Paris. A baby is born under a fish-monger's bloody table in a marketplace, and abandoned. Orphaned, passed over to the monks as a charity case, already there is something in the aura of the tiny infant that is unsettling. No one will look after him; he is somehow too demanding, and, even more disturbing, something is missing: as his wet nurse tries to explain, he doesn't smell the way babies should smell; indeed he has no smell at all.

Slowly, as we watch Jean-Baptiste Grenouille cling stubbornly to life, we begin to realize that a monster is growing before our eyes. With mounting unease, yet hypnotized, we see him explore his powers and their effect on the world around him. For this dark and sinister boy who has no smell himself possesses an absolute sense of smell, and with it he can read the world to discover the hidden truths that elude ordinary men. He can smell the very composition of objects, and their history, and where they have been; he has no need of the light, and darkness is not dark to him, because noting can mask the odors of the universe.

As he leaves childhood behind and comes to understand his terrible uniqueness, his obsession becomes the quest to identify, and then to isolate, the most perfect scent of all, the scent of life itself.

At first, he hones his powers, learning the ancient arts of perfume-making until the exquisite fragrances he creates are the rage of Paris, and indeed Europe. Then, secure in his mastery of these means to an end, he withdraws into a strange and agonized solitude, waiting, dreaming, until the morning when wakes, ready to embark on his monstrous quest: to find and extract from the most perfect living creatures--the most beautiful young virgins in the land--that ultimate perfume which alone can finally make him, too, fully human. As his trail leads him, at an ever-quickening pace, from his savage exile to the shores of the Mediterranean and then back to Paris, we are caught up in a rising storm of terror and mortal sensual conquest until the frenzy of his final triumph explodes in all its horrifying consequences.

Told with dazzling narrative brilliance and the haunting power of a grown-up fairy tale, Perfume marks the debut in English of a most remarkable novelist.

Review: Sometimes I feel like blurb writers are wanna-be book reviewers. Hell, maybe they are all book reviewers in their spare time. I don't really know. All I know is that sometimes the synopses given on book covers are like books themselves. They leave people like me wondering what exactly I should say that hasn't been said. I mean, look at that. That's a pretty decent retelling of, you know, everything that happened in the book. Sure, there are details missing, but the basics are all there. I hate just jumping into a review without at least saying something about it as an introduction. Now I'm not sure what to say. It'll probably pale in comparison to that blurb up there.

Let me try to sum all of that up:

There's a man named Jean-Baptiste who has no scent of his own but who can recognize the smell of everything. Fish. People. Doorknobs. Lock him in a dark room and hold up a dinglehopper and he'd be able to tell you what it was, who had used it, and what the person in the room next door had eaten for lunch three days ago without even breaking a sweat.

Not pictured: a creepy Frenchman who can smell what's in your liver.

He comes to realize that because he has no scent, people are creeped out by him (although if you ask me, there's quite a lot about Jean-Baptiste that's pretty freaky). He spends a good portion of his life working for perfumeries and honing his skills so that he can make essence of dirt or puppy dog or poop or virginal beauty in order to eventually reach his goal of finding a scent that he can wear to make him feel like a human. On the way he kills a bunch of women and bottles their scents. Yeah, it's that kind of novel.

I loved the uniqueness of this book. Our main character is a man so reprehensible and sketchy that you hate him and yet you can't help but want to know what happens to him. Süskind's writing is superb, which could also be attributed to the translation, although after a while the description of different scents drags on and on. And on. The plot is unlike anything I've ever read and, while I didn't like the ending or the slower bits, the story was so new and daring that I ended up loving the book as a whole.

Perfume is highly disturbing. Jean-Baptiste has no soul, no remorse. He is a merciless killer who values odors more than people. Parts of the book were absolutely disgusting and there's nothing redeeming about the main character to lessen the blow. This is not a happy book. From beginning to end, the reader is thrust into a dark world where anger, disgust, and an amoral passion for killing are driving forces behind the actions of the protagonist. Some people might not be able to get through the book; those who do will be torn between loving the quality of the novel and hating the character and his actions.

I'm giving Perfume: The Story of a Murderer four out of five Gabriels. There were a lot of descriptive passages about perfumes that got a bit boring after a while and I didn't like some of the elements of the plot (namely, his period of solitude and the ending). If you're looking for a dark and strangely different read, this book is highly recommended.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Seeking a Great Perhaps: A Review of John Green's Looking for Alaska

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Edition: Paperback (Speak, 2005)
Pages: 221
How I Came by This Book: Beth, one of the students who works at my library, knew that I was looking for books to read for my blog last year. She handed this to me in November along with a few other books (that I didn't end up reading).

About the Author: John Green's favorite last words are those of Oscar Wilde. Dying in a garishly decorated hotel room, Wilde turned to a friend and said, "Either this wallpaper goes--or I do." He is a New York Times best-selling author who has received numerous awards, including both the Printz Medal and a Printz Medal and a Printz Honor. John is also the co-creator [with his brother, Hank] of the popular video blog Brotherhood 2.0, which has been watched more than 80 million times by Nerdfighter fans all over the globe. John Green lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Synopsis: Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

Review: The only other taste I've had of John Green was the co-written (with David Levithan) Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I loved that book and, although I didn't know which bits of the book were written by which author, I was anxious to read this when Beth pushed into into my hands last year because I was curious as to what his writing was like on his own. Looking for Alaska is an absolute gem of a novel, one that tickles your funny bone at the same time that it hits you in the gut.

Pudge, Alaska, and the other students at Culver Creek are teens looking to find themselves within the confines of a boarding school. Much like Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Pudge is a disaffected young man, one who loses himself within famous last words as he pines for something better than life. Unlike Holden, however, Pudge eventually finds that life holds much more than just boredom and little annoyances. It holds joy and love, pain and sorrow. He's also a lot more likeable.

The structure of the novel is interesting. The first part of the book is a countdown to an event that will change everything for Pudge and his friends. The second half is akin to tally marks on a prison wall, counting the days since that event. The novel builds up, explodes, and then moves into a satisfying, albeit sad, ending. The structure of the first half of the novel builds up the tension, while that of the last half helps in the healing process...for both the characters and the reader.

Through all of their ups and downs, Green's characters are realistic, funny, and sympathetic. It's fun to watch them develop and touching to see how they deal with what life throws at them. Although they allow themselves to give into the out-of-control desires and pressures of teen life in order to try to seem mature, in the end they are revealed for what they are: young kids who are unprepared for the real world but who are trying their damnedest to pretend that they are.

Looking for Alaska was featured during this year's Banned Book Week because it was "challenged as required reading for Knox County, Tenn. High Schools' Honors and as Advanced Placement outside readings for English II (2012) because of 'inappropriate language.'" It was also banned in Tennessee for being "pornographic." While some people might see this book as being too "mature" for their children, I see it as a window into teen life. I was a teenager once. We swore. We had sex. Some of us smoked or drank. It's a time of exploration for a lot of us and this exploration of what Pudge and his friends think the "adult world" is stands in stark contrast to what they find out the "adult world" is really like. I think that Green's ability to juxtapose teenage naivete with harsh reality is wonderful.

If you haven't yet, go read this novel. I'm giving Looking for Alaska five out of five Gabriels.


Friday, November 2, 2012

DNF: Something New by Malena Lott

I have a DNF to report. I tried. I really tried to get into Malena Lott's Something New but I just couldn't. Honestly, I didn't even ask for a copy of this; it was just sent to me as an e-book. But the plot sounded interesting so I figured, "why not?". I just wasn't digging the characters or the story. I didn't really find myself wanting to find out what happened next. So I'm calling this one. I'm moving on to my next e-book as I continue to read Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Also, sorry for the lack of a post on Wednesday. My sister got married on Halloween and I was busy with that.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Sale Finds!

Over the weekend, Don and I went to a book sale at one of the local libraries. I've mentioned before that, in the process of moving in with him, I donated almost 200 books to the library that I work at. There simply wasn't room for all of them where we're currently living. When I finally agreed with his suggestion that I start blogging again, I told him one very important thing: "If I start buying books again, it's all your fault." I can't blog without books to read and most of what's on my shelf is books that I've already read (although I'll admit that most of them were read long ago and that I haven't reviewed very many of them for this blog). I bought quite a lot of books at the sale on Friday but he can't say that I didn't warn him.

So, what did I get at the book sale (i.e., what can you expect me to eventually review)?

-Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min
-A Brilliant Novel in the Works by Yuvi Zalkow
-Café Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island by Barbara Bonfigli
-Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
-The Dinosaur Hunter by Homer Hickam
-The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
-Foop by Chris Genoa
-The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
-Ghostwalk by Rebeccca Stott
-The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum
-The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
-Kissing Manhattan by David Schickler
-The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby
-Matched by Ally Condie
-A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
-Skinny by Diana Spechler
-Stravaganza: City of Stars by Mary Hoffman
-Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
-When the Killing's Done by T. C. Boyle
-The World According to Garp by John Irving

These 20 books, as well as 3 books for Don, only cost us $24. It was pretty much the greatest thing ever.