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50. - 53. )

New page total: 17,258
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24.* Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce (re-read 3/11, 581 pages, YA).  Had to read it again, it was even better the second time. Knowing the characters a bit better made their interactions more fun to read.

25. A Difficulty With Dwarves by Craig Shaw Gardener (read 3/12/07, 188 pages, via Ed McKay). This is one of a series of books about an apprentice named Wuntover. I vaguely remember reading a couple of them when I was a teenager, and picked this one up for $1.50 out of nostalgia.  There are a few cute bits  - the other seven dwarves (my favorites are Smarmy and Nasty) and other fairy tale jokes, but it starts slow and stays that way, as there is no story arc.  The book ends five pages after the one exciting thing that happens.  I know it is part of a series, but I strongly believe all books should be readable as stand-alones. Instead, this one feels like chapters 14-20 of a 40 page opus - you know, the boring, pre-action middle. 

26. Memories of the Old Plantation Home & A Creole Family Album by Laura Locoul Gore, with Norman and Sand Marmillion.  (Memoir, 166 pages, bought at The Laura Plantation, Vatcherie, LA, read 3/12/07).  Heather and I toured a Creole plantation while in southern Louisiana, and she bought this memoir chronicling life on that particular plantation for four generations, spanning from French exploration to Reconstruction.  Laura wrote this memoir when she was in her early seventies, for her children and posterity.  It does not say so in the book, but Norman (who conducted our tour) claimed it was in response to her daughters' discovery of Gone with the Wind,and Laura's desire to present a less romantic version of life in the Old South.  As you might expect from a book written for one's children, it feels a little sanitized, but it also presents interesting information about life at that time and the Creole culture. It's a nice supplement to the tour we took, and the pictures of ball gowns and sundry relatives are fun.

27. The Killing Dance by Laurell K. Hamilton.  (385 pages, read 3/12/07, arrived via Bookmooch).  More random gore, endless dressing and undressing, and some killing of humans, shapeshifters, and vampires.  I have been avoiding the obvious temptation to fuss about the clothes, but find that my parenthetical note about them is now three times as long as the other things I have to say.  So, succumbing:  There is lots and lots of over-done clothing descriptions in this book (like all the books in this series). We always know what Anita will be wearing (boring polo shirt, black jeans, and black Nikes described ad nauseum), yet it is reiterated every time she changes clothes, and there is a ridiculous amount of getting dressed in these books.  And the masculine attire is somewhat unbelievable.  I mean, where does Jean-Claude get his endless supply of thigh-high black leather books and Jason his skin tight leather pants? On what planet are they the last word in men's sexually appealing attire?  Also - now that I am ranting about this I am not sure I can stop - I am fairly sure Ms. Hamilton has never attempted to wear all these weapons anywhere, including around her own damn house.  Hiding a handgun in female attire is difficult, which she acknowledges, but it is also freaking uncomfortable if you plan to, say, sit down, stand up, take a jacket on and off, or breathe deeply.  I dont understand why she side-steps some of the more comfortable but still discreet options for arms placement, and it seems clear that she is describing all these choices based on pictures in a book rather than weapons on her body.  Okay, moving on:  Spoiler alert: finally, in the last pages of this sixth book, Anita goes to bed with one of the monsters after demonstrating her love for the other monster, by doing something she said she would never do.  Does this remind you of high school yet? (So it's not much of a spoiler. Sue me. I am trying to be discreet).  Having read Obsidian first, out of order, I can see how she is setting up for it in this book via conversations with Edward ("Even Death has needs" etc.).
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23.* Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. (299 pages, YA, re-read 3/11/07, acquired at Edward McKay Used Bookstore in Greensboro, now in my collection). Reading Terrier reminded me how much I love Tortall and the people who live there, so I decided to re-read this one (for the eleventeenth time). Daine is sweet, and I like seeing glimpses of the people we met earlier in Alanna's series. I have been reading these books since middle school, so they are the ultimate in easy comfort reading.
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19. Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton (read end of February, 329 pages, arrived via Bookmooch). More vampires, shape-shifters, gore, etc. 

20-21.Bloody Bones & The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell K. Hamilton (read 3/7-9, 370 & 369 pages, bought for me by Heather at a cute independent bookshop in Florida).  Anita has maintained her virtue thus far, but is finally beginning to lust after two of "the monsters" in her life.  There is some fairly gory "sex" which occurs between other, lesser characters - some of whom are even alive!

I am amused that, while no one has fabulous things to say about this series, more people seem to have read them than anything else I am journaling.  I find them engrossing in the moment, but have trouble remembering what happens in any given book without re-reading the cover copy. And I dont think I would enjoy Anita in person - she is just a little too strident about everything.

The smut element of this story arc confuses me, and I am a little bewildered by how the author will get from here (gore! saving sex for marriage! more gore! french-kissing! wait - casual sex is bad and cant happen! people die! non-people die!) to erotica.  Thus far, I have found the books fairly un-sexy.  They are violent (I think Anita has killed at least three people in every book, despite her continued insistence that all life is sacred) and occasionally we see (because Anita sees) sexual violence being done.  And, yes, sex and violence have some things in common  - both have a lot to do with bodily fluids, power, and vulnerability - however, the confusion here doesn't seem to be doing much for the series.  The only interesting bits so far, if you ask me, are Anita's dawning realization that "the monsters" are not that different from some parts of her, her discovery that she can love Richard and Jean-Claude simultaneously (if not in the same way), and Larry's emergence as a necromancer and as an independent adult.

I figure I will read the next three, bringing me as far as Obsidian Butterfly (the first Laurell k. Hamilton I read), then move on to some other escapist reading.  This series is a fun train-wreck, but the body count is getting ridiculous.

22. Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce (read 3/9-10, 581 pages, YA, I gave it to Heather for Christmas, and she loaned it me).  This was an awesome book (not that I would have expected less from anything set in Tortall, my favorite fictional kingdom). I liked the characters and appreciated the way Tamora presented the Dogs (City Guards) and the Rats (members of the Court of the Rogue) as characters with depth and common motivations.  She lets life be imperfect, occasionally kills a character we care about, and generally respects her reader enough to present a complicated, messy story (since life is complex). The mystery element was interesting and the solution both clear and unexpected enough to avoid early guessing.  Beka, the heroine, is 18ish and you see some of her struggles to find her place in the world, but there isn't so much angst it chokes the story. The developing romance storyline is interesting. Need I mention that I think the rogue sounds adorable? [I always think the rogues are adorable. This is why I found George Cooper more appealing than Prince Jonathan, Jean-Claude more attractive than Richard, and Ranger more interesting than Morelli (double bonus points to anyone who gets all three of those references, triple if you agree with me)]. 
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Reading list update:

11. Holding the Line by Barbara Kingsolver (finished 2/18/07, 196 pages, acquired via Bookmooch).  This is Kingsolver's first book, pre-dating her novels. She was a journalist covering the "Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983" and wrote this book to shed light on the women who "held the line" throughout this strike. In a way, the book  reads like one of her novels, because it is so character driven.   At the same time, I never got the characters or the towns straight, since she was chronicling the stories of many women in disparate locations.  Despite that, I really enjoyed her writing because it anchored these women's action and growth in the larger historical and sociological context, without zooming so far out that the individual stories were lost.

12.* Protector of the Small: Squire by Tamora Pierce (409 pages, February).  I love Tamora Pierce's young adult novels, which follow strong girl characters through a faux-medieval society where magic exists.  Her heroines push the boundaries of their society to be knights and warriors, without being ridiculously perfect characters.  This story follows Keladry of Mindelan from becoming a squire (for Raoul of Goldenlake and Mallory's Peak, Commander of the King's Own) through her transition to knighthood.  I like Kel, the way which Pierce normalizes reality (she glosses over the details but her characters menstruate, have pre-marital sex, and talk about slatterns in taverns), and the story arc.  It's a YA, so a fast read, but a good one.  All Pierce's stuff counts as "comfort reading" for me.

13. Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton (finished the first week of February, sometime, 266 pages, arrived via Bookmooch).  This is the first book in the Anita Blake series (which I first encountered in book #3 on this list), and I enjoyed it.  It was a slick, fast read which kept my attention. Anita is the only character in the story with any depth at all, so far, but - assuming I agree to suspend my disbelief of the rest - it works.

14. Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia by Emily Toth (arrived via Bookmooch, 207 pages, read in February). I haven't read every word of this yet, but am dipping into it for the odd ten minutes of amusement here and there.  Ms. Mentor has a column in The Chronicle of Higher Education which I read online, and I enjoy her sarcasm, realistic perspective, and reminders that academia is a skewed world.  The book reads like a compilation of Toth's columns, with a few defying belief (a drunken academic throwing the olives from his martini down the front of a pre-tenure women colleague's blouse, then another tenured drunken lout pawing her to retrieve them, springs to mind) while others reflect more typical troubles.

15. The Seven Towers by Patricia Wrede (264 pages, read 2/18/07, arrived via Bookmooch). I put Patricia Wrede in roughly the same category as Tamora Pierce (see entry #12), though that is mostly based on her series about Princess Cimorene (a very un-silly princess who runs away to bake Cherries Jubilee and sort treasure for dragons, rather than be married off to boring Prince Therandil).  This book was a stand-alone about another group of royal advisors, relatives, and hangers-on, set in another mythical region.  I picked it up for the first time the day after it arrived and couldn't get invested in it, but today it hit the spot. I had to read a little further than I would have expected to start caring about the characters, but she manages the unlikely feat of setting one character up to be pitied and disliked, then making him  emerge as the noblest of the assembled nobles.  I likely wont reread it, but it was a fun romp and you can see her feeling her way into personalities you see in her later books  (i.e. Amberglas evolves into Morwen, Crystalorn into Cimorene, etc.). I dont want this last piece to sound condescending, but I am not sure how to avoid it: Wrede is an excellent young adult writer, and her work has deepened and strengthened over time.  The Seven Towers reads like an early effort, because it is - it was published in 1984, at least a decade before the Cimorene books. (That doesn't make it bad, just less polished).
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I read 7 books in the first 14 days of 2007, then didn't finish anything for almost three weeks.  This is a reflection of my life and mental health - I have been working on finishing the thesis document, so most of my brain space has been elsewhere.  I started several books, but none of them had enough shine to keep my attention, with the thesis looming over my head.  When this happens I get into the habit of retreating to my bookcase, and re-reading passages from a handful of comfort books.  These are books I can pick up, flip open at any point, read for ten minutes with delight, then walk away satisfied.

I finally read a couple real books though, so here is the latest report.

8.* Full Bloom by Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes (finished 2/2/07, 344 pages, re-read).  This is an unlikely, semi-romance novel about a woman who has turned her great-grandmother's Victorian brothel into a B&B, and then finds her husband - who she thought left her for another woman - buried in the backyard. Oh the shenanigans, etcetera.  It's silly and fluffy, and I read it in the bathtub Friday night.  It is very genre-ific, if you like those books you will like this one.

9. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett (finished 2/3/07, 257 pages).  Truth and Beauty chronicles Ann's friendship with Lucy - a friend with a complicated and ongoing medical history, a brilliant mind, and a self-destructive longing.  Ann (of Bel Canto fame) wrote the book after Lucy's death, and it seems like a memorial to her as well as an exploration of what exactly happened over the decades of their friendship.  Lucy being dead seemed convenient - I can't imagine speaking to someone who put all my naked faults on paper then published them for the world to read - but Ann mostly avoided the trap of writing herself as perfect.  I like books about long friendships, since I think those relationships help us explore who we are, and this one was fine.  I would have liked to see Ann use the medium more to reflect on her own trajectory, since she wasn't inside Lucy's head and thus can only give us an observer's perspective.

10.* Sunshine by Robin McKinley (finished for the eleventeenth time, in late January, 405 pages).  This is probably my favorite book of 2005 or whatever year I discovered it, and in my all-time top ten.  I don't read a lot of vampire fiction or fanasy, but I love Robin McKinley's work (order: this, The Blue Sword / The Hero and the Crown, then Sherwood Forest, then all the other re-told fairy tales) and am praying for a sequel.  Sunshine, the main character, has a life nothing like mine but we share a sensibility and sense of humor, which makes her very fun to read about. I also love the world Robin set it in - it is very like ours, with a few massive exceptions.  The overall world presented is enough like ours to easily relate to, but also shocking and strange.

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