Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The House of the Scorpion

Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Themes: Cloning, freedom, growing up, friendship, sacrifice, drugs, family, humanity

Plot: Matteo Alarcran was not born; he was harvested. His DNA came from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium- a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt's first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster-except for El Patron. El Patron loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patron's power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacran Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect.

My Thoughts: The House of the Scorpion is a long book for the YA section, but that didn't stop me from reading it in one sitting. The story is compelling, and the main character is intriguing-perhaps because Matt is so conflicted and oftentimes quite malicious despite his "good-guy-protagonist" status. I picked this book up from my mother, who doesn't often read YA, but she also really enjoyed it.

Issues of defining humanity, despite and because of how "inhumane" people can be, is the central driving force behind this novel. Matt's struggle to determine his own worth and position not only within the eccentric (to put it mildly) Alacran family, the country of Opium, and the grand scheme of things is played out through his adventures and trials from age six to age fourteen. His childhood is sheltered and full of love until he is drawn to the Alacran Estate, where is pampered and loathed by the family there as he eventually discovers the reason for his creation and education.

This book has adventure, friendship, trials, and twists that are sure to entertain most readers. The philosophical questions being posed may not be as obvious as it seems from this description-but if it was it would probably make boring reading. While some characterizations remained flat or erratic (or both in the case of the main love interest) Matt, his foster mother, and guardian all receive tender and thorough characterizations and have realized personalities and back-stories. Likewise, the plot and world-building are fun and well-explored, and are completely believable in almost every respect. I felt that the last segment of the book was largely unnecessary, but I still enjoyed The House of the Scorpion overall.

Recommendation: The House of the Scorpion has action, friendship, drama, and love aimed at a thoughtful and literate YA audience. The book raises questions on humanity and technology that may interest readers while still remaining a solid story with well-developed characters and environments. I would recommend this book to just about anyone.

Similar Reads: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau*

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004.

*I haven't read this series, but it seems similar as far as themes and readership

Monday, December 20, 2010

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Title: Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton
Themes: food, restaurants, growing up, family, drugs, marriage, Italy, New York, responsibility
Release: March 2011

Plot: Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty fierce, hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Above all she sought family, particularly the thrill and the magnificence of the one from her childhood that, in her adult years, eluded her. Hamilton’s ease and comfort in a kitchen were instilled in her at an early age when her parents hosted grand parties, often for more than one hundred friends and neighbors. The smells of spit-roasted lamb, apple wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade became as necessary to her as her own skin.

Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; the soulless catering factories that helped pay the rent; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a difficult and prickly marriage that nonetheless yields rich and lasting dividends.

Blood, Bones & Butter is an unflinching and lyrical work. Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion. By turns epic and intimate, it marks the debut of a tremendous literary talent.

My Thoughts: Hamilton is a writer of great talent; with a steady voice and an unflinching view of her sometimes difficult life. If she wasn't more attuned to physical work (i.e. the restaurant), I think I would be reading some excellent fiction from her instead of this memoir. From the title I had assumed that this book would be about Hamilton's experiences learning to cook and opening a restaurant in New York City. I was pleasantly surprised to find so much more. This is a full biography (up-to-the-present) of a hard working and dedicated individual with a variety of life experiences, both terrible and sublime.

Hamilton's childhood and family are covered in the first third of the book, titled "Blood." Her rather whimsical and unusual family dynamic are explored, and honestly a whole book could be written on her experiences up until age twelve. The radical changing of this family dynamic sets the foundation for the rest of the book, where Hamilton struggles for independence and adulthood through restaurant work, cocaine, several college stints, and eventually an MFA and a restaurant of her own.

"Bones" seems to be presented as an in-between period of her life. In this second third of the book Hamilton has pulled her life together and is now on the straight-and-narrow, exploring writing and cooking both. Of the entire book, all of which is very exciting to read, this is the most dry-simply because the reader knows something more must be coming up, and so much titillating things have already happened.

In the third and final section of the memoir, "Butter" describes Hamilton's more recent experiences, including a difficult marriage and two children, in addition to the running of a restaurant and the strained family relationships she faces from her own family as well as her Italian in-laws. This final segment is the most poignant, and it seems to be very heart-felt, leaving Hamilton's emotions and pains out in the open for all to read.

I heartily enjoyed this memoir of a chef, because it wasn't just about cooking and the restaurant business. Hamilton writes about life experiences and all of those things that lead to food and inspire food. Her life as a chef wasn't a given, this memoir shows the twisted path that led her there and examines incidents along the way. Her writing style is casual yet well-crafted prose, and her willingness to expose so many faults, mistakes, and current problems are bound to engender respect, at the very least.

Recommendation: Anyone who likes memoirs, food, tales of family troubles and triumphs, will enjoy Hamilton's well-crafted memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter. Be forewarned, there is rampant cursing, in addition to drugs, theft, and melodrama.

Similar Reads: Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell*, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain*, Heat by Bill Buford*, The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White*

Hamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones, and Butter:The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. New York: Random House, 2011.

* I haven't read any of these, but similarities do seem to exist!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Busting the Newbie Blues!

When did you start your blog?
Just over a month ago! I am very much a newbie.

Why did you start your blog?
I started Rouquine Reads as a personal diary or journal o keep track of books I enjoyed (or didn't really enjoy) as sort of a distraction or outlet since I feel so overwhelmed with schoolwork. At first I just wrote my thoughts down on paper, but I really love the blog layout and metadata options so I figured....why not? I would love followers and discussion, but I would also be happy just to read and write for myself! Getting Early Reviewer books from LibraryThing also encouraged my to start a blog, to keep extended reviews of my fee books on.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Finding the time to consistently update, since I started at the end of the school semester, finals and final projects/papers have interrupted my pleasure reading and review-creating. I am also stumped as far as getting into more community or group events. I would love to meet new people online and get involved in larger projects and discussions. But, I'm a very shy person! Because of this, getting followers is also very difficult!

What do you find most discouraging about being a new blogger?
I feel so unprofessional, like I don't have a set system or brilliant ideas-and it feels like everyone else does! I read so many blogs about reading, and all types of reading, it's both inspiring and discouraging to see everyone's brilliant work :)

What do you find most encouraging?
Well I love reading, I love books, writing reviews or even just thinking about how I'm going to structure my blog is very relaxing and "fun" so it's definitely encouraging. I also think that seeing such a variety of reading blogs is encouraging, since there is no set model for success/popularity.

What do you like best about the blogs you read? Have you tried to replicate this in your blog?
My favorite blogs create very succinct yet personal and insightful reviews, as well as occasional "fun" posts like surveys, teasers, TBR, etc. which I try to incorporate because I think it's a fun way to break up the monotony of a stream of business-like reviews.

What do you dislike about blogs you’ve read? Do you try to avoid this?
Under-posting. I like frequent updates! I'm a neurotic blog checker. I will try to avoid this in the future, but schoolwork can be unpredictable. I am lucky enough that all the blogs I follow post very frequently.

Any advice for other new bloggers?
I don't think I'm really in a position to give advice, but, have fun? Give yourself time, don't feel pressured to have a thousand followers overnight?

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
Starting a reading blog has only made my wishlist longer, it's even worse than reading this type of blog!

Is there anything you’d like to tell us about your blog?

My blog is nothing fancy, and it's pretty inconsistent as far as what I read, but I try to have fun with it and share my love of reading within each review!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser:
"'Of course. He's my clone. Tell me, Mi Vida, do you like cookies?'"
"It was called Mexico when he was a boy, he said."

From page 57 of Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review in Brief: Women of the Night

Title: Women of the Night
Author: Edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Themes: vampires, demons, death, love, aging, friendship

Table of Contents: Introduction-John Helfers
One for the Road-Stephen King
Snow, Glass, Apples-Neil Gaiman
In Darkness, Angels-Eric Van Lustbader
The Cookie Lady-Philip K. Dick
Food Chain-Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Victims-Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Cafe Endless: Spring Rain-Nancy Holder
Bite-Me-Not Or, Fleur de Fur-Tanith Lee
Queen of the Night-Gene Wolf
Yrena-P. D. Cacek
Sister Death-Jane Yolen
The Carpetbagger-Susan Shwartz
This Town Ain't Big Enough-Tanya Huff
Claim-Jumpin' Woman, You Got a Stake in My Heart-Esther M. Friesner
Faith Like Wine-Roxanne Longstreet
Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu-Norman Partridge

Plot: The story of the vampire is one that has been told and retold throughout the centuries, often undergoing radical changes along the way, until what once was a terrible, bestial creature of darkness has been transformed into a sensual, passionate creature that is often misunderstood by the world at large. Most often the realm of male authors writing about male vampires, the genre has seen a refreshing swing over the last century toward authors of both sexes exploring the other side of the vampiric gender-the women of the night.

Upon closer examination, it would seem that women are just as suited to become vampires as men are, since they can be just as cunning, ruthless, and predatory as any male. The sixteen stories collected within these pages are among the very best of their kind, from many of the best fantasy and horror authors writing today. From an encounter with a predatory spouse in a New England storm to a continuation of the Dracula story featuring a completely different tale of love, longing, and loss, these stories explore both what it is to be female, human-and vampire-often all at the same time.

My Thoughts: I actually purchased this book from the clearance shelf of Barnes & Noble two or so years ago, and I suppose I could use it for my Off the Shelf! or Into the Old World reading challenges...but I didn't want to wait until January to read it once I rediscovered it! Honestly, I think I may have read it before and just don't really remember it. I normally don't think reviewing a short story collection is a great idea, but thought I might as well give it a go. The plan is to see how a review goes if I just write a few sentences about my impressions of the overall book, and mention a few stories that stood out.

Vampires, blood sucking or youth stealing or otherwise, are naturally the main focus of Women of the Night. One would think that women would usually be said demons, but that isn't always the case in this eclectic collection of tales. Some stories last a few pages, some last several, but all had unusual twists or plots for vampire tales. Some even had romantic aspects that didn't remind me of Twilight, and so I was relieved. Others were pure adventure or horror. No stories are "gore-fests," and none are exercises in extremes/shocks. But Women of the Night is simply a solid collection of vampire/demon stories for adult readers (although older YA readers could probably enjoy it as well!) that provides a wide range of motifs, characters, and themes.

Some of my favorites were Tanith Lee's somewhat surreal story of a vampire and scullery maid in a besieged town, the backwoods vampire town found in Stephen King's "One for the Road," and Neil Gaiman's unsettling retelling of Snow White.

Recommendation: If you've a hankering for a mild horror anthology, some vampire stories, or just an entertaining read of supernatural creatures then this may be for you.

Similar Reads: Dark Dance by Tanith Lee, Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

Greenberg, Martin H., ed. Women of the Night. New York: Fall River Press, 2007.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

End of 2010 Survey!

From The Perpetual-Page Turner comes this fun survey reflecting on a year in books!

1. Best book of 2010?
Um, tough one! I'm going to steal Jamie's idea and divide this into (a) Best YA book of 2010 and (b) Best adult book of 2010! It was still so hard to get just one...but I knew if I started listing it just wouldn't stop (no self-control!).

(a) Pegasus by Robin McKinley
(b) The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

2. Worst book of 2010?
I have been lucky this year, the worst reading I attempted in 2010 was only "meh" and not horrible. A few "just ok" books were: Flower Children by Maxine Swann, Tennyson by Lesley M. Blume. There were other books I read that were "just ok" but...I started them knowing they would be, so it wasn't disappointing (i.e. Charlaine Harris, Meg Cabot, etc.)

3. Most disappointing book of 2010?
Pricksongs & Descants, Fictions by Robert Coover. I really did want to love it. It's supposed to have fairy tale motifs, unique short stories; it was highly recommended to me. I'm just glad I didn't buy it, instead got it through Link + at the library. At first I thought my expectations were too high (I had been hearing about it for a few years before finally reading it), but then I decided no, it was just not at all what I wanted to read. I felt so dirty and uncomfortable reading it, even during the stories that weren't about pedophiles or sawing people in half. It wasn't necessarily the content that made me feel that way either...just the very sensual and gripping way it was written. I can see it's appeal, but it was not for me, big disappointment.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010?
This one might be a two-way tie. The first is The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. I admit, it's the first Lowry I have ever read, but it was so biting and amusing and clever that I fell in love when I was expecting a "just ok" kid's book. The second was Battling the Inland Sea by David Igler. This is an environmental history monograph about Miller and Lux's influence in the environment of the West coast in the late nineteenth century. Intriguing, well written, and well...and interesting topic with lots of neat old photos. I read this for class (obviously no high hopes) but really got into it.

5. Book you recommended to people the most in 2010?
There were two books I recommended a lot this year. Not all of them I actually read this year. The first: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, which I read last year and LOVED. I also recommended Pegasus by Robin McKinley to all my immediate family once I read it (we all love YA).

6. Best series you discovered in 2010?
Well I started the Percy Jackson series, but it was just ok. I did read Patricia C. Wrede's The Thirteenth Child, which is the first in a planned series called Frontier Magic. I really enjoyed it, it was slightly steampunk, slightly swords and sorcery fantasy, all sorts of entertaining.
7. Favorite new (to me) authors you discovered in 2010?
Tanith Lee, first. But also fell in love with Jedediah Berry, Lois Lowry, Ellen Kushner, and Patricia C. Wrede.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010?
This one is a toughie too! Probably Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters. Just imagining the situations and characters...hilarious in a bizarre and contrary way.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book of 2010?
The Man from Saigon by Marti Leimbach definitely had thrilling moments, and I believe I read it in one I couldn't put it down. The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee was also jam-packed with adventure, and after reading it I read about a million of her other books (starting with the other two in that trilogy)!

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010?
I love, love, love Robin McKinley's books. Pegasus was sort of a big deal for me, I was so looking forward to it, then I was lucky enough to win it on LibraryThing's Early Reviewers (um, pretty sure it was destiny!). Luckily, the book itself didn't let me down.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010?

I am a sucker for good, or at least interesting, cover art. A few favorites from this year included Berry's The Manual of Detection, Wrede's The Thirteenth Child, and Stefan Brijs' The Angel Maker.

12. Most memorable character in 2010?
Zenia from Margaret Atwood's retelling of Bluebeard/The Robber Bridegroom, The Robber Bride. Zenia is a duplicitous vamp who steals her "friends'" men and son, and likes to play games over decades (apparently).

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010?
Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz, even in translation it is lyrical and poignant.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010?
This would probably have to be The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, since it so heavily influenced most of my pleasure reading in 2010. It also inspired me to read her entire collection of writings. I also read Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, and still find myself thinking about the world she created in that novel.

15. Book you can't believe you waited until 2010 to finally read?
Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Considering a read Jane Eyre in grade five, and was first introduced to Villette in the introduction, I feel that it's fair to say that I should have read this much sooner. I have read that Villette is the under-appreciated masterpiece from Charlotte Bronte, one over which she slaved and was immensely personal. The story is familiar enough, being of a destitute but intelligent young woman who seeks employment at a girls school and falls in love with an aloof and rude professor. But it was so well written and heart-felt, I wish I had read this sooner so that I could be re-reading it by now.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-40

Recently NPR aired a Guilty Pleasures episode where writers talked about the books they loved but were embarrassed to be seen reading. It got me thinking about all those books I love but don't necessarily want other people to know I love them. Given that the holiday season is filled with eating the foods we love (but shouldn't eat), parties that last far into the evenings (way past our bedtimes), sipping those holiday drinks (fat with calories but oh so delicious), and curling up in front of our fireplaces with books that take us away from the holiday stresses...I thought it might be fun to share our guilty pleasures with other readers. So, for this week's Weekly Geek post share:
  • The Books that you Love but are Embarrassed to be Seen Reading
  • Tell us WHY you love them
  • And (just for fun) tell us your favorite guilty snack that goes perfectly with all that guilty reading
Don't forget to come back and give us a direct link to your post...then check out other Geeker's guilty pleasures!

Lovely topic! I don't really feel embarrassed to be seen reading anything, but sometimes I am painfully aware of the fact that I am reading something like genre fiction when I should be reading insightful monographs or some educational tract for school.

1. Books I Love but am Embarrassed to be Seen Reading
a. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
It's YA, it's sci-fi, it's a romance. Despite appearances, I usually don't lean towards these categories. It's a bit cheesey and predictable and melodramatic. But that's probably why I love it. It's so melodramatic and "serious" despite the rather ridiculous premises...but it's so well written and well-imagined that it's hard not to get sucked into the strange romance and familial drama.
b. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Ugh, it's trashy romance that's "literary" because it's kinda old. No one likes it or takes it seriously. But I was sucked in. I cry every time Melanie dies when I read it. I dislike basically every character, I'm bored by Civil War stories, but I want Tara to be rebuilt and the two despicable main characters to end up together.
c. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
I debated adding this to the list. I don't actually like this book, or anything about this series actually. Yet...I read them all, it was like a train wreck. I had to see the final cataclysmic explosion. Ugh. It was even worse then I feared. I can see why some people like it. I think. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset when I tackled the series?

2. Guilty Snacks for Guilty Reading
Gingerbread men! Can't have just one, and they are so silly looking and seasonally specific! But also sables and M&M cookies, or maybe even donut holes...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Booking Through Thursday-Crappy

Do you ever crave reading crappy books?

Why yes, yes I do. I read crappy books all the time in order to maintain sanity when I am inundated with stuffy historical monographs for school. Why read theorists like Bhaba, Renan, or Foucault when I could be reading something with action, adventure, sometimes even a plot! Best of all, no dictionary or cross-referencing required. I love me some crappy books. I love this topic as well!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-39

Do you plan on participating in any reading challenges in 2011? Are you planning on hosting any reading challenges? Perhaps you'd like to share an idea for a reading challenge--to see if there is any interest! Share with us which challenges look tempting to you! (You don't have to "officially" join any of the challenges for this weekly geek. Just let us know which ones you'd be most interested in.) You might want to spend some time browsing A Novel Challenge. Are there any challenges you are looking forward to that haven't been announced yet? Regardless of your challenge plans, are you starting to plan ahead for next year? Do you make lists or goals? Are you a person who enjoys reading more if it is structured? Or are you all about being free to read what you want, when you want?

Normally I am a "read what I want when I want" to kind of gal. However, this means I have a lot of books I never quite get around to-which is why I decided to jump on board with the Off the Shelf! challenge for 2011. The goal: read 30 books from my TBR pile in 2011. What I liked about this challenge was that you could choose your commitment, I just thought 30 books sounded like a good number! To help me, I created a list of my TBR pile and added it as a page to this blog. As I complete each one, I can cross it off the list and feel productive!

If you are a hoarder like me, I recommend trying this challenge out with me next year!

I had thought that that would be enough for me...but then I checked out A Novel Challenge as WG suggested...and I couldn't resist just one more! So I decided to dive into Into The Old World Reading Challenge hosted by Splash of Our Worlds and My Love Affair With Books. Basically, this challenge is all about reading older books in 2011. However, they really don't have to be that old...just published before 2009!

A Tanith Lee challenge, now that's another thing I could get behind. Might make one up for myself!