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truepenny

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April Fool's Day
Josip Novakovich
Don Quixote
Roberto González Echevarría, John Rutherford, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Life of Pi

Life of Pi - Yann Martel I couldn't help but pick this book up with an air of cynicism; it boldly claimed to change my view of God. Instead, it changed my perception of what a book is and can be (which to me is rather more significant!). I have no doubt it has entered a new frontier in fiction writing that will continually inspire authors of the new century. Powerful and mind-blowing.

Atonement: A Novel

Atonement - Ian McEwan Beautiful, heartbreaking. Though a period piece, very relevant to a century of impulse and rumour. Exquisite writing; meticulous and yet natural and delightful to read. Truly genius.

Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds

Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds - Zygmunt Bauman My first encounter with Bauman was this text about love and intimacy in a liquid modern world in which all commitments are (he argues) "until further notice." Not only was it theoretically interesting and thought-provoking, it was a joy to read. Many academics seem to fear using too simplistic or artistic language for theoretical texts, but Bauman's lyrical prose made this a book I would certainly pick up again.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants. A fairly simple mantra, and one that shouldn't need a whole book written about it. Unfortunately, today there is the need to re-establish traditional and wholesome eating, both in a health and a social sense. Pollan's book is an enjoyable read, and though it hasn't changed my relatively healthy eating habits drastically, it is definitely an important read for a society that lives on cheap, packaged and reconstituted foods.

S.E.C.R.E.T.: A Novel

S.E.C.R.E.T. - L. Marie Adeline Ugggh. No. Just no.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories - Karen Russell I was disappointed in this a bit, but likely only because I expected too much. Really enjoyed "Reeling for the Empire" and "Proving Up," and I admire Russell's ability to mix magic, horror, and realism into one neat package. I am encouraged to read more of Russell - I liked this taste but get the sense that she can and has taken her style further and deeper.

February

February - Lisa Moore Beautifully lush writing. Moore picks up on the tiny details of life radiating out from an enormous, shattering event, and makes them sound nearly as profound - or perhaps indicates that it is these small moments (the circle of light reflecting off a watch face, sheets of swirling snow, a pot boiling on a stove) that make up the long moments after and between tragedy or happiness. That being said, while I just thrilled in every line, this isn't a book for a the plot-driven. The level of detail without anything really happening can seem excessive, but it was just so damn well written that I couldn't help but love it.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple Reading this made me really want to go to Antartica for creative inspiration. But also made me be very afraid of Antartica. I also related to Bernadette quite well, which made me doubt my own sanity.It ended a little too happily ever after for my personal tastes (apparently I'm a horrible person who wishes ill on fictional characters) but there were some loose ends left ominously open.Good, funny, insightful, charming, easy.

Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters

Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters - Matt Kaplan This was a fun, fast read and I certainly learned some new things about the history of monsters - particularly about zombie-makers in Haiti. I had no idea zombie legends could have a pretty solid basis in history and science (Zora Neale Hurston did though, apparently). A lot of the science and theory behind it is probably guesswork anyone with a little understand of evolution and human psychology could propose, but it was still interesting. I don't think James Cameron's Avatar was as much as a revolution in human/monster reversal as Kaplan's conclusion claims it was, or that its so-called "resonance" with audience had anything to do with plot or themes, or anything other than fancy animation (booo Avatar!).Ultimately, it felt a bit like a long, slightly repetitive college essay about the potential truths or reasons behind monstrous mythologies, but had enough tidbits and facts to keep me interested (if had been any longer than 200 pages though, I probably wouldn't have bothered). I did, though, appreciate the kind of threatening end to the book when he finally says outright what he's been hinting at all along and everyone knows and fears: we are the real monsters and we will surely destroy ourselves if we don't get it together.

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling Well, this was okay. I wasn't as disappointed as I had geared myself up to be. I agree with most of the reviews I've read, a kind of "well, that certainly could have been worse!" attitude.Some of the writing felt as though it has been constructed with excrutiating care, and there were swathes of boring detail that felt unnecessary: every little interaction and movement and action of a half-hour of someone's life. In a way, this was really what the book was about: how the humdrum details of village life can add up to ignorance and cruelty and broken marriages.I actually found it an enjoyable and interesting read for maybe the first third, it was just a little too long with not enough substance. After that many pages the one-dimensionality of many, if not all, her characters really began to show. They felt all very similar, particularly the men (who mostly just seemed like slight variations on Vernon Dursley) and the boys, and I had difficulty distinguishing one from the other. I think Krystal was supposed to be the most dynamic character, and I suppose she was, but that's only because the others fell flat after 150-200 pages.Also, I am beginning to feel that Rowling has enormous disdain for fat people, which is a bit disturbing. (EDIT: I wrote a whole blog post on fatness in this book and Harry Potter. Take a look! http://thisiscoolbeans.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/does-jk-rowling-hate-fat-people-fat-bodies-in-harry-potter-and-the-casual-vacancy/#more-1829)But, not awful by any stretch.

Vagina: A New Biography

Vagina: A New Biography - Naomi Wolf It has its limitations, mainly discussing a very Western and hetero-centric idea of the vagina, but Wolf admits this with the reasoning that expanding to include more diverse female sexualities and cultural understandings of them would require a much more hefty tome. Which is likely true.I also found some of the discussions of Tantric sex and the "Goddess Array" a bit offputting, though again Wolf acknowledges this potential problem, admitting that the phraseology might be a little too "New Age" for many readers but that the sentiments should still be considered.Overall, I learned some things I'm now shocked that both women and men aren't routinely taught and am re-confirmed in my belief that the current, Western mode of thinking about female sexuality and the biology and chemistry behind it is incredibly limited and often archaic in all the wrong ways. I also definitely feel less insecure about my own responses, feelings, and desires and am encouraged to explore such things more thoughtfully as an individual and also with my partner. I certainly want to ruminate on the whole thing more and the vagina-brain connection that is essentially the thesis of the book, and write something a bit more insightful when I have done so. Overall though, I enjoyed it and think it revealed some very important ideas, facts, and philosophies about the vagina, womanhood, and sexuality (again - only heterosexual ones, but as Wolf encourages, I do hope there exists or will exist soon a similar study into the vagina in other sexual relationships/contexts/identities, not to mention on sexuality, the pelvic nerve and the male brain).

Bridget Jones's Diary

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding Pleasantly surprised but also mildly disappointed at the same time. Enjoyed it, but wasn't quite as clever as I had hoped. Not sure Bridget achieves much self-realization and even in the end still seems to associate accomplishment with having a boyfriend.But, in all honesty, most of us just want a steady job, to lose a few pounds and drink a little less, and to have someone to love, so perhaps it isn't a bad thing that someone wrote about it.Here is a comparison I wrote of Bridget Jones and its inspiration, Pride and Prejudice: http://www.shamelessmag.com/blog/2012/12/chicklit-jane-austens-pride-and-prejudice-and-hel/

1982 [Hardcover]

1982 - Jian Ghomeshi I love Jian Ghomeshi and I really wanted to really like this book. And I didn't dislike it. I just wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't curious about Jian Ghomeshi's life.It was written as if you would read it out loud; not poorly, but not amazingly. It wouldn't have been published if he wasn't somebody already, and that takes away from its literary merit, to me. Jian writes well for the radio, he talks well on the radio, and he is a great curator of music. I think he should have presented his biography in the format he is obviously most familiar with and best at. Not everybody has to write a novel. It would have been better served if Jian had written it as a series of personal essays and read them on the radio along with the accompanying music. Actually, I think that would be really awesome. He should do that.

Hostage

Hostage - Elie Wiesel Read my review here: http://thisiscoolbeans.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/hostage-eliewiesel/

Fifty Shades Freed

Fifty Shades Freed  - E.L. James I think I'm only giving this one star because I'm just so glad this is over.

Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Darker - E.L. James Well, I guess this at least had a plot, sort of....