Sunday, July 4, 2010

100. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

When I set up the different categories of books to read for the project, I decided to give Colin one pick. He could choose any book and I would have to read it. It didn't take him long at all to choose this one, so I've known for almost a year that I would eventually be reading Good Omens. I haven't read any of Neil Gaiman's work before, but I have seen two movie adaptations -- Stardust (yay!) and Coraline (nay!). So it seemed to me there was a 50-50 chance that I would like this book.

We hear the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner. Unfortunately, Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order has just misplaced the Antichrist. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride motorcycles. And the representatives from Heaven and Hell have decided they actually like the human race...

Plot summary taken from the paperback back cover.

After I finished The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Colin said he felt a little bad that I'd be reading both that and Good Omens in the same week because they were somewhat similar. As you can see from the quote on the front cover, "A direct descendant of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." -- New York Times, he wasn't the only one to think so. I happened to like Good Omens more. I found it to be a little more accessible and I thought it was slightly more witty. The religious aspect made it more entertaining for me somehow, and I was pleased with what I found to be the overall message. My favorite characters were Crowley and Aziraphale, I would totally watch a buddy cop show starring the two of them. I thought the book could have been trimmed down about 50 pages but that's hardly a major complaint. Overall, a great recommendation from Colin. I may have to take a closer look at his bookshelf.

99. Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

I first heard about the ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars a few months ago, and I eagerly looked forward to it. It's really good, too, you should watch it. I had one more my pick for the project, so naturally I decided to read the first book in the series that the show is based on. Yay! I love me some YA fiction.

In the exclusive Philadelphia suburb of Rosewood, Alison is the Queen Bee of her elite seventh grade hive. BFs Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily vie for her attention, even as each of them hides a hideous secret only Alison knows. So when Alison goes missing after a slumber party, never to be seen again, each girl is heartbroken, but also a little relieved. Now it is three years later, and though the four girls have grown apart, they are each still hiding something. Artsy Aria is carrying on an affair with one of her teachers, fashionista Hanna shoplifts to accessorize her trendy outfits, blue-blood Spencer is sleeping with her older sister's boyfriend, while straight-A Emily is trying to ignore her attraction to a new female classmate. When the girls begin receiving threatening text messages and emails from someone known only as "A," they must confront the fact that against all odds, it appears Alison is back. Could Alison still be alive? And if so, why is she so determined to uncover all their dirty little secrets?

Plot summary taken from

And it did not disappoint! It was so good! Really, really good! I can see this series being completely addictive, I didn't want the first one to end. If I didn't have a million other books on my to read list, I might run out and get the rest of the series. Even though I don't think I had many (any?) of the experiences that the girls in the book did, it was still relatable. There were good characters, all with secrets and bad deeds but all ultimately likeable and sympathetic. I do love reading about female friendships -- always so complicated and messy! Especially at that age... drama drama drama. I like to live a little vicariously through books like this, too -- I get to find out what the cool kids are into. Paper Denim jeans are apparently a thing. :)

Like I said, the show is really good, too. It's a good adaptation and I will most definitely keep watching. And I'm not the only one who loves the show, by the way. Check out one of Eric Stonestreet's (you know, Cameron on Modern Family) recent tweets

98. Drama Queers! by Frank Anthony Polito

I liked Band Fags! very much, and started reading Drama Queers! almost immediately afterward.

Meet Bradley Dayton -- a wickedly funny high school senior whose woefully uncool life always seems to be full of drama, even in the sorry little suburb of Hazel Park, Michigan. It's 1987, the era of big hair, designer jeans, and Dirty Dancing. George Michael has "Faith" and Michael Jackson still has a nose. Brad, on the other hand, has a thing for acting, and while his friends are trying to get laid, Brad's trying to land the lead in Okla-homo! and practicing the Jane Seymour monologue from Somewhere in Time.

Sure, he'd like to get laid too, but while Brad has known he was gay forever, the rest of "Hillbilly High" is not so forthcoming. Brad's already lost one best friend, Jack, who dropped out of the marching band to step into the closet. But lately, things are looking up. Not only has Brad made Homecoming Top Five, but Richie, a new, totally cute member of drama club, definitely seems to be sending signals -- and he's not the only one. Before senior year ends, Brad will know more about love, lust and friendship than he ever thought possible. Because if all the world's a stage, he's ready to be in the spotlight...

Plot summary taken from the paperback back cover.

didn't have too strong feelings about Brad while reading Band Fags! -- Jack is so in his own head that you stay there, too. I ultimately found him to be more likeable than Jack and I think it's because he's more comfortable with who he is; his doubt about being gay is more short-lived and less tortured than Jack's. This is probably why other characters reacted to them similarly, you get better vibes from Brad. It was interesting to get the other side of the senior year story, they inform each other and fill in gaps of information -- if you read one, you have to read the other (and I recommend reading Band Fags! first because it covers a longer period of time). Both books are good, quick reads that you won't regret checking out!

97. Band Fags! by Frank Anthony Polito

Both my friend Jeff and his roommate Ryan recommended Band Fags! (and its sequel Drama Queers!), they know the author Frank Anthony Polito (FAP, as I came to think of him). Jeff loaned me his copy, along with Vanna Speaks and a few other books. I have to tell a Jeff story here. We saw American Pie 2 together, and when the Jason Biggs character realizes that he loves the Alyson Hannigan character and declares that he is a band dork (nerd?), he just never joined the band, Jeff (master floutist) turned to me and said that I was a band dork (nerd?), I just never joined the band. Agree? Disagree? Discuss amongst yourselves.

September, 1982. John Cougar's "Jack and Diane" is on endless radio rotation, and Dallas and Dynasty rule the ratings. Jack Paterno is a straight-A student living in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park, with his own Atari 5200, a Beta VCR, and everything a seventh-grader could ask for. The only thing he has is common with foul-mouthed Brad Dayton, who lives on the gritty south side near 8 Mile, is that both are in Varsity Band. Or maybe that's not the only thing. Because Jack is discovering that while hanging around with girls in elementary school was perfectly acceptable, having lots of girl friends (as opposed to girlfriends) now is getting him and Brad labeled as Band Fags. And Jack is no fag. Is he?

As Jack and Brad make their way through junior high and then through Hazel Park High School, their friendship grows deeper and more complicated. From stealing furtive glances at Playgirl to discussing which celebrities might be like that, from navigating school cliques to dealing with crushes on girls and guys alike, Jack is trying to figure out who and what he is. He wants to find real, endless love, but he also wants to be popular and "normal." But, as Brad points out, this is real life -- not a John Hughes movie. And sooner or later, Jack will have to choose.

Plot summary taken from the paperback back cover. 

Ah, coming of age tales. I don't think I could ever write so much in the voice of a young adult, but I immediately recognized the writing of Jack as authentic. It rang true. I thought to myself while reading that FAP must have kept diaries from the time to reference because he wrote so convincingly. And 
of the gay coming of age fiction that I've read for the project (Sugarless, The Density of Souls, The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second), FAP's was most relatable -- even though band (and drama) was not my world at all, but being in my own group of friends aside from "popular" kids was my experience. Also the pop culture stuff was totes up my alley; it's nice to know there are other geeks out there who know actors in TV movies from the other TV movies they've done. And best of all, no boys are gross stuff! :)

While reading, I identified with Jack and empathized with him, found him likeable. But when I was done with Band Fags!, I started to feel a little differently -- especially because I started Drama Queers! almost immediately after finishing it, which is from Brad's point of view for his and Jack's senior year in high school. Jack is insecure and unsure of himself just about to the point of making him someone uncomfortable to be around; popularity and "normalcy" are so important to him that it's almost off-putting. I didn't feel that way while reading which is to Polito's credit -- it's when I stepped out of Jack's shoes and saw him from the outside that I started to feel that way. When you're on the journey with Jack, you're with him.

I highly recommend this one! Stay tuned for my Drama Queers! post, coming soon to a blog near you.

96. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My dad loaned me The Uplift War to read as one of my sci-fi picks months ago and he asks me every time we talk if I've read it yet. For some reason or another, I kept putting it off. Either a book came in from the library or something else that someone loaned me looked more appealing. But I was finally all set to start reading it a few days ago. I came home from work and Colin sat me down for a serious talk -- flipping though the book, he told me there was no way I would be able to finish it AND the other books I had lined up by the July 4 deadline (one year exactly from the start of the project). I think he thought it was longer and more dense that I was expecting. He suggested that I read another sci-fi book for the project, he came up with a list of titles to choose from, and that I read The Uplift War after the project is over -- that way, I could take the time to enjoy it, instead of rushing through it. Point taken -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy it is. Dad, I promise The Uplift War is first on my post-project reading list.

Don't panic! Losing your planet isn't the end of the world.

Earth is about to get unexpectedly demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. It's the final straw for Arthur Dent -- he's already has his house bulldozed this morning. But for Arthur, this is only the beginning... In the seconds before global obliteration, Arthur is plucked from the planet by his friend Ford Prefect -- and together the pair ventures out across the galaxy on the craziest, strangest road trip of all time.

Plot summary taken from the paperback back cover. It took a surprisingly long time to type. 

This book is hilarious! I don't know why, but I didn't expect it to be funny. Check out a couple of quotes as proof:

"And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything."

"It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- whilst all the dolphins had ever done was much about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed they were more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons." 

(This second one is the beginning of chapter 23; I would have quoted all of chapter 23 if room -- and my typing skills -- allowed.)

My second reaction is that this book is totally and completely bananas. Wackadoo, for sure. But it was very amusing and I really enjoyed reading about the purpose of earth, the plan of the mice, etc. Colin said that much of the book parodies other science fiction works, so it's possible that I wasn't going to get as much out of as the next guy. 

Now, usually I get a photo of the book cover by searching for images on Google. I couldn't find the exact cover of the paperback from the library, so I took a photo with my phone. Why is it important to get a photo of the actual book that I read? Because of how the title is type set -- The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This didn't look weird to me, so when I created my Google Doc to keep notes, that's the spelling that I used. When I added this title to the Currently Reading box on the blog, that's the spelling that I used. Later, I noticed that the title on the book spine and on the back cover used "Hitchhiker's" -- being a proofreader, this inconsistency pissed me off a little. Which spelling was I supposed to be using? I copied and pasted the answer I found on Wikipedia below. My conclusion about the cover of the book I checked out of the library? Lazy art direction. But then, I'm a little judgmental, so there you go.


The different versions of the series spell the title differently—thus Hitch-Hiker's GuideHitch Hiker's Guide and Hitchhiker's Guide are used in different editions (US or UK), editions of the novel, (audio or print) and compilations of the book. Some editions used different spellings on the spine and title page. The BBC's h2g2 style manual claims that Hitchhiker's Guide is the spelling Adams preferred.[44] At least two reference works make note of the inconsistency in the titles. Both, however, repeat the statement that Adams decided in 2000 that "everyone should spell it the same way [one word, no hyphen] from then on." [45][46]

95. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

When my sister Annie came home for my other sister Mollie's bridal shower in March, she had two books to lend to me -- Persepolis and this one. It's kind of funny that they both feature totalitarian governments, but I think it was just a coincidence. :)

Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years -- a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the North Korean population.

Taking us into a landscape that most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today -- an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished, a police state where informants are rewarded and where an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life.

Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects -- average North Korean citizens -- fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize their government has betrayed them. 

Nothing to Envy is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism and an eye-opening look at a closed world that is of increasing global importance. 

Summary taken from the book jacket.

The information in Nothing to Envy was organized differently than I was expecting, so it took some time for me to get into it. It's hard to describe how it differed from my expectations; as best I can remember it seemed to jump around at first. Once I got used to the writing and organization, the book went really quickly for a non-fiction about a non-cheery topic like totalitarianism in North Korea and its effects on average citizens. I have to say, I kept mixing up Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il while I was reading; the names look too similar in print! That's a little embarrassing, but the really shame-inducing part is that I had no idea what the conditions were like in North Korea, let alone that there was a famine in the 1990s. A famine -- that just seems like something that can't happen anymore in this day and age. The limited electricity, no access to the Internet, a famine -- as Demick puts it, North Korea is where South Korea was fifty years ago. That's hard to wrap your mind around, even though the book describes average people's experiences very well. Reading about the ruling of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il reminded me of reading about cults. To generalize, cult leaders excel at isolating their followers. They cut people off from the rest of the world, taking away their resources --money, family and friends, information. They don't want you to want to leave and if even if you do, they make it so that you won't be able to leave and survive. This also seems to be the point of North Korean rule. Citizens are told repeatedly that they have nothing to envy in the world -- they have it the best of anyone. And because accurate information about the outside world is so limited, just about everyone believes it. On of the most interesting parts of the book to me was when Demick wrote about the efforts of South Korea to accommodate North Korean deflectors.

As serious as the book is, it's not altogether completely depressing. One thing that made me smile was reading about Jun-sang, one of Demicks' ordinary North Korean citizen interviewees, and his voracious reading habits. He read anything that he could get his hands on, something that led to his decision to defect to South Korea. I loved that he enjoyed reading Sidney Sheldon's Rage of Angels (I have much-loved copy of that one on my bookshelf) and that Gone With the Wind (also on my shelf) is his all-time favorite book.

This book was eye-opening for me, and a really valuable experience. I'm going to wrap this one up with some quotes that spoke to me while reading:

"For all the support provided by the government, defectors can sense the pity and fear and guilt and embarrassment with which South Koreans view them. The mixed welcome is part of what makes them feel like strangers in their homeland."

"Guilt and shame are common denominators among North Korean defectors; many hate themselves for what they had to do in order to survive."

"Choosing where to live, what to do, even which clothes to put on in the morning is tough enough for those of us accustomed to making choices; it can be utterly paralyzing for people who've had decisions made for them by the state their entire lives."

"Kim runs his country as though it were in the thick of the Cold War, churning out bombastic propaganda, banning most foreigners from visiting, threatening real and imagined enemies with nuclear weapons and missiles."

94. The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

I read about this book in People magazine and thought the premise was intriguing. I immediately placed a hold at the library. And then had to wait weeks and weeks. I guess I wasn't the only one who thought it sounded interesting.

It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. In this captivating novel, Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him.

From his earliest days as a "practice baby" through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney's Burbank studios, and the delirious world of Beatles' London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored -- and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.

Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love. 

Plot summary taken from the book jacket. I also suggest reading the Author's Note, which can be found on

Like Grunwald, this topic piques my interest. I would love to read some non-fiction or see a documentary about the practice of borrowing babies from orphanages to use as "practice" in university home ec departments. It sounds kind of barbaric, doesn't it? And yet, Grunwald writes sensitively from both perspectives, pro and con. Theories on child rearing have evolved and changed dramatically in the last hundred years, and it is the greatest fear of Martha, the head of the Practice House in the novel, that she and her colleagues were wrong all along. Even Henry, who grows to resent his upbringing and all it represents, finds it difficult to unlearn the teachings of the Practice House. Henry is a dynamic and conflicted character, and the reader is taken in by his charms as much as his conquests are. Grunwald's imaginings of Henry's reactions to his circumstances ring true, which I think is a great accomplishment.

I enjoyed reading this novel in part because Grunwald paid such careful attention to the settings -- the East Coast college campus, the wholesome Disney studios, swinging 60s London. You really get a feel for the times and places that Henry existed in. It was a quick read, which I wasn't really expecting, but I think that it's because you become so immersed in the story. I found myself looking up from reading and feeling somewhat disoriented, because my head was still in Henry's world. That's not to say that it's the easiest read. There is a lot deep sadness experienced by most, if not all, of the characters: Martha, desperate for Henry to need her as much as she needs him; Betty, who's made a complete mess of her life and can't completely ignore the fact; Mary Jane, aware of just how hard it will be for Henry to become the man she needs him to be; and even Henry, who does a good job of covering it up anger and feelings of betrayal. Their stories stay with you for long after you've finished reading. 

This novel is beautifully and lovingly written. I highly recommend it.