2013 TBR Pile Challenge

EDIT: Please see the 2014 TBR Challenge post for further updates.

My to-be-read shelf is ridiculous. According to Goodreads it currently stands at 396 books. Which means even if I read only the books on that shelf at the same average speed I generally read it would take me more than two years to get through. And the last time I worked at whittling it down was in 2010 when I got it down into the double digits.

So, seems I came across the annual TBR Pile Challenge at the perfect time. Below is my list for the year. The rules specify only twelve books and two alternates and that they each must be published prior to 2012. My hope is to get through more than just those dozen books especially since I also have several books on my shelf that are outside of the scope of the challenge rules. We’ll see how this goes and I’ll update this post as I read through the books and link to the applicable reviews.

A sampling of my to-be-read shelf messily piled up1. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (2009) — completed August 23, 2013

2. Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen (1997)

3. Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton (2004)

4. The Art of Racing the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) — completed August 9, 2013

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2004)

6. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)

7. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)

8. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (2004)

9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

10. Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihemmayer (2001)

11. Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)

12. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2003)

Alternates: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954) and Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (2011)

This is Not Writing

Me sitting in an armchair with Uschi sitting on top of me at Professor Java's

I do not know what was up with Uschi last night, but she was incredibly silly and crazy during the Write-In. I can only assume she was just not in the mood to work, which would explain her very unorthodox reaction when I got her harness out to leave the house. Maybe she figured her daily allotment of work was complete since we had done so much earlier and so she was quite unenthusiastic when I was harnessing her. At Professor Java’s she spent most of the evening trying to distract everyone into paying attention to her, she was uncharacteristically whiny and wouldn’t really settle down at all. I finally took her harness off since I didn’t want to reinforce this lackadaisical behavior and after being even more silly — like climbing onto my lap — she did finally lay down for a nap. Granted she had to wedge herself under an end table first, but it wasn’t nothing.

I am still sans a laptop so I didn’t intend to get any actual writing done last night. I did get a good chunk of school reading accomplished, though. Oh, and the cupcakes were quite a hit.

In Print

I’m very passionate about literacy because books are a wonderful gateway into so many things. As an avid reader it might surprise you to learn that I didn’t first learn about guide dogs between the cover of a book.1 It wasn’t until I was training with Dolly that I even heard there were any books related to guide dogs! Below are several titles that you might be interested in checking out. This is by no means an exhaustive list (and if you’ve any suggestions of ones I may have omitted, feel free to share).

[Read more…]

  1. Actually, it was a clip on Sesame Street that first introduced me to these wonderful animals.

“Vampire Academy: The Graphic Novel”

There’s a growing trend of late to turn young adult books into graphic novels. Perhaps because I’m visually impaired, I fail to see the purpose. From a marketing standpoint I suppose it’s like any other adaptation. And I guess it could be argued that they might help cross demographics. Anyway, I’ve basically been ignoring the whole thing until I saw the announcement about Vampire Academy being adapted. I debated ignoring the whole thing, but it came out the same day as the new spinoff series so I nabbed a copy.

Book cover

In my opinion, a media transition needs to stand on its own so it’s not fair to compare it to the original. Though, it should maintain that general feel of the source material. This adaptation has the unfortunate distinction of being taken from one of my favorite series (though, in my humble opinion, one of the weakest books from it). However, it’s been a few years since I read the book so I admit I’m slightly foggy on the details, which might be a positive thing.

Anyway, what I do remember is that I fell in love with Rose. Seeing her story brought to life this way is very refreshing, but this is a pretty light book in terms of action which leaves the art kind of lacking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. And it’s very accurate to the descriptions from the book. But I wouldn’t find it nearly as interesting if I weren’t already familiar with the story.

The real drawback to me is that it doesn’t feel like Rose telling the story. Her snarky wit is largely omitted, which is a shame. Perhaps this is because of the necessary condensing that the book requires to be adapted, but that doesn’t explain away the disjointed way her inner-dialogue is presented. Obviously large chunks of exposition and pontification can’t very well be put into a thought bubble, but I am a bit wary of future books being adapted as most are far longer than this one.

Newcomers will undoubtedly be at least slightly confused by the book, but VA fans will be pleased if only for the eye candy. All things considered, this is pretty underwhelming, but I’m still interested to see the rest of the series.

“Bloodlines”

Richelle Mead is one of my all-time favorite authors. In particular, I’m quite a fan of her Vampire Academy series. So, even though I’m generally approach spinoffs with a good deal of trepidation, I was very excited about the news that VA would continue on. Bloodlines is the first in the titular series and picks up where Last Sacrifice, the sixth and last VA book, left off. The main characters of the original series move into the background while Sydney and several other side characters take center stage.

Book cover

I’ve become quite cynical of spinoffs because they generally don’t live up to their original source. Being quite fond of the Vampire Academy series, I was very wary of this new series. This was only compounded by the news that books would be told via Sydney rather than in the third-person as was originally planned.1 Obviously, since her story is completed Rose is no longer an option to narrate, but I wasn’t convinced Sydney would be interesting enough and I hadn’t found her particularly likable in her previous appearances. Mostly, I was apprehensive because of the many dangling plot points from Last Sacrifice, which at the time of my initial read felt almost arbitrary. I try to approach every book individually and without any preconceived notions or expectations, but honestly the simple fact is that this book had a lot to live up to for me.

As it’s only the first book, I can’t say that Bloodlines has or will surpass VA, but I think it’s a worthy followup. More importantly, it picks up those loose threads from Last Sacrifice in such a seamless way that I actually want to read the VA conclusion again just to see if I still find those lingering plot points as jarring as they initially came across to me. My one quibble is that it’s such an easy transition into this new series that I wonder how accessible it would be to someone that isn’t already invested in the prior series. No matter how much I adore the series, it’s hard to recommend a book that requires so much advance reading. The biggest surprise for me was how smoothly Sydney’s narration comes across. Mead’s explanation sums up the differences between the two perspectives quite well:

[Sydney] gives us a human take on the Moroi world, which isn’t something we’ve really seen yet. Vampire life, through Rose’s eyes, is a very normal thing. For Sydney? Not so. It’s made worse because she’s been raised to believe vampires and dhampirs are wrong and unnatural, but spending time with them in Palm Springs begins to change her mind . . . What’s also interesting is that Sydney has a much more analytic view of the world than Rose. Sydney overthinks where Rose rushes in, and both styles are fun to watch. Sydney’s super smart and can memorize reams of material—but is a little oblivious to how a normal social life works.

I expected a bit of an adjustment to Sydney as the narrator. Her prior appearances via Rose’s perspective made her seem very standoffish, almost snobby at times. In comparison to Rose’s effervescent personality this came across as a bit cold. (I concede that I may have interpreted that incorrectly and it’s yet another reason I’m curious to do a reread of the original series.) Through her narration, Sydney reveals a different person than that and even shows us why it is she acts as she does. It’s also thoroughly entertaining to see someone else’s view of Rose! By the end of the book I was totally smitten with her and I’m deeply curious to see how things unfold for her throughout the series.

Beyond my initial qualms my feelings are somewhat conflicted. I’m inclined to think I almost psyched myself out of fully enjoying the book because of my expectations much as I tried to ignore them. The one comparison I can’t help but notice is that the story itself is much less driven, almost weak, than the typical VA book. I missed that sense of urgency that the prior books had and found myself wishing that someone would pull a Rose and just randomly punch someone to get things going. That isn’t to say I was exactly pining for action, but when it finally does surface — practically at the end of the book — it’s present in such a blasé fashion that it was like seeing the scene through a film of water. It also seemed far too obvious right from the start and so I found myself slightly irritated that things didn’t click into place for so very long. Even when Sydney started piecing things together there was no momentum to the story, in fact she actually stalled the plot a bit by sitting on her discovery! I also found it very hard to keep track of time. What felt like days, even weeks, was described as happening in the span of a week. Specifically, I can’t believe that in this economy a person could find three job interviews in (I think?) a day and moreover have them scheduled in the same day. And, while it’s only a little thing in the book, I’m absolutely disgusted with the hang up Sydney has over having to wear size 4 clothes — and that she mentions needing to diet her way back to a size 2. Not at all what I’d expect from Ms. Mead. Very disappointing.

What saves all this from a complete downward spiral is that the characters that take center stage in this new series are almost as fascinating as Rose and Lissa. It’s a different view of the Moroi world in several ways. As I mentioned before, Sydney gives us an “outsider” view, but in their own way each of the four is kind of on the outskirts. In fact, the entire location of the book puts them outside of the goings-on of the Moroi. It’s a completely different dynamic than the first series and it’s the perfect venue for these characters. Adrian has never been much of a draw for me, but he’s started to pique my curiosity. Personally, I’m most intrigued with Eddie and where his story will go.

In the end what it all comes down to is that I don’t really know how I feel. I enjoyed the book, but I’m not entirely sure if that feeling isn’t colored by my relief that my wariness was unfounded or my previous love of the original series. I do feel a bit letdown by some small elements, but I think they’re minor enough to be forgivable. So, for what it’s worth, I’m reserving final judgment until I read a bit further into the series.

  1. I’ve since read the original first chapter, though, and I think the change was a wise one. At the very least, I think it would have been confusing.