Monday, December 29, 2008

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Summary: When the marriage of Mariah White and her cheating husband, Colin, turns ugly and disintegrates, their seven-year-old daughter, Faith, is there to witness it all. In the aftermath of a rapid divorce, Mariah falls into a deep depression - and suddenly Faith, a child with no religious background whatsoever, hears divine voices, starts reciting biblical passages, and develops stigmata. And when the miraculous healings begin, mother and daughter are thrust into the volatile center of controversy and into the heat of a custody battle - trapped in a mad media circus that threatens what little stability the family has left.

My Review: Mariah White is head-over-heels in love with her husband (to a sickening point) and then she catches him cheating and completely falls apart. While she is in her self-loathing stage, her daughter, Faith, who also witnessed the affair, starts talking to her "guard". It seems quite normal that a little girl would develop an imaginary friend after such a traumatic event but when Faith, who has never been told of God, starts reciting Bible verses, Mariah seeks help. It turns out her "guard" is actually her God. Once this is declared all kinds of crazy events take place, including healings and stigmata.
Faith's extraordinary story is leaked to the media and all types of people attempt to reach Faith to figure out what is actually going on with the little girl. Among these people is Ian Fletcher, who makes a living as an atheist disproving Christianity on live television. Also introduced into the story is Father MacReady to clear this mystery up for the Catholic church, even though the girl is not Catholic but technically Jewish. So Rabbi Weissman steps into the story for the Jewish perspective.
While the main story line is intriguing, there are so many side stories taking place that don't tie well with the main story line, that the reader feels distracted. It was difficult to care for Mariah because she was so needy and weak at the beginning of story. And her transformation to a stronger, more independent woman is slow coming and incomplete. Father MacReady and the whole Catholic church side story add little to the book and I feel could have just been cut or mentioned in a less detailed manner. Rabbi Weissman fits well because Mariah is Jewish and his character is very likable, but he pretty much just drops out of the book during the second half. And while I can't say that I liked Ian Fletcher, I do think his character fit nicely with the story and added another dimension.
That being said, Picoult has an excellent writing style that keeps the reader intrigued regardless of the subject. She has a way of making you think about things from a new perspective. I liked how she weaved two sides into "Keeping Faith"...keeping faith from a religious stand point and keeping Faith as in child custody. This novel had so much potential but left the reader wanting for something more.

My Rating: 3 Stars, definitely not her best book but if you enjoy her writing, check it out.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A good story, just rough along the edges.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Summary: Is Nick Allen a troublemaker? He really just likes to liven things up at school--and he's always had plenty of great ideas. When Nick learns some interesting information about how words are created, suddenly he's got the inspiration for his best plan ever...the frindle. Who says a pen has to be called a pen? Why not call it a frindle? Things begin innocently enough as Nick gets his friends to use the new word. Then other people in town start saying frindle. Soon the school is in an uproar, and Nick has become a local hero. his teacher wants Nick to put an end to all this nonsense, but the funny thing is frindle doesn't belong to Nick anymore. The new word is spreading across the country, and there's nothing Nick can do to stop it.

My review: Frindle is a quick read and the heartwarming story of an resourceful and gutsy 5th grader who decides to put what he learns in school to the test. Who says what a word means? We do. If that is true, can he make a new word? His efforts to further his experiment are creative and hysterical and you can't help but fall in love with him for all the trouble he causes. I don't doubt that all his teachers secretly loved him as well for his wit, ingenuity, and that spark of mischief inside him. Of course, every story has a villain and this ones is Mrs. Lorelei Granger--dictionary lover, wordsmith extraordinaire, and Nick's current language arts teacher, who insists that he cease and desists all his frindle-ish efforts. There is, she says, quite simply, no need for new and frivolous words in the English language. And so the Battle of Frindle begins, and when it ends--and I mean really ends--I got a little misty. I really enjoyed this story. Overall, Frindle has a touching message about the power of the English language and the power that we have to change it.

NOTE: I think that secretly I wanted to be him in school. The one who made everyone laugh. I was the geek. The one who made everyone laugh, but for significantly more humiliating reasons.

My rating: 4 stars (Glad I own it)

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Simply gagarificious!

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

Summary: In a fragile world on the brink of World War II, lovely young Englishwoman Ellen Carr takes a job as a housemother at an unorthodox boarding school in Vienna that specializes in music, drama, and dance. Ellen simply wants to cook beautiful food in the homeland of her surrogate grandmother, who had enchanted her with stories of growing up in the country side of Austria.

What she finds when she reaches the Hallendorf School in Vienna is a world that is magically unconventional--and completely out of control. The children are delightful, but wild; the teachers are beleaguered and at their wits' end; and the buildings are a shambles. In short, the whole place is in desperate need of Ellen's attention.

Ellen seems to have been born to nurture all of Hallendorf; soon everyone from Leon the lonely young musical prodigy to harassed headmaster Mr. Bennet to Marek the mysterious groundsman depends on Ellen for --well, everything. And in providing all of them with whatever they need, especially Marek, for whom she develops a special attachment, Ellen is happier than she's ever been. But what happens when the menace of Hitler's reign reaches the idyllic world of the Hallendorf School gives this romantic, intelligent tale a combination of charm and power that only the very best storytellers can achieve.

My Review:

Rules for Reading (and Loving) a book.

1) Don't try to read anything in the month of December. You'll never get more than three pages read at a time. There's just too much to do and you'll never connect with the story.

2) Never read a similar book..or one by the same author..immediately after reading a book you LOVED. It will ALWAYS pale in comparison.

3) If you don't like to read about the Holocaust...don't try to make yourself. It. won't. work.

Okay. I pretty much think that the above says it all. I tried to read it. I tried to like it. It took a while and I even got pretty into it for about 60 pages. For me, not liking this book was simply a matter of taste and choice. It all goes back to a post-partum Me reading what was supposed to be a retelling of Sleeping Beauty called "Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen. It was a very good retelling but there was great deal of throwing babies into brick ovens and I swore off books even remotely related to that time period from then on. My heart quite simply cannot take it. So needless to say the time in which this book was set was a huge distraction for me. Like an irritating bug bite...it's always there. Itching.

That having been said, for those of you for whom the setting of this book is NOT a deal-breaker, I'll try to be a little less biased. "A Song for Summer" meanders its way along in a sort-of slow, comfortable fashion. The first 100 or so pages of this book are very charming, and well-written but lacked the same pull and "right away" enchantment as I've felt reading some of her other books. I really enjoyed reading Ellen's descriptions of her first views of Hallendorf and her dreams for it. The children and teachers at the school were all unique characters that were easy to picture and love (with the odd nutter among them).

I didn't really get involved in the book until about 120 pages in when the action starts (a very little) and 160 when Ellen finally starts to display a little bit of backbone. Her character up to this point seemed pretty perfect--the content, homemaker and genuinely kind individual--which lets face it, none of us are. As the threat from Nazi Germany increases, Ellen is forced to choose whether she will stay in her idyllic world or venture out in a far more dangerous attempt to help a friend. Here are the 60 or so pages where I was able to read continuously and felt sort of connected with the story. After that it kind of fell apart for me. It could have been the story. It could have been the fact that Christmas was coming and I didn't sit down for more than five minutes a day.

Ellen and Marek definitely had their moments, but the chemistry between them was inconsistent...there at times and absent at others. I'm also a huge fan of the happy ending....and I don't like being teased about it. Frequently, just as they were about to get their happy ending- time after time - it was yanked out from under them. Another little bug bite. Unfortunately, for much of this book I didn't not feel like a I was a part of it...I felt like I was reading it. Gasp. I'm sure some of you understand what I mean. I want to be completely absorbed...drawn so fully into a book, its' plot, characters, and storyline, that I actually have to blink and look around when I am forced to put it down. Alas, I did not find it with this book.

Anyway, I'm sorry this review isn't better. I don't know how qualified I am to give it because of how disconnected I felt, how busy I was, and my prejudice against the setting, so take it for what its worth. You might adore this book. Many others have.

My rating: 3 stars. (It was okay but definitely not my favorite of hers. Note: The heroine makes a decision at the end that I totally disagree with from a moral standpoint. I can't give it away. You'd kill me. But I didn't like it. )

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tell No One - Harlen Coben

also reviewed by Heather and Emily

Summary:David Beck has rebuilt his life since his wife's murder eight years ago, finishing medical school and establishing himself as a pediatrician, but he's never forgotten the woman he fell in love with in second grade. And when a mysterious e-mail arrives on the anniversary of their first kiss, with a message and an image that leads him to wonder whether Elizabeth might still be alive, Beck will stop at nothing to find the truth that's eluded him for so many years. A powerful billionaire is equally determined to make sure his role in her disappearance never comes to light, even if it means destroying an innocent man.

My Review: Elizabeth and David made annual pilgrimages on the anniversary of their first kiss to his family’s property site at Lake Charmaine. They had been married seven months when it happened. Elizabeth was abducted, and later found to be the victim of a serial killer. David had been knocked unconscious and had fallen in the lake only to awaken in a hospital.
The story opens eight years later when David, now a pediatrician, receives a bizarre email. The message is clearly from someone who knows intimate details of his life with Elizabeth. A subsequent email shows Elizabeth on a busy street mouthing to him the words that she is sorry.

Other instructions plus the admonition to “tell no one” arrive through an email account that can only be traced to an alias.

Tell No One is slowly and artfully constructed and the tension is sustained throughout. The author manages to work in current social issues in a noninvasive way and the story is stronger for it. The well developed characters’ dialogue is consistent and intriguing.
While the ending is predictable, the way you arrive there is definitely not.

Personal Note: Although I found this interesting and a slight left turn from his regular work, he does have me wondering if he will fall into the predictability rut that so many Mystery writer have.

My Rating: 3.5

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A roller coaster that is not quite as intense as it looks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Also reviewed by Heather

Summary: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlaying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. (Summary from book - Image from scificool.com)

My review: It happens once a year--the Reaping—a drawing to decide who will live and who will fight to the death in a teenage survival nightmare called the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen, her family’s sole provider, steps forward to volunteer when her little sister’s name is drawn and is forced into the fight of her life—FOR her life. Twenty-four children will enter the arena. Only one will make it out alive. As the story progresses the rules change, alliances are formed, and Katniss must decide how SHE will play the games and if she can live with the choices she makes.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book like this—one that makes my heart pound nearly every second that I’m reading it….and a little bit when I just think about it. I stayed up until 3AM –usually a good indicator of a book’s hold on me—and had to finish it as quickly as possible the next day. S.C.’s idea of the Hunger Games was unique and, as a plot tool, she set it up to allow for a great variety of unexpected things to happen. There is very little I can say without ruining things, but Katniss has to exercise all of her cunning and bravery to survive, not only what the contestants dish out to her, but what the Game makers throw at her as well. She learns quickly to work the viewers and her “sponsors” into getting the things she needs. It was always interesting to see what would be dropped from the heavens…and what they had to do to get it.

The fact that this book was set in the future also gave S.C. a great deal of freedom as far as believability was concerned and she ran successfully with it. Her mockingjays and tracker jackers blend seamlessly into the story and the end result of her efforts is a creative survival story similar to “Lord of the Flies”. It was disturbing in both its intensity and imagery but very driven by a strong, unpredictable plot and some very likeable (and dislikable) characters.
Hunger Games is filled with gut-twisting tension until the very last page and still left me cursing the fact that Book Two isn’t out yet. I’m going to die waiting. I just know it.

PERSONAL NOTE: What I found disconcerting about this book was my complete acceptance of it. I mean, I’m basically reading and LOVING a book about a whole bunch of children who, in a variety of violent and horrific ways, manage to kill each other off. What is WRONG with me? Of course, the brutal imagery is tempered by moments of compassion that make the story and SOME of its’ characters seem more human and less animalistic, but still…

As a nation, and perhaps a world, we are obsessed with getting the “fishbowl” perspective on things. Somehow we fool ourselves into thinking that these shows are “REAL” when in fact they are nothing of the sort—merely manipulated by the people that pull the strings and push the buttons behind the scenes—regardless of the lasting effects on participants.

I can’t help but think what people today might think of this kind of thing. We film the pain of a break up, the embarrassment of a moment of clumsiness—all for FUN. What about Survivor, dog fighting, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They all draw huge crowds and offer entertainment based on violence and injury or on the manipulation and exploitation of others. How much of a step would we really have to take to have something like this?

My rating: 4.5 stars. I really really really liked this book. I don't really think that there was a way to make this book less graphic without losing it's intensity but I'm a little worried about it's affect on a younger audience. It's characters make it seem young adult...but just make sure its not TOO much for YOUR young adult.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: If I didn't have to be a responsible parent, I would have stayed up ALL night long.

Friday, December 5, 2008

One for the Money - Janet Evanovich

Also reviewed by Mindy.

Summary: Stephanie Plum is a little lady with a big attitude. And now that she has lost her job as a lingerie buyer, she has big money problems. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Stephanie decides to take a bail-bond recovery job from her cousin Vinnie. If she can catch the bail jumper, the payoff will be huge. However this is a jumper she may not want to catch. Stephanie has known Joe Morelli since childhood. They even entered into a romance that resulted in Stephanie hitting him with her father's Buick. Now this cop is wanted for murder. To get her money Stephanie must catch Morelli within a week, without first getting herself killed.
My Review: I feel Mindy's food analogy fits well here. I liken this series to eating mashed potatoes...little, if any, nutritional value but still comfortingly full of calories. There are fourteen of these books in the series so far and I can eat through an entire one at a sitting. These mystery stories are full of humor and each contain touch of romance. The best way to describe these books is to just introduce you to the quirky characters.
  • Stephanie Plum: A Jersey girl from the burg, she's super bright and sassy, yet she has this knack for getting into hilarious pickles
  • Grandma Mazur: This spandex wearing granny keeps you on your toes with her bizarre behavior, yet she is so sweet that you just have to love her
  • Vinnie: Stephanie's sleazy cousin who gives her the job when she blackmails him with some of the secrets he has hidden in his closet
  • Mom: Super imposing and always worrying, she's a little annoying but she has Stephanie's best interests at heart
  • Dad: Quiet, yet hard-headed, his retirement has left him with too much time on his hands, leaving him slightly bitter but he does come up with some interesting ideas
  • Ranger: Fellow bounty-hunter who knows all the tricks of the trade, he's charming and witty but takes some time to warm up to
  • Joe Morelli: Super hunky bad boy from Stephanie's past turned cop turned murderer?
This is a fun, fast read that has you guessing who-done-it until the end. I would recommend these books to anyone looking for a light, no-thinking read (and a good laugh).
P.S. You don't necessarily need to read these in order, although I would suggest reading "One for the Money" first to get acquainted with the characters.

My Rating: 4 The first one isn't my favorite in the series but still a great read. I would rate all of these between 3.5 and 5 stars for this type of book.

Sum it up: A Laugh-out-loud romantic mystery

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

*Do You Want More of the "Once Upon a Time" Series?*

I have decided to stop reviewing the Once Upon a Time series. There are so many of them that I've gone all muddled in the head about it. I can't keep them straight from one book to the next and I figure it's time to move on. They are starting to blur--so I'm taking a break. I'm going to read them when I can but probably won't review anymore unless I get some screeching comments about it. Odd's are they are all fun to read and a great way to pass the afternoon (especially the ones by Cameron Dokey). If you are interested, here is a link to those I haven't reviewed.

"Golden: a retelling of Rapunzel" by Cameron Dokey
"Sunlight and Shadow: a retelling of The Magic Flute" by Cameron Dokey
"The Crimson Thread: a retelling of Rumplestiltskin" by Suzanne Weyn
"The Rose Bride: a retelling of the White Bride and the Black Bride" by Nancy Holder
"Water Song: a retelling of The Frog Prince" by Suzanne Weyn
"Scarlet Moon: a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood" by Debbie Viguie
"Before Midnight: a retelling of Cinderella" by Cameron Dokey
"Wild Orchid: a retelling of the Battle of Mulan" by Cameron Dokey (NOT YET RELEASED)

Happy reading!!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Countess Below Stairs - Eva Ibbotson

Also reviewed by Heather

Summary: After the Russian Revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties--not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attratction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiancee.... (Summary from book - Image from Amazon.com/uk)

My review: "A Countess Below Stairs" is the tale of a an impoverished Russian countess who takes a job as a maid in the home of the handsome Earl of Westerholme to provide for her family. It's obvious to all who work in the household that Anna is highborn and they don't expect her to last, but last she does and, in so doing, captures the hearts of her fellow staff and the attention of the Earl...but not without consequences.

Ibbotson's characters are amazingly loveable and so real they stand up, fully clothed, in your mind. Honorable Olive Byrnes, an eight year old it is impossible not to love. The efficient yet stodgy butler, Proom, who by the end of the story is up to his elbows in deceit and feathers. Mrs. Proom, mother of the butler, who is most often found throwing a variety of things out the window to get the attention of passersby. James, the footman whose obsession with the size of his muscles is equalled only by the maids' interest in them. Lady Lavinia, twenty times a bridesmaid, homely, and desperate to marry, well, anyone above her station. Dr. Lightbody, an insanely misled freak if there ever was one. Uncle Sebastien, a lecherous old musician whose tendency to pinch the maids is okay by them. Muriel Hardwicke, the Earl's seemingly sweet fiancee, who transforms herself over the course of the book from a gorgeous, wealthy fiancee to a malicious woman who makes it SO easy to hate her. Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme, engaged to marry a woman whose riches will save the estate, but torn between his heart and his duty. And above all, Anna, the beautiful, kind, and indominitable Countess, determined to make her way and help those she loves.

I'm sure I could make this review calm and collected. I could write something articulate and rational and astound you with my observational wit. I have absolutely no intention of doing any of these things because I am all aflutter. I am in LOVE with this book. To be honest this was pretty much love at first word for me. I knew it was something special when I read--not the prologue--but the little exerpt that comes before any of that and could tell the writing would be phenomenal.

Usually when I am reading through a book, especially to review it, I keep a running list of things I like or dislike about the book in my head or on paper. I was completely unable to do it this time. I got so swept up in the story that try as I might I could not find anything wrong with it. Yes, I know that no story is perfect, but when you get so immersed in a story that you can't even manage to surface for a moment of mental clarity...that is a good story. I read till 3. I forced myself to go to bed. I woke up. I ignored my kids. I ignored my husband. I skipped dinner. Make no mistake...this is book isn't chock full of meaning or symbolism. It isn't depressing or all about the trials we face as people. It's just good fun. Read it. Read it. Read it. I sincerely doubt that you'll be sorry.

My rating: 5 huge fat gold stars (If I had the money I would be at the bookstore right now buying her other books. Money or not, I'll be reviewing them shortly.)

Sum it up: Perfect in every respect.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Summary: Nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
"What is real?" asked the Rabbit one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for along, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

My review: I absolutely adore this book. I think I probably should have read it before now, but somehow it has never happened. So, when I found out my daughter would be going to see the play for preschool at at the beginning of this month, I thought it would be a good idea to read it together. It was a wonderful experience! MW's story, though small, is very descriptive and perfectly creates for you the world of this love-worn rabbit. It is suitably written to read aloud with lots of places for added emphasis and wide-eyed, dramatic pauses. When I would look at my daughter in mock wonder over things happening in the story she would look right back at me, her face a mirror image of my own. This book has forever changed how I look at our "Reals"--Pink and Lovey Bear. No matter how dirty and worn, now they are a little less germy in my eyes. I am so excited to go with her to see the play and we'll definitely read this one again!

My rating: 5 stars. I LOVE LOVE LOVED IT.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Drenched with nursery magic.

Midnight Pearls (Once Upon a Time Series)

by Debbie Viguie

Summary: In a quiet fishing village seventeen years ago, one lone fisherman rescued a child from the sea. He and his wife raised the girl, Pearl, as their own daughter never allowing themselves to wonder long about where she came from--or notice her silver hair, unusually pale skin, and wide, dark blue eyes. Pearl grows from mysterious child into an unusual young woman, not always welcomed in the village. As all the other girls her age find husbands, she has only one friend to ease her loneliness. One very special, secret companion: Prince James. But their friendship is shaken when trouble erupts in the kingdom--a conspiracy agains the royal family combines with an evil enchantment from beneath the sea. Now just when Pearl and James need eachother the most, bewitching magic and hints about Pearl's past thereaten to tear them apart...forever.

My review: In all fairness I read half of this book before my family came up for Thanskgiving and the other half after they left a little under a week later. The gap kind of left me with a disjointed experience of the book. I enjoyed it, but don't feel super qualified in reviewing it. I'm still going to though. I just don't remember a great deal about the first half of the book. I've got to say that the title of this book throws me off entirely. Perhaps I just have a dirty mind, but to me it sounds, well, sexual...like the title belongs to something in the romance section and that the cover should be red or hot pink. It doesn't. I checked. I supposed if you really try hard enough you could do that to about any book title though. Moving on.
Pearl has been struggling her whole life to fit in, or rather, to not stick out quite so much. With her long legs, silvery hair, and complete lack of grace, she's different from those around her in ways that she cannot explain. Were it not for her closely guarded friendship with the prince and two loving parents, she would be entirely alone in the world. Unexpectedly, "Midnight Pearls" is the story of not one mermaid, but several. Debbie Viguie takes the story of the little mermaid and expands it to involve quite a few more merkin, an imprisoned Seawitch, an evil plot to assassinate the king, and more than one devastatingly attractive prince (yippee!). The plot twists and turns as the characters struggle to serve their own agendas and, of course, find their true loves. The end came much to quickly for me--the big fight really wasn't all that big and was resolved in the matter of a page. I did enjoy the additional characters and the expanded plot but feel that many of these books would be served by a little more character/plot development and about 30-50 more pages.

My rating: 3 stars. Get it at the library. PG

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A nice beach read.

Monday, November 24, 2008

*I am having a dilemma*

This one's for you Claudia...

Okay, so I am a big fan of the independent bookstore and I would like to start promoting INDIE BESTSELLERS (formerly known as Book Sense 76 Picks) which are top reading picks by independent booksellers. Who knows better what books to pick up than those that eat, sleep, breathe, and shelve them daily?!?! However, I'm feeling a bit hypocritical because when I link books on this blog they are all linked to Amazon. I've done this mostly out of ease of use. It's a good place to find reader reviews and they usually have a picture and summary of the book. This might have the unfortunate side-effect of some of you actually ordering a book from them when you might just as easily (and with less shipping) go to a local bookstore. So, I'm searching for a good online bookstore to link our book recommendations/reviews to so that if you want to order it I won't feel so much like a dung beetle.

Leave a comment if you have any suggestions.

Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

Summary: The bar code tattoo. Everybody's getting it. It will make your life easier, they say. It will hook you in. It will become your identity. But what if you say no? What if you don't want to become a code? For Kayla, this one choice changes everything. She becomes an outcast in her high school. Dangerous things happen to her family. There's no option but to run...for her life.

My review: Global -1, the new unoffical government is requiring that everyone be tattooed with a special barcode that identifies them. It allows people to buy things, drive, do everything--and NOTHING happens without it. However, Kayla does not want the bar code. It has caused too many problems in her family. Her friends parents lost their jobs because of it and she's discovered something horrible is buried within the code. So, when it becomes illegal to NOT sport one, Kayla runs away hoping to join the resistance. "Bar Code Tattoo" details Kayla's fight, flight, and journey to find the people who believe as she does--that being coded will end the world as they know it.

This book is marketed as a young adult novel. I think it qualifies as such, but it also raises a more adult issues about what we see going on today. Don't worry. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I just pulled a whole bunch of their fears from this book. Some valid. Some less so.

-the increased globalization of markets and economies
-use of credit and debit cards to track online activities and even locations
-government involvement in every day life and in the economy
-the consequences for not conforming or resisting change
-being deemed "unpatriotic" or "unamerican" when you disagree with the government
-the experimentation with human and animal cloning and genetic enhancements
-the consequences of "food augmentation" and genetically messing with our food supply.
-the cost of sacrificing our civil liberties in the name of security.
-the power and ability of the media to distort the truth in order to sway public opinion

So after I get past all the immediately apparent thematic elements of the plot I can finally relax and enjoy the story. According to the summary, I am going to love this book because it sounds very much like others I have enjoyed. But I can't. In fact, other than remembering all of the above themes, I get so distracted by the end of the book that I have a hard time remembering what was good about it at the beginning.

Here are my three main complaints with this book:
1) The binding had the word "thriller" on it. So, silly me, I expected some. It was a too predictable for me. Things happened a little bit to easily and escapes were a bit too convenient.

2) I had a hard time visualizing how a bunch of kids, raised with all the luxurious benefits of a futuristic society and no apparent special training, manage to survive out in the middle of the woods. Where did they get their food? How did they find their way around? Perhaps there was a survival training course required to graduate...but I highly doubt it.

3) (SPOILER HERE) A genetic code is embedded in the tattoo that tells Global-1 who will be successful in life and who won't. Those that get the short end of the genetic stick get cut off from all resources--a type of enforced genetic exclusion. Near the end of the book, people miraculously start discovering and developing special abilities. Global-1's genetic practices, supposedly, gave those who were excluded immediate heightened abilities in order to survive. I feel that the reasons the author gave for the development of these ESP, healing, and telekinetic powers was weak and unsupported. I know. I know. It's a scifi/fantasy book...I shouldn't expect rational thought processes to apply--but I do. I'd have prefered a bit more believability. It was a risky plot move with too poor an explanation.

All in all I was disappointed. It started out really well and I was interested for quite a while. It had the flavor of so many books that I had savored in the past-- "1984" by George Orwell, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, and also of the "Uglies" Series by Scott Westerfeld. Unfortunately, each of those books is WORLDS better than this one. *Sniff* It had such potential.
There is a sequel to this book called "Bar Code Rebellion". So it could get better. Perhaps I stopped reading in the middle of the story. Could be. As it stands unless the book shows up at Goodwill or becomes available at the library, I probably won't be reading it.

My rating: 3. (I added a point for serious potential...then deducted it for failing to reach it due in large part to the author's lame convenient explanation of the appearance of special abilities. It irritated me. Oh the power!) This book is a young adult science fiction. The character was 17. I'd probably put the book at a 15 year old level. No real language complaints. There was some alluding to possible sex but you didn't really know if it actually happened or if they just made out REALLY well.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A watered down version of Uglies.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Summary:
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."
--Randy Pausch

A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. However, when Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living. - Excerpt from Amazon.com Review

My Review: It is challenging to comment honestly on a book written by a man who has recently passed away, and whose intent in writing was to give his children a way to know him. However, while reading, I found myself comparing this book to Tuesdays with Morrie. I believe this is the only other book like this I’ve read. In doing so I found it an interesting study between the advice given by a 40 year old father of young children, who is arguably “vigorous” until very near the end of his life and that of an aging professor who, aside from living a long, fulfilling life has slow declined into a nearly helpless state. I might as well come clean that I found Tuesdays with Morrie to be the more compelling of the two books, with nearly each page holding a universal wisdom. That is not to say I wouldn’t recommend The Last Lecture - it does have many interesting and useful concepts – it is just that a lot of the advice needed some refinement. And I guess this is the sad part of the story, the author just wouldn’t experience much more of life and its refining abilities. That said here is one of concepts Pausch presents that really struck me. (I will be summarizing this in lieu of searching the book for the exact quote, my apologies) There are a lot of intelligent and capable people working on any number of projects, industries, teams etc. In essence, there is always someone who can do what you do. In order to make yourself truly useful in a unique way you in addition to your skills you need to bring motivation and happiness to the group as a whole.

My rating:
3.5 stars - while the book wasn't a "fall out of my chair" revelation I think the purpose and context of the writer-ship is admirable.


If I had to sum up this book in one sentence it would be:
A good book to read bits and pieces of on Sunday afternoons.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Family Under the Bridge

by Natalie Savage Carlson

Summary: Once there was an old man named Armand who lived under a bridge in Paris. Everything he owned could be pushed around in an old baby buggy without a hood--it was easy for him to move from place to place. Armand loved his solitary, carefree life. Children, he said, were like starlings, and one was better off without them. But the children who lived under the bridge knew a true friend when they saw one, even if that friend was a little bit grumpy to begin with. And it did not take Armand long to see that he had gotten himself a ready-made family--one he loved with all his heart, and one he would have to find a better home for than the bridge.

My review: I zoomed through this book. It might have something to do with the fact that it is a whopping 97 pages. Still, this book is heartwarming throughout. We have all known someone who was hard and crusty on the outside and a big fat gushy marshmallow on the inside. Armand is that person. I enjoyed reading about his struggle to hold the children at arms length and his eventual recognition that there was no way to keep them out of his heart. This story would be a wonderful story to read your children around Christmas time. It is, at it's essence, about love and the true meaning of a "home" and a "family."

My rating: 4.5 stars. (I'm glad I have my own copy. I'd love to read this to my girls.)

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A warm and toasty feel-good read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Summary: In seventeenth-century Delft, there is a strict social order--rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servant--and all know their place. Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, and she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry, and the care of his six children. She even feels able to handle his shrewd mother-in-law, his restless sensual wife, and their jealous servant. What no one expects is that Griet's quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master's paintings will draw her inexorably into his world. Their growing intimacy sparks whispers; and when Vermeer paints her wearing his wife's pearl earrings, the gossip escalates into a full blown scandal that irrevocably changes her life.

My review:  Almost from the moment I began reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, I felt as if I was having a calming "zen" moment. I think that it made me relax because it was, simply, a very quiet book. There was very little dialogue...no blaring soundtrack playing in my head.

Tracy Chevalier gives us the uncluttered story of a young girl named Griet who, after her father suffers a crippling accident at work, is forced to work as a maid to save her family from destitution. In the home of the famous painter, Johannes Vermeer, Griet is responsible for many of the household chores, but also for cleaning her master's art studio. She must clean the studio without moving anything, not even an inch, lest she alter the background for his current paintings. As the story progresses, Griet becomes increasingly infatuated, though even she would deny it, with the painter and his paintings. Whether he returns these feelings is unclear throughout much of the book...and so much the better. The quiet moments between them--a word, a glance, a feather-light touch--are drenched with meaning, and leave you feeling like the air has been sucked from the room.

We've all been obsessed, slighted, distracted, disappointed, and persecuted. As a result, I found myself really identifying with many of the characters in this book. Vermeer, so fully obsessed by his art that when he paints he either ignores, or is completely unaware, of the trouble brewing in his home. Catherina, the wife of Vermeer--never the subject of her husband's paintings--never in charge of her own home. She loves her husband but is plagued by insecurities and an inability to understand his work. Griet, who fulfills her duties as a maid and daughter, but is drawn inexplicably to a world that is not her own. Her father, who after a long hard life, has lost the thing he values most. I think everyone who reads this book will loathe Vermeer's eldest daughter, Cornelia, whose innate cruelty is readily apparent. The characters in this book are colorful and well-developed, if not always likable, and they definitely create emotions and sympathy within the reader. The scenes aren't fake or flowery and the result is a smoothly flowing storyline that you can allow yourself to sink into. Through it all Griet struggles to stay true to herself and her upbringing but feels constantly pulled to Vermeer and his paintings. Inevitably, Griet's world comes crashing down when Catherina discovers, what is to her, their ultimate betrayal.  Long story short. I loved it. LOVE loved it.


My rating: 5 stars (I own two copies. One to lend. One no one but me touches) No sex but some definitely moments of sensuality. Adult fiction.


Sum it up: Quiet but intense...not something to miss.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Summary: Ambitious, but never seeming so, Kent Haruf reveals a whole community as he interweaves the stories of a pregnant high school girl, a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother, and a couple crusty bachelor farmers. From simple elements, Haruf achieves a novel of wisdom and grace - a narrative that builds in strength and feeling until, as in a choral chant, the voices in the book surround, transport, and lift the reader off the ground.
Summary from book, Cover Photo from barnesandnoble.com

My Review: This is one of those books that I finished questioning rather or not I liked it. There are many horrific events in this novel that I didn't enjoy reading, yet it is written in such a way that you are compelled to read more. And in continuing the story you are rewarded with some lovely acts of humanity.

The overall theme of this book was finding one's self. There are two children and a teen that, through events mostly out of their control, are forced to grow up quickly, and in doing so find their true identities. The majority of adults in this story are put into scenarios where they must redefined who they truly are. The main characters in this book are rather likable. I especially loved the quirky old farm brothers. The villains, however, have no redeemable traits.

The author's simple writing style is quite inviting and he is able to almost seamlessly merge several different story lines. However his lack of quotation marks around the dialog drove me crazy and I didn't understand the meaning behind it. I also feel the story ended rather abruptly, leaving me unsatisfied. There is a followup book, "Eventide", that I will probably be checking out, though I can't say I am in a terrible rush to do so.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars, a better than average book but not at the top of my list. (Definitely rated for a mature audience)

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A simple, mostly pleasant, ride on a dusty, bumpy dirt road.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Beauty Sleep (Once Upon a Time Series)

by Cameron Dokey

Summary: "LITTLE PRINCESS, LOVELY AS THE DAWN, WELL-NAMED AURORE..." With these seemingly innocent words, the fate of a newborn princess is sealed. For years the king and queen despaired of ever having a child. When Aurore arrives, though the entire kingdom celebrates, not all are overjoyed. They use her christening as an occasion for revenge, and her young life is overshadowed by a curse of death almost as soon as it has begun. Those who can, intervene, but evil has a way of holding fast. A sleep of a hundred years following the pricking of a finger is the best that can be done.
And so Aurore grows up. Forbidden princesslike tasks of embroidery and sewing, she explores the great outdoors, reveling in the flora and fauna that surround her castle home. Then one day she meets a handsome stranger in an enchanted wood and begins an adventure the likes of which she never dreamed of.
This is the story of the Sleeping Beauty, here quite awake and given new voice. Taunted by fate, Aurore soon learns that although she cannot sidestep her own destiny, love itself is actually the most powerful magic of all.

My review: As with the last book of hers that I reviewed (The Story Teller's Daughter), Dokey begins with her preamble, or as she calls it "a fancy way of saying Introduction." Her preamble is a gateway to the story...a sort of preparation, if you will, that allows you to shake off your current setting and step over the threshold of Once Upon a Time. I both love and hate it for the anticipation that it builds. Before reading this book, I pretty much considered myself an expert on all things Sleeping Beauty...having watched it a kabillion times with my five-year old. "Beauty Sleep" turned the traditional story all on its head while still maintaining its basic integrity. Aurore is a loveable, curious tomboy being held within the confines of her father's castle in an effort to protect herself from harm--and from a curse given to her by an ordinary, if all to often over looked, young woman. Through the intervention of her cousin Oswald, she is able to venture further out of doors and into the kingdom she has come to love. As her sixteenth year comes to its close, the land is beset by a number of catastrophe's and soon all the signs point to Aurore as the cause. The young princess sets off on her own to find a way to save those she loves from further heartache and along her way she encounters a strange young man, magical moving cabins, stubborn trees, apple fields that last forever and a number of other obstacles. Through it all, Aurore comes to understand where her heart truly lies. "Beauty Sleep" is the exact opposite of what we have come to expect from the typical damsel-in-distress fairytale. Above all, I was enchanted with the heroine that Cameron Dokey created. Aurore is full of fire, determination, sarcasm and wit. She doesn't simper, wave, or swoon as we are so often taught to expect from your everyday Princess, but stands tall in the face of opposition. It is for that reason I think I find this story most appealing. I loved "Beauty Sleep" from Preamble to Epilogue and recommend it highly for an afternoon of light, whimsical reading.

My rating: 4 stars. (I'm calling my mom). Rated G

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A fabulous, magical read for girls young and old....or anyone who loves an old classic seen in a new light.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Also Reviewed by Mindy

Summary: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlaying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.  (Summary from book - Image from scificool.com)

My Review: Hunger Games is a fast-paced novel based on a futuristic plot where 24 Tributes from 12 districts must fight against each other to the death. Their war is aired live in a reality TV manner and is required viewing for all citizens. There is never a dull moment during these games. If the tributes aren't fighting against each other then the gamemakers are spicing up the game with ricks of their own.

Suzanne Collins takes you through an entire range of emotions in this action-packed journey. You feel joy over the tributes success. You feel sadness when the tributes are wounded. You feel anger at the gamemakes for the brutal game they invented. The characters in this book are so well-developed that you can't help but to care for them. This leaves the reader feeling tormented because you know only one can survive.

This book is written in a manner that doesn't allow you to put it down. Each chapter ends with an excitement that is carried over to the beginning of the next chapter. You will finish this book wanting more. Luckily this is just the first of a series. I can't wait to see where the next book will take us.

Rating: 5 Stars, I will be recommending this book to everyone, as well as reading it again myself! Rated PG-13 for the violent nature of the plot

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Hurry up and release the next one please!

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski

Summary: After a car accident in which her passenger, Marissa, dies, June Parker finds herself in possession of a list Marissa has written: "20 Things to Do by My 25th Birthday." The tasks range from inspiring (run a 5K) to daring (go braless) to near-impossible (change someone's life). To assuage her guilt, June races to achieve each goal herself before the deadline, learning more about her own life than she ever bargained for.

My Review:
June Parker is a girl trying to find herself. She is in her thirties, single, works as a writer for LA Rideshare and has a limited social life. This is pretty much the extint that we get to know June through the entire book. Actually almost all the characters in this book are under-developed, leaving the reader longing for something more. The exception being Marissa, who is dead before the book even begins.
Completing a life list, especially one written by someone else, makes for an interesting plot. And the list in this book is rather interesting. I found myself wishing the list was a little longer or more challenging but all in all it did contain a fairly good mix. The list contains the potential for a hilarious book mixed with some emotional serious moments.
Unfortunately that is not what comes about. You do get a small chuckle or two but no uncontrollable laughter from reading this novel. And the serious moments lack emotion. The methods in which June goes about completing this list are fairly dull and unrealistic. Everything seemed to fall together without enough action to engage the reader.
There are some unpredictable moments in the second half of the book that keep it from flopping altogether, but nothing so spectacular that will have me recommending or even remembering this book. Overall I feel this book did a decent job of setting up the reader but then continued to just let the reader fall.

Rating: 2.5 Stars, Just so-so, not sorry that I read it but probably won't think about it again.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: An easy, mindless read that would wedge well between more thought-provoking books (or under the short leg of a table).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Night Dance (Once Upon a Time Series)

by Suzanne Weyn

Summary: Rowena, the youngest of twelve sisters, loves to slip from her castle at night and dance in a magical forest. Soon she convinces her sister to join her. When Sir Ethan notices that his daughters slippers look tattered every morning, he is certain they've been sneaking out. So he posts a challenge to all the suitors in the kingdom: The first man to discover where his daughters have been is free to marry the one he chooses. Meanwhile a handsome young knight named Bedivere is involved in a challenge of his own: to return the powerful sword Excalibur, to a mysterious lake. While looking for the lake, Bedivere meets the beautiful Rowena and falls for her. Bedivere knows that accepting Sir Ethan's challege is the only opportunity for him to be with Rowena forever. But this puts both Bedivere and Rowena in a dangerous situation...one in which they risk their lives for a chance at love.

My review: First, let me say one thing....Bedivere? What the heck? What poor intoxicated mother names her child "Bedivere". It is nearly as bad as "Renesmee" (I said nearly). There, now that I've gotten that out of the way I can proceed.
In The Night Dance, Rowena and her sisters are being held captive within the walls of their own home by a well-meaning, but lovelorn and highly paranoid, father. Gifted with a second-sight inherited from her absent mother, Rowena's visions allow her glimpses of the world beyond the manor's high walls. One day, after sneaking through the outer wall, she finds herself in a shared vision with a very handsome young knight in peril. Rowena feels instantly drawn to him and he to her. The Night Dance is the wonderfully light, yet magical, story of their search for each other and their struggles to finish their own personal quests.
Aside from the fact that the title of this book lends itself more to the average romance novel and makes you less likely to, say, take it on a plane, I really enjoyed myself....for the two hours it took to read. The only thing that kept me from reading it in one straight sitting was my two beautiful children who, on occassion, like me to interact with them. TND is a charming mixture of Arthurian legend and the classic Grimm's fairytale of the twelve dancing princesses (I confess that my familiarity with the latter is based almost entirely on the Barbie DVD by the same name). For the most part, I was impressed by Weyn's ability to blend the two famous legends together so seamlessly and intrigued to see how it would work out. Unfortunately, while the ending was fairly good, it seemed to be a little rushed. I definitely would have stuck around for a longer story or, at the very least, a more detailed epilogue.

My rating: 3.5 stars. (I'd like to buy it so that I can read it to my kids when they are a bit older. ) RATED PG

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A lovely vacation that was over way too soon.

The Storyteller's Daughter (Once Upon a Time series)

by Cameron Dokey

Summary: Once upon a time there lived a king whose heart was heavy. He had been betrayed by the woman he loved. Though the queen's schemes were discovered before she could deprive her husband of his life, her dying curse killed something deep within him: his ability to love and trust. And so he makes a terrible resolution: He will take a bride for one night only. In the morning she will face a horrible fate. Then he will choose another. Nothing can change his course, until one brave woman steps forward. Sharhrazad, the Storyteller's Daughter.
Steeped in the ancient art of her mother's people, Shahrazad embarks upon a perilous course. With words alone, she will seek to retore the king's heart. As she tells her talkes a bond forms between them that neither can deny. But will it be strong enough to hold them together when unexpected danger erupts.
My review: This story is by far my favorite of the three that I have read so far. The beginning is narrated in the first person and has the effect of drawing you in. It makes you feel like you are huddled around a gypsy campfire listening to an old woman relate a story that has been handed down for generations. All of the characters, even the "villains" were well written and tangible. Shahrazad's stories to the king were fascinating in their own right but had definite parallels to her own tale woven into them. The fantasy and magic element was light and enhanced the storyline, rather than detracting from it. I have never read the original tale of Shahrazad and so it is difficult for me to compare the two. In it's own right, "The Storyteller's Daughter" was a fun story that kept and held my attention from beginning to end.
My rating: 4 stars (a near tie with The Night Dance) RATED PG
If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Good stories within a good story.

Spirited (Once Upon a Time Series)

by Nancy Holder

Summary: In My of 1756 war is breaking out between the British and the French. During this highly dangerous time, Isabella Stevens is traveling with her father to the Britsih stronghold of Fort William Henry. In the forest, Wusamequin, the young and handsome medicine man, looks to avenge the death of his wife and child at the hands of British soldiers. When Wusamequin spots Isabella and her father, he alerts his warriors to capture them. But Wusamequin is quite taken with how bravely Isabella battles. He orders the warriors to spare her and her father, and they are dragged back to their village. However, many members of the Mohican tribe still want them to be killed. In a desperate plea to Wusamequin, Isabella vows to stay as his hostage if he lets her father go.

My review: As previously stated, I'm a sucker for the retold fairytale. In my mind they are the literary equivalent to a fudgsicle--sweet, fun to eat, zero nutrional value, and easily polished off in one sitting. I enjoyed reading this retelling of Beauty and the Beast. NH definitely wrote it into a setting that I had never read before, which always succeeds in capturing my interest. She admits to being inspired a great deal by "Last of the Mohicans" which is one of my favorite movies (no I have NOT read the book). The story itself was unique and dealt a great deal in Isabella and Wusamequins views and prejudices about eachother and then, in turn, the British perception of Native Americans and vice versa. Both sides were portrayed as equally bloodthirsty and vengeful--but with a sense that it was all some huge misunderstanding that could be cleared up if they would just stop fighting long enough to speak to one another. Clearly, according to history, that didn't happen. That having been said, I don't know enough about Native American culture or its individual tribe culture to make a statement as to the veracity of the characters in this book. Where they wearing the right clothes? cooking the right food? speaking the right language? I have no idea, but I have a feeling that the ACLU could have a field day with this book in terms of its portrayal of the Native American. I, quite frankly, dispute a few of the assertions made in the above summary (found on the back of the book). As far as I can see (teensy spoiler here), Isabella never vowed to stay as a hostage but was instead the only one that was caught in an escape attempt. Throughout the book I kept having to hop from one genre (historical fiction) to another (fantasy) to quickly for my taste and I found the end to be a little bit too "folkloric" for me. I guess I wanted a good old happy-on-this-earth ending. Still, as retellings go, it was definitely a unique and enjoyable one time read.

My rating: 3 stars (Fun read. One time. Will recommend to my Mom, a fellow "Last of the Mohicans" fan) RATED PG

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: It was a good fudgsicle...but I'm not sure the fudgsicle would be universally appreciated.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Summary: Peter Houghton was a child that never fit in with the other children. From as early as Kindergarten he was bullied by his peers. His lunchbox was thrown out bus windows, he was stuffed into lockers, called numerous names (so frequently that he even questioned his own identity), and depantsed in the middle of the cafeteria.
Josie Cormier was Peter's one true friend. She was the only one that would stand up for him. But all that changed as the two entered middle school and Josie realized that she was being defined by her peers according to her friendship with Peter. In an attempt to fit in with the popular kids, Josie dumped Peter, choosing popularity over friendship.
One day Peter snaps. He opens fire at the school, killing ten students and wounding many more. The trial that results from Peter's actions is the basis for this novel, filled with thought-provoking background information and a couple twists.

My Review: Jodi Picoult takes you for an emotional journey in "Nineteen Minutes". How can you care about a character that is a cold-blooded killer? Yet you do come to care about Peter and even somewhat identify with him.
Here's the story of a boy who was bullyed all his life and this is the result of that behavior. The books asks the reader at one point to recall a memory from junior high or high school. It states that for the majority of us it will be a painful memory that first creeps into our head, an embrassing moment, a moment when our peers had a good laugh at our expense. Most of us are able to get past the incident, realizing that although it may be truely humilating at the time, it is not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But what if everyday was filled with painfully embrassing incidents? What if these incidents defined you as a person? How would that have changed who you are today?
The story also suggests that even the popular kids have insecurity problems. That they, too are unable to define themselves beyond the definations set by their peers. They stumble along trying to balance between the person they are and the person they are expected to be by others. Sometimes the result of this imperfect balance is bullying another student to be more liked by your own group. Having grown up somewhere in the middle of the pack, this is a novel idea to me, but one I certainly phanthom being true.
What type of mother raises a killer? This is the question Picoult addresses in her book. As it turns out, it may not be a mother too different from your own or even you. It's just a mother doing what everyone of us does, what she feels is best for her child, though her desicions may differ from your own. Picoult writes "Children don't make their own mistakes. They plunge into a pit they have been led to by their parents." This really made me think about the pits I may be leding my children to. I'm not sure that there is a way to avoid all pits. Maybe the key is to teach your child to step around. Or maybe it's just being there so that when they do take that tragic step they are not free-falling.
This novel really gave me a slightly new view on parenthood. I believe that I will focus a little more on tolerence, preach individuality, seek signs of bullying and remember how everything seems so important when we are young and can't see the grand picture.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (deducting a half for the twists being somewhat predictable) This is a novel that I will be recommending to others, a novel whose characters stay with you.

If I could Sum this book up in one phrase it would be: An emotional, thought-provoking rollercoaster that must be riden.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

*My (sort-of) rating system.*

I read a lot of "Young Adult" novels and one of my biggest pet peeves is a children's book or a young adult book that is, in reality, too adult in content for its target audience. I am all for freedom of speech, but I don't like misrepresentation. For this purpose I have decided to, along with my star ratings, include an actual rating or description of content if I feel it is needed. Basically, if there is gratuitous sex or an entire page dedicated to the "F" word (can you say "Death of Artemio Cruz?), I'm going to mention it. My ratings are simply a guide. If I feel a book has been miscategorized, I will tell you. Ultimately, it is up to you, the parent, to make sure that what your child is reading is of a suitable nature. If I get one comment about how you let your 9 year old daughter read "Breaking Dawn" and are upset because they were (spoiler here) having sex every ten seconds, I will start smacking heads.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Also reviewed by Kari

Summary: Pi Patel is an unusual boy. He is the son of a zookeeper, has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior, a fervent love of stories, and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.

The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, hisonly companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Robert Parker for 227 days lost at sea. When they finally reach land in Mexico, Robert Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them "the truth." After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional, but is it more true?

My review: Some books for me are intensely personal and you, lucky reader, get to be a sounding board for all of that. I know, you are weeping at your good-fortune. Before I started this book, I wasn't familiar with its premise. I assumed it was a story about a boy who was stranded in a boat with a tiger (something I, undoubtedly, pulled from the cover of the book), but happily I got far more than I that. I guess I expected it to be monotonous and predictable. I mean, how many things could really happen, right? He either gets eaten, or he doesn't. Wrong. Life of Pi was fabulous all the way through. I never knew what was coming and when I thought I might have an idea the storyline always twisted in a completely different way than expected.

"Life of Pi" begins with a young boy who is busy exploring life, religion, and all things zoological in India before his family sets off in a Japanese freighter for a new start in Canada. His early life was very much an exploration of what we believe--what is the truth? about life? about family? about God? about ourselves? I really wasn't expecting this book to create, within me, a religious dialogue, but it definitely got me thinking about what I believe, specifically about God, and why I believe it.

Here are a few of my truths that I gathered from this book (I realize I'm a little off topic here. Deal.)

- We live in a world of people that long to be defined... that are searching frantically to know and understand their purpose on this earth. They want to be able to put everything that happens in order..in its proper place. Having a purpose to life..a clear predictability...it defines a person, their space and their existance and when it is threatened they can react unpredictably.

-One of my favorite quotes from LOP was in reference to agnosticism and Christianity. "If Christ spent and anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, 'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?' then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation."

- Here's another... "it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside...for evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena, but the small clearing of each heart."

- And finally the last... "I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent." It says somewhere in the scriptures that "fear is the absence of faith." I really feal that a lack of faith is our only true opponent in life...this can be faith in God...or just faith in eachother...or in oneself.

Okay. Back to business. Yann Martel is a master of the perfect sentence--the one that you read and then reread because the author has put his thoughts in such a creative and unique way that you just have to stop, breathe, and honor it. Example: YM could have said "there are lots of weird animals in Tokyo." Instead we get "If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you'd be amazed at the animals that would fall out" I love it when authors use completely different imagery, rather than the standard cliche, to get their point across. These sentences pepper this book and make me search for and relish the moments when I encounter them.

As the story progresses, to Pi's life within the confines of a small life boat the story only gets more interesting. He is forced to live life, on edge, every moment and you become as consumed as he is in his own survival as he descends into a type of animal existence in order to stay alive. How far does he go? That is up to you to decide.This book was a wonderful read, but it was made, really MADE by its ending. I won't give it away...but it will literally suck the air out of whatever room you happen to be sitting in. Breathe.

My rating: Four and half stars (deducting half a point because it made me nauseous at certain points...I'm merely being immature and retalitory). For the sensitive reader: This is an adult novel. I would not recommend it for young adults because of its dark tone, the Richard Parker violence and general "ew" factor.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Disturbingly devourable.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Snow (Once Upon a Time Series)

Summary: In a tiny Welsh estate, a duke and duchess lived happily, lacking only a child--or, more importantly, a son and heir to the estate. Childbirth ultimately proved fatal for the young duchess. After she died, the duke was dismayed to discover that he was not only a widower, but also father to a tiny baby girl. He vowed to begin afresh with a new wife, abandoning his daughter in search of elusive contentment.
Independent--virtually ignored--and finding only little animals and a lonely servant boy as her companions, Jessica is pale, lonely, and headstrong...and quick to learn that she has an enemy in her stepmother. "Snow," as she comes to be known, flees the estate to London and finds herself embraced by a band of urban outcasts. But her stepmother isn't finished with her, and if Jessica doesn't take control of her destiny the wicked witch will certainly harness her youth--and threaten her very life.
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My review: I'm always a sucker for a fairytale retold. There is something magical about getting to relive that first time you heard the story of Snow White, Cinderella, or Beauty. "Snow" did not disappoint. TL did a good job of weaving together the original story line with her own unique characters, settings, and plot twists so that even though thought you knew how the story was going to end...you still didn't know how it was going to end. Also, apparently this part of a series of retellings in the "Once Upon a Time" series. I'm sure you can search that on Amazon and find the rest of them if you have a favorite fairytale.
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My rating: 3 stars (Will I read this book over and over? Probably not...but I'll definitely keep it in my library and read it to my girls someday. RATED PG
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If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A nice way to spend the evening.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn

Summary: Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers.
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My ReviewPangram (pan’ grem –gram), n. a phrase, sentence or verse composed of all the letters of the alphabet.  (e.g. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.)

Ella Minnow Pea lives with her mother and father on the quaint but fictional island nation of Nollop, just off the coast of the United States.  Nollopian residents are veritable word smiths, masters of the English language who revere Nevin Nollop, the national icon who composed the sentence: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”  His immortal effigy (and the tiled plaque of his prestigious pangram) resides in the town square, as a testament to the islanders’ admiration and commitment to etymological excellence.  

When a terrible storm blows off the Z tile, the Nollopian High Council interprets the fall as a manifestation of The Great Nollop’s will that the letter be stricken from their spoken and written language.  The new law has far reaching ramifications; nearly all books are banished and those who flout the new prohibition are subject to public humiliation, flogging, banishment, or worse.  Resourceful townsfolk find new ways to communicate in writing, but as more letters fall and their useable alphabet diminishes, their words become stilted and tongues tied with fear.  As violations abound and their hope dwindles, a clandestine journalist from the mainland travels to Nollop and brings with him an idea that might save their beloved language and topple Nevin Nollop from his proverbial pedestal.

At first glance, Ella Minnow Pea seems like a typical novel, but quickly transforms into a story of staggering genius – one that can be read for sheer entertainment or as a light-hearted commentary on censorship, freedom of expression, and absolutism.  Written in a way that is both humorous and unique, this epistolary tale is made infinitely more impressive by one small detail:  As the letters drop from the sign and are stricken from society, they are dropped from the book as well.  The letter Z isn’t essential, but the loss of D is isastrous, and the letters just keep falling.  Towards the end, I was slack jawed with amazement at the author’s ingenuity and filled with an even greater appreciation for the complexities of the my own language.   The end result is marvelously creative feat of linguistics and a delightful tribute to the English language that is sure to thrill intellectuals and overly tired book bloggers in equal measure.    .

My rating: 5 Stars (fabulous! I'll be recommending this to people in the grocery store)
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I think that this book would go over many a young adult's head, but there is nothing in it that would keep me from letting one of them read it.
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Sum it up:  N umzn n funtustk buk (written w/ 8 consonants and one vowel)

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