Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

Summary: Can a parent love too much? Or is too much never enough?

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate - a life and a role that she has never questioned… until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister - and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves. A provocative novel that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister's Keeper is the story of one family's struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning moral parable for all time.
(Review taken from the back of the book, Cover photo found on Google books)

My Review: "When I was little the great mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why." So reads the first sentence in this stunning novel by Jodi Picoult and it summarizes the book rather nicely. Anna was designed in a tube to be the perfect match for her sister, Kate, who has been battling a rare form of leukemia since the age of 2. It was originally planned that Anna's umbilicus would provide cells causing Kate to go into remission. This works for a short time but then Kate relapses and Anna has to donate lymphocytes. This cycle has continued throughout Anna's life; first blood, then marrow and now it's a kidney her sister needs. Anna has finally had enough and wants the acknowledgment that her existence is independent from her sister and she is ready to have some say in what happens to her body. The kicker is that Kate is dying and doctors don't feel like she is strong enough to survive the transplant her mother so desperately wants anyway.

Jodi Picoult deals with the controversial issues of designer babies and stem cell research throughout her novel. She does this in a manner that cuts right to the heart by telling the family's story. Each chapter lets you inside another members head, giving you a taste of the personalities and letting you share their feelings. The reader gets a feel of where Picoult stands on these issues, yet Picoult presents both sides to the story, proving that no matter which side of the fence you stand on the slope is slippery. I love that the author leaves out media views and outsider feelings about this case from the story. This way she allows for the reader to form their own opinions based on an insider view of the family dynamics.

This story had a strong emotional draw to it. Though I felt from the beginning that there was no way this story could close happily, I could not put it down. It was a rather depressing story but one that floods the reader with what-if questions. There is a heartbreaking twist in the final pages of the book. I can't say that I enjoyed this ending but will admit that it was completely unexpected and it gave me chills. After this twist the book closes quickly and on further examination I found that the ending did not tie in with the prologue, which was somewhat disappointing.

There were a few other things which held me back from giving this novel 5 stars. First, there are several spots in the story that feel too unrealistic. As with all her other novels, I feel Picoult once again tried too hard to tie all her characters together. I certainly could have done without the relationship between the attorney and guardian ad litem, as it didn't really add that much to the story. I also found the many coincidences to be somewhat distracting from the main story the author is trying to tell.

That main story line, however, is told brilliantly. The emotions I felt during reading this story are sure to stick with me for some time to come. I think that this would be an excellent book club pick as it would lead to some heated discussions. This is a novel I will be recommending to many (along with a heeded warning to expect tears).

On a side note, a movie based on this book will be out on June 26th. I'm not sure I want to see it.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars, definitely one of my favorite Jodi Picoult novels

If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be: A book you must read, just make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana by Jennifer Rosenkrantz & Pamela Redmond Satran

**This review posted the day after my 2nd daughter, who went 3 days without a name, was born.**

Summary: Quoted everywhere from Parenting to The Wall Street Journal, with over a million copies of their books in print, bestselling authors Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran are the baby-name experts. In this fresh and expanded new edition of “the best baby-naming book ever written” (The News Journal), they offer irresistible lists of names you won’t find anywhere else, along with their trademark wit and insight on the most important questions—and answers—for expectant parents: style, popularity, image, sex, tradition, & family. From Amazon.com Product Description.

My Review: This book is so much more than a list of the 30,000 name possibilities that exist in the world, a concept that makes me go cross-eyed. Instead it presents a useful dialogue that meshes well with the conversations you'd have with...well... if not with your husband, with your girl-friends, on WHY you are naming your baby thus.

I read it cover to cover when choosing the name of our first born and found it meshed very well with my thoughts on naming a baby, specifically - unique but not nuts and heaven forbid too trendy. However, I think if you have a differing naming philosophy this book would meet your needs as well and you'd find yourself agreeing with the authors.

Because the book is broken into naming topics, instead of alphabetical lists of name, you can really think about what you are looking for in a name. It acts as a spring board for conversation while still listing most of the reasonable names in our society (it dabbles into cross-cultures too, but seems to be addressed to us Americans). For example it lists alphabetically 30-40 names that are perceived as creative, 30-40 that are "manly" or "feminine," 30-40 that are biblical, etc. Then, at the end of the "discussion" if you want to peruse a list you can do what I did for our second child and just read through the index at the back - sure it might not have 30,000 names listed but do you really need that (or more importantly, do you really want to risk choosing the worst of the 30,000 possibilities?)

My Review: 5 stars - I'd highly recommend this over any of the books that just list names.

In One Sentence: I'll be honest, this is the only baby name book I've used but I'm still claiming it is the best.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

BABY ALERT - April 28, 2009

UPDATE
Today at 8:40 PM - Sweet Em and her hubs were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Meg Jeannette. She weighed in at 7lbs 5 oz and was 19.5 inches long. Way to go Emily. We love you!!!! She is GORGEOUS!

I had to throw in a little non-book update here. As of 12:07 PM we are on BABY WATCH 2009 while Sweet Em is in labor with her second child!! Everyone keep your fingers crossed, your toes crossed, your eyes crossed, for a healthy baby girl! I'll update as soon as I hear anything! I am so excited!!!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons - Jeff Kinney

Also reviewed by Kari.

Summary: Being a kid can really stink. And no ones knows this better than Greg Heffley, who fhinds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving.

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, author and illustrator Jeff Kinney introduces us to an unlikely hero. As Greg says in his diary: "Just don't expect me to be all "Dear Diary" this and "Dear Diary" that. Luckily for us, what Greg Heffley says he won't do and what he actually does are two very different things.

My review: Apparently these books are all the rage right now in elementary and middle school, so I decided to read one and see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take long to figure it out. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is set up like an actual diary (or journal as the main character, Greg, would have it). The cartoon illustrations are humorous and, with one or more on every page, they break up the text really well. The steno ruling and the way the book is “handwritten” definitely lend to the sense that you are reading someone’s personal diary rather than a book. Throw in just enough sass and sarcasm to appeal to a young reader looking for a little light rebellion and you have an instant hit.

While this isn’t average adult fare, there was some humor in the book (mostly sarcasm in reference to his parents) that I really enjoyed and the cartoons were funny. Everything seemed fairly age appropriate, however, Greg has the usual misguided moral compass and reasoning abilities of a kid his age, so sometimes he makes the wrong decisions and expresses thoughts and feelings that aren’t necessarily wise. I’m sure it’s funny for older kids to read about, but I didn’t really appreciate the way he treated some of his friends and made fun of people. Of course, that’s the peon in me talking.

Obviously, as an adult, this wasn’t a life-altering book for me, but I can definitely see why Wimpy Kid is so popular. My baby sister (11), who rarely reads, has read all of four of the books in this series, and she did it rather quickly. I won’t be reviewing any more of them as I imagine my reviews of them would simply be cut-and-paste copies of this one, but I think that these would be great books to pass on to a reluctant reader in your life.

***WARNING*** There is a section in this book that mentions a certain Christmas character and lays to rest rumors surrounding his supposed existence. I almost didn't catch it. It is veeeerrrry subtle, but it could put a damper on your kid's favorite holiday if they still…well, you know.

My Rating: 3 Stars for me. 4 Stars or more for your average middle schooler.

To sum it up: Wimpy Kid is a creative solution to the my-kid-doesn’t-want-to-read dilemma.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mutant Message Down Under - Marlo Morgan

Summary - An American woman is summoned by a remote tribe of nomadic Aboriginals, who call themselves the "Real People," to accompany them on a four-month long walkabout through the Outback. While traveling barefoot with them through 1,400 miles of rugged desert terrain, she learns a new way of life, including their methods of healing, based on the wisdom of their 50,000-year-old culture. Ultimately, she experiences a dramatic personal transformation. (Exerpt from Harpercollins.com--Picture from Amazon.com)

Also reviewed by Heather.

My review - Mutant Message is the account of a woman who ventures into the Australian Outback for a day trip, and ends up going on a 120-day walkabout with a small aboriginal tribe. With her belongings burned at the beginning of the journey, she makes the trek in nothing but the small scrap of clothing they give her to wear. As the days wear on, the woman find herself transforming into someone else. She develops a greater understanding of the Aboriginal people as they share experiences and impart life lessons that can be learned simply by observing the environment. Her conclusions about these “primitive” people draw a stark contrast between their world and our own--leaving many, including myself, to examine the things that we place value on, how much we really need them, and what is truly important.

The message in this book, among other things, centered around what we can do to be better human beings, how we can become more one with ourselves and each other, and the importance of giving one’s own wants and desires over to that of a higher power. I noticed some astounding similarities between Aboriginal beliefs and my own in terms of the origin of the soul, the purpose of the environment, and the nature of God. While many of the situations in this book defy belief, I am not entirely ready to discount them. I believe in miracles and, consequently, it is entirely possible that these men and women nearly untouched by the outside world, could communicate via mental telepathy, heal broken bones without touching, and find water in the middle of the desert. It’s a tough bit to swallow, but somehow I think that my reaction is expected.

In Mutant Message, the writing is very basic. It is a sort of “he said, she said, we did this, then we did that” type of narration. While I think it could have been better written—a more lyrical prose would have made this seem more like a story and less factual, something I’m fairly certain the author wanted to stay away from.

Now here is the kicker. Is it Fiction? Non-fiction? I’ve heard both, so to clear things up a bit (or not) for anyone who might feel like reading this, a foreword by the author alleges that Mutant is a non-fiction tale that was published, for privacy and legal reasons, as a fiction novel. This could be true. It wouldn’t surprise me. It also wouldn’t surprise me if this was a fiction novel masquerading as a non-fiction novel pretending to be a fiction novel. Did you follow that? It's a pickle.

All the confusion meant that I spent this entire book wondering at every turn--did this really happen? It was very distracting. Bottom line is this: there are many authors who publish non-fiction accounts as just that, with a page explaining that they have changed certain names, places, and dates for the protection of certain people. They even admit that their telling may not be entirely accurate, but that it is as accurate as their own memory serves. This kind of NF writing is not uncommon. So why didn’t Morgan just do that? The fact that she didn’t bothers me and, in a sense, takes away from her credibility. Consequently I will be listing this book in both the Non-fiction, Fiction, and Memoir sections of this blog. You decide. I've got a headache.

Fortunately for her (as I’m sure her very existence hinges on my approval), I still felt that the message of this book rang true regardless of its reluctance to pick a genre. Mutant Message was a stirring account of how to become, not just a human, but a human being. It taught us how to live in harmony with each other and how to be one with our God in a way that is entirely different than anything I have encountered before and helped me feel a connection with a people nearly gone who live so far away. While my beliefs don’t entirely coincide with the Aboriginal ones, I feel that there are many truths that we both share and loved this book for exploring them more fully and for making me think about my status of Being in the world.

My rating: 3.75 Stars. I have a hard time giving it any higher because of all the genre confusions issues but I appreciated the story she had to tell.

To sum it up: A fascinating spiritual journey--for both the author and the reader.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Queen's Fool - Philippa Gregory

Summary:A young woman caught in the rivalry between Queen Mary and her half sister, Elizabeth, must find her true destiny amid treason, poisonous rivalries, loss of faith, and unrequited love.

It is winter, 1553. Pursued by the Inquisition, Hannah Green, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, is forced to flee Spain with her father. But Hannah is no ordinary refugee. Her gift of "Sight," the ability to foresee the future, is priceless in the troubled times of the Tudor court.

Hannah is adopted by the glamorous Robert Dudley, the charismatic son of King Edward's protector, who brings her to court as a "holy fool" for Queen Mary and, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous intrigues of the royal family that are inextricably bound up in her own yearnings and desires. (photo and summary provided my Google Book Search)

My Review: You first meet Hannah, not as a young girl, but a boy, in her fathers care disguising herself so she is allowed to be her fathers apprentice. Learning language upon language and studying books that are forbidden, she find herself more at home in the breeches of a young lad then in the petticoats of a young woman.

Her life is turned upside down the day three men ride into her fathers shop in search books for their studies. She is much bewildered when the men inform her that they are traveling as a pair, there is no third man. Hannah panics, and thinks immediately of her mother who was burned two years earlier at the stake for heresy and witchcraft. But her fears are unfounded. These two men, Lord Robert Dudley and John Dee, are intrigued by the young girls "sight" and thus is born a tumultuous alliance that leads into an exceptional story of love and lust, loyalty and deception, and a young girl trying to find her way in a court and country ruled by the ambition of two sisters.

In the height of the Spanish Inquisition, and the Catholic/Protestant debate a Holy fool manages to play both sides, be loyal to two would be queens, and in the process risks burning or hanging for her loyalties. Hopelessly in love with her master, Lord Robert Dudley, she finds her self doing his work. When he ends up the tower for treason against the Queen Mary, all bets are off and Hannah's loyalties will begin to be tested.

Perhaps taking climax when Hannah faces her would be executioners, this book is an absolute marvel. Historically accurate, it is a wonderful way to further educate yourself on the topics at hand, while also transfixing yourself with these characters and intense plot lines.

The reading is true Gregory style. If you get half way through and find yourself saying things in the Tudor language do not be surprised. She makes the reader a part of the story be giving the characters real emotions and real reactions, that any of us can relate to. A wonderful story with a wonderful conclusion. I am picking up the next in this series as we speak.

My Review:5 incredible stars

If I could sum up this book in one phrase: If Gregory's work in "The Other Boleyn Girl" could be outdone, this is that book.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Edible Woman - Margaret Atwood

Summary: Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlipin: she can't eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds--everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she's being eaten. Marian ought to feel consumed with passion, but really she just feels...consumed. A brilliant and powerful work rich in irony and metaphor, The Edible Woman is an unforgettable masterpiece by a true master of contemporary literary fiction. (Excerpt from book cover)


My Review: Interesting premise right?!?! WRONG. Oh, SO wrong. I honestly don’t want to have any more of my life sucked away by this book and so I will try to be brief. I finished this book only because I FORCED myself finish it. I hated it. It’s not that the writing was bad. It was fine. It was Atwood. However, it had very little (possibly an infinitesimal speck) redeeming qualities. It was boring—mind numbingly so—and I wanted to quit SO MANY times. Marian is a complete pushover—a doormat—an irritating specimen of just-sit-there-and-take it. I wanted to reach into the pages and smack her into action. The plot that is outlined on the back of the book doesn’t even come into play until page 164. 164!!!!! When it does, it is hardly the humorous, slightly philosophical drama that it pretended to be. There were a few fleeting moments of insight into the role of women in a society and points where it seemed that perhaps Marian was was going to stand up for herself and grow a spine—and eventually she does, but the ending is SO unsatisfying. The final nail in the coffin? I simply did not like ANY of the characters. Not even remotely. In the beginning, they were mildly intriguing in their dysfunctionality (yes, I made that word up) but even that got old really quickly and all that was left behind was a bunch of irritating people who couldn’t relate to one another in the slightest. Maybe that’s what this book was about (people damaging one another) but I just couldn’t stand it. Oh, and the author randomly switched from 1st person to 3rd person for no apparent reason. Nice. In short, it was several days of my reading life that I will NEVER get back. I should sue.

My Rating: 1 Star. If that.

Sum it up: 150 pages of blahblahblah. One semi- interesting chapter. 150 MORE pages of blahblahblah. One semi-interesting ending.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Long Live the Queen - Ellen Emerson White

Summary:Being the President’s daughter isn’t easy, but Meg’s getting used to it. She’s even starting to have a life again—okay, not a normal life, but things are beginning to fall into a routine. Then it happens—machine guns blast, a van screeches to a halt, and masked men grab Meg and take her away. Meg doesn’t understand what the terrorists want. She doesn’t understand how her security was breached. But she does understand one thing—they have no intention of letting her live—and she has no intention of dying.(Summary and photo provided by Barnes and Noble.com)

My Review: Last night I was up and down with a horrible stomach ache. This book was sitting on my shelf, one that my sister had had for years, and one that her and I had both read and enjoyed when we were young. I finished it in one sitting and, yes, I am dead tired this morning.

As a young girl I remember reading this story and loving the main character. I know now that I loved her because of her tenacity and quick thinking, in the face of a terrorist.

At one point in the book, after Meg has been kidnapped and in the hold of these men, she find herself thinking about her period. These men have hurt her, she is in pain and knows that more is sure to come. But, she think about how much worse everything would be if she started her cycle while they had her captive. I thought it was interesting that the author touched on that, I felt like it gave me an immediate connection to the character and to her emotions.

The book is a very heavy read, meaning that for most of it you are tied up in knots and intensely focused on this man who keeps coming into her "dungeon". He breaks her kneecap when she tries to get away, he bloodies her nose, and eventually breaks ribs. Even when, at one point, she finds herself alone in the woods, chained inside a cave, with no food or water, your heart will be beating out of your chest.

I found that reading this book again as an adult was interesting, and kind of funny. As a young girl I remember thinking how it was the "worst " book I had ever read. Not in terms of quality, but in terms of graphic imagery, and adult type content. I think I felt like I was getting away with something by reading it at such a young age.

As an adult I see that it is not really that bad. The author is smart in her descriptions, leaving it tasteful, yet incredibly intense. She weaves the relationship between captive and would be terrorist into some kind of Stockholm type undercurrent.

All that said, I feel like I could write a book of this quality, with the right subject matter. It is simple and surface level. Perfect for young adult readers, something to give them a taste of books and the level of excitement they can provide, without turning them off with difficult words, comparisons or overly detailed plots.

My Rating: 3 stars as an adult 4.5 as a young adult

If I could sum this book up in one phrase: Did he just break her kneecap?:)(Some things just stick out in your mind while reading...)

Something else I should mention: This morning while I was pulling my image of the book, I discovered that this book is actually part of a series. I did not know that years ago when I first read it, but it is worth mentioning. The Presidents Daughter series, if anyone is heading out to the book store:)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery - Spencer Quinn

Guest reviewed by the fabulous Melissa Paul--a dog lover and avid reader who likes to try out different literary genres. She does not normally read detective fiction or romance novels, but will pick one up from time to time. You can see her other reviews here and here.

Summary: An exciting new mystery series debuts with this first Chet and Bernie novel. Chet the Jet is a dog who failed K-9 school (cats in the open country played a role in his demise), but now he is a dedicated PI and works with Bernie, owner of the Little Detective Agency. The story is told entirely from Chet’s point of view, which will delight dog-loving mystery readers, but the book is also an excellent PI tale, dogs aside, as Chet and Bernie investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl whose developer dad may be up to no good. Chet may not understand things like maps (he doesn’t need them, as he can sniff his way home), but he is a great sleuth who finds the girl and solves the case. The always upbeat Chet may well be one of the most appealing new detectives on the block, but conscientious, kind, and environmentally aware Bernie is a close runner-up. Excellent and fully fleshed primary and secondary characters, a consistently doggy view of the world, and a sprightly pace make this a not-to-be-missed debut. Essential for all mystery collections and for dog lovers everywhere. (From Booklist*Starred Review*)

My Review: First a disclaimer: I am not a lover of detective novels. However, I always enjoy an interesting narrative perspective, particularly that of a dog. Quinn does an excellent job of capturing the canine voice and I found myself in hysterics over a section of the book involving a barking session between Chet and some neighborhood dogs.

For me, that was the best part of this book: the originality of Chet. If my dog could talk, Chet’s words would come out of his mouth. This was a fun little plot to follow, for the most part. However, the author lost me when he began to send Chet on some far flung and pretty unbelievable adventures and towards the end when the likable pooch (who is so likable because he reminds you of all dogs – loyal, food oriented, and living in the moment) starts thinking like a human, premeditating his actions and reasoning the need to chew through some ropes that are tying Bernie’s hands together. That’s where I found myself saying out loud a few times, “oh come on! A DOG wouldn’t do that!” Booklist cites, “a consistently doggy view of the world” but I couldn’t disagree more and that inconsistency is one major fault with this otherwise well written character. Either Chet is a dog who thinks like a dog or he is personified with human thought and reasoning; the switch from one to the other mid-story was a huge distraction to me.

On the plus side, there were a few moments where I was thinking that the story was going to turn unpalatable; however, Quinn expertly provided the anticipation of this without actually taking the tale into ugly territory. Chet’s brushes with danger enhanced the suspense.

The plot dragged a bit at times and I had the “whodunit” figured out about halfway through, but it was still an entertaining story. Quinn did throw out a few bones for future fiction fodder so I’ll probably check out another “Chet and Bernie” story down the road to find out what happens with the PI duo.

My Rating: 3 ½ bones for the inconsistency and some unnecessary profanity but an otherwise amusing story.

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A barking fine time for a light read.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Dog Says How - Kevin Kling

Summary:
A playwright and regular contributor to the popular newsmagazine-style NPR show "All Things Considered," Kling hems close to his wry on-air delivery in these 29 short essays, ruminating on a variety of topics including a life-altering motorcycle accident, his congenital arm disability and a favorite dog. Excerpt from Publishers Weekly via Amazon.com

My Review:
This was the third short-story/memoir type book I've read in the past few months and was easily my favorite. (See my review of "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" by Bill Bryson, which I also enjoyed.) The short essays are evidence of good editing by the author, keeping me interested and tying diverse topics together into one conscise piece. They also tended to have a "moral" but with a very subtle glimmer, so you never felt like there was an agenda being forced on you. The book starts out with a fairly life-changing experience, but it isn't until much later in the book that you realize how challenging the author's life may have been. Instead you are introduced to the personality of the author, becoming his friend, before he asks you to consider his disabilities. I found this to be both a classy and a laid-back characteristic of the author.

The bottom line is, these are well-written, humorous stories and you feel like you spent a few good hours (or less) getting to know a personable guy, one who doesn't take the world, or himself, too seriously.

My Rating: 4 stars

In One Sentence: Starts out interesting and finishes strong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

Summary: I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature - the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of survival, a tale of one man's search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.
(Summary from book - Image from patrickrothfuss.com)


My Review: I would have never picked up this book if it weren't for my husband's persistence, (he went so far as to check the book out at the library, bring it home and insist that I read it). I am not a big fantasy reader so I grudgingly cracked the book and began to read... and I didn't like it. I told my husband 30 pages into it that I would give it to page 100. Turns out I only needed 50 pages to be totally hooked.

Kvothe is the narrator of the story. He has grown up on the road in the Ruh (circus) where his parents were the leaders. His education comes from those traveling with him but it is complete; with music, acting, reading, social skills, and magic. Then tragedy hits and he finds himself alone at the age of 12, at which time he learns how to live off the streets. He finally finds a way to make it to the University to pursue his dreams at the age of 15, where he can use all his acquired education along with his life skills. This is where he learns the hard lessons of love, betrayal and his own potential.

This is a fantasy story but one which draws you into this made-up realm. Once you stop attempting to pronounce all the crazy names of people, places and things in this make-believe world, the story feels quite realistic. The characters are absolutely perfect. You can sense Kvothe's youth while still feeling his intelligence. You despise Ambrose and his evil ways. You long for Denna to find her footing, and so on. The setting is vivid, leaving the reader feeling like you have jumped into the story. All the magic that takes place in this story seems realistic to this world, you can see it taking place and really feel like it is possible.

My only complaint with this book has to due with it's length. It's over 700 pages long. I feel that almost 100 pages were full of stories that, while interesting, did not pertain to the story the narrator was telling in this novel. I have no doubt that these stories will tie into the next novel (as it is a trilogy) but I am not sure that I will remember them by the time the sequel hits the press.

Having said this, I must admit that I am looking forward to the next novel. I can't wait to hear the rest of Kvothe's story, though I get the feeling that it will be a darker tale than this one. I will excitedly pick up the next chapter in this trilogy the moment my husband puts it down. To use a quote from the book, "I am about to die of terminal curiosity".

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A magical tale that will be appreciated by fantasy readers and non-fantasy readers alike.

Monday, April 20, 2009

*Original Thought*

It has recently come to my attention that there is a profound amount of plagiarizing going on in the blogosphere. A few blogs I follow closely have been hit by it recently, and until then I never even knew it existed. In order to keep our blog free from any wrongdoing I wanted to post the following rules:

1) Tell where you get your summary from. Is it from the back of the book, as per usual? Amazon? Wherever. I don't expect the summaries to be original works but they need to be credited from here on out with a small (Summary from Amazon.com) at the bottom of the summary or the bottom of the post.

2) Obviously all reviews are to be original works. I find it is best to avoid reading ANY reviews of a book prior to reviewing it so that particular phrases don't "accidentally" stick in your head.

3) Any quotes from the book need to be in quotations. Duh.

4) I'm not sure about pictures yet. I don't know what copyrights exist in terms of pictures on the internet. I don't know if it's okay to copy the picture of a book from an website and paste it into ours. We always link the pictures to Amazon, so perhaps we should continue to get them there even though they are profoundly less attractive. Or we could put a (picture from blahblahblah) at the bottom of the post with the summary credit. What do you think?

Let me know how you feel about these rules and if you can think of anymore. I want to make sure that we remain honest and original.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Incantation - Alice Hoffman

Summary: This kind of knowing you can never tell to anyone. If you want us to survive, you cannot trust a soul.

Estrella de Madrigal thought she knew herself: daughter, granddaughter, dearest friend. But truth is rare in this cruel and unforgiving century in Spain, when Jews who refused conversion to Christianity risked everything--love, life, family, faith.

Then: a startling discovery shakes Estrella's world to the core. Emerging from a cocoon of secrets, new love burns brightly, but betrayal unleashes a monstrous evil upon her. Estrella must find the strength--despite grave consequences--to become the person she is destined to be. (Summary taken from back of book)

My review: Every time I read one of Alice Hoffman’s novels, I fall in love with her a little bit more. It’s strange. I don’t even know the woman, but I feel as if we would get along because her books appeal to me on an deeply emotional level. So far, I have read Blackbird House, Green Angel, and Aquamarine (RFS review here) and each is sitting firmly on my “favorites” shelf. Hoffman’s writing is melodic, haunting, and utterly beautiful. It wraps itself around you—with words and emotions that pour off the page—so that you can think of nothing but FINISHING THIS BOOK. So yesterday I sat in the bath till the water got cold. I was late for my Yoga class. I MISSED TAI CHI. But I finished. It was SOOOO good!

Incantation takes place in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, a time when many people were being imprisoned or killed on suspicion of heresy or practicing Judaism. Many Jews converted to Christianity to protect themselves, but still practiced the old ways in secret. These Conversos were hunted down, not unlike the Salem Witch Trials, when a single accusation of wrongdoing was as good as a conviction. It becomes clear rather quickly in the book, that Estrella’s family had converted to Christianity long ago to remain safe but is still practicing closet Judaism. While clues dropped throughout the book lead you to an almost certainty of this, Estrella, at her young age, remains unaware of the difference that separate her families religious practices from others. As tension builds in the city and suspected Jews are dragged away only to disappear, you can clearly see the chaos that is about to erupt. I held my breath, waiting, just WAITING for that moment when Estrella realized the truth—that her world was NOT what she thought it once was—that she has been protected and sheltered, but lied to by those closest to her—and that the beliefs she has been taught since childhood now threaten to tear her entire family apart.

I’m amazed at how much I respond to Hoffman’s characters. I got emotionally involved, but I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that you will want to scratch the eyes out of a certain character in the book. And that’s putting it mildly. There was a little bit of mysticism and magic in the book—just a touch—and light enough to blend in really well with the historical aspects. All in all I thought this book was, for a YA book, a vivid and passionate portrayal of the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition. It sucked me in completely.

My rating: 5 beautiful stars! As a historical fiction, there are some descriptions of the killing of Jewish families that were discovered. It's not pretty--so be prepared--but it is very integral to the story.

In one sentence: Incantation is a beautifully written and haunting tale of the Spanish Inquisition told--as chaos swirls around her--through the eyes of an innocent young girl.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Summary:
Berendt chronicles the life and times of the city of Venice's movers and shakers like a naughty child sharing an overheard secret. Following up his similar study of Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Berendt has cobbled together a series of entertaining tales of the legendary canal city, ranging from the squabbles of Venetian fund-raisers to the fire in the Venice Opera House. Like a cocktail-party raconteur with a particularly juicy story to tell, Berendt twists his listeners' ears with his book's seamless string of Venice-themed misbehavior and decadence. Only occasionally overemoting, Berendt mostly maintains the proper tone of high-society gossip delivered succinctly. Berendt's intimate voice helps to tie together the disparate strands of his sometimes-sprawling book. (by Publisher's Weekly via amazon.com)

My Review:
This will be short - after all I didn't finish the book. In this case it was not because it was a really terrible topic or because it was poorly written or anything like that. I just wasn't that interested. As I read I realized I had only been slightly more interested a few years ago while reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I think that the author's style of describing the eccentric and elite of a city just does not appeal to me. His writing was fine and, if you did want to read about these people, the story would have been entertaining. I, personally, just didn't care.

The funny thing is that I really related to the characters (are real people still considered "characters"?) because they were so similar to the people I work with in my part time job. I work for a non-profit community group made up of a volunteer board of the "elite" of the historic town I live in. I was astounded to find that the rich and highly educated or artistic of Venice act just like their compatriots in S****. Maybe I didn't need to finish the book because I could just live it?

My Rating: 3 stars - Despite my not finishing this book, I do think others might enjoy it.

In One Sentence: The City of Venice has some of the most interesting, unique and pers.....zzzz.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella

Summary:
If you've ever paid off one credit card with another, thrown out a bill before opening it, or convinced yourself that buying at a two-for-one sale is like making money, then this silly, appealing novel is for you. In the opening pages of Confessions of a Shopaholic, recent college graduate Rebecca Bloomwood is offered a hefty line of credit by a London bank. Within a few months, Sophie Kinsella's heroine has exceeded the limits of this generous offer, and begins furtively to scan her credit-card bills at work, certain that she couldn't have spent the reported sums.

In theory anyway, the world of finance shouldn't be a mystery to Rebecca, since she writes for a magazine called Successful Saving. Struggling with her spendthrift impulses, she tries to heed the advice of an expert and appreciate life's cheaper pleasures: parks, museums, and so forth. Yet her first Saturday at the Victoria and Albert Museum strikes her as a waste. Why? There's not a price tag in sight.

Eventually, Rebecca's uncontrollable shopping and her "imaginative" solutions to her debt attract the attention not only of her bank manager but of handsome Luke Brandon--a multimillionaire PR representative for a finance group frequently covered in Successful Saving. - By Amazon.com

My Review: There is no way to gently restate the truth that the main character of this book is shallow and a ditz. The book took quite a bit of time driving this point home. Almost too much time and I nearly lost interest. Frankly I began the book feeling a bit bitter at someone who is spending, spending, spending while I don't, don't, don't. However, just in time the Shopaholic's character began to dimensionalize in a surprisingly believable way. With a rather redeeming quality, all the "growth" that the Shopaholic experienced was in keeping with her wide-eyed and self-centered character and seemed plausible, made her likable and, within reason, relatable. If she'd had a miraculous transformation and completely changed her ways I would have been disgusted. Instead I was amused and entertained. It was fun to sometimes see the comic places the story was headed, and at other times to be completely surprised by her predicaments (hint, never lie on a resume about a language you speak).

The author blurb states that Kinsella writes these books as a commentary on our materialistic society. If I take this as the truth (I mean, really, she could just be writing a funny story about a person who likes to shop) then I have to give her credit for making me examine my reasons for buying something, and the way I justify purchases. (Most recently - I need to buy a laptop because I will likely be on bedrest and then what will I do? Because I'm the cheif-gestator in this household it is practically a job-related expense.)

The major criticism I have of this book is that aside from some incredibly embarrassing moments there aren't many consequences that the Shopaholic faces. So, the rest of us are left thinking - Lucky - when both the reader and the main character should be thinking I'm going to stop spending so much money. Oh well, it was still fun to read.

As a total side note. I listened to "Can You Keep a Secret" by this author, on tape. It was read with a Britich accent and was so incredibly fun to listen to - that is something I highly recommend.

My rating: 3 stars

In One Sentence: It'll be a good chick-flick featuring great wardrobe.

Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World - Fred Pearce

Summary: Nothing is without cost. Environmental change, industrialization, urbanization, war, travel and tourism, natural disasters: all have a profound effect on our planet.

In 300 stunning before-and-after images Earth Then and Now records the staggering transformation of our world over the past century. On one page a photograph of a part of the world as it was five, twenty, fifty or even 100years ago. On the facing page is the same place as it looks today. The stark visual comparisons tell compelling stories while concise captions explain the facts and leave us to draw our own conclusions.

Thought provoking and unassailable, Earth Then and Now is an important testament to this critical moment in the life of our planet and an alarming reminder of how radically Earth is changing, not necessarily for the better.

My review: Earth Then and Now is packed with “before” and “after” pictures of world-wide locations that have been affected by environmental change, urbanization, land transformation, forces of nature, war and conflict, or leisure and culture. In fact, each of these topics is a section of the book. Pearce gives a small introduction at the beginning of each chapter and then captions the following photographs with little tidbits of information. Earth definitely catalogs what we, the human species, are capable of creating and destroying in regards to our environment. In that respect, it’s a rather depressing book comprised mostly of “look what we did” and “what were we thinking” pictures of environmental changes that ranged from disappearing lakes, dying coral beds, retreating glaciers, and suburban sprawl to mining, land reclamation, deforestation, natural disasters, the effects of tourism, and the ravages of war. While there were a few positive, restorative projects thrown in every now and then--they were few and far between.

I’m going to say this once, and people are going to jump all over my case for it, so get ready. I’m not sure I buy the whole global warming thing. WHAT!??!!? (you ask) HOW CAN SHE NOT BUY IT!?!?!? IT’S GOING TO DESTROY THE EARTH AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Oh, I believe that we’re experiencing a warming trend, and we’re definitely responsible for a lot of what’s going on, but I’m just not entirely sure that it’s as all-fired bad as it is getting portrayed by our lovely and entirely unbiased media. That having been said, this book is the closest that I’ve ever come to buying it. The pictures provide seemingly incontrovertible proof of a massive global warming trend. There. I said it. That kind of stung.

One issue I have with this book (and this only applies to certain sections) is that by having only a “then” and “now” picture, you are only plotting TWO points on the graph. If we’re talking about something like smog, ice, or water temperature, I need to know if, in the years between Point A and Point B, there was any other activity. Perhaps the water temperature has gone up and down and Pearce just caught it on a bad year, or in the wrong season. I think that while two points may indicate a change, you must have more points plotted to PROVE it.

I couldn’t help but feel that the author heartily disapproved of many of the modern conveniences like bridges and roads. Nearly every landscape alteration was considered to be “our fault” (okay, most actually were) and if we didn’t do them directly, then they were attributed to something that we did—ie. natural disasters are our fault because of what we have done to destabilize the Earth. It seemed Pearce would prefer for us all to live in little huts and bicycle to work on small dirt paths. While I understand the need for conservation of and responsibility for our resources, I am not necessarily of the zero carbon footprint mentality. It sounds an awful lot like the “let them eat cake” of Marie Antoinette. It’s asking for something that just won’t ever happen. Any time a person builds something in nature, there will be some sort of effect and displacement. So either we all just kill ourselves now, or we find some way to co-exist within our environment. I think our job, as human beings, is to limit the effect we have on the environment and try to balance the scales in terms of our own eco-responsibility.

Finally, I was also a bit let down by any lack of concluding remarks. Like having no conclusion to your thesis paper...it felt oddly unfinished. Still, this book was full of fascinating pictures that I've never seen before and tidbits of historical information and, though it’s not an upper, it’s definitely worth thumbing through.

My rating: 3 Stars. An interesting book, worth at least a one time read (or look).

Sum it up: Look what we have done. We're all going to die. It's not going to be pretty.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq - Matthew Alexander

Summary: Finding Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, had long been the U.S. military's top priority--trumping even the search for Osama bin Laden. No brutality was spared in trying to squeeze intelligence from Zarqawi's suspected associates. But these "force on force" techniques yielded exactly nothing, and, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the military rushed a new breed of interrogator to Iraq.

Matthew Alexander, a former criminal investigator and head of a handpicked interrogation team, gives us the first inside look at the US military's attempt at more civilized interrogation techniques--and their astounding success. The intelligence coup that enabled the June 7, 2006 air strike on Zarqawi's rural safe house was the result of several keenly strategized interrogations, none of which involved torture, or even "control" tactics.

Matthew and his team decided instead to get to know their opponents. Who were these monsters? Who were they working for? What were they trying to protect? With most prisoners, negotiation was possible and psychological manipulation stunningly effective...

This account is an unputdownable thriller--more of a psychological suspense story than a war memoir. And indeed, the story reaches far past the current conflict in Iraq with a reminder that we don't have to become our enemy to defeat him. Matthew Alexander and his ilk, subtle enough and flexible enough to adapt to the challenges of modern, asymmetrical warfare, have proved to be our best weapons against terrorists all over the world.

My review: After the scandalous treatment of prisoners as Abu Ghraib, the US government is looking for new, more effective ways to interrogate detainees without breaking any rules set forth by the Geneva Convention. Enter our pseudonymed author, Matthew Alexander, a new breed of interrogator. He and his team have trained from the beginning for a different type of interrogation that relies less on force, fear, and control and more on building rapport, psychological games, and a thorough understanding of Islamic culture. Matthew is fought every step of the way by old-school interrogators who insist that the only way to “break a terrorist” is to exert complete control over them. While these men and women have little success in the way of new information, Matthew manages to obtain intel from detainee after detainee. His way is working. I admire Matthew’s commitment to non-violent interrogation and his extensive knowledge of Arab culture, language, dialects, and religious beliefs. His understanding allows him to use strategy and intellect in place of threats, violence, and coercion. He also has an uncanny ability to morph into whoever he needs to be to build rapport and get information from a detainee. I was amazed at the sheer intensity of the head games that were being played and how even the tiniest expression or vocal intonation was analyzed. In the end, Matthew and his team finds themselves in a race against the clock—pitching old techniques against new ones—in a last ditch attempt to find the final links in the Iraqi Al Qaida organization and take down one of the deadliest men in Iraq. Get ready, it goes down to the absolute wire.

It was interesting to read about the process of interrogation, the many roles, approaches, and tricks of the trade that an interrogator can use to uncover the truth. However, I don’t think that I’m quite fool enough to believe that this book presented me with the absolute truth. I’ve no doubt that it was mostly true, but if there is one thing that James Frey taught us all, it is that the past is open to interpretation. The one thing that really bothered me about this book was it’s blacked out sections (pieces of the text that were completely blacked out). These omissions were explained by saying that the book had been submitted to the Department of Defense for prepublication review and that the blacked out materials reflect deletions made by the DoD. Okay. Fine. Whatever. So, why leave them in? I can think of only one reason (and Em, you’re not going to like it). I believe that they were left in intentionally to lend a sort of authenticity to the book--an obvious attempt to make me feel like I was reading a highly classified document, as opposed to someone’s personal recollection and interpretation of events. It was sort of insulting that they thought I’d be duped by something so transparent and it actually backfired by making me doubt the truthfulness of the rest of what I was reading. Also, the authors frequent use of words like terp and ‘gator in place of interpreter and interrogator seemed a bit juvenile--as if the author was too busy to actually write or use the full word.

While I appreciated the insight this book offered, I don’t know if I would consider it an “unputtdownable thriller.” Matthew's story did help me to see certain alleged terrorists as human beings—with families, businesses, and strong religious beliefs. Many alleged terrorists joined Al Qaida because it offered them protection from Shia death squads that were running rampant (unleashed with a vendetta at the fall of the Saddam’s Sunni leadership ). Though this book definitely has an agenda, I’m not altogether convinced that that is a bad thing. In the following statement, I felt Matthew made an excellent observation in regards to the 2006 situation in Iraq. “The US military came in, shattered the civil order, however brutal, and unleashed chaos instead of imposing order and democracy. As a result, Baghdad in 2006 is a playground for opportunists, thieves, murderers, and fanatics. Caught in the middle are plenty of good people just trying to make a living even as their neighborhoods turn into battlegrounds. Every day, we see the players in this chaos. We see the guilty; we see the blameless. Sorting out one form another is part of our job...” If anything, this book really tries hard to prove that we don’t have to become our enemies to defeat them.

Rating:
3 Stars. A good read but watch out for the profanity and graphic depictions of executions. Not the focal point of the book, by any means, but definitely something that the author expressed and dealt with while he was in Iraq.

Sum it up in one phrase: A fascinating look inside the mind (and mind games) of an interrogator.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Among the Hidden - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Summary: Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friends house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.
Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the population police.He's lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family's farm, he is no longer allowed to even go outside.
Then, one day, Luke sees a girl's face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live.Finally, he's met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows--does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?

My review: Luke is a young boy, born third in a house that already had two sons. He is forced from the first pages of the book to flee indoors when his family hears the rumble of machinery clearing the woods. Taking a last deep breath of honeysuckle, he runs inside, knowing that it may be his last time, ever outdoors.
Overall this book was interesting and would be compelling especially for the young reader it is intended for. Being an adult, I think I saw to many "holes" in the story. To many things that could never happen, or character exchanges that were to far fetched. Sometime I am able to 'turn myself over' to the story and just forget about the holes. But, I think the style of writing that was used for this novel did not allow me to do that as well as other books might have.
That being said, it is a GREAT book. The storyline is chilling and very intelligent. I like the decision making that Luke is forced to undertake, and the oh so child like way he thinks. I will definitely read the rest of the series.

My Rating: 3 stars for me- 4 for any young adult.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase: Especially chilling for a "kids" book.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Girl Who Could Fly - Victoria Forester

Summary: "You just can't keep a good girl down...unless you use proper methods."

Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie. Sure, she hasn't mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she's real good at loop-the-loops.

Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma's at her wit's end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents' farm to attend a top-secret, maximum security school for kids with exceptional abilities.

School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strenth to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences.

Consequences to dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And to dangerous to ignore.

At turns exhilarating and terrifying, Victoria Forester's debut novel is an unforgettable story of defiance and courage about an irrepressible heroine who can, who will, who must...fly.


My Review: Piper McCloud is not like other girls. Hallelujah. She’s a spunky, down-home country girl who does things her own way—even if that way happens to be a little bit supernatural. When Piper rolled off the changing table as a baby and floated, instead of falling, she scared the spit out of her ultra-conventional parents. It’s just wasn’t how things were done. Full of curiousity and spirit, Piper just doesn’t understand how her parents can be such sticks-in-the-mud. One day, after seeing a mother bird push her fledgling from the nest, Piper launches herself off the roof in an act of reckless abandon--and drops like a stone almost killing herself. But that doesn't stop Piper, and soon she's sneaking off to practice flying. When she becomes too much to handle and her secret gets out, Piper’s parents ship her off to a posh private school for kids with abilities. As she settles in, everything seems wonderful. Only the school is not at all what it seems and one boy in particular seems bound and determined to make her life miserable. What IS a flying girl to do? Soon Piper is in way over her head and must trust her heart in order to save herself and those she cares about.

I have to say, usually reading the first few sentences of the book will let me know if I'm going to like it (at least from a writing standpoint). Forester wrote "Piper decided to jump off the roof. It wasn't a rash decision on her part." I knew right then, that we were going to get along.

Stephenie Meyer described this story as Little House meets X-Men, and that is entirely accurate. Piper’s background is a strictly country upbringing and it shows in the dialogue and in her grammar. I’m not sure why, but it’s very endearing. While I’m a huge fan of Heroes, and thus the whole concept of special ablilities, I really wasn’t that impressed by the "superpowers" she chose for the kids. They were okay, just not very inventive. Instead of a girl who can run fast, I’d like a girl who can actually win something on Ebay or run all the computers in the universe using her big toe and index finger. Seriously though, the abilities Forester gave the characters worked well for the story--I just wanted more.

As a whole The Girl Who Could Fly was a refreshing and adorable story with the moral that it’s alright to be different—even special—and to trust in yourself. I kept telling myself that I would stop reading after I finished the current chapter, and inevitably, when I got to the end of the chapter I just kept right on going. At 3 AM, that’s no mean feat. There were a couple parts at the end that came—WHAM—out of nowhere. I did not see them coming at all. In hindsight, there was a little bit of foreshadowing, but it was nice to be surprised. Alas, it seems as if this book isn’t finished either. While the main obstacle was overcome, not everything was resolved. If there is no sequel in the works, then this book leaves me with quite a few questions. I'm going to give Forester the benefit of the doubt though, and plan to read the next one when it comes out.

My Rating: 5 Stars (suitable for all ages)

Sum it up in one phrase: A great read-aloud story that teaches the importance of being yourself.

Read Kari's review here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Book of Bright Ideas - Sandra Kring

Summary: Wisconsin, 1961. Evelyn “Button” Peters is nine the summer Winnalee and her fiery-spirited older sister, Freeda, blow into her small town–and from the moment she sees them, Button knows this will be a summer unlike any other.

Much to her mother’s dismay, Button is fascinated by the Malone sisters, especially Winnalee, a feisty scrap of a thing who carries around a shiny silver urn containing her mother’s ashes and a tome she calls “The Book of Bright Ideas.” It is here, Winnalee tells Button, that she records everything she learns: her answers to the mysteries of life. But sometimes those mysteries conceal a truth better left buried. And when a devastating secret is suddenly revealed, dividing loyalties and uprooting lives, no one–from Winnalee and her sister to Button and her family–will ever be the same.

My Review: Evelynn Peters (better known as Button) is a fairly typical 9 year old girl, dealing with some image problems and longing for love from her parents. She is about to find how fast life can change when during the summer she meets Winnalee, another 9 year old who has just moved to town with her older sister. Winnalee is not your average 9 year old, as she carries around the urn containing her mother's ashes and also a book, in which she is writing all her bright ideas. These two girls become the best of friends as they spend their summer together, all the while adding to the bright idea book in hopes that they reach reach 100 ideas at which time they will "know everything there is about living good". Little do they know that they are also about to come across a few secrets that will change life as they know it.

Sandra Kring had written a novel full of three dimensional characters. While reading this you really feel that you get to know the people she has invented. However I feel that she may have gone over the top while creating Winnalee's sister, Freeda. I get that she is a tough girl with strong views but really does she need to use profanity in each sentence she speaks? I found this a bit distracting.

While I truly enjoyed the writing style, I felt that overall the story was poorly developed. I seemed to consistently be wondering if anything was going to happen in the story. It did but not until the last 50 or so pages of the novel. While the characters were three dimensional, the setting wasn't. The author seems to forget the town she has drawn up for her characters and that left me confused at times. The bright ideas that the girls wrote throughout the book provided some little nuggets of life wisdom from a child's prospective and thus were my favorite part of the novel.

In summary, this is a book that I may pass along but not one that I would ever wish to have returned. I do, however, plan on reading "Carry Me Home" by this author as I really did enjoy her writing style.

My Rating: 3 Stars

If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be: A gourmet meal with stunning presentation yet rather bland in taste, leaving you unfulfilled.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Also reviewed by Kari and Kim.

Summary: In a world where people born with an extreme skill--called a Grace--are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she meets Prince Po, who is graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace--or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

My Review: Kristin Cashore’s debut novel is a thrilling success. She is an author with a creative mind who's unafraid to venture outside the normal storyline or give her characters a rough time. Graceling was full of twisted kings, danger, betrayal, romance and tragedy.

Katsa’s grace was discovered at a young age when, in one quick move, she accidentally killed a lecherous relative. Since then she has been feared—and used— as a tool of intimidation and punishment by her King. Fortunately for Katsa, she has a mind of her own, and when she finally uses it to defy a vicious order she is forced to walk away from the life she knew. Leaving behind her longtime friend and confidante, Prince Raffin, Katsa embarks on a journey to solve a mysterious kidnapping. Po, the seventh son of the King of Leinid and grandson of the man who has been kidnapped accompanies her on her quest. He too is Graced and it allows him fighting skills that rival even Katsa’s. Along the way they argue, hunt, and train together as they get to know each other and the truth about their Graces. I’m leaving a ton out. I couldn't say much more without giving a lot away, but there are lot of other characters and plots that come into play later on.

Graceling started out a little slow and was a bit confusing at first, but once all of the history was revealed it quickly picked up the pace—and then it flew. I finished it in pretty much one sitting. Despite Katsa’s grace, and her enjoyment of the art of fighting, she doesn’t like to kill people. She’ll defend herself if needs be, but when given the choice to knock someone unconscious or kill them outright, they usually end up with a grand headache in the morning. I think this really helped her be a more likable character and for the book to stay more firmly in the YA genre. There is some SERIOUSLY DELICIOUS romantic tension brewing between Po and Katsa and, yet again, it always managed to stay fairly young adult. Neither Katsa nor Po know or truly understand the depth of their graces, and it’s especially interesting to watch as their talents and relationship develop throughout the book. I would love to see this book being made into a movie with all the romance, intrigue, special powers, and fight scenes. What fun!

One teensy thing that bugged me was the character's names. Katsa, I could handle, though being fairly close to my daughter's name, Kaisa, I occasionally stumbled over it. But, Po?! Okay, it was a nickname for a far worse one, but really, PO?!?

The only real downside is that this seems to be the first book in a series. There is a prequel, Fire, coming out in October 2009 but it seems that the sequel to Graceling, tentatively named Bitterblue, is still in the works. Sniff. So LONG to wait! But wait I shall.

My rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up in one phrase: A medieval Heroes meets a Mr and Mrs. Smith--a great YA read.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Also reviewed by Kari, Kim, and Mindy

Summary: Sometimes, when you open the door to the past, what you confront is your destiny.

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness -- featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

My Review: Margaret Lea is daughter is of a knowledgeable bookstore owner, and thus loves books. In fact she loves and relates to books better than she does people. This could have something to do with a secret about her birth which she stumbled upon as a young girl. A secret that makes her feel so different and alone. Yet Margaret has found some happiness in the books she reads, the relationship she has with her father as well as in the amateur biographies she has recently begun to write. Though not amateur, this is Margaret's story, told through her.


However it is not Margaret's story alone. It is also the story that famous author Vida Winter wishes to tell before her death, the true story of her past. Margaret has never read any of Winter's contemporary fiction novels, as she is more interested in classics and nonfiction. Therefore, Margaret is stunned when Vida Winter writes to ask her to do her biography. Winters, however, has does her research and finds Margaret to be the obvious choice as her storyteller as their pasts share a common thread. Vida is dying and realizes that it is time to confront some ghosts in her past. She senses that Margaret has some hidden away secrets as well. And so the tale begins.


Diane Setterfield weaves the story of Vida Winter's past seamlessly into the story of Margaret Lea's present. Both stories are utterly captivating. The scenery is so vivid and the characters so alive that the reader feels like part of the story. The plot is unique and fascinating, taking the reader through many twists and turns. This is truly a book one can get lost in. The story comes full circle and the ending is complete, yet I was disappointed to see the story come to an end. I so enjoyed my time spent inside these pages.


This is a novel obviously written by a true book lover. Much of the action takes place either in past or present libraries. And the author refers to many classic books, especially Jane Eyre. Throughout the book the author uses many reading metaphors to relate to everyday life. At one point Margaret is having trouble concentrating and the author relates this to being unable to close your mind on your previous book. She state that this is as leaving a book "with ideas and themes - characters even- caught in the fibers of your clothes and when you open the new book, they are still with you." This is the exact sensation I have after closing the cover on this novel.

My Rating: 5 Stars...I can't wait to read it again.

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A book every true book lover must read, a story painful to put down and one you never wish to end.

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