Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sophie's Favorite Children's Books

This book list comes courtesy of Sophie Oja, a fabulous little girl I happen know (and love dearly). Since today is her birthday, I'm posting this in honor of her fiery little four-year-old spirit. I held up all our books and let her tell me if they went in the "favorites" stack or not. Then, after she went to bed I removed all the cheesy ones with Disney princesses on the cover (there were at least ten) and all the books I know she selected based solely on the cover (having never read them to her before). Here is what was left:


Sophie's Favorite Children's Books
Animal Families - DK Publishing
Are You Quite Polite? (silly dilly manners songs) - Alan Katz
The Bear's Toothache - David McPhail
The Biggest Sandwich Ever** - Rita Golden Gelman
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - Bill Martin, Jr.
Curious George Goes Camping - Margret & H.A. Rey's
Dinosaur Roar** - Paul & Henrietta Stickland
Eight Animals on the Town** - Susan Middleton Elya
Gigi : God's Little Princess - Sheila Walsh
Going to Sleep on the Farm** - Wendy Cheyette Lewison
Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Suess
The Gruffalo** - Julia Donaldson
Horton Hatches the Egg - Dr. Suess
How The Grinch Stole Christmas! - Dr. Suess
I Love You, Stinky Face** - Lisa McCourt
If You Give a Pig a Pancake** - Laura Numeroff
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat** - Simms Taback
Lissy's Friends** - Grace Lin
Llama Llama Red Pajama** - Anna Dewdney
A Mud Pie for Mother - Scott Beck
My Body Series - Sally Hewitt
My Lucky Day - Keiko Kasza
My Two Hands, My Two Feet**- Rick Walton
Naughty Little Monkeys** - Jim Aylesworth
Noah's Ark - Laurence T. Lorimer
Officer Buckle and Gloria** - Peggy Rathman
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish** - Dr. Suess
Parts - Tedd Arnold
The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch
Pinkalicious** - Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kahn
Popcorn - Frank Asch
The Rainbow Fish - Marcus Pfister
Raindrop, PLOP!** - Wendy Cheyette Lewison
Skippyjon Jones - Judy Schachner
Snowmen at Christmas - Caralyn Buehner
Snowmen at Night** - Caralyn Buehner
Somewhere in the Ocean - Jennifer Ward
Take Me Out of the Bathtub and other silly dilly songs** - Alan Katz
There's a Nightmare in my Closet - Mercer Mayer
Tinkerbell: A Guide to Pixie Hollow** - Elle D. Risco
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs - Jon Scieszka
The Velveteen Rabbit (adapted for young readers) - Margery Williams
When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry... - Molly Bang
Where Did They Hide My Presents (silly dilly Christmas Songs) - Alan Katz
Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak
Where's Waldo - Martin Handford
Won't You Be My Kissaroo? - Joanne Ryder
Zinnia's Flower Garden - Monica Wellington

**Books we've read so much that we've both got them memorized.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fortune and Fate - Sharon Shinn

Summary: For the Rider Wen, peace in Gillengaria has only brought despair. Plagued by guilt for failing to protect her king, Wen has fled the royal city and given herself the penance of a life of wandering, helping strangers in need, making sure they remain just that: strangers.

Until the day she helps a terrified young woman abducted by an overeager suitor. The girl, she discovers, is the daughter of one of those who rose against the dead king, and is now heir to the great estate known as Fortune. Once she has delivered her safely home, Wen wants nothing further to do with the girl or her family.

But fate has other plans...For behind the walls of Fortune, Wen will find her future--and she will finally confront the ghosts of her past. (Image from amazon.com - summary from back of book)

My review: For the most part, I enjoy Sharon Shinn’s books. I loved the Archangel Series (read my review here) and Summers at Castle Auburn. They are light fantasy/romance novels that I can always recommend to my mother. Those, I tell you, are in short supply. When I picked up Shinn’s latest, Fortune and Fate, I thought it was a stand-alone novel--and it was, sort of. Fortune and Fate is the story of Wen, an self-exiled Rider (or bodyguard) of royalty. While her story is resolved within the pages of this book, it is also inexorably tied to the stories of many, MANY other characters. My main complaint about this book, isn’t really very fair--because any SANE person might have thought to read the FOUR books previous before starting in on book five. I obviously wasn’t paying attention and by the time I figured out my mistake it was too late to just put the book down and start a (currently) five book series.

Had I started with the first book, Mystic and Rider, I might have read all the ones that follow. However, now the surprise is ruined and although I enjoyed myself, I probably won’t read the previous books. I already know what happens. What fun is that?!

On its own, Fortune and Fate is pleasant, but not life-altering. Those in search of thrilling book club discussions should probably look elsewhere, but it was a nice way to pass the time and if you are a fan of the genre, I would definitely recommend trying the series.

(BEST READ IN THIS ORDER):
Mystic and Rider
The Thirteenth House
Dark Moon Defender
Reader and Raelynx
Fortune and Fate


My rating: 3.5 Stars. I had fun and it might have been higher if I hadn't been such an idiot.

Sum it up: A light medieval romance with LOTS of back story. Don't read it before the others.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Aint' Just Malarky (an informal review)

Hello RFS Readers,

I just read this post on Kari's blog--ya know, one of our lovely reviewers. I swiped it. I hope it's okay with her. I thought it was a very touching, and informal yet personal "author interview" and book review with additional book recommendations. I know quite a few people who love the Stephen Ambrose book, Band of Brothers, and have become so attached to this motley crue of brave warriors that they have followed several of the brothers' stories into their own books as well (see bottom of post). I don't know much about WWII, but if I wanted a deeply emotional, yet true-to-life story, these are the men (and this one in particular) that I would read about.

Here you go,
Mindy
___________________________________________________

Aint' Just Malarky

Have you heard of The Band of Brothers? If not, it's a book by Stephen Ambrose and HBO series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. WWII and the 101 Airborne division are the backdrop and the characters. Don Malarky--pictured above with us--lives in our town and is one of the soldiers depicted in the book and series. Hero was introduced and became friends with him from previous employment. I'm not going to pretend we're close friends. But, we do try and visit him regularly. You see, his wife passed away. While his children visit and are wonderful, it can sometimes get lonely living by yourself. Not that he isn't busy. This man keeps busy!

He wrote a book, a personal memoir of his experience in WWII--Easy Company Soldier. We own it and had it signed. Both Hero and I have read it. It's such a neat read considering the Band of Brothers story is so famous and the beginnings of Don Malarky are here in Oregon, specifically the coast where Hero was raised. Don's book has a personal feel that none of the other Band of Brothers books have. He, in my mind, is probably the most sensitive. His brothers' deaths seemed to hit him the hardest--or at least he responds most visibly to them, even to this day.

He's quick to laugh, enjoys a good inside joke, and loves babies and children. His sentimental side shines through when you learn he cans jam yearly in honor of his beloved and deceased wife. He picks the wild blackberries himself and even makes labels professing his devotion to his wife and how the jam is symbolic.

Here's another aspect of his life I find astounding: he writes back everyone who writes him. Everyone. You should see the inside of his house! He has boxes and boxes of letters, pictures, newspapers, memorabilia. He says that when people ask for his autograph, he'll send them the letter back and say, "When you've read my book, send the book with your thoughts and opinions and I'll sign that." I love seeing his quirky smile and the twinkle in his eye when he relates stories like that.

I don't know how much longer we'll have Don with us. The veterans from WWII are passing away quickly. He seems in great health, but you never know. It has been such a privilege to know Don and hear his story first hand. _______________________________________________

If you liked the Band of Brothers (I had a hard time getting through this book, but loved these others), here are a couple more books that were great reads:

Beyond Band of Brothers, by Major Dick Winters (this man is AMAZING)

Call of Duty, by Lynn "Buck" Compton (he had an incredible after-war life)

Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, by William Guarnere and Edward Heffron (these 2 are hilarious)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

Summary: A most untraditional love story, this is the celebrated tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who involuntarily travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love.

My Review: The storyline seemed simple. Boy meets girl, relationship is tested by his constant time traveling....etc., etc. And I thought that could have been a great book, even in its simplicity. What I found was a novel that absolutely moved me.... to tears, to anger, to the thrill of uncertainty, and most of all the belief that true love can overcome any obstacle.

Before I go on: yes, I am aware that this book is fiction.

The characters in The Time Traveler's Wife come to life very quickly. I consider it great writing when I can't even identify why I liked the characters as rapidly as I did. Henry was handsome, sexy, and struggling with the emotional struggle to end ALL emotional struggles. Although the book touches only briefly on his childhood, he is compelling as both a juvenile as well as an adult.

Clare's childhood, on the other hand, is brought to life with mysterious encounters with a man, later identified as Henry, when she is six, seven, eight and beyond (I can't say more with out spoilers). This sounds like it would be inappropriate, and perhaps in any other novel it would be. But the meeting are beautiful, mystical, and very emotional, especially as Clare comes of age.

Throughout the novel, you see the two deal with not only the normal "married life" problems, but also a whole different set of obstacles that bring out the best and worst they have to offer. Challenging their love, and their very sanity.

If any book could be described as a roller coaster, this is it. It has a way of going and on and on and on.....but you still can't believe it when it is going to end. A wonderful story, beautiful characters, and exceptional in it's eclectic style.

(Side note: don't be discouraged by the confusion that overtakes you during the first chapters, it will all equal out...trust me)

My Rating: 5 Stars (post-edit: For more sensitive readers, there were some moments of extreme profanity in this book.)

Sum it up: This book will be a classic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Summary: They are an unlikely pair: George is "Small and quick and dark of face"; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has a mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a "family", clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.

Laborers in California's dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie's unswerving obedience to the thing George taught him.
Summary from back of book, cover photo from bookrags.com

My Review: George and Lenny make a good team. George stands up for Lenny, keeping him out of trouble whenever possible and Lenny works very hard, looking to George with the deepest admiration. It's a difficult life these men lead, traveling from farm to farm to work the land, having to run from the consequences of Lenny's careless mistakes. Lenny has the mind of a child, and this, in combination with his love for soft things, proves to be very troublesome. It's the dream of owning their own place that keeps these two going. The dream seems to be coming closer to reality. They only have to make it a month, but trouble seems to find this pair wherever they go. And when trouble results in a death and angry men start hunting for Lenny, George is forced to make a difficult decision, proving the power of his friendship.

I understand why so many love this book. This was a well-written book. The scenery is vivid, the characters are realistic and there is a heavy emotional pull. It's a story that will leave the reader breathless at times as the pages fly by. I can see the lessons of friendship, acceptance and loyalty threaded within the story. I just don't want to read about these lessons in this form. By the time I closed the cover on this book I felt sick. What I had expected to be a beautiful story of friendship ended up being one of the most depressing books I have read in a long time.

My Rating: 2 Stars; Memorable-Yes, Likable-Not so much

If I had to sum it up in one sentence: A classic for many valid reasons, just not one I'd like to read again.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre - Amanda Grange

Summary: A married man in possession of a dark fortune must be in want of an eternal wife.

December 1802

My hand is trembling as I write this letter. My nerves are in tatters and I am so altered that I believe you would not recognize me. The past two months have been a nightmarish whirl of strange and disturbing circumstances, and the future…

I am afraid.

If anything happens to me, remember that I love you and that my spirit will always be with you, though we may never see each other again. The world is a cold and frightening place where nothing is as it seems. (Image from sourcebooks.com - summary from back of book)

My review: What?!?! Don’t look at me that way. I thought it would be fun. After all, who doesn’t want to read a continuation to the lovely Pride and Prejudice? And besides, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies still has a waiting list so I thought I’d go a different route. I am so regretting it.

This book was horrible. Beginning. Middle. End. All beyond bad. Mr. Darcy, Vampyre picks up the morning before the wedding as Elizabeth and Jane contemplate their coming nuptials. This is perhaps the only point in time where Elizabeth actually acts like Elizabeth. For the rest of the book she is a quiet little mouse who just sits back and allows Darcy to cart her all over kingdom come on a wedding tour, wherein he acts completely insane and refrains from consummating their marriage. The REAL Elizabeth would have called him on it in a matter of seconds (okay, maybe days). She would have had something to say about his strange behavior, his absences, and his standoffish friends and would hardly have been all swoony and demure.

The only real connection with the original P&P and this so-called continuation was, obviously, the names of the characters and, irritatingly, their tendency to spout one-liners made famous in the previous novel--verbatim. “You write uncommonly fast!” or “From now on you must be stranger to one of your parents…” It was like the author was trying to remind you “Hey! Look! See! It’s Elizabeth and Darcy! I promise. You can tell because they are referencing the original novel!” Bah. It made me want to break the binding (gasp, I know).

Above all, this book was BORRRING. There is little interaction between Darcy and Elizabeth, in ANY form, and so you are forced to listen to the innermost thoughts of a very watered down Elizabeth. With few exceptions, nothing really happened until the last 70 pages of this 308-page book when Elizabeth finally found out Darcy’s secret. Then everything just went completely haywire to the point of being ridiculous. I eventually just had to skim through the last 20 pages because it was THAT absurd and I just wanted the whole thing to be over.

If you are even considering reading this book, my advice to you would be…Don’t do it. Seriously. I'm fairly certain it sucked out a portion of my soul.

Also, I’m going to take a wild stab and say that it is physically impossible to cross the Alps in one day – whether one is on horseback or not.

My rating: 1 Star.

Sum it up: If our electricity were to go out and we had to start using the wood stove to heat our home, THIS BOOK (if it weren't a library book, thank HEAVENS) would be the first thing offered up as kindling.** I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash.

**If we had no other source of fuel, mind you. I'm not advocating the burning of books, even if they are really awful.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary: By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time. (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)

My Review: This was a heavy book--both literally, weighing in at 550 pages, and figuratively. Rightfully so as it deals with WWII and the Holocaust. Zusak paints pictures, stark imagery, throughout the entire book. He does a good job of making their world feel surreal to the characters as only someone living through perilous times could feel. In so doing, he depicts a surreal, scary and sometimes horrible, world to the reader.

Then there are the characters. So real. So believable. So endearing and yet, so flawed. There is no 'happy' ending, but again this is true of life that continued after so much death and loss especially in war times.

And wouldn't you like to sit down with Death after having met a character portrayed like he is in this book? I know I would. What a fascinating spin on life, or death: take your pick. What a cool idea for a narrator, specifically one that saw so much death in a short period of time.

My favorite educational aspect to this book was the emphasis on words, literacy, and reading. It accurately explains how it truly was Hitler's words that created all the pain and suffering endured by so many, most specifically the Jews. His book, Mein Kampf, was like a Bible to the German people of the time--whether because they wanted it to be or because it saved their skin by making them seem loyal. I love the stark message that words can be both beautiful and evil. Like so many things in life, if done correctly, it is a beautiful, wonderful thing. If done incorrectly, it can be painfully torturous. Language, words, the intent behind the words can change so much either to hurt or help. What a great lesson for Young Adults.

I have a hard time giving a book 5 stars that doesn't leave me wanting more, so this book would earn 4.5 from me. Having read Night, by Elie Wiesel is what I based this opinion on. Despite how awfully heartbreaking that book is, I left wanting to understand more of his plight. This book, not so much. I was done by the 550th page.

That and it seemed a bit on the excessive side with swearing, even if it was done in German most of the time. I was a bit surprised it was a Young Adult book because of this. I thoroughly enjoyed all the German (non-swearing) phrases, having studied it while in school. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I'll pick it up again.

Rating: 4.5 stars

In a phrase: A different spin on a Holocaust book.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Red in the Flower Bed - Andrea Nepa

Summary: An illustrated children's story about interracial adoption--A seed is dropped from a red poppy flower and carried by the wind on a journey to a lovely patch of flowers that is just right. In Spring, when the flowers begin to bloom, they are many different colors and the beautiful red poppy flower fits perfectly in her colorful new family. (Summary by RFS - Image from Tribute Books)


Mindy's Review:
Many children will be attracted to Red in the Flower Bed 's beautifully simple, yet colorful illustrations. It shares a universal message about familial acceptance and love. In a broader sense, this book could be applied to fitting in everywhere with the message that we “bloom where we are planted.”

Her rating: 4 Stars (for a kid's book)

Sum it up: A great read for any adoptive families, interracial or not, with young readers. ____________________________________

Kari's Review: I thought this story was very sweet, had great pictures, but was a far stretch for connecting to Interracial Adoption. I would never have gotten that idea if it wasn't clearly said before reading the story. Even then, it seems like a bit of a stretch. It's cute though.

Her Rating: 3.5 Stars
_____________________________________

Average Rating: 3.75 Stars



Friday, October 23, 2009

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Summary: What is lost...will be found.

Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward and unthinkable finale.

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object--artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation...one meant to user its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist--is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth. (summary and image from amazon.com)

My review: It’s been a long LONG time since I read The Da Vinci Code—some time back before my babies were born when I had unlimited guilt-free reading time on my hands. I was expecting, as with TDVC, to open the covers of The Lost Symbol and be sucked into the mystery. The Lost Symbol is definitely a page turner--thanks in large part to Brown’s irritating habit of ending a chapter in a tense moment with words like “Something was very very wrong” and then switching to another character’s storyline. Brown is a master at leaving you hanging precipitously, thoroughly engaged, and frustrated beyond belief. I found, however, it took me longer to get into the story and that it was easier for me to put down than I expected. This could be partially due to me having kids who actually, I don’t know, want me to pay attention to them, so please take that particular criticism with a grain of salt.

However, what engaged me the most in The Da Vinci Code is also what I liked best about The Lost Symbol—the religious and philosophical aspects of the story. While TDVC dealt mainly in Catholic ritual and the Divine Feminine, The Lost Symbol examines the concept of apotheosis, or the theoretical ability of men to become like God, and Noetic science, or the study of how a physical transformation can take place using only the mind. I know that the above ideas, or their presence in a book, supremely offend some people. I don’t need to be reminded that either book is fiction, but I enjoyed the challenge to my ideas and my faith. I liked being forced to wrap my mind around new concepts and see how other faiths mirrored or differed from my own. It was thought provoking and, well, interesting.

One of the weakest aspects of this book, along with Langdon’s rampant skepticism and inability to have faith in anyone else’s knowledge, was it’s occasional predictability. Within moments of one specific character’s introduction or the mention of a location, I was fairly certain I knew (attempting to not spoil here) who the bad guy was and where The Big Secret was hidden—and guess what? I was right. Now, I still couldn’t predict all the ins and outs of the story and there were still quite a few surprises and twists that I didn’t see coming so it wasn’t a complete wash, but I still felt a little let down when I found out I’d been right all along.

Despite its inherent weaknesses, I still feel that The Lost Symbol is a gripping, thought-provoking book that will likely appeal a great deal to people of both genders. Its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses and so I’ll still recommend it to others—especially those who have enjoyed his previous books.

My rating: 4 Stars (though I did consider a 3.9) A good read, and one that I would recommend, but probably won't be buying myself.

Sum it up: Standard Dan Brown - full of fascinating tidbits you didn't even know you didn't know.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ish - Peter H. Reynolds

Summary: Ramon loves to draw: "Anytime. Anything. Anywhere." When his older brother laughs at one of his pictures and points out that it does not look like a real vase of flowers, a dejected Ramon crumples up all of his efforts. However, he soon learns that his younger sister has hung the discarded papers on her bedroom walls. When he declares that the picture of the vase doesn't look like the real thing, she says that it looks "vase-ISH." The child then begins to produce paintings that look "tree-ish," "afternoon-ish," and "silly-ish." His "ish art" inspires him to look at all creative endeavors differently. (Summary by Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI via Amazon.com)

My Review: I was disappointed by this book. I recently spent some time creating an Amazon wish list of books for my daughters (Christmas is coming after all) and this book often came up as a book that "people who bought the book on your wish list also bought..." So when I saw it at the library I snatched it up and read it as soon as I got home.

The premise is nice and the story starts off well enough. However I thought the second half - after Ramon discovers "-ish"ness, rather mediocre. It was as if the author knew he had an idea that us feel-good, artsy parents would like (dare I call myself artsy?) and decided to coast. With some expert wordsmithing I would have jumped on the "Ish" bandwagon, but it didn't have that. A children's story, told in few words must be well crafted. I had no desire to read this book more than once, so back to the library it went.

The illustrations were done by the author, and they were great. If the narrative had been two notches better I could have really liked the book.

My Rating: 2 Stars - I won't be adding it to my kids "wish list," regardless of what those other Amazon shoppers do.

In one sentence: Concept, illustrations and good writing are key in making a good children's book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We'd Like to Thank the Academy....

...or rather Melissa M. from the absolutely smashing
Gerbera Daisy Diaries for gifting us with this:

Lookin' Good Award.
Here at Reading For Sanity, we've given our blog a mini-screen-lift in the last several months and we're flattered that someone noticed. Thanks so much!!
Here is our chance to pass the Lookin' Good Award on.

This award is meant as a pat on the back to those paying particular attention to their blog presentation. After all, even an old barn looks better painted, right!?

Here are our award picks (in no particular order):

1. Clothed Much (Elaine's modest fashion and fabulous pictures certainly turn heads!)

2. Young House Love (I salivate over both her blog AND her lovely home!)

3. Nie Nie Dialogues (Seriously, how could we leave this AMAZING blog out? Both Nie and her blog are looking GREAT!)

4. Beyond the Rain (Both Laura's blog and her musings on struggling with infertility are both heart wrenching, beautiful and hopeful.)

5. Meet Me in the Kitchen (I can't get over Mare's gorgeous food pics. Seriously. So. Hungry.)

Here are the rules:

1. Post the award on your blog, with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.

2. Pass the award to 5 other blogs that you particularly like. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gossamer - Lois Lowry

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary: Where do dreams come from? What stealthy nighttime messengers are the guardians of our most deeply hidden hopes and our half-forgotten fears? Drawing on her rich imagination, two-time Newbery Medal winner Lois Lowry confronts these questions and explores the conflicts between the gentle bits and pieces of the past that come to life in dream and the darker horrors that find their form in nightmare. In a haunting story that tiptoes between reality and imagination, two people--a lonely, sensitive woman and a damaged, angry boy--face their own histories and discover what they can be to each other, renewed by the strength that comes from a tiny, caring creature they will never see. (Summary from book and image from Powells.com)

My Review: What a sweet story! If you've ever considered dreams, both good and bad, this book is a fun little read. In typical Lois Lowry fashion, she teaches lots of vocabulary in a very comprehensible way. Her characters have a kind, yet realistic feel to them. She depicts the troubled boy and his upbringing realistically with tormented experiences, but doesn't make them so disturbing as to ruin the book for a child. Lowry has a way of making the reader feel safe within the book's pages. Despite the simplicity of the story, its characters, and the basic plot, you cannot help but leave feeling peaceful about the world. I'd recommend this to an average 5th or 6th grade student or an advanced 4th grade reader. I do believe any age can appreciate the message.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

In a phrase: A sweet, short story for dreamers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Love Walked In - Marisa de los Santos

Summary: "My life--my real life--started when man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and yes, I know how that sounds."

When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. Charming and debonair, the spitting image of Cary Grant, Martin sweeps Cornelia off her feet, but, as it turns out, Martin Grace is more the harbinger of change than the change itself...

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, eleven-year-old Clare Hobbes must learn to fend for herself after her increasingly unstable mother has a breakdown and disappears. Taking inspiration from famous orphans (Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Marry Lennox, and even Harry Potter) Clare musters the courage to seek out her estranged father. When the two of them show up at Cornelia's cafe, Cornelia and Clare form a bond as unlikely as it is deep. Together, the face difficult choices and discover that knowing what you love and why is as real as life gets.

My review: This book made me feel like I had slipped into my favorite pajamas, fuzzy socks, and knock-off Uggs--warm, comfortable, and thoroughly relaxed. While it didn’t hit me instantly, the further that I read into Love Walked In, the more I sunk down in to the nice comfy feeling of a leisurely, but well-paced, read with elegant detail.

Despite the first lines of the summary, this book is as far as you can get from some cheesy, chick lit love story. It is oh so much more than that. Cornelia is a fascinating character with a witty, self-deprecating demeanor and is the perfect voice to partially narrate this story. When the Perfect Man walks into her life, Cornelia is more than a little dismayed when something feels off. Enter Clare, a young girl going through a very difficult time in her life. Clare is watching her mother fall apart for no apparent reason. Obviously terrifying for Clare –she has to try to keep the secret from the outside world. Eventually her mother completely snaps and Clare is left abandoned broken. Miraculously, Cornelia is there to scoop up the pieces and try with all her heart to put Clare back together. Clare’s voice adds an entirely new dimension to the story as the written perspective of a young, yet insightful, child.

In addition to the two narrators, this book is filled with quirky, flawed and lovable (or not so) characters. Martin, who would be undeniably wonderful if he wasn’t keeping a secret. Linny, the eccentric best friend with a penchant for cowboys. Teo, the handsome brother-in-law who Clare is crushing on. Viviana, the mother, spiraling out of control. Each of these characters is essential to the story, very human and well-written. I was also very impressed with the author’s ability to make the relationships in this book seemed complex and genuinely believable. All of them.

Love Walked In explores the spectrum of human emotion – from attraction to unconditional love, to fear, confusion, and grief, friendship, forgiveness, and back again. And the end. The ending is enchanting , delicious, heart-pounding and sublime. I don’ t know if it will feel that way to everyone, but I truly believe that it couldn’t have ended any other way for the characters and the integrity of the story.

My rating: 4.25 Stars – For a more sensitive reader, there were some bursts of profanity throughout the book that I didn’t particularly care for but tolerated because the rest of the book was so darn good. It wasn't so much the moments that gave this book a high rating, but the journey through all of them to the conclusion. That was beautiful.

Sum it up: A beautiful tale about the importance of love and responsibility, and the difficult decisions and sacrifices we make for those we truly love.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

72 Virgins - Avi Perry

Summary: A suspense-thriller about a nightmare scenario-a countdown to a Mumbai-style attack on U.S. soil, where the FBI, the Israeli Mossad, the US-based Iranian clandestine terror network, and the Islamic Jihad fraternity, all engaged in a timeless conflict, which plays out to a crescendo that comes to a head before the dramatic conclusion. The story offers an ample dose of realism, a cast of intense characters who engage in love, lust, and violence. It portrays the Jihad culture with its rationale and the volcano that breeds an irrational obsession with death. Moreover, it builds on the Jihadists' motivation for targeting so many innocents and exploiting the victims' massacre as a stepping-stone to their dream of eternal paradise next to Allah's throne. The real question is not whether Jihad terrorists' plots will ever cease to emerge-there is no chance of that. The question the book seeks to answer is, will the next one be stopped before it's too late? (Summary from Tracee Gleichner - Image from )


My Review: As an American, I went into this book with the hatred of terrorism and Islamic extremists firmly intact. I consider myself fairly educated on the war, American politics and all the stuff that comes along with that. It has always seemed very simple to me: we are right, they are crazy.

72 Virgins is a story that takes you into the very heart of Islam, the very souls of the young men that give their lives in the name of Allah. It was slightly disturbing to me when I caught myself....caring. Such young minds being flushed with these beliefs. Perry seems to take you inside, makes you understand how influential the "brainwashing" that these people go through really is.

It is a very intense view of what goes on behind closed doors in this country as well as theirs. The plot reads like a wonderful thriller, but brings facts and figures to life. The writing is strong, and it is obvious the author was embedded in the system. His information is at once terrifying and fascinating, his emotional telling of these characters story is heart wrenching. It took me from angry to sad to elated and back again.

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to educate themselves on this culture, but doesn't have the patience for text book type reading. It is thoroughly entertaining and exceptionally plotted.

(There is a graphic nature to this novel. For anyone particularly sensitive to that type of writing, I would recommend waiting. For me this book was very educational and strengthened my already strong feelings about the war on terrorism and the one absolute: we have to stop these people, because they will never stop on their own.)


My Rating: 4 Stars


Sum it Up: I believe many people would benefit from the information in this book, and I think that it gives insight into things we would all rather not see at all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: The first novel in Alexander McCall Smith's widely acclaimed The No. 1 Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotsw, who is drawn to her profession to "help people with the problems in their lives." Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is that of a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witch doctors.
Summary from book, cover photo from Amazon.com

My Review:
When Precious Ramotsw's father passes away leaving her with some extra money, she decides to open a detective agency.Her only knowledge of this field arrives from the Agatha Christie novels she has read, yet Precious is confident she can succeed. She finds a building, hires a secretary and opens the doors to the business she has dubbed the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, a name she can easily claim considering there are no other lady detectives in this small African town. Needless to say, Precious is in for an adventure running her own business and learning her profession along the way.

I have been in a reading slump the past few weeks. I just haven't been drawn into anything I've opened lately. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself hooked after the first couple paragraphs of this book. Precious is a very charismatic lead character, likable in every way. She is witty, smart, and sassy. She is comfortable in her short size 22 body She is at ease with her gender, regardless of the guff she gets for it. She can poke fun at herself while still remaining respectable. As the helpful mechanic in this novel can attest to, there is nothing not to love about Precious.

And there is little one can find qualms about in this widely encompassing novel. Within these pages the reader is granted a glance into the African culture without detracting from the story line. There are multiple mysteries weaved seamlessly into the story, everything from the cheating husband to the mysterious doctor to a missing boy. The overall effect is an engaging, lighthearted story. This is a quick, entertaining and easy read. This author had a wonderfully relaxed writing style meant for those books you read in the tub or at the beach. He even manages to throw in just a touch of a love story.

I look forward to spending more time with Precious and will most likely be checking out additional books in this series. However there are already ten of them and I know myself well enough to realize that the appeal will be lost on me after the fifth or sixth. Therefore it might be worth just watching the series on HBO.

My Rating: 4 Stars

If I had to sum it up in one sentence (or two): A humorous, entertaining escape that reminds me exactly why I love to read. A gentle mystery without the crudeness found in many mystery stories.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Unspeakable - Sandra Brown

Summary: Carl Herbold is a cold-blooded psychopath who has just escaped the penitentiary where he was serving a life sentence. Bent on revenge, he's going back to where he began--Blewer County, Texas...

Born deaf, lately widowed, Anna Corbett fights to keep the ranch that was her son's birthright, unaware that she is at the center of Herbold's horrific scheme--and that her world of self-imposed isolation is about to explode...

Drifter Jack Sawyer arrives at Anna's ranch asking for work, hoping to protect the innocent woman and her son from Herbold's rage. But Sawyer can't outrun the secrets that stalk him--or the day of reckoning awaiting them all... (Image and summary from Amazon.com)

My Review:
A Sandra Brown novel always provides three things:
1. Suspense
2. Romance
3. A fairly dependable happy ending.

Things that Ms. Brown should leave out of her novels:
1. Gratuitous gore.
2. Violence against animals.
3. Violence against children.

That being said, I have very mixed feelings about this novel. I have come to love the characters that Brown brings to life. I love the men that are protectors, very masculine and yet very compassionate (and passionate..but that is a whole other review).

I especially liked that the woman in the book was also a very strong person. She was born deaf and widowed young, before her husband could even see their son born. She perseveres through life, cutting out a niche for her and her young son.

Now, the hard part. I will not go into any detail, but I feel I need to warn possible readers that this book is a step beyond were the author usually goes with "graphic violence". If you have a hard time with animal cruelty, stay away. It is put in the story for, as far as I can tell, no reason beyond shock value. If you have a hard time with crimes against children, stay away. I find absolutely no point in this scene either. The horrible nature of the two criminals could have been conveyed in a much more tasteful way.

At one point I did actually consider putting the novel down. I am glad I did not, it ended up being a good enough story that I was able to get past the parts aforementioned. But, I would have been giving this book a higher rating if those scenes would not have occurred.

Filled with suspense, flushed with steamy romance, and rampant with twists and turns that seem to take on a life of their own. Unspeakable is another classic... I am thrilled to have it in my collection.....albeit their may be a little Sharpie action going on before I read it again.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up: When escaped convicts, widows, drifters, unsolved 20 year old murders, and retired sheriffs meet, something Unspeakable will this way come..........
(How is that for cheesy??)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer - Tracy Hogg

Summary: When Tracy Hogg's Secrets of the Baby Whisperer was first published, it soared onto bestseller lists across the country. Parents everywhere became "whisperers" to their newborns, amazed that they could actually communicate with their baby within weeks of their child's birth. Tracy gave parents what for some amounted to a miracle: the ability to understand their baby's every coo and cry so that they could tell immediately if the baby was hungry, tired, in real distress, or just in need of a little TLC. Tracy also dispelled the insidious myth that parents must go sleepless for the first year of a baby's life--because a happy baby sleeps through the night. Now you too can benefit from Tracy's more than twenty years' experience. In this groundbreaking book, she shares simple, accessible programs in which you will learn
  • E.A.S.Y.--how to get your baby to eat, play, and sleep on a schedule that will make every member of the household's life easier and happier.
  • S.L.O.W--how to interpret what your baby is trying to tell you (so don't try to feed him when he really wants a nap).
  • How to identify which type of baby yours is--Angel, Textbook, Touchy, Spirited, or Grumpy--and then learn the best way to interact with that type.
  • Tracy's Three-Day Magic--how to change any and all bad habits (yours and the baby's) in just three days.
At the heart of Tracy's simple but profound message: treat the baby as you would like to be treated yourself. Reassuring, down-to-earth, and often flying in the face of conventional wisdom, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer promises parents not only a healthier, happier baby but a more relaxed and happy household as well. (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)

My Review: This is the second time I've read this book. The first time was during the first months after my first daughter was born. Her birth and post-delivery were the hardest months of my life and I was searching desperately for any and all helpful information. I'm not sure this book was the best source of help it could have been for someone in a different situation. This book does not include out of the ordinary experiences, such as health problems. This book really is only for those with healthy, normal babies.

That said, reading this to help me with my first only frustrated me more. I wanted to throw the book. Everything it suggested wasn't possible with a baby who was constantly in pain. I could not, even if I had wanted to, leave her to go to sleep on her own. She simply could not do it. I struggled in vain to get her to follow the schedule she talks about. It just wasn't realistic. What did help was some of her small pointers. Little things could set off my firstborn. She gave ways to prevent some of these problems in addition to common sense pieces of information that help with transitions babies find disruptive.

Now, having a second child who is more 'typical' this book has been much more useable. All the tips she gives have actually worked: putting your baby to bed awake, understanding the different cries a baby can have, helpful information on feeding, etc.

Some of the best advice in the book is about how to take care of mom. That chapter helped me more with both babies than the baby advice, which I felt was rather intuitive as a mother. It gave me permission to take care of myself, not sacrifice everything in order to be the best mom.

Rating: 4 Stars. Applies to your typical baby situations--not for those with health problems.

Sum it up: A helpful guide for new parents.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

Also reviewed by Emily.

Summary: We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Summary and cover photo from barnesandnoble.com

My Review:
I requested this book from the library in July. After months of waiting I finally received notice that a copy was reserved for me and rushed to the library to pick it up. After so much anticipation I could hardly wait to open and dive into this novel, but I probably should have. Life has been in one of those chaotic periods for the past few weeks, leaving me with only disjointed moments to read and during those moments my mind continued to drift so I was forced to read the same page two or three times before it set in. I'm telling you this upfront so you will understand my mind frame as I review this book that many found so entertaining. I truly believe that this is a book that one needs to devote full attention to in order to appreciate.

The story begins with Renee, a concierge of a lavish apartment building in Paris. This is a very intelligent woman who makes a point of hiding her insights. She carefully monitors her language and activities to give the appearance of an ordinary concierge. Within this building also lives a girl of 12, Paloma, who is also carefully monitoring her own activities so as to not give away the fact that she is so much brighter than her age suggests. The difference between these two characters is that while Renee is at ease within her made-up world, Paloma faces constant turmoil with her emotions. The first half of the book reads as diary entries written by these two main characters. There is much pondering on the meaning of life with limited profound thinking.

At the heart of this book is the issue of social classes and expectations in terms of intelligence depending on various classes. Renee spent much of this book worried that the rich tenants would discover how clever she was thus lose their trust. Paloma worries about her intelligence in relation to her age and how her thoughts make her an outcast. It was difficult to connect with these characters and overall I would have to deem the first half of this book boring.

Kakuro Ozu finally joins the story about half way through the book and with him the story takes an interesting turn. This character brings life to the two other main characters and perhaps to the entire apartment building. With Ozu's entrance comes the joining of Renee and Paloma. And when these two unite a story finally develops from their thoughts. Just as the author draws you in a heart-wrenching blow is thrown, rendering this story at least unforgettable, if not very likable.

There is no question that this author has a way of making words flow. Her word arrangement will have you rereading sentences for pure enjoyment. All the sentences within this novel are very descriptive and well thought. If only these sentence were combined in a way to create an intriguing plot.

My Rating: 3 Stars - a 2 star beginning yet redeeming towards the middle

If I had to sum it up in one sentence: A book speaking on the power of language, all the while containing too much philosophy, and not enough story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whom God Would Destroy - Commander Pants

This review comes from my long-lost, newly-reclaimed high school friend Daniel Nighting. Daniel is a critic because he lacks the courage to be a writer (so says he). A freelance academic editor, father of 1 1/2 children, and amateur conspiracy theorist, he lives a reclusive life with his mysterious (and deadly!) wife. Most of his time is devoted to studying the authors he cannot hope to emulate.
Daniel reads anything, and hopes to read everything. He's especially fond of anything that blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, fact and fantasy. His bookshelves overflow with ancient religious epics, the self-published scribblings of crackpots and cranks, fictionalized autobiographies, and assorted rants, ravings, diatribes, and manifestos--along with the occasional literary classic, so he can look down his oversized nose at the unlettered masses. (Summary courtesy of Daniel - Image from amazon.com)


Summary: God's latest incarnation--a telegenic New Age guru named Jeremy--sets out to preach a new, more selfish gospel for the modern age, to be called Meism, but runs afoul of the first stirrings of His own sexual awakening. Meanwhile, his first disciple Oliver, an inoffensive outreach counselor for the mentally unbalanced, finds that Jeremy's message forces him--and the mental health community he serves--to take a second look at sanity, personal identity, Big Macs, and reality itself. Little does anyone know just how big the answers might be...

My Review: If the above summary bothers you in any way, you'll find little to like about this book, which overflows with irreverence, black humor, bodily functions, and heresy against religion and reason alike. If, on the other hand, you're comfortable with unapologetic sexuality, occasionally adolescent jokes, and an author who holds nothing sacred--especially sacredness itself--then this book is well worth reading.

Commander Pants, the pseudonymous author, has a gift for characterization and the rare ability to juggle and seamlessly interweave a series of largely-unrelated subplots. The book is ripe with florid fruits of an overactive imagination and a willingness to look at everyday events from bizarre angles, and the author has a knack for teasing out the tangled threads that make up our "normal" lives. Despite these strengths, WHOM GOD WOULD DESTROY suffers from many of the shortcomings of a first, perhaps overly ambitious, novel. While the pace keeps up for most of the book, at the climax one can't help but feel that the author has bitten off more than he can chew, barely avoiding a lapse into cliche and thinly-disguised sermonizing. The urge to wrap up loose ends is also carried a bit too far, but despite its roughness, the book manages to land with a suitably comic--and cosmic--flair.

My Rating: 4. Caution! This book is not suitable for more sensitive readers or anyone who dislikes the idea that God is laughing at us, not with us.

Sum it up: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Psyche, with an extra helping of blasphemy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Also reviewed by Heather, Kim, and Mindy.

Summary: 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 ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves. (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)

My Review: I went into this book with the wrong pretense--I actually try not to read reviews or the backs of books before reading them because I don't like a book ruined. Note to any other readers: just because the word 'tale' is in the title does not mean it will be anything like a happy tale. It was, to me, surprisingly Gothic, with lots of dark images and themes. Sometimes the dark, hidden past seemed almost too much to want to read about. It is reality, but sometimes horrible realities are better left in the past. This book was borderline that way for me. What makes it readable is the lack of too much detail, leaving to the reader to read between the lines.

The Thirteenth Tale is extremely well written, to the point that as an avid reader the prose is delectable. I felt akin to the protagonist and her love of the written word. It was so easy to see myself doing the same as she, living between the lines, enjoying her cocoa, caught up in the pages.

The plot is engaging and despite the foreshadowing, takes the reader by surprise at the end. It hints of Jane Eyre and follows similar themes at certain points, although it did not leave me feeling complete the way Jane Eyre does. I would definitely recommend this to an avid reader.

An aspect of the book that rubbed me wrong, for quite a bit of the story, was the twin aspect. It seemed highly over played. It felt like the twin situation was made to seem almost supernatural. And, honestly, I just can't buy that. I've never watched a twin situation where that was the case, so this seemed a bit fantastical. I guess I'll have to do some more research in the area to be definitive.

There were parts that made me want to throw the book or shake the protagonist, but I guess that's a good sign that it brought out such emotion in me. At about the 320 page mark I was ready to chew out the author because of how the story was unfolding, but the ending makes the read and wait worth it. I do have to mention that Margaret Lea does some really stupid things. Going with a man you met while visiting a forsaken burn site in the middle of nowhere, to his home after only one meeting, is just STUPID. Thankfully he turned out to be harmless and kind. STILL. It rubbed me so very wrong. She also continues forward when so many warning signs were going off in my mind. If you knew someone in the house could possibly be so violent as to kill someone, wouldn't you be hesitant in staying there? Just seemed obvious to me that you don't put yourself in bad situations, especially if someone sought you out and commissioned you to stay at her in-the-middle-of-nowhere-home. I'm just saying. The set up felt too much like one of those awful hollywood horror movies.

I don't want to ruin the book: the ending makes the story though. There is so much to discuss and to do so here would simply give away too much. So, I'm ending.

Rating: 4.5 Stars A great read, but didn't quite satisfy like a 5 star book would.

In a phrase: A dark book with a great ending.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Lucky One - Nicholas Sparks

Also reviewed by Mindy.

Summary: When U.S. Marine Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a smiling young woman half-buried in the dirt during his third tour of duty in Iraq, his first instinct is to toss it aside. Instead, he brings it back to the base for someone to claim, but when no one does, he finds himself always carrying the photo in his pocket. Soon Thibault experiences a sudden streak of luck—winning poker games and even surviving deadly combat that kills two of his closest buddies. Only his best friend, Victor, seems to have an explanation for his good fortune: the photograph—his lucky charm.

Back home in Colorado, Thibault can’t seem to get the photo—and the woman in it—out of his mind. Believing that she somehow holds the key to his destiny, he sets out on a journey across the country to find her, never expecting the strong but vulnerable woman he encounters in Hampton, North Carolina—Elizabeth, a divorced mother with a young son—to be the girl he’s been waiting his whole life to meet. Caught off guard by the attraction he feels, Thibault keeps the story of the photo, and his luck, a secret. As he and Elizabeth embark upon a passionate and all-consuming love affair, the secret he is keeping will soon threaten to tear them apart—destroying not only their love, but also their lives. (Image from amazon.com - Summary from nicholassparks.com)
 
My Review: Logan Thibault is a drifter. Ex-marine. He, like so many, is coming back from a war that changed his life. One thing in particular about this novel has stuck with me. During the first few chapters, he vocalizes how he feels about coming home and seeing people struggle with life...or at least their version of it. It strikes him how trivial these peoples worries are. A broken down car, a bill paid late, a break-up with your college sweetheart. All these things seems so un-important to him. It seems like after you have seen the things these young men have, that must be SO true.

After coming home a series of events lead him to Elizabeth's home (not before he walks halfway across the country, mind you), a run down kennel and dog training facility that she and her Nana own. He comes not knowing why he is there or what he is trying to do. He just knows that he has a reason, an important one, even if he doesn't know what it is yet. Through introspection and inner turmoil, surely meant to convey a type of PTSD. Logan struggles to find his place.

This is the second time I have read this book. It was just as good as the first. Although it is not a book that will move the earth, it delivers a great romance and a great mystery....just enough suspense to keep you flipping the pages well into the evening(or as your bath water gets colder and colder). :)
 
My Rating: 5 Stars
 
Sum it up: My favorite of all the Sparks novels, thus far.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater

Summary: The cold. Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn't know why.

The heat. Sam has lived two lives. As a wolf, he keeps the silent company of the girl he loves. And then, for a short time each year, he is human, never daring to talk to Grace...until now.

The shiver. For Grace and Sam, love has always been kept at a distance. But once it's spoken, it cannot be denied. Sam must fight to stay human--and Grace must fight to keep him--even if it means taking on the scars of the past, the fragility of the present, and the impossibility of the future.

My review: I started out liking this book right away. I had tried to read something else before and had to put it down when my mind shut off during the prologue. It didn’t with this one. It started off kind of mysteriously and you knew that there was going to be more to this whole “werewolf” thing than was indicated in the summary. The story was narrated alternately by both Sam and Grace. I liked being given both viewpoints and knowing what each character was thinking/feeling/doing instead of just getting a one-sided perspective.

I’d be a fool if I ignored the obvious similarities between this books plot and Twilight. Not only is it the first book in a series, but it is fairly obvious that Shiver was made, as so many books currently are, to lure in book hungry Twi-hards who are dying for their next supernatural fix. Okay, so Sam is a werewolf and not a vampire. Big whoop. They are still two seemingly star-crossed lovers who just can’t stay away from each other and one of them just happens to be a fictional monster. Obviously Team Jacob would be running to the shelves for this one. This book did not contain all the odes to chiseled abs, sparkly descriptors, and outright worship of the male character that Twilight had (the lack of which is a HUGE bonus even though I enjoyed the series).

Somewhere along the way though, I lost interest. I actually felt that Shiver was better written than Twilight in a literary sense, but didn’t have the same emotional pull that Twilight did. I’m not quite sure why that is, as better writing usually creates a better pull, but in this one I just didn’t feel as swept away by the story as I had hoped to be. Go figure.

To conclude, I just didn’t love it. It was okay. It had it’s moments, but overall I wasn’t running to pick it up and I wasn’t dying when I had to put it down. Most of the time, the connection wasn’t there and I felt the story moved to slowly for my taste. It got a little dull and I kept waiting for some real excitement.

While Shiver wasn’t precisely my cup of cocoa, I still think that if you were ever a member of Team Jacob and longing for the wolf to finally get the girl, you might enjoy this book.

My rating: 3 Stars. An okay one time read. For a sensitive reader, there was sex in this book, but it was done in a fairly tactful way (if that can be said about sex in a young adult novel), as a very kiss-and-fall-onto-the-bed-and-wake-up-the-next-morning kind of love scene. Language was pretty much nil – as far as my prego brain can remember, anyway.

Sum it up: Shiver didn’t knock my socks off, by any means. Perhaps there was a little sock slippage, but they stayed on my feet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dear John - Nicholas Sparks

This review was posted in fall of '09, but I thought, seeing as it is now a movie, it deserved another posting.

Summary: An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life--until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who has captured his heart. But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else. "Dear John," the letter read...and with those two words, a heart was broken and two lives were changed forever. Returning home, John must come to grips with the fact that Savannah, now married, is still his true love—and face the hardest decision of his life. (Image and Summary from nicholassparks.com)

My Review: I have heard many different opinions on Nicholas Sparks novels. I have friends who love his stories(not as much as me...), and I have friends who think he is to: sappy, predictable, heartbreaking....take your pick. But as mentioned, I am a big fan.

I read a lot of mysteries. I read some heavy non fiction. Often, I return to my well read copies of Sparks novels. I enjoy the feeling that they give me. It is nice to watch people fall in love. NO ONE CAN DENY THAT.

After joining the service for reasons known only to himself, John has found himself home on leave and falling in love with a beautiful stranger. That is the very essence of this story. After an intense two weeks of vacation, John returns to duty with a picture of Savannah in his pocket. They part knowing that although two weeks is not much, it was enough. They will soon be together and his time in service will be coming to a close. Then, after one year apart, they can begin their life together. Unfortunately, Sept. 11 and its aftermath threatens to tear them apart.

This novel was difficult to read. It did give me the warm fuzzy, but with an undertone of extreme sorrow. Sparks takes on some very serious subjects, and at times I found myself a little weepy, not so much over the characters, but over the impact the World Trade Center had on them. It brings memories to the surface, as it would for anyone.

A great loves story, intertwined with heavy internal conflict, Dear John is a quiet, emotional read. At times you see little bits of reality, that bring the story home.

I recommend almost all of Sparks novels. They always satisfy. You can find out more about the author and his novels at www.nicholaspsparks.com .

My Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: Just a good story, with all elements intact.

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