Friday, January 29, 2010
To numb the pain of failure, Ferguson found comfort in drugs and alcohol, addictions that eventually led to an aborted suicide attempt. (He forgot to do it when someone offered him a glass of sherry.) But his story has a happy ending: in 1993 the washed-up Ferguson washed up in the United States. Finally sober, he landed a breakthrough part on the hit sitcom The Drew Carey Show, a success that eventually led to his role as the host of CBS's The Late Late Show. By far Ferguson's greatest triumph was his decision to become a U.S. citizen, a milestone he achieved in early 2008, just before his command performance of the president at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. In American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson talks a red, white, and blue streak about everything our Founding Fathers feared. (Summary and Image from amazon.com and amazon.ca.com)
My Review: I received this book from my mother-in-law at Christmas. I thought it odd that she picked this up for me. As far as I know the only person to know about my obsession with Craig Ferguson is.......me. But, I played it down to my husband. "I don't know why she thought I would like that. Maybe she knows I have a thing for sexy Scotsmen with heavy accents?". Secretly I could not wait to dive in.
For those of you that don't know who Craig Ferguson is--google him. To make a long story short, he is the host of The Late Late Show, and a particularly naughty character if I may.
Through his book he takes us from his childhood home of Glasgow, to the gritty streets of New York City, the street fairs of Edinburgh, the aspiring artists nooks of London, and back again. He takes us through so many painful times, through love and loss, as he tries and tries and tries to break through the barrier and become the person he wants to be.
Heroine, cocaine, alcohol addiction, stand up comedy, construction work, and the creation of Bing Hitler. Through three marriages, and what seems like a lifetime of doubt, Ferguson takes you into his life and his mind with his "Improbable Adventures". By the last chapters you will be clapping and cheering for this underdog who, against all odds, made it to where he wants to be.
I look forward to reading his novel soon. I love his irreverence and shameless comedy-- and his super hot red white and blue kilt.
My Rating: 5 stars. For those sensitive to profanity-- He is from Scotland. It is there in force.
Sum it up: A uplifting read.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The Willoughby children were seated on the front steps playing a complicated game to which only Tim knew the rules.
"Why?" asked Barnaby A, moving down a step because the rules said he must if he asked a question, and of course "Why?" was a question.
"Because," Barnaby B explained, "we are like children in an old-fashioned book. And--"
"Mostly they are orphans," Jane said. She moved down two steps because she had interrupted, which was against the rules, and now she was the lowest of the four.
"Worthy and deserving orphans," Barnaby B added. "Winsome too," added Jane...
"A sea voyage sometimes produces orphans," Barnaby A pointed out.
"There are often pirates. Or icebergs."
"And sea serpents," his twin added, "even though I don't entirely believe in sea serpents."
"I believe in giant squids," Jane said with a shudder.
"Good point," Tim acknowledged. "And piranhas. Are our parents planning a vacation, by any chance? On a ship?" (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)
My Review: I really enjoy Lois Lowry's books. Right now we're reading The Giver in my 8th grade classes and I thought it would be nice to pick up another of her books to suggest to the kids if they like her style. I'd already read Gathering Blue, The Messenger, Gossamer, and Number the Stars. I had this on my shelves at school and figured I'd give this one a shot.
This is a simple feel-good book. The aspects I liked were the vocabulary it introduces and the alluded to stories. The last pages of the book have a glossary explaining more difficult vocabulary for children along with asides from the author making connections to life. It's pretty cute and, if children would read it, I'd guess helpful. It also has a mini bibliography containing the books mentioned with a brief description.
Lowry has a way of making families in her books feel safe and special. The Willoughby parents in the beginning of the novel are the opposite of this and she does that on purpose. She vividly paints a picture of how parents should feel and act towards children and in this story she does it by showing both versions, good and bad. By the end of the book all is right with the world and you're back to the comforting families Lowry is so good at writing.
You follow four children through their adjustment period of being abandoned by their parents, their acquisition of a nanny in their lives, becoming homeless, and becoming orphans. It's done in a whimsical way, and no, I don't know any other way to explain how this doesn't come across as traumatic or disturbing. You'll just have to read the book to understand. As the children go through this you get to watch them grow and mature with the correct mentoring.
I got a little tired of the 'an old-fashioned' mentioning. Multiple times when the characters were either trying to make a decision or when Lowry was explaining the characters actions the reasons would go back to the characters being old-fashioned. Why keep hitting the old-fashioned bit over and over again? I'm not totally sure. It's a cute story for kids regardless.
Rating: 3.5 Stars--probably 4 stars for children.
Sum it up: A quirky story with a happy ending.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
This book sheds light on this apparent contradiction and argues that governments must do more to preserve privacy rights while endeavoring to protect their citizens against future terror attacks. It is easy to forget that prior to 9/11 privacy rights were on the march. Plans were in the works, in the areas of legislation and regulation, to protect personal privacy from both governmental intrusion and corporate penetration. The need for such protections arose from the swift advances in information technology of the 1990s. But the attacks of 9/11, and the responses of governments to this new level of terrorist threat, put an end to all that. Not only is privacy no longer emphasized in legislation, it is being eroded steadily, raising significant questions about the handling of personal information, surveillance, and other invasions into the private lives of ordinary citizens.
(Image from Amazon.com; summary from book jacket. Free copy reviewed at publisher's request.)
My Review: You'd think that a book about shadowy government surveillance programs, a la 1984, would practically write itself. How hard can it be to convince your readers that a gargantuan database detailing their every credit card purchase, every phone call, even the color of their hair and (perhaps) the names of their cats--all handled by private contractors with minimal security--is a bad thing?
Apparently, it's harder than I would have thought. Despite (or perhaps because of) encyclopedic descriptions of virtually every privacy-related law in the world, on a country-by-country basis, The War on Privacy is easily the most boring book I've read this year--and I make a living reading boring books. The author seems to have put so much effort into researching the minutia of various laws that she lost sight of the bigger picture--the effects that government invasions of privacy have on real people and on society as a whole. Aside from a few anecdotes and some boilerplate analysis in the introduction and conclusion, there's nothing in this book to give the reader a reason to care.
But being boring is not the worst crime a book on important issues of public policy can commit; far from it. And indeed, our privacies are being rapidly and frighteningly eroded (a trend which has not reversed, that I can tell, since this book was published in 2007). A far worse crime is failing to offer even a framework for a solution to the problems it discusses. Unfortunately, The War on Privacy does not deliver. For all its footnotes and gravitas, this book boils down to little more than intellectual tsk-tsking over the ugly truths of international realpolitik.
My Rating: 1 Star. Give it a pass unless you've got a compelling personal interest in the privacy and terrorism policies of, say, Argentina or Bahrain.
Sum It Up: Like many of its cousins from the fiction section of the library, the most interesting part of this book is the cover. What's inside is mostly filler.
Monday, January 25, 2010
To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….
An enthralling mystery, a piercing depiction of class and society, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a masterfully told tale of deceptions—and a rich literary delight.
Summary from back of book, cover photo from barnesandnoble.com
My Review: I was on the reserve list at the library for months before I got my hands on this book but the wait was completely worth it. Flavia is the protagonist in this novel and I couldn't have adored her more. She is brilliant, with a love for chemistry- especially poisons, yet quirky, cunning and unpredictable. She is the youngest child with two older sisters who taunt her relentlessly but she knows how to extract her revenge.
When Flavia discovers a dead body in her garden the mystery begins and unravels at an ideal pace. And who better to solve this one than Flavia? She begins to dig into her father's past and finds startling revelations. Working to prove her father's innocence, Flavia will stop at nothing.
Set in the 1950's in Britain, this book is filled with delightful humor. Though the book takes the reader through moments of intense suspense, the ending comes as little surprise. This novel is more about Flavia's brilliant deductive reasoning and evidence extraction than it is about who actually committed the crime. Of course, along the way Flavia gets herself in some sticky situations and makes some surprising discoveries about herself.
This charming book is sure to leave one smiling. Though this mystery is marketed towards adults, it is free from offensive language and lewd situations making it the perfect book for young adults. This is just the first in a series of Flavia mysteries. The next book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, is set to release in March. I'm excited to see how Flavia's character develops and where the author will take our unlikely heroine next.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
To sum it up: An utterly enjoyable, modern Nancy Drew-type mystery.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton--and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers--and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, sword fights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read. (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)
My Review: I feel somewhat guilty giving this book 2.5 stars since so much of it is Jane Austen and I LOVE the classic Pride and Prejudice. Think 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' meets Pride and Prejudice, throw in some stupid Zombie flick and you've got this book. It's like trying to make a chick flick into an action adventure...and overall it doesn't really work. There are a couple parts where the author decides to make the story modern by inserting aspects of infidelity--which is so against the themes in the original Pride and Prejudice that it goes against the grain and feels, more than typically, awful for situations like that. My thoughts are that this is one man's way of trying to make Jane Austen palatable for someone who cannot appreciate a different time and is stuck only finding enjoyment from violence, ninja fighting and brain eating zombies.
I know some of you are thinking--why did I even bother finishing the book? There were a couple reasons. One, to say I had. Two, because my students really wanted to know if it was any good after seeing me with it in hand. And three, I had to know all the ways Grahame-Smith changed the story once I learned he'd taken liberties with punishing Wickham.
Overall I'd say to skip this book if I were you and you liked the original Pride and Prejudice. That is, unless you're a really big Zombie fan. You might just like this book if that's the case.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Sum it up: Contrary to the back of this book, the original is much better.
Friday, January 22, 2010
In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children's illustrator and author, recreates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a Gothic family drama, where David — a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents' buried frustration and rage.
Believing, as most parents do, that they were trying to do the best, David's parents, in fact, did just the reverse: Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag in the family's basement, was convinced that he could cure his little son by shooting him up with heavy doses of radiation, yet with near deadly results; while David's mother, Elizabeth, a tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding parent, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.
Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that render nightmare in a form that becomes a fairytale in itself, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child, to cancer patient, to troubled teen, whose risky decision to run away from home at 16 — with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist — would become the ultimate survival statement.
A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches is as much a memoir as a tale of redemption that informs us that things can get better, that good can emerge from evil, and that art has the power to transform. It is a both a profound gift and a remarkable achievement, a book that renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again.
Cover photo and summary courtesy of http://stitches.davidsmallbooks.com/
My Review: This is an unusual book in that it is made up completely of sketches in comic book form. What a perfect way to tell the story of a boy who loses control over his vocal cords at a young age due to cancer. Pictures say more than words possibly could. These illustrations capture the frustration and sadness, fear and helplessness of a young boy. They do a fantastic job of showing the child's perspective, something many memoirs lack.
The book is at once both heartbreaking and powerful. It is a mix of sweet and fearful memories, a splendid blend of fantasy and reality. It's the story of a boy suffering from neglect and on the verge of abuse who, with the aid of a caring psychiatrist, learns the strength he has inside himself. A painful story, yet one that is beautifully told.
The entire book takes less than an hour to read yet it's message is timeless. The obstacles that David Small overcame to become the man he now is are amazing. Drifting towards destruction, David Small found the courage to move on and make something out of his life - an unsung hero. His strength is very inspirational. This is one you should not miss.
My Rating: 5 Stars
Sum it up: A remarkable tale of strength and courage flawlessly rendered.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Unfortunately, after seven years as Jay Cutler's wife, a role that provided significance and what she thought was love, Jay walks out, and Haley finds herself with few life skills that translate to the real world, not to mention a sense of amnesia about who she used to be. But before Haley can find her way, she must meet with Jay's lawyer, the strikingly handsome Hamilton Lowe. Although she can't stand his self-righteous contempt for her divorce, she takes his suggestion to attend a group at his church called "The Trophy Wives Club," a Bible study composed of women who have been dealt a raw deal. Haley's never been into the whole Jesus thing but could really use some friends to walk her through this phase (how do you apply for a credit card anyway?).
As Haley begins to realize that she really can stand on her own two feet, she also learns that sometimes in losing we find the real reward...
(Summary from book - Image from harpercollins.com )
My review: The Trophy Wives Club is not the kind of book I normally pick up, but we all have our price and, apparently, mine is 50 cents at our local library. It’s hard to pass up that kind of deal. Once I read the back, I learned that Kristin Billerbeck is considered a "pioneer" in the Christian Lit genre. Christian Chick Lit?! Now this I had to read to believe.
The prologue grabbed me right away and I thought that I’d likely found a kindred spirit in the author. However, my initial excitement about the book faded quickly—as in, Chapter One. Why, oh why don’t I read further into books before I buy them? I could have saved myself 50 cents. It didn’t take long to realize that the main character, Haley, was extremely hurt, argumentative, and long-winded about her divorce. This would have been fine and, to a certain extent, expected if she hadn’t gone on and on about it. With Haley’s tendency to monologue endlessly and the preachy sentiment pouring out of the mouths of several different characters attempting to help her, things got incredibly stagnant. Don’t get me wrong, I agreed with most of what the author was trying to convey. I just didn’t like how it was conveyed. I prefer my life lessons be taught through the story and not through the dialogue of it’s characters. For more proof of this, see my review of The Christmas Sweater. Let the character's actions, the plot development, or the resolution make the message clear. Spelling the moral out on every single page gets really old, really fast.
There were also some moments of utter improbability that were difficult to ignore – like when an impoverished (and I use that term very loosely) Haley received an amazing job offer, a rent-free condo in Bel Air, and a loaner cell phone all during a pedicure appointment. Seriously? I’m all for God working miracles through people, but I think reality was suspended just a little bit there.
In the end, Haley’s conversion from revenge-seeking scorned woman, to baptized woman of God was thoroughly unconvincing and things just didn’t seem to click. While the story had moments of humor and all the best intentions (spiritually speaking) it just failed to live up to my expectations on pretty much every level.
My rating: 2.5 Stars. I gave it an extra .5 because it had a good message.
Sum it up: An extremely flawed book about faith, self-empowerment, and forgiveness.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end,
there was a grave.
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them. In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.
(Summary from book - Image from powells.com)
My Review: I'm always skeptical of books written by more than one author. I’m not sure why –but it just seems weird to me that a book could come out of the heads of several different people (never mind all the editors, etc. that get to stick their hands in it) and still be a success. Despite all that, I’d heard some really good things about Beautiful Creatures and decided I should probably put aside my prejudice and give it a try. I’m fairly glad I did.
Main characters, Ethan and Lena are drawn together by an unexplainable force. They can read each other’s thoughts and share each other’s dream—literally. Lena is counting down the days until she turns 16, when her fate will be decided for her, and she’ll belong to the Dark or the Light. Despite Lena’s warnings of futility, Ethan refuses to leave her and is determined to save her from the inevitable.
Right away this book had an ominous, slightly hypnotic quality and a deeply southern feel that carried me away to what I’ve always imagined the south to be like*—well, minus all the dark magic. The small town of Gatlin felt authentic, from its' suspicion of outsiders to its' Confederate pride, and was an unbelievable (yet entirely believable) setting for the mystical phenomenon found in this book.
While there were vast sections of this book that were extremely captivating, I still didn’t feel as completely connected to the story as I wanted to be. While it was refreshing to read from the male perspective, I wonder if that didn't contribute to the problem. There were times that I strayed to other books and read a few chapters in them before heading back to this one. I can’t quite explain the momentary detachment, since overall I felt this book was incredibly well written, with strong, intriguing characters and a creative (and, thankfully, vampire-less) plot. I imagine that someone with a longer attention span, or more time on their hands, would flip for it.
Overall, I felt this book was a solid YA fantasy—dark, but not too dark—and certainly full of surprises. There was enough of a conclusion to keep me from chucking the book across the room, but it definitely left things open for a sequel or series.
*I should point out I’m a north westerner and have never actually been to the southern states.
My rating: 4 Stars. As a special bonus, this book is pretty PG, which is a rare find in the YA genre nowadays.
Sum it up: Likely to be a huge hit with the YA crowd.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Summary from back of the book, cover photo from barnesandnoble.com
My Review: I was very excited when I was sent a copy of this book to read and review and it did not disappoint. This is the story of Anna, who at the age of eight, on what was deemed to be an ordinary family beach vacation, witnesses her younger sister's drowning in the ocean. The guilt that plagues Anna after this tragedy is central to this story line. Her powerless struggle continues as her parents are lost to her as well, consumed in their own personal grief. Anna finds solace as she learns sign language as a means of communicating with her dead sister.
Many fascinating characters enter this story, providing the novel with dimension. A couple of twists spice the story up. Anna's plunge into motherhood by adopting Adrea shows compassion and bravery, while providing a bit of education into technological advances succoring the hearing impaired. Throughout the heart of this novel remains Anna's quest to trust herself again, regain power over her own life and allow herself permission to love.
The characters were inspirational but, for unexplainable reasons, I had difficulty connecting with them and never felt completely immersed within the book. Yet the writing has a quiet beauty to it. It's as if reading someone's personal thoughts, allowing the raw emotions to ring authentic.
My Rating: 3.75 Stars
To Sum it up: A poetic tale of love, loss, and rediscovery.
Monday, January 18, 2010
My Review: Dashing hero, dangerous setting, beautiful woman, a secret society, crafty viliian. Sigh...all the things needed for an action-adventure.
This book is filled with the delicious suspense of watching the heroine slowly discover who the Pimpernel is and realize how terribly she misjudged her actions. The process is terribly romantic and, if you strip away the "cleverest woman in Europe" and the rich dashing nobleman, the fateful misunderstanding between the two is easy to relate to (effective communication is key in any relationship!).
Wikipedia and I agree that the Scarlet Pimpernel is the Batman of the 1790s with the same gorgeous, arrogant and lazy cover that the newer Batman utilizes. (I'll let you guess who I was imagining as the Pimpernel :)
While not literature, this book is a classic and very worth reading. It is set during the French Revolution and describes the actions of the rebellion in a negative way (its hard to sugar coat the daily murdering of 100+ aristocrat men, women, and children). For that reason it was educational and a reminder that I know very little about non-US history. I am now adding "Tale of Two Cities" to my reading list.
My rating: 4 stars
Sum it up: A quick read if you want to snuggle down with a dashing hero for the evening.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
All you have to do to enter is:
1) become a follower and leave a comment with your contact information and the title of your favorite vampire lit novel (if you are already a follower, do the same)
For extra entries (and I can't stress enough how important leaving a SEPARATE*** comment is):
1) blog/tweet/facebook or otherwise promote this giveaway on a social networking site.
2) comment letting us know the title of the worst book you ever read.
This contest will continue until 11:59PM on January 31st, 2010. The winner will be contacted via email as soon as possible to arrange shipment.
*Before you get too excited, no, I am NOT giving away both. Sorry.
**nearly mint - only has a small remainder mark on the bottom
***Seriously people. If you leave one comment. You get one entry. If you follow the rules you get more.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Summary: January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name. (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)
My Review: Absolutely lovely, that's how I'd describe this book. It's hard not to want to climb inside the pages and start a new life with your brand new friends: the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I utterly fell in love with the quirky characters, the witty humor, and the kindness the people portrayed. It made me want to find a small island, move there, and raise my children.
I had a few quotes I thoroughly enjoyed and that I believe will sell you on the novel:
- Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books--quirky Isola.
- Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life--Isola again.
- I also bought...an eye-lash curler--which makes my eyes cross whenever I use it--Juliet.
- ...and the clever customers ask for a recommendation instead, whereupon we frog-march them over to a particular volume and command them to read it--Juliet. (I can relate to this as a teacher.)
- I am mostly above petty vengeance--Juliet.
- I think you learn more if you're laughing at the same time--John Booker.
- Your questions regarding that gentleman are very delicate, very subtle, very much like being smacked in the head with a mallet--Juliet. (*Absolute favorite line in the book.)
It's beautifully written through the format of correspondence, letters and telegrams. I want to start writing letters again (to whom, I'm not sure) just so I can enjoy the intimate confidence of a good friend, both revealing thoughts and learning some. This book is delightful, refreshing, savored in only the way devouring a book can be. I loved it! You should pick up this book...immediately. (See: I'm taking the advice given in the book--commanding you to read it.)
My Rating: 5 Stars
Sum it up: A wonderful escape into a different time where after suffering there is healing.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Summary: What if the gods of Olympus were alive in the 21st Century? What if they still fell in love with mortals and had children who might become great heroes -- like Theseus, Jason and Hercules?
What if you were one of those children?
Such is the discovery that launches twelve-year-old Percy Jackson on the most dangerous quest of his life. With the help of a satyr and a daughter of Athena, Percy must journey across the United States to catch a thief who has stolen the original weapon of mass destruction – Zeus’ master bolt. Along the way, he must face a host of mythological enemies determined to stop him. Most of all, he must come to terms with a father he has never known, and an Oracle that has warned him of betrayal by a friend.
Summary and cover photo from www.rickriordan.com/children.htm
My Review: Percy Jackson is a half-blood - born the son of a Greek God and a human mother. As the book opens, the truth about his heritage is unknown to Percy. This is the story of Percy's self-discovery regarding his lineage, his powers, and his fit in the world. As he becomes acquainted with himself, he is sent on a quest to save the world.
This story was creative, exciting and very suspenseful at times. I can see why preteens are so enthusiastic about these novels and I have to applaud any author that arouses reading enjoyment in young people. There was an added benefit of a Greek methodology lesson woven within the story.While I enjoyed the story, it won't make my favorites list . There were times when I was pulled into Percy's world. But at other times, I was just lost in all the fantasy jargon unique to this story. I found that the thread tying this story to the real world was weak, at times frayed, and more than once completely broke. It's as if the author got a bit lazy while writing this novel. A few more pages of detail would have added an additional dimension to the story, bringing more reality to the characters.
This is just the first of five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. A movie is also set to debut next month. While I won't be running out to add these books to my personal library, I have to admit that I do plan on seeing the film as well as reading the rest of the saga... eventually.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars for me, 4+ stars for any young adult
To sum it up: An exciting adventure series perfect for the 10+ crowd.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The estranged friends forge ahead on seemingly separate paths. Engaged to Blaine, Clare becomes trapped in ugly family politics and vicious treatment from her fiance. Darcy finds a temporary home with Darlene, an accident victim seeking live-in help, but a twisted plot soon threatens their safety. Clare’s wedding briefly reunites her with Darcy, yet the friends have never been farther apart. And when Clare finds herself in mortal peril and finally calls upon Darcy to help, it might be too late.
My review: Jennie Hansen has been a favorite author of mine for many years. She writes a great suspense novel with just enough romance in it to satisfy the romantic is all of us (women). I was a little hesitant to read Shudder at first because the summary on the back of the book sounded a bit confusing—too many different story lines that could possibly get all tangled up. After many positive reports from different people I finally decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed.
The central theme to the book, domestic violence/spousal abuse, was handled in a very sensitive way while still allowing us, the reader, to feel a little of the horror involved, and Clare’s feelings as she lived through it. We were also able to feel the helplessness Darcy felt when she couldn’t provide the help Clare needed physically or emotionally. The additional story lines, though secondary, kept everything moving along at a very exciting pace. It also allowed us to experience a “happy ending” in spite of all the sadness.
My rating: 4.25 stars
Sum it up: The realities of life aren’t always happy. That’s why we have fiction. A very good read.
Monday, January 11, 2010
My review: My mother began reading this book to me when I was very little. I remember being completely transfixed by the concept of a land where the food came down as weather. The illustrations were captivating - jello sunsets, falling frankfurters, drifts of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, pea soup fog, giant pancakes that force school closures and so much more. It was all so magical that I couldn't help but love it.
As an adult, this is still one of my all-time favorite books to read to my kids. I love watching their faces as they experience the same kind of wonder that I did when I was little, and in some ways still do. Wouldn't it be great to go out back and hold up your plate and have dinner *POOF* land on it? Or to be able to have freshly fallen orange juice in the morning? As a woman who doesn't particularly care to cook, this book is my dream come true--well, until that whole rogue weather thing. Then, not so much.
There is a sequel to this book, called Pickles to Pittsburgh that isn't quite as good (IMHO) but still gorgeously illustrated and imaginative. It's also been made into a movie recently, but just in case there is any question about it - this book is always and will forever be better than the movie - which other than provided a few good scenes straight from the book, was completely whacked out.
My rating: 5 Stars...or meatballs. Whatever.
Sum it up: A deliciously creative book that sparks the imagination.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
It's a modern Greek tragedy, as defined by Roger Dunkle in The Classical Origins of Western Culture: a story in which "the central character, called a tragic protagonist or hero, suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but ais significant in that the misfortune is logically connected."
In other words. [She]..had it coming. (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.co.uk)
My review: I went into this book with fairly high expectations. Quite a few people, including the illustrious Kari, have really enjoyed it and so I figured I was probably in for a good time. At the end of the first chapter I thought they were all completely nuts – stark raving lunatics who’d lost all good-reading sense. I hated Jen. HATED her. She was a self-centered, profane, vapid little debutante who I’m fairly certain I would loathe if, in fact, we had the pleasure of meeting in real life (and I think the feeling would probably be mutual). The only thing that kept me reading was that I was actually kind of looking forward to the Greek-tragedy-demise she had promised was in her future. Jen was right. She totally had it coming and I was going to revel in it.
No one was more surprised than me when, after a few chapters, Jen actually began to grow on me. I started to notice things—beyond her outward shallowness and mixed up priorities—like her work ethic, basic integrity, and dedicated commitment to her longstanding boyfriend, Fletch (whom I love). It was bizarre. How could this girl that seemed so unbelievably superficial actually have me caring what happened to her, rooting for her to succeed, and raging over the many injustices she suffers? I’m still not entirely certain that I know the answer to that one, but I think it had something to do with watching Jen’s oh-so gradual transformation from society snob to real-life girl. She retained all of her sarcasm and wit, but lost a lot of the snotty fashionista that was so aggravating, and I connect with her character more than I expected (or would care to admit).
Jen says what 90% of the world probably thinks but politely keeps to themselves. She has no filter whatsoever, and isn’t afraid to get in someone’s face or tell them her opinion, which leads me to my next point and a discussion of what, for me, were the more negative aspects of the book. Jen is every bit the crass, sarcastic, foul-mouthed little spitfire that she proclaims to be. She is not exaggerating. If swearing bothers you, you will not like this book from page one. Also, she used footnotes that I felt were unnecessary and distracting. I kept forgetting they were there until I’d already read the entire page and then had to re-read it to find out where her little offside remarks fit in to the story. Finally, Jen states at the beginning of the book that she had "taken a few liberties for the purpose of moving the story forward." This left me questioning the book's veracity. While Jen guarantees that she was "that bad," the fact that she took any liberties at all within the story made me wonder, at random moments, if all certain things really did happen to the extent that she described.
Overall, this book was not the be all, end all of funny chick lit for me but I did chuckle, snort (shut up), and all out laugh at many of Jen’s misadventures and misfortunes (can you say Adult Entertainment Expo?). While I enjoyed the read, I likely will not be keeping the book and will only be recommending it to those friends I know won’t be bothered by Jen’s creative use of language.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Sum it up: Like watching America's Funniest Home videos. You know something bad is going to happen and you can't help but wait for it, watch, and then laugh when it does. And then you feel a little bad about laughing.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Terrorist kingpin Akil Ramir sequesters Vanessa and Seth in his Nicaraguan fortress, where they learn of an impending attack on American soil. The Saint Squad is dispatched to calm the storm, but even their heroic efforts can’t stop multiple threats from escalating. Adrenaline rises as the squad confronts enemies who will stop at nothing to sabotage national security—and Vanessa finds herself caught in the crossfire. (Summary from book - Image from traciabramson.blogspot.com)
My review: Having read all of Traci Abramson’s books I can honestly say they just keep getting better. Crossfire, her 7th book and the third in her Saint Squad series, had me in its’ clutches after the first few pages and didn’t let go of me until the very last page. The suspense was enough to keep me turning pages as fast as I could but not enough to scare the wits out of me (some books, though very good, I can only take in small bites if they get too suspenseful). The plot was very believable and not so involved that I had a hard time keeping track of everyone and everything. Everything kept moving along at a smooth but fast pace. The romantic tension between Seth and Vanessa was not over done and definitely G or PG rated.
In the end, I didn’t want the book to end. I tried reading it slowly (which didn’t happen) just so I could savor it a little more. I loved this book. Can’t wait for her next book in the series to come out.
My rating: 5 stars
Sum it up: A fast paced suspense novel that keeps you wanting more.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
My review: Get ready for RFS's shortest review to date. I read a little over half of this book and was nearly bored to tears. I put it down. I can’t find it again. Actually, I haven't really looked and it's been several weeks. I don’t care enough about the story or characters to spend another second thinking about it. Is that enough of a review for you? I hope so, because I'm not wasting any more of my time on it. I've got better books to read.
My rating: 2 Stars. Who knows, perhaps the ending saves it from being a complete waste of time (which is why I didn't give it 1 star), but I don't care enough to find out.
Sum it up: Started off well enough, but lost me in the end.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Summary: And a god will fall...
It has been one hundred years since the Archangel Alleluia and the mortal Caleb discovered the truth about the god of Samaria. Legend says that they left a record of that truth, though no document has ever been found. In time, an underground cult arose, seeking to find again what Alleluia found. But the reigning Archangel Bael called down the wrath of Jovah upon the cult, and hundreds died in a hail of thunderbolts. Yet some still survive...
Among them is a woman named Tamar, child of cultists, raised in captivity among the angels. Tamar believes that the Alleluia Files--the actual disc on which the legendary Archangel record her experience--exist. She is determined to find it and free the people of Samaria form their fear of Jovah, and the rule of the angels.
In her search, she encounters the angel Jared, one of the members of his kind who have come to question the wisdom of Bael, and his harsh treatment of the cultists. Jared can go places forbidden to Tamar, so when he offers to accompany her, she reluctantly agrees.
Together, these two uneasy allies will journey the length and breadth of Samaria, risking their lives and the lives of their comrades, seeking a truth that will alter the face of Samaria forever. (image from sharonshinn.net - summary from back of book)
My review: A lot has changed in a a century or two. Technological advances in transportation and communication have become much more prevalent in Samarian society--and they aren't entirely welcome. Samaria is ruled by a fanatical archangel who is obsessed with ridding the land of Jacobite rebels who claim that Jovah is a man-made machine and not an all-powerful god. These rebels believe that oracle Alleluia understood the true nature of Jovah and secretly recorded this heretical knowledge to preserve it for the use of future generations. The Jacobites, and a few unconventional allies, frantically search for the Alleulia Files, to substantiate their claims and prevent their own eradication..
This story is told through the perspective of its four main characters, (surprise, surprise) two oddly-matched couples. While the theme of star-crossed lovers is rather formulaic at this point, the rest of the story still had enough romance, originality and unexpected moments to be thoroughly engaging. I have to admit that at this point I’m so attached to the series—to Sharon Shinn, her world, and her angels—that I’m not entirely certain how objective I can be about the successes and flaws of this book. The main characters could be hippos and I’d probably finish the book (though it probably wouldn’t get quite so high a rating).
Thankfully, The Alleluia Files ties up many loose ends, left purposely untied by the previous novels, and provides a definite sense of closure and resolution to the trilogy. I don’t know if I could've have handled it otherwise. I was particularly pleased with how Shinn completely eradicated one "god" while still allowing for the possibility of others. Obviously, not everyone goes for this kind of book, but it will definitely satisfy anyone looking for a charming and light, romantic read with a sci-fi fantasy twist.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars. I took off a ½ star for a certain lack of predictability. Keep in mind, at this point I’ve lost all objectivity and am just trying to maintain some sort of reviewing integrity.
Sum it up: A fitting ending to an enthralling trilogy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go get the next book.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Foucault's Pendulum, Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut
The House of Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Delta of Venus - Anais Nin
The Illuminatus! Trilogy - Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac - Jhonen Vasquez
Demian - Hermann Hesse
The King of Elfland's Daughter - Lord Dunsany
Melmoth the Wanderer - Charles Maturin
The Castle of Crossed Destinies - Italo Calvino
Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft
Memories of My Melancholy Whores - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Fear and Trembling - Soren Kierkegaard
Collected Works of C. G. Jung
Three Books of Occult Philosophy - Henry Cornelius Agrippa
Publication Manual of the APA, 4th ed.
Sefer Yetzirah - trans. Aryeh Kaplan
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas Hofstadter
Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die - Michael Largo
The Golden Bough - James Frazer
Faust - Goethe
Les Fleurs du Mal - Baudelaire
The Wasteland, Four Quartets - T.S. Eliot
Sonnets to Orpheus - Rainer Maria Rilke
A Season in Hell - Rimbaud
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage - Lord Byron
Thus Spake Zarathustra - Friedrich Nietszche
Metamorphoses - Ovid
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig
The Devil's Dictionary - Ambrose Bierce
The Essential Rumi - trans. Coleman Barks
I Ching - trans. John Blofeld
Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - William Blake
Monday, January 4, 2010
To ring in 2010, here at Reading For Sanity, we thought it was high time we did something a little different. For nearly over a year you've been presented with a uniquely female perspective on books and while, for some of you, that should be quite enough, we thought that others might appreciate a new take on things.
We've invited Daniel Nighting, one of our frequent guest contributors, to review for us on a more permanent basis and couldn't be more delighted that he accepted. Daniel is a freelance editor, self-proclaimed amateur curmudgeon, and full-time father of two children who he claims are better-looking and more talented than he is. His life revolves around books--collecting them, producing them, critiquing them, copying them out by hand, interpreting them, burning them, and even occasionally reading them.
Daniel reads both fiction and nonfiction, but prefers the works that fall in the cracks between them--holy books and wild rantings, poetry and mythology, mystic visions, fantastic theories, and news articles. He'll read anything that crosses his path, but only buys the books that he suspects will scramble his mind and leave him unfit for mingling in society.
We hope that you will welcome him, and his perspective, with open arms and we are delighted at the new insight he will bring to our posts. Look for his favorite books list (posting tomorrow)! I'm sure he'll outread us all in no time....
- The Lovely Ladies at RFS
Sunday, January 3, 2010
My Review: My husband and I ran across this book a couple years back while wandering aimlessly through a busy mall amid Holiday shopping at a Pottery Barn. They were asking some unearthly amount for the book, so we opted to search for it online. We found it and purchased it straightaway.
The photographs in this book are amazing. You will see creatures never written about as well as animals you'd love to see in the wild yourself. You will search for what seems hours to find the animal hidden in the scenery. And some will be staring right back at you without your knowledge until you realize that in the real world you'd have been lunch. It's unnerving, beautiful, and until you finish the book, addicting. Each page has written in faint lettering what is hidden (whether you know what it is or not). At the back of the book is a description and photograph of the locations the pictures originate. We've loved having it for our coffee table and enjoy sharing with friends who then become addicted to finding the animals. It's definitely worth checking out.
Rating: 5 Stars
Sum it up: A grown-up version of Where's Waldo, but with wildlife. Very cool!
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Summary: All is not well in Samaria...
One hundred and fifty years have passed since the tenure of the Archangel Gabriel and his angelica Rachel, a time of peace and stability. But now, great storms are sweeping the land, the deserts flood, and the skies rain down death and destruction. As they have always, the people turn to the angels for help. Yet even their splendid voices, raised in supplication, cannot seem to reach the god Jovah.
Then the proud and beautiful Archangel Delilah falls victim to the rage of the wind, as she is torn from the sky, her wing broken. She can no longer soar in the heavens, guiding and guarding those below. She can no longer be first among the angels.
Never before have the oracles had to choose a new Archangel while one still lived. And though Jovah's anger blows all about them, sill they must consult him. His choice--the angel Alleluia, a solitary scholar of undistinguished lineage.
Now the fate of the planet rests with the reluctant Archangel Alleluia, who believes in her duty and her god. And her fate, in turn, may well depend on the mortal Caleb, a man who believes only in science--and himself. (summary from back of book, image from sharonshinn.net)
My review: I could pretend this book was deep if I really wanted too. I could rave about its subtle discussions of the effects of increased technology on societal mores, the destruction of indigenous cultures through population expansion, and the intangible power of religion as a tool to control the masses. I could. It does touch on all those things—but in a profoundly less textbook kind of way.
Jovah’s Angel takes place 150 years after the previous book in the Samaria series, Archangel. The formerly agrarian world of angels and mortals is becoming increasingly technologically advanced and the mysterious deity of the masses, Jovah, is no longer answering all of the angels requests, creating some massively unstable weather patterns. Something is terribly wrong and the newly installed Archangel Alleluia seems to be the only person whose songs will reach the god’s ears. If the Gloria is sung and the God cannot hear them, will their world be ripped apart? Yup.
Alongside Alleluia, there are several other main characters whose stories intertwine: Caleb, an atheistic engineer obsessed with learning to fly (via machine), Delilah, a deposed Archangel cast down by the god when she lost her ability to fly, and Noah, an Edori in love with a woman who is utterly distant and unobtainable. I enjoyed the dynamic between these characters, perhaps a bit more than the love/hate relationship sustained by Gabriel and Rachel in the first book.
Jovah’s Angel spends more time exploring the technology and history of Samaria-- how the Samarians got to the planet, what they gave up, and what changes had to be made to make the planet habitable—than its predecessor. This book also ventures into more of the sci-fi genre than the last—and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I loved it when the characters would encounter objects that I recognized but the characters themselves did not. It was a fun way to know more than them about the “mysteries of Jovah”.
This book was surprisingly philosophical for me. It was supposed to just be fun (and it undoubtedly WAS), but I couldn’t help but think about some more serious topics while I read. Look at me--capable of intellectual thought!?! I’m as shocked as you are. I wouldn’t go into this anticipating much more than a good time, but you might get a little bit more food for thought than you expect.
My rating: 5 Stars
Sum it up: A fascinating continuation to an entertaining series.