We started this blog in 2010 after a New Years' Resolution to read 60 books between the two of us. (40 for C, 20 for D.) After reaching our goal, we decided to keep going in 2011. This year, C has pledged to read 30 books, and D will read 12. By no means are we professional reviewers; we're not even professional bloggers. We're just two people who love to read and decided to share our thoughts and offer our limited insights. We hope you enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book #4: Stargirl

This was an appropriate Valentine's Day read. I've heard a lot about this book, -- in fact, I have had a good friend for years whose Internet username was an homage to this book -- but I just never got around to reading it. I saw it on the shelf a few days ago and decided it would be the next book on my list. I read it over the course of a day, for a total of about 3.5 hours. It's a short book and is written for young adults, so it's a very quick read. That doesn't change the fact that it's a poignant, deep story that should really teach us all a lesson or two.

The story is about a home-schooled, off-the-wall 16-year-old named Stargirl who enrolls in a public high school for the first time. She is nothing like her peers: she dresses weird, she plays the ukulele and sings at lunch, she spends her free time doing anonymous good deeds for anyone and everyone, and she has no concept of meanness. The definition of nonconformist, Stargirl obviously has a hard time in the most conformist place I can immediately think of -- high school. First the students are shocked and put off by her strange behavior, then they are enchanted by her, then they turn on her.

Spinelli writes the book from the perspective of Stargirl's classmate and love interest, Leo, who loves Stargirl for her odd ways, but also hates being "shunned" by the entire school. He struggles with how to deal with Stargirl's behavior and has to decide if he cares more about how she feels or how his classmates feel.

This book says a lot for the way teenagers can be when it comes to that kid who is "different." It's a very true-to-life portrayal that is heartbreaking at times, because honestly, this girl spends her entire life doing great things for people just to see them smile, and they thank her by being jerks. You fall in love with Stargirl's carefree, loving, generous attitude, and it's hard to understand how anyone could dislike her, but... We were all judgmental teenagers once, and I think in a lot of ways most people still are. It's easy to be snobby until you're suddenly that girl that everyone is talking about. I've been there, and I've also been the target of gossip because of who I chose to date, which is Leo's predicament. I learned a lot from my own experience, but some people never let go of the high school mentality that different is bad. This book should be required reading for humans. It's sad, but it has a solid message that a lot of people need to hear.

Read February 14, 2010

4/5 Stars


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Lost Symbol (2)

Dan Brown's latest entry, The Lost Symbol, chronicles another adventure in the life of protagonist Robert Langdon, the lovable Harvard professor and symbologist. Much like the earlier entries in the series, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol follows Langdon as he fights against a dark antagonist bent on destruction while ancient symbols whisk him along on his journey. However, I found this entry a bit lacking.

Instead of the ancient medieval and Renaissance symbology found in the previous books, The Lost Symbol focuses more on the historical significance of the Freemasons in the United States. In fact, aside from a short section in a Harvard swimming pool, the entire novel is set in Washington, D.C. The Freemasons do offer a lot of fodder for Brown's use of symbols to forward the plot, but a lot of the ones he chooses to place as obstacles for Langdon seem a bit contrived.

It's not the symbols and the setting that really put me off on this book, though. The biggest turn off for me was Langdon's female counterpart, Katherine Solomon. Solomon is a pioneer in the field of "Noetic Science," which does mix well with the symbols of the Fremasons and the elements of their history that deal with the alchemical processes. However, the link between religion and science seems to much of a stretch for me, personally.

Despite its flaws, though, I did enjoy the book. Brown has apparently found a formula that works for him. I never found myself wanting to put down the book, and on several occasions I stayed up later than I would normally because I wanted to see what happened next. If you liked Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code, you will probably enjoy The Lost Symbol. Just be prepared for a few "Are you kidding me?" moments.

3/5 Stars

Book #3: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Oh, man.

The first book in this series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was a recommendation from my sister-in-law. It sounded a bit too much like a crime thriller for my taste, but I gave it a shot. It took about 30 pages for me to be completely engrossed. It's about a journalist (Mikael Blomkvist) who is hired by a wealthy business tycoon to research the disappearance of his niece Harriet, who vanished 40 years earlier. This leads to to discovery of twisted family secrets and the introduction of one of my favorite characters in any book I have ever read -- Lisbeth Salander. She's a socially awkward borderline-psychopath with a photographic memory and a gift for investigation. She works with Blomkvist to solve the mystery of Harriet's disappearance.

The Girl Who Played With Fire centers on Lisbeth Salander and her checkered past. She winds up in the middle of a major crime investigation, which opens up an entire world of criminals who all seem to have a link to Salander. There isn't much else I can say without spoiling either this book or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I will say that this book had me constantly guessing and theorizing about the crimes. Literally, in the middle of the day, I would be contemplating a possible explanation for what I had read the night before.

These books are beautifully written, although part of that may be due to the translator. Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist (perhaps his own inspiration for Blomkvist), and the books are translated into English from Swedish. (The books are set in Stockholm.) The thing is, there is so much more to these books than the mystery at the center of the plot. The characters are so well-developed -- it's impossible not to get pulled into their stories. The third and final book in the series is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which is due out in May 2010. I clearly cannot wait.

Unfortunately, Larsson passed away recently and apparently left no manuscripts behind but the three in this series. I wholeheartedly recommend this series to practically any reader. It's really got something for everybody. I finished it earlier today and still can't stop thinking about it.

Read January 30, 2010 to February 14, 2010.

5/5 Stars


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book #2: 'Tis

Honestly, I love Frank McCourt. He writes like no one else -- he doesn't care about run-on sentences or quotation marks or any of that business. He just writes. And he is awesome. His first memoir, Angela's Ashes, is about Frank's childhood in 1930's Ireland with an alcoholic father and a proud mother (Angela, for whom the book is named). 'Tis picks up where Angela's Ashes leaves off -- Frank's teenage years, during which he moves to New York City to find work and a better life.

After moving to America, Frank was quickly drafted in the United States Army and served in Korea. When he returned, he worked several odd jobs and managed to put himself through college with the G.I. Bill. He is reunited with his Irish family on several occasions, including the father who abandoned him. 'Tis describes all of these adventures, as well as his first marriage. It's an amazing story of an equally amazing man.

My favorite part of this memoir, though, is the portion that describes his first job as a college graduate -- teaching high school. Frank had always wanted to be a writer, and as a shy, awkward Irishman, teaching teenagers was not a job he desired. As he becomes accustomed to the job, however, he is able to reach his difficult, unruly students at a New York vocational school in a way that no other teacher has ever been able to reach them. As an educator, it's a wonderful story to read. You can't really use his techniques exactly, as the rules of the education game have changed quite a bit since the 60's, but the concept and the dedication can still be there. Frank McCourt is absolutely one of my heroes, and for any of my fellow educators out there, I would recommend this. I dare you to read it and not fall in love with Frank enough to want to go back and read Angela's Ashes.

From a non-educator's perspective, this is a still a great story. Practically any reader would be sucked into Frank's endearing personality and heartbroken by all of the bad hands he is dealt in life. This is one of those books that's even better because it's true. I can't wait to pick up his next memoir, Teacher Man, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, it looks like this will be it from Frank McCourt, as he passed away last summer at the age of 78. Truly a wonderful man, and the reason that 'Tis was so great. Like I said, though, I'm a bit biased.

In case anyone is interested, here are a couple of my favorite interviews with Frank McCourt on the topic of educating teenagers:

Read January 8, 2010 to January 30, 2010

4/5 Stars


Intro + Book #1: The Florabama Ladies' Auxillary and Sewing Circle

When it comes to books, I'll give pretty much anything a shot. I will admit right here and now in my first blog post that I'm an Oprah's Book Club kind of girl. This is not to be confused with a Nicholas Sparks/Jodi Picoult kind of girl. You won't be seeing reviews for Sparks or Picoult books from me this year. Or ever. (I read The Notebook. I know what Sparks is all about, and I'm not interested.) The books I enjoy are admittedly "pop" books, but not the brainless kind. I don't read the literary equivalent of "chick flicks" or romance trash. I like a little depth in my melodramatic reading material. I love Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True) and Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones) -- that's the usual vein of my book choices. That being said, I also enjoy the twisted darkness of Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) and the self-depreciating humor of David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day). So, I mean, you'll see a little diversity from me here, but I'm not claiming to be a hipster indie book-lover.

Now that I've made my disclaimer... This book is kind of an off-the-wall choice for me. When I read the synopsis, it kind of felt like the kind of book a Sparks or Picoult fan would read, but if you want to know the truth, I bought it at the same time I bought Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg, so maybe I was in a mood. I really wasn't sure how I'd feel about it, but as it turns out, it's one of my favorite books that I've read recently.

The Florabama Ladies' Auxillary and Sewing Circle is one of several books by Lois Battle that focuses on Southern women. So, not only is it a book that's out of my usual genre, but it's also "Southern," which is yet another thing I usually don't enjoy. It focuses on Bonnie Cullman, (Hey! Cullman!) a newly divorced middle-aged woman whose posh lifestyle disappeared with her bankrupt husband. The book follows her as she starts her life over, and part of this new life involves counseling a diverse group of women who have recently been laid off from their jobs as seamstresses in a lingerie factory. Each of these women have their own stories to tell, and the result is a heart-warming read.

I was surprised by how well-written this was and delighted that reading it didn't feel like a waste of time. There are certainly cheesy elements of this book, -- especially some of the romantic sub-plots -- but overall, it's a very intelligent book. The characters have depth, and there's more to their hardships than melodramatic whining. It's definitely a chick book, but it's not mindless drivel. To my surprise, the Southern elements that I expected to be irritating added a charm that I really appreciated. "Southern-isms" tend to be exaggerated to the point of parody in literature and film, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading something that felt a little closer to home.

This isn't a classic to be hailed for years to come or anything, but it's an entertaining, sweet, thoughtful book that I would recommend as a good read for a long weekend or a vacation. As I mentioned before, it's in the vein of Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias -- a story about strong women with a bit of Southern charm.

Read January 3, 2010 to January 8, 2010.

3/5 Stars


Pirate Latitudes (1)

Let me preface this by saying that I'm a huge Michael Crichton fan.  My bookshelf is crowded with Crichton books, and I count Jurassic Park and Timeline among some of my favorite books.  I may be a bit biased.  I won't say that Pirate Latitudes is a great book, but I will say that it was OK.

Now, if you're like me and have read Crichton's other works, you'll be surprised at the lack of science and intrigue.  The novel is set in the Spanish controlled Caribbean during the 1600s, and follows the exploits of a British colony and it's menagerie of rogues.  The reader is first introduced to the governor of the Jamaica colony, Sir James Almont, who plays a large role near the beginning of the book.  He's is not much of a redeeming character, and the first few chapters of the book drag as a result.  

Soon, though, the reader is introduced to Captain Charles Hunter, who is the protagonist throughout the remainder of the book.  The reader is then taken on a roller coaster ride as he/she follows the exploits of Hunter and his crew as they attempt to invade a Spanish fort, capture a Spanish galleon, and exact revenge.

It isn't until the reader nears the end of the book that it becomes apparent that the book was published posthumously.  Several of the events near the end seem a bit rushed, and many of the conflicts reach an abrupt resolution.  Fans of Crichton's scientific thrillers might not feel at home with this novel, but readers will be able to recognize and appreciate his writing style.  Even if they're not usually fans of Crichton, historical fiction fans may find Pirate Latitudes to be a good read.  

All said, if you find the hardcover in a bargain bin or run across a good deal on a paperback, it's worth a read.


3/5 Stars