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, June 28, 2010

Book #19: Petropolis

The story at the heart of Petropolis begins in Siberia shortly after the end of the Soviet Union. This book has a lot to do with post-Soviet life, Russian immigrants in America, and the stereotypes that go along with all of that. I notice that on Amazon, many of the whopping nineteen people who have reviewed this book mention how well Anya Ulinich captures the feelings of a Russian immigrant in America. The fact that there are untranslated Russian words and some "in" jokes and references throughout the book tells me that perhaps Ulinich meant for her audience to have Russian ancestry, but my all-American self still enjoyed it.

The book is about a young promising artist, Sasha, who is of mixed Russian-Jewish-African heritage. She's dark-skinned with wiry hair, which makes it impossible for her to fit in with her pale classmates in frigid Siberia. Normalcy is even harder for Sasha to achieve thanks to her neurotic mother and absent father (who emigrated to America without his wife and child). As Sasha becomes a teenager, she makes some poor decisions, and her mother sends her away to an art school in Moscow. Sasha is completely unhappy there, and she holds on to a gnawing need to find her father in America. Still a teenager, she sees an advertisement for a mail-order bride company, and soon, she's in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Once she gets to America, Sasha's life becomes even harder. She's not only looking for her father, but also the happiness that she thought would come with life in America. The book takes you through all the stops along Sasha's journey to happiness, but I had a bit of a hard time sympathizing with her sometimes. Even when things were looking up, she seems to always find a way to be miserable about something. Sasha (and so, obviously, the author as well) realizes this about herself. A lot of the characters in the book are this way. I can't think of a single couple in the book that actually liked each other. They all seemed to just co-exist until they absolutely couldn't stand it anymore. It bothered me as I was reading it, but now that I'm looking back on it, I think that was part of the bigger picture of the book -- the way people just "settle" for things instead of finding what makes them truly happy.

Hmm. Heavy.

It's a good book, and Ulunich is a talented young author. This is her first book, and I would be interested to see if she continues to write about Russian/Soviet characters or takes a new path.

Read from June 25, 2010 to June 28, 2010

3/5 stars


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book #18: Here Today

From about 3rd grade - 6th grade, I was all about some Babysitter's Club books. I had a zillion of them, including the "journals" from after Dawn moved away, and the BSC Super Specials, and The Complete Guide to the BSC, which was basically an encyclopedia about all things BSC. I even had a necklace and ring with BSC engraved on it that I got from a book order in the 4th grade.

I think it's safe to say I think Ann M. Martin is a genius. Imagine my joy when I found her award-winning book Here Today at Big Lots for $0.50. I told you, I love that Big Lots book sale. Since I'm on a young adult kick for some reason, I think this is appropriate.

Here Today is set in 1963, and the narrator is Ellie, whose full name is Eleanore Roosevelt Dingman. Her younger siblings' names are Albert Einstein Dingman and Marie Curie Dingman. As you might have guessed by their awesome names, the kids' mother (Doris) is a bit of a ditz. She's vain, domestically challenged, and flighty. The worst of Doris' problems, though, is that she has big, fat stars in her eyes. She's constantly looking for her "big break" into show business, which is hard to come by in the small town where the Dingmans live. Their father is a construction worker who is often away for days at a time, leaving Doris at home with children that she has very little interest in raising.

As the oldest child, Ellie has to pick up her mother's slack -- cooking, cleaning, taking care of Albert and Marie, and practically everything else that requires a person to be responsible. On top of that, she has to deal with ridicule from her classmates because of who she is and where she lives (the "outcast" neighborhood of Witch Tree Lane). A group of girls at school terrorizes Ellie and her friends daily. The book explains how Ellie copes with being forced to grow up too fast at home and feeling like she's two inches tall at school.

Here Today is written for grades 5-8, but I think there's something for everyone in this book. Ann M. Martin is fabulous (duh), and Ellie's strength is enough to hook anyone into the story. You just want to strangle her mother for doing this to her. Also, I adored the fact that it was set in 1963. What a year. I wrote an entire research paper on 1963 my junior year of college. Most notably, JFK was assassinated and MLK gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The death of JFK is played out beautifully in the book. I loved reading about through the eyes of a 6th grader who had no idea how to deal with it. My mom was 13 years and 1 day old when it happened -- it made me think of how she must have felt.

This book is up there on my childrens/young adult recommendation list. I definitely think you should pick it up. Perhaps at Big Lots, for $0.50! Now maybe I should read something meant for, you know, a grown up.

Read from June 23, 2010 to June 24, 2010

5/5 stars

-- C

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (10)

I need to preface this review by saying that I am an exorbitant Vonnegut fan.  I started Vonnegut my senior year of high school with Breakfast of Champions and have since read almost all of Vonnegut's ample catalog.  When I was working for my local paper, I actually wrote a Vonnegut review which he signed and is now hanging on the wall of my classroom.  I just thought you needed to know that I may be a bit biased in this review, but, at the same time, that dedication to one author should tell you a lot about Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s ability to enrapture an audience by revealing the missteps of our society while making you laugh along the way.

Welcome to the Monkey House is a collection of short stories, much like his other collection, Bagombo Snuff Box.  It does a nice job of showing how Vonnegut and his writing matured over the years, and how he became one of the preeminent satirist and humanists in literature.  His ability to build a world where humanity's, society's, and government's faults are highlighted with humor is unparalleled.

Some of the more memorable stories include:

"Harrison Bergeron," the story of a society in the year 2081 where people are handicapped according to their abilities by a government agency.

The namesake, "Welcome to the Monkey House," where people are forbidden to reproduce and are required by law to take a drug that numbs them from the waist down and a group that struggles to free society from this law.

"Report on the Barnhouse Effect," which is the story of one man who has learned to control an unseen "force" that turns him into a human weapon and his fight against government control.

"EPICAC," the story of a computer that learns to love.

"Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow," which tells the story of a family that can never die.

And much, much more.  With 25 stories spread over 300 pages, Vonnegut lays bare all of society's ills with his trademark humor.  If you're looking to get into Vonnegut, Welcome to the Monkey House isn't a bad place to start.

5/5 Stars


Book #17: Between Mom and Jo

I picked up Between Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters during one of my several trips to various Big Lots in North Alabama in the last few weeks. (They must've bought out the stock of some bookstore that went out of business or something, because they have a ton of books which they were selling 2/$1.00.) I had never heard of her, but the book was a National Book Award Finalist, so why not?

Apparently, Peters has written quite a few young adult books that have been critically acclaimed, and this wasn't her first National Book Award finalist, either. I looked her up and found out that most of her books are for children or young adults and deal with gay/lesbian/transgender issues.

Between Mom and Jo fits right in with Peters' other books, as it's about a kid named Nick who is growing up with two moms. Erin, who Nick calls "Mom," gave birth to Nick after being artificially inseminated. Jo is Nick's "other" mom and Erin's long-time partner. As you can probably imagine, it's not easy growing up as the kid of two lesbians. Nick is tormented at school because everyone knows about his non-traditional family. Although the family has their share of problems, including Jo's struggle with alcoholism, Nick is happy. Then, his happiness is ruined when their family is broken apart. Nick finds out that life without two moms is even harder than life with two moms.

Peters is a very talented author who manages to capture the attitude of a "tween"-age boy perfectly. Nick goes through various emotions, -- from elation to misery -- and you can feel each one of them as you read. Your heart breaks when his does. It's a very touching story, and a great piece about "non-traditional" families. I can certainly see this book reaching out to a kid in Nick's position and giving him/her hope. I will definitely be reading more of Peters' books. Adding her to my (ever-growing) list of authors I look for when I'm at the bookstore.

4/5 stars

Read from June 20, 2010 to June 23, 2010

-- C

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book #16: How to Eat Fried Worms

Alright, so somehow this book escaped me during my elementary school career. I'm working in a summer program at an elementary school right now, and next week is "How to Eat Fried Worms Week." Naturally, I had to read the book to prepare. I know it's not quite the same caliber of the other books I've reviewed, but let me be completely straight with you: My goal for 2010 is 40 books. Technically that means I should have read half of that by the end of June to be on target. Most of the other books I've read this year have been over 400 pages long, so I think I deserve to count a 100-page children's book if I want to. So there.

The problem is that I'm not really sure how to review a children's book. I mean, what do you want me to say? It's cute? I don't know. In the book, four best friends make a bet that one of the boys, Billy, can't eat fifteen worms in fifteen days. If he does, he gets $50 from Alan, another boy in the group. It quickly becomes clear that Alan and Joe will do everything they can to make Billy lose the bet, while Tom will do anything to help him win. The book details each of the fifteen worms, how Alan and Joe try to trick Billy into losing, and how, eventually, Billy learns to enjoy eating worms.

It's cute. It's funny. Kids should like it. Um...? What else can I say? There's no undertone or social commentary to analyze, so I guess that's it. I will say that I think everyone should read a good children's book every now and then. I've read and review several young adult books this year (the Twilight "saga," the Hunger Games series, Stargirl, etc.), but this is my first children's book. It was a good one. Go for it. I knocked it out on the drive from Florence to Cullman.

Read on June 20, 2010

5/5 stars for a kids' book


Book #15: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

The Millennium series is over. This is so depressing.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the much-anticipated sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. I have previously raved about TGWPWF, so I think everyone knows how I feel about these books. Stieg Larsson has yet again crafted a beautiful book, and the entire series was tied up very well.

When we last saw the main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, they were both in pretty bad shape. TGWKTHN picks up immediately at the end of the previous book and jumps right back into the story. I won't go into much detail because I know a few folks who are still reading either this book or the last book.

The first two books were pretty much non-stop action/shocking discoveries/something cool, but this book is admittedly much, much slower. The first couple hundred pages are actually very calm and more of a "catching up" type thing, but the last 1/3 of the book more than makes up for it. It took me a while to get through the first half of the book, but I read the last half in a couple of days. Part of the reason for the slow pace is the fact that there are about 84,095,890,850 characters to either introduce or re-introduce. Investigators, lawyers, journalists, general thugs. There are so. Many. People. I found myself trying to remember where they had been mentioned in the other books, and I searched high and low online for a character list. (Didn't find one. Who wants to make one for me?) What's worse, they're all freaking Swedish. They all sound the same to an uncultured American like myself. Ekstrom, Erikson, Erlander, Bublanski, Blomkvist, Malin, Malm. SERIOUSLY? It was really hard for me to keep straight who was good and who was bad, especially because some characters had 50 pages or so in between mentions. I essentially just gave up trying to remember who was who and tried to figure it out with context clues. That's my one complaint about this book, although I'm not sure how that could've been avoided when you've created such a awesome and intricate world as the one that Larsson has created with this series.

Salander is just as amazing in this book as she is in the other two. I can't say enough about how much I totally love her. She's easily of my favorite characters in any book I've read, ever. This book shows us a lot more about her, but it also introduces another awesome female character who I love -- Annika Gianinni. She was introduced in the earlier books, but only as Mikael's sister. In this book, her skills as a lawyer are used, and she is incredible. Love her to death.I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that there is, at one point, a trial, and it was easily my favorite part of the book, mostly thanks to Gianinni. So great.

When it comes down to it, I liked TGWTDT and TGWPWF better than this book, but it's really hard to compare them all to each other. Even though they're all part of the same series, they all have such different hearts. This book ties everything together beautifully, and although it does have some fantastic action sequences, it's not as thrilling as the other two. Still, after you've read the other two, you're so invested in the characters that you don't need the non-stop action to keep your interest. The characters do that themselves.

Read from June 6, 2010 to June 19, 2010

4/5 stars

-- C

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Devil's Toenail by Sally Prue (9)

I'm really glad this book only cost me 50 cents and precious little time.

There are a few good things about The Devil's Toenail.  First, the chapters are short.  I don't think there's a chapter that's over four pages long.  That, and the short length of the book make it a pretty quick read.  Second, the narrator uses the word "prat" a lot.  I don't know why, but I like that word.  Third, there's a Johnny Tremain moment about halfway through the book.

That's about all of the positive comments I can make, though.  The plot is annoyingly simple and irritatingly trite.  The story is about a boy who finds a "Devil's Toenail" (actually, a fossil of a Gryphaea).  The fossil supposedly give him special powers that allow him to fight back against the tyrannical Daniel, the leader of their middle school "gang" of friends.  Of course, as the story goes on, he finds that the real power in inside himself.

The book has gotten rave reviews from middle school students, so who knows?  Maybe it's good if you're into Disney and Nickelodeon, but it's definitely not for me.

1/5 Stars


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves (8)

Do you remember that book that you read over and over again when you were in elementary school?  Mine was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, a book that takes the reader on a fantastic, sci-fi style journey of a young Meg Murry as she discovers herself and her family.  Interworld is much the same.

The story follows the exploits of a teenage Joey Harker, a young man who's biggest worries are talking to girls and navigating the city with his horrible sense of direction.  Soon, though, Joey is swept away into another world, or is it?  I don't want to go too far into the plot, because it's full of clever concepts and twists.  I'll just say that Joey's journey, much like Meg's, takes him to places most people could never imagine and positions him to make decisions that will affect the rest of his life and the lives of many others just like him.

Neil Gaiman is one of the premiere young adult novelists.  He's adept at wielding a story that is captivating for young adults and not-so-young adults alike.  As the latter, I would usually prefer my books to go into the "why" of things, explaining how the sci-fi and fantasy elements actually work, but if I try to put myself into the shoes of a teen, I can see why Gaiman and Reaves chose to leave those elements unsaid.  Even without those elements, though, the story is easy to follow and quite fun.

For adults, Interworld is a good choice for a quick, easy, and fun read.  Just take into consideration that the book isn't really intended for adults.  For teens, though, I would highly recommend this book.

4/5 Stars


Sunday, June 6, 2010

FreedomTM by Daniel Suarez (7)

FreedomTM is Daniel Suarez's follow-up to his immensely popular book, Daemon, which if you don't remember I slathered with praise in my last review.  The book picks up right where Daemon left off, in the middle of humanity's struggle to survive in a world that has been hijacked by a computer daemon created by the recently deceased video game designer Matthew Sobol.

The familiar cast of characters returns, with The Major, Agent Phillips, Jon Ross, and Peter Sebeck locking in a battle for the future of society.  The Major and Phillips are still on their mission to stop the daemon, Ross has gone rogue (literally), and Sebeck is still on his quest to prove that humanity deserves salvation.  As the daemon grows, the characters grow with it, and the technology becomes more and more advanced.

Where Suarez excels in this book isn't in the futuristic technology (it's still there, but not as surprising and mind-blowing as it was in Daemon), but instead in the geopolitical and societal implications of the daemon and how government and private businesses are poised to fight it.  The novel builds a slow crescendo to an inevitable battle between the daemon operatives and their "real" world contemporaries, all the while making you question your allegiances.

My only complaint is that the ending of the book left me wanting more.  Sure, I can fill in the future with my imagination, but I'd love to see a third book come out of this series.  (It still may.  Suarez gave himself options with the way he closed out the book).  Still, if you liked Daemon, you'll like FreedomTM.  I know I did.

4.5/5 Stars

Book #14: Catching Fire

You all remember how much I completely loved The Hunger Games, so it should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed the second book in the series, Catching Fire. It was everything I hoped it would be.

There's not a lot I can say about the plot without ruining it, especially because I know of some folks who frequent this blog who are planning to read it soon (Derrick), but let me assure you that it is brilliant. The narrator, Katniss, picks up where the last book left off, and she now finds herself in a serious situation. Some of her behavior in the Games was interpreted as acts of "rebellion" towards the Capitol -- the totalitarian government of Panem. The Capitol is unhappy with Katniss for her behavior, and they immediately begin monitoring her to watch for more signs of rebellion. Soon, Katniss learns that the people of Panem, after watching her in the Games, have begun to see her as a role model for fighting against the Captiol. Katniss realizes that she is the catalyst for revolutions taking place in many of the Panem's 12 districts. The Capitol develops some interesting ways to punish her for her role in the rebellion.

Just like The Hunger Games, this book is smart, captivating, and beautifully written. There are things in this series that make my stomach turn, and Katniss acting as the crusader against all of the unjust things in Panem absolutely makes you love her. I loved Katniss in the last book, but I love her even more in this one. Suzanne Collins adds some toughness, some sarcasm to Katniss in this book, which makes sense after all that she went through in The Hunger Games. She's a bit hardened, but that just makes her even more awesome. The whole world that Collins created with this series is so impressive, and the plot twists are brilliant. These books are just so smart. I have a really hard time remembering that I'm reading a young adult series when I'm reading these books. She's also really good at making you not want to put the book down. It seems like the last sentence in each chapter is one of those, "Whhhhaaaaaat?!" moments. I don't know how many times I told myself I was going to read "one more chapter" and wound up sitting there for another hour... or two.

So, if you're looking for a great series to read, right now I would recommend this one. They're pretty quick reads, but there's so much packed into these pages. More bang for your buck, I guess. The third book, Mockingjay, comes out toward the end of August, so get to reading.

Read from June 2, 2010 to June 5, 2010

5/5 Stars


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Special Post: EXCITEMENT!!!!

Just had to post to share that the gift Derrick ordered me for graduation came via UPS a few minutes ago. How excited am I?! VERY. (See?)

The third book in Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (which, oddly enough, I mentioned in the review I posted earlier). It came out a couple weeks ago, and my cheap self was going to wait on the paperback. I literally just started a new book an hour ago, but as soon as I'm done, I have a date with Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist! Thanks, D!

Book #13: The Killing Circle

I don't usually read thriller-ish books, but I found this for $3 at Books-A-Million. It sounded interesting, so why not? I liked it, although the more I think about it, the more I think it wasn't really very good. I feel like it's one of those books that, had I written this review 3/4 of the way through the book, I would've had a lot more good things to say about it than I do now that I've finished it. Does that make sense? No. Well, fine.

The Killing Circle is about widower Patrick Rush, a TV critic for a Toronto newspaper. Patrick actually wants to be an author, so he begins attending a small, quirky writing workshop. The members are asked to bring pieces to read aloud at each weekly meeting. A young woman named Angela brings a story about a little girl who is haunted by a killer called "The Sandman." The entire group gets sucked into Angela's story, which she builds on at each meeting. Then, Toronto begins to be terrorized by a serial killer... whose method of operation sounds an awful lot like the killings in Angela's "Sandman" story. Eventually, members of the writing circle begin to notice a strange figure stalking them. Then the members begin to disappear, and so does Patrick's son, Sam. Patrick is desperate to figure out who (or what) is responsible for the murders and how it all relates to Angela's story.

I have to say, the author of this book, Andrew Pyper is a wee bit pretentious sometimes. There's no way I can explain why I think that, but for some reason, writers who write about writing can be extremely pompous, especially if they're writing about the writing process. That whole,"this is what I do, so I know what I'm talking about" sort of attitude. I don't know... This is clearly the most nonsensical review I've ever written, but I think if you read it, you'd see what I meant. That being said, Pyper is definitely a talented writer, and the book moved along very well. It held my interest, and there were definitely some twists and turns that I did not see coming. I feel like the ending was seriously lacking, though. There wasn't really much of an ending, actually, in terms of the central plot of the book... Not in a, "he left this wide open for a sequel!" sort of way, but in an, "oh... so that's all?" sort of way. There was a certain plot twist close to the end that I think was intended to totally shock and amaze the reader, but even though I didn't expect it, it still wasn't really that impressive.

I guess I've kind of dogged this book, but I would actually recommend it. I mean, it's not mind-blowing like Steig Larsson's Millennium triology or anything, but it's worth a few days' time. Up until the last couple of chapters, it's great. After that, it's decent. So there you go.

3/5 stars

Read from May 27, 2010 to June 1, 2010