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!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

(BONUS) Book #41: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

And I thought I'd have trouble getting to forty.

Unlike my feelings for the Twilight series, I have never had anything against Harry Potter. It never particularly interested me, but as I mentioned in my very first post here, I will pretty much read just about anything. (Except Frankenstein, apparently.) Most of the reason I've never read the series so far is that I didn't have the books. I didn't want to read them when I was younger, so I had a lot of catching up to do. I am notoriously thrifty, yet for some reason don't frequent libraries, so asking me to invest in, like, eight giant books is pretty much like asking me to give you a kidney. Lo and behold, I happened to mention that I'd like to give the series a go, and my mother-in-law told me she bought the first five books for her classroom back when she was a 3rd grade teacher. She has no use for them now, so home with me they came. Merry Christmas to me!

Everyone knows that Harry Potter is a giant phenomenon, which, admittedly, does turn me off a little bit. Maybe that's the small portion of hipster in me, but when something is off-the-charts mainstream like that, I am immediately skeptical of the hype. I never understood the people waiting in line at midnight for copies of the books as they came out, or people dressed as Harry in line to see the movies, or those crazy folks who play Quidditch...

... But it is so easy to see how those people became crazy Potter addicts. It's horrible, and I am mostly ashamed to admit it, but... ohmyGod, where has this been all my life? I loved it. I read it in a matter of hours. I was grinning like a child when I finished it. I HATE MYSELF.

Really, I feel terrible for liking it so much, but I shouldn't! J.K. Rowling, unlike many over-hyped series authors, is actually extremely talented. She's clever and funny, and she does a really good job of not dumbing the plot down. It's obviously written for kids, and that often means (as was the case with The Secret of Platform 13) that I figure out plot twists early. Not this time. No, no, I was screaming, "WHAT?! What? WHAT?" at the end. Ask Derrick. It was embarrassing. It really was. But honestly, a couple chapters in and these people feel like your best friends. It's so good. Ugh.


5/5 Stars

Read from December 29, 2010 to December 30, 2010


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aaaaaannnnddd, We're Done

Honestly, there were a few times throughout 2010 that I doubted Derrick and I reaching our goal...

But we did it! Both of us! I hit forty, he hit twenty, and you lucky readers were blessed with sixty brilliant and thought-provoking reviews. We all win at life.

I believe I speak for both of us when I say that this little challenge was totally worth it. For the last four years or so, I've pretty much always been in the middle of a book, so I would've read a lot in 2010 regardless; however, this pushed me to read much more than I would have otherwise. I'm not gonna lie -- it's been a crazy year for me. Six months of student teaching, two months of debilitating 24/7 migraines, a summer full of job-searching, a wedding in November, and working two jobs... I'm definitely glad I had something pushing me to make time to read. There would have been plenty of times this year that I would have said, "Oh, forget it, I'm exhausted" and skipped that twenty minutes of reading before bedtime... But there was that little voice. That gnawing, annoying "... but will you make it to forty books?" in the back of my head. It kept me going, and I'm glad it did. Even though there have been a few lemons in the bunch, I'm glad I read every book that I read. Even if I hated it (looking at you, Stupid Christmas), it made me think. Thinking is never bad. Broadening horizons is never bad. I'm even glad I read Twilight. Now I can back up my hatred of Stephanie Meyers with cold, hard, sparkly facts.

I'm certainly going to do this again in 2011, although, I admit, I'll be lowering the number of books I'm challenging myself to read. Not because I don't think I can read that many -- it's clear that even with a whole lot of life in the way, I can get the job done -- but because I think it had more of an effect on the books I chose than it should have. There are a lot of pretty thick books on my shelf I've been wanting to read that I put off because I knew they'd take a couple weeks to get through. This especially applied to what I chose to read these last three or four months. I don't want to put off reading books I'm dying to read because of a limitation I've placed on myself.

Derrick and I are doing a bit of a twist for 2011 -- We're still planning on reading and reviewing books here. One book per month will be in association with a book club we've begun with friends and family. The rest will be on our own, just as they were this year.

My goal for the year? Thirty. Twelve of those will be determined by our book club. The other eighteen... Those are all mine.

Any of you have reading goals this year?


I totally agree.  I'm extraordinarily happy that we both attempted this and completed it.  Rolling into December, I was a bit worried, but we made it, and it was tremendously rewarding.

Unfortunately, next year I may be sticking mostly to the 12 books selected by the book club.  I am going back to school in January, so most of my reading time will be taken up by textbooks and, no doubt, scholarly articles.  It just wouldn't be fair to subject you to that.

So, dear readers, as we bid 2010 adieu, I thank you for listening to my ramblings, putting up with may apparent zombie fetish, and giving me a creative outlet.



P.S. Be on the lookout for a name change in the near future.

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (20)

Yes, another Christopher Moore book.  What can I say?  I'm hooked.  Plus, it fit the season.  The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror is perfectly fun romp through Moore's recurring town of Pine Cove during the Christmas season.

Many settings, characters, and motifs from Moore's earlier books make an appearance here:

  • Raziel - Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
  • Theophilus Crowe, Molly Michon, Gabe Fenton, and Valerie Riordan - The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
  • Robert Masterson, Jenny Masterson, and Mavis Sand - Practical Demonkeeping and The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
  • Tucker Case and Roberto the Fruit Bat - Island of the Sequined Love Nun

Those familiar with Moore's writings will also find slight allusions to some of his other works, like the French irreverence from Fool, the Rastafarian speak from Fluke, and Raziel's affinity for Spider-Man from Lamb.

The story begins with the accidental murder of a Santa-suit-clad jerk that takes place days before Christmas.  Of course, it iswitnessed by a twelve-year-old boy on his way home from a friend's house, and of course that boy prays for a resurrected Santa so that Christmas can be saved.  The problem is that Raziel has to perform this Christmas miracle because of a lost angelic bet, and Raziel doesn't have the brightest of heavenly glows.  He brings the faux-Santa back to life as a zombie (and the rest of the Pine Cove graveyard with him) on the night of the Lonesome Christmas party, and chaos ensues.

This book, like every other Christopher Moore book I've read, was hilarious.  From the pot-smoking constable to the pilot with a giant talking fruit bat to the bar owner with her affinity for burros with wiffle ball bats, the characters teeter on the edge of the ridiculous, and the plot is one absurd twist after another.  This is a must-read for Moore fans or just someone who wants a riot of a Christmas story.  If you do pick this up, definitely pick up the version 2.0 of the book (pictured), which includes a follow-up chapter with a Lonesome Christmas party tale for the following year.  Christmas will never be the same.

5/5 Stars

Book #40: House of Dark Shadows

Well, I certainly ended the year on a good note.

House of Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo is the first book in the Dreamhouse Kings series. The King family -- Xander, David, Toria, and their parents -- pick up and move from Pasadena to boring, rural Pinedale, California. The kids (especially Xander) aren't very excited about it, and living in a motel isn't helping the situation. Soon enough, Xander's parents fall in love with a giant, old fixer-upper house in the middle of the woods. Xander is immediately creeped out by the house, but his family just thinks he's paranoid. Soon enough, the entire family is staring to have second thoughts, what with all the creepy sounds, giant footprints left in the dust, and shadows lurking all over the house. Things get even weirder when Xander and David discover a passageway that leads to a hidden wing of the house, which holds passageways of its own... to different time periods.

I completely loved this book. It's safe to say I'll be reading every book in this series as soon as I can get my hands on them. From about ages 7-11, I was totally obsessed with R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books. I read every one that they carried at Bookland. (They still had Booklands back then. In Cullman, Goosebumps were on the back wall, bottom two shelves. Trust me.) I kept my 10 favorites stacked neatly in the right corner of my classroom desk. This book took me back to those days. It's obviously written for an older audience, but still. I totally felt like 3rd-grade me, all excited and creeped out.

I can't say anything bad about this book, except that the ending is totally not an ending. That's probably why instead of saying "The End," it says "NOT the End." At least he's honest. I wish I had the next one sitting here waiting on me. I'd never heard of this series, which is surprising since it seems to have been out for a while. I'm excited to read it, since there's a pretty hefty historical aspect involved. The portals in the houses are just dripping with history lessons. You don't get in to that much in the first book, but I can feel it. It's coming.


5/5 Stars

Read from December 26, 2010 to December 29, 2010


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book #39: The Secret of Platform 13

This is my second Eva Ibbotson book of the year. The first was The Star of Kazan, which I liked although I found the pacing a bit off. I found this book, The Secret of Platform 13, in a double-book special at my favorite used bookstore; it also includes Ibbotson's book Island of the Aunts. I decided to give it a try since I enjoyed the plot of Kazan so much. I'm happy to report that the pacing problem isn't an issue in this book.

The Secret of Platform 13 is about a mystical secret land called "The Island," which has creatures such as mermaids, hags, harpies, mistmakers, ogres, and wizards. The Island can be reached through Platform 13 in England. You can only pass between the two realms for the period of exactly nine days, which comes only once every nine years. When the story opens, the platform is open, and the infant prince of the Island is taken through the opening by his nannies who want to visit England. The prince is stolen by a snobby, vapid debutante who longs for a baby of her own. When the nine-day opening is over, the nannies have to return to the Island to report to the King and Queen that their son has been stolen and cannot be retrieved for at least the next nine years. The novel picks up again nine years later when the platform opens again, and a group of "rescuers" have been chosen to go through the opening to bring home the prince, who has lived his whole life having no idea he is a member of the royalty in a land he doesn't even know exists.

This is a great little story with wonderfully painted characters and a great setting. Judging from the two books I've read, Ibbotson is a master at creating whimsical atmospheres for her stories. Definitely perfect for kids, but completely enjoyable for adults, as well. As a half-way intelligent 23-year-old, I will admit that I figured out the plot twist by about the fifth chapter, but it really didn't take away from the story for me. I knew what was coming at the end, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book. It's a great combination of reality and fantasy, since parts of the story take place in both worlds. There's a sense of familiarity when the "normal" people of England are discussed, but as soon as the book switches to the adventures of the rescuers and all of their powers and spells, you're immediately sucked into a great fantasy world.

I will say, though, that there are some striking similarities between this book and The Star of Kazan. Both involve infants being raised by people who are not their parents, and thus people not being who they say they are. Both involve an elaborate rescue plot. Both, for some reason, involve musical instruments playing a major role in the rescue mission (which I think is a completely random thing to have in common). There are a lot more, but I don't want to ruin any of the book. It was weird, but I suppose a lot of childrens' writers find a formula that works and they stick to it. I'm OK with it, but I did think some of them were a little eerie.

Slight sidenote: There are a ton of people reviewing this on Amazon calling this book a Harry Potter wanna-be, and an equal number of people screaming about how this book was written way before Harry Potter. The latter is definitely a valid point. Not having read the first word of a Harry Potter book, I'm not at liberty to say what their similarities are, but I do know the basic premise of Harry Potter, and I have to say, I don't really see any reason for the comparison. But just in case you're thinking the same thing, it is important to know that this was written pre-Potter explosion. Just throwing that out there.

I would certainly recommend this to a reader of any age, and I would encourage you to put Eva Ibbotson on your list of authors to look for when you're perusing the bookstore.

4/5 Stars

Read from December 22, 2010 to December 26, 2010


Book #38: Stupid Christmas

The combination of "holiday," "Kindle," and "free" sucked me in to this, and I will never, ever forgive myself for it.

The "author" (I think "editor" is more appropriate), Leland Gregory has scoured... some sources?... to find real-life zany Christmas-related stories and placed them into this collection. Sounds fun, right? It's not. There are a lot of problems, here.

First of all, there are no sources. I was a student of history. I live for sources and citations and footnotes. It's just how I roll. When you try to tell me something happened, especially if that something is hard to believe, you better be able to prove it. This entire point of this book is to collect outrageous incidents. There's a lot in this book that's hard to believe. It all supposedly actually happened, yet here's no reason for me to believe that it did. I mean, I'm not saying Gregory completely leaves out any trace of a source, because a lot of times he'll throw in "According to [insert random newspaper title here]"... But come on, you're writing and publishing a book. And getting paid for it. Make the effort to throw in an issue number and a date and some way for me to find what you're talking about. Geez. FYI, his book Stupid American History (which has the same basic purpose as this book, except it's about American History) is also free on Kindle right now. From what I understand in the reviews, he doesn't cite any of that either. SERIOUSLY, a history book with no citations?!?!??! OH MY GOD. That might just be the history jerk in me, but it really bugged me, and this is my review, so there.

Second, there are a disturbing number of "stories" in this book that have very little to do with Christmas. Sometimes it's just stuff that happened in December. December events are not equal to Christmas events.

Third, the incidents in the book aren't even interesting. I mean, yes, people are stupid and it's fun to read about the dumb things people do, but most of what was in here was just useless. There are probably close to 100 little tales in here, and only four or five were interesting enough for me to even remember. The one that sticks out the most for me was a Wal-Mart who set up a large Toys for Tots charity donation box near the exit of the store (so that customers could purchase a toy, then drop it off as a donation on their way out). When the Toys for Tots representative came to pick up the box, it was empty because the Wal-Mart manager told his employees to reshelf all merchandise unless there was a receipt with it to prove it hadn't been stolen and then donated. That's not actually funny, but it is stupid. And horrible. But honestly, there are only a few good ones in here. Most of them are just about drunk people doing dumb things and being arrested for it, so I suggest just picking up your local paper if you want to read about that.

I guess I was hoping for a nice collection of Christmas factoids and strange holiday traditions, like maybe where all those verses in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" come from. (Obviously not in the book, and I just realized I'd like to know more about it. I think I'll look that up.) I absolutely got what I paid for here, so I totally deserved it... but I invested several hours in reading this tripe.

Let's end this on a positive note: Each incident was only a couple paragraphs long, so it was great to read when I had a few minutes at a time to spare. I read it intermittently at the same time I was reading my last few books. That was nice. I guess.

Read from December 10, 2010 to December 25, 2010

1/5 Stars


Book #37: The Christmas Journey

Donna VanLiere decided that the version of the birth of Christ in the Bible wasn't good enough, so she rewrote it.

OK, that sounds crass. Really, though, The Christmas Journey is VanLiere's attempt at putting more emotion into the Christmas story. As she explains in the introduction, the scriptures are rather concise. They don't mention the conversations Mary and Joseph had or the labor pains or the stench of the stable. VanLiere adds all of this to her version.

I'm not going to summarize the plot, since you should really know this story unless you have legitimately been living under a rock.

This reminded me of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent for obvious reasons -- it takes a few nondescript Bible verses and elaborates. This is much shorter, coming in at 96 pages. (The beginning of the book is the actual scripture from Luke.) VanLiere's version of the Christmas story was a bit more humanized, and she was successful in adding some emotion and description into the story. I don't think it was enough, though. I would've liked to read something a lot more like what I read in The Red Tent... I wanted a full story, with background information on Mary and Joseph and dialogue and maybe some embellishments... Although, I'm sure the reason there weren't more embellishments is VanLiere's hesitation to add untruths to a story that most of the world is very, very familiar with. Whereas Dinah -- the center of The Red Tent -- is a lesser known Biblical figure, I'm pretty sure most people who know about the Bible are familiar with Mary and Joseph and that Jesus fellow. I guess you don't want to step on many toes there, and The Red Tent was clearly pushed as a fiction book. The Christmas Journey isn't so much.

Anyway, it's very simply written, and it's a nice, quick read for Christmas Eve night. The intro mentioned that VanLiere originally wrote this as a narrative to read during a church service (I think it's rather long for a church service reading, but maybe she's a Baptist). My thing is that I don't see the need to bother adding "emotion" and description to a story if you're not going to just take it and run with it. I'm sure there are a lot of people who'd love this slightly more human version of the birth of Christ, but it didn't do a whole lot for me.

2/5 Stars

Read on December 24, 2010


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols (19)

I decided a while back that my last book of the year would be Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (more on that in my next review).  As you know, my last book was The New Dead a collection of zombie-related short stories.  What better to segue between the two than a book of zombie Christmas carols (with an introduction by Christopher Moore!).

This is just a small, simple book where the author has taken the liberty of assuming the the Zombiepocalypse has happened, and that all of the traditional Christmas songs have been rewritten accordingly.  With songs like "I Saw Mommy Chewing Santa Claus," "Have Yourself a Medulla Oblongata," and "Deck the Halls with Parts of Wally," this book is a hilarious new take on those classic songs from your childhood.

The best part of this book, though, may be the drawings that pepper the pages between carols illustrated by Jeff Weigel.  Imagine a giant zombie reindeer with a glowing nose or a zombie boy unwrapping a present as a zombie puppy licks his face.  I wish I could show you some of these pictures, but I'm entirely frightened by zombie copyright lawyers, so here's a link to a Google search that includes a few.

This book was tons of fun for me, but if you're a traditionalist who looks for reasons to get offended, skip it.

4/5 Stars

The New Dead (18)

The New Dead is a collection of zombie stories (save a few that, for some reason, made the book while having nothing to do with the living dead) edited by Christopher Golden.  I'll be honest--I picked up this book in part because I'm a big Max Brooks fan, and Golden included one of his World War Z tales in the collection.  Still, I do like stories about the undead.

This collection left me with mixed feelings.  Some of the stories were really good.
1. "Lazarus" by John Connolly, the story of the "original" zombie.
2. "What Maisie Knew" by David Liss, an interesting take on zombie tales where zombies are bought, sold, and used much like Rosie from the Jetsons.
3. "Copper" by Stephen R. Bissette, the story of a group of ex-soldiers trying to survive.
4. "Life Sentence" by Kelley Armstrong, where a man in search of immortality turns to undead research.
5. "Family business" by Jonathan Maberry, where a young man follows his brother on the quest of a zombie bounty hunter and discovers things about himself and his family along the way (my second favorite story in the collection)
6. "Second Wind" by Mike Carey, where a re-animated stock broker builds himself a neo-homestead and discovers a new dynamic of zombie-human interaction.
7. "Closure, Limited" by Max Brooks, a tale of psychological rebuilding in a post zombie world.
8. "The Storm Door" by Tad Williams, my favorite of the collection, about an occult specialist who discovers a dark secret.
9. "Twittering from The Circus of the Dead" by Joe Hill, a story written through the eyes of a Twitter-using teen girl in the midst of a zombie filled circus.

Others weren't so great, including one that didn't have anything to do with zombies. What?  Really?  A collection of short stories about zombies that includes a short story that's NOT ABOUT ZOMBIES?  I don't get it.

Still, this was a good collection over all.  If you're into zombie fiction and looking for a book that you can read in segments (which is my favorite thing about short story collections), this is a great choice.

3.5/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book #36: A Cure for Dreams

Well, since I enjoyed my last book of Southern pleasantries so much, I stayed in the same vein for my next book.

This book reads like an old-fashioned story. You kind of feel like you're sitting on a porch swing drinking sweet tea listening to some old lady tell you about her life. That was undoubtedly author Kaye Gibbons' intention, and she executed it quite well. Gibbons is known for writing about women, and this book is no different. She tells the story of the life of Betty Davies, a young Southern woman who was very close to her overbearing mother, Lottie. The story is set during the Depression, a time period when many young women were married in their teens. Betty is slow to mature in terms of finding a man and starting a life of her own. Instead, she spends most of her teenage years in their small farming community with her mother and her mother's friends, all of whom have had their fair share of plight.

I didn't realize it until after I finished the book, but another novel by Gibbons, A Virtuous Woman, was featured in Oprah's Book Club. I'd like to read it sometime; I think Gibbons has a gift for writing about strong women, although I can't think of a single positive male character in this book. They were all stupid or crooked or cruel or deadbeats. Or all of the above. There's a lot to be said for celebrating women, but I hate it when men are made out to be the bad guys all the time. Not saying that would be the case in all her books, but it would've been nice to see a decent male in here somewhere. I had some small issues with the writing style, especially in the beginning, but I think I just needed to get used to it. Not only does it feel like it's coming straight out of someone's mouth, it really does feel like it was written in a different time, which is quite an accomplishment for a modern writer.

The story itself wasn't as good as the writing. I found it a little lacking, but it certainly wasn't boring. I guess it just leaves you wanting more. Though it takes you through three generations of women, it's a short book. Hard to tell as much as the reader wants to hear in 170 pages.

3/5 stars

Read from December 16, 2010 to December 21, 2010


Friday, December 17, 2010

Book #35: Where the Heart Is

Y'all know that on occasion I love a book full of good ol', down home Southern charm. The Florabama Ladies' Auxillary and Sewing Circle and The Cracker Queen have been a couple of my favorites this year. Billie Letts' Where the Heart Is fits right in.

The book is about Novalee Nation, a Tennessee-born seven-month pregnant seventeen-year-old with $7.77 to her name. She's also got a superstition about the number seven. She's been abandoned by practically everyone in her life, and she's headed west to start her life over before her baby comes. Things go sour pretty quickly, and she winds up stuck in Oklahoma. Southern hospitality kicks in, and she relies on the kindness of strangers to get her life back on track. There are many, many bumps along the way, and Novalee goes through more as a teenager than a lot of people do in a lifetime.

I really enjoyed Where the Heart Is. There's a lot of sadness in this book, but it's also so funny. I laughed out loud more than a few times. But I mostly loved this book because the characters were so likeable. You've heard me rage a few times this year about books that had characters that I just didn't like, and it ruined the whole book for me. That's not the case with this book. Other than the handful of characters that you're not supposed to like, this book is full of good people. Crazy people, but good people... People who took Novalee in and loved her even when her own family didn't, people who knew exactly what she needed when even she didn't know. That's refreshing. And I especially liked Novalee. She's tough and clever when she has to be, but really, she's just a kid. She's so innocent sometimes it breaks your heart. I'm realizing as I type this that I apparently got a little over-invested in this book. Oh, well. That's OK.

Is this a ground-breaking peice of intellectual literature? No, it's not. But it's good. It's well-written and endearing, so don't let the fact that it's promoted as one of those "feel-good" books or whatever. It's better than that. Don't let the movie fool you either. It happened to come on TV the day I finished the book (strange, huh?), so I watched it, and it wasn't terrible, but it doesn't touch the book. I do love Natalie Portman, though... Dang. What a stunner.

Anyway, get yourself this book for Christmas. And you can pretend it's from me.

4/5 Stars

Read from December 7, 2010 to December 15, 2010.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (17)

Yes, this is the book on which the animated movie was based, but don't let that fool you.  The Sword in the Stone is the first book in The Once and Future King series written by T.H. White.  I have been told of the classic nature of this series, but I have never taken the opportunity to read it.  Now that I've had a chance to read the first in the series, I look forward to the rest.

The Sword in the Stone tells the story of a young Wart (King Arthur) and his boyhood adventures.  The actual story of Arthur, though, sometimes takes a back seat to White's storytelling ability.  From his descriptions of ancient Britain and his apt comparisons to the modern day Britain, one can clearly see the world White paints for the reader.  Throw that in with the near-satirical commentary on how modern humans relate to animals in their nature, and you have an excellently crafted piece of writing.

As with many books I've "read" this year, I listened to the audio version of this book.  Neville Jason, the narrator, brings even more life into the story through his interpretations of the many memorable characters in the book.

Overall, if you're a fan of Arthurian legend or well-written, description-heavy books, you'll enjoy this read.  If you're more of a fan of following the action, this may not be a good choice.

3.5/5 Stars.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book #34: S*** My Dad Says

Hah! This book is hysterical.

For those of you not familiar with the premise of S*** My Dad Says, let me give it to you in a nutshell. After some less-than-ideal life situations, Justin Halpern (the author) moved back in with his parents when he was in his late 20s. His dad (Sam) is quite a character -- never afraid to speak his mind, full of vulgarity, not particularly sympathetic, but (as far as I'm concerned) a great father. Justin heard so many off-the-wall comments that he decided to start documenting them via the social networking site Twitter. His Twitter was initially just followed by a handful of his friends, then it grew and grew and grew until he had hundreds of thousands of readers. Cue book deal, and here we are. The book has gotten insanely popular, and there's even a sitcom based on the Halperns now.

I have actually been following Justin's Twitter for close to a year. It's hilarious in and of itself, but I hadn't really planned to read the book. I guess I expected it to just be a book of quotations that I'd already read on Twitter, so I didn't really give it much thought. After a recommendation from my sister-in-law (and her lending me the book -- that definitely helped), I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad I did.

First of all, Justin Halpern is a writer, (I believe he went to school for screenwriting), so he clearly has the chops to pull off a book like this. It's not just a collection of quotes. Each chapter of the book is about an incident in which Justin's dad displays his colorful personality. Then there will be a couple pages of Sam's one-liners, and then another chapter. The chapters are in chronological order, so you get to read about Sam's parenting from childhood through adulthood.

I laughed out loud more times than I can count while I was reading this. I can't even explain the beautiful dysfunction of this family, but it's so awesome. Yes, Sam Halpern is vulgar and blunt and often inappropriate, but he clearly cares very much about his family. Everything he does is with the intention to better his son, even if it means being brutally honest. So, while this book is hilarious, it's touching in its own way.

Can't recommend this enough. It's an easy, fun read, and you'll definitely be reading an extra chapter every night just because you don't want to stop.

5/5 Stars

Read from December 5, 2010 to December 6, 2010


Book #33: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Believe it or not, I've never seen the animated 1951 Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. I've seen Tim Burton's 2010 re-imagining a few times, and I even did my own twist on a Mad Hatter costume for Halloween this year. (I would add that I won 3rd place in a costume contest for that, but that would be rather indulgent of me, wouldn't it?) I've been meaning to read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for a while, so the final stretch of my 2010 reading list seemed like a great place to squeeze it in.

I have to say, I'm pretty surprised at how different it is from the movie. Granted, I haven't read Through the Looking Glass, which continues Alice's adventures, so I could be missing some elements there. I'm not sure how closely the animated version sticks to the book, but I really expected the general idea I had of the story to be more similar to what I read. Let me tell you, I'm fully aware of how sad it is that I'm comparing a book to a movie instead of the other way around. It's even sadder that there are a billion children in the world that probably don't even know the movie(s) are based on a book. The kids I teach love the 2010 version of the movie, and I guarantee you that if I walked in today and told them it was a book written over 100 years ago, they would all be floored.

That's unfortunate, because it's really a fabulous little tale. It's pretty short -- if you speak Kindle-ese, it's only about 1,100 "locations" long. If you don't speak Kindle-ese, too freakin' bad. Go pick up a hard copy and see how long it is.
My favorite thing about this book was Carroll's plays on words and the whimsical feeling of the story. It's no wonder this is a kids' classic. It's also no wonder he chose to call the world he created "wonderland." He paints some amazing pictures, and his characters are so entertaining. Weird, but entertaining.

It was, however, written in the 1800s, so it does have a different writing style than what most kids today are probably used to. It's kinda like trying to read Dickens... There are just some things that didn't seem to flow, but that's just modern writing messing with my head. I would certainly recommend picking up this classic when you get a chance, and for goodness' sake, make sure every child you know knows that the movie has some deep roots.

4/5 Stars

Read from December 3, 2010 to December 5, 2010


Monday, December 6, 2010

Special Post: Librivox

When I read my last book, Diamond as Big as the Ritz & Other Stories, I used some pretty diverse methods to finish it. I originally found the paperback on the bookshelf (no doubt from one of Derrick's zillion English classes), and I read some of the book in hard copy. I also downloaded a Fitzgerald short story collection on my Kindle that had all of the stories in Diamond as Big as the Ritz, plus some more. I read parts of the book on my Kindle and some parts on the Kindle app on my Droid Eris. Then, one day at work, I had to cut the white edges off over 500 4x6 photos (don't ask), one at a time, so I clearly needed something going on in the background to entertain me during this menial task.

Lo and behold, LibriVox! Free audiobooks! At LibriVox, volunteers record themselves reading books, chapters of books, or short stories and post them online. You can click to play through your computer's (or phone's) media player, or you can download them to put on your mp3 player. Any book in the public domain is accepted on LibriVox. In the U.S., that generally means anything published before 1923, or something that's had the copyrights otherwise lifted. So, it's great for classics, but not much else. Pretty much anything you could find for free on Kindle or in Project Gutenberg.

I downloaded the short stories in Diamond as Big as the Ritz and knocked out "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" while I was cutting all those pictures. So, thanks, LibriVox, for making that task a little better.

Anyway, ENJOY!

Book #32: Diamond as Big as the Ritz & Other Stories

While browsing the bookshelf for my next victim, I ran across this collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories. Since I just got married at the Ritz Theatre, I took it as a sign. (Yes, that's about how complicated my selection system is these days.)

I like Fitzgerald. I enjoyed The Great Gatsby the second time around, and I loved his short stories that I read in my college English classes. I'm a big fan of 1920s-era history, so his niche is clearly right up my alley. Here's the thing about Fitzgerald, though: he is much, much better in small doses. The lifestyle at the center of his writing is so exhausting. I can only deal with so many pages full of some useless rich party guy whining about that one chick who didn't dance with him.

OK, I'm over-simplifying, but if you've read enough Fitzgerald, I think you catch my drift. It's fun and whimsical to read one short story full of lavish parties and fretting over the length of your evening gloves. Two or three (or five) of such stories in a row is just annoying. I mean, don't these people DO anything? Anything useful? Aren't there Model Ts to assemble or something? Dang.

Anyway, I do have good things to say. It's clear why "Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is the collection's namesake. It was the best short story by a mile. It was what Fitzgerald described as one of his "fantasy" short stories, seeing as how it's full of impossibilities. It's a great little story about a young man who visits the family of a rich classmate who lives atop a single diamond that is literally the size of the Ritz Carlton. That family has a lot of stranger things in their lives, as it turns out. It's a fabulously written story with a twist that comes from nowhere and even more bizarre ending.

My other two favorites in this collection were "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" (the perfect 1920s-era Mean Girls-esque chick-gets-her-revenge story, I think) and "May Day" (the epitome of the exhausting lifestyle I was talking about -- during the historic May Day riots of 1919, some rich folks are too caught up in their own petty business to care).

The others were mediocre at best: "The Ice Palace" (Southern girl moves to the north, whines about it) and "The Offshore Pirate" (spoiled girl is sailing to Florida, gets hijacked by "pirates," falls in "love" with the captain) and "Jelly Bean" ("aw shucks" sort of guy pines over a swanky girl).

There are some very, very repetitive themes here. That's his thing, though, so whatever. I have a feeling I'd have much better things to say about these stories if I'd read, say, one per month instead of all five of them in a couple of days. It truly all boils down to the fact that I get really frustrated with the uselessness of these characters when I'm overloaded with it. It's kind of the same reason I don't read books in a series in succession. I don't want to get tired of the characters or the plot, so I split it up over time. Might have been a good choice here, too.

3/5 stars

Read from December 1, 2010 to December 3, 2010