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!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book #32 -- Little Bee

I have no idea how I'm going to review this book. I know that it was awesome and everyone should read it, but I really can't say much more.

You see, the thing about Chris Cleave's Little Bee is that you're not supposed to tell anyone what it's about. Even the description on the back of the book is lacking:

"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again -- the story starts there. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is how the story unfolds."

I'm... not... really sure why they don't want people to say what happens, because A) I don't think it would ruin anything if I were to explain the basic plot of the book, and B) I think knowing the basic plot would make people want to read it more... But whatever. I don't want to get shunned by the Little Bee fan community (if that even exists), so I'll just be really brief, OK?

  • Little Bee -- that's a person. She's a Nigerian refugee in England who's been in a refugee holding facility since she arrived in the UK.
  • Sarah is an English woman who met Little Bee on a vacation in Nigeria. (Who goes on vacation in Nigeria? Weird.)
  • Sarah and her family are the only people Little Bee knows in England. So she's trying to find them.

There you go. That's what it's about. Well, that, and sadness. This book is depressing. Do not say I didn't warn you of that. Even when it's funny, it's ironically funny... like, "I-have-to-laugh-at-the-way-the-world-is-so-that-I-don't-cry"-funny. Which isn't really funny at all. I'm not saying it wasn't good, because it was actually brilliant, and extremely well-written. I think Chris Cleave is on genius-level, and I need to read everything else he's ever written immediately. It's just... sad. It reminded me a lot of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (which I reviewed in March of 2010). McCann is a brilliant writer, although depressing. Cleaves is the same way. There's something sickening about the way he portrays modern first-world society through the eyes of a teenaged Nigerian girl who has fled from everything she has ever known. At times, I couldn't decide if I agreed wholeheartedly with the point he was trying to make, or if it ticked me off that he was acting like we (as citizens of developing countries) should somehow be ashamed of how our lives have evolved. I'm still on the fence about that, actually.

There's a popular thing on various social networking sites these days know as "First World Problems" -- people post a Facebook status or a Twitter update or something similar with some inane issue they're having that could only occur to someone living a comfortable life in a modern society. It's become sort of an Internet-wide joke, but it really speaks volumes. I actually found myself saying this to Derrick recently: "Our refrigerator isn't big enough." I immediately caught myself and realized how completely ridiculous that statement was and joked that it was the perfect example of a "First World Problem." But seriously, how stupid is that? Our huge electric cooling system that holds our food to keep it from spoiling is not large enough to contain all of the processed food, available anywhere in abundant quantities, which we have purchased from multi-million dollar companies. Ummmmm, ridiculous.

I came across this passage and immediately read it again. Then I got up, got a pen, underlined it, and put a sticky note on the page. It's a quote from Little Bee (the character):

"Imagine how tired I would become, telling my story to the girls from back home. This is the real reason why no one tells us Africans anything. It is not because anyone wants to keep my continent in ignorance. It is because nobody has the time to sit down and explain the first world from first principles. Or maybe you would like to, but you can't. Your culture has become sophisticated, like a computer, or a drug that you take for a headache. You can use it, but you cannot explain how it works. Certainly not to girls who stack up their firewood against the side of their house [...] This story is for sophisticated people, like you."

That really hit me for some reason. It's true. You couldn't even explain the most normal, everyday tasks to someone struggling in a third-world country. It would be absolutely alien. They wouldn't even know what to say or think if I told them my refrigerator was too small. It really makes you think about the things you take for granted. At the same time, I often got the feeling in this book that Cleaves was suggesting that, if you are fortunate enough to live in such a society, you are somehow guilty of suppressing others who are less fortunate. I don't really agree with that, but it's a pretty complex subject to figure out. 

Anyway, I've just completely gone off the deep end with this. Maybe that's why they tell you not to talk about it.

5/5 Stars

Read from November 25, 2011 to November 27, 2011


Book #31 -- Scary Mary

Obviously Dracula inspired me to read something else creepy and paranormal...

In S.A. Hunter's young adult novel Scary Mary, Mary is a misunderstood, bullied high school teenager.  Her grandmother (and guardian) is the local psychic, and Mary herself has the ability to hear ghosts. Her "gift" tends to complicate her life, and rumors about her abnormal lifestyle cause her classmates to label her a freak. When Cyrus, the new kid, tries to get to know her, she immediately pushes him away. Just when Mary is warming up to the idea of spending time with Cyrus, Vicky, the classic "popular cheerleader" type in young adult novels crashes the party and sets up a scheme to humiliate Mary. The incident that follows is successful in ruining Cyrus and Mary's budding relationship, but it also brings a powerful, dangerous spirit to Mary's attention. For Cyrus' safety, Mary tries to contend with the spirit herself, at the risk of her own life.

This was a great little story that I read over the course of a few hours. It'll hook you from the beginning. Mary is a great, sarcastic character who is not afraid to stand up for herself. She definitely carries the book. The plot was simple, but captivating. Hunter did a great job weaving together the story of the spirit Mary discovers. I really enjoyed how the story unfolded, and I found myself wondering what would happen next many times. It's not the most complex piece of YA literature in the world, but it's still an impressive story.

Bottom line: Is it ground-breakingly clever in terms of a young adult novel (a la The Hunger Games)? Not exactly. Is it entertaining and well-written? Yes.

I've just found out that this is the first in a series, and I will definitely be checking out the others. You should, too.

4/5 Stars

Read from November 24, 2011 to November 25, 2011


Book #30: Dracula

I've meant to read this book every October for about two years, but I always wind up choosing something else. I did the same thing this year, but then I decided that it didn't have to be Halloween for me to enjoy a horror novel so I read it anyway.

Bram Stoker's Dracula was originally published in 1897 and is the introduction of the now iconic "Count Dracula" and our quintessential idea of a vampire. There has been a fascination with vampires in pop culture for the last several years -- the Twilight series, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries -- and even going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Lost Boys. It was nice to read the original version of what a vampire is supposed to be. 

The novel is presented in a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and other miscellaneous written artifacts. From the other literature I've read from this period, that seems to be pretty a common style back them. It adds a personal feeling to the plot, so I enjoyed it. 

In the beginning, lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to Count Dracula's castle to give him legal advice. While he's there, he notices the Count's strange appearance and behavior. He soon realizes that Dracula is holding him as a prisoner in the castle. Meanwhile, Dracula is also keeping tabs on Harker's fiancee Mina and her friend Lucy. The novel also follows Dr. John Seward, who is the manager of a mental institution close to Dracula's castle. Seward's main patient is Renfield, who routinely eats bugs and small animals. Trust me, it all ties in together eventually.

I was struck by the fact that, for the entire novel to be named after him, Dracula isn't really around for much of the book. He's in the first couple of chapters, and is obviously present and causing mischief in the rest of the book, but as a character, he's pretty absent. You don't get a lot of dialog or much of a glimpse at him as a person. It adds to the creepiness of the story, but I personally like to get inside the mind of villains in books. That's unfortunate, because it would have been interesting to do a better comparison of Dracula to the newer version of a blood-sucking fiend. The more modern idea of a vampire is an over-sexualized, glittering, violent, brooding jerk (see image to the left). Stoker's Dracula is certainly charming, but there's no excessive seduction scenes or bloodbaths. Also, I don't think I recall anyone sparkling. I don't think Stephanie Meyer read this book.

All in all, I really enjoyed Dracula, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. I will say that, like most period novels, it can be hard to follow (just because of the difference in language), and it drastically loses its pace at about the 75% mark. It had me captivated for the first part, then it fell pretty flat. Not terrible, but a twinge disappointing.

PS -- This was my 30th book! I hit my goal for 2011 with this book.

3/5 Stars

Read from November 3, 2011 to November 24, 2011


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book #29: A Clash of Kings

I'm sure you thought I'd died or disappeared or just given up on reading, but no! No, I was just enjoying the 900+ page second book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I raved about A Game of Thrones on this blog back in August, so I was very excited to continue the journey in A Clash of Kings.

As always, it's really difficult for me to sum up the plot of books in a series without, you know, giving lots of things away. Not to mention, there's always so much going on that you may as well just read the freaking book if you want to know about it. (For real. Do it.) It's hard to believe that Westeros (the world in which the A Song of Ice and Fire series takes place) could get any more jacked up than it was in A Game of Thrones, but it does. King Robert is dead, and rumors are swirling that his son and the new king, Joffrey, isn't really Robert's son, thus having no real claim to the throne. That opens a lot of doors for others to begin vying to be ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Robert's brothers both believe they are the rightful heir, but Joffrey and his mother insist that Joffrey is a trueborn king. The Stark family is in on the battle as well, and the remaining members of the Targaryen family (who ruled before King Robert) believe that they should take back the throne that was rightfully theirs all along. Add a few more backstabbers and scandals, and what do you have? You have A Clash of Kings

I have to say that I enjoyed A Game of Thrones a bit more than this installment, but there are still three books to come. This book felt like the building block for greater things to come. Obviously, the point of a series is to build on the previous books, but I think this book was more of a transitional book than one that really grabbed you and pulled you in. There's a lot to be explained and set up for the books to come, so the book felt a little lacking. I'm not saying that it wasn't good, because it was -- parts of it were amazing. I'm just saying it builds up a lot of anticipation and then doesn't really deliver... But I'm sure the next book, A Storm of Swords, will deliver, because with a title like that, how could it not?

Really, though. Even with the bit of a lull, this is really an outstanding series. If you're not going to read it, at least watch it on HBO. (Because honestly, it's almost as good as the books. And I never say that.)

Read from September 29, 2011 to November 2, 2011

3.5/5 stars


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book #28 -- The Picture of Dorian Gray

I can't tell you why, of all the books on my ever-growing list of books I want to read, I randomly chose to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was complete impulse. I'm really glad I read it, though, and as it turns out, it was pretty freaking creepy, so it worked nicely as a kick-start into the Halloween season.

Oscar Wilde's (most famous novel, apparently, according to the cover art that I chose) The Picture of Dorian Gray is about exactly what it says it's about -- a picture. Of a guy. Named Dorian Gray. Dorian's friend Basil is a painter, and Basil thinks Dorian is just about the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, so he has him sit for a painting. During one of the painting sessions, Basil's friend Harry is visiting. Harry has a terribly cynical, blunt worldview that he likes to spout off to whomever will listen, and in the course of a couple hours, he has Dorian's head spinning with all these weird philosophies. Harry also can't seem to get over how pretty Dorian is and feeds his ego until Dorian realizes, "Hey, I really am pretty stunning, aren't I?" When the painting is complete, Basil gives it to Dorian as a gift, so that Dorian can remember his youth and beauty as it is captured in the painting. Dorian wishes that he could give up his own soul so that the painting could grow old and ugly instead of his physical self. Well... They always say to be careful what you wish for, right?

I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that Dorian's life gets pretty bad pretty quickly, and things go downhill from there. The first thing that struck me about this novel was the fact that all of the male characters are totally in to each other. They are literally obsessed with each other, constantly going on and on about how they wish they could be like the other, and he's so pretty, and you're so smart, and blah, blah, blah. Geez. Get a room. When they do talk about women, it is remarkable how chauvinist they are. I wish I had highlighted some of the passages that stuck out, but wow -- these guys hate some women. It was pretty entertaining, to say the least. The Picture of Dorian Gray was originally printed in 1890, so it's not like I expected much better, but I can safely say I have never read something so misogynist. Some bigger issues come up, too, like accountability and morality and all of that, but I try not to get too College-Lit-Class critical when I read, because it kind of takes the fun out of it. 

Anyway, this is a great piece of work, and it's well worth your time if you decide to read it. It's not too long, and there are only a few spots where it lags. (Ironically, the only part I found completely boring was an entire chapter that describes a book that Dorian reads and becomes obsessively fascinated by... It sounds like the worst book ever, and I hope it doesn't actually exist.) Even if you disregard all of the thought-provoking philosophy stuff of The Picture of Dorian Gray, there's still an interesting story there. Oscar Wilde definitely did his job there. 

I will leave you with a quote found toward the end of the novel (when Harry is speaking to Dorian) that really struck a chord with me, possibly because, for those of you who don't know, it is Banned Books Week -- a week dedicated to raising awareness about the fact that many great pieces of literature are banned in schools and libraries because, essentially, they make people think or feel a way that some Higher-Up somewhere doesn't find appropriate. One of your favorite books is probably on the ban list in many areas. I know plenty of mine are. So,  when I read this sentence, I had to file it away with my favorite quotes:

"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."

Very true, Mr. Wilde.

4/5 Stars

Read from September 19, 2011 to September 28, 2011


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book #27: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Ah, Harry Potter. How I have missed you. I've been looking forward to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for a long time, because many Harry Potter fans have told me that this book is their favorite in the series. That is no surprise, because this book took the franchise to a new level.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnesses the murder of a classmate and faces Voldemort himself, but Harry returns to Hogwarts as an outcast instead of a hero because none of his classmates believe Harry's story. As this book begins, some wizards begin to prepare for a possible war with Voldemort and his Death Eaters by forming the Order of the Phoenix. Unfortunately,  the Ministry of Magic (the "government" of the wizard community)  is trying its best to convince everyone that Harry was lying about Voldemort's return. The Ministry begins to interfere at Hogwarts, including passing educational decrees and making faculty appointments that stand in the way of the Order's plan to prepare wizards and witches for defending themselves against Voldemort.

Of course, it's very hard to go into a detailed review without a) spoiling the previous books and/or b) rambling about a bunch of characters that you don't know unless you're familiar with the previous books. My reviews of the later books in any series are always lacking, but that's just the way it has to be.

I will say that there is quite a lot going on in this book. Let's see... There's the building anticipation of a clash with Voldemort's followers, Harry's reputation re-building at Hogwarts, the tyranny of Hogwarts' new instructor, a crazy look into Professor Snape's past with Harry's father, some underlying family issues, some developments with Harry's love interest, some REALLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE DYING, and... I could go on. I mean, this book is heavy -- literally and figuratively. (Seriously, every book is longer than the last one. This one is nearly 900 pages. In hardback. It's like carrying around a brick.)

If you had asked me when I was half-way through if I thought this book was better that the last four, I would've said no. Ask me now, and I will say it's my favorite. The last half, or maybe even just the last third of this book is exquisite. Say what you will about J.K. Rowling, but I think she is fabulous at character development. These are just kids, after all, who are growing into young adults, and Rowling gracefully moves us right along with them. As for the plot... I have said this about pretty much all of the Harry Potter books, but I am continually surprised by the depth and surprises this series has. Rowling's a very, very creative and intelligent author.

Confession: I totally cried toward the end of this book. (That's TWO books in the last couple of months that have made me cry. It's terrible. I need to read happier things.) It was gut-wrenching. I had to reread a few pages three or four times to be sure I was reading it right, and then I cried. And then I felt like crying for the rest of the book, but I toughed it out. From what I understand, the next two are even more of an emotional rollercoaster, so that should be fun. This book ends with some serious "WHAT?!" moments, so I'm very much looking forward to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. SOON!

5 out of 5 stars

Read from August 8, 2011 to September 18, 2011


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book #26: The Help

When I saw the giant, wall-sized poster for the movie called The Help in my local theatre, I had no idea it was based on a book. I just knew that Emma Stone was on the poster and she was BLONDE, so I thought, "Finally! Something that might make people stop telling me I look like Emma Stone!" I soon heard that it was based on a popular book, but I never thought much more about it.

Fast forward a few weeks, and several friends of mine were talking about the book on various social networking sites, almost all of them using the exact phrase, "can't put it down." Well, that always makes me curious. Multiple people whose opinions I trust raving about the same book. OK. I had just finished A Game of Thrones and had planned on jumping right into the next book in the series, but I was so HEARTBROKEN after the end of that book that I needed a break. I took my happy tail to Amazon, downloaded The Help for my Kindle, and started reading 5 minutes later. Thirty-six hours after that, I had finished the book. Loved it.

The Help is University of Alabama graduate (booooo, War Eagle!) Kathryn Stockett's novel about the relationship between white families and their "help" in the 1960s. The story's narration is done by three people (except one chapter, which is told from an omniscient point of view). The first two narrators, Aibileen and Minny, are black maids for white families in Jackson, Mississippi. The third narrator is Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, who the young, white daughter of an affluent Jackson family who has recently graduated from college and wants to pursue a journalism career. All of Skeeter's friends quit college after they found husbands, and they are now living happily ever after, hiring maids to do their chores and raise their children. Although Skeeter has chosen a different path in life, she still attends weekly luncheons and club meetings with her friends. This is where Skeeter starts to notice just how her friends are treating their "help." When her insufferably vapid friend Hilly begins a community-wide movement to install separate bathrooms for maids to avoid "disease," Skeeter knows she has to do something to open people's eyes to the discrimination and injustices in the South.

I am, as you know, a sucker for a good Southern story, and even more of a sucker for a good historically-based novel. The tumultuous 1960s is a great setting for just about any story, and Stockett uses iconic historical events throughout her story to move the plot along. There are things in this book that will make you sick and ashamed and angry and just about every other emotion under the sun. 

As a history teacher, I often feel like there are monumental events in our history that we hear about so much that we take them for granted. "Yeah, yeah, Rosa Parks wouldn't give up her seat on the bus. We know, we've learned about it every year since 4th grade." It almost loses its importance because it's just rote fact at this point. (Not saying I feel that way, but I know plenty of my students do.)  There were so many unbelievably brave things that people did to change the way things were, and many of us don't even stop to think about how much of a risk they took just to stand up for what they knew was right. This book pretty much dares you to forget about how much of a sacrifice so many people made in the 60s for racial equality. You see what happens to people who stand up for what's right in this book, and it's heartbreaking. You see how powerful the desire is to fit in and not "associate" with blacks other than to hire the "poor things" as your help, lest you be shunned by your socialite friends. 

This book will definitely give you plenty to think about, and I fully agree with the "couldn't put it down" sentiment. Worth your time, for sure.

5/5 stars

Read from August 5, 2011 to August 7, 2011


Book #25: A Game of Thrones

Where. Do I. Begin?

It has been a long while since a book has devoured every fiber of my being like this book did... Every now and then, you just have that book. The last time I read a book that was that book, it was Pillars of the Earth, back in 2007. That's not to say there haven't been tons of books I loved since then, because there have been -- The Hunger Games and Millennium trilogies, to name a few. Still, nothing has been quite so captivating as the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. 

Let me begin by saying that it took me a very, very long time to read this, and that includes listening to the audio book on and off.  The copy I have is 800-ish pages, so it's a monster of a book, but I've read longer books in shorter amounts of time. For me, the issue wasn't that the book didn't have me hooked -- it did. It's just not a book I want to pick up for a few pages at a time, or a book I want to read while I'm, say, sitting on a school bus full of loud elementary school children. (Tried it -- major comprehension fail.) You get sucked in to the world that Martin builds, and you don't want to just stop in for a minute and then leave. You want to commit an hour or so at a time to reading, and I think that's something most would have trouble doing on a daily basis.

I will also say that for the first several chapters, I was completely confused. It's hard to read at first, and there are a lot of characters and places and families/houses to get to know. When I was about 50 pages in to the book, I was discussing it with a friend at work, who told me that there's an appendix in the back that lists the members of each house, including servants. MAJORLY helpful. I would actually recommend reading that first, and then starting the book, but even if you don't, it's great to have that to flip back to when you get confused.

OK, so, what's it about, right? Well, I'm avoiding that question because there's a lot going on, and I'm not really sure where to start. The major focus is the Stark family, head by Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell. Winterfell is in the frigid northern region of a kingdom ruled by King Robert Baratheon, who is a longtime friend of Eddard's. King Robert seized the throne from the Targaryen family, whose young heirs still live and want to restore their family's reign. King Robert married a lady from the Lannister family, who are known for their wealth  and their shrewd attitudes. (Confused yet?)  You obviously have the issue of the Targaryens seeking to win back their power, but at the same time, the Hand (or advisor) to the King has mysteriously and suddenly died. Many in the kingdom suspect foul play, and they begin searching for an answer. Add to that some creepy snow zombies running around outside the Wall that protects the kingdom, and you have yourself one action-packed book.

I really cannot say enough good things about this book. Everything about it is amazing. The Lannisters are deliciously evil, and the Starks admirably noble. There are characters that you will absolutely fall in love with and characters that make you rage. I always think a book is good if I can't stop thinking about how much I hate one of the characters. (Characters I'm supposed to hate, that is -- not like Bella Swan in Twilight. I'm supposed to like her, but I hate her. Not the same.) I laughed out loud several times while reading this, I was totally thrown for a loop more than once, and I will admit that I cried. Only once, but I did. I was totally heartbroken, and it was awesome.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book:

"A mind needs a book as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." -- Tyrion Lannister

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." -- Cersei  Lannister


5/5 stars

Read from June 30, 2011 to August 4, 2011


Friday, July 29, 2011

Book #24: Songs for a Teenage Nomad

Sorry for the pause between updates. Not sure why it took me a month to sit down and write this review, but the good news is that I enjoyed Kim Culbertson's Songs for a Teenage Nomad so much that I have no trouble remembering what I want to say about it.

The narrator is 15-year-old Calle, a smart, reasonable teenager with a flaky, unstable mother. Her mother has had short-term relationship after short-term relationship for Calle's entire life, each new man coming with a new city and a new lifestyle. The only man that Calle's mom doesn't seem interested in discussing is Calle's dad, about whom Calle knows absolutely nothing. Songs for a Teenage Nomad opens with the family starting over yet again in Andreas Bay, California.

For the first time in all of their travels, Calle finds a group where she fits. She makes friends quickly, and even though she mostly hangs out with the "theatre kids," she develops a relationship with a popular athlete at school. Naturally, her mom's newest relationship starts to turn sour, and the threat of moving looms yet again. Then a unexpected visitor shows up in Andreas Bay, and Calle's entire world is turned upside down.

Why the title Songs for a Teenage Nomad? Calle loves music -- pretty good music, too. Music is the only thing that she knows will never change, so she keeps a journal of songs and the memories that each song holds. Each chapter of the book begins with a handful of lyrics and a short blurb of Calle's memory of the song. For example, this is the song she and her mother listened to after Boyfriend #7 left. This is the song that was playing when Calle found out they were moving to Nevada. It was a brilliant way for Culbertson to give more background information about exactly how unstable Calle's life had been without boring us with it all in to the first chapter or so of the book.

I really, really enjoyed this book, probably because I liked the connection between the story and popular music. I think particular songs remind us all of a certain time or memory from our lives. I love that Calle keeps a record of it. (The back of the book includes instructions and suggestions for keeping your own journal like Calle's. ) As for the plot, I saw some of it coming just by reading the book description, but don't let that fool you -- there is a lot you will not see coming. :)

There were some very, very eerie similarities between a few random things in the book and my own teenage years. My life was nothing like Calle's, of course, but I'm talking about tiny little circumstances that freaked me out. The first play the drama club does at Calle's new school is Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare. The first play I did in high school as a freshman was The Actor's Nightmare. Calle mentions that she and her friends love the scene in the movie Almost Famous where the characters sing Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." My friends and I reenacted that scene in drama class one day... There were many, MANY other examples, some even creepier (bu would require a lot of explanation). I got to the point where I was seriously freaked out a couple of times, but I guess that just means I was meant to read this book.

Definitely a great read, and it's young adult, so recommend it to all the 'tweens and teens you know. Way better than Twilight.

Read from June 28, 2011 to June 30, 2011

5/5 Stars


PS -- I've been reading George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones for a MONTH. A MONTH!!!!! I'm about 3/4ths done, so hopefully I'll write a review soon. Don't lose faith in me!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book #23: The Scars

This is one of my favorite books of the year so far, although it's not at all like I thought it would be based on the description I read.

The Scars by William Tennant is free on Kindle and also a free audio book from Podiobooker. The Amazon page for the book gives the following description: 

"Peter has lost the love of his life, Mags is a young girl broken by abuse, Bernard has a glint in his eye and a slur in his soul and Emma is powered by a hidden past. In 'The Scars' we find life, loss, beauty, darkness, desire and violence.In 'The Scars' we find the saddest of loves."

Nothing in that description is false, but it does leave a lot out. In The Scars, Peter is a fresh-out-of-college literature teacher in England who has recently lost his brand new wife. Bernard and Emma are his fellow teachers who become very close to Peter, but refuse to be around each other due to a mysterious past encounter between the two of them. Peter notices that one of his students seems deeply troubled. He eventually learns that the student, Mags, is being abused by her stepfather. Peter fights to get her the justice she deserves while simultaneously  trying to put his life back together after the devastating death of his wife. 

So... There are many twists and turns in this book that I'd love to discuss, but I want everyone to read it so badly that I refuse to spoil it. And can I just say, please do NOT read the reviews by the readers on Amazon before you read this book. Not because I think the reviews are unfair, but because they are literally riddled with spoilers. Most of them ruin the entire climax of the book within the first few sentences. So, please, don't read those.

There are some things in this book that are hard to swallow, but, I'm here to tell you, are reality. Regardless, Tennant is a gifted author with a talent for character development. There's a deep connection between the reader and the characters, even the more secondary characters. There is a scene in towards the end of the book where Peter is talking to someone in an online chatroom, and for some reason I found myself thinking that it couldn't possibly be Peter talking -- I knew his character too well to believe he was saying the things he was saying. It was very, very subtle, and it wasn't meant to be obvious to the reader at all, but soon you find out that it was, indeed, someone impersonating Peter online. That's just a small example of how well Tennant describes Peter's personality.

This book sort of has everything -- love, scandal, abuse, justice, death, action, mystery... You name it, it's in here. It's a wonderful book that I think some people might skip over due to the lackluster description, but I hope if you get a chance, you'll check out the Kindle book or the audio book. It is highly recommended.

Read from June 25 to June 28, 2011

5/5 Stars


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book #22: Quid Pro Quo & Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy

I like to review the short stories that I read, particularly if they're good, but as you know, I don't like to count them as books. As always, I read two short stories/small books to count them as one, as is the case with this review.

First up is Quid Pro Quo, a short story by Dan Dillard. In this story, there are two families struggling with illness. Louis is a child who suddenly develops life-threatening flu-like symptoms, and Laura is a middle-aged married woman who has been riddled with cancer. The families do not know each other, but they share a common determination to be healthy. Hearsay leads both families to a mysterious man named Steven, who is said to be a healer. Louis and Laura are both "healed" by Steven, but they soon learn that healing comes at a high cost.

This was a jarring, strange little tale that will really make you think. Louis and Laura both thought that the ability to live was all they wanted or needed. As it turns out, quality of life becomes more important than how long they survive. Steven says there is no up without down, no back without front, no dark without light, and so on. There's a cost for everything, and it's interesting to see what Louis and Laura give up for their health, and whether cheating fate was worth it in the long run. This definitely isn't a feel-good story, so don't pick up for a quaint sunny afternoon read. That being said, I really enjoyed it, even though it was kind of disturbing. Those kinds of stories are nice every once in a while, especially when it's just a short story. You can get it for free on Kindle here

4/5 Stars

Read on June 23, 2011

Next is Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy: A Story for Demented Children. This is a short story by John H. Carroll, which really is intended for children -- demented or not, I think. I like zombies, and I admittedly have had a bit of Halloween fever lately (I wish it came more than once a year...), so I thought I would use this as the second part of my short story review. I am sad to say I was disappointed.

The story is about a kid named Tobais who gets lost in the woods. He comes across Zachary, a zombie who has actually retained his soul thanks to a witch's spell... So he's kind of part-zombie, part-human. Tobais asks Zachary to help him find his way home, apparently unscathed by the fact that Zachary is a zombie. So, they set out to make it back to the village. Meanwhile, for about a page or so, there's a snobby girl named Anise who longs to be rescued her from her perfectly comfortable lifestyle. Not really sure why that's important, but it's there. 

There's really not much going on in this story. It's got some silly, zany descriptions of zombies and their creepy friends, and it's kind of funny in a children's book sort of way. Still, I don't think there was a point. Even kids' books need to have a point. The last couple of paragraphs (in which a prince is introduced), while they do tie in to a previous scene in the story, completely do not belong at all. It sounds like the beginning of an entirely different story.

Maybe I don't read enough children's books and was expecting too much from this. It just wasn't very well-crafted. My kids in the summer program I teach wrote children's stories a couple of weeks ago, and even they understood there needed to be a story arc and a finite ending. Oh, well. This was also free on Kindle, and you can see more about it here.

1/5 stars

Read from June 24, 2001 to June 25, 2011


Book #21: The White Queen

As much as I enjoy historical fiction, it may come as a surprise that I've never read anything by Philippa Gregory. She's pretty much the queen of historical fiction, best known for The Other Boleyn Girl. After reading this, I think it might be safe to say it's the start of a beautiful relationship between Philippa and I.

The White Queen is the first in a series of books about the Plantagenet royals in England. At the center of this book is the War of the Roses -- the war between the Yorks and the Lancasters for the rightful heir to the throne. The Lancasters were symbolized by a red rose, the Yorks by a white rose -- hence the title The White Queen. (The next book in this series is The Red Queen, written about Lancastrian heiress Margaret Beaufort).

Elizabeth Woodville is the narrator of The White Queen, and she is a very intriguing character indeed. Elizabeth was originally from the House of Lancaster, with both her father and husband fighting in the War of the Roses against the Yorks, who had already placed Edward IV on the throne. Her husband died in battle, and Elizabeth was widowed with two young sons and a difficult set of in-laws. As historical legend has it, Elizabeth stood on the side of the road waiting for Edward IV to pass with his army so that she could ask him to settle a financial dispute between her family and her late husband's family. It is said that Edward was taken by her beauty immediately, and the two were soon married in secret. Yes, a Lancastrian widow and the York King of England. You heard me right. That is history, folks. You can't make up stories any better than what has actually occurred in this strange world of ours.

So, Philippa Gregory takes us from Elizabeth's time as a frustrated widow to her days as the most beautiful queen England ever saw, and then through several more battles for the throne. With the War of the Roses (commonly referred to as "The Cousin's War") as the backdrop, Elizabeth's story makes for a wonderful novel of conspiracy, scandal, revenge, and loss. The fact that the war really is a tangle of cousins, friends, and former allies means that you never really know what side anyone is on. 

There's something wonderfully authentic about Philippa Gregory's writing. You lose all sense of the novel being fiction. It often feels like you're just reading Elizabeth's diaries. I guess if you are able to build a name for yourself as one of the best historical fiction authors of your time, you know how to do research. I was impressed that just about every major aspect of the novel is based on historical evidence. Of course she fills in some gaps from time to time and has to choose between a handful of historical theories about what may have happened, but everything from Elizabeth's stunning beauty to her family's reverence of Melusina the water goddess are based on evidence. There's a pretty impressive bibliography in the back of the book that shows just how hard she worked to ensure the accuracy of her work. 

One thing I feel like I need to mention is how striking the lust for an honorable title is to these people. Elizabeth was willing to stop at nothing to make sure her son would claim the throne after Edward died. If you know your history, you know that after Edward died, his brothers tried to keep his son from the throne by claiming he was a bastard, and that Elizabeth was no more than his mistress, not his wife. It's one thing to want your family to get what is deservedly theirs, but it gets to the point where her entire family is suffering and at times facing death just for the chance that her son might get to be king. It's not even about right and wrong after a certain point -- it's just pride. It's hard to explain without laying out the entire plot of the book, but it's just such a warped sense of snobbery. I don't get it. Again, that's just the way it was, so it's not a problem with the book, it's a problem with history. It's always been confusing to me, but it is very well-displayed in this novel.

Here's a bit of a warning, though. You may or may not have noticed that the English, particularly the royal English, aren't very original when it comes to choosing names. You have to stay on your toes when you're reading this, because there are several Edwards, a few Elizabeths, some Georges, and more Richards than I care to think about. For God's sake, Elizabeth herself had two sons named Richard (one with her first husband, one with Edward).  Richard was also her first husband's name, Edward's brother's name, and Edward's brother's son's name, so that's five Richards already. Throw in the Richards you come across in the names of soldiers and distant cousins, and you've basically got yourself a headache. She does a good job clarifying which one she's talking about, but still... don't read it when you're really sleepy.

Anyway, this was a very pleasant first experience with Philippa Gregory, and I am looking forward to reading her other novels. 

4/5 Stars

Read from June 12, 2011 to June 24, 2011


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book #20: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This is my favorite of the Harry Potter books so far. That's apparently a rather controversial statement, but I don't particularly care.

In the fourth book of J.K. Rowling's massively popular series, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine attend the Quidditch World Cup. Quidditch is the most popular sport in the wizard world, and the World Cup brings together wizards from all over the world... Turns out to be the perfect place for the evil Lord Voldemort's supporters (known as "Death Eaters") to rally together and cause some trouble. The Death Eaters' stunt sends everyone into a frenzy. Meanwhile, as the school year begins at Hogwarts, Harry learns that students from the Belgian and French schools of magic (Durmstrang and Beauxbaton, respectively) will be visitors at Hogwarts to participate in the Triwizard Tournament -- a series of tasks to determine the strongest wizard or witch. Harry is too young to participate, but that doesn't stop a hidden Death Eater from trying to bring Harry straight to Lord Voldemort, who is still seeking revenge.

The Triwizard Tournament is the main reason that I enjoyed this book so much. The selection of school "champions," the clues they are given for each task, the strategies to consider for facing each task... Beautiful. I have to say, it reminded me a little of The Hunger Games...  Of course the entire Harry Potter series was written before The Hunger Games... and the Triwizard Tournament is much less violent and cold-hearted. Still, there were some similar elements. Just enough to make me smile.

Another dimension of the Hogwarts' students lives was added in Goblet of Fire, and that is romance. Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are 14 in this book, and hormones are kicking in. All three of them are struggling with crushes, and things get complicated when Hogwarts hosts a ball to bring together the students from the competing schools. There's plenty of drama about all of that, but it wasn't overkill. (And by that, I mean, it wasn't the kind of drama you might read in, say, Twilight.) It didn't take away from the story, and I appreciate that.

You find out some interesting things about some of the recurring characters in this book, like Snape and the Malfoy family, among others. I'm really looking forward to seeing how things shape up as far as that goes. I'm  kind of sad that I'm over halfway done with the series. That's why I'm reading them about a month apart... Spreading it out as much as I can.

5/5 Stars

Read from May 29, 2011 to June 11, 2011


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book #19: American Gods

Our book club's choice for June was American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a very well-known science fiction/fantasty author. His books Coraline and Stardust have both been turned into successful movies, and he recently wrote an episode of the hugely popular British television show Doctor Who. Even though his material isn't always exactly up my alley, I still have a lot of respect for his work. I think he's pretty brilliant, so I was very excited to read American Gods

When we meet the main character, Shadow, he is in prison counting the days until he can go home to his beloved wife, Laura. Shadow learns that he will be getting out of prison a few days early... due to his wife being killed in a car accident. On his way home for the funeral, Shadow meets a mysterious man who calls himself Wednesday who seems to show up everywhere Shadow goes. Wednesday asks Shadow to work for him as a personal assistant of sorts, and, with essentially no other option for moving on with his life, Shadow reluctantly agrees. Wednesday turns out to be the powerful god, Odin, who is on a mission to gather his fellow gods from various regions and mythologies in order to face the "newer" gods of the modern lifestyle. What follows is a strange journey through America to enlist the aid of these gods in the battle against the new gods.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book, but I have to say that it lost me a little bit somewhere after the mid-way point. I felt like there was a lot of stuff going on for no reason. Looking back, I'm not sure what the point of half of the book was, as it seems like very little that happened along the way even made a difference. That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading about Shadow's journey around America and his interaction with some of the gods, because it was entertaining and well written, but... It was kind of pointless. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone, so let's just say that I thought the ending was pretty anti-climactic. It seems like the entire book moved you toward a specific event that didn't technically happen.  My biggest beef with the book could be boiled down to the disconnection of it all.

In a similar vein, there were "Coming to America" vignettes throughout the book that detailed the older gods' (who obviously began as gods in other regions' mythologies) journeys to America. I appreciated what Gaiman was doing by peppering these throughout the novel, but they just didn't seem to fit. Almost none of the gods you read about in these short tales ever show up again in the book. I get that they were there as background information, but it almost seemed like filler... Which wasn't really needed in a book that weighs in at almost 600 pages.

That being said, I really didn't dislike the story itself. I thought the characters were well-developed and likable, even with their flaws. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that likable characters are a huge thing for me. I liked Shadow, and even Wednesday, although he was pretty crooked. In the book, Shadow spends some time living in an apartment in the small town of Lakeside in order to be "hidden" from some shady characters who are on Shadow and Wednesday's tails. I LOVED Lakeside and everyone in it. It was quirky and weird and frozen for most of the year, and the people there were hilarious. What's not to love about a town with a tradition of townspeople entering a contest to guess the day and time that a broken-down car will break the ice on the frozen lake? The town has its dark side, though, with missing teenagers and strange stories from the past, which just adds to the intrigue. I was sad to see Shadow leave Lakeside. 

So... I don't know. I liked it, some parts more than others, but I didn't love it. I feel sort of empty about it. After a killer first half, it didn't deliver for me, and I was really hoping it would. It is far beyond my literary and intellectual boundaries to legitimately criticize him. Maybe his whole vision for this book just wasn't for me.

3/5 Stars

Read from May 8, 2011 to May 28, 2011.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Book #18: The Shepherd

This is probably my favorite book I've read all year. It scared the crap out of me, blew my mind, and then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Still can't, really. (But not in the same way I couldn't stop thinking about Of Mice and Men... That's a whole different thing. I'm still angry at that book.)

Let me first point out that this is a classic case of why you should NOT judge a book by its cover. That is some ugly stuff. Luckily I got it on Kindle, so I didn't have to look at that every time I picked it up. (By the way, it's not free anymore, but it is a mere $2.39. Well worth it.)

I am going to do a completely terrible job of explaining what this book is about, because just when you think you know what's going on... You're wrong. I don't think I can actually tell you what's going on without ruining the book, and you legitimately must read it, so I'm not going to spoil it for you. I'll just give you some basics:

Francis Ackerman is the worst kind of serial killer -- the kind with mood swings, the kind that gives you false hope for survival, the kind that forces you to play twisted death games, the kind that wants to savor every second of your agony. Want an example? How about forcing a mother to play Russian Roulette with her two young children? Or challenging his victim to a game of Hide and Seek -- if he finds you, you die; if he doesn't, congratulations. Ackerman travels around wherever his hunger takes him, and he winds up in a small, sleepy Texas town. Marcus Williams also finds himself in this town, where he's trying to put his life back together on an inherited farm after his career as a New York City detective falls apart. Marcus stumbles across one of Ackerman's victims, and he naturally goes to the police. The local sheriff brings him in for questioning, and Marcus quickly realizes that the sheriff seems to be ignoring major evidence in the case. Soon enough, Marcus learns about some serious corruption in the local police department. Meanwhile, Ackerman has been watching Marcus, and he believes that they are opposite sides of the same coin. Ackerman feels drawn to Marcus, and he believes Marcus can help him prove that being a serial killer has been his destiny all along.

That's the best I can do... But there's so much going on that I couldn't even begin to scratch the surface. This is probably the only book I've ever read that literally made me shout, "WHAT?!" every couple of chapters. You never see some of this stuff coming. The ending is one of the most insane twists I've ever seen a book take. I kept wondering about a few loose ends and small plot holes that didn't make sense... Then the end happened, and everything made sense.

I absolutely recommend putting this on your must-read list.

5/5 Stars

Read from May 1, 2011 to May 7, 2011


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Book #17: 13 Little Blue Enevelopes

This is one of those books, a lot like House of Dark Shadows, that I decided to read at random, totally loved, and then found out there were sequels and got really mad that I would have to find/buy them. 

Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes is a young adult novel about 17-year-old Ginny Blackstone, who is shy, unassuming, and has pretty much never done anything exciting. Her Aunt Peg, on the other hand, was a flaky, nomadic adventurer who often disappeared overseas for months at a time without her family knowing where she was. Shortly before the novel opens, Ginny's family receives word that Peg has unexpectedly died. A few weeks later, Ginny gets a package from her deceased aunt containing thirteen blue envelopes, to be opened in order. They contain directions for Ginny to take a journey through her Aunt Peg's footsteps in Europe. If she follows the plan, Ginny will be taken to places that were special to Peg, meet Peg's European friends, and find out more about herself on the way. The "rules" set out in the first letter are as follows:
  • Rule #1: You may bring only what fits in your backpack. Don't try to fake it with a purse or a carry-on.
  • Rule #2: You may not bring guidebooks, phrase books, or any kind of foreign language aid. And no journals.
  • Rule #3: You cannot bring extra money or credit/debit cards, traveler's checks, etc. I'll take care of all that.
  • Rule #4: No electronic crutches. This means no laptop, no cell phone, no music, and no camera. You can't call home or communicate with people in the U.S. by Internet or telephone. Postcards and letters are acceptable and encouraged.

So, there you go. A 17-year-old girl, traveling alone in Europe with no guidebooks, no money, and no way to contact people back home -- all while following crazy directions from her dead aunt. That's what's going on in 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

I have to say, I really loved this story. It's an interesting premise, and Johnson is a fantastic descriptor. You can tell she has spent time in Europe, because the way she writes about Ginny's trip makes you feel like you're right along with her. The fact that Ginny herself doesn't know what the next step of her journey will be is what keeps you turning the pages. You find yourself wondering what exotic place Peg will send her next, and what strange characters she'll meet on the way.

This is written for the young adult/teenage crowd, so it's a simple read. I didn't really find the story itself all that juvenile. It has all the elements that a young adult novel should -- adventure, uncertainty, angst, a little bit of a romance... And while we're on the subject of that last one, the guy that Ginny falls head over heels for is really annoying. I don't get the attraction, so I could for sure do without that part of the book.

There's a soon-to-be released sequel called The Last Little Blue Envelope. I won't spoil anything about the first book, but let me just say that there doesn't have to be a sequel. The title of the second book might lead you to believe that 13 Little Blue Envelopes is left wide open with no resolution, but that's not the case. It could stand alone and still be great. I would recommend this as a short, easy read when you're in the mood for something light and enjoyable.

3.5/5 stars

Read from April 24, 2001 to April 30, 2011


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book #16: Swine Not?

I essentially grew up with Jimmy Buffett. He was always on the stereo when I was little. Appropriate or not, "Margaritaville" was the first song to which I learned every single lyric, and I just loved to show that off to anyone who would listen. I will be the first to admit that I have a giant soft spot for Jimmy and will pretty much accept anything he does with open arms. That's exactly why when I heard he wrote a book about a pig in New York City, I welcomed the opportunity to read it. Dumb? Yes. But it's Jimmy Buffett! Jimmy and his tunes went on every vacation my family ever took, so naturally when it comes time to hit the beach, I always get a Buffett craving. I nominated his book Swine Not? for the book club, and somehow it won.

Swine Not? is about Rumpy, the McBride family's pet pig who makes the move with the family from comfy Tennessee to intimidating New York City. Rumpy quickly learns he's not quite as accepted in the Big Apple as he was in the rural South. The 12-year-old McBride twins, Barley and Maple, have to come up with elaborate disguises and escape routes anytime they take Rumpy out of the house. That's a sad situation for a pig who was used to running around among humans all the time back home. Rumpy becomes lonely and begins searching for his long lost brother, Lukie, who he believes is living in NYC. With the help of the rest of animal world and the McBride family, Rumpy goes on a quest for his brother and some respect from the big city.

This was a very quick read -- a great book to take on vacation since the chapters are only a couple pages long. (The story is told through the voice of Rumpy the pig and Barley, one of the McBride twins. The chapters alternate between their points of view.) It was easy to put down and pick up again when I only had a few minutes to spare at a time. As lyrical as Jimmy Buffett is, I thought it would flow a little better than it did. I'm sure the thing was edited to death after he wrote the original manuscript, but I was still surprised to see it was a bit choppy.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it was pretty juvenile. I feel like it could be on the shelf next to his children's book (Jolly Mon) instead of next to his other adult novels (A Salty Piece of Land, Tales from Margaritaville). The story is obviously about Rumpy the pig, but the other main characters are children. The characters, plot, and writing all seemed way more kid-centric than I expected, although I'm not sure how you'd make a story about a pig any more adult. It'd be like trying to make Homeward Bound an R-Rated movie. The ending was way too "happily ever after" for me, too. I won't spoil it, but I'll just say some pretty unbelievably unlikely things happen. I would've preferred things to be a little more realistic.

This isn't really specific to this book, but can I just go on record and say that I HATE IT when books don't use contractions? It's so unnatural. Even in dialogue sequences, this book would say "did not" instead of "didn't," "could have" instead of "couldn't." That's a pretty minor beef, but it really bothers me. Seems like I've run in to that in several books lately.

So, bottom line -- this was enjoyable, but not great. It wasn't a huge time investment, so I'm glad I read it, but it was definitely just a silly little book about a pig.

But at the end of the day, you know what? It's Jimmy Buffett. It's excellent.

Read from April 20, 2011 to April 24, 2011

2/4 Stars


Monday, April 4, 2011

Book #15: The Film Club: A Memoir

This was a lovely little book, and I learned stuff, too! Win!

David Gilmour, a Canadian journalist, wrote this memoir about a period of his life that would have any parent shaking in their boots -- his teenage son, Jesse, was failing school and desperate to drop out. David, unlike most parents, realized Jesse was miserable and made him an offer that no kid could refuse: Drop out of school. Live at home, rent free. Don't bother getting a job. Awesome, right? This is the deal Gilmour made with his son Jesse.

Here's the catch: Jesse had to watch three movies per week with his dear old dad -- movies chosen by his dad. Also, no drugs. That's another part of the deal. So, that's how the next year or so of their lives went.

What follows is an amazing journey through film -- which leads David and Jesse to learn more about each other and about life in general. The topics covered in the films chosen by Gilmour for his son open up their conversations to cover everything from women to alcohol to camera angles. Gilmour took a massive chance on his son and found a way to connect with him in the process, which, in turn gives Jesse the purpose in life he wasn't finding in high school.

This is a beautifully written story from the heart of a father who completely, totally loves his son. I can image what kind of reactions he must have gotten when people found out he was letting his kid be a "deadbeat," sleeping until late afternoon and writing rap songs with his saggy-pants friends... But in the end, he knew what was best for his kid, and he was going to give him what he needed no matter how long it took or what strange path it took to get there. Gilmour is a wonderful father, and his words prove how much he cares about his son.

As for Jesse... The book covers his late teenage years, which is probably the most obnoxious period in any person's life, and Jesse's no different. Ohhhh my Goddddd at the draaammmaaaa. There are two main girlfriends discussed in the memoir, and my LORD, are all teenage boys that miserably melodramatic about a chick they dated for a few months? Sheesh. Cannot handle that mess. Anyway, glad he got things straightened out.

One of my favorite things about this memoir is the list of films in the back of the book. Gilmour gives us a list of all the movies he and Jesse watched during the period of time in which their "deal" took place. It's a great resource, because Gilmour chooses some stellar films to share with his son. What a film buff that guy is. Throughout the book, he gives interesting factoids and trivia about the movies they watch -- even down to the decisions directors made about particular camera angles. It was very cool to read those facts about movies I know and movies I don't. I've definitely added a few to my "watch" list thanks to this book. And you can add this to your "read" list. Yay!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book #14: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

AHHHHHHHHHH!!!! WHY ARE THESE BOOK SO GOOD!?!? It makes me feel like such an insufferable nerd!

In The Prisoner of Azkaban, the dangerous dark wizard Siruis Black has escaped from Azkaban, intending to hunt down Harry Potter. Black is on the loose for the majority if the book, which has magic world and the muggle (non-magic) world anxious and frightened. The plot thickens when Harry learns exactly how he is connected to Black (of whom Harry has never heard before his escape). And, of course, as is usually the case in the Harry Potter series, we learn that things (and people) aren't always what they seem...

STELLAR, RIGHT?! I know. I loved this one. Almost as good as the first one, although I think I will always love Sorcerer's Stone the most. I am continually impressed with J.K. Rowling's ability to be unpredictable even though she's writing for kids.

As always with books in a series, I have a hard time coming up with much to say without ruining the previous books, so... A short but sweet review for this one, but make no mistake: It is a fantastic book.

Read from March 19, 2011 to March 23, 2011

5/5 Stars

Book #13: Practical Demonkeeping

Our book club choice for March was Christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping. I had never read any of Moore's books before this one, but I had always heard that his writing style is similar to the late, great Kurt Vonnegut's. That's why I bought Derrick one of Moore's books as a gift. He has been hooked every since, and now I think I might be, too.

This bizarre novel takes place in Pine Cove, which is a fictional city set up by Moore that shows up time and time again in his books. (Practical Demonkeeping is its first appearance.) Pine Cove is full of strange characters, but the strangest are certainly Travis and Catch -- drifters who roll in to town and stir up a whole mess of trouble. Catch is a demon, hence the title of the book, and Travis is his "keeper," I guess you could say. A tiny man named Gian Hen Gian shows up in Pine Cove around the same time as Travis and Catch, and as it turns out, he and Catch have quite a long history. A long, loooong, long history. Several centuries' worth. Some of the good, unassuming folks of Pine Cove find themselves with quite a task -- sending Catch back to Hell before he eats them all.

Yeah, the plot's a bit odd, but as I said to the book club, I was pretty impressed that Moore managed to keep it from getting too zany. It's Moore, it's supposed to be, uh, off-beat, shall we say? But he walks a wonderfully fine line between intriguing and just dumb. There are a great many characters introduced in this book, some of them major, some of them only appearing for a chapter or two, but each one is special. The characterization of the people of Pine Cove was one of my favorite things about the book. I can see why Moore returns to the city in his books... If I had crafted a town full of all those interestingly weird people, I'd want to talk about it as much as possible, too.

 Moore is known for his humor, and I certainly found myself laughing out loud several times. I wish there was a way I could describe his style, but I don't want to give anyone the wrong impression. How about I just say, "Go read a Christopher Moore book!" and be done with it?

4/5 Stars

Read from March 1, 2011 to March 7, 2011