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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Book #9: The Hangman's Daughter

Oliver Potzsch's The Hangman's Daughter was our book club's choice for February.

The book (published by Amazon Crossing, interestingly enough) is written in German, translated to English by Lee Chadeayne. It is set in 1600s Bavaria, where a young boy has been found dead. A strange mark is found on his body, leading a local midwife to be accused of witchcraft. The killing keep occurring, and Jakob Kuisl, the town's executioner, is skeptical of the witchcraft accusation. With the help of his daughter, Magdalena, and the local physician's son, Simon, the hangman is determined to find who is responsible.

As I said in the book club discussion, I have never read a book that completely left me with no clue how I felt about it, but this one did exactly that. I finished it, thought I liked it, decided I didn't, thought maybe I actually did, decided that I in fact HATED it, then decided I didn't know. What?

Maybe I was just disappointed. It all seemed reeaaallly pointless... I spent 2 weeks reading a book that led me to believe it was about one thing, and then I found out in the last couple of chapters that it wasn't about that at all. It kind of irked me. I'd be spoiling a lot by explaining myself further, but just know that the whole answer to the mystery really ticked me off.

I had some issues with the translation and characterization. (Of course, the characterization may have been due to the translation, so...) Just little things that weren't quite worded right or seemed out of place for the time period. As I have mentioned before, as a history major, I try really hard not to be super academically critical of historical fiction, or else I'd never enjoy anything. It has to be pretty glaring for me to get really worked up over, and the inaccuracies in The Hangman's Daughter weren't a big deal at all. The characters (especially Jakob and Simon) felt very nondescript in terms of their time period. My brother pointed this out as well, so I'm glad to know it wasn't just me... They had very modern ways of thinking, not in terms of being "ahead of their time," because I realize that was the point, but in terms of feeling like they could be characters in a book set in 1860 or 1980 or 3014. That may be a good thing, depending on how you look at it, and I certainly realize that Potzsch was attempting to make them seem wiser than the members of their community, but it came across a bit off.

As I write, I guess it seems like I disliked this book more than I liked it... I'm (again) not sure if that's actually the case. I liked a lot of things about the story, especially at the beginning. For the most part, it kept me interested and made me want to keep reading... But, as I've said many times before, a disappointing ending will forever ruin a book for me... Still not over the last chapter of The Lovely Bones, which I read yeaaarrrss ago.

2.5/5 stars

Read from February 1, 2011 to February 12, 2011


Book #8: Life From Scratch

You know what the best thing about this book is? It's not about child abuse or people heartlessly killing their mentally challenged friends.

Yes, I chose to read Melissa Ford's Life from Scratch mostly because it pretty much guaranteed that I wasn't going to be insanely depressed for several days after reading it. I needed something light and easy, and that's exactly what I got. I enjoyed reading it, even if it's probably not the most intellectually stimulating thing I've ever picked up.

In Life from Scratch, the 30-something narrator, Rachel, has recently gotten divorced from her workaholic husband, Adam. She pretty much shuts her entire life down for about a year, including quitting her job as a graphic designer. She lives off the money she got from her half of their condo, and she sits around alone in her apartment all day. Awesome. In all her infinite time, she decides to try to teach herself to cook -- something she never learned how to do, because her busy lawyer parents never cooked. Rachel starts a blog to talk about her adventures in cooking, which, of course, also allows her to get some things off her chest about the divorce. Rachel find solace in writing, and her blog becomes very, very popular. Her friends encourage her to hold a dinner party to show off her cooking skills, and lo and behold, she meets a dreamy Spanish dude named Gael. The rest of the book is about Rachel trying to move on with her life, which she hopes will include spending more time with Gael, even though she's clearly still obsessed with Adam.

This book is about as chick-lit as it sounds, although I have to admit, it's very well-written. The plot sounds kind of romance-novel-esque, but it's definitely not. It's not graphic or even sensual, really. It's not really even romantic. It's much more a book about finding yourself and being productive in a way that makes you happy (as opposed to a way that just makes money) than it is about romance.

I'm not a huge fan of Rachel, because, honestly, she's sort of neurotic and insane... Say, for example, creating a fake website to use as bait to figure out Gael's IP address so she can check to see if he reads her blog? Really? Couldn't you just ask him? Or is that too normal? She jumps to conclusions a lot, making huge deals out of nothing... It's really irritating sometimes. She thinks like a teenager. I mean, I've never been in her position, thankfully, so I don't know. Maybe divorce turns you in to a psychotic seventeen-year-old.

Anyway, most importantly, this book made me really hungry. Every time I read it, I was hungry. And I wanted to go into the kitchen and cook something. Not go to McDonalds or open a bag of chips, but cook something. Rachel didn't know anything about cooking gourmet meals, and neither do I, but she did it. I could do that. With all her annoying faults, at least she's inspiring about cooking. Stick to the blog, Rachel!

PS -- The ending? Pfffttt. It's kind of what I was hoping for, but it was still kind of irritating in a "I just read a whole book about a misunderstanding?!?!" sort of way.

3/5 stars

Read from February 23, 2011 to February 27, 2011


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book #7: Of Mice and Men





:( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That is essentially all I have to say.

Alright, alright. I'll try to say something constructive. This is my first Steinbeck book ever (how did I graduate high school without reading anything by Steinbeck?), and I apparently didn't know that his entire purpose is to make you miserably depressed. I'm sure it didn't help that I had just finished Roseflower Creek, which was horribly sad, and I really didn't need to read something like this immediately afterward.

I mean... Steinbeck is clearly a brilliant writer. I have no problem with his writing. I liked how the dialogue was written realistically, I liked his characterization, I liked everything EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT IT WAS HEART-BREAKING. :(

A friend of mine who teaches middle school English pointed out that this story is perhaps the greatest example of foreshadowing ever. Excellent point.

I really don't know what else to say. I'm torn because I enjoyed the book itself, and I am actually sort of obsessed with it, because it's all I've thought about for days, but... I don't want to pretend like I loved it, because I actually hated it... but not because it was bad. This makes no sense.

Curse you, Steinbeck.

Read from February 20, 2011 to February 22, 2011

3/5 stars


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book #6: Roseflower Creek

Ninety-two reviews on Amazon. Seventy-three of them 5 stars. That's got to be a decent sign, and I have to say I agree with those seventy-three people. The odd thing is how it's possible to love a book so much when it makes you feel completely and utterly terrible.

Jackie Lee Miles' first novel Roseflower Creek is written in the voice of 10-year-old Lori Jean, a poor, uneducated girl growing up in 1950s rural Georgia. You learn in the first sentence of the book that she's dead. She goes back and shares the story of her ten short years of life in broken Southern-ese. This mainly centers around living with her abusive, alcoholic, criminal stepfather, Ray, and her mother, who lets Ray walk all over both of them. On top of Lori Jean's terrible home life, there are many other losses, tragedies, and injustices that she has to face along the way.

Lori Jean's narration is so innocent. She has lived through enough hell to make her grow up faster than she should have, but she talks about her life with all the simplicity that a 10-year-old should have. Miles has written this book beautifully, making it sound exactly like a child in rural Georgia was speaking right into your ear, and certainly makes a strong impact... a big, huge impact... the kind that reaches right into your sternum, rips out your heart, grinds it up in a blender, and feeds it right back to you.

Seriously, the whole book is depressing, but the last 1/4th just made me want to vomit. It's not overly graphic or anything (in my opinion), it's just the thought of a child living through that... I know it's fiction, but Lori Jean is a representation of plenty of children who live like this every day. It's blood-curdling. And what's even harder to understand is how forgiving Lori Jean is. She holds no grudge. She looks at the lives of those who have mistreated her, and she says she understands why they act the way they do, because they, too, were mistreated as a child. That's an interesting point of view from a victim, and it could easily be up for a lot of debate. I think everyone can agree that a troubled childhood doesn't excuse anyone's behavior later in life, even though it may influence their behavior. There are apparently some readers of this book who completely dismissed the entire thing based on Lori Jean's forgiveness of her abusers, saying that it excused the abusive behavior. I don't think that was what Miles was trying to suggest. Not only does it highlight the vicious cycle of abusees becoming abusers, but also having Lori Jean forgive shows how big and selfless her heart was. Thanks to Ray, she was the one who was served the largest portion of injustice, but she was still worried about Ray and what had happened to him to make him the way he was. I don't think Miles was trying to excuse Ray's behavior when she writes about how Lori Jean feels sorry for him. I think she's trying to show how innocent she is. She's a child. Children believe excuses. If anything, it makes me even more angry about how many cases like Lori Jean's are out there that get ignored because of people believing excuses. I think that was the point Miles was trying to make, and even if it wasn't, that's how I took it.

This is definitely worth the read. You've been warned that it's depressing and hard to stomach, but honestly, this is going on all around us. Even if you don't want to hear or think about it, it's happening. All those kids like Lori Jean deserve to be noticed, and this book forces you to do that.

5/5 stars

Read from February 19, 2011 to February 20, 2011


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book #5: Dreaming Anastasia

Question: What is my favorite, favorite, favorite historical topic?

Answer: The Romanovs and the Bolshevik Revolution

Question: What is my favorite, favorite, favorite thing about that particular topic?

Answer: Anastasia Romanov and the theory that she survived her family being massacred.

Question: What is my favorite, favorite, favorite price for books?

Answer: Free

It should come as no surprise, then, that I had a minor freak-out when I ran across Dreaming Anastasia, a young adult novel by Joy Preble, for freeeee on Kindle a couple weeks ago. (Now it's around $7.00. This is why I check the Top 100 Free Kindle books every other day.)

In Dreaming Anastasia, in the present day, a typical seventeen-year-old named Anne is just going about her average teenage life when she realizes that she's being stalked by this dark, odd dude named Ethan. Then she starts having strange dreams about Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov being trapped in some hut with a witch. Odd, since Anastasia and her entire family were killed in 1918. Then, even weirder stuff starts happening -- glowing extremities, freaky weather, getting chased by guys with weapons... Eventually, Anne learns that Ethan has come to her so they can help save Anastasia Romanov from a witch popular in Russian folklore. The book shifts between being narrated by Anne, Ethan, and Anastasia herself, who is writing in a journal from captivity.

The Romanovs have always appealed to me... Probably because, although flawed in several ways, they are such a beautiful family and their story is so tragic. For those of you not familiar with their story, it will be my pleasure to give it to you simply and briefly: Czar Nicholas II, of the Romanov dynasty, was the ruler of Russia for a while. He had a lovely wife Alexandra, four daughters (Olga, Maria, Tatiana, and Anastasia) as well as a young son (Alexi) who had hemophilia. Alexi was sick a lot, and a crazy lunatic named Gregory Rasputin managed to weasel his way in to having some degree of power with the royal family because he claimed he had powers that could heal Alexi. Things went rather sour, and eventually Nicholas II was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the early 1900s. The family was held captive for a while by the Bolsheviks, and eventually they were taken into a basement and killed. Their bodies were burned and buried. Upon excavating the bodies, they never found the remains of Anastasia. So, there are a lot of rumors that she somehow survived or was rescued and lived the rest of her life with a secret identity. There have been a few people who have claimed to be Anastasia, most famously, Anna Anderson, who was later revealed to be lying thanks to DNA.

So. Joy Preble takes this story to a whole new level by adding a few twists... Some family drama, some paranormal activity, some Russian fairy tales. I'm down with it. I'm down with anything Romanov-related. Preble is a high school English teacher (!!!! awesome), and this is her first novel.

I really, really enjoyed this, although I think I can admit that it's definitely not something everyone would enjoy. (I think the intended audience would enjoy it, since it's a young adult book, but I wouldn't recommend it to serious history buffs or probably anyone Russian.) I am definitely biased since I love the topic so much, but everything else about the book was great, too. I really liked Anne most of the time (although she was a little too "Bella Swan"-esque sometimes), and Preble has a very sarcastic tone sometimes that I really enjoyed. Anne's family background and her best friend Tess were great aspects of the story, too. Switching narrators kept things interesting, especially since Ethan and Anne both occasionally pick up on things that the other doesn't.

I would advise history experts or Russian enthusiasts from reading this book because I will admit the historical parts are very basic. The references to Russian culture are pretty obviously American-minded (I mean, what do we know about Russia other than Tolstoy and Fabrege eggs?), and sometimes Anastasia's "journal" entries just sound like a textbook excerpt about the Romanovs -- but! I don't have a problem with that as much as some fancy-pants folks on Amazon apparently do because it. is. a. young. adult. book. It's OK if it's not mind-blowingly enlightening as far as Romanov history is concerned. I'm just glad someone wrote an interesting, entertaining book about Anastasia Romanov so that some teenager somewhere might remember who she is one day, because they probably aren't going to remember it from history class.

...Which brings me to my next point -- My favorite part of the whole book is probably this quote from Anne:

"Normally, world history is not a subject that makes me do back handsprings. Not that I don't like knowing about that stuff. I actually do. But Coach Wicker -- who pretends to teach the class when he's not too busy figuring out football plays on the computer -- is the most singularly boring person I've ever met."

Or maybe it was this (also Anne):

"Why the administration would allow someone to teach honors world history who mispronounces Bogota and can't find Tierra del Fuego on a map because he thinks it's in Peru is a mystery to me."

I will avoid going into further detail there, but let me just say that I totally get those quotes. And I have a feeling Preble being a teacher has a lot to do with why she gets those quotes. I wish her the utmost success and I hope she writes more soon.

Anyway, this book is well worth the $7 it now costs on Kindle, and I would suggest you give it a read. I would also remind you to peruse the free Kindle books quite often, as I have found many a gem.

4/5 stars

Read from February 17, 2011 to February 19, 2001


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book #4: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Yaaay, more Harry Potter!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, begins with an elf paying an unexpected visit to Harry's home during Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's summer break. He warns Harry that he should not return to Hogwarts, because his life in in danger. Of course, our brave hero returns anyway to begin his second year of wizardry. Soon enough, there are a series of attacks on the students, staff, and even pets of Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn that the danger might originate from the mysterious Chamber of Secrets, which many claim is only a Hogwarts myth. So, off they go into harm's way to figure out what's going on.

I have to admit, when I read the first book, I pretty much devoured the first 3/4ths of it in one night. This one didn't quite start off as captivating, but the last few chapters made it all worth it. The way the story of the Chamber of Secrets unravels at the end is brilliant. I have to give J.K. Rowling credit for keeping me guessing up to the end... Not an easy thing to do for me, especially when you're writing a book for children. Even though the plot in this book took a while to get going, it definitely opened the doors for so much more of the series. I'm looking forward to seeing where it's heading.

The new characters introduced in this book are some of the best parts -- Ron's clever little sister, Ginny; the handsome, self-absorbed Gilderoy Lockhart who is hired as Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts; the nervous and loving elf, Dobby... They all made the story so much more enjoyable. And of course, my old favorites are back and much more developed. I was glad to see a little more background on Draco Malfoy and his family. And that Severus Snape... I can't wait to find out what his deal is.

As will probably be the case with all of the rest of the books in this series, I'm not going into much detail because I don't want to spoil anything in the earlier books for those of you who have yet to read them. (Which, please, just do it. Now.) I have to say, though -- So far, I am seriously impressed with how well these books have lived up to all their gigantic amounts of hype.

Read from February 12 , 2011 to February 16, 2011

5/5 Stars


P.S. -- Technically, this was Book #5, and Book #4 was The Hangman's Daughter. I'm not going to post a full review of the latter until the end of the month when our book club is done discussing it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Special Post: Bookshelves

Just did a little bookshelf re-organizing. Thought I'd share it with y'all since... no one else cares. And you probably don't, either, but this is my blog, so tough.

Most of our fiction:

Nonfiction, Reference, Fantasy, a few random collections that wouldn't fit on the fiction shelf:

And, something I have thought of doing for a long time... A "Favorites" shelf :)