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!

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


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book #12: Whirl of the Wheel

Buuuhhhh... The premise of this book sounds promising, but it is poorly executed.

Catherine Condie's Whirl of the Wheel is a young adult book about Connie and Charlie, an English brother and sister who learn that their family is about to removed from their home by the government so that it can be torn down or something... I don't remember. The two then discover a pottery wheel that transports them back in time to their home during World War II. There, they meet another brother and sister who are staying with their aunt and uncle after being evacuated from their home when the bombings took place. Connie and Charlie can move back and forth from the present to the past using the pottery wheel, and at one point, the school pest, Malcolm gets transported to the past with them. I think the main action of the book takes place when Malcolm gets stuck in the past and can't get back, but to be honest, I have no clue what even happened in 90% of the book.

I'm not sure if it was just so boring that I couldn't make myself pay attention to what was happening or if it was just written so badly that the plot was impossible to follow. Maybe both. A few of the Amazon reviews say something similar. And this is a young adult book... I cannot imagine a kid reading and enjoying this.

I liked the idea of present-day kids getting transported to the World War II period, so I guess I can praise the idea behind the book. You should for sure skip this one, though. :-/

Read from March 14, 2011 to March 19, 2011

1/5 Stars


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book #11: The Sculptor

It's not very often that I read thriller/crime type novels, especially when a psychotic serial killer is involved, but I'm really glad I picked up this book. (FYI, I get freaked out pretty easily and have spent most of life being convinced there is a murderer lurking around somewhere close. Reading these kinds of novels just reinforces that, but it's fun to fuel that fire ever now and then.)

In Gregory Funaro's debut novel, The Sculptor, art history professor Cathy Hildebrant finds herself being questioned a consultant in an FBI investigation of a series of murders. The murderer uses humans as "material" to construct insanely detailed reproductions of Michaelangelo's famous sculptures, even using epoxy and paint to make his victims look as if they are made of marble. As the area's foremost scholar on Michaelangelo and the author of a book on his work, Cathy is the obvious choice for helping authorities learn more about The Sculptor's inspiration. It becomes clear that The Sculptor is not only inspired by Michaelangelo, but also by Cathy's book. As the investigation continues, Cathy becomes more and more personally involved with the case, including being chosen to become one of the murderer's next sculptures.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it was one of those stories that I didn't want to stop reading. The story keeps you turning the pages, and the idea of a serial killer modeling his victims as sculptures is pretty unique, at least when taken to the level that this psychopath takes it. Funaro also did his research for this book, which was pretty impressive. Since Cathy was supposed to be an expert on all things Michaelangelo, Funaro had to become an expert, too. I've learned plenty about Michaelangelo in all my years as a history student, but I learned a thing or two from this book. Books that are good and also teach you something -- what's better than that?

The point of view in this novel switches often -- from Cathy to various members of the FBI to the murderer's victims to the murderer himself. I thought it was really interesting that Funaro chose to have The Sculptor as one of the "narrators" of the novel, since that immediately tells the reader who he is. You don't spend the book guessing who it might be -- instead, you're taken into his head, following his thought processes on what victims to choose and why he chooses them, learning how he operates and what horrors he lived through as a child. When I first read a chapter that was in The Sculptor's point of view, I wasn't sure how I felt about it, since it took the mystery away, but as I read, I found that it added another element of suspense... You know who it is, and you know how close the FBI comes to him. Wondering when they will finally pick up on the right clue is what keeps you turning the pages. The only issue I had plot-wise was the inevitable love story... I guess it added some depth to the characters, but seriously, I don't need people to fall in love for me to enjoy a book.

As far as the writing goes, there are a few little things that bugged me here and there... The dialogue was a little unbelievable sometimes, especially coming from Cathy. The way she spoke sometimes sounded more like a prepared lecture she was giving at a conference than the sort of thing she would say of the top of her head while being questioned... I know she's supposed to be an expert and intellectual-type, but come on, no one talks like that, especially not when they're flustered and trying to piece things together bit by bit. Funaro also does this thing where he adds "Yes," or "No," to the beginning of statements of fact, and he does it a lot. Like, "Yes, the Sculptor was indeed pleased with his latest selection" or "No, Dr. Hildebrant couldn't let that happen, not again." Seems like a minor issue, but he uses it so often that I kind of found myself wanting to start counting "yes"es and "no"s.

But hey, for a first novel, I say A+. Great read.

4/5 stars

Read from March 7, 2011 to March 13, 2011


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book #10: As Quiet As They Come

(Just like last time I read short stories, I'm counting 2 short stories as one book. This + La Belle et la Bête = 1 book.)

This is a free short story on Kindle that I downloaded a long time ago. I finally got around to reading it, and I'm glad that I did. It is one story from a collection of stories by Angie Chau about Vietnamese immigrants who have escaped the Vietcong in the 1970s.

This particular story is about the very quiet, reserved Viet, and his family. His wife, Huong, was a former model in the Vietnam. The couple has two young daughters, who have quickly and gracefully adapted to life in America.

Although he was a professor in Vietnam, he has a quiet life in America as a postal worker. The reader learns early that although he is soft-spoken and shy, Viet once killed a man. The story takes you back to that moment, and it becomes clear that when his family is threatened, Viet will stop at nothing to stop the threat. Soon, Viet finds himself pushed to the verge of losing control once again.

This is very short, but it packs a very large punch. Chau is talented at putting a lot of emotion into very few words. Her writing is beautiful, and I wished this had been a full-length novel. I want to read the other short stories in this collection soon.

4/5 stars

Read from February 28, 2011 to March 1, 2011


Book # 9.5: La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast)

Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorite Disney movies as a kid (although nothing could ever possibly beat Aladdin), and I recently got to see the Broadway version when the touring cast came through Huntsville. I saw it when I was browsing the classic Kindle books, so I thought I'd read it to see how it compared to the story I know so well.

As is generally the case with Disney movies, they seemed to have taken a very loose idea from the original work and crafted into something kids would like. I don't really have a problem with the way Disney does things, for the most part (see my post on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland). I know they don't stick very closely to the literature or historical themes they choose, but at the very least, they might inspire kids to go back and read the originals just to compare them to the movies they love. Case in point: me.

In Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's La Belle et la Bête, a formerly rich merchant who has become poor stumbles upon a beast's castle. The beast insists that the merchant offer one of his daughters (he has three) in return for his freedom and a trunk full of money. His daughter, nicknamed Beauty, goes to take her father's place in the castle, and she finds that the beast has graciously prepared for her arrival, setting up an apartment for her and coming to dine and chat with her daily. The Beast asks Beauty numerous times to marry him, but she refuses. She longs to see her father again, and the Beast allows her to leave when she promises to return in one week. When she goes home to visit her family, she finds that her sisters have each married handsome, yet dull and uncaring men. She realizes that she loves the Beast regardless of his appearance. She comes back to the castle to find the Beast dying, but when she tells him that she has returned because she wants to marry him, the Beast is revived and turns into a handsome and brilliant prince. Yay.

So... No crazy inventor father for Belle. No Gaston (my favorite character) fighting for Belle's affection. No household items brought to life. No rose quickly losing petals (though the Beast does mention his affinity for roses). No throng of townspeople storming the castle. No wonderfully choreographed showtunes... But all in all, still a nice story. A bit simple, but nice. Definitely worth the hour it will take you to read it.

3/5 stars

Read on February 28, 2011