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!

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