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, 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