Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke


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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Epic

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Fantasy

This book was so torturous to get through.  It felt more like an endurance race rather than a pleasure read.  The cover said it was an 'epic' adventure.  If your definition of epic is really long and rambling....then, okay.  (The cover was beautiful.  Thus ended my pleasure with this book.)

Halli is an irritating troll of a boy, both in looks and in temperament.  He does all he can to cause trouble, not for evil but for his own fun.  One of his tricks goes too far and ultimately leads to the murder of a family member and the start of a feud with a neighboring village.  Halli sets off on an adventure like the ones in the tales his Scandinavian nursemaid tells him, Vikings of yore who were fearless monster-fighting giants.  Halli yearns to clear his family's name in such a way that others will speak of him the same way they do Svien the Mighty.  Along the way, he meets a girl who gives him a run for his money.

I really liked the characters in the book.  Halli would be no one's idea of a hero, but he starts to grow on you after awhile--kind of like a wart.  And--this is my number one complaint about the book--after making the readers follow Hallie through 450+ pages of him trying to become a hero by his own hand, a fantastical deux et machina ruins it all. Really, Stroud?  You turn the story into fantasy in the last two chapter?  So unfair!  And, so lazy (as a writer!).  I absolutely hated the 'mythology' tales at the beginning of each chapter.

Many parts of the book is funny and Halli has a dry, wry sense of humor. As a character, he deserved a better ending.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ick

Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle

Fiction/Horror

The thing that sticks with me most after reading this is--language!  I bought this after I read about it on an adolescent website but there is no way this book should be read by adolescents.  It is wildly inappropriate for young people and maybe any age group.

The main character is a 12 year-old girl and it opens on her birthday party.  Lucretia's best friend Sunny can't come to her party because she is dying from cancer.  Instead, Lucretia's mother invites three other girls who laugh at Lucretia and ruin her birthday.  After the party fiasco, Lucretia arranges a small party with just Sunny.  But, Sunny can't make it.  Here is where the total break with reality occurs.

I'm pretty sure that Sunny died and when Lucretia learned this, she had a psychic break with reality.  But, that's just a guess.  Instead, Lucretia becomes convinced that Sunny has been kidnapped by a trio of monsters called the Kroons, physically maimed meth addicts who want to kill and eat Sunny.  Lucretia goes to save her.

I hated everything about this book.  It was just bizarre and not worth the cheap $.99 I paid for it.  This book was true horror--a grotesque descent into madness and mental illness.  An unreliable narrator is always unsettling but when it is a psychotic child, it pushes way past my comfort barrier.  True mental illness is full of this type of horror and I just didn't enjoy this read.  This is apparently the prequel to a full-length novel, if you truly want to experience more horror-ibleness.

No more for me!  Ick.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Oh, My

Meredith Gentry #1:  A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

Adult Paranormal

Oh, my!  I've never read a book with such complete random and gratuitous sex--and so much of it!  Erotic doesn't begin to cover it.  It's on the road to pornographic.    It is slow at the beginning but stick it out--it keeps getting better.

Merry is a fairy princess in hiding.  When her aunt came to power, Merry knew she had to leave to save her own life.  For years, she has been hiding out with some mortals and other paranormals working in a detective agency.Merry's gig is up when her aunt, the Faerie Queen, summons her home.  The queen's plan is for Merry to sleep with all the men of the court and to choose a consort.  Tough job that, being a princess. 

I liked the book but found it to be very strange, mostly because of the sex.  Sex is used as power in the book and, strangely enough, the women hold that power.  The men can only have sex when the women say so.  This is not what made the book strange.  It was that the sex was so emotionless.  (Maybe this is a bias of mine....)  And, I was very creeped out by the inter-species troll sex.

I liked the story line of family secrets and lost loves.  I am going to read the next one.  Merry is a likable creature and the story was so unusual that it captivated me.  The ending is a cliffhanger so what's a reader to do?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Took My Breath Away

Learning to Breathe Again:  Choosing Life and Finding Hope After a Shattering Loss by Tammy Trent

Memoir/Christian

This is one of the most heartbreaking and inspriational stories I have read in a long time.  It is a Christian inspiration memoir but you don't have to be a Christian to appreciate the story.  While I don't normally read this kind of book, the story of her experience was so fascinating.

Tammy's life growing up was no fairy tale.  Abandoned by her father, she desperately yearned for affection from her stepfather but he was often cold and distant and her mother just didn't seem to care.  Tammy turned to Christianity and met a young man at a Bible study class.  The book chronicles how Tammy and Trent (she took his first name for her stage name) fall in love.

Tammy and Trent had a fairy tale romance love-affair and ending...but no happily ever after.  Just when their life was going so great, they decide to go on a tropical vacation.  Trent liked to scuba dive so he and Tammy went for a dive in a ceyote.  Trent dove down but he never came back.  Tammy's story of waiting for him, the panic and ultimate realization that he isn't coming back, is heartbreaking.  When his body is found the next day, Tammy tries to fly back home, but the date is September 11, 2001.

While much of the story focuses on Tammy's career as a gsopel star and Trent's job as her manager, the real strength of the book was for was seeing how she endured in the light of which seems so unendurable.  A beautiful, tragic story worth reading.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Southern Delight

The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society by Augusta Trobaugh

Humor/Adult Fiction

This book had the feeling of "Aresenic and Old Lace"; therefore, I loved it! 

Who knew little old ladies from church were so mercenary and vengeful?  The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society is made up of four gentle Southern women who like to drink tea and watch birds.  Whatever you do, do not fu$! with them.  They will mess you up!

The Society is made up of Zion, Wildwood, Beluah and Sweet, all named for Bible hymns and life-long friends.  They have grown up together in Tea-Olive, GA, but they couldn't be more different.  When Sweet marries for the first time at the age of 60+, the ladies are thrilled for her.....until her personality starts to change from 'sweet' to fearful.  When Sweet's happiness and health are threatened, the others go into full-on Ninja mode.  Beware when you mess with a Southern lady!  Friends and family will eviscerate you.  Usually, just figuratively.  But, in this book, more literally. 

Beulah and Zion aren't going to just hand over Sweet without a fight to her new abusive husband.  They come up with a plan to murder him.  The plan in ingenious-and hilarious-and fails in such an epic way.  But these ladies aren't quitters and they'll do whatever it takes to get their main--in a coffin!

I really loved this book.  It had moments of sweetness and sadness and just pure fun, both good-natured and the naughty kind.  It was a rare book that transcends age and one I whole-heartedly recommended to my very Southern Baptist mother.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Favorite Detective

Elvis Cole #2:  Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais

Mystery/Procedural-Crime

I love Elvis Cole!  He is so funny-so biting and sarcastic and dark.  He's a guy I would like to have a pizza with.  Joe Pike is also back.  He is really scary but also somehow endearing.  He's a guy I would never cross.

In this book, Elvis has been hired to locate an ancient Japanese manuscript.  His search leads him straight into the middle of a Yakuza turf war (that's a Japanese mob for those of you not savvy on crime).  Of course, with Elvis, nothing is as easy as it seems.  He also has a messed up family and a missing teen on his hands.I love that he's a man of his word with an iron will. When he quits the case (he doesn't like taking money from a man as vile as his client), he still solves the case because he said he would!

These books were published in the late 1980's but you couldn't tell from the writing.  It is still a great crime read for today.  I love Cole's lackadaisical attitude, his 'take me or leave me, I could care less'.  That makes him so irresistible--no wonder all the women fall into his bed. 

While the book is funny and sarcastic, don't dismiss the detective work.  It's hard, though--you'll be so involved in the characterization that you'll forget about the amazing mystery.  Cole takes everything to heart and he will find the answers to all his questions-and he doesn't care who he has to kill to get it.  A man after my own heart!   Cole and Pike are my kind of heroes-hiding in the dark, righting wrongs.  You never know when to expect the hammer of justice to fall, but you know it's coming and it's going to be brutal.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" for Girls

Dork Diaries #1:  Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell

Adolescent Graphic Novel

This series is like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, except it is exclusively for girls.  It is a combination of novel and graphic novel.  It's a little different from Greg in Wimpy Kid in that the main character isn't a stinker intent on making trouble!  This is the story of a very normal girl trying to navigate the troubled waters of middle school.

Nikki is an 8th grader who has just moved to a new school and feels like she can't do anything right.  The only things that help Nikkie deal with her situation and her life, other than freaking out, is art and drawing (hence, the journal that is the book).  Nikki's biggest problem in the book is that her mom won't let her have an iPhone.  Instead, she has to endure the mortal embarrassment of carrying around one of those grandma phones with the huge numbers and buttons on it.  I feel her pain because that is the phone I have and it is pretty embarrassing. 

Nikki is also embarrassed by her father's job.  He's an exterminator and drives a van with a giant bug on it.  She is going to an exclusive school on a scholarship and she doesn't want the other kids to know she's not rich like them.  Nikki's other problem is her arch-nemesis Mackenzie who is also the most popular girl in school and the one running against her in the art competition.

As you can tell, Nikki has lots of problems.  All of them huge and overwhelming and utterly hilarious.  I well remember those painful days and it's nice to see that nothing is changed--being a teen girl is still just as hard (and as funny) as it was back then.

The pictures and story line feel more like a 6th grade read to me.  I'm not sure that 8th graders would enjoy it as much, although I am way past 8th grade and I really liked it!  I can't wait to check out the next installment in the series.  A fun, light read.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Definitely for the Bathroom--Right in the Toilet!

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

Adolescent Humor

I have read a lot of 'bad' books in my day, ones full of vulgar language and vulgar acts, but this book, by far, is the most morally bankrupt book I've ever read that is targeted especially for young people.

This book left me with such a bad taste in my mouth.  Nothing in it is remotely funny, unless you're the kind of person who gets a real belly laugh from school violence, crippling bullying and kids' lives ruined by malicious gossip.  It is so mean-spirited and has such a demeaning tone.

The plot involves two sixth-graders, Mac and Vince, who run an extortion ring out of the fourth stall of the school bathroom.  Basically, they bribe, coerce, and humiliate their victims (everyone else in school) for money because they are saving to go to a baseball game.  When their usual methods don't work, they hire big kids to beat up the small kids.  Beat them up really badly--jumping them from behind school buildings, bad enough to send to the school nurse.

I am stunned that Scholastic would put their brand on this.  It is such a glorification of school violence and being a bully.  It has a sick, twisted message and I am embarrassed to own the book.  Most certainly it will never be on the shelf in my classroom.

It is so inappropriate in other ways as well-drug references, cursing, domestic violence, lying, swindling parents, theft, elementary age kids smoking.  This is NOT a Godfather for the younger set; this is just a Godfather-in-training.  What parent would be okay with their kids emulating it or reading it?   I hope none of my students do.  I shudder to think what the book might teach them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Not Quite As Pretty as the First One

Caster Chronicles #2:  Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Paranormal Romance

Lena just hasn't been the same since her uncle Macon died.  She keeps retreating farther and farther away from everything--school, her remaining family, and Ethan.  Ethan would wait forever if he knew that's what Lena needed or wanted but the waiting is starting to turn into a distance between them that he feels desperate to close.  The harder Ethan pushes her to come back to him, the further it pushes Lena away.  When she stops kelting with him (a secret communication where they can talk in each other's minds), Ethan knows he's in danger of losing her love.

But, Ethan Waite is not a quitter.  When Lena disappears into the netherworld with a paranormal, motorcycle-driving hottie, Ethan figures out a way to follow and save her.  But, does she want to be saved? 

Ethan looks to his aunt and favorite librarian, Marilyn, for help but she passes him to her new assistant, a beauty from England who almost makes Ethan forget about Lena.  Pretty soon, he doesn't know why he's chasing Lean--is it to find her or just she he can spend more time with the new librarian who seems to be falling for Ethan just as hard.

Link is just the same, a comedic sidekick who is still running after crazy siren Ridley.  All the other main characters are back, too, and just as much fun; the town is just as Southern and just as charming.

This one is much darker and more despairing than the first but I still loved it.  It keeps drawing me right along to the next installment.  One thing that did really start to grate on my nerves about halfway through was Ethan's constant whining.  His sensitivity is going to need to take a back seat if he's going to get his girl back!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Fit Ending

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod:  Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer

Adolescent Paranormal

This is #5 in the series and the last book.  I really, really, really liked this series but I was ready to find out all the answers to all my questions and say good-bye.  It was the lengthiest of all the books but also the best one of the series.  Truly, it did the storyline justice.

Vlad is getting closer and closer to the day of decision and his part in the prophecy seems as murky as ever.  The Slayers have ramped up their efforts to exterminate Vlad.  Joss comes to Vlad bearing an olive branch of friendship but Vlad wonders if this is just another trick.  Joss does admit he was instructed to kill Vlad and that he's still a Slayer.  And, Vlad is having conflicting feelings about his perfect ex-girlfriend (and Joss's current girlfriend) and Snow, his drudge. On top of all that drama, there is a surprise in the book that I just didn't see coming.  Not at all!  Wow! I love it when a book surprises me.

It is the ending to Vlad Tod's story but Brewer has taken Joss, one of Vlad's best friends and enemies and started a series about him called The Slayer Chronicles.  The author left it open enough that this series could continue or another one could start.  I'm not dying to read it but if someone laid it on my desk, I would.  I hate it when authors have only one idea.  I'm read to say good-bye to a good run.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Improved Version of a Classic

Snow White and Rose Red:  The Curse of the Huntsman by Lilly Fang

Adolescent Fantasy/Fairy Tales Retold

This was a really cheap buy on Amazon and definitely worth the price!  It is a retelling of Snow White and her sister Rose Red and a huntsman that reminded me of Beast from another well-known tale. 

The story centers around Rose Red, the younger and not-quite-so-beautiful sister of Snow White.  Rose Red is given a rose by a secret admirer.  She doesn't have time to wonder who it might be because her family must spend hours in the rose forest harvesting the flowers.  When a young girl is attacked and Rose's mother has to leave immediately, Rose finds herself in a  mystery as dark and dangerous as the forest of thorns.  So, who is ravaging the village girls?

The character of Snow White was a real treat.  She wasn't some fawning princess but a real kick-butt heroine who gets things done and falls in love with the substance of her man rather than just the beauty.  I would like to know more of her story.  One half of the book is hers; the other half belongs to her sister. Both are a great read. 

This is a short read, less than 100 pages but fun all the way.  I really like this story but if you like a traditional fairy tale, you will be disappointed.  This book is about empowered princesses who act rather than wait on some guy to rescue them.  It is part of a series by different authors and I can't wait to check out some other tales. A very likable series.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I Like Her Movie Version Better

The Official Book Club Selection:  A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin by Kathy Griffin

Humor/Memoir

I will begin by saying I am not a huge Kathy Griffin fan.  I mean, I love her humor but the tone of her voice just wears me down after awhile so I thought a comedy book of hers might be just the ticket.   That was my mistake because it is not a book of comedy.  It is a memoir full of heartbreak and wisdom and some darn good chuckles.

This book was more biographic in nature rather than comedic, as she discusses her entire life.

I didn't hate this book but I didn't love it, either.  One thing I could not stand was the constant and repetitive name-dropping.  She says in the book that she is really well-known for it.  She makes it seem like an endearing quality, but it's not.  It would be one thing if she had a story to go with the name but sometimes it's more like she just saw a celebrity at some function.  At this point in her career, she is actually more famous than some of the people she's name-dropping about.  They should be name-dropping her!  I have never seen her TV show and don't want to.  I abhor reality TV and that lifestyle so this is probably a book I should never have picked up in the first place.

She seems to be trying too hard to be awesome, but she doesn't need to.  Underneath all her flash, she genuinely seems like she might be an awesome person.  I wonder if anyone will ever find out.  She is definitely someone I would like to hang out with--for an evening.

The most I can say is that I like Kathy Griffin more as a person, and maybe less as a celebrity. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Here We Go Again

The 39 Clues Cahills Vs. Vespers:  Book One, The Medusa Plot by Gordon Korman

Adolescent Adventure

This is the first book in the second 39 Clues series.  This one starts right up where the other one left off with most of the same characters.

You know the old saying, 'Keep your friends close but your enemies closer'?  That seems to be the case with Dan and Amy's enemies from the last series.  Are they still enemies?  Or, have they turned into friends and allies?  Can the siblings finally let their guard down and trust anyone in their life?

Now, all these characters have combined as the 'Madrigals' to combat a common enemy, the Vespers, an unknown organization that has kidnapped several key members and is forcing Dan and Amy to steal important art pieces or they will kill the victims.  As proof, they shoot Nellie, the Cahill's nanny.  The larger plot of the book revolves around Dan and Amy as they pull off incredible art heists around the world.  While not much time has passed, Dan and Amy have morphed into amazing thieves and brilliant masterminds.  This was a bit of a stretch for me but still plenty good fun.

The minor plot involves the dynamic changes taking place in Amy and Dan.  They don't even really feel like the same kids as before and it is obvious both of them have been emotionally scarred by their experiences.  Amy is now lying and not helping her brother.  Dan has his own agenda with the 39 clues series.

I am glad the series has returned.  While I loved the first one, I think the like the way this one is starting out even better.  Full speed ahead!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dark and Troubled

Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

Horror/Dysptopian

This is dystopian apocalyptic fiction to the extreme.  I read scads of dystopian books but never has one left me feeling so hopeless.  There is truly no way out of this mess!

The residents of a small Virgina town find they are cut off from the world.  Beyond the town limits is just a wall of darkness.  When someone goes into the darkness to investigate, they never come back.  There's only the screams.  Robbie is a total slacker/weed head who lives with his girlfriend and delivers pizza.  His girlfriend is also a total loser as is every one of his neighbors and all the characters in this book.  Egad--this is who is responsible for the last of humanity?  No wonder we're doomed. 

Robbie has a plan to escape but he has to talk the panicking townspeople to agree with his crazy scheme.  As a reader, I felt like the crazier Robbie became, the crazier I felt.  I was positively deranged by the end, trying to figure out a way to save the town and these people.  Most of the book is about residents trying to, and then despairing of, escape from the darkness to find other signs of humanity/society left on Earth. 

This book honestly scared my pants off.  I couldn't read it a night.  I was too creeped out.  This book was really scary and it's hard to do scary.  It was also very gory and violent with a lot of alcohol, drug and sexual references.  I probably won't be reading this author again.  The harshness of the language and inappropriate-ness pushed it just past the edge of being a really enjoyable read.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Just Okay

Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Every Need by Dave Barry

Humor

Barry is like a male Erma Bombeck.  He discuss the pains and complexities of a 'married with children' lifestyle.  While Barry is not hilarious, he is funny in a dark-humor kind of way, which is my favorite kind of humor.  He also reminds me of a Ray Romano-type comic.

Honestly, though, Barry's humor sometimes gets trying and a perfect example is his travel treatise on the 50 states.  He doesn't actually discuss all 50 but it sure seemed like twice that many.    His humor has many random factoids in it.  I question whether any of them are real but they are amusing.

This book focuses on the negative aspects of traveling as well as the dark side of tourism.  My favorite parts are always anything involving travel by air (an anathema of mine).  His foreign language jokes crossed over into just being cheesy.  It was also goofy and ridiculous in places.  Parts of the book had me groaning instead of laughing.  Mercifully, it was a short read.    It is not good as a sit-down read, but is better if you pick it up and put it down again.  I just don't understand all of the reviews where people say it is hilarious.  It's just mildly funny.  I probably won't read Barry again.

And, the title is just incorrect.  You'll need lots of other travel guides if you hope to get anywhere safely. Or, in one piece.  Or, with all your luggage.