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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Friday, June 28, 2013

Too Short To Sink My Teeth Into

Curious Anomalies by Ryan Sean O'Reilly

Short Story/Science Fiction Thriller

It isn't a completely forgettable story but it isn't the greatest sci-fi I've read.  Somewhere in the murky middle.  It is a very short story-about a 20-minute read.

Rick is a scientist, a geneticist, who is wholly devoted to his work.  His entire world centers around a small lab set deep in a jungle, impossible for anyone to find.  Rick has been employed by a violent South American drug lord, Diego. Diego is due for a visit and Rick has to make sure everything is perfect if he wants his funding to continue.

Rick has been hired to cross-gene an African honeybee with a bat for use in guarding the drug lord's drug plants.  What could go wrong?  Plenty it seems.  The facility is set up like a line of dominoes to disaster and it only takes a small gesture to send the experiment out of control.  Nobody fools Mother Nature.

This plot is too intricate for the page length.  It's so short that the reader doesn't actually get to know anything really about the main character.  He is neither likable or unlikeable.  He didn't seem any better or worse than the drug lord.  As a reader, I now I am supposed to identify with the main character but I don't know why in this story.  The ending was left open so perhaps the author is going to do some more work on Rick.  While I didn't love the story, I was very intrigued by his ideas.  I would definitely read him again.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Disappointment After the First Two

Mary Katz Magruder Mysteries #3:  Outrageous October by Barbara Levenson

Mystery

Wow!  This was a complete departure from the first two that I loved so well.  I liked this one but didn't love it like the others.  And, I know exactly why-Carlos was missing!

Don't get me wrong.  I really like the character of Mary Katz Magruder and she is definitely strong enough to carry the series, but Carlos is just so spicy.  And, this book was missing some spice.

In the very first chapter, Mary discovers Carlos on a dinner date with his ex-wife after he told Mary he had to go to a business meeting.  She is so betrayed and heartbroken that she mails him back his engagement ring, closes up her business and moves to Vermont for an extended vacation.  This is so extreme to me that it borders on the side of crazy.  It is so uncharacteristic for Mary.  She is usually a reasonable woman so this whole book felt weird to me.  I think it felt weird to Mary, too.

There is nothing wrong with the mystery/mystery series.  They are engrossing although Mary's part in them as a lawyer is a little unbelievable.  One this this author does do in a masterful way is to build the story around the setting.  In each of her books, the setting is integral to the story.  In fact, there would be no story if the location were to change.  While I've never been to this location, I feel as if I know exactly what she is referring to.

Since I loved the others so much, I will give Magruder another chance.  Everybody has an off day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Better Than #2

Beautiful Chaos:  Beautiful Creatures #3 by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Paranormal Romance

I definitely liked this one better than the second one in the series, but not quite as good as the first one. A typical plight for me.  Sigh.

Lena and Ethan are back together and while I should be glad, their whiny-ness from the last book has soured me a bit on their romance.  I don't particularly think they should be together anymore.  They have some serious personal issues that each need to work on.  Their relationship just seems toxic to me.

Link is quickly becoming my new favorite character and his romance with Ridley, the ex-siren, is the one I want to know more about.  It is so much more interesting than these other two wet blankets.

The story is hot--a record drought has hit the area and it's only one sign that Lena's supernatural world is at odds with Ethan's normal one.  And, while Ethan should be happy that he has Lena back, some things just don't feel the same.  He's forgetting things--really important things--and Amma looks and treats him differently, almost desperately.  The ending just make you long for the next one, the end of the series.

The book felt, overall, out of control.  It seemed as if no one had any answers and were just throwing themselves into dozens of different mini-plots.  Which ones are important?  All of them?  Any of them?  It almost seemed as if this book wasn't necessary.  It felt more like a diversion than a trip on the Plot Road to Resolution.  Aptly names book-chaos, indeed.

Still, it's a story I like.  It feels like a kudzu vine that has trapped me in and I have to know how it ends.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Better Than the First One

Betrayed:  A House of Night Novel #2 by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast

Teen Paranormal

I liked this one so much better than the first one.  I hope that's a trend and it's one of those series that gets better and better as they go along.

Zoe is still trying to come to terms with her new powers given to her by Nyx, an ancient and mythical vampire goddess, and Zoe's rise to power as the leader of the Dark Daughters.  Her 'old' human life threatens to intrude once again when local teenagers are killed and all fingers point to the vampire school.  Zoe's other big problem in this book is resisting the temptation to taste blood, especially when it is being offered by her hot ex-boyfriend.

This one definitely rated a PG13 or higher so be cautious if you are a parent buying this.  It is much more mature than the first one in the series.  There are a lot of sexual situations in the book--fondling, groping, heavy petting, etc.  One thing I really didn't like about this book at all was the absence of a love interest--her new boyfriend is away at a drama competition and Zoe claims to be unsure whether they're really together or not.  HUH?!?!  That wasn't how the last book ended.  When she then goes on to essentially cheat on him with her ex-boyfriend,  I found that very unlikeable and out of character for her.  She didn't really even like her ex-boyfriend in the first book and now she can't stay away from him.  HUH!?!?  Her long speeches about doing the right thing and having honor fall kind of flat.  I get the author is trying to create a love triangle but that's not the way to do it.

Still, I enjoyed it overall and am looking forward to the next one.

Monday, June 24, 2013

He's Back!

All the Wrong Questions:  "Who Could That Be At This Hour?" by Lemony Snickett

Mystery

I loved this book--I loved the cover and the feel of it.  It was raised and smooth and so soft and I loved the deckled edges.  And, what was between the covers was even more to love.

The story is about the young Lemony Snickett and how he got his start in mysteries.  The big change in this series is that Lemony is no longer simply the narrator.  He's also the main character.  I found him to be so interesting, witty and clever.  I hope this series continues showing his progression all the way to SUE.  Keep in mind that this is not a spin-off from SUE, at least not yet.  It is just an earlier series with a similar character.

It's an autobiographical mystery of Lemony's first job. He has been apprenticed to an elite, but bumbling, spy named S. Theodora Marksman who whisks him off to the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea, a seaside not not located near the sea.  Markson and Snickett are tasked with finding stolen property, a golden statuette called the Bombinating Beast.

The book had a very gumshoe feel to it.  I can totally picture young Lemony as a young Humphrey Bogart in a movie.  The book still had the trademark Snickett style-off the wall humor, silly plot strings, random events that get tied up neatly at the end, and a hidden storyline that isn't revealed in the first book completely.

I thought this was so much better than the Series of Unfortunate Events.  This first one has such great promise for a great new series. It was confusing, strange, mysterious and action-packed.  It is a book that doesn't really end.  More question and answers are sure to await in Volume 2.  If you loved SUE and are expecting more of that, you actually might not like this so start reading with an open mind.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Another Amazing Read by Bodeen

The Raft by S.A. Bodeen

Survival

Anything S.A. Bodeen writes, I will read because I know it will be unique and captivating all the way through.  This is an author that is a guaranteed good read.

Robie lives on the Midway Atoll and is returning home after a short visit with her aunt.  She thinks nothing of jumping on the plane for the quick flight.  After all, she's done it dozens of times.  This trip, though, is far from normal.  When a storm hits, the plane goes down.  Robie barely survives and only becasue of Max, the co-pilot.  When Robie awakens next, she is in a raft in the middle of the ocean with no sign of the plane and an unconscious Max.  How are they going to survive?  They have only each other and Max's bag, which contains his journal and one bag of Skittles.

I love books with a twist I didn't see coming.  Spoiler alert--stop reading here if you like great surprises!  This book has my absolutely favorite kinds of characters--the unreliable narrator.  It took me a long time to figure out she was unreliable and then, I questioned everything she said and did.  I had to go back and reread parts.  So fun!  So disconcerting.  It's one of those times you want to turn to someone and ask, 'What do you think is going on?"  This would be so fun for a book club!

I also found the setting of the character's home to be fascinating.  I want to know more about this place.  Everything in the book was unique!  And, a weird question...does anyone else thinking this is Kristin Stewart on the cover?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Wish The Writing Was Better

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Historical Fiction

I hate to be dismissive of such a traumatic and horrendous life event but this book felt like just another Holocaust tale to me.  And, while all survivor's stories need to be heard, there is a challenge on the part of the storyteller to weave a tale that captures an audience.  This one just didn't do that for me.

This story is based on true events and those events are fascinating, too unbelievable to be true.  Yet, it is.  The story revolves around Yanek Gruener, a Jewish boy living in Poland in the 1930's.  The story seems to be a near miss for Yaken's family and then he describes the desperate last days of his parents before their disappearance, living in a pigeon coop on top of their apartment building.  Yanek is captured by the Nazis and sent to one concentration camp, then another, then another--10 different concentration camps in all.  B-3087 is his prisoner number, his tattoo the one thing that never changes.

It is a horrifying and harrowing tale, made even worse by Gruener's near death misses and the description of how many Jews met their fate, at the frivolous whims of the soldiers.Yaken survives at all costs--learning to forget the lives and people he left behind, learning to not care about anyone around him.  He is focused only on his own survival.

This book is told as a memoir with another author recording the story.  Perhaps this made the story feel one step removed for me.  An important story to read, but not one that will be on your 'most-affecting' list.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Deserving of the Honor

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Adolescent Fiction

This 2013 Newberry winner is deserving of that honor. 

The story is based on the true account of a gorilla who lives his entire life in a cage at a shopping mall in Washington.  The book is not like a 'regular' novel. The chapters are little more than a page each and are more like poetry than prose. They are what Ivan, the gorilla in a cage in a mall, thinks and sees. 

Ivan likes his life just fine.  It's really all he has ever known--the mall, the stares from strangers, his cage.  And, he has good friends--Stella, his closest neighbor and an aging elephant; Bob, a stray dog, tiny enough to squeeze into Ivan's cage at night; and Julie, a little human who introduces art and beauty to Ivan.  Ivan finds and finger paints small pockets of that life around him and considers his life full.  Ivan's life is just fine until he gets a new neighbor, a baby elephant named Ruby and he subtly start to see how small his life is, not full of beauty but only small pockets here and there.  All he can think now is that Ruby mustn't be allowed this life that Ivan has led.

It is a sweet and tragic story, especially considering it was based on truth.  It has won dozens of awards, and rightly so.  I did cry and cry, but isn't that always the test for a Newberry?  It is a great read for elementary or middle school and would make a great aloud.  It has wonderful messages about friendship, family, community, the importance of art, the importance of one person making a difference and self-empowerment.  Plus, it's always a great story when a gorilla saves the day!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Making History Come Alive

I Survived #7:  I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 by Laurent Tarshis

Historical Fiction

This installment is not as thrilling or engaging as the others and is probably my least favorite in the series so far.  Like all the others, the book starts right in the middle of the action.  This time, though, I just didn't feel connected to main character yet.

Thomas and his sister Birdie are running away from their lives as slaves to the north, yearning to be free.  When they run right into a battle, Thomas thinks all hope is lost and they will be captured and sold.  Instead, the Union soldiers take them in and shelter and protect them.  On the way, though, the company will have to first go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  Will Thomas and Birdie survive the worst battle of the civil War?

These books take familiar or oft-referred to pieces of US history and make them accessible and interesting to young readers.  This is a great way to introduce 'new' readers to historical fiction. It is a great series for reluctant, male adolescent readers.  It is not a dry, history textbook kind of read.  These books put kids right in the middle of the action.  It is a quick and easy read.  This one is not too bloody or violent, even though is it about a battle int he war.  You do not have to read these books in order.  There is a different character and situation for every book.  It is a series that is checked out constantly in my classroom.  I can never keep any of the titles in stock.  It is great for grades 3rd and up into 8th grade, especially for boys.  Which would be my next question for the author:  Why no girls as main characters?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Genius and Shocking

Pines: Wayward Pines #1 by Blake Crouch

Mystery/Sci-Fi

I have read literally thousands of books and not one ever like this.  Wow!  The ending and premise is both genius and shocking.  This book is full of shocks and surprises right up until the very end.  You feel like a passenger in an out-of-control cab driven by a a madman.  You just don't know what will happen next.

Ethan Burke is a Secret Service agent who has been sent to the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, to find two missing agents, one of whom he has been having an affair with.  Ethan just arrives in town when he is in a car accident ad wakes up in the hospital.  That's when things start to turn weird. Weird like he's not allowed to leave the hospital or call anyone and they take all his stuff and won't give it back. So, Ethan escapes only to discover that he can't!  The town is surrounded by an electric fence and the sheriff is not amused by his antics.  At all!  Ethan questions whether he is insane or whether everyone else it.  When Burke next discovers the mutilated bodies of the missing FBI agents, he knows he is in over his head.  And, that just the beginning of this wild ride!

This is definitely a sci-fi read but you dont' find that out until later, at the end.  It reminded me of the recent Tom Cruise movie Oblivion.  The author said that one of his writing inspirations was the TV series Twin Peaks.  It has a very Stepford Wives-creepy feel to it.  It has that weird and off-kilter vibe to it.  It is the first in the series and I am ardently looking forward to the next installment.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Religious Trifecta

Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene:  the Followers of Jesus in History and Legend by Bart Ehrman

Nonfiction

I have loved all the other Ehrman books I've read and so respect his writing style and research. 
Hhe goes step by step through his research and thinking processes for each of the points he's trying to make, then he lets the reader decide for him/herself.  He doesn't just beat you over the head with facts and his opinion.

The book is divided into thirds, about one third about each of the apostles Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, and the contributions each made to the formation of the church and organized religion. 

Much of this felt like rehashed version of his others books and this one felt a little pushy.  More like a diatribe than just merely informative.  Much of what I read here, I have read in some of his other books.  In many places, I just wasn't convinced by Ehrman's research.  His convictions and passions, yes!  His research seems to be lacking here.  Of course, he's digging through things thousands of years old, so there probably isn't much to go on in the first place.  However, I just wasn't swayed.

The book was also a little boring.  Although equal amounts were given to each of the Big 3, Paul's section drug on a bit and the Magdalene's section didn't really have any new revelations.  However, it was my favorite section.  If you're wanting to learn anything significant about these three power players or the beginnings of the early church, you should probably start somewhere else.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Perfect Tale

The Perfect Storm:  A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

Nonfiction

I knew this was going to be an incredible read because I got choked up during the forward!  This is such a perfect example of a master writer at work.  While I knew absolutely nothing about a fisherman's lifestyle, commercial fishing or even that area of the country, Junger wrote in in such a way that made me feel as if I breathed the same salt air as those men in the book.

"The Perfect Storm" is a meteorological event that happened in October 1991 when a combination of three weather phenomena combined to create one super storm--a storm that seemed like something only Hollywood could dream up.  The narrative tale centers around the boat The Andrea Gail and its six crew members.  While no one will ever really know what happened to them, Junger creates the most likely ending through interviews, radio transmissions, weather reports and tales from people on other boats who did survive.

The book very closely matches the movie (I just re-watched it the other night) but this is the only example I can think of where one type of media actually enhances the other.  I am not heavy on sea lingo so the visual experience was helpful and Junger's writing really brings the tragedy home.  It is a tale that is tragic, thrilling and, ultimately, heart-breaking.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Not What I Thought

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Adolescent Paranormal/Survival

When I got this book, I expected a realistic story of how Hurricane Katrina affected a young resident.  I was not expecting a paranormal survival story.  It was a bit weird, but not at all unpleasant.

Lanesha is a 12 year-old girl who lives in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans with her grandmother, Mama YaYa.  Mama YaYa can see into the future and sees the huge storm coming but she's much too frail to leave her home, so Lanesha has to prepare them both to ride out the storm.  Lanesha does have the ghost of her deceased mother to help them (this was kind of the weird part).

I really liked the character of Lanesha.  She is a very accessible character-understanding, patient, and open-hearted.  This is not a story of ghosts or purely survival but more on the importance of family and human connections, possibly the most important lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina.  There is a lot of references to spirituality in the book.  Lanesha is taught by Mama YaYa to listen to another world, to see through the eyes of her ancestors who have passed on.  It is also a good adventure book for girls.  I am doubtful that boys would like it due to the heavy dose of drama and emotions.  It's a very short, very easy read and will give a great perspective on what happened to so many of the poor in New Orleans when the levees fell.  It fully explains what happens when New Orleans was flooded and not everyone could just up and leave in a thoughtful, patient and teaching way.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Serial Killer Murder Mystery with Some Heart

The Rook:  Patrick Bowers File #2 by Stephen James

Murder Mystery

These books must be read in order so if this is the first time you've heard of Patrick Bowers, stop and go read The Pawn.  It will be worth the wait.

Patrick is out and about again, this time to California to investigate a series of arsons around the city.  He takes his stepdaughter, hoping they might get more time together to bond.  Patrick also gets called in to solve a shark scientist kidnapping case.  Can these two be related?  Of course, in weird and wonderful ways! 

Patrick must solve the clues and find the scientist before time runs out and not completely alienate his teenage stepdaughter on this mini vacation.  She has plans of her own and is keeping Patrick in the dark as much as she can, a decision she might live to regret. 

I loved the first one in the series and I love this one, too.  There are so many reasons:  #1-the amazing plot.  You'll be hanging on to the edge of your seat with no idea what might happen next.  Plus, it's so creative.  It's not just a rehashed mystery plot.  #2-the character of Patrick.  He is sharp as a tack professionally yet a complete doofus in the emotion department.  #2-the awkward relationship between Patrick and Tess, his stepdaughter.  This sub-plot annoyed me in the first book but I am slowly falling in love with Tessa's surly, sarcastic ways and Patrick's epic failure as a first-time parent.  So sweet!

As a bonus, I also like the potential new love interest.  How in the world Patrick will cope with that is any one's guess.  Forward to #3 in the series!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Red Is the Color of Creepy!

Red Dragon:  Hannibal Lector #1 by Thomas Harris

Adult Mystery/Horror

I stopped reading this book at first because I thought I had walked in on the middle of a series.  I researched but never could figure out if this was the first one or not but the story was so amazing, I just plowed on ahead.  By chapter 2, it not longer mattered because I was hooked.

The book centers around FBI profiler Will Graham.  I thought the book was going to include Hannibal Lector much more than it did (probably due to some hazy memories of the movie).  I was not disappointed, though--Will's character was tragic and fascinating. 

Graham is put on the trail of a new serial killer and must enlist the help of sadistic maniac Hannibal Lector to solve the crime.  Graham has to figure out if the new killer is a copycat or is being mentored by Lector personally.  Hannibal isn't seen much in the book and seems more of a guest character.

The book had split narrators-half told by Will and half told by the crazy killer he was trying to catch.  I loved this!  This was easily my favorite feature of this book-seeing into the mind of the killer, his past and motivations.  I was actually starting to like him and hope he would escape!

I really loved this book.  It captured me at the beginning and kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page.  So good!  The killer, Red Dragon, is absolutely terrifying and also so very human, which made him all that much more terrifying.

This is a series and I cannot wait to continue it--it's addictive.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Unusual for Hahn

Promises to the Dead by Mary Downing Hahn

Adolescent Paranormal/Historical Fiction

This is not a typical Hahn book and so, at first, I was a little disappointed.  When I pick up a Hahn, I have been programmed to expect chills, thrills and goosebumps.  Well, actually, some of that was true in this book, too, but not because of a scary ghost.  The chills came from the living--which was so much more evil than anything undead.

The story is set during the Civil War (a historic setting was another departure for Hahn's regular style).  Jesse is an orphan who lives with his bachelor uncle who sends him into the swamps one night hunting for a turtle so that he might have terrapin soup made by their slave cook.  As Jesse is stumbling around in the dark muck, he comes across an escaped slave, who is about to give birth, and her young son.  As a Southerner, Jesse has been taught to turn all slaves in but something about this young mother tickles his conscience and, instead, he goes to get her help.  On her death bed, the slave makes Jesse promise that he will deliver her young son to relations in the North so that he might be free.  It is a promise that Jesse dreads making because he knows it will bring him nothing but trouble.

I really liked this book.  I fell in love with the character of Jesse--I've never seen a character have so much angst over doing the right thing!  The story snuck up on me and surprised me because I was ready to be disappointed with it.  That's what I get for doubting Hahn, a master storyteller of any genre.