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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Monday, September 30, 2013

For History Buffs

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

History

The cover and back story on this book reminded me so much of Bloody Times and Finding Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson that I actually thought it this was a sequel in the series when I bought it.  However, it wasn't nearly the calibre and quality of Swanson's books, which is a shame because, in many ways, I found this story to be more fascinating.  It is certainly not as well-known.  I've never heard of it and I'm quite a history buff, so that's really saying something.

The book involves the very interesting dilemma of Abe Lincoln's body and the fact that it was difficult to keep in one place.  Then, there's counterfeiting--a huge counterfeiting enterprise that has worldwide implications.  What do these two seemingly unconnected topics have in common?  Old-fashioned greed and some really inept thieves.  Apparently, these criminals decided to kidnap the body of our beloved President Lincoln and hold it for ransom.

I'm not sure if I thought the book was just okay because I was comparing it to the other two.  It came off as mediocre story, almost as if the author was doing a book project, rather than relating his own fascination with the story.  I think the story would have been more captivating if it were told in a narrative strain.  It just felt like a retelling.  Some humor, or sadness--some emotion--would have gone a long way towards making this a better story.  This book is probably best for history buffs and not the adolescents it was marketed to.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Short, And Not So Sweet

Dream Dark:  Caster Chronicles #2.5 by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Paranormal

The information said it was 80 pages long, but that was seriously misleading.  More than half this book was the beginning of the next book in the series.  This should be more like #2.1! 

I bought this because it was about Link and I am really starting to be intrigued with him as a character and with his on-again/off-again relationship with Ridley; but, this didn't have much in it to satisfy my reader's curiosity.  It was disappointing and not worth the little money I spend on it.

The story didn't advance the plot of the series and didn't advance the character of Link.  It seemed kind of pointless.  The plot:  Link is trying to come to grips with turning into a Linkubus and goes on a mission through some underground tunnels.  He is joined by a friendly dog and confronts an evil creature.  Some of this Link does kind of connect in Beautiful Redemption, the final book, but I still just doesn't see how it really matters for the overall plot.

I'm a little made that I paid for this when it was included in the next book for free!  I feel ripped off and cheated and it causes me to respect the authors less.  I am a reader first, not a wallet!  There should be a note on the 'Book Description'.  I hate to be used just for my money.  I'm ready for this series to be over.  The series never achieved lift-off after the first one.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Definitely Loved It

Sookie Stackhouse #6:  Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Paranormal Romance

These books just get better ad better and this was the best one yet!

Sookie's cousin Hadley dies and, while they haven't been close in years, Hadley was still family.  So, Sookie takes off work for a few days and drives to New Orleans to see what Hadley left in her will.  Course, nothing is ever easy with Sookie!  It turns out that Hadley was the favorite lover and love of the vampire queen of New Orleans.  What should be an easy trip just got way more complicated.   Someone doesn't want Sookie investigating Hadley's death or life too closely, so that  is just what Sookie does.    When Sookie finds out Hadley was murdered, she knows she is on the right track.  Sookie's new love interest is a were-tiger.  I really like him but I hope she is using him just for his body.  I have my hopes set on Eric.  Bill is still on the outs and Eric is getting the cold shoulder. New lover Quinn is in.

It is a fascinating read on the social/hierarchical structure of vampire marriages.  Although Sookie's 'Miss Innocent' act is starting to stretch my patience, her love life is hotter than a $2...well, you get the point.  These book are addicting!  Sookie is addicting!  Each time I get the new one, I feel like I've given myself a little gift.  I've read reviews that say Sookie is a static character, that she doesn't change, but I've found that to be untrue and I can't wait to see what she does in #7.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Zombies: The New Vampire

Deck Z:  The Titanic. Unsinkable.  Undead. by Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon

Paranormal History

Just when I think I've read every book there is about the Titanic and that nothing else interesting can happen, along comes this book.

 A scientist, afraid the Germans will use his plague research in war, steals it and escapes.  Of course, the Germany military pursues him. When the zombie virus gets loose on the Titanic, Capt. Edward Smith only has a limited time to contain it--or doom everyone on board.  It must be contained before it can be allowed to reach New York City, so the clock is ticking.  There is so much going on in this story! 

With a zombie book, I was expecting something similar to other zombie books or movies and dreading that it would be cheesy--but it wasn't.  It was very cleverly done and really captured my imagination.  Better still, the authors made it seem plausible!  I loved the scientific aspect of it.  I loved how the authors connected it to a secret WWII experiment.  It felt very Dr. Frankenstein-ish.  My only real complaint--and what kept this book from being really great--is the lack of a character I could sink my teeth into (I mean that in a totally non-zombie way, of course!).  The main character was never really more than 'the scientist' to me.  This was definitely a book of complete action. It's also really hard to pin down an audience for this.  It was marketed in an adolescent book fair but the lack of a young main character makes me doubtful.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Way Better Than I Anticipated

Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts

Adolescent Survival

I was fully set to dislike this, but.......I found myself really liking it!  I would definitely recommend it for its target audience-adolescents.  While the book is probably mostly written by Tebbetts, I felt as if the voice of Jeff Probst came though loud and clear-a very direct, no-nonsense style.

Four young people (and brand new step-siblings) are off on a sailing adventure with their uncle.  But, of course, nothing goes as planned.  A huge storm cripples the boat; the uncle is swept overboard; and, the kids get shipwrecked on a deserted island.  It's not surprising that the book is set on an island (Probst is the host of the mega-TV show Survivor), and the characters have to survive on their own with just their wits and natural elements.  That's what Probst is good at.  However, unlike the Survivor TV show, there is no backstabbing, lying or power-hungry, morally bankrupt contestants intent only on greed and selfishness.  (Can you tell I can't stand the show?)  While I don't like my kids to watch the TV show, I would recommend this to readers in middle school.

While the adventure/survival aspect was cool, I was most impressed by the family dynamics here.  The reactions of the teens were realistic and thoughtful and gripping.  They weren't just cardboard cutouts of characters, which is what I thought I would get. 

It's a little book that packs  a lot of punch.  Fast and easy to read at 192 pages.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Like Twilight, But With Wolves

Shiver:  The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1 by Maggie Stiefvater

Paranormal Romance


I did not like this as much as I wanted to.  I wanted to fall in love with it, to have it be my new addiction and it just wasn't.  But, I must say I did like it just fine.

When Grace was a small girl, she was attacked by wild wolves and taken into the woods to be eaten.  She was saved by one wolf, one with yellow eyes.  She watches for him every night, unafraid of the consequences.  Now in their teens, Grace meets a handsome boy with yellow eyes.  he feels so familiar to her.  Grace soon finds out why.  Sam, the yellow-eyed boy, is also the yellow-eyed wolf.  He's a werewolf who can only stay human as long as the weather is warm. When it turns cold outside, Sam's body, against his will, turns into a wolf.  He only has a short time to be with Grace before he turns into a wolf forever.

There is also another threat to their burgeoning romance--Sam is afraid this might be his last summer as a human.  It is harder and harder to change back and he feels the wolf taking him over completely.  Is it safe to be around Grace?  Is it smart?

The one thing I really didn't like about the book was the absolute clue-lessness of Grace's parents.  Sam practically lives in Grace's bedroom, sleeping with her every night and her parents were  none the wiser.  It felt so unbelievable to me and brought me out of the story.

I liked the plot and the writing was beautiful.  I felt the book gathered speed and momentum as it went along.  I will definitely be reading the next one--I just don't feel the need to rush and buy it right this moment.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Great Surprise

Seventh Son:  Tales of Alvin Maker #1 by Orson Scott Card

Classic Alternative History

This book is alternative history, which I usually have trouble with (it hurts my brain) and generally dont' like.  That was not the case with this book--because I loved it!  What a surprise!  I grew to love it and loved it slowly, not all at once.  And, this is why I read every book all the way through instead of giving up in the first few chapters.  Once I knew the genre, I would have skipped this book.

The setting is in frontier America and there is magic and fantasy and fantastic creatures, but it never comes off as weird.  It seemed absolutely right and fitting that frontier America would include this--which is a testament to Card's genius writing skills.

The story is called Alvin #1, but most of it is a prehistory of Alvin's family and how they came to the land where they are.  Since Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son, he is gifted and magical--and targeted by an unseen, unknown force who tries to kill him even before he is born.  A young girl with second sight saves his life when he is born.  She knows that Alvin and his powers are going to be important and significant.  A creature, or spirit, called the 'Unmaker' wants to unmake Alvin and tries repeatedly to cause his accidental death.  (I especially loved non-believers' reactions!)

Since most of this focuses on the first five to seven years of Alvin's life, you will definitely have to read more in the series to finish this tale. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Wishy-Washy Main Character Keeps This from Being Great

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Adult Chic-Lit

What a perfectly delightful book!  It has some of my very favorite things in it:  vintage clothing, dress shops, chic grandmothers and journaling.

Dora is a bit of a mess--as unlike her cool grandmother as two people can be; yet, when her grandmother becomes ill, Dora drops everything and rushes home to be by her side.  Of course, leaving her old life behind isn't that tragic.  Dora is finishing up some vague, meaningless degree and still doesn't know what to do with her life.  She works in a coffee shop, has a crush on a guy named Gary who only seems to see her as a friend-with-benefits.  The benefits being that she does all his work.  Dora is in way over her head and relies on old friends and family to be her crutches.  She is also delighted, and confused, to meet her grandmother's close friend, Conrad, who is a very handsome, very attentive, very helpful contractor. 

She's also surprised by some things she's finding out about her grandmother.  Namely, the handwritten fictional histories that come with each dress in the shop, a vintage clothing store her grandmother owns.  What a lovely idea! 

My only complaint is with the character of Dora.  She was a little annoying.  She is so unsure of herself that she seems paralyzed from making decisions and that drags the book in places.  This is not an exciting book, more like a lazy Sunday read.  It would also have been nice if the romance between Dora and Conrad had been developed more.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Old-Fashioned, But Fun

Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole? by Jerry Spinelli

Elementary Humor

If you are above the age of 8 or 9, you probably won't like this book.  It is part of the School Daze series.  I'm not sure which one in the series and I don't think it matters.  The plot wasn't complicated enough to worry about.

There are four main characters who are best friends:  Sunny, Salem, Eddie, and Pickles.  Everyone is reacting to the new school year differently.  Sunny has become a cheerleader and promptly gets in a fight with a fan who isn't peppy enough.  Salem has become the football team's manager and institutes snack time and counseling sessions.  Eddie is trying to overcome the embarrassment of having his Superman underwear run up the flagpole by getting a reputation as a mean, tough football player.  Pickles is, well, just Pickles.  There also seems to be strange love square going on.  Eddie likes Sunny.  Salem likes Eddie.  Sunny might like Pickles.  Pickles, well, he's just Pickles.

This book was such a throwback to a simpler time, before text messaging and technology--a time when kids played outside, played with one another, actually conversed!  It had a nice old-fashioned feel to it.  But, it wasn't too old-fashioned.  The topics and characters are still relevant to today's youth-crushes, troubles with friends, unrequited crushes, bullying at school, not being the best at sports and that age-old dilemma:  When is one too old to trick-or-treat?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Still Waters Run Deep

The Watchman:  Joe Pike #1 by Robert Crais

Adult Thriller

I really, really liked the character of Joe Pike from the Elvis Cole series by Crais but wondered if Pike would be a strong enough character to carry his own book.  I mean, he probably didn't say twenty words total in any one book.  Silly me!  Pike is just as addictive and fascinating as Elvis Cole was.

Joe Pike solves impossible cases where muscle and breaking the law is needed.  We've all been there, right? In this first book, Pike is hired to watch poor, little, spoiled-brat Larkin.  Larkin reminded me of the celebrity personas Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan.  Pike doesn't particularly like Larkin, but a job's a job.  Larkin was the witness to an accident that is starting look more and more like murder.  And, now the bad guys are coming for her.

Larkin really, really doesn't want to be protected.  She thinks it's silly and fights it every step of the way.  Pike is totally out of his element with this girl.  He's used to ruthless killers, not pampered teens and he realizes that he would rather battle cold-blooded, battle-hardened thugs.  As the mother of two teen girls, I understood Pike's emotional woes.

Joe Pike is a lot like an armadillo, or a porcupine or snapping turtle.  Hard and tough on the outside, gooey and soft on the inside.  He's more emotional and sympathetic than Cole.  Pike and Larkin are such extremes and complement each other so well.  Pike:  cold and hard on the outside, a melting heart inside.  Larkin:  easily broken exterior, tough as nails on the inside.

A great new series for me to devour.  And, best of all--Elvis Cole is here, too!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fab Five

Stephanie Plum #5:  High Five by Janet Evanovitch

Mystery/Humor

I accidentally read this one before #4 so I was out of the loop on a lot of stuff.  #4 must have been a really busy book!  I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the others and wonder if it is because I missed a book or if the series is starting to pale.  I hate when that happens!

In this installment of Stephanie's crazy life, Uncle Fred is missing and Stephanie is put on the case.  It's not her favorite uncle and her aunt doesn't seem too upset.  Still, family is family.  Instead of finding Uncle Fred, Stephanie finds a garbage full of body parts and is, once again, up to her eyeballs in trouble (literally) and over her head. 

Stephanie is such a BAD bounty hunter.  She bumbles that job like everything else she bumbles up in her life.  She is like a blind fish in the ocean, bumping into things--some good (like food) and some bad (like sharks).  It's refreshing to see a murder mystery series where is the main character is actually a worse detective than me.  It gives me hope.

I disliked that there was less of Morelli since they seem to have broken up in book #4.  Pity-he is so conducive to those nice sparks between the two of them.  The plus side of less Morelli is more Ranger and I did enjoy that math equation.  Ranger seems to be taking more than a professional interest in his protegee.  I can't wait to see where that plot line goes.

The books are getting funnier.  I don't read these expecting deep symbolism or a character with great depth.  It's just good, fab fun.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Real-Life Scary

Rage by Stephen King (written as Richard Bachman)


This book was pulled from publication after the school shootings, with King's approval.  It is a very short book, for King, at a little over 200 pages.  I don't know if one can say they 'enjoy' a book like this.  King's works can be thrilling or breath-taking, even satisfying, but enjoying just doesn't cut it.  This one was very uncomfortable and frightening, especially if light of the recent school shootings that have happened.  Yet, a glimpse into the mind of this character was enlightening to me as a teacher. 

It is told from the point of view of Charlie Decker, a junior in high school who is tired of being a doormat for his peers and reacts by bringing a gun to school to 'get even'.  Charlie is quite convinced he is the victim.  I can't agree, certainly not to the degree he takes it.  His thinking makes him a very unreliable narrator, which always make the reader uneasy.  The unease is heightened by the setting in a school.  This is not a book for everyone and I had moments of just wanting to walk away from it. 

I also found the actions of Charlie's classmates to be disturbing and unbelievable.  Only two students of an entire class disagrees with Charlies?!?  Everyone else seems to think his actions are completely sane and reasonable--except for one boy who fights back and one terrified girl.  I was also very disturbed by the students' reaction of the shooting of their teacher. There was almost no reaction, which I found to be unbelievable.

I do not think this glorifies teen violence.  I think it might help to explain the mindset of those being bullied.  As a King story, it is outside what I am used to.  It certainly had horror, but not the paranormal escape I was looking for.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Condie is a Master with Words

Matched #3:  Reached by Ally Condie

Dystopian Fiction

I loved, loved, loved this entire series!  It was so addictive and this last one, the ending, was so satisfying.  I have found that many writers, after their books have become wildly popular, commercialize the last book.  They try to make ALL the readers happy with a ridiculously sappy ending or leave the ending open in an equally ridiculous way to capitalize off another, new series.  This one felt well and truly ended and it was worth reading all those pages just to get to this.

Reached started just where the other one left off, but it really picked up the pace.  I was afraid it was going to drag like book #2 did, but it got right to business and stayed that way.  Cassia, Ky, and Xander tell their own story in each of their chapters.  I don't know which of these three I like the most.  I do know that ALL of them cannot get what they most hold dear and that created the most delicious tension.  Cassia and Ky and Xander continue their quest to overtake their Society and are working hard in the Rising to make that happen.  If you need more of a summary than that, go back to the first book in the series and start reading from there. 

What I loved best about these book was Condie's writing style.  Her prose sounds so like the loveliest poetry.  I found myself rereading parts out loud, just to hear what the words would sound like.  Overall, I'm sad that the series is over.  Hopefully, the author will come out with some new book.  I'm pretty sure I would read anything she writes.