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, August 14, 2015

Rethinking History

Sin and Honey #2: A Touch of Betrayal by Taryn Scott

Historical Romance

What a fascinating premise! This book series focuses on telling the stories of women mentioned in the Bible. It has always been so interesting to me to think of what those women must have endured. History has too long remained silent on their stories and that is one of the reasons the Bible feels so stale and irrelevant to me. Without the stories of the women involved, how much of history are we missing?

This book, number two in the series, deals with Delilah, and her love affair with Samson. In the book, Delilah is not a character I much enjoyed getting to know. She isn't a likeable character the entire way through, although there are sparks of heroism in her. She's such a broken and tragic woman, and not the way I had pictured her at all from reading the Biblical tale. This book, though, really brought her to life and examined the betrayal of Samson in a different way. I'd always wondered why Delilah betrayed the hero and this book gives a plausible tale. In the end, it made me rethink the historical Delilah as well.

In the book, Delilah is a woman who has escaped from her hometown. She was run out of town after being accused of witchcraft. Fearing for her life, she escapes, but troubles soon follow her. Delilah has such a tragic history. Because she is a woman, and powerless in society, she becomes a prostitute and then servant in order to feed herself. Life is not kind to Delilah and she soon sees the whole world, and all the people, as mistrustful. Her past is found out and a local man threatens to expose her unless she traps Samson and turns over his secret so that he can be defeated. She agrees. After all, what's one broken man to her, a broken woman. In Samson, though, she sees something different from all the other men. While she went to betray him, she soon falls in love with him. If you're just expecting a Christian romance, think again. The action scenes are hot with passion overload!

The book, of course, has a tragic ending, as anyone familiar with the Biblical tale will know. Don't despair, though, as the author throws in a lot of imaginative details that will leave you thinking about this man and woman from history and how their story might have ended. This book was right up my alley and I look forward to checking out more in the series.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Not Your Momma's Fairy Tale

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

This is not usually a book I would pick up.  It looks a bit too much like a girly-girl book for my taste.  However, when I started reading it, I was so glad for the recommendation because it's exactly the kind of book I love. 

It's a cross between a fairy tale and dystopian novel.  The main character is America, so much symbolism in that name and what a perfect choice.  The other main character is Prince Maxim, who has reaching marrying age.  In a future world, this would make a great reality show.  Bachelor, anyone?  At the insistence of her mother, America submits an application to be considered as one of Prince Maxon's marriage potentials.  She is stunned to learn she is only of only 35 to read the final stage, the Selection.  In order to do this, American must big goodbye to Aspen, her true love but social inferior.  Still, she figures once the Prince chooses someone else, she can take the prize money to help her family and then get her romance, and life, back on track.  When she meets the Prince, her feelings on lots of things starts to change and she's no longer sure she wants to lose the contest.

I loved the futuristic feel of the book and the fact it still felt like an old-fashioned fairy tale.  It was a perfect blending of the two genres and pure genius.  It reminded me a bit of Ally Condie's "Matched" series, but America is more of a rebel, which I loved.  I also loved the political undertones.  It is part of a trilogy and not a stand alone boo.  You'll have to read them all, in order, to see how the story really ends.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Humanity and Its Best and Worst

The Postman by David Brin

Dystopian Adult Fiction

I really love the dystopian genre.  Not because of the darkness and chaos that is so prevalent, but because I love to see how humans retain such incredible sparks of humanity in the face of eternal darkness and destruction.  The Postman is a perfect example of that and one of the better dystopian books I've read. 

Gordon is a trader and scavenger--barely living by his wits until he comes across the remains of a postman in an abandoned vehicle.  He takes the postman's clothes and gear, never knowing how such a simple act of survival will change his life and his world.  As he wanders into villages and towns, Gordon (as the postman) becomes a symbol to people of what they lost with the destruction of their society through war and disease.  Almost accidentally, Gordon starts the US postal service and begins to connect peoples and towns with simple acts of social letters.  Of course, there are those who don't want him to succeed and the last half of the book is an adventure worthy of any action movie.

My only wish with the book was that the female guerilla fighters had been given more time and attention to.  Or, since I'm wishing anyway, their own book!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Worthy Classic

Pollyanna #2:  Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter

Classic

I do love the classics!  This sequel to the original Pollyanna was actually better the first book, which is really saying something.

Most people probably hear the phrase "being a Pollyanna" and have no idea where it comes from.  The phrase comes from this beloved book character, a perpetual optimist who has so much reason to be a pessimist.  In this book, her uncle has died and left the family in dire financial straits.  Pollyanna tries so hard to use her unfailing optimism and bring her aunt back to happiness, but that is a tall order.

In the story are old friends, like Jimmy Bean, and new friends. What made the book so wonderful, though, was seeing Pollyanna struggling with her first love.  I love these books and am sad there are only these two.  True, they are a bit sappy, but in a world that loves to criticize, it's a nice reality break.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

An Uncomfortable Read

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Psychological Thriller/Mystery

I chose this book because of all the buzz generated recently and because it has been compared to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl".  I felt, after reading, it didn't quite live up to my very high expectations and I could find no similarity to the other book, other than both left me feeling uncomfortable after reading them.

In this book, Rachel is a girl on a train.  She rides into the city everyday, hiding the fact she's lost her job due to her chronic alcoholism.  During her daily travels, she looks out the window and starts to fantasize about the daily lives of those she sees living in a house that used to belong to her...until her disease destroyed her marriage and life.  One day, she discovers the person living in her old home has gone missing and she thinks she might have a clue that could help solve the crime.  No one, however, wants to believe her.

This book made me uncomfortable from beginning to end.  That is always the case with an unreliable narrator and I don't think I've ever seen more of an unreliable character than Rachel.  She is a hot mess from beginning to end.  Her actions, bordering on insane at most points, made me so angry at her stupidity and weakness that I wanted to throw the book.  I alternated between anger, pity, and sadness--as did Rachel herself and all those whose lives she interacted with.  The ending, though, made the journey worthwhile and it's one of those twists that are impossible to see coming.  Overall, it was a great read...just not worthy of the 5 stars I had wanted it to be.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Funny, Nostalgic Read

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Adult Fiction

I didn't expect to like this book nearly as much as I did.  Actually, I had loved the old movie so much that I avoided this on my Kindle until it just begged to be read.  What a waste of time, the waiting that is.  I suppose, since I am of the television, record-playing age, I should have expected to identify right away.

It isn't, though, that I identified, or even liked very much, the main character.  Rob is a pain, to the reader and to everyone in the book, apparently.  His girlfriend, Laura, has recently left him and it's easy to see why.  He's whiny, obsessive, and incapable of making decision.  He's just like a friend I have, and probably everybody has, who has everything going for them only they're too self-absorbed to realize it and end up throwing it all way for an ideal that never turns out just the way they expect. 

Still, the book was easy to love, especially if you grew up listening to and loving real music from real records.  It was a pleasant, nostalgic read with very engaging characters and led to me updating my song list on my iPod.  After all, I'm no Rob.  I can march along with the times.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Definitely a Treat

Hallowe'en Party: Hercule Poirot #36 by Agatha Christie

Classic Mystery

One (out of many) of the things I love about Christie is that it isn't necessary to read her books in order.  Serial mysteries become tiresome as one scrambles about trying to figure out which to read next and getting angry when one has read the wrong book out of sequence.  Christie's books aren't like that and it's a pleasure finding them in garage sales or old book sales and buying them without a thought of whether it comes next or not.

This one is actually the first I've seen which relied one a book previous, although the references weren't really important.  In this book, Poirot has been called in to investigate the death of a child during a Hallowe'en party.  The child was forcibly drowned in an apple-bobbing bucket during a busy party, but no one can figure out the who might have done it.  Poirot's investigation unveils some very unpleasant skeletons in a few family closets and there are soon many suspects.  Don't think you'll guess the secret, though!  Unless you're as clever as Poirot (or Christie), you'll be guessing right up to the last page.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Great Book for Adolescent Girls

Storm Mountain by Tom Birdseye

Adolescent Action/Adventure/Survival

Cat has slowly rebuilt her life after her father's death on nearby Storm Mountain.  She has a healthy respect for the environment and has devoted her time to learning everything she can about mountain climbing.  Her cousin Ty is the exact opposite, although he also lost his father, twin to Cat's, on the same mountain during the same storm.  Ty is a devil-may-care, hang by the seat of his pants kind of person and Cats knows how very dangerous this attitude can be while mountain climbing.  Ty gets the brilliant idea to release their fathers' ashes at the site of their deaths on the anniversary of that date.  Cat says no--she isn't ready to let go of her father yet.  Not to be deterred, Ty steals the ashes--and Cat's dog--in the middle of the night and heads to Storm Mountain and right into a blizzard.  With both their mothers gone and the storm getting worse, Cat has no choice but to swallow her fears, ignore reason, and plunge into the storm to save Ty and her beloved dog.

What I loved about this book was the strong female character.  There are so few action adventure books for adolescent girls.  The adventure story turns into one of survival as Cat struggles to keep them all alive during a blizzard and avalanche.  There are also great messages about grieving, knowing when to say goodbye, making a new start, and the important of family.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hate Math, Loved This Book

Freakonomics:  A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar

Nonfiction


I would never have thought that I would ever read an economics book.  And, if I did, I would never have guessed I could have stayed awake, much less found it fascinating. But, I did and I did.

Even if you abhor any scent of mathematics, as I do, this book is so eminently easy to read.  One of the authors is a journalist and crafts each chapter in a way I found to be interesting and relevant and eye-opening.

The focus of he book is with Steven Levitt, a guru of economics who doesn't write to think about boring, old statistics.  Well, actually he does but he presents them in a way that are too interesting to ignore.  Some examples:  why do real estate agents so eager to settle for less money on a sale when it means less money in their pocket? What do abortions and national crime rates have in common?  Why do drug dealers live with their mothers?  If you've ever thought any of these seemingly random thoughts, this is probably a book you would enjoy.

What I really like about it is that the authors don't shy away from controversial topics and just let the numbers speak for themselves.  And, while I don't like math, I know that numbers can only be manipulated so much; they just can't lie.  I'm a bit hooked on the topic now and am rushing to get the next book by the two, Superfreakonomics.  After reading this, you'll probably be a bit freakish about numbers too.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

It's Always a Pleasure to Read a Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown

Fiction/History Mystery/Adventure/Thriller

I always wait with gleeful anticipation the next release of any of Dan Brown's books.  He can always be counted on to provide a solid, engaging read with unexpected plot twists and delicious historical mysteries.

This book was no exception.  In this latest installment of the adventures of Professor Langdon, he is suffering from amnesia and wakes up in a hospital being shot at. His rescuer, a young doctor, soon becomes involved in the chase and two try and backtrack to help Langdon discover why anyone would want to kill him.  Naturally, the reasons are long and convoluted and filled with both historical fiction and fact.  This book focuses on the real-life Dante and his work, "Inferno".  If you've never read, don't worry.  There is enough explanation in the book for even a casual literary lover.

I do love Brown's work, but, honestly I'm getting tired of him.  I mean, come on!  How can one guy have so many adventures?  It's starting to stretch believability a bit too much.  This book would have been much better if there were another main character and Langdon was relegated to an advisor of some sort.  I am also a bit perplexed by the ending. Talk about a cliffhanger!  I hope it means this book might just have a sequel.  There's definitely enough left undone that a complete other book could remedy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cute, Sweet Read

Friends:  Snake and Lizard by Joy Crowley

Elementary Fiction

Wen I first ordered this book, I went off the information provided that it was for "primary" readers.  This is most certainly not the case.  The book would be a great read-aloud for primary-aged children, in bits and chapters.  But an independent reader couldn't tackle the book until elementary school.  It's a fairly lengthy chapter book.

The stories inside deal with the friendship of Snake and Lizard, who live in a desert and have not-so-remarkable adventures, which is not to say the book is boring.  However, what is remarkable to a couple of cold-blooded desert dwellers is old hat to humans who have seen more of the world.  Their naiveté is charming and the stories are cute, filled with fun.  Many of them have valuable, but not preachy, lessons about friendship, how to treat others, lying, exaggeration, etc. 

I believe this is the second in a series, but you won't suffer from confusion if you start with this one first.  Overall, a sweet and funny read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Excellent Gift Book

The Galapagos:  A Natural History by Henry Nicholls

Nonfiction/History

This book is one of those that are so delightful to own and to read.  It is a tactile pleasure for the true bibliophile, one of those rare breed who love the feel of a book as much as the words within.  The cover illustrations immediately draw the reader to the pages and are reminiscent of John James Audubon's best work.  The deckled edges, heavy paper, and cream tone make it feel like a gift book.  If you're thinking of purchasing, definitely buy the print version because the physical components are as important as the ideas.

The ideas, though, are quite fascinating, if you're into Darwin.  I had been reading a lot of Darwin and happened upon this book.  I wanted to read more of his theories without having to delve into his original works, parts of which I've read and found a bit boring.  This book did provide a bit more excitement, but it won't make you grit your teeth with thrills.  It is, instead, a fascinating and gentle historical read about natural selection as seen upon the Galapagos Islands.  I do not claim to be a naturalist and could only name about 15 birds by sight if I were hard-pressed.  However, the text and explanations were fascinating to me and I think even a casual reader of natural history would find something in this book to love.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Deep Waters

Jesse Stone #3:  Death in Paradise by Robert Parker

Mystery/Thriller

I so enjoy reading Jesse Stone books.  What I most like about them isn't necessarily the mystery (which is always superbly plotted), or the adventure (which is often knuckle-biting), it's the character of Jesse.

Jesse is a human with a lot of human mistakes.  He is an alcoholic, not recovering, and has real issues with his on-again, off-again ex-wife.  I love that Parker doesn't make any excuses for Jesse's behavior and that Jesse doesn't make any for himself.  Usually, in a book, the character is recovering from some addiction.  In this book, and the others in the series so far, Jesse isn't recovering.  He fights his demons in front of the reader and it's so refreshing to read about a "real" person with problems who isn't always successful in dealing with them.

In this series installment, Jesse is hot on the trail of a murder.  A local teenager is found floating in the lake and Jesse and his not-so-crackpot team of police dive in to the mystery only to discover the waters are a lot deeper than they look.  Soon, the tiny police force is mixed up in the gang, prostitution, and child molestation. As always, the plot is so tightly written.  It's a pleasure to see Jesse's mind at work and I love that he is changing man, book by book. Can't wait to read the next one!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bizarre

Survivor by Chuck Palahnuik

Adult Fiction

I am becoming less and less a fan of Palahnuik.  I have read several of his books and think I must have peaked early on because they get worse and worse as I go.

This book is about a religious cult survivor who has become a maid or cleaning person who also, apparently, runs a suicide hotline advising people to commit suicide and has the hots for a girl who can tell the future.  Bizarre doesn't begin to cover it.

There are so many things to loathe about the book. Every character in it is dislikable and confusing.  The plot is confusing, especially since it doesn't really get going with a plot until about 75% in.  The formatting is so awful.  It is NOT worthy to abandon traditional forms of punctuation.  Punctuation has a purpose--it makes things readable.  When you don't use it, things become unreadable.  This is unreadable.  Although, even if it had formatting, everything else about it was so awful, I still wouldn't like it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fun, Mystery, Adventure

Death of a Kingfisher:  Hamish Macbeth #28 by M.C. Beaton

English Mystery

This is my second Hamish Macbeth mystery and the 28th in the series. I'm starting to count myself a true fan, even though I'm not really reading them in order. I like them so much, I'll probably go back to #1 and start properly. It isn't complicated to follow, but there are some romantic allusions I'd like to have the backstory too because Hamish just seems so irritated by his exes.

In this story, a Kingfisher bird is found hanged and its nest and young are destroyed and poisoned. While detecting that crime, other crimes start popping up all over town and soon Hamish is on the trail of a thief, birdkiller, and murderer. The plot is complicated by a love interest for Hamish, one he should ignore because she's probably a criminal. Hamish is unable to control his urges, though, and flits through the book bouncing from one unpleasant feminine encounter after another.

These are light-hearted, fun mysteries to read (well, except for the murders, of course). I'm quite a fan of Hamish. He reminds me a bit of Don Knotts's character Barney Fife in "The Andy Griffith Show". Hamish is a bit of a goof, although he does seem to have a bit more common sense and detective prowess. Watching him bumble along and get irritate and then irritate those around him is so funny. M.C. Beaton has never disappointed and I'm delighted to follow her on another mysterious, humorous adventure series

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Decadent

A Stroke of Midnight: Merry Gentry #4 by Laurel Hamilton

Paranormal Romance/Mystery

I wish there were half stars....4 is a bit too high and 3 not nearly high enough.  This series always places me in somewhat of a quandary...because, well, it's just weird.

The main character, Merry Gentry, is competing to become queen of a paranormal court of some really killer faeries and other creatures.  The competition is between her and her cousin, Cai, who is insane and it is a race to see which of them is the first to become pregnant.   With that being said, there is more sex going on in this book than any dirty channel in any hotel.  My word.  I'm no prude, by any means, but a girl can hardly take a break before catching her breath again.  It's just all so...hedonistic and decadent.  This is certainly not a book for the faint of heart, or easy blushers.

Hamilton most certainly has written one of the most unique series I've ever read.  The characters fairly leap off the page and readers will whole-heartedly wish this was a land they could visit, if only for a night or two (because what human could keep up the pace?)  The first few books focused more on Merry's detective skills and solving of a mystery, but that was only lightly touched on in this one.  Shame, I really liked those parts in the other books.  One aspect of the book that is very difficult for me is all the court rules and shenanigans that go on.  I feel as if maybe the book should come with a faerie etiquette guide.  If I were Merry, I could have been murdered long ago if only for my lapse in court rules. 

I shall most certainly keep reading.  With all the shenanigans going on, Merry is bound to be impregnated soon and the drama of that will be quite a read.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Parts Of It Made Me Uncomfortable

Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies by Erin Dionne

Adolescent Realistic Fiction

Celeste is an overweight teen-ager whose life just got much more difficult.  Her best friend dumps her for more popular friends and her aunt enters her in a chubby girl modeling contest.  Through these dramas, though, Celeste finds out what's really important in a friend and in herself.

When I first started reading this book, I had some really uncomfortable feelings about the accuracy and realism of certain elements in the book.  First, of all, the main character is, by her own accounts, overweight, yet she grabs unhealthy foods by the handful and doesn't seem to see the connection.  As a former teacher, this type of thinking isn't realistic as students are now taught from a very early age which foods are bad for them.  The fact she only seems to realize it later in the book seemed off to me.  Also, I find it impossible to believe that a company specializing in overweight models would call their company and contest "HuskyPeach".  That name just rubbed me wrong the whole time.  It's so politically incorrect and such a company would be lambasted for their bad judgment.  Lastly, the instances of bullying in the book are hard to read but seem so unrealistic when some of that verbal bullying took place right in front of teachers who said nothing.  Again, as a former teacher, maybe I was being too critical, but there's no way such abuse would be tolerated.

Overall, it was an okay book.  Once I got over my initial misgivings (and ignored the others), I found the book to be cute with some good messages.  It was a bit over the top of drama for me, but I know many of my ex-students who would gobble it right up for just that reason.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Such an Unlikable Main Character

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Adult Fiction

Golden, the main character in this novel, is so easy to dislike.  For starters, he's married to four different women, none of whom he seems to love, and he has so many kids that he has to memorize their names in some sort of chant.  To top it all off, he's also contemplating having an affair.  Very sleazy guy.

Yet, I was enthralled with his story from the beginning. His young life was so very sad and, initially, I was hopeful he would be able to escape such a destiny.  But, Golden is a weak man and this book is the story of him letting other people direct him in whichever way they want.  He just does whatever he's told without any sort of backbone at all.  If it were only his story, it might be stretching the pleasure a bit, but the point of view changes to include other people in the books, wife #4 and a son.  Their stories are full of so much heart-ache and heartbreak that you find yourself hoping, somehow, things will work out for this huge dysfunctional family.

It's a hefty read, but one that seems to just fly along.  If you've ever been intrigued by the inner workings of polygamy, this seems as close as one could get without it being straight from a believer's lips.  Overall, the book hooked me and I just couldn't turn away until I saw what happened to every last one of the many characters.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Will Cause You To Question Your Beliefs About Love

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Historical Fiction

I am so glad I waited to read this book.  If I had read it when it first came out and was getting all the awards and acclaims, I would certainly have missed the most poignant and heartfelt truths.  Many of the reviews I have read and book blurbs focus on the romantic nature of the book and the love affair between two of the characters.  I did not read the same book they did and my theory is because this is a book that speaks to people wherever they are in their road to romantic (love) maturity.

The book revolves around two main characters:  Fermina and Florentina.  They fall in love when each are young virgins and their entire relationship is only consummated on the pages of the letters they write to one another.  When Fermina is sent away by her father for the relationship, she years to return home and marry Florentina and begin her happily ever after.  Upon coming home, though, she sees that what she thought was love was only infatuation.  She breaks it off with Florentina and instead marries another man, one more prominent and wealthy.  The majority of the book actually focuses on Fermina's marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino and the love they eventually create.  Florentina never marries and spends decades waiting for a second chance with Fermina, convinced she is his soul mate.

Because I am on my way to middle age (maybe I'm already there, but I'm not admitting it in writing) and have been married for decades, I absolutely don't see the romance between Fermina and Florentina as anything other than youthful romantic infatuation.  I believe the love in the love in the title instead refers to the different kinds of love found in the book and the lesson that love, especially during times of turmoil and over long periods of time, can be found in many different ways.  There is romantic love, sexual love, and a beautiful kind of marriage love that can only be found when two people have spent their entire lives together.  I thought that Fermina and Juvenal's marriage and love were the really romantic parts of the book because it shows the strength of love to grow, endure, and sustain hearts.  I also don't think many of the reviews focus enough on the historical aspects of the book.  Cholera is a disease we don't know much about today, but is one that decimated populations during last century across the globe.  The book is a careful look at how a disease like cholera impacts every facet of life, influencing decisions one would never have made otherwise.
Overall, I found the book to be masterful both in language and content.  Best of all, it is one of those books that really causes you to think and consider deeply help convictions and beliefs and see the world in a different way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not a Riveting Love Story

Love Will Find a Way by Barbara Freethy

Romance

Romance is not my usual preferred reading genre, but when my mother recommended it to me...well, she's my mother so it was more like a directive.

Since I'm not a typical romance reader, that might influence my lower rating and review.  This was very much a typical romance.  The plot had some nice twists and the characters were very believable.  As a reader, you wanted the happy ending.

In the story, Rachel is reeling after her husband's unexpected death and turns to his lifelong best friend Dylan.  She wants Dylan to help her determine if Gary, her husband, committed suicide or was just the victim of an untimely accident.  Dylan and Rachel have an unresolved drama between them with years of angst and yearning.  Can Rachel overcome her widow's remorse to love again?  Will Dylan be able to place his heart up for grabs again?  Will Gary's secret tear them apart?
If that last part sounded a bit cheezy, that was my problem with most of the book.  It is clearly a serial romance, written to a set of specifications with a few surprises and twists thrown in.  The surprises aren't shocking, though.  Also, the characters were generally unlikeable.  Both seemed extremely selfish and their emotions varied so wildly, I wasn't for sure from one moment to the next what each wanted. 

So, sorry, Mom. You stick to your reading pile, and I'll stick to mine.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Hit and A Miss

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Adult Fantasy

For me, Neil Gaiman is a very hit or miss author.  When he hits it, it's out of the park.  It's a book so good you can't resist telling other people about the book and such an amazing author.  He can string together stories and words like a master weaver.  When he misses, it's so off the mark, it should be measured in astronomical terms.  This book, for me, was a mixture of both.

The first part of the book is a gigantic miss.  It takes forever to care about the characters or even understand what they have to do with one another and how their stories combine.  I put the book down about twenty times and only persisted because I finish every book I start, no exceptions.  I'm glad I did, though, because the second half of the book is a huge hit.  Once I actually started caring about them, the pages seemed to roll by faster and faster and I couldn't wait to hear how the whole thing would end.

Throughout it all, I did particularly love the mythical references.  I raced to my computer time and again to Wiki who all of these fascinating characters were.  I can't imagine such a brain that could hold all the information and make a story out of it.  The mythical information was much more pleasing to read about than the main character, though.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Much Better Than I Expected

Stranded #2:  Trial by Fire by Jeff Probst

Adolescent Adventure

I really didn't expect much from this series, but what a pleasant surprise they have been.  They're great!  This is the second in a trilogy and you have to read them in order.  This one starts right where the other stopped...literally the very next moment.

Four brothers and sisters are still stranded on an island.  Now, they have to learn to survive on their own, which won't be easy as they are typical techno kids of today.  They know nothing of surviving in the wild.  They really are surviving with scrounging to find foo, water and shelter.  No breaks here!  This makes the story realistic and so much better!  They encounter more defeats than successes, but they don't give up.  What a great lesson for young people!  This one has less adventure, but more survival than the first as the stakes for their lives are upped minute by minute.  Equal time is given to all of the main characters and it's hard to say which one I like best.  All are fallible and loveable and brave. It's also a story of a fractured family learning to work together, which is the real lesson behind the Hollywood TV glamour of the name on the front.

In case you're worried, the books are not like the show.  This book is full of heart and perfectly safe and ethically appropriate for young people.  There are adventures and thrills from the first page to the last.  This one doesn't end so you'll have to read the third in the trilogy to finish the story.  These are great books for reluctant readers.  They're short and really hold the reader's attention.  My students eagerly await the next installment, constantly asking me when it's coming out.  It's a good read for boys or girls. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Humor Isn't This Book's Strength

I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Adolescent Realism and Humor

First of all, this book was so NOT funny.  The jokes are corny and ridiculous and so old that Rodney Dangerfield might have used them in his acts.  There are jokes you would find in a joke book from 40 years ago.  I don't think I even smiled one time. Lest you think I have a more highly developed taste in humor because of my advanced aga, I have asked my students who have read the book if they liked it.  Every one said, "Not really.  It's not that funny."  But, that's okay, because the real strength of the book isn't the humor.  Other than the bad jokes, the book is really pretty good.

Jamie wants to become a famous standup comedian so he spends most of the book trying out his comedy routine on the reader.  Once you know Jamie's real story, it becomes easier to root for him. 

There is one thing I really like about James Patterson's adolescent series, both this one and Middle School.  They both are full of heart and, behind the jokes and laughter, is a real story with a hurting kid and how they are trying to deal with their situation.  Great role models for real kids!  It's also a great book for kids with disabilities.  The authors don't cut James any breaks because he's in a wheelchair and it is, literally, only the second book I have ever read about the main character being in a wheelchair.  It does have some pretty brutal stuff in it.  There are awful life situations, extreme violence, bullying and isolation.  It maybe needs a PG13 rating.  No bad language, but really heavy doses of sadness and serious family dysfunction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Strength is In the Characterization

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve

Adult Fiction

From reading the back and blurbs about the book, I really expected it to be much more exciting and thrilling than it was.  From the back of the book, it seems to be about a thrilling misadventure that changes a young woman's life and marriage.  That's certainly not my take on the book, but maybe it helps to sell more?

This book is really about a young woman and the slow dissolution of her marriage.  Margaret marries Patrick and then travels with him to Africa where he is conducting research on equatorial diseases.  Quite frankly, I questioned the marriage from the beginning.  It isn't the story of a love affair gone wrong, but a rather boring marriage gone completely off track.  Margaret has trouble adjusting to life in another country, especially one as brutal and hard as this one. Margaret can't find enough to fill her days and eventually finds a job, and a life, as a photographer.  This opens her up to different ideas and new people and leads to her questioning her way of life.  Central to this is a terrible tragedy that occurs during a hiking expedition and if I were being terribly literary, I could trace the symbolism of the accident and the couple's marriage.

It's a shame the book is marketed the way it is.  I think it's beautifully told and the strength of the story is in the crumbling marriage and Margaret's growing awareness of her self as a being separate from her husband in a way that reminds me of Chopin's "Awakening".  Shreve's style is very easy to read with a straightforward narrative that has the pages just skimming along.  I can't wait to pick up another of her books.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Not a Gripping Thrill Ride

Inventing English:  A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerer

Nonfiction

This is not a book to pick up and read for pleasure...unless you are a word geek like me.  I did read the book for pleasure, though, and so my review will focus on that rather than the scholarly implications and uses this book would have.

As for pleasure, I couldn't really rate it above just an average book.  I do read linguistic books quite often, just for fun, and this wasn't nearly as good as some others I have read.  The first part of the book was extremely tedious to get through.  That might be because I have already read similar books and have even taken classes in the subject of Old and Middle English, or it could be because the author, I felt, gave too much of the book in that language and didn't really make it accessible for a casual reader.  It was as if he knew way more than he was telling and couldn't really figure out a way to bridge his knowledge with someone much less knowledgeable.  However, if you can hold on to the last half of the book, you're liable to be in for a real surprise.  I just loved the last few chapters, about the impact of African American music and Mark Twain on the development of the American language.  Those were both really new topics for me and I read them eagerly and with great interest.  They even included fellow Kentuckian Jesse Stuart!  Could my interest have been because the second half was clearly American and the first half, the Queen's English?  Possibly so.

Regardless, if you're a scholar, I can't imagine a better book to encourage and enhance your studies.  If you're just a casual linguist like me, it might be better to take the author's advice in the introduction and read a chapter here and there and let it sink in, rather than straight through, like I did.  My way made for a bumpy, long ride.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Story Well Told

The Last Guardian:  Artemis Fowl #8 by Eion Colfer

Young Adult Fantasy

I can't imagine a better ending to a series than this! 

It's always sad to say goodbye to a friend and Artemis (and Holly, Foaly, and Butler) started to feel like my friends in the very first book.  Not the kind of friend where you go eat out, but the kind of friend you need when you've committed a crime and you need help covering up the evidence. Those kinds of friends.  Watching Artemis transition from the first book to the last was a true literary treasure, an experience worthy of all the hours I've spent reading about the book and talking about the book.  It's one I always recommended to my students and I hope they recommend and on and on. 
In this last installment, Artemis is paired against Opal, evil genius versus evil genius.  All the old characters are back, including Mulch Diggums.  The stakes here are high:  Opal has devised a way to kill off all of humanity and reign as the supreme fairy goddess.  Naturally, Artemis's pride won't allow him to concede defeat.  Then, there is the matter of his twin brothers, who he has grown quite fond of.  (Dear Mr. Colfer, please make a separate series about these two.  They are hilarious!)  In order to save the world, though, Artemis has to lose himself. Or, like always, does he have something up his sleeve?

I can't say enough how much I have loved this series and how much I loved this book.  I cried and cried at the end and think that is the perfect way to say goodbye.  Tears and laughter and a knowledge of time well spent and story well told.  Thank you, Mr. Colfer, for these stories. It was a pleasure and honor to tag along on such a wild and imaginative ride.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

For a Younger Historian

How They Croaked:  The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Young Adult Nonfiction/History

This book is a behind the scenes look at the deaths of 19 famous historical figures.  Some of the interesting stories interred within were King Tut, Mozart, Napoleon, James Garfield, Henry VIII, Einstein, Galileo and Charles Darwin. Most kids will have heard of these famous names, but won't know how they died.  The only connection or theme between any of them is just their gross deaths, which does make the book jumpy and disconnected. I do question some of the research and facts and a bibliography would have been nice.  The formatting of the book was top notch--the layout, the different fonts, the trivia bars, the graphics--it all makes for a very pleasant and interesting read.

This is definitely a book for a junior historian.  Most of the information, facts and trivia were well-known to me.  However, it certainly wasn't boring!  The book was very focused on the gross-out factor with each story more weird and disgusting than the previous.  Bragg's writing style is conversational and should appeal to young reluctant readers.  There was a heavy reliance on pus and rotting flesh as the "cool factor".  I think most kids will be fascinated, especially at how very different our lives are and things that are not a big deal today was a killer back then.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Oh, Laini Taylor, Please Make More

Faeries of Dreamdark #2:  Silksinger by Laini Taylor

Young Adult Fantasy

One is a lonely number.  One=the number of people who have ever heard of this book series when I bring it up and that number is me.  What a travesty!  I shall have to carry the total fandom on my not-so-broad shoulders, then.

Truly, Laini Taylor is one of my absolute favorite writers of fantasy, for any age.  She can take a story and weave magic into those tired old words like nobody's business-making scenes dance and jump on the page, making flat characters come alive in such a way that it's crazy to believe these tiny people couldn't exist.  They must!  It's too sad to picture a world without heroines like Silksinger and Magpie. 

In this second, and sadly, last installment in the Dreamdark series, Magpie continues her search for another of the Djinn would need to be awakened in order to bring about a revolution and set the world to rights.  She has one already and hears of another.  Before she can get to it, though, the Djinn is on the run, protected by a very unlikely savior, a tiny whispering fairy who doesn't seem to have the strength to make one good yell, let alone help save the world. 

I truly love these books.  The characters are ones you root for, the world is one you want to see, and the fight is one for goodness.  I hope that more people pick these up.  While this one is not the perfect 5 score of the first in the series, Blackbringer, it is an amazing read.  I hope this review might encourage a few more readers.  Perhaps our fandom will grow and we can collectively talk the author into writing the rest of them.  After all, there are 5 more Djinn to rescue and who's going to do it if not us?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I Shall Never Watch the Movie

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Classic Fiction

I was a novice when I read this.  I have never seen the movie nor have I ever read anything by Capote before.  My only reference to the story was Audrey Hepburn being very stylish in commercials and film bits. So, my idea of the main character was of a very stylish and hip young woman, richly dressed and shopping for jewelry.

The film bits are showing the wrong parts, I'm thinking.  That's really why I didn't read the book before--I just didn't want to read about a socialite shopping or whatever socialites do and consider important.  However, Holly Golightly is such a tragic character, a bit of a hussy and certainly a gold digger extraordinaire.  Normally, I would also find such characters abhorrent, but Golightly is so very sad and broken and has dressed the whole thing over in Tiffany-esque style.  Like one of those diamonds, she took the cracked rock of her life and shined it up to dazzle the world with brilliance.  One really can't help but admire her.  I am a bit like the poor blokes in the book who fell in love with her without knowing it, feel better for having met her and feel a bit sad she left my life so soon.  What a delightful feeling!

I highly recommend the book and shall never, ever watch the movie.  I do love Capote's character so much and never want to hear a tarnishment of such a classic.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Not My Favorite, But Still Pretty Good

The Rise of Nine:  Lorien Legacies #3 by Pittacus Lore

Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy

I love this series and was so excited to get this installment, then I was so disappointed when I was reading it!  It started off gangbusters just like the other two, then just got worse as the book went along.

In this, book three of the series and you absolutely have to read them in order, John is desperate to rescue Sam, his best friend, who was captured in the last book by the Mogadorians, an evil and brutal alien race.  Because John is so focused on Sam, he has no time for his romantic aspirations with Sarah or Number Five.  Pity, as those were some of my favorite parts of the last book.  I think this is the reason I disliked this one so much.

My favorite past of this book and my new favorite character in this series is Number Nine.  He can kick some serious butt and he makes John look like a whining wuss.  Plus, he's funny and fallible and so very easy to root for.  I also really liked the new character Number Eight, whom humans believe to be a reincarnated Vishnu, an Indian God.  He was fascinating and I like the connection between him and Number Seven, Marina. As you can tell, there are a lot of new characters being introduced, maybe too many.

One of the things I loved about the previous books was the terrific characterization and the focus on the relationships between the characters.  This book had none of this.  The one was total battle and fighting and was definitely my least favorite one in the series so far. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Bosch Gets Better With Age

Black Ice:  Harry Bosch #2 by Michael Connelly

Mystery/Thriller/Police Procedural

Like many other things (wine, cheese, women), Harry Bosch gets better with age...and by age, I mean the next book in the series.  In the first book, I liked Harry, a lot, really.  I just felt he was perhaps a bit too hung up on his Vietnam experiences and wondered if he were a character I could really get behind and root for, connect with, want to follow.  All those doubts were erased with this second book in the series.

In this one, Bosch has been assigned clean up duty, much like those batters in the big leagues. When another cop strikes out and goes on leave, Bosch is called in to solve a case and make the department, the captain and the mayor look good.  Naturally, Bosch could care less about that, which is reason enough to love him.  However, he does want to solve crimes so he goes full gusto and finds himself in an international case of drugs, money laundering, murdering, theft and all those other things bad people do. 

What I really like about this book is Bosch's methods.  He follows ethical law which doesn't always translate to legalities.  That makes for quite an interesting read.  He also has a big heart and watching him always look out for the other guy is endearing.  I'm not very far in, but I know that Bosch and I will have a long relationship.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Worthy of Being Called a Classic

The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

Children's Classic/Historical Fiction

Generally, I find it helpful to know something of an author prior to reading their work.  I like to know something about their history and life and see if I can find those threads in what I am reading.  Here, though, the author's backstory is puzzling.  Carter, whose real name was Asa Earl Carter, was a Ku Klux Klan member and sometime author.  His writings are puzzling in light of his beliefs and the way he lived his life.

In this story, Little Tree is a five-year old boy whose parents have just died.  He goes to live with his Cherokee grandparents in the hills of Tennessee.  His grandparents are the descendants of those who refused to walk the Trail of Tears and instead hid in the mountains and continued their way of life as best they could.  The story of Little Tree and his grandfather was so amazing and so beautiful.  Because I come from a rural mountain way of life, reading of the closeness of the boy with his grandparents was so tender and touching for me.  I cried at several points through the book and sobbed the last few chapters.  This is an intergenerational story of heartache, traditions, ways of life and ancient wisdoms--it is a classic in every sense and deserves that rating.  Carter tells of Little Tree's education in his native American heritage, in how to live with a mountain, and the important of family.  Yet, the book is never one that preaches, just tells a story about a boy and his family that you desperately wished had been true.  In short, I loved every word, in spite of the author and his intentions--if he had any.

I suppose, in regards to the author, I prefer to think this work of beauty in some way apologizes for his hatred in life, even if he didn't mean it to be that way.  The work is so hauntingly beautiful and paints such a touching tender portrait of a lost way of life.  Maybe Carter's soul wasn't all bad, just torn and conflicted--trying to bridge between how he grew up and a larger truth about life.  That's what I'm walking away with.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Thriller From Page One

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry

Teen Thriller

This was my second April Henry book and it was a far better read than the first one so I'm glad I kept on going!

In this book, a girl wakes up in a cabin in terrible pain. She has no idea who she is, but recognizes she is about to be murdered!  Quickly gathering some inner strength, she fights off her attackers and escapes. This begins an adventure where the girl, whom we later learn is named Cady, has to figure out who she is and why there are people trying to kill her.  Fortunately, a boy named Ty recognizes her dire situation and helps her to uncover her identity and her secrets.

Wow!  This book was a nail-biter from beginning to end.  While there are times when the reader has to suspend belief, it was a pleasure to do so.  I loved the character of Cady.  Even though she was being victimized, she never became a victim.  She came out of the gate ready to do battle and figure out her past.  The book reads a bit like an unraveling mystery where key elements, which you will never guess, are delayed.  The reader can't figure out the mystery, but it sure is fun following the bread crumbs.  I had read one other thriller by Henry that was much like this, but not nearly as good.  Now that I understand Henry's style and genre, she is definitely an author I will be returning to.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Just a Book

Spirit Animals #2:  Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

Adolescent Fantasy

I'll start with something positive: it was definitely better than the first one in the series.  That's pretty much the start and the end of my list.  It's not that this book is bad; it's just chronically okay, just alright and it never rises above that.  The fault can most certainly not be with the author, who manages to fix many of the problems in the first book.  My problem with the first book is that the characters were so flat and one-dimensional, owing perhaps to the sheer number of them and the brevity of the book.  While, in this book, we do get to know each character more, it still isn't enough to elevate them to the "realness" of a person. 

In this second installment, the four main characters continue on their quest, capturing icons in order to defeat a great evil, while also learning how to control and bond with their new spirit animals.  We also meet new characters and new villains which murk up the water somewhat rather than making the plot any clearer.

In the end, it's just a book, just a story which isn't a terrible thing.  For me, though, I like my books to have some sparks of life.  I wouldn't keep reading it except someone bought me the whole series as a gift and I feel a bit guilty abandoning them. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Good, Clean Fun

Antarctica #1:  Journey to the Pole by Peter Lerangis

Adolescent Historical Fiction

I really love Peter Leranigs, but this was not my favorite book of his.  However, I did like the book.  It was good, just not great and that might have been because I had just finished reading an amazing book, so my expectations were high.

It is a story of the race to the pole in the early 1900's.  The main character, Cole, is a young boy whose father is obsessed with finding the pole.  Cole's mother has died and his stepbrother Andrew is competition for the father's affection.  Cole thinks he can reconnect with his father on the voyage to the pole, until he finds out that Andrew is going as well. The voyage is filled with disaster and misadventure, both natural and man-made.  And, yet, it wasn't a knuckle-biter.  Perhaps I've read too many of these types of stories.  The descriptions of the adventure were really fascinating--to think what men endured, what they willingly volunteered for in order to conquer unknown lands.  It's very clearly a clean adventure story with nothing in it remotely inappropriate.  Just good, clean fun that has a touch more family drama than hair-raising adventure for this thrill seeker.

The book did have great information on that period in history and really shows what it might have been like to travel to Antarctica back then.  It's definitely a book for adolescents and has nothing in it to really interest adults.

It's part of a series, but not one I will keep reading.  It just didn't hold my attention enough to search out the others.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Good, Old-Fashioned Ghost Story

Famous Last Words by Katie Alender

Young Adult Paranormal

Katie Alender hasn't steered me wrong yet.  Each book I've read of hers (not very many, but all of them are quality writing) has been a good scary yarn from beginning to end. These are my very favorite kind of ghost stories:  the old-fashioned, edge of your seat thrillers without the gory violence. 

In this book, Willa and her mother have just moved to Hollywood to live with Willa's new stepfather.  It's a few life for both of them, but Willa is having more trouble with the move because she is still mourning the death of her father and feels she may have helped to bring along his death.  She has attempted to contact him using certain paranormal books and other items.  During one of her mini-séances, she inadvertently opens a psychic doorway and discovers a murder occurred in her new home and the ghost is communicating with her.  Things at school are a bit strained, too, and Willa questions whether the new friends she has made will think she's crazy.  Add in the element of a serial killer running loose and you have all you need for one really good read.

I really like Alender's books and her writing style.  It's easy to read and every chapter keeps you hooked on the action.  I loved the old-Hollywood flavor of this book.  The characters were realistic and the plot twists kept me guessing.  Alender is quickly rising to the top of my favorite ghost authors. Even though she primarily writes for the young adult set, the book had more than enough to capture my adult interest.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Loved the Ending!

Divergent #3:  Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Dystopian Teen Fiction

I'm probably not going to win any fans with this reviews, but I have to say I'm probably the only person that loved the ending!

This book series started off strong with Divergent, then went steadily downhill from there.  Divergent was a story of girl versus the establishment. In book, Insurgent, girl increasingly became pro-militant and determined she knew had a better plan.  In this book, the 3rd one in the series, the girl has decided her way is the only way and she knows how to save the world. 

Thankfully, this isn't a story just about Tris.  If it were, it would read as little more than a very confusing overthrow of some political movement that becomes increasingly murkier as the book  series goes on.  Tris has lost most of what made her such an incredible heroine in this last book.  She is judgmental and it never really is clear why these adults in charge even listen to her.  She's a teenager they saw on TV, for Pete's sake.  It's just so unrealistic.  I also loathe the way she treats Four, who struggles with his own identity and family.  She seems determined to have him comply with her wishes, regardless of his own opinions and thoughts.  It's only because of Four that I kept reading.  He is really the dynamic character here and Tris is little more than a prop at the end of the book to show how his life fragments and heals.  I did like the duality of the book but the constant talk of battle and insurrection was boring. 

So, in the end, I probably should have stopped with book #1 in this series.  It was a charmer and I only felt disappointed the farther along I went in the series.  If you do manage to hang on to the end and you're like me (not a real fan), you'll probably also like the ending.  I do look forward to reading "Four", the next book in this series.  I hope it goes on with Four--he was always the best part, anyway.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fingers Crossed #11 is Better

Ten Big Ones:  Stephanie Plum #10 by Janet Evanovitch

Romantic Thriller

Stephanie Plum is out of control.  Seriously, she needs to get it together.

She's still living in a dump, still working for her uncle, still can't do her job even half-way decently.  Her on again/off again relationship with a great guy is definitely off again and she can't help put push him away.  All that is mostly the plot of the book which is mixed in with some really bad criminals who are determined to kill her, again.  She goes to the only person who doesn't mind bending the rules for her, again.  She skates by on the skin of her teeth, again. This girl.  I feel like starting a fund so she can get a life coach. 

I feel the plot in the last book was starting to wear a bit thin, but this book made a bit of comeback.  I'm hoping it might be a turn-around for Plum.  I've been through ten books with her, but it's getting a bit monotonous to watch her make the same mistakes without learning anything, kind of like Rex on his gerbil wheel.  Fingers crossed that #11 will bring something new.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Starting to Feel Formulaic

To the Nines:  Stephanie Plum #9 by Janet Evanovitch

Romantic Mystery Thriller

My thrill with this thriller series took a bit of a nose dive in this book.

In this latest installment, less-than-adequate bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has to track down an elusive Visa bond jumper, an immigrant who doesn't seem content with upcoming arranged marriage.  As always, there's a few other greasy contenders for Plum's time, but, in the end she always gets her man or woman.

The old formula that has worked for the last 8 books in the series is still working here.  It's a funny, easy light hearted read.  It's one where you don't have to pay too much attention to, so feel free to take it to the beach and doze off in the sun.  Plum's on-again/off-again romance with Morelli takes an unexpected turn and the heat with Ranger goes up a notch or two.  That part I really liked! 

What I didn't like is that Plum is starting to seem like a static character.  By now, she's bagged at least 30 criminals.  Shouldn't she be getting a little better at her job?  Isn't she tired of living in a dump and driving a wreck?  Her lack of growth as a character is starting to wear thin.  I hope future books show a Plum that has some changes in her life and psyche.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creating a Camelot with Vampires

Black Dagger Brotherhood #1:  Dark Lover by J.R. Ward

Paranormal Erotic Romance

I don't know what I expected when I was recommended this book, but...Thank you, Liz, for sending me down this path!  Girl, you've done right by me.

In the book, vampire king Wrath is irresistibly drawn to his soon-to-be mate, Beth.  He doesn't really need the love complications as he is trying to quell a potential uprising and hunt down bad guys who smell like baby powder. However, big baddie that he is, he is putty in her hands.  Beth has problems of her own; namely, she isn't aware she's a vampire-to-be.  This start of the series is the Camelot of vampire love lore.

This paranormal eroticism was my first foray into this genre and, yes, that's a genre. This book was like a pile of dark chocolate kisses--luscious, sinful, addictive and impossible to stop at just one.  You have to rush on to the next book in the series.  Those 500 pages slip through your fingers like water and minutes mean nothing until you get to the end.  This book is like a literary masturbation with multiple orgasms.  If that line offends you, make no plans to read this book series.  That language is tame by comparison and reading the book will surely fry your brain neurons.  It's a total overload of word sex.

My only pet peeve is with the ridiculous spelling of the character's names.  Vishous, Phury, Tohrment...they sound (and probably look like) WWF wrestlers gone awry.  It would be hard to keep a straight face when meeting them for the first time.  It just seems a bit silly.

Overall, I love the fantasy world Ward has created. It has breathed new life into what was becoming a very tired genre.  So amazing, so unbelievable and, yet, so very credible.  The real strength of the books is with the incredible job Ward has done with characterization.  There are so many characters and Ward fleshes each one out completely, forcing us to follow numerous subplots of very inhuman creatures with such human needs and failings.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Classic, Yet Different

Towards Zero:  Superintendent Battle #5 by Agatha Christie

Classic Mystery

Inspector Battle isn't nearly a favorite Christie detective of mine.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the little Belgian, Hercule Poirot, and that grand dame of country life, Jane Marple.  Battle is, however, starting to rise in my esteem and estimation.

In this book, a murder of a family matriarch throws the local constabulary into a quandary until one of the officers calls his uncle, Inspector Battle, who isn't all that sad at leaving an uncomfortable family situation to help out.  What I really loved about this book was the incredible backstory, which we don't often seen with Christie.  Usually, the murder occurs fairly quickly and the detective on-hand gets to sleuthing right away.  In this story, we are introduced to all the red-herring and guilty players right away and have to figure out from their motives which one of them might have made the masterful kill.  There are a lot of little side stories that are tidily tied up at the end.  Christie, true genius!

This is probably one of my favorite Christie books, and certainly my favorite Inspector Battle.  I loved the side stories and backstories of all the characters.  Each of them was so interesting and it had me guessing until the very last page.  These aren't books you necessarily have to read in order so, if you're a bit tired of the typical Christie mystery, you might want to give this a read.  A jolly good yarn!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Plucky, Fun Heroine

They Came To Baghdad by Agatha Christie

Spy Thriller/Mystery

This was a different kind of Christie book for me.  No Hercule Poirot.  No Jane Marple.  No Inspector Battle  No Tommy and Tuppance.  Instead, I was introduced to a new heroine:  Victoria Jones.

Victoria is a bit of a fluff-head.  By her own words, she's a terrible employee and is just getting fired as the book opens.  Sitting on a park bench contemplating her future, she meets a handsome young man and decides to follow him across the world, from England to Baghdad on just a hope she will run into him and another hope she might find some job to support herself.  What she does, instead, is get tangled up in an international spy game.  She bumbles through it all, making hilarious mistakes, and, somehow, solves the whole thing at the end.

This is a different Christie because it's so much more lighter-hearted than her other books.  While there are murder and sinister plots, Victoria is a plucky and adorable detective and I do hope there are other books with her in it.  Christie has never disappointed me, and this one just adds to her mythical legend as the greatest detective dame of all time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Missing Key Details Readers Need to Know

The Toadhouse Trilogy:  Book One by J.H. Lourey

Children/Young Adult Fantasy

This is the kind of book that's right up my alley--a book about books!  There are so very few of them (Inheart by Cornelia Funke, for example) and I loved it when I happen across them.

Aine and her brother Spenser live a very unconventional lifestyle.  After their parents were killed, they were shuttled off to a grandmother they'd never met to live as virtual hermits in the woods of Missouri.  Their existence is shattered when a monster invades their home. The monster is named Biblos and the only way to escape him is to put their trust in a man named Gilgamesh, who is clearly hiding some secrets of his own.  Escape comes in the way of a toadhouse, a sort of magical time traveling machine, that can skip dimensions into books.  What'a toadhouse?  A house where toads live? That, and other details, aren't really fully explained.

That summary probably seemed a bit murky which is why I couldn't give the book more stars.  The plot itself was a bit murky.  Key information is either completely left out or given so late in the book that it makes truly understanding the characters and their motivations difficult.  I did really love all the literary references and this will keep me coming back to the series for more.  It is well-written with adventure, action, and thrills and has a mystery that will probably only be solved in the third book of this trilogy.  Overall, I quite liked the book--it was something different, a breath of fresh air.  The characters were engaging, if rather difficult to connect with.  There's a lot I don't understand about the plot (why fairies...isn't it enough the story can skip through books?  It seemed like too much of a stretch), but I am hoping future books might clear it up.  If not, it's worth a read just to see which storybook the gang jumps into next.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Not As Great As The Inspiration Source

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick:  Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Various

Short Stories

What a gigantic disappointment this was!

I have loved the Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg for years. (Reading that book is a prerequisite for reading this one.) It's a book I have used in lessons, a book I have written about, a book that makes one dream and wonder.  I was hopeful that those pictures in the hands of such amazing authors would be a great read.

Not so.  Actually, the stories my middle school children have written about the Harris Burdick pictures were better than the ones in this collection.  I wanted them to be as fantastical as the illustrations they explained.  Alas, they were, without fail, just really mediocre. The authors who wrote them are amazing, but the stories they wrote aren't anything too spectacular.  The best ones would have to be Stephen King's and Lois Lowry's contributions (of course).  I wish I'd stopped with the original book and let my imagination soar.  Now, those illustrations are a bit spoiled for me by these stories that aren't nearly as great as what they attempted to describe.  This is not a terrible book, despite my harsh words; rather, it's just okay.  And, I expected so, so much more

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Not Crichton's Best Work

Airframe by Michael Crichton

Thriller


The story starts with a mid-air near crash, a disturbance in high altitude that left 3 people dead and almost everyone else on the plane wounded. A group of investigators take over the case and try and figure out what happened to cause so much destruction on a flight where everything looked perfect.

This book was written more than a decade ago and some of it felt very dates, like the technology and clothing allusions. However, the inside take on the airline industry is fascinating, and relevant to me as an airline/airplane ticket consumer. Crichton handles the airline industry will all the thoroughness of an autopsy in his usual medical thrillers.

Some parts of the book ere slow, but most of it was a race to the finish. II found the parts about the brutal and violent unions to be a disappointment. As a past union member myself, I found this slightly ridiculous. Of course, I was in a teacher's union so maybe we were a bit softer-hearted than other union breeds. Violence at a work place should never be tolerated, but I felt this just perpetrated Neanderthal ideas about unions and played into stereotypes too much. The characters are static, but slightly interesting. Their lives were only relevant enough to make us care about what happens next in the story. I did like the solo female main character--it's sad to think this type of character still doesn't get much play today in the thriller genre.

The book stops way short of the near science fiction of his other thrillers. This is realism--a realistic portrayal of airplane/airline procedures and almost reads like an investigative journalistic expose. Crichton does keep true to his themes of the dangers of technological supremacy run amok and human arrogance. It's definitely not the best of Crichton's work, but, if you are a huge fan of his, then this book is not to be missed.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Does What a Book Should: Makes You Think

Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus:  What Your History Books Got Wrong by James Loewen

History/Nonfiction

The whole time I read this book, I could only think of the recent (February 2015) movement by Oklahoma lawmakers that banned certain AP history courses because they didn't teach "American' exceptionalism".  If there were ever a case of needing a book in American classrooms, this is it and Oklahoma just proved it.  I feel this book should most certainly be required for ALL history teachers (and probably for all Oklahoma lawmakers!).  The fact that, according to the book, so many teachers of history are ignorant on this subject is frightening.  As a teacher (although not of history), I know this to be true.  Many teacher's programs do not focus on giving teachers relevant information so much as indoctrinating them into whatever current educational philosophy is in swing.  For the past fifteen years, testing has been in vogue and true academic thought and research have gone out the window as American teachers strive to teach kids to bubble in the right answer.  This book does what a book should:  makes you think and question and argue and rage.  And, then think some more.

This is NOT a book of revisionist history, but rather a book of actual history.  While many of the stories were old news to me (heinous Christopher Columbus and the genocide of American Indians, for example), many of the items in the book were new for me to read about.  That scared me quite a bit.  I like to think of myself as an armchair historian, but clearly I've not been getting the full story.  It was so disappointing and disheartening to read about the Vietnam War, a topic I have never been taught and only know about from the news.  The beauty of the book isn't that it necessarily rewrites American history; rather, it is the questioning the book causes.  I had to stop at several points and go look up and read about some of these topics.  Surely, some of the facts must be wrong, right?  Unfortunately, no. What I found only mirrors what we see on TV everyday:  the same event told in completely different versions by members of opposing political natures that eventually comes out not resembling truth in the least.  It fascinates me to see how we change our version of history to make ourselves (Americans) look better.  I'm still a bit perplexed by many items in the book and have added several new titles to my list of books to read later. 

Overall, this is probably a book most fascinating to teachers, especially teachers of history, and anyone interested in history.  It isn't a book to pick up if you want inspiring stories of heroism or general knowledge, but that makes it all the more important and relevant.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Such a Dislikeable Heroine!

The Latte Rebellion by Sara Jamila Stevenson

Young adult realism

I had some real problems with this book.  I wanted to like and it seemed like just the kind of book I could really get into:  plucky heroine striving to right the wrongs of the world and the culture around her.

In it, Asha wants to escape the confines and rules of her extremely strict parents after graduation for some fun before going to college.  Along with her friend, Carey, Asha starts the "latte" rebellion after being teased about her heritage and race at a pool party.  She decides to use "latte" as a way to bring awareness to her race as mixed heritage and comes up with the idea of selling t-shirts to make money to fund her trip.  Soon, though, the world at large gets in on the action and takes the rebellion much farther than Asha ever dreamed, launching her in trouble with school, her parents, and her friends.

Sounds great, right?  Right from the start, I had real issues with the main character.  This may be a fault with mine--anytime I dislike a main character, I end up really hating the book.  And, Asha is so dislikable.  I cannot get behind a heroine whose only goal is to make money for a summer vacation. The idea of mixed-race awareness is clearly of secondary importance to her, if that.  She repeatedly lies to her parents and her friends.  She treats her friend Carey in the most selfish way and then is surprised when Carey wants to abandon their friendship.  She loves the fame of the group, but doesn't really want to do any work towards the mission. Plus, for a girl who chafes at being labeled, she labels and categorizes everyone she comes across.  Their isn't anything wrong with the plot, grammar, or writing style, but the main character makes this a book I couldn't recommend to young readers for any reason.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Legends Galore

Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms:  Sunken Continents, Vanished Cities, and the Kingdoms That History Misplaced by Dr. Bob Curran

Nonfiction

This is my very favorite kinds of book--a book on myths, forgotten stories, whispered truths from the past. 

In the book, Dr. Bob Curran writes about myths from every corner of the globe.  While the title hints at Atlantis and other stories like it, Curran delves much more broadly and also writes about the forgotten lands and realms of America.  This was probably my favorite part of the book.  While I have read many books on Atlantis, El Dorado and other stories like that, I hadn't really read about, or even heard about, some of the stories and myths in the book from America.  I loved the part that talked about the Welsh king and kingdom in Alabama, the lost tribes of the Melungeons from Kentucky, and Native American stories.  Curran spends a lot of time with the myths of American and it made for a nice change of pace from the usual books I read on this topic.

If you're looking for an in-depth read on topics like the Bermuda Triangle, etc., you'll need to look elsewhere.  This book serves mostly as an introduction to myths and stories worldwide.  For many of the chapters, I can honestly say I already knew of most of what was being discussed.  This is a book for beginners and for those who, like me, can't resist gossips, hints, and legends.  I have a whole page of new things and topics to read about. (The Devil of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky...who knew?)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Make Yourself Truly Happy and Buy Another Book

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying To Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Self-Help

Self-help is a new genre before, one I hadn't needed and didn't particularly want to try.  However, the buzz generated over this book captured me.  I read reviews and interviews with people who said the book changed their way in some profound and meaningful way. 

I have one question to ask those people:  How?

The book is divided into 12 different chapters, one for each month of the year whereby the author dedicates that month to changing something in her life:  career, marriage, children etc.  Overall, it sounds like a great idea.  However, the "advice" generated in the book is alarming.  Her big marriage advice was to treat her husband "nicer".  If you are shallow enough to not already treat your spouse nicely, I doubt your marriage will be saved by the book.  As for children...apparently, the lesson is don't let their whining annoy you.  As a mother of two, good luck with that and that came with the program, so suck it up.  The whole book just seemed so ridiculous to me.  I can't think of one piece of advice I gleaned that wouldn't be so obviously apparent for anyone with an ounce of self-reflection.

What bothered me most of all about this book is the obvious attempt just to sell.  The author is very clear about her purpose in writing to be just to sell books.  So, in this book, she gathered all her blog entries from other readers and tacked them in.  Not all the entries were relevant or interesting and it just felt like an attempt to make the book thicker.  There are also lots of quotes and "studies" about happiness, more obvious attempts to fill the pages with something relevant.  The title kind of got my goat, too.  A year trying to fight right?  Can't recall an instance where the author was really focused on anything other than her own selfish pursuits.  Read Aristotle?  Not a chapter in the book so I'm not sure how it made it to the title other than to make the book seem more worthy.

You want some happiness? Save the money you would normally spend on this book and look elsewhere.  Buy yourself a latte, a bouquet of flowers, take your spouse or boyfriend out for a hot dog, buy a stranger some balloons...