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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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.