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, February 26, 2014

Don't Try This At Home

Stealing Air by Trent Reedy

Adolescent Fiction

It is a story of dreams and bullies and science.  Brian and his family have a lot of adjusting to do.  They've just moved to Iowa, and Brian's father is desperately trying to refine his invention before the whole family falls apart.  Add a bully and a nerd to the mix and you have the makings of a fairly interesting plot.  Brian has some of his father's inventive spirit and, before too long, he's teamed up with the science nerd on a plan that might save his father's business and his family.

It was an okay read for me.  I can't recommend you run out and buy it, but if it happened to be placed in your hands, you have nothing to lose.  It is worth the time you will spend reading it.  The story takes awhile to get into but is a solid read.  The characters are very believable and realistic, but the plot sometimes stretches credulity.  The romance with the bully's sister was a nice twist.  The real pleasure for me in this book was seeing a group of young people set their sights on a common dream and do everything in their power to make this come true.  It's a good role model for a generation of young people who sit around watching TV and playing video games.  Go outside!

There are some parts of the book I found horrifying, as a mom and teacher.  I hope no real child would ever do the airplane test.  It's a great way to end up very dead, very quickly.  Of course, this danger aspect will make it very appealing to young male readers.  There's a lot about skateboarding and building homemade airplanes.  It should come with a warning:  don't try this at home!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Next To Last

A Series of Unfortunate Events #12: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snickett

Adolescent Thriller

This book was the thickest yet in the series, with information flying so fast and furious that it felt like a crescendo--a race to get it all in before the final act.

Th Baudelaire trio has met up with Kit Snickett, shadily related to Lemony, and she has taken them to safety, to a hotel where many other volunteers for good will soon arrive and assures them that many of  their questions will be answered.  'Safe' is a word that doesn't usually apply to the Baudelaires.  Soon, the hotel is crowded and they don't know who to trust, regardless of the murky clues and ridiculous passwords.

This one is much better than the last six in the series, probably because it was less formulaic.  It was also much darker and more desperate than the others, as if the Baudelaires know their story is almost over.  Some of the story is the same--ridiculous characters in unbelievable situations.  Why does it always seem to work?  Although, after twelve of these, I am definitely ready for this to be over and jump into something new by this author.  I do so enjoy Snickett's writing style, his strange wit and sense of humor.  I also always love the formats of the hard cover editions.  The front cover art and deckled edges are so classically SUE.   This phenomenon will be missed.  This series has been so unique and will not be triumphed, a rare compliment from a bibliophile. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Liking It Still

The 39 Clues:  Cahills Vs. Vespers #4:  Shatterproof by Roland Smith

Adolescent Thriller

Roland Smith is one of my favorite YA authors.  I always know to expect a great adventure when I see his name on a book.  Smith did not disappoint!

This one has the same basic plot as all the others.  The characters are starting to become more interesting than the plot, though.  Dan and Amy are still at the control of Vesper One and, this time, Vesper One wants the duo to steal the world's largest diamond.  Vesper One show that he (or she) is willing to waste their lives to get what he (or she) wants.

This is a series that keeps getting better and better as the characters grow and mature.  The series continues to get darker.  Amy and Dan are depressed and seriously in need of counseling.  They are in danger of becoming evil geniuses instead of the good guys.  I also loved that this one had a bit of romance in it.  It makes the characters less flat and one-dimensional and more like real, actual people.  I do love that these are hard cover; it's a really attractive little read.  There are so many surprises n this one.  Things that no fan will predict or see coming.  My students at school love these books---if they read the first series.  It's a great series for reluctant middle grade readers.  It's beginning to appeal to a narrow fan base since, technically, this is about the 14th book in the series.  If you haven't been reading all along, don't start here.  It feels like these books will never end and that Amy and Dan will never be out of trouble.  But, if we're a reader of the series, what choice do we have except to keep going?  I can't leave Dan and Amy hanging!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

British Version of the Odd Couple

My Man Jeeves by PG Wodehouse


This book was an absolutely delightful surprise.  I am so glad I happened upon it.  It is a classic deserving of that rating.  It's a British comedy, but you don't have to be a fan of that unique British humor to like this.  It's just funny, no matter your nationality.

It is part of a series.  I'm not sure where this one comes and not sure if it even matters.  Apparently there is also a TV show, but I've never seen it.  It was just fine as a stand alone read.  It's a collection of short stories with the same character, Jeeves, but no other connection to one another.  The stories are told through the narrator, Reggie Pepper, who has Jeeves as his butler, or 'man'.  Reggie Pepper gets into the most ridiculous situations, and leaves it up to Jeeves to get him untangled.  It's like a British version of "The Odd Couple".

The book was so very charming, so delightful, so utterly British.  Funny, but also a little sweet.  Reggie is such a great character.  He's so naive and perfectly innocent.  He's the perfect foil for wise and worldly and competent Jeeves, who is so clearly the focus of these books, if not the main character.  The stories are a bit formulaic--Reggie always gets into a situation over his head; he has to ask Jeeves for help; Jeeves almost seem clairvoyant in his answer;  Jeeves often makes the problem worse,with hilarious results.  The formula doesn't really get old.  Just a good, old-fashioned, fun read.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Classic.....in Name Only

The Cabman's Story:  The Mysteries of a London Growler by Arthur Conan Doyle

Classic Short Story

This is a classic, but would it still get published today, on its own, if not for the famous author's name?  Most assuredly not.  Why is this story read today?  If the answer is only because of the name of the author, that's not enough of a reason. 

It's an extremely short story (8 pages) of a very long-winded narrator.  Like many of Doyle's non-Sherlock stories, this one focuses on the mundane situation of a normal family.  First, you have to know what a 'growler' is--a Victorian version of a cabbie.  And, based on this story, cabbies haven't changed much!  A family goes on vacation to the countryside for an extended time.  There are so many people, and so much luggage, that the father has to ride up front with the cabbie.  The cabman relates several tales of things that have happened to him over the years and things he has seen. I'm sure today's cabmen could relate.  My favorite story (and only really memorable one) is the tale of a burglar who not only hid in the taxi after a robbery, but also used it as his escape vehicle.

I just didn't like this, even as a free read and even though it was a short read.  I just wanted to rush and finish it.  It just wasn't as good as some other short stories by Doyle and I felt like a teenager who had been assigned this as a homework assignment--not a pleasant feeling. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blimey, A Moral Dilemma!

The Red Road by Denise Mina


This is a Scottish mystery--a first for me.  As expected, I struggled with some of the lingo a bit.  Things are just different there so expect to be a little confused about descriptions and turns of phrases.  It was harder to read than a British mystery, but well worth the effort.

Michael Brown is a scumbag and belongs behind bars for his latest crime.  However, police detective Alex Morrow discovers that one of his earlier crimes might be a setup.  She hesitates because the discovery could release him from jail.  At the center of the crime is Rose, a young girl orphaned and abused by her all around her.  She commits a heinous crime in self-defense which, as a reader, I didn't find morally wrong.  But, the wrong person is arrested, which is bad.  But, he turns out to be a criminal so, that's all right.  But, he might not have been a criminal if he hadn't been charged with the crime.  ARRGHH--so many moral dilemmas!

I really liked the characters in the book--strong women with real struggles.  Alex has a lot on her mind--her finances, her one year-old twins and her full-time job as a police detective.  Her mind wanders during the investigation, which I liked because it made her seem like a normal working mother and not just an uber-detective.  And, Rose--a woman who has worked so hard to pay back her benefactor.  I wanted so badly for a fairy tale ending for her.

Apparently this is the fourth one in the series.  I wasn't lost and didn't feel left out of something important.  It probably isn't necessary to read these in order.  The crime/mystery is more important here than the detectives or characters involved.  It took me awhile to figure out who the main players were. The story line kept switching back and forth between twenty years ago and modern times. It take times to figure out which crime and which of the myriad characters to focus on.  It is a book with a lot of brain work required, but a really good story, one that will keep you thinking and plotting on your own to make things work out.  Jolly good show! (Oh, wait--that's a British saying, right?)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Just Bought All His Books

Burial Ground by Michael McBride


I absolutely loved this book!  It ticked all the boxes for me as a thriller/adventure book and was much better than I thought it would be.  It was so good that, after reading it, I went straight out and bought all the author's other books.  It was a cheap Kindle download and definitely worth even a $10 read (how I rate Kindle books....books I am willing or unwilling to spend the money on).

This book had me with the blurb on the back--steaming mountain jungles of Peru, hints of a lost civilization, a missing archaeologist, an ancient treasure.  How could I lose?  I didn't!  What I really loved was that the author didn't sacrifice character for plot.  It was a very well-rounded book, in that, all parts were good!

The story is told from several main characters, most of whom don't make it to the end, but I'm not saying who. Of course, the coup de grace was the ancient enemy unleashed into our modern world, a monster that is all to easy to believe in.  The characters were all so believable, not like stock, cardboard characters at all.  The plot develops because of their unique personalities, exactly like a plot should.  The writing makes you feel as if you were right there in the jungle, struggling to stay alive.  Why in the world is this author not more famous??  This is definitely on par with the New York Times bestsellers I usually read.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You Don't Have to Be a Cat Lover to Love This

The Cat Who #1:  Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun


This is the book that started it all.  It's not as good as some of the later titles, but I still  loved it.

Jim Qwilleran is an old newspaper fogey who needs a job.  The only one available at a local newspaper is for an art correspondent.  Qwilleran thinks beggars can't be choosers and how different could it be than reporting on real news?  Qwill used to be a big-time news reporter and it's a little unclear why the step down from grace; apparently, he had a drinking problem that ruined his career and now he's just trying to start over.  This is definitely a main character with so much more to discover.

Qwill's infamous mustache is twitching as soon as he hits the art scene.  He find galleries full of ugly art and fake art critics.  It isn't long before all these clues turn up a murder and Qwill is right in the business, where he belongs.  Qwill rents a room from a snobbish art critic and fellow newspaperman.  There's something that Qwill likes about him, even thought everyone else hates him, and it's more than just the man's cat.  When the art critic also ends up dead, Qwill decides to inherit the cat, a cat who wants his owner's murderer found.

Our first introduction to Koko already begs the question...who is in charge here?  Just who is the real detective and who is the pet?  Heck, who is the real main character--man or beast?  This is a reread for me, but a series I have enjoyed so much I've decided to do them again, in order this time.  The book doesn't read as if it's over thirty years old--it's fun and relevant even today.  And, I'm not a cat lover so don't think you have to be one to like these books.  You don't.  You just have to like mysteries.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Not Redeemable

Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Teen Paranormal Romance

This is the finale to the Beautiful Creatures series, a series I'm glad is over.  It never really lived up to the promise of the first book, although I would say this one was probably the second best in the series.  I really feel as if the authors could have skipped books two and three and made this one next.

The cliffhanger from the last book has Ethan jumping off the town's water tower.  But, since there's a new book, there must be more to the story.  And, there is.  Ethan discovers that, contrary to what he thought when he flung himself off the tower, he wasn't really supposed to have died, and he restores the balance of the worlds.  Again.

I will say I did not see the final twist coming--which was pretty cool.  There were a lot of surprises and twists I just didn't expect.  I liked the plot of the story much better than the characters.  I would love to read a series about John and the young librarian.  I started liking these two and Link and Ripley so much more than Ethan and Lena, who are just so depressing and whiny.  I just felt like the characters didn't change at all and I never really understood why the two main characters loved one another.  "Just because" is too immature a reason for long-lasting love, but that seemed to be the case.  I also find it interesting that the whole story was told from a male perspective, Ethan, but the book is so obviously a book for females.  If you love paranormal romance, you'll probably like these. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Better With Age

All That Remains:  Kay Scarpetta #4 by Patricia Cornwell

Forensic Mystery

Like wine and cheese, Scarpetta keeps getting better with the years. 

Scarpetta gets called to a young couple, found dead in their car.  The girl is the daughter of an important political thriller.  Everyone seems to think the killing was politically motivated, but Scarpetta feels differently and she is soon on the case of a serial killer.  It's a tough case (one that I, as the reader, had no hope of solving), and one that Scarpetta struggles with.  It will keep you involved and guessing the whole way through.  Marino is back.  I really like him and the reader gets to see a little more of his tender interior.  This is a nice touch and goes far towards explaining why Scarpetta likes him so much.  This book has lots of red herrings, which makes the case so much more exciting.  It's a complex read and one you'll have to pay attention to.

These books are procedural mysteries to the extreme with gore and graphic descriptions, but necessary since the main character does autopsies.  It feels like you're doing them too, right beside Scarpetta.  I also really enjoyed some 'historical' characters coming in:  Abby, an old friend with some serious secrets that might derail Scarpetta's case; Benton Wesley, Scarpetta's old FBI boss who has some interest in the case that he won't share; and Mark, an old flame that she doesn't know whether she wants to rekindle or not.  These can be stand alone mysteries, but if you want to follow the intricacies of Scarpetta's life, her personal struggles, then read them in order.