Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fascinating

I'm on a bit of a nonfiction kick. One of my last reads was Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, by Susan Jane Gilman. I loved it and of course, it was another Nancy Pearl pick.

The story is Gilman's account of the time she and a friend spent backpacking through Asia in the mid 1980s. Absolutely fascinating. You think the story is just going to be a travelogue but it's not; it's a story about travel, yes, but also about people and her friendship with her traveling buddy--who apparently has secrets of her own.

I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, December 14, 2009

Totally different

Libba Bray's Going Bovine is COMPLETELY different than her previous works. Completely different. Having read her blog, it rings much closer to her natural voice.

The story follows Cameron, a teenager who's been diagnosed with mad cow disease and is dying. He's given a chance to truly live by going on a c-r-a-z-y road trip through the help of a punk rock angel, so he takes it.

I liked the book; it was crazy and interesting and, like The Sweet Far Thing, didn't resolve with sugar plums and happiness.

Rating: 8/10

Speaking of sugar plums and other foods, I just finished A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. I adore Wizenberg's column in Bon Appetit, so I wanted to read her book.


It was a mix of memoir and recipes and was a lovely read. She had numerous recipes I want to try, particularly her sister's scones. Also, I like her concept of mixing to create a meal--that delicious dinners (or lunches or breakfasts) can be easy. It wasn't so much as cooking as blending various ingredients to make a simple meal.

It was a nice read and I really like Wizenberg. She's got a solid fan in me.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Too many reads

I've been reading but not blogging about it (obviously). But I do want to keep track of what I'm reading, so here's a quick list:


A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick -- Eh, it was ok. Reminded me of The Outlander. I wasn't impressed either one, though. Both are very atmospheric, which is enjoyable, though.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris -- Going to see a play written by him this week--exciting! I like Sedaris...this was a good read, not my favorite by him though.

Fire by Kristin Cashore -- Really good! Liked it better than her first book Graceling.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis -- Obviously a classic in the Christian faith, thought-provoking and good, for sure

Just decided not to finish Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines...I didn't care for the style of writing or the characters. So I flipped ahead, read the very end and find myself satisfied with my decision.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Too much!

So I decided to re-read Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which is a bit of a read. And naturally, TEN books I requested from the library came in a day or two after I started Physics. Even with Thanksgiving coming up, I bet I'll have to renew at least half of those. Oh well...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Annoying = Unlikable

I wanted to like Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. I do like the cover.



Here's the plot: Beatrice Shakespeare Smith has lived in the Theatre Illuminata for her entire life. The Theatre is home to every single play ever written--and all the characters. Beatrice, who is an orphan that was dropped off at the Theatre (little subplot about "who's my mother" is worked in) is an annoying troublemaker and about to be kicked out unless she proves her worth to the theater. So she tries to. There also may be two guys she's interested in, both of whom get involved in her plot to save her life in the theater. Also, she has four annoying fairy friends. Trouble ensues.


Alright, obviously there's more to the plot but I just didn't like the story. Beatrice's motives and decisions changed sooo quickly and without reason. Plus, she's annoying and honestly, sort of deserves to get kicked out of the Theatre. AND DON'T GET ME STARTED ON HER FAIRY FRIENDS. UGGGGGH. I have so many issues with them. And really, with most of the characters...some kept in their "character" while others adopted totally modern personalities. Annoying.


Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Luxe Ending

I picked up The Luxe by Anna Godbersen almost as a joke--it looked SO DRAMATIC and sweeping and historical. Okay, so yeah, the whole series has totally been a soap opera, but it's fun.

The last book is Splendor. Can we give whoever designed the covers of this entire series major props? GORGEOUS. The back cover has more of her dress, too.

Splendor wraps up Elizabeth, Carolina, Penelope and Diana's stories, with varying degrees of success. The girls' lives have each reached a breaking point, where lies will be discovered and truth revealed. And this book, like the others, has major drama: druggings, adultery, European royalty, interrupted weddings, etc. Godbersen does know how to write an entertaining story.

****Spoilers
Let's talk about the ending. I'm happy that Elizabeth and Teddy end up together (finally). Carolina seemed to be more likable in this book, but it took her freakin' long enough to finally start providing for her sister. And is it bad I wanted her to end up with the slimy clerk? Ah well, didn't happen. Penelope sort of got what she deserved--as did Henry. I was never a huge fan of Henry and Diana, mainly because Henry was so spineless (and of course, the whole moral issue of adultery). Diana's ending, though, wasn't satisfactory. Diana runs off to Paris--loves many men ("who all loved differently")--and is an artist? Hmmm.

Overall, the ending felt rushed. I didn't need specific endings for people and the vague descriptions weren't satisfactory (eg., "Carolina and Claire threw lavish parties." Really? Is that all there is to life? Throwing amazing parties?). Yeah, definitely a bleh ending.
****

So The Luxe series is over but it was fun, fluff reading while it lasted. And the book covers are amazing.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, November 8, 2009

OMG my heart is broken

I was wondering why Nancy Pearl hadn't put up her November recommended reads when I stumbled across this: "Nationally known librarian and author NANCY PEARL has discontinued her Pearl's Picks reader's advisory to pursue other interests."

NANCY PEARL, YOU BROKE MY HEART. I love your picks. Please tell me what to read. Waaah.

Unreliable narrators

Sup y'all....I'm back and just finished Justine Larbalestier's Liar.




So there was a big controversy over the original cover. I'm glad they went with the cover they did. Although I'm not sure what those blue things are she's holding. Seriously, that's bugging me. What are they?

Alright, so the narrator, Micah, is unreliable--she tells you upfront she's a liar--but she's going to tell the truth. Riiighhht. I really can't go into detail about the book, else I'd ruin it for you. But let's just say there's a few big twists--so big that my jaw literally dropped open, twice in a row. But I love when the twists actually make sense and real hidden truths in the early part of the book.

I did like it; this unreliable narrator treated me better than the last one. I thought the ending was a bit rushed but overall, definitely a memorable YA read.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Reads

Here's a few random reads that I've been meaning to mention.

After months of waiting, I read Diana Peterfreund's Rampant. My final thought? Eh. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. Also, for some reason, I didn't expect it to be set in modern day, so that threw me off a bit. And the unicorn aspect was different and interesting....but still, just an "eh" overall.

Rating: 6.5/10

I finished The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry last night. My overwhelming thought on the book? Postmodern.

Here's the Amazon description of it:
"Charles Unwin, a clerk who's toiled for years for the Pinkerton-like Agency, has meticulously catalogued the legendary cases of sleuth Travis Sivart. When Sivart disappears, Unwin, who's inexplicably promoted to the rank of detective, goes in search of him. While exploring the upper reaches of the Agency's labyrinthine headquarters, the paper pusher stumbles on a corpse. Aided by a narcoleptic assistant, he enters a surreal landscape where all the alarm clocks have been stolen. In the course of his inquiries, Unwin is shattered to realize that some of Sivart's greatest triumphs were empty ones, that his hero didn't always come up with the correct solution."

I just didn't have the patience to get into it. Most of the time I was skimming, saying "yeah, yeah, very postmodern, I don't understand what's happen, blah blah." So clearly my attitude didn't really help in my reading and interpretation of the work.

However, Pearl of Pearl's Picks recommend this book and she hardly ever steers me wrong. Ah well.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No Legality

I'll admit it; the cover of Emma Cole's Every Secret Thing put me off the book. It looks like a legal thriller, which is not my preferred reading, even if it is really by Susanna Kearsley writing under a pseudonym.


As I should've known, the cover has nothing really to do with the book. It's really just a mystery with lots of traveling.

Brief summary: "When an old man strikes up a conversation with Kate Murray and attempts to tell her the story of a murder that has not been brought to justice, journalist Kate Murray brushes him aside - until he mentions her beloved grandmother. Before she can reply, he walks away and she watches in horror as he is knocked down on the road and killed. That fateful moment unleashes a whirlwind of events that takes Kate back into her grandmother's war-time past and across the Atlantic, but every step she takes is tracked by an unknown and deadly enemy..."

The story is typical Kearsley with two timelines and two connected plots. With all of Kate's traveling around Europe and fear that she's being hunted, it reminded me of Mary Stewart (like Madam, Will You Talk?). That's not surprising, considering that Kearsley's work has often reminded me of Stewart.

As for the theme of the book, having grandfathers who served in WWII, I appreciated the focus on veterans and remembrance, as well as the idea that wrong is wrong and needs to be righted. All in all, not a bad read.

Rating: 7.5/10

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sort of book-related

Amazon is having an ama-zing sale today on the soundtrack for New Moon. It's only $4.99! Tons of great indie bands, plus my favorite band Muse. Sweet deal!

Amazon + Me = True Love

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quick Reviews

I haven't read anything lately that I've felt compelled to blog about but here's a few brief reviews.

I did read The Magician's Ward by Patricia C. Wrede and it was decent. The "romance" felt rushed, as did the overall story. And I noticed that the back cover copy was very misleading as to what the book was actually about. Here's a brief (and accurate) summary from Amazon:

"This sequel to Mairelon the Magician finds Kim, an apprentice magician and ward of Richard Merrill (Mairelon), in Regency England society. When Mairelon's magic powers are stolen, Kim must trust her magician's abilities to uncover the thief."

Rating: 6/10


Awhile back I also finished The Devil in Music, the last of Kate Ross' Julian Kestrel series.

It was long and took me awhile to get into--but at the end, I was so impressed by the complex weaving that went into the story as well as the twists and reasonings behind people's actions. It was a long read but dived into all sorts of secrets. Also, the title is fabulous--I don't want to ruin it but when the connection was finally revealed, I had to smile in delight at how perfectly named the book is.

All in all, Julian Kestrel's mysteries are definitely a series that's worth reading.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shivery

When I was a teenager, I didn't read too many YA books. Call me a snob, but my attitude was: "I need to be challenged in my reading; forget these 'teen' books--give me Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the classics. I AM ABOVE YA BOOKS." (Obviously I've done a complete turnaround now--I'm all about YA books now and as for the classics, I try to read one once a month.)


My stuck-up attitude was probably healthy for my emotional growth because dang, if I had read books like Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver when I was in high school, my whole concept of love could've been pretty romanticized and unrealistic.



First up: gorgeous cover, isn't it? The font inside the book matched the deep, dark blue from the cover. Lovely.

Shiver is rich in atmosphere: fall creeping into winter, girl and boy in love. Briefly, the story is about Grace, who was bitten by wolves as a child. But a wolf with yellow eyes saved her from being devoured. For six years, Grace sees her wolf. Then she meets a boy with yellow eyes--and you've got yourself a nice little angsty love story featuring werewolves.

Obviously, it's LOVE the first time they speak. That's one reason why I enjoy YA--people can fall in undying-I'll-do-anything-for-you love immediately. As that's generally not too realistic, it's probably better I read that sort of book as an adult than as an impressionable teen.

Regardless, I enjoyed this light fantasy, with all its high school angst and passion. I'm definitely reading more Maggie Stiefvater.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, September 24, 2009

YA Fantasy Galore

I'd feel remiss in my recording-what-I-read duty if I didn't mention that I read Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede (author of one of my favorite books, Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Coffee Pot) and Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith.


I'd like to post a pic of Mairelon but I couldn't find a cover I liked. My copy had a creepy, shadowy '80s vibe going. Let's just say I kept the cover face down when I wasn't reading it. Anyway, both books are YA fantasy, albeit set in totally different eras.

Mairelon does feature a magician, like in Sorcery. Mairelon takes in a street urchin named Kim and they solve a mystery. While there isn't any romance really in this book, I'm hoping for some in book two--Mairelon is in his 20s and Kim is 16, so nothing too illegal going on, at least back in those days. Also, I had a hard time with her name (but not because I don't like the name--I do! One of my best friends is named Kim! Hi Kim!). But this girl, well, I kept on wanting to call her Kat. And were there really Kims back in the early 1800s? I don't know. Her name just didn't suit her personality.

Anyway, the book was a rollicking read. Not as much fun as Sorcery but enough to keep me entertained. I think it was Kim's street slang that threw me off. I can only handle so much guttersnipe talk before I want to throw down the book.

Rating: 7.5/10

Crown Duel is a fantasy set sometime in past-that-never-was. After the death of her father, Countess Meliara and her brother are forced into defending their people. There's a whole bunch of tricky battles and entanglements and kidnappings and alliances and lots and lots of traveling. Has anyone else ever noticed that some books have huge portions of the story dedicated to descriptions of the characters traveling places (Graceling, anyone?). Those stories also make me thankful for my bed. And the fact that no one has ever forced me to go camping--at least since I was 7 or so (thanks a lot, parents).

All in all, I liked Crown Duel ok, but Meliara's ignorance grated on me. WHY IS SHE SO OBTUSE??? Gaaah. At least she admitted she was ignorant--but then she fled the situation so she could go home and "learn." Oh well. And there was a lot of political discussion, which honestly bores me. For me, politics = snooze. Regardless, I'll read the second book but still, not my favorite book ever.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oooh yeah

Who's pumped about Dollhouse returning on Friday night? Ooooh yeah, better believe I am. I think this season is going to be fabulous.

Friday, September 18, 2009

YA Fantasy Classic....But....

I actually read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game a week or two back but have been thinking about what I want to write about it. On one hand, I can completely see why it's a classic; on the other, I'm not completely enthralled with it.


Ender's Game is a classic YA fantasy novel about an incredibly intelligent (and basically grown-up) little boy who has been chosen as the person who can save mankind from the buggers, an alien race that mankind fought nearly a century ago. Ender isn't exactly aware of this and is forced to become a leader and overcome all sorts of miserable obstacles. He's a child that is and was never truly a child.

I read an interview with Card in which he describes his style as American Plain (or something along those lines) and that is a fabulous way to explain how he writes: plain and simple. I don't really enjoy that style and I think that's where my issue with the book lay: I generally remembered I was reading a book instead of being completely sucked into the story with more descriptions and emotions, etc. I love forgetting that I'm reading but Card didn't really achieve that for me with this work.

A few years ago, I did read another fantasy book by him, Enchantment, which I liked, so I'm not ruling him out by any means.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Re-Reads

When I want a comforting read that I know I'll enjoy, Lauren Willig is a sure bet. In the last week, I've re-read The Temptation of the Night Jasmine and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Both are lovely, spy-filled reads. With romance, mystery, history and a bit of adventure, the whole Pink Carnation series is one of my favorites.

Side note: although the books may appear to be just fluff, Willig is very intelligent and knows her history--she has several master's degrees and was (still is?) going after her Ph.D. But she makes history fun to read about it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SO GOOD

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire did not disappoint. At all. I started it Thursday night, finished it Friday. Then I re-started it on Sunday and finished it Monday. So yeah, I liked it. A LOT. (It's a rare book that garners an immediate re-read.)

I love where Collins has gone with the series--the Districts are starting to rebel against the Capital. Katniss is struggling to find where she belongs in the uprising when she and Peeta are forced to face their worst nightmare. The title is perfect (and so's the cover! beautiful!). AND THE ENDING....GAAAHH. I can't wait for book three.

I loved the plotting, the characters, the setting and basically everything about the book. All the elements that made The Hunger Games a success are back.

If you can't tell, I highly recommend this series. It's adventure and action with a bit of dsytopia and some love thrown in. And, in honor of Muse's new CD released today, here's the perfect theme song for the book: Uprising.

Rating: 10/10

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finally!

My brother actually CALLED me the other day to tell me how good Catching Fire was. (But let's just remember who introduced him to the series, hmmm?) I was jealous he'd already read it but my copy is FINALLY ready at the library. Definitely going to start reading it today!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So Freakin' Cute

Not too long ago, I read a review by Angie on Jennifer Echols' Going Too Far. She suggested that it'd be a good fit for fans of Simone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry. Seeing as I adored Perfect Chemistry, I immediately added Going Too Far to my TBR list.

Well, she was right--I loved Going Too Far as well. I couldn't put it down. I started reading it around 9:45 p.m. last night (big mistake). An hour later, I had to force myself to put it down so I could go to bed. Today I thought about it on and off all day, excited to finish it.

The plot is fairly simple: bad teen girl gets in trouble and as punishment, is forced to spend her spring break with a cop during his night shift, driving around their small town and doing police-y work. And they just might end up falling for each other...

But what takes the work above the standard plot is the writing and the characters themselves. I literally laughed out loud at some parts and smiled out of sheer enjoyment at others. Meg and the police officer both have their own issues to work through, but they do and don't let a Big Misunderstanding keep them apart. And did I mention that the book is so freakin' cute? The characters aren't cutesy in themselves but the writing makes the story adorable. Sometimes all you want is a happy, funny story and this fit the bill perfectly.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fluff

Every now and then I need a fluffy read--one that doesn't stretch my mind but is instead pure enjoyment. Hester Browne's The Finishing Touches is just that--enjoyable, light-hearted fluff.

Lovely cover! Browne does seem to luck out in her covers--they've been classy so far. Anyway, the story: Betsy was abandoned as a baby on the doorstep of a posh finishing school in London. (Quick side note: I really like the word posh--and of course, I'm a fan of Posh from Spice Girls--so I think I'm going to try and use that word in my vocabulary more.) It just happens that the couple that run the finishing couple don't have any children and are thrilled to adopt her. Betsy is very happy growing up at the finishing school, but after the death of her adopted mother, Betsy is asked to help run the school.

The school needs quite a bit of updating, so Betsy's got her work cut out for her. There may also be a bit of romance and who's-my-real-mother-searchin sprinkled in, too. There's also quite a few cute little tips on being a lady spread in throughout the book, which made it a charming read.

All in all, it was a light read and didn't make me mad like her last book.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Like Art Lectures

I didn't go into The Art Thief by Noah Charney with any sort of great expectation other than it'd be about art. And it certainly was.


The book is about three main works of art (I think? I've already forgotten)--all of which get stolen. It is also a story FULL of characters. So many that I was lost nearly immediately. The book is also full of theft. Several pieces of art are stolen in Europe; people work separately to find the art and at the end, everything pulls together--and actually in a way that rather surprised me. Looking back, I still don't really get how it all worked but whatever.

My first bit of advice, if you're going to read this book, is to not expect to read a "novel." Think of it as more like people lecturing about art. I enjoyed learning more about art but really, this isn't a true story. Characters aren't fleshed out at all and stuff just seems to happen to further along the plot. And the ending is so sudden, with no lead up to it, that I was taken aback and almost didn't want to accept it. In my mind, the title (The Art Thief) was more about art thieves in general and not a specific person. Any ending can be believable and acceptable to the reader--if there is enough preparation. Charney failed on that front.

The reviewers on Amazon hated this book--out of 54 reviews, 26 of them are one star. Reviewers talked about ripping up the book after reading. Many mentioned laughing out loud at parts that weren't even supposed to be funny. While I don't think it was quite a one star read, it was actually pretty bad for a novel. But I did enjoy reading more about art!

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thin Slices

I haven't been able to get into a good book all the past week. For now, I've been reading Billy Collins' Sailing Alone Around the Room. Lovely poetry in it, although I think I like the first book I read by him better. In this one, he seems a bit obsessed with death.


It's a gloomy, fall-ish day here in my town...just the sort of day to enjoy a poem or two. So here's two of my favorites from Sailing. "Marginalia" and "Victoria's Secret." Witty, twisty and lovely word imagery.

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Mountains, Ever!

Well, Jon Krakauer, I already had a fear of mountains. (I'm a Midwest girl. I like flat land and water. Mountains scare me. Even the hills of Pennsylvania, where I went to college, frightened me a little bit.) But thanks to your Into Thin Air, I will never climb a mountain. EVER.

Into Thin Air is Krakauer's account of a deadly storm that hit Mt. Everest in May 1996. He barely survived but others climbing with him didn't.

Before I read this book, I never realized how dangerous climbing truly was (or how cold!). It raises interesting thoughts on what compels people to try something so deadly.

The read was intense, organized and didn't dwell too long on "afterwards." I highly recommend it.

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remembering who is the central character

A few summers ago I had an Elinor Lipman summer. I read everything she wrote (except her short stories). She just published her latest book, The Family Man, so of course I had to read it.


Here's a summary from the cover copy:

"A hysterical phone call from Henry Archer's ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend his well-ordered life and bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago. Henry is a lawyer, an old-fashioned man, gay, successful, lonely. Thalia is now 28, an actress-hopeful, estranged from her newly widowed crackpot mother -- Denise, Henry's ex. Hoping it will lead to better things for her career, Thalia agrees to pose as the girlfriend of a former child star and current horror-movie luminary who is down on his romantic luck. When Thalia and her complicated social life move into the basement of Henry's Upper West Side townhouse, she finds a champion in her long-lost father, and he finds new life -- and maybe even new love -- in the commotion."

Yep, that sums up the book. I enjoyed it, although it was almost a bit slap-happy for me. I don't remember her other books being that way....although it fit with the whole showmanship aspects of Thalia and the "horror-movie luminary."

I had trouble remembering that Henry is the central character and that Thalia wasn't the main focus. If I had, I would've been more content in her story being more of a periphery one.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Not so tasty after all

Confession: I've tried to read Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (by Julie Powell) twice--a few years apart, too--and just could not make it through either time.

I wanted to see the movie (actually just saw it last night and Meryl Streep was amazing in it; Amy Adams' haircut was awful) and of course, wanted to read the book first. But I just couldn't force myself beyond page 50.

Powell swears up a storm--I can handle a few words sprinkled in but her usage was sooo unnecessary and constant. And she keeps on bashing Republicans constantly. I'm pretty darn non-political but I'm not a Democrat, so her continual blame on that political party got old quickly.

Probably my biggest issue is the simple fact that the book is more of a memoir about her life and not really about her cooking. I don't care about your crappy apartment, Julie, or the fact that you're not-really-ok-maybe-slightly interested in guys other than your husband. It's marketed as a food book; I want it to be about food.

Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scandinavian Thriller

Dang. Stieg Larsson knocked me over with The Girl Who Played With Fire.




The book left me in awe. Larsson tied his last book into this one and yet diverged it in a fabulous way. So good.

Lisbeth Salander ("the girl") is accused of murdering three people. Mikael Blomkvist doesn't believe she did it and starts investigating to find the truth. What actually happened--and what is being hidden--is much deeper and darker than he could know...

The pace starts out slower, with police procedural work becoming part of the story, yet Larsson manages to make it interesting and then bumps up the story to compelling. His commentary on Sweden's society is subtle yet condemning. The twists and turns in the plot were completely unexpected and surprising and made perfect sense. And Lisbeth Salander is one of the most interesting characters I've ever read about.

I dreamed about the first one and yes, dreamed about this one, too. Now I want to re-read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And thank the Lord there's a third book, coming out sometime soon (I hope!).

Rating: 10/10

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Roman Book I Like

Years and years ago I read A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. I loved it. Generally I don't care for books set in Rome, but this one was so well-done and fascinating that I actually liked it. After talking about the book with a friend, I realized I couldn't remember most of it and decided to re-read it.

Voice is about a Jewish (and Christian) slave girl who is captured during the fall of Jerusalem and ends up a slave for a Roman family. She ends up caring deeply for the family (especially the son!) but faces dire consequences for her faith. Tied in with her story is another slave-forced-to-be-a-gladiator. Rivers weaves numerous storylines together so well--it's definitely an epic story.

Rivers is a great writer....for proof of this, my younger sister, who didn't like reading (how are we even related???), read Rivers' Redeeming Love and suddenly discovered she liked reading!

This series is from the early 1990s but it's remained in print since then--clearly people like it. It's book one in a trilogy, so I'll post reviews about books two and three in the months to come.

Rating: 9.5/10

Monday, August 3, 2009

Another week goes by...

Last week I re-read one of my all-time favorites: The Stars for a Light, book one in the Cheney Duvall, M.D. series by Lynn Morris and Gilbert Morris. I love this series....so good. It's about a female doctor in the 1860s.

Rating: 10/10

Also, thanks to Angie's recommendation, I also read Emily Gee's The Laurentine Spy. It's a nicely-done piece of fantasy work...more serious than I prefer, but still enjoyable. Go read her lovely review if you want more details about it...

Rating: 7.5/10

Swedish time, baby

My copy of The Girl Who Played With Fire came into the library today. YESSSSSSSS.

Now to finish what I'm currently reading as quickly as possible.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pie time

I just finished reading Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It's sunny and warm and I can combine reading with tanning. Yay for weekends.

Fun cover, huh? And it's a perfect representation of what happens in the first chapter.

Here's Amazon's description:
It's the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop's Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she's inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities.

With her widowed father and two older sisters far too preoccupied with their own pursuits and passions—stamp collecting, adventure novels, and boys respectively—Flavia takes off on her trusty bicycle Gladys to catch a murderer. In Alan Bradley's critically acclaimed debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don't be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel (the first in a new series) features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail.

Yep, that review sums up my feelings. Lovely period setting, good plotting, detailed characters, amusing, etc. I guess the sun took away my desire to write any more details. Oh well.

Rating: 8/10

I think I need to stop reading about child detectives, though....first Harriet, then Flavia. I'm in the mood to read something totally different.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In which I make a mess of the series

I adore Susan Howatch's writing. Okay, so I haven't read any of her early works but from her Starbridge series on, I've been a fan.

Back in January 2008, I read The Wonder Worker (which utterly horrifies me; I literally thought I had just read within the last six or eight months....not 17 months ago). It is the first book in a three-part series about Nicholas Darrow's healing center, but back in 2006, I read the third book in the series, The Heart Breaker. So I guess it's fitting that I finally read the second book, The High Flyer. And dang, I wish I had read them in order. I'm going to have to re-read Heart Breaker to fully get the entire story because characters from the first two books have subplots in it.



So for this book, the plot is this: Carter Graham is a "high flyer" aka big business woman. She marries a guy named Kim (I think his real name is Joachim) and then is hit with a series of revelations from him. Basically, he's a liar and involved in some baaaaad stuff. But Carter gets involved with Nicholas Darrow and good things come about...

I enjoyed The High Flyer but it was certainly filled with dialogue and analyzing situations, people, etc. While it was good, it didn't blow me away like other of her works. All in all, not bad but I like some of her other writing better.

Rating: 7/10

Why, Donna, WHY?

I'm not going to post the cover of The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. It's CREEPY. So creepy that after I bought the book at a library book sale, I couldn't bring myself to read it for months because of the cover: all black, with a cutout of a baby doll's eyes. And there isn't even really a doll mentioned in the book! When I finally did read it, I kept it face down at all times when I wasn't reading it.

The Little Friend is a Southern gothic novel that takes place over a summer. (In that respect, I was thrilled to read it; I love reading books set in the same season.) I have to admire how completely Tartt switched from the New England/ivy league college setting of her first book, The Secret History, to the completely rural, class-conscious atmosphere of a small town in Mississippi. And her narrators switched gender, age and worldviews.

So the basic plot is this: 9-year-old Robin was found hung in his backyard; no one knows who did it. Twelve years later, Robin's sister Harriet decides she's going to find his murderer. And then she becomes involved with a certain trashy family and snakes and wow, Harriet's life is crazy and odd and gothic.

Tartt is a detailed writer and this book is certainly character-driven. (In my opinion, too character-driven. You get to know SOOO many people far too well.) Harriet is a fascinating character that's not entirely sympathetic. But that's okay, because otherwise she wouldn't have accomplished what she did. As for plot, well, random things happen. Like poisonous snakes nearly killing people. Looking back on it all, my main problem is that I didn't end the book feeling resolved on anything.

Here's my main issue and it's a bit of a spoiler: THE ENDING IS AWFUL. There's no resolution. None. Every single plot line is left open: Harriet's parents, what will happen to Danny and Harriet, the murder.....GAHHHH. Donna, you strung me along for 600+ pages; I WANT ANSWERS. I know, I know; life isn't pretty and full of answers but fiction isn't real life.

I just want to talk to someone else who read this book. Help me move on and resolve my issues...

Rating: 6/10 (more like a 8.5 for writing but a 5 for plot because I'm still so bitter)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fun Fun

Ally Carter's Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover is sheer fun. I'm always up for the Gallagher Girls and their adventures.

Here's the gist of the series: there's a super-secret school, Gallagher Academy, that trains girl spies (they're not spies now; just learning everything they'll need to know). Cammie Morgan is a pavement artist--skilled at following people, seeing what others don't. She'll need those skills to help protect one of her best friends, whose father is running for vice president.

The story ties in nicely to the previous books in the series, so you should really read those first. (On that note, who reads just one book in a series or skips around? And as I typed that sentence, I realized that I DO. Currently, I'm reading the second book in a loose series where I read book three first, followed by book one and now I'm on book two. Shame on me. But more on that later...)

Cammie is growing as a character and overall maturing, so that's nice to see. And yay for a certain character from book two making a few surprise appearances.

Anything, I like this series....it's fun, full of spies and is still somehow believable.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, July 10, 2009

You're not better than the pros!

I don't remember why I wanted to read Fake I.D. by Walter Sorrells, other than it featured a mom and a daughter living on the run. It seemed like an intriguing YA story.

And it could've been a good story, except for so many gaping plotlines and holes. Chasity Pureheart doesn't know her real name; her current name was plucked from a romance novel. Her and her mom have been running for 16 years but "Chass" doesn't know why. Her mom goes missing and then Chass' life falls apart....or finally comes together? Well, thanks to the preview of book two at the end, you learn neither happens. It's Sorrells decided he wanted to write more about the series, so he totally writes off what happened in book one.

But here's my biggest issue with the book: the secret could've easily been turned over to the police. It should've been immediately turned over! I truly do not understand why Chass' mom has decided to keep them on the run, other than she says something like she's been working on finding solid evidence on this one bad guy for the last 16 years. Honey, clearly you suck at it. Let the pros do their job. Oh! Here's another thing--spoiler alert--at the end, you get a preview of the next book and even though they revealed the secret, the same people are still after them. I DON'T GET IT. The secret should've been in police custody, etc.

There's a few issues, too, with continuity. Chass leaves a guitar and all her clothing in a certain car, which she has to ditch, leaving it all behind. Yet somehow later she still has it. What? Aah, and so much gets resolved in a page or two, it killed me. Really, this book just killed me. (And you think a few other characters, but nope, book two brings them back.)

It certainly was action-packed and an engrossing read but the reason for it all annoyed me so much, as did little continuity issues.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Weekend/Monday Reads

I wasn't really in the mood to read much this weekend (a rare event for me). Still, I managed to finish off Mad About the Boy? by Dolores Gordon-Smith and Edna Lewis' The Taste of Country Cooking.


I love the cover on this one; it's actually what drew me into the series. The cover is evocative of the atmosphere of the novel--very 1920s.

The series feature Jack Haldean, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot turned mystery writer. While Jack is visiting relatives at their grand estate, a guest kills himself--but Jack isn't convinced. As he delves into the mystery, new complications keep on popping up, involving everyone in the family.

Gordon-Smith, as I've said before, is a good writer; it's easy to read and engrossing. I'll be reading book three, As If By Magic (and again, beautiful cover!).

Rating: 8.5/10

Another book I've been reading in bits and pieces is The Taste of Country Cooking (30th anniversary edition). I wouldn't call it a cookbook for general use but rather a look at what cooking used to be like--and I am SO GLAD that I don't have to butcher my meals. It's fascinating how much food preparation has changed in less than 100 years but also in what remains the same. Also, I was intrigued by how Lewis is a strong champion for local and organic eating--30+ years before it became a major movement.

Overall, it reminded me of Little House on the Prairie and how so much of those books involved gathering/preparing/eating food. And I loved them for that fact. But, as in those books, I don't love Edna's descriptions of slaughtered pigs with "glistening" white skin. Eww. I'm not a vegetarian nor will I ever be, but let's not test how deep my love for meat goes, okay?

Still, slaughtering descriptions aside, it was an excellent read and I do recommend it for any fan of cooking.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wandering with maps aplenty

Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is certainly ambitious and in some ways, charming.

The book is about 12-year-old T. S. Spivet, a genius cartographer. T. S. maps everything--from the corn he and his sister husk to bugs to yeah, everything.

T. S. lives with his rancher father, his scientist mother and his normal pop-obsessed sister. In this family, no one quite fits. T. S. is certainly no cowboy but instead more of a scientist like his mother. Anyway, a professor friend nominates T. S. for a Smithsonian award, which he wins--but the committee doesn't know he's only 12. Too scared to tell his family about the award, T. S. runs away to Washington, D.C. and has many adventures, etc. (Just a side note on that: in Chicago, T. S. has a rather, um, surprising/violent encounter. It threw off the book for me; it was realistic but just didn't fit with the rest of the novel.)

The book rather meandered. Unless there's a sequel in the works, then we're left with so many open-ended questions: Does his mother discover her species of beetle? What happens to the book his mom is writing? Is T. S. and his father's relationship repaired--but his parents' relationship is now ruined? There's also a bit of magic realism thrown in, which again, is a bit odd for a book so solidly founded on science.

My one big complaint was the lack of resolution on so many fronts. It was one of those endings where I involuntarily spoke out loud "Are you kidding me? THAT'S the end? GAHHH."

Selected Works is different--a bit of a plodding work--definitely not a beach read. But it is beautifully illustrated with maps and sketches, which add to the writing but slow it down. It's worth taking a peek at to see if you'd want to read it. Just be prepared for some randomness scattered in.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy July

So my three best friends came up for a loooong "weekend" visit. It was incredibly fun and fabulous and I'm sad they're gone. Sometimes I really miss college--mainly the social aspects.

Anyway, that means I did practically no reading--instead we watched movies, like Step Up 2. I LOVE that movie (ok, well, really just the lead guy, actor Robert Hoffman, and all the dancing). So good!

I'm about to finish up a book that's taken me all week to plow through, so I'm looking forward to finishing it and moving onto something new.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Plants galore

First of all, I really like Franz Ferdinand. Their latest CD makes me want to have a party--or workout (seriously, they make working out and running so much better).

Anyway, I've been reading everywhere about Margot Berwin's Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. Is the hype justified?

Hmm, well, isn't that a pretty cover? No, just kidding, the book was interesting and I really enjoyed the focus on tropical plants, along with their mystical qualities. It's probably just so different (a bit of magic realism combined with plant lore) that it stands out.

Here's the plot: Lila is a recently divorced, youngish, NY advertising executive. She meets a hottttttt plant man who sells her a tropical plant. She discovers that she loves plants, which leads her to this random laundromat filled with plants--including the nine plants of desire. A few mistakes later, the plants are stolen and Lila must make it up to the laundromat owner, Armand. So they travel to Mexico to locate replacements and Lila learns more about the plants and realizes how full her life can be.

I liked the book; however, I think you can see where plotting and symbols tighter. Still, Berwin shows a lot of promise and definitely offered up a unique twist with her focus on tropical plants.

On a side note, it's been pretty darn hot here and I don't have air conditioning (by choice--I love being warm!), so I could really feel her descriptions of the jungle and heat.

Rating: 6.5/10

Delicioussssss

For my birthday, I requested Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I peruse through numerous food blogs and Baking always seems to pop up. And since I love baking, well, I figured I should own this classic.

Um, yeah, isn't that cover reason enough to buy this book? After paging through it, I settled upon her Coffee-Break Muffins, which use A LOT of coffee (fine by me!). I brought them into work, where reviews were mixed. The girls seemed to like them; the guys, not so much. Let's just say if you don't like coffee, you'll hate these muffins.

Anyway, I'm excited to try more out of her book--especially the chocolate recipes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ah, Poe

Ah, Tap & Gown, with you comes the end of the adventures of Amy and Poe. It's a necessary end, as it'd be hard to continue writing about a college secret society after the main character has graduated, but still, no more Poe is a sad thing. (That being said, Poe did continue on as a patriach, right? Still two patriachs hanging out would be a bit sad.)

Tap mainly deals with the Diggers' trouble rounding up suitable candidates for class D178--and, as it's class D177 doing the picking, of course there's major trouble ahead...and reality hits for Amy and Poe--and everyone else who's graduating.

Rites of Spring (Break) is obviously the gold standard (Poe!!!!), but still I enjoyed this one. Diana Peterfreund has definitely developed as a writer and it's been nice to see how the quality of her writing has progressed. It was a quick read and I'm looking forward to Peterfreund's Rampant. Maybe I'll enjoy killer unicorns as much as I enjoyed Poe?

Rating: 8/10

A rather '20s weekend

This has been a rather 1920s-esque week for me. First, I read Paul Murray's An Evening of Long Goodbyes, which isn't actually set in the '20s. However, the main character seemed to want to live in that era and I honestly had a hard time remembering that the book was set in modern day Ireland. It was interesting in that aspect--Murray did a good job of creating a Roaring '20s feel to his modern work.

I don't think I'd recommend the book to anyone; it was a bit boring in parts and turned oddly serious at the end. Charles, the main character, lives in the old family manor, acting the part of a country gentleman. When he learns his family (just a younger sister and mother away at rehab) has lost all their money, he's forced to leave his home and--gasp--get a job. Throw in some interesting secondary characters and you've got yourself a romp...kind of. Oddly enough, there was a fair amount on immigration in Ireland and all the unrest that's caused. (Glad to see America's not alone in dealing with those issues.) But the ending...ok, here's the thing: part of the ending revolves around a play on words. However, I think the joke only works if you say the words in a British/Irish accent. Whatever; it was a different sort of read...not sure if I'd read it again if I knew what it was going to be like.

Rating: 7/10

So a friend and I went to the movies but our movie had been cancelled. As it was a local theater, they were sooo nice about it and gave us free pass into Easy Virtue instead. Here's my thoughts on that movie set in the '20s:

1. Jessica Biel is a bad actress. I'm a bit prejudiced against her since she's been whining about how hard it is to be beautiful and be taken seriously as an actress. Honey, that's because you're not a good actress. If you were, your beauty would only be an additional aspect (cf. Kate Winslet, Audrey Hepburn, etc.)
2. Colin Firth is wonderful. Too bad he wasn't in the movie that much.
3. The movie was boring and tortuous. Within the first five minutes, both my friend and I knew we had a long road ahead of us.
4. So, at one point, I was joking around about what the ending was going to be. I was kind of serious, but not really. BUT IT HAPPENED EXACTLY HOW I PREDICTED. (If you really want to know, it's this: Jessica Biel's character leaves her wimpy husband for her father-in-law (played by Colin Firth) and yeah, that's the ending. Wow.
5. I just can't get over how much I didn't enjoy this movie.

So there's my roaring weekend for you!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Get Your Burr On

If you've read much historical romance, then you've most likely heard of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Somehow, I hadn't read it but my (future) brother-in-law bought it for my birthday, so now I can say I've experienced Jamie and Claire.
Here's the description via Amazon: English nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945. When Claire walks through a cleft stone in an ancient henge, she's somehow transported to 1743. She encounters Frank's evil ancestor, British captain Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, and is adopted by another clan. Claire nurses young soldier James Fraser, and the two begin a romance, seeing each other through many perilous, swashbuckling adventures involving Black Jack. Eventually Claire finds a chance to return to 1945, and must choose between Frank and Jamie.
I think the whole two men in her life thing threw me off from reading the series but it truly was an interesting, good read. It was long and full of adventure--and I was actually distraught, thinking there wouldn't be a good ending. It's easy to see why this series is a classic.
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Actually a biography

In college, I read Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk and thoroughly enjoyed her writing. So when I saw her Virgin of Bennington at a library book sale for $1, it was an easy buy decision.

From reading the cover copy, I thought it was going to be about her college years and the time afterward--how she led a wild life in NYC to developing faith and moving to one of the Dakotas. But really, the book was about her mentor and employer, Betty Kray, whom she met in NYC.

While Kray's life was interesting and important, particularly for American poetry, a mini-biography wasn't what I was expecting. It seemed as if Norris started out writing about herself but found Kray to be more fascinating.

The book itself wasn't that bad; it was just so wrongly marketed and has such a misleading cover copy that I think most people will be a bit puzzled and then annoyed that Virgin isn't at all what they thought it would be.

Ah well, at least it was my nonfiction read for the month. And it was an appropriate follow-up to Billy Collins, too.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Simply lovely

I don't remember when I first heard of Billy Collins; it was probably through my friend Kim, who has excellent taste. So when Angie posted Collins' poem Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes, it was an excellent reminder that I've always meant to read an actual book of his poetry. I picked Ballistics, which is a fine example of modern poetry.

First up, I love the cover. It's gorgeous in person. Secondly, I enjoy modern poetry. I even interned for a small publishing house that was putting out a book of modern poetry (that was a glorious summer; sitting outside, drinking iced coffee, reading poetry all day long...sigh). So it's pretty natural that I thoroughly enjoyed Collins' work. His writing is simple yet fraught with twists and bits of humor. I want to read more.

Rating: 9.5/10

Monday, June 8, 2009

Zombies

Much to the disgust of my brother, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I think my brother's disgust lay in the fact that Grahame-Smith is blatantly adding in a shock factor to drum up sales...which, yes, is true, but obviously caught my attention (and many people's).

First up, the cover. It's gross. So gross that I kept it face down when I wasn't reading it.

The book itself...well, yes, it's a gimmick. It was sometimes amusing, sometimes weird and other times, well, bizarre.

I did notice that Grahame-Smith made Elizabeth an anti-Christian character, which wasn't necessary. The reader's guide questions at the end of the book made the author's opinions toward Christianity and the church made it clear that Grahame-Smith wanted to add mockery about that faith. That sort of tainted the book for me. I mean, it's one thing to enjoy the addition of zombies and all that silliness but to add his own worldview and opinions to a classic novel that doesn't say anything on the topic is another matter.

So read it for the gimmick but don't expect much more.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It provoked my thoughts

Cory Doctorow's Little Brother invaded my subconscious. I suppose what really got me about this book is that Doctorow's privacy-invading future is feasible.

Little Brother is a look at America's not-too-distant future, one where its citizens are monitored closely with cameras, chips, etc. Seventeen-year-old Marcus and his friends are happy to simply get around their school's technology to play games and hang out. But when a terrorist attack kills 4,000 people in San Francisco and his group is in the wrong spot at the wrong time, Marcus learns the hard way about freedom, rights and torture. But he believes in a free America, so he starts to fight back using awesome, hacker-inspired methods.

Here's where the story seeps in my subconscious:
I read a few chapters of Little Brother before read. At 2 a.m. I wake up to sirens---really loud sirens close by. And I'm terrified because I think the cops are coming for me. I was honestly expecting them to knock on my door and take me in because I'm part of Marcus' hacking group. I even got out of bed to check to see if the cops were in my parking lot. It took me another minute or so to calm down and realize that I was still kind of in dreamland. How bizarre, huh?

I do recommend reading this YA novel because it does inspire thought. I'm pretty conservative (but honestly apathetic--although I do vote!) politically speaking and while I could see the liberal bias the book takes, I think it's out of legitimate fear of where our nation could head. Intriguing (and dream/nightmare-inspiring) stuff....

Rating: 8.5/10

(Spoiler alert as to why I rated it an 8.5: The end wasn't super believable; I just don't believe a state's police force could overturn national security. That's not legal, is it? Good does prevail in the end but is it sad that I don't believe it actually would?)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Much Better

Maria V. Snyder, you did a much better job with Storm Glass than with Fire Study.

A gorgeous cover like this is a good start, eh? Seriously, I love it--and it's an excellent cover for the book, too. There were lots of glass orbs in this novel and it's nice to have a clear image in your head when you start reading about them.

Storm Glass ties in Opal from Fire Study. She has a gift with magic and glass....but isn't sure what her powers exactly are. Because I'm feeling lazy, here's an edited description from Amazon:

As a glassmaker and a magician-in-training, Opal Cowen understands trial by fire. Now it's time to test her mettle. Someone has sabotaged the Stormdancer clan's glass orbs, killing their most powerful magicians. The Stormdancers require Opal's unique talents to prevent it happening again. But when the mission goes awry, Opal must tap in to a new kind of magic as stunningly potent as it is frightening. With lives hanging in the balance—including her own—Opal must control powers she hadn't known she possessed…powers that might lead to disaster beyond anything she's ever known.

Throw in a little loooooove interest(s) and you've got yourself a good tale. The book does tie in nicely with Yelena's story, too.

I'm being generous giving it an 8, mainly because I was able to guess what was partially going to happen. (I don't like guessing---surprise me, authors!) However, it managed to wipe away the horror of Fire Study so that's a plus.

Rating: 8/10

Quite a wait

Back in January, I added Kristen Heitzmann's Rules of Contact to my Amazon wishlist. I happened to check on it today and see that Amazon says it's going to be released on "December 31, 2035." Obviously that's an error but an amusing one, nonetheless. Guess it's going to have to spend 24 years on my wishlist....

Friday, May 29, 2009

My twin?

I have a few blogs that I read in fell swoops every now and then--one being The YA YA YAs. I was catching up on it today and discovered a hilarious post that mentions my blog. Evidently Trisha from The YA YA YAs and I have eerily similar taste in our reading choices...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Explemary Novel as to Why You Shouldn't Run Away

Back in August, I read Lois Lowry's The Willoughbys. It had a hilarious appendix with descriptions about various books her book had satirized. One such book was Toby Tyler: or: Ten Weeks with a Circus by James Otis, or as I prefer to call it An Explemary Novel as to Why You Shouldn't Run Away From Home.

The plot is a little boy's fantasy come true: Toby Tyler runs away from his "mean" uncle and joins a circus. However, circus life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Toby's boss is harsh and whips Toby and yells at him when he doesn't sell enough lemonade. Toby makes a friend, though, in Mr. Stubbs aka a bad monkey. (I think he's a naughty monkey--he throws away Toby's money and tears up all their food when they're running away for the second time.) So Toby's unhappy, wishes he had never run away and spends his free time plotting to run home. After numerous trials, Toby finally does run away, where he is utterly forgiven. (And on a side note, Uncle Daniel asks Toby to stay with him until he DIES--but in a "oh, Toby, you're like my son; I love you; stay with me" kind of way.)

Classic stuff, indeed.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bleh reads

Some reads from last week and brief opinions:

Reluctant Burglar by Jill Elizabeth Nelson -- The cover copy really made it seem as if this book would be full of art theft and capers...but it really wasn't. That is one trouble with Christian fiction; some of the most intriguing story lines can involve morally wrong actions. So how does an author work around that?

Anyway, Burglar was more of a organized crime/FBI sort of book than an art heist novel. Whatever. It just didn't capture my fancy at all. To quote one Amazon reviewer, it's "vanilla."

Rating: 6/10

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner -- Book two in a series, following The Thief, which I remember liking okay. Turner's writing just must not do it for me. All the talk of war and battle strategy didn't captivate me, either. The book does has some surprising twists and I know many bloggers have raved over it, so evidently it does appeal to some people, just not me.

Rating: 7/10

Maybe I was just in a cranky reading mood? Ah, well, life goes on...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Times

I'm happy because:

1. Chuck has been renewed!

2. Dollhouse has been (shockingly) renewed! Seriously, I had about an ounce of hope it'd get a second season; everything I read said Fox was absolutely merciless and is all about ratings (and Dollhouse doesn't have great ratings). Yet, a network FINALLY took DVR recordings and online viewings into account (which makes sense for a show aired on Friday night...sheesh). Fox, thank you for giving us more of this fabulous show!

3. I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and adored it. The plot seemed a little sketchy to me (a bunch of kids forced by the government to fight to the death) but it was so well-written and engrossing. It makes me happy to read a book that I wouldn't normally read but then end up loving it. That's when I tell myself risk can be a good thing.

Rating: 10/10

4. I'm neutral emotionally toward Robin McKinley's Beauty; it didn't make me happy or sad. It was a nice retelling of Beauty and the Beast, complete with her own little reworkings. Good YA read but I think I like her adult books more.

Rating: 7/10

5. Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton was a really interesting read in that it features numerous chapters by different ancestors of the main character. Basic plot line: girl comes back to hometown and learns that her father is someone in the town and that her mother is distantly related to him. A genealogy search ensues. Also interesting is that the main girl is kind of a snobby jerk. She's not exactly an anti-hero but is certainly flawed. Intriguing, postmodern book.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dickensesque

It's evidently been my week of Hanna/Hannahs. First, German Hanna from The Reader and now author Hannah Tinti.

Fun cover, eh? It makes you think it's a YA novel but don't be fooled. The Good Thief starts out in a YA vein but then evolves into something I wouldn't want my child to read. It wasn't crude or vulgar but did have some scenes involving grave digging (with lots of detail about the dead bodies and such), people getting beat up and other sorts of things that an older reading audience (say 11 and up) could appreciate the details more and not get grossed out/scared. It could've been a good YA novel but as the book went on, it just didn't read like one.

The plot is rather Dickensesque. Ren, our young hero, is an orphan living at a Catholic orphanage. He's also missing a hand, which has scared off anyone who would've adopted him. Ren's luck changes when Benjamin Nab adopts him...but it turns out Benjamin is a thief. Fortunately for Benjamin, Ren is also a thief, a naturally talented one.

Benjamin and Ren meet up with Tom, a friend of Benjamin's. They con people, steal stuff, etc. The guys end up in a certain town, where all sorts of plotlines are created and tie together. Tinti definitely created a convoluted plot, but I thought for the most part, it worked--at least in the world that she had created.

I like Tinti's style of writing; it's flowy and detailed and again, reminiscent of Dickens. I bet her later works will be even better--after all, this was her first novel.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

That shameful? Really?

While I haven't seen the movie, The Reader seemed to have a fairly interesting plot, so I picked it up. Am I glad I did? Meh.

To preface, the story is set in 1950s Germany. Michael Berg is 15 years old and has hepatitis. He meets Hanna, a woman in her mid-30s, who finds him sick outside her apartment one day. Michael, once he feels better, goes to visit her...and ends up sort of being seduced? And they end up having an affair for months and months. Hanna requests that Michael reads to her; he does and that becomes a major part of their relationship.

The story is broken into three parts: Michael's teen years, his 20s and then 30s-ish. Hanna saturates his entire life, preventing him from really moving on in his life (at least in my opinion). Hanna has deep secrets of her own, which set up the theme for the book.

Overall, the book was okay but I didn't really sympathize with Hanna or Michael. I can understand the effect she had on him but I couldn't comprehend her one secret (the non-fire related one) and why she wouldn't try to correct it until it was too late. She was that ashamed of it? Really? I'm such a doer that I can't handle not fixing her situation. Ah well.

Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Doom and the West

First up, what an incredible season finale of Dollhouse! I really hope it's not the series finale because the last few episodes have been amazing and I think next season could really rock. The big reveals in the show completely surprised me--I love TV shows that employ a good twist every now and then (cf. Veronica Mars). So here's hoping Fox renews it...and NBC renews Chuck. Oh, and that ABC renews Samantha Who?. Yep, every network show I watch is on the edge. To quote my mother, "if you like a show, it must be doomed." Sadly, it appears to be true. Let's hope that's not true for books, too....


If I remember right, there was a decent hoopla about Gil Adamson's The Outlander. Enough of a hoopla that I added it to my TBR list, anyway.




The story follows "the widow," who is fleeing her twin brother-in-laws. She's fleeing because she murdered her husband and the twins want revenge. So she runs for her life and meets people, who generally help her out. The book is presented as a tale of survival: the widow fleeing across the Wild West, struggling to survive. Parts of the book surely are that but a big chunk of the book details her life in a little mining town.

I didn't love the book; the sympathy for the widow never fully developed. You never fully get her story, either. Personally, I think she's crazy and a murderess. This makes me ashamed of my English major self, but I didn't really get the ending--the last page or so. I just have oodles of questions and no answer. (For instance: Did the widow run away again? Or was she just being cute in writing what she did? How'd she learn to write? Gaaaah.)

It's a decent read with some nice descriptive, intelligent writing but overall, I just kept thinking that the book wanted to be something different and deeper than it actually was. But it wasn't.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Baby Strikes Again

While browsing through the new book shelves at my library, I stumbled across Janet Mullany's The Rules of Gentility. Why it's in the "new" book section, I don't know, as it came out about two years ago, but that sort of thing doesn't concern my library. (Just kidding, kind of, library. I love you!)


It looks like fun, right? Here's the description, courtesy of Amazon: "A delightful marriage of Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones's Diary, Janet Mullany's The Rules of Gentility transports us to the days before designer shoes, apple martinis, and speed dating—when great bonnets, punch at Almack's, and the marriage mart were in fashion—and captivates us with a winsome heroine who learns that some rules in society are made to be broken."

To an extent it was as described...except for a plot device that just really bothered me. And it's a slight spoiler, so read at your own caution. The device was a baby....the hero's baby with his mistress. Yikes. It just seemed so bizarre; the hero was actually really into being a father, even wanting his mistress to live on his estate, so he could be near the baby. The heroine seemed totally okay with it all. What woman would honestly be content with her husband's ex-lover living within throwing distance of them? And then I could see all sorts of issues with the hero favoring his firstborn with his legitimate children...goodness.

So the book was fun and light but I fell into the trap of placing myself in the heroine's shoes and found myself wanting to make different decisions than she did.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, May 1, 2009

Too attached to reality?

Maureen Johnson is funny; her blog makes his point quite, quite clear. However, 13 Little Blue Envelopes wasn't actually that hilarious, sadly. Some dialogue made me smile but overall, not as funny as some of her other works.

I'm not a huge fan of the cover; it kind of gives off a trashy feel to the book. And 13 Little Blue Envelopes not trashy in the least. Unrealistic, yes, but not unclassy.

My biggest issue with the book is its sheer lack of unrealism. Here's the plot: 17-year-old Ginny receives a letter from her aunt, complete with cash and instructions to buy a ticket and fly to Europe. The kicker is that Ginny's aunt died earlier that year.

So Ginny--a MINOR--packs up BY HERSELF and goes to Europe, where she doesn't know what she'll be doing, where she'll be going or who she'll stay with until she opens each letter at its appointed time. She travels across Europe, meeting people and

Conceptually, I like the book. It's good plot for a coming-of-age story and the European locations are fabulous. But what kind of parents would'nt require their TEENAGE daughter to at least call once while she's over there? Most of the time, she travelled alone and no one knew where she was.

It's not that I am a devout fan of realism (I watch Dollhouse so obviously realism isn't always key for me)--but if I'm going to be handed a big dose of fantasy, I want to be able to accept it whole-heartedly (cf. Twilight). Aspects of the plot's mechanisms bugged me--simple things like.

Regardless, this wasn't my favorite book by Johnson but still not a bad read.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A book and a TV show that make me talk out loud

First up, Chuck's season finale made me laugh out loud and say "WHAT???" To quote my sister, it was awesome. Here's hoping NBC renews it for next season.


Swedish author Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was truly an interesting, engrossing read--one that will stick with me. I even dreamed about it (a high compliment, indeed!).


From the start, it's apparent that this is going to be a different sort of book. The protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is sentenced to jail within the first chapter, guilty of libeling a very powerful financial guru. (And no, he doesn't get off. He serves his time.) When a wealthy man offers to help Mikael take down the guru in return for solving a murder that's haunted him for almost 40 years, Mikael accepts.

As a separate plot line that becomes entangled with Mikael's is Lisbeth Salander--a truly fascinating character who dresses like a punk rocker but is a brilliant investigator. Mikael and Lisbeth don't interact until at least midway through the book but their first scene is wonderful. Larsson does a fabulous job of creating characters--everyone is distinct.

The book is dark, however, and had a fascinating interweaving of violence against women and people's reactions to it. It wasn't exactly subtle, but the theme was so well-done that Larsson deserves props.

The very last page, though, made me say "WHAT?!?!?" and not exactly in a good way. It was understandable but not what I wanted for the ending--until I found out Dragon Tattoo is the first book in a trilogy. Phew! And from what I've read of book two, it's even better than this one.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A week's worth of reading...if I can remember

My last week was a fun, busy one so I didn't do a ton of reading. I finished reading High Adventure in Tibet by David Plymire. High Adventure is a biography of David's father, Victor Plymire, who went over to Tibet in the early 1900s to share about Christianity. Let's just say I'm glad I'm not living in that era--it sounded pretty primitive and rough. The story itself was very interesting, though.

I did pick up Mariana by Susanna Kearsley, too, just for a fun read.

Mariana follows modern-day Julia, who somehow is transported back in time as Mariana. Both women fall in love but Mariana's life is a bit harder...evidently Julia has to work out some issues as Mariana before both women can rest in peace. There were some reincarnation themes, etc. throughout the book to explain all of that. Anyway, the story switched between Julia's story and Julia-as-Mariana. I felt more vested in Julia's story and adored how the story ended for her.

While this isn't my favorite Kearsley, it was still an enjoyable read, mainly because she's such a descriptive and enticing writer.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More, more!

I've reached the end of Carol Goodman's writings--or at least her books. I'm a bit sad about that.



The Ghost Orchid is probably her best in terms of atmosphere. The story is set in an old mansion in New York, complete with decaying gardens and fountains. There's two plotlines going on: present day and a story from the Victorian Era. And, to be fair, an even earlier story from the 1700s...but Goodman ties them all together.

The story does focus on mediums and has a prominent ghost theme, which I don't care for, but I like Goodman so much I went for it anyway. Her imagery is lovely, though.

Sadly, my favorite part of the book is a short interview with Goodman at the end of the book and she mentions that her books do focus on water (Lake of Dead Languages, Seduction of Water, The Drowning Tree)--and that in Ghost, she purposely placed the water underground. I adored her interview--it was interesting, had great insight into her work--and how she works--and yeah, made me more of a fan.

Rating: 8.5/10

Immediately added to my wishlist

The title alone of this book convinced me to add it to my Amazon wishlist (aka my books I want to read but probably won't buy list): The Pale Assassin (Pimpernelles) by Patricia Elliott. It's the female league of the Scarlet Pimpernel!

Here's the description: "Eugenie de Boncoeur is growing up in Paris, unaware that her guardian has contracted her to marry the sinister spymaster known as 'le Fantome' when she turns sixteen. She finds herself falling for the handsome lawyer, Guy Deschamps, but there is little time for romance; France is descending into chaos as the Revolution takes hold. Soon Eugenie is fleeing for her life. Her brother Armand has become involved in a plot to save the King from the guillotine, the mob is searching for aristocrats, and le Fantome, the pale assassin, is on their trail - desperate for revenge."

Sounds like fun! Is it sad I'm already rooting for her to end up with le Fantome? I bet he'll turn out to be a good guy.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A bit different from the usual

On a whim, several years ago, I picked up Suzanne Strempek Shea's Becoming Finola. The cover was pretty and the plot sounded interesting. I ended up loving the book and went on to read most of Shea's other novels. Sheas' Hoopi Shoopi Donna made me cry--and I don't cry easily while reading. So I went into her Lily of the Valley expecting tears. Instead, I ended up not caring about the narrator, Lily, or her story.

Lily is an artist who chose to stay in a small town, not doing much. Her big break comes when the richest lady in town asks her to make a painting of her family--but her family is all dead and Lily has to use old photographs to create the portrait. So the book goes back and forth, into Lily's past, as well as the rich old lady's. There isn't much of a plot to the book, other than Lily working on the painting.

One Amazon reviewer sad the book made her slightly depressed--and I can see why. Lily is 39, divorced, living in a little apartment in a small town, mainly doing grunt artwork to survive. She doesn't appear to have much ambition to do anything else, so my pity was pretty darn low. At the end, the "moral" of the book is that you choose your family, blah blah blah (can you tell I thought it was a bit preachy and overdone?). Evidently that makes poor, single Lily feel better--yeah, so it's clear I didn't think much of Lily or her art. At least no tears were shed.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Weekend = No Reading

I started a new book this weekend but after a hundred pages or so, I said, "Rachel, do you really want to read this book or are you just reading it because you like the cover and think you should read it?" At that moment in time, the answer was a resounding "no, I don't want to read this book." Honestly, the book itself isn't that bad--I just didn't care about the topic matter--so I don't want to mention it by name. Maybe someday I'll give it another read.

I decided to pick up Mary Stewart's Madam, Will You Talk? instead. I first read this about a year ago and in re-reading my blog post about it, yeah, my opinion remains the same. It's a fun, action-packed story featuring numerous chases and a woman who can really drive. Lovely reading.