My Books. My Life.

"Let us read and let us dance – two amusements that will never do any harm to the world." ~Voltaire~

Review: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray January 13, 2010

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 6:34 am
Tags: ,

Title: The Sweet Far Thing
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN: 0440237777
Pages: 819
Year: 2008
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Source: My collection
Rating: 2/5

Plot summary (from The Book Depository):

It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds. The Order–the mysterious group her mother was once part of–is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

Plot summary (from me):

600 pages of pointlessness. 200 pages to wrap up the story. Oh, and there is some kissing. And some magic. But that’s all that sticks with me.

Other Books I’ve Read By Author: A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels (the first two books in the series).

Why I Picked Up This Book: I started it ages ago for Seriespalooza, but basically I just needed to finish the trilogy.

My thoughts:

I’ve been pretty vocal about my dislike of this book while reading it.  I have no idea why this book was 820 pages long. I’m pretty sure I could have skipped the first 600 pages and been fine. I thought the first two books picked up toward the end, and so did this one, but there was just too much before any real action happened.  I was annoyed with the characters – I disliked Ann and her whining, Felicity and her selfishness. And Gemma and her “oh what should I do, what should I do” complaints all the time.

My biggest problem with the book was that I don’t think their world was explained well enough so I didn’t care about it or what happened to it.  Because Gemma is the story teller and she doesn’t know anything, I didn’t either. Perhaps I just don’t remember the first two books well enough, but I felt like it was all just made up as we went. I want my fictional worlds to be carefully crafted and make sense.

I also was annoyed by all the selfishness that happened in the book. I know they’re only teenagers and maybe I’ve just watched too many episodes of Charmed, but I’m a believer in the idea that the people who hold magic should not use it for personal gain. I was annoyed by all the scheming.

The only thing that kept me going (besides the need to finish the trilogy) was the Gemma-Kartik storyline. I did want to know what happened with them.

Memorable Passages:

“Peace is not happenstance. It is a living fire that must be fed constantly. It must be tended to with vigilance, else it dies out.” p. 301

Will I Read This Author Again?: Possibly, but I won’t go out of my way.



 

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse January 7, 2010

Filed under: Book Review — Michelle @ 7:25 am
Tags: ,

Title: Right Ho, Jeeves
Author: P.G. Wodehouse (read by Nicolas Coster)
Genre: Perfection (thanks to Maria for helping me find the correct genre)
ISBN: 1597771917 (Audio)
Pages: 8 CDs, 9 hours (print version is 240 pages)
Year: 1934 (recorded in 2008)
Publisher: Orignal – Herbert Jenkins/Audio – Pheonix Audio
Source: My collection – Christmas gift from Ben
Rating: 5/5

Plot summary (from The Book Depository):

Gussie Fink-Nottle’s knowledge of the common newt is unparalleled. Drop him in a pond of newts and his behaviour will be exemplary, but introduce him to a girl and watch him turn pink, yammer, and suddenly stampede for great open spaces. Even with Madeline Bassett, who feels that the stars are God’s daisy chain, his tongue is tied in reef-knots. And his chum Tuppy Glossop isn’t getting on much better with Madeline’s delectable friend Angela. With so many broken hearts lying about him, Bertie Wooster can’t sit idly by. The happiness of a pal – two pals, in fact – is at stake. But somehow Bertie’s best-laid plans land everyone in the soup, and so it’s just as well that Jeeves is ever at hand to apply his bulging brains to the problems of young love.

Other Books I’ve Read By Author: The Code of the Woosters

Why I Picked Up This Book: It was an audio and I had a long drive home after Christmas. Plus Bertie and Jeeves are hilarious.

My thoughts:

Reading Wodehouse is absolutely fabulous. Listening to Wodehouse is simply wonderful.  Nicolas Coster did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life.  And of course, the messes Bertie manages to get himself into and the lengths Jeeves goes to to get him out of them are more than entertaining.  I know a lot of you are already Wodehouse fans, but if you aren’t, I challenge you to read one of his books and not like it.

It’s hard to review this book because you really have to experience the madness to appreciate it.

So I’m going to leave you with things this book made me want to do:

  • Go back in time or be rich enough to summer somewhere.
  • Have a butler who solves all my problems.
  • Try Anatole’s food.
  • Refer to all alcohol-infused nights as taking place in a “post-orange juice era.”
  • Be British.

I’m also glad that this was my first book of 2010.*  I think it starts my year off perfectly.

Will I Read This Author Again?: Of course!

*I know that audio books should count as books read, but I still feel like I needed an asterisk next to the claim that it was my first book of 2010.  With time, I’ll get past this.  I promise.

 

Hate List by Jennifer Brown December 14, 2009

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 7:42 am
Tags: , ,

Title: Hate List
Author: Jennifer Brown
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN: 0316041440
Pages: 416
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Hate List is the story of Valerie Leftman, a girl who unknowingly and unwillingly becomes a vital part in a school shooting.  Val created “The Hate List” – a list of all the people and things she and her boyfriend, Nick  disliked. But Nick took it it a step further when he walked into their high school one morning with a gun and killed and wounded several students before killing himself.  Hate List follows Val as she deals with the aftermath of being the shooter’s girlfriend, the creator of the list he used to kill people, and the “hero” who stopped the shooting by jumping in front of a girl and taking a bullet to the leg. Val has to deal with her parents failing relationship, her younger brother who just wants a normal life, and her former friends and enemies when she returns to school for her senior year.  Luckily there are a few people in her life that help support and guide her during this crucial time.

Michelle from Gallysmith (she should feel special being mentioned two posts in a row) recommended this book to me. I don’t think I loved it quite as much as she did, but I did enjoy (if you can enjoy a book like this) it very much.  When I first started reading it, I thought the first person narrative would be too much for me. I generally don’t like the use of first person in young adult novels (something about being trapped in teenagers heads), but once I got into the story, it was fine. I did have to put up with quite a few “likes” and “whatevers” but I can live with those.  By the end of the novel, I was crying along with Val and truly wishing that she be able to move on with her life.

If this book is about any one thing, it is about relationships and how they change. Val loved Nick and still remembers all the good times they had together. She understandably has a hard time reconciling those memories with his status as a killer.  Val’s father is increasingly absent from her life and she has to deal with letting him go and not trying to change things she can’t.  Val’s mother constantly worries about her – what she might do to herself, to others, or what others might do to her daughter.  Val’s relationship with her psychiatrist, her art teacher, her guidance counselor, and a former enemy are what get her through the following year.

I’ve never read a book about a school shooting before. I was a sophomore in high school when Colombine happened and I remember the fear and anxiety that took over even in my school thousands of miles away. And then we had a slew of other school shootings and somehow it became something that we legitimately had to worry about. Schools should be a safe place but because of the hatred that goes on in them, they aren’t.  This book shows us how “little” things kids do to each other can add up and intensify to a deadly level.

I read most of this novel in one day and I read it very quickly. So I want to use the words like “compelling” and “page-turner” that I’m not supposed to use because that really is what this is. If you’re looking for a quick and intriguing (but not light) book, check out Hate List.

Some other reviews of Hate List (hint: they all rave about it):

 

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton December 7, 2009

Filed under: Book Review — Michelle @ 7:09 am
Tags: ,

Title: 31 Hours
Author: Masha Hamilton
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 1932961836
Pages: 229
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Rating: 4/5

I picked up 31 Hours because I’ve been listening to Nicole from Linus’s Blanket‘s new show, That’s How I Blog.  Nicole interviews other book bloggers and at the end of the show hosts a 20-minute book club.  I haven’t been able to listen to the book discussion yet because I haven’t read any of the books.  There is one show each week and there is no way I’d be able to read all of the books, so I’ve decided to pick just a few.  31 Hours will be discussed on December 29, 2009 when Julie from Booking Mama is the guest.*

In 31 Hours, Jonas, a 21-year-old New Yorker, has converted to Islam and is planning on martyring himself during a terrorist attach on the New York Subway System.  The novel follows Jonas, his mother, his girlfriend, her sister, and a subway panhandler during the 31 hours prior to the attack.  Carol, Jonas’ mother knows her son is in trouble – she just has a feeling.  Vic, his girlfriend, has been so involved in her own life that she hasn’t noticed how long its been since she’s talked to Jonas.  Vic’s sister, Mara, is dealing with the changes her parents’ separation have brought. And Sonny, the panhandler, is just trying to make a living.  31 Hours is about the intersection of these lives.

It’s impossible to read 31 Hours without constantly remembering September 11 and its aftermath.  But what is unique is that this novel only covers the hours leading up to a possible attack.  It’s hard to remember that things were happening before those planes hit the World Trade Center.  I was just a college student going about my day, but others were diligently preparing for those attacks at that time and still others were innocently packing and heading to the airport. This book differs because Jonas is a homegrown terrorist – an American frustrated by the state of the US to the point that he thinks violence is the only way to change things, – but perhaps there were people like Jonas’ mother or Sonny did sense the impending disaster.

Religion is obviously a large part of 31 Hours. Jonas, raised without any religion like many are these days, isn’t sure what to make of the world.  He turns to various religions and ultimately settles on Islam while keeping aspects of the others.  Experimenting with religion and finding your own sense of morality is a part of most young adults’ lives. We go out in the world and meet new people and we try to figure it all out.  Is it really that crazy that an upper-middle class kid raised in no particular religion might turn to radical Islam?

Because 31 Hours only gives us a glimpse into the preparatory hours of an attack, I had an unresolved feeling when I finished it.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s like the whole novel is leading up to a climax that never comes, but then you realize that’s the point. The attack or lack of attack is not the most important aspect of the novel. It’s about the decisions that we make, the paths that we walk, the way our lives interact with others’ lives.  I thought this book would be like Arlington Road or an episode of 24 with a fast-paced race to prevent an attack.  But it isn’t.  Hamilton’s language is beautiful and she manages to keep the reader’s interest despite the slow pace of the book.

*For a complete list of the That’s How I Blog books, click here.  For the That’s How I Blog Challenge, click here.

 

The Maze Runner December 5, 2009

Filed under: Book Review,Young Adult — Michelle @ 7:45 am
Tags: ,

Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: YA/Dystopian
ISBN: 0385737947
Pages: 384
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4/5*

I’m not sure where I first heard about The Maze Runner, but to whomever it was that first mentioned it, thank you.  After finishing Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I was craving another YA Dystopian novel.  While I may not have loved The Maze Runner as much as the Hunger Games (sorry, Mr. Dashner), it was a perfect book to satisfy that craving.

Publisher’s Description:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade–a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up–the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

The Maze Runner took me a little time to get into, but once it got going, I had a hard time putting it down. I actually finished the book on the ride from Cape Cod to Waltham despite the rapidly fading light and short time I had to spend with my dad.  The novel is full of action (action-packed?) and mystery.  Maybe a little too much mystery – sometimes I felt just as frustrated as Thomas at not knowing the answers, but then again, maybe I was supposed to feel like Thomas and maybe that was the point…  Anyway, we spend much of the Maze Runner just trying to figure it all out.  And just like the Hunger Games/Catching Fire, the Maze Runner is not afraid of killing off kids.  That impresses me (I secretly wanted Ron or Hermione to die).  I don’t like my YA books to be sugar-coated.

I really enjoyed The Maze Runner and recommend it. I’m very excited to see what happens in Book 2.  There was a nice little twist** at the end as expected (is it a twist if it’s expected). I don’t want to say much else about the book because it’s best discovered while reading.

One last random question: did the mechanical sounds of the Grievers remind anyone else of the smoke monster in Lost?

* I’m trying a new summary/rating format. Let me know what you think.

**Ben and I just recently watched a lot of 30 Rock and now we periodically exclaim “Twist!” when applicable.

 

Catching Fire November 23, 2009

Filed under: Book Review — Michelle @ 7:30 am
Tags: , , ,

When I finished Hunger Games last month I immediately went out and bought Catching Fire. I waited a little while before reading it because I hate reading all the published books in a series and then waiting for the next one (note to self: only read series in which all books are already published).  But once I started it, I finished it within 24 hours. And now, of course, I am anxiously awaiting the third book. To anyone who hasn’t started this series yet: It is amazing and you should read it immediately.

I started writing this review and then realized that I have nothing to say except that I LOVED Catching Fire. Even more than Hunger Games. It had a fantastic twist in the middle, ends in quite the cliffhanger, and characters develop in ways you wouldn’t expect. This book begins with a very fatalistic air but ends with hope. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

I am still undecided regarding the Team Peeta/Team Gale debate. Unlike Twilight (Team Jacob!) I like both of them and I think Katniss could be happy with either. If I had to pick, I think I lean toward Peeta but since the love story isn’t the main focus of the novels, it really doesn’t matter to me who she ends up with.

 

Everything Austen #3: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and GIVEAWAY November 14, 2009

I finished Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (my third item for the Everything Austen challenge) this week.  Here is the blurb from the publisher:

After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up to find herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bedchamber of a woman in Regency England. Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy?

Not only is Courtney stuck inside another woman’s life, she is forced to pretend she actually is that woman; and despite knowing nothing about her, she manages to fool even the most astute observer. For her borrowed body knows how to speak without slaying the King’s English, dance without maiming her partner, and embroider as if possessed by actual domestic skill.

But not even Courtney’s level of Austen mania has prepared her for the chamber pots and filthy coaching inns of nineteenth-century England, let alone the realities of being a single woman who must fend off suffocating chaperones, condom-less seducers, and marriages of convenience. Enter the enigmatic Mr. Edgeworth, a suitor who may turn out not to be a familiar species of philanderer after all.

Confessions was a nice, quick read.  I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it (I really wanted to love it since I planned on doing a giveaway, but it is what it is).  The first-person narrator took a long time to get used to (I don’t like being stuck in people’s heads), but the idea is interesting.  How many of us Austen fans have not dreamed of living in Regency England and attending balls, being courted by rich suitors, and traveling to Bath.  But in these fantasies, have any of us considered the harsg realities – how do you bathe? what happens when you get your period? how are you treated when you are sick?  These are the things Courtney experiences (along with the balls and the suitors and Bath).  It made me glad that I can sit in my 21st century apartment reading about Jane Austen’s era instead of actually experiencing it.

And now for the giveaway!

Since Everything Austen is all about the giveaways, I will be giving away my copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen addict to one lucky winner.  All you have to do is leave a comment below saying one thing you would do (or dread doing) if you woke up in Regency England.  For an extra entry, tweet about it or mention it in a blog post and let me know.  The contest will be open until the end of the month (Midnight EDT November 30) and is open to international readers.  I will announce the winner in my November Books post.  Good luck!

 

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde November 12, 2009

Filed under: Book Review — Michelle @ 7:01 pm
Tags: , , , ,

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde is the fifth book in the Thursday Next series.  These books are ones that always take me a little while to get into but I consistently end up enjoying.  Like its predecessors, First Among Sequels is an entertaining read full of adventure, quirky humor, and word play.

This story takes us quite a few years into the future (giving us a 50-year-old female protagonist which is not really that common if you think about it).  Thursday still has her dual role at SpecOps and Jurisfiction and has added a third at Acme Carpets as yet another cover.  She is also involved in the illegal cheese market and a mother to 3 children (reading this made me tired).

When I first started reading this book, I felt that too many things were going on at once.  She is parenting a lazy teenager, being visited by ghosts, training new Jurisfiction cadets, purchasing illegal goods from Wales, and much more.  But once the story took off I relaxed and enjoyed it. I always like the stories that take place in the Book World best and this one was no exception.

One of the things that I love about this series is that reading is as popular in Thursday’s world as television is in ours.  However, in First Among Sequels, television has taken over and people are no longer reading.  I didn’t want her reality to become our reality.  I like the idea of a parallel universe where people care more about who Shakespeare really was than who the next American Idol will be.  But I must always remember that things are not always what they seem and there is an explanation (even if it is completely thought out) as to why things are the way they are in Fforde’s books.

I don’t want to discuss the plot any further because I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have yet to read the first four books.  If you are reading this post, I assume you love reading.  And these books are meant for those who love reading.  The first book in the series is The Eyre Affair and I highly recommend checking it out (it’s currently 50% off at The Book Depository).

Now that I am caught up on the Thursday Next series, I must start Fforde’s Nursery Crimes series.

 

Discovering Betsy-Tacy #5: Heaven to Betsy and Maud Hart Lovelace Challenge Wrap-up October 31, 2009

Heaven to Betsy

Knowing she looked pretty now, feeling successful and gay, Betsy smiled.
“How do you like high school?” she asked.
“I like it.  Do you?”
“I think it’s just Heaven.”
“Heaven to Betsy!” he said.

When I first considered reading the Betsy-Tacy books, Emily told me that I had to at least get to Heaven to Betsy to make my decision about them even if it meant skipping earlier books to get there.  I didn’t skip any books, but I have been anxiously awaiting the high school books.  The Earlier books are fine, but definitely meant for young readers.  Emily was right.  Heaven to Betsy was simply wonderful and could be enjoyed by anyone.

Heaven to Betsy is the first of the older Betsy-Tacy books.  I got my hands on one of the new editions that bundles it with Betsy in Spite of Herself (which I’m itching to read but making myself finish some other books first).  In Heaven to Betsy, Betsy is just starting her first year of high school.  It opens with her away from home for the summer and feeling very homesick.  When she returns, she finds out her family is moving and she will no longer live across the street from Tacy.  Tib has moved back to Milwaukee by this time.  All of these changes put Betsy in a “mood.”  But this all changes when she starts making new friends and becomes very, very interested in boys.  All of her adventures as a teenager left me grinning from ear to ear as I read.

Reading about Betsy’s high school years really didn’t seem that different than my high school years.  Passing notes, talking on the phone, gossiping, and hanging out with friends.  “The Crowd” as Betsy’s group of friends was called was similar to the group I hang out with (including the swapping of affection).  Of course, my friends and I had an even less creative name and just referred to everyone as “The Group” which was sometimes broken down to “The Boys” and “The Girls.”  Betsy experiences her first crush, her first kiss (on the cheek), and her first heartache.  Growing up in 1900s Minnesota didn’t really seem that different than growing up in 1990s Michigan was for me.

The Rays are such an amazing family.  Mr. and Mrs. Ray have the kind of marriage that must make even happy couples jealous.  And what wonderful parents they are – always listening to their children and understanding their troubles.  When Betsy and Julia want to become Episcopalians, their Baptist parents see that they are serious and allow them to make that important decision.  This book also made me wish I had a sister.  Although I love him, my brother was no Julia.

The Rays home seems so cozy and inviting.  I want to have a home like that someday.  I love the idea of Sunday Night Lunch.  Anyone can stop by and Mr. Ray does the cooking.  A night for friends, family, and fun.  Go here to check out a real life Sunday Night Lunch.

At first, I was afraid that Tacy was getting left behind as Betsy experience high school, but throughout the book you can tell they are still close and the book ends with a touching scene of the two of them.

I can’t wait to keep reading these books.

Maud Hart Lovelace Challenge Wrap-up

By finishing Heaven to Betsy, I have completed the Maud Hart Lovelace Challenge (my first completed challenge ever!).  For this challenge, I read:

  • Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
  • Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
  • Heaven to Betsy

My favorite book was, of course, Heaven to Betsy, but I enjoyed them all.  Thanks to S. Mehrens of A Library is a Hospital of the Mind for hosting this challenge.  If you want to read other reviews,click here.

 

Discovering Betsy-Tacy #4: Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown October 27, 2009

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace

This is the last of the younger Betsy-Tacy books, before Betsy grows up and goes to high-school and beyond.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are now 12 and they are starting to grow up.  They can go downtown on their own (hmm…wonder where the title came from) and they take an interest in the theater for the first time.

The book takes us through some more adventures with the trio and like Over the Big Hill, it is more of a fluid story than the first two books.  This was another Read-a-Thon book and it was really a great one for the evening hours.

My favorite thing about this book was all of the “modern conveniences” that are introduced.  The Rays get their first telephone (which I imagine to be a lot like my family getting it’s first computer when I was 10 or the internet when I was 14 or even that first car phone my dad had that came in a bag).  And best of all – there is a HORSELESS CARRIAGE!  And it can go 16 miles per hour!

I must say that I really enjoyed this one, but I am most excited for the later books.  I’ve started Heaven to Betsy and I’m just loving it.  Boys, clothes, gossip – all in 1906.