Sunday, December 20, 2009

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande

From Goodreads:
The struggle to perform well is universal: each one of us faces fatigue, limited resources, and imperfect abilities in whatever we do. But nowhere is this drive to do better more important than in medicine, where lives are on the line with every decision. In his new book, Atul Gawande explores how doctors strive to close the gap between best intentions and best performance in the face of obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable. Gawandes gripping stories of diligence, ingenuity, and what it means to do right by people take us to battlefield surgical tents in Iraq, to labor and delivery rooms in Boston, to a polio outbreak in India, and to malpractice courtrooms around the country. He discusses the ethical dilemmas of doctors participation in lethal injections, examines the influence of money on modern medicine, and recounts the astoundingly contentious history of hand washing. And as in all his writing, Gawande gives us an inside look at his own life as a practicing surgeon, offering a searingly honest firsthand account of work in a field where mistakes are both unavoidable and unthinkable. At once unflinching and compassionate, Better is an exhilarating journey narrated by arguably the best nonfiction doctor-writer around (Salon). Gawandes investigation into medical professionals and how they progress from merely good to great provides rare insight into the elements of success, illuminating every area of human endeavor.

Aaron read Atul Gawande's first book, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, right after we first got married. I read about three sentences over his shoulder and promptly commandeered it for myself.

I loved Complications (gave it 5 stars on Goodreads) and I was vaguely aware that he had written another and kept thinking I should go find it but never got around to it. Fortunately, I found it on my in-laws vast and well stocked shelves (it's like living in a library while we're here) and added it to my stack for our two week stay.

Gawande has a knack for writing about something that could be incredibly dry and dull in a way that makes you WANT to read about it. Also, it's so different and refreshing to hear a physician admit that he makes mistakes. And that ALL doctors make mistakes, despite the best of intentions. Both his books discuss how imperfect and imprecise a science medicine is and while it's frightening to have him admit it, it's also strangely reassuring.

Also, Complications gave me a long lasting and irrational fear of necrotizing fasciitis. So there's always that.

Better isn't QUITE as good as Complications, which was a lot more of his personal experiences, but it was still excellent and worth reading. I loved his section on childbirth seeing as it's the only thing in both his books that I've actually experienced, and the chapter on doctors and executions opened my eyes to a serious moral dilemma I had no idea even existed. If he came out with another I'd read it in a heartbeat. I keep coming away from his books with a lot more respect and understanding for medicine and I think that's something we all could use.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

From Goodreads:

Jeannette Walls's father always called her "Mountain Goat" and there's perhaps no more apt nickname for a girl who navigated a sheer and towering cliff of childhood both daily and stoically. In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents--Rose Mary, her frustrated-artist mother, and Rex, her brilliant, alcoholic father. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex, motivated by whims and paranoia, uprooted their kids time and again, the youngsters (Walls, her brother and two sisters) were left largely to their own devices. But while Rex and Rose Mary firmly believed children learned best from their own mistakes, they themselves never seemed to do so, repeating the same disastrous patterns that eventually landed them on the streets. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing (wearing shoes held together with safety pins; using markers to color her skin in an effort to camouflage holes in her pants) to the horrific (being told, after a creepy uncle pleasured himself in close proximity, that sexual assault is a crime of perception; and being pimped by her father at a bar). Though Walls has well earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. In fact, Walls' removed, nonjudgmental stance is initially startling, since many of the circumstances she describes could be categorized as abusive (and unquestioningly neglectful). But on the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them--despite their overwhelming self-absorption--resonates from cover to cover.

I have to start by saying that I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. It's kind of like Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson in that I can't really say that I LIKED it just because of the subject matter. But it's one that I plan on recommending up and down. It's an amazing tale of courage and ingenuity and so much else.

But at the same time, this book was absolutely horrifying. Like...I don't even have words for how disgusted I am with Jeannette Walls' parents. And how much I want to write a strongly worded letter to Child Protective Services for not stepping in at some point. There were times when I wanted to throw this book at the wall because I was so angry that parents could put their children in these situations. The author herself was touched inappropriately or almost raped several times throughout the book. Her brother was molested by their nasty grandmother. Who knows what happened to the other two sisters. Their parents always shrugged it off and told them to deal with it. The blurb above references the following passage on page 184 that I wanted to include a little more fully:

"Mom, Uncle Stanley is behaving inappropriately," I said.
"Oh, you're probably imagining it," she said.
"He groped me! And he's wanking off!"
Mom cocked her head and looked concerned. "Poor Stanley," she said. "He's so lonely."
"But it was gross!"
Mom asked me if I was okay. I shrugged and nodded. "Well, there you go," she said. She said that sexual assault was a crime of perception. "If you don't think you're hurt, then you aren't," she said. "So many women make such a big deal out of these things. But you're stronger than that."

This is me, throwing myself out a window because a mother actually said that to her 13 year old daughter.

The fact that Walls can write this memoir with love and compassion is a testament to her own resilience. The writing itself is strong, the story is compelling and haunting. And eventually she gets her own happy ending. It took me several days to work through it but I know it will stick with me for a long time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

From Goodreads:

In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.

A few years ago my in-laws got me Lisa See's Snowflower and the Secret Fan for Christmas. That was Aaron and I's first real Christmas together (we were on our honeymoon the previous year and didn't really have a Christmas) and we were so excited that we ended up opening all our presents the night before. I sat down with my book and stayed up all night to finish. It's one of those books that has gotten passed around to my friends, my mom, my mom's friends, etc. because it's so good that you just need to share it.

After Snowflower I sought out Lisa See's books only to be heavily disappointed. Nothing was even close to the level and I had more or less given up on her. Each of her other books just made me sad because I knew she was capable of so much more.

Shanghai Girls, while still not quite there, is still leaps and bounds above her other stuff. It has the heart and depth and feeling I remember from Snowflower. It probably won't be one that I pass around to everyone I know, but I feel good about recommending it. The story is solid and beautiful and, as a sister, one that I can totally relate to.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

From Goodreads:

“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

I don't know why I had such low expectations for this book. Maybe just because it's so ridiculously popular? I've been on the waiting list at the library and I've still got like 30 people ahead of me. So when I saw it sitting on my mother-in-law's shelf after I first arrived I snapped it up and went to work. Because, seriously,

Story and plot and whatever else aside, the writing in this book made me aspire to greater compositional heights. I frequently found myself rereading sentences just to admire how awesome the wording was. It probably helped that their characters were British and quite clever (or batty), but seriously. My NaNoWriMo project could really benefit from the way the authoresses turned their phrases. It actually made me excited to go back and rewrite my forty whatever thousand words into something more readable.

The plot was really lovely. I swear I've read reviews on this book but for some reason I had no idea what it was about when I started and I was pleasantly surprised. I felt like it had some depth and substance while still feeling like fairly light reading. I loved the characters, I loved learning about the occupation of the Channel Islands (which I had been pretty clueless about), I loved the format (letters back and forth between characters). There was just a lot to like about this book.

Plus, all the characters are drawn together by a deep love of books and reading. How could I argue with that?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

From Goodreads:

MOST OF MY friends now go to Pius Senior College, but my mother wouldn’t allow it because she says the girls there leave with limited options and she didn’t bring me up to have limitations placed upon me. If you know my mother, you’ll sense there’s an irony there, based on the fact that she is the Queen of the Limitation Placers in my life.

Francesca battles her mother, Mia, constantly over what’s best for her. All Francesca wants is her old friends and her old school, but instead Mia sends her to St. Sebastian’s, an all-boys’ school that has just opened its doors to girls. Now Francesca’s surrounded by hundreds of boys, with only a few other girls for company. All of them weirdos—or worse.

Then one day, Mia is too depressed to get out of bed. One day turns into months, and as her family begins to fall apart, Francesca realizes that without her mother’s high spirits, she hardly knows who she is. But she doesn’t yet realize that she’s more like Mia than she thinks. With a little unlikely help from St. Sebastian’s, she just might be able to save her family, her friends, and—especially—herself.

Apparently Melina Marchetta's first book, Looking for Alibrandi was so good that it actually became part of Australia's school curriculum. I'm just about to spend a couple paragraphs talking about how much I loved Saving Francesca, her second novel. Her third, Jellicoe Road is probably my favorite novel of the year, so much so that I'm about to go pick it up from the library for a second reading and then possibly name my second born after one of the characters. I'm not actually joking on that, either.

I can't WAIT to see what else Marchetta comes out with. She apparently wrote another novel called Finnikin of the Rock after Jellicoe Road but for some reason my library insists on not carrying it, so I have to figure out some way to get my mitts on it. Because I think I am seriously in love with Melina Marchetta.

While Saving Francesca doesn't have the same depth and all around awesomeness of Jellicoe Road, there is still SO MUCH to love. Although, like Jellicoe Road, it's almost difficult to pinpoint WHAT exactly is so awesome about this book.

The main character is relatable and realistic. She has some real trials going on and she responds to them in ways that actually make sense to me. As someone who has a permanent dent from smacking herself in the forehead when a character makes a stupid and non-logical decision in response to a situation, this is a big deal to me.

The supporting characters are awesome and loveable, the situations are real things I saw as a teenager in high school and Francesca's resulting behavior made me think of a bunch of kids I knew who I wrote off as slackers but years later found out had real problems going on outside of school. Plus the friend and boy drama were written in a way that made them totally familiar to me.

I don't know, I just feel like it encapsulated...something...really well. The teenage experience? Growing up and becoming comfortable in your own skin? I don't know, but whatever it is, I related to it.

My one complaint is that the love story and love interest just weren't quite up to par with everything else. I actually spent most of the book waiting for her to fall in love with one of the other male characters (my money was on James) because Will just kept not making the grade. And then the way it came together at the end (despite a humorous fatherly interference at an inopportune time) didn't make much sense to me in the context of the rest of their relationship.

I will leave you with the following passage, which pretty much made my day:

Having boys around at camp is hard. You have to be on the alert. Boys, for example, like exposing themselves. They walk back from the shower blocks with their towels around them, and next minute either someone flashes you, or one of his friends grabs his towel off him and makes a run for it. I have to say it's a bit traumatic at times, not knowing when the next penis will appear.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Medina Hill by Trilby Kent

Janssen used her secret ninja hookups to be included in a book blog tour for a new YA book called Medina Hill. And then, because she loves me, she decided to include me. Medina Hill was released on October 13th by Tundra Books and is now available on Amazon.

The teaser from Tundra:

In the grimy London of 1935, eleven-year-old Dominic Walker has lost his voice. His mother is sick and his father’s unemployed. Rescue comes in the form of his Uncle Roo, who arrives to take him and his young sister, Marlo, to Cornwall. There, in a boarding house populated by eccentric residents, Marlo, who keeps a death grip on her copy of The New Art of Cooking, and Dominic, armed with Incredible Adventures for Boys: Colonel Lawrence and the Revolt in the Desert, find a way of life unlike any they have known. Dominic’s passion for Lawrence of Arabia is tested when he finds himself embroiled in a village uprising against a band of travelers who face expulsion. In defending the vulnerable, Dominic learns what it truly means to have a voice.

This is how our conversations went every couple weeks in the 2 months leading up to today’s participation in the Medina Hill Book Blog Tour:

Kayla: Have you finished Medina Hill?

Janssen: Have not yet picked it up. I am an important person with an important job and a life. And we have plenty of time! Do not worry!

Kayla: Are you ready to talk about Medina Hill?

Janssen: Well, I read the inside flap so…no.

Kayla: Ok, seriously, you need to read Medina Hill so we can talk about it! The tour is next week!

Janssen: I have new boots!

Or something like that.

In any event, Janssen finally read the book and we discussed.

Kayla: Ok, so, how much did you love all the stuff about Lawrence of Arabia? All I knew about him was that Peter O’Toole played him in a film in the 60s but I had NO CLUE he was a real person. I loved the stuff about him sprinkled throughout the book. I kind of want to go check out a book about him now.

Janssen: I know! I love a book that references other books or major historical characters as a main plot point. Mockingbird, which I read a few weeks ago, heavily relied on "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Girlfriend Material" referenced "The Sun Also Rises" and I love Lawrence of Arabia stuff since taking a World War I class from my father-in-law back in London. It was just so fun to watch Dominic get inspired by Lawrence and act like he thought Lawrence would. Isn't that what history should do? (Oh, is that my history nerd self talking?) I think that was the book’s major success.

Kayla: Agreed.

Janssen: But frankly, that was pretty much the only success for me.

Kayla: Also agreed. The whole thing just fell kind of flat didn’t it? And it was really slow for a children’s book.

Janssen: Exactly. It was made worse, perhaps, by the potential this plot had. I mean, you couldn't ask for more than this book offered up (except maybe romance, but I'll let my personal preferences slide because this is a children's book) - crazy characters, a father suffering the effects of war, gypsies, a treasure hunt, a COOKING CONTEST, but I never felt like it really all came together. It was just too much; a classic case of too much width, not enough depth. It spread itself too thin, without making me care much about any of the characters, and it resolved itself too quickly.

Kayla: Exactly, the climax felt really unsatisfying and I would have loved to hear more about the quirky boarders. There was a whole lot more story there that just didn't get told. I do think I would like to know what happened to the gypsies. I was very concerned when they moved CLOSER to Hitler at the end of the book. A follow-up book on the Romany during WWII would probably be worth reading. The thing is, I think Trilby Kent has a lot of potential. The ideas were there. I think she just needs to give herself more pages to really delve into her characters and possibly write for a slightly older audience (like shooting for older YA rather than middle grades).

Janssen: Precisely.

Overall, we felt some kids will find a lot to like here, but it's going to need to be a very dedicated reader who is willing to accept the slowish pace. It's really the kind of book we could see a kid reading and then going off hunting for some books about Lawrence of Arabia. And we wouldn't blame him one bit since that’s totally what we’re planning on doing.

To continue on with the Let's Tour Medina Hill book blog tour, please visit Carrie's YA Bookshelf!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Lost Summer by Kathryn Williams

From Goodreads:
For the past nine years, Helena Waite has been returning to summer camp at Southpoint. Every year the camp and its familiar routines, landmarks, and people have welcomed her back like a long-lost family member. But this year she is returning not as a camper, but as a counselor, while her best friend, Katie Bell remains behind. All too quickly, Helena discovers that the innocent world of campfires, singalongs, and field days have been pushed aside for late night pranks on the boys' camp, skinny dipping in the lake, and stolen kisses in the hayloft. As she struggles to define herself in this new world, Helena begins to lose sight of what made camp special and the friendships that have sustained her for so many years. And when Ransome, her longtime crush, becomes a romantic reality, life gets even more confusing.

I have no idea where this book came from. I mean, it came from the publisher, but I'm not sure if they just sent it to me out of the kindness of their hearts or if I requested it and don't remember or...who knows. All I know is: I love free books.

For a fairly fluffy book this one still had me chewing over it several hours later.

The story itself was fine, but it was the details. Kathryn Williams has been a teenager girl among other teenage girls. All the drama and insecurities's all here. And I can't decide whether I loved walking down memory lane or resented being forced to relive it. I loved the camp memories but squirmed my way through the girl drama. I closed the book thinking, "Wow, I experienced ALL of that crap" and judging from the comments on Goodreads, I'm not alone. Change a few of the details (ahem, hay loft) and I could have written this book about my summers at church girls' camps. Or, really, all my time in junior high and high school.

And I really loved the ending. That's always a good thing.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

From Goodreads:
In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen, terrified but intrigued, is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

I think Katy possibly has excellent taste in hopelessly charming novels. First with Sorcery & Cecilia and now with A Certain Slant of Light, which she has recommended several times on her book blog as one of her all time favorites. It's not one that I think I would have picked up otherwise, but the strength of her recommendation was enough and holy cow I loved every second of it.

I felt like the book had all the wonderful heartfelt adolescent first love stuff that Sarah Dessen does so well but with the added bonus of gorgeous writing, an interesting supernatural element, and a wonderful bit of redemption at the end that had me sobbing as quietly as possible on my side of the bed so as not to wake Aaron since I stayed up way past bed time to finish reading.

An easy addition to my list of favorites.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

From Goodreads:
In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future - between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?
(I'm going to do a little spoiling here, so if you don't want to know, don't keep reading)

I was terrified to read this book.

Once upon a time I could handle scary stuff. I watched X-Files alone in the dark at night. I read some legitimately freaky ghost stories. I was my mom's scary movie watching partner. I reveled in scary stuff. Sure, sometimes I had to sleep with the closet light on, but mostly I could handle it.

Then came The Grudge. I don't know what it was about that movie but it. scared. me. Scared me silly. And then I didn't handle scary stuff very well anymore. It's like the part of my brain that compartmentalized the scary stuff so that I didn't see things in corners or have nightmares switched off. And suddenly being scared wasn't fun anymore.

So, ya, a zombie book where I knew most of the characters died? Scary.

And wasn't that bad. I mean, I wouldn't want to watch it in movie form (though, the picture of Mary on the cover looks a lot like Summer Glau to me and I'm pretty sure she'd do nicely in the role, especially since she has a history of zombie butt kicking) and ya, pretty much everyone dies, but I wasn't freaking out while reading it or anything. And it was beautifully written, as promised.

I had some issues with unanswered questions (mostly about the Sisterhood) but put it down feeling like I maybe enjoyed the book and I really liked the main character and the writing was lovely and hey...not so bad!

And then I had zombie nightmares all night. So...ya. Won't be reading this one again.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Messenger by Lois Lowry

From Goodreads:

For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.

I was so excited to discover that The Giver had a companion book called Gathering Blue. Imagine my surprise when it turns out that it actually has TWO. And really, Gathering Blue was a companion book to The Giver since it didn't actually have much to do with Lois Lowry's original except a general sort of post-apocalyptic weird controlling village concept, but The Messenger is more like a sequel. To both. And I want to talk about how awesome that is but it is way more fun figuring it out for yourself.

While I loved the aspect that I referred to above but can't talk about without spoiling it, The Messenger had all these random elements of..magic? or something? that weren't such a big deal in the previous two books. Sure Jonas could do the memory passing thing and Kira has an almost supernatural ability at creating fiber art and those abilities were important to the stories, but they weren't so much the focus.

The Messenger goes a totally different way. Suddenly everything is magic..the forest has magic, people have special abilities, something supernaturally evil is going on. It doesn't talk about it in quite those terms, but it all felt out of place beside the other two books and I didn't care for that part.

If you loved The Giver then it's worth reading, but I didn't love it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson

The Goodreads description is a smidge lengthy, so I'll just link to it here in case you want a bit more of a synopsis, but the title is pretty descriptive. And you probably already kind of know how it ends. If not, I'm going to spoil it for you a bit here: Lincoln and Booth die (sorry).

Whilst wandering around the National Book Festival we walked by the Children/YA tent while James Swanson was talking about the 3 versions of this book. He wrote Manhunt for adults, then adapted the book into a YA and children's book form. Janssen and I kept looking at each other and saying, "We are totally going to read this book." Janssen actually just posted a review of the YA version on her blog. Swanson had us totally convinced. I don't even remember what he said, but he was really knowledgeable in an interesting and passionate way and as soon as I got home I put the book on hold at the library.

Between the book festival and getting home to put the book on hold though, my mom and I went to Ford's Theater and the Peterson house (the house across the street where Lincoln actually died) on our last day in DC. Having just been there and walked through the places and DC intersections mentioned in the book made it that much more interesting, but I also kind of wish I had read the book first because I think I would have appreciated the basement museum at Ford's theater a little more. I saw Booth's boot and compass and a bunch of stuff the book mentioned and sort of just wandered by without thinking too much about it. Except then I read the book and I was like, "I SAW THAT BOOT!!"

Trips to national landmarks aside, I would have loved this book without visiting DC. Nonfiction can be a tough genre to write interestingly and even tougher to plow through as a reader if it's not done well. But Manhunt is done exceptionally well. I do remember James Swanson saying that he didn't want to make Booth the hero in his books and I kind of thought, "well, duh." But having read the book I could see how it would be hard to make him not the hero. Booth was ridiculously good looking, charismatic, a southern gentleman hanging on to the dying Gone with the Wind ideals. Swanson does a good job of pointing out that he was also vain, not always particularly bright, and a racist on top of being a cold blooded killer. I didn't come away with any sympathy for John Wilkes Booth.

I did, however, totally fall in love with Lincoln. Swanson has said that he's the real hero and he does an excellent job of showing us why. I had to hold it together through the part when he finally died the morning after the shooting. It was pretty heart-rending.

I also want to mention that I had NO IDEA about what has gone on with Ford's Theater since the shooting. I just assumed while I was there that it was more or less the same place Lincoln got shot but it was gutted and used as a government office for a while until a floor collapsed and KILLED 20 PEOPLE. Then they restored it to look the way it did when Lincoln was shot and turned it into a museum. And I'm not really sure why the deaths of 20 people isn't mentioned while you're there because it seems like kind of a big deal to me. It's possible I just missed it though since Wes was ready for a nap at that point.

Also, the book leads us along to Booth getting shot on April 26th, which is my birthday. Which makes my birthday and the book that much cooler. Take THAT Booth.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

From Goodreads:

In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world’s most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling--a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths . . . all under the watchful eye of Brown’s most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object--artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist--is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

As the world discovered in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown’s novels are brilliant tapestries of veiled histories, arcane symbols, and enigmatic codes. In this new novel, he again challenges readers with an intelligent, lightning-paced story that offers surprises at every turn. The Lost Symbol is exactly what Brown’s fans have been waiting for . . . his most thrilling novel yet.

Oh Dan Brown.

The Lost Symbol is much like his previous two Robert Langdon novels. You learn a lot of crazy things. Some of those things are true. Some are things twisted to fit the novel's circumstances. All of them are presented in a fairly intelligent, coherent, and logical manner that will have you scrambling for an encyclopedia so you can fact check and figure out which is which. All mixed with exciting chases through darkened underground tunnels and daring escapes and all kinds of other action awesomeness.

It's just as exciting as the other ones. It's worth a read.

Fun side note: I went to DC a week after reading this and saw a bunch of the places he mentioned, but the best (and worst) part was seeing the squid at the Museum of Natural History. If you read the book you'll know what I mean. Poor girl. Gag.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife by Irene Spencer

From Goodreads:
Irene Spencer did as she felt God commanded in marrying her brother-in-law Verlan LeBaron, becoming his second wife. When the government raided the fundamentalist, polygamous Mormon village of Short Creek, Arizona, Irene and her family fled to Verlan's brothers' Mexican ranch. They lived in squalor and desolate conditions in the Mexican desert with Verlan's six brothers, one sister, and numerous wives and children. Readers will be appalled and astonished, but most amazingly, greatly inspired. Irene's dramatic story reveals how far religion can be stretched and abused and how one woman and her children found their way out, into truth and redemption.

The first part of this book had me cringing as Irene laid out her Mormon Fundamentalist beliefs- things that are so similar to my own religious convictions, but twisted. Those things all sounded so similar but more than a

The rest of the book had me riveted as Irene bore 14 children and tried to survive in ridiculous living conditions as the second of what would eventually become ten wives.

I thought more of the book would involve the infamous Ervil LeBaron, her husband's brother, seeing as he spent many years trying to kill her husband (and her), but he's barely mentioned as Irene details her struggles with poverty, loneliness, and ideas and desires that go against her lifetime of indoctrination. As it turns out, she wrote another book called Cult Insanity about her experiences with Ervil that I think I'll pick up.

This book was bleak and soul-crushing in so many ways but knowing she eventually had a happy ending kept me hooked. I cheered when she finally broke free but I also found a new understanding for those who insist on continuing to practice polygamy. No matter how horrible your life may be, generations of indoctrination are hard to break free from, especially when eternity is at stake.

I was pleasantly surprised by the writing itself. I have to admit to not expecting much from a high school dropout with an ax to grind but she tells her story so well--concisely, with grace and a sense of humor. She sticks to the facts and how she felt and doesn't resort to laying blame with anyone, including the deluded leaders who led her into so much misery and suffering.

This book is a fascinating glimpse into a fiercely secretive world. Totally worth a read.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Airman by Eoin Colfer

From Goodreads:
In the late nineteenth century, when Conor Broekhart discovers a conspiracy to overthrow the king, he is branded a traitor, imprisoned, and forced to mine for diamonds under brutal conditions while he plans a daring escape from Little Saltee prison by way of a flying machine that he must design, build, and, hardest of all, trust to carry him to safety.

I am becoming a serious fan of Eoin Colfer. His books are tightly written, smart, and a lot of fun. And, interestingly, rather varied. The Supernaturalist is quite different from Artemis Fowl is really different than Airman. When you pick up one of his books you're not really sure what you're going to get, you just know it's going to be a great ride.

Airman is a worthy addition to the "Boy List" and my favorite of Colfer's thus far. It has all I could ever want from my fiction: a fantastic beginning, a truly nasty villian, a reluctant hero, a princess, diamonds, several daring escapes, murder, revenge, intrigue, a deep dank prison, and so much more. It's a fantastic story that played out like a movie in my head and now I'm kind of hoping someone does make it into a movie because I'd love to see some of the flying machines outside of my imagination.

Did I mention there's swashbuckling? Because there's swashbuckling.

I loved this book. A hearty recommendation all around.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow

From Goodreads:
Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe is a soothsaying jaunt into the not-so-distant future, where 24/7 communication and chatroom alliances have evolved into tribal networks that secretly work against each other in shadowy online realms. The novel opens with its protagonist, the peevish Art Berry, on the roof of an asylum. He wonders if it's better to be smart or happy. His crucible is a pencil up the nose for a possible "homebrew lobotomy." To explain Art's predicament, Doctorow flashes backward and slowly fills in the blanks. As a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe, Art is one of many in the now truly global village who have banded together out of like-minded affinity for a particular time zone and its circadian cycles. Art may have grown up in Toronto but his real homeland is an online grouping that prefers bagels and hot dogs to the fish and chips of their rivals who live on Greenwich Mean Time. As he rises through the ranks of the tribe, he is sent abroad to sabotage the traffic patterns and communication networks in the GMT tribe. Along the way, he comes across a humdinger of an idea that will solve a music piracy problem on the highways of his own beloved timezone, raise his status in the tribe and make him rich. If only he could have trusted his tightly wound girlfriend and fellow tribal saboteur, he probably wouldn't be on the booby hatch roof with that pencil up his nose.

As a musing on the future, Doctorow's extrapolation seems entirely plausible. And, not only is EST a fascinating mental leap it's a witty and savvy tale that will appeal to anyone who's lived another life, however briefly, online. --Jeremy Pugh

I was hoping Eastern Standard Tribe would be similar to Little Brother, which I LOVED. And the concept is fascinating. To quote above, "As a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe, Art is one of many in the now truly global village who have banded together out of like-minded affinity for a particular time zone and its circadian cycles." Basically, in a hyper-connected and rather homogenized global village, our most meaningful relationships are based on when we're awake.

Both Little Brother and EST have concepts that are a bit complex and a little difficult to grasp if you're not a cybergeek (me) but while Little Brother explained things in terms that were easily understood without making me feel stupid and then completely changed my perception of hacking, EST left me in the dust, assuming I already knew what on earth it was talking about. Which I didn't. A decent explanation of the "tribes" and the ideas I wrote in the paragraph above finally came about 3/4 of the way through the book, long after I had become annoyed at the stupid book and its air of smarty superiority.

Plus, the writing was so-so, the plot was meh, and I didn't care much for any the characters. The book was mercifully brief so I was able to plow through it in an evening but I really just didn't care for it.

In the book's defense, because of where I found it in my library I thought it was YA. So I was totally judging it through the curse words and one rather lurid description of a breast and wondering what on earth made people think it was a book fit for teenagers. I just double checked though and it looks like it was just in the wrong place but thinking it was YA while reading it made me dislike it that much more.

Overall: don't bother.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella

From Goodreads:

With the same wicked humor, buoyant charm, and optimism that have made her Shopaholic novels beloved international bestsellers, Sophie Kinsella delivers a hilarious new novel and an unforgettable new character. Meet Emma Corrigan, a young woman with a huge heart, an irrepressible spirit, and a few little secrets:

Secrets from her mother:
I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben-Hur.
Sammy the goldfish in my parents’ kitchen is not the same goldfish that Mum gave me to look after when she and Dad were in Egypt.

Secrets from her boyfriend:
I weigh one hundred and twenty-eight pounds. Not one eighteen, like Connor thinks.
I’ve always thought Connor looks a bit like Ken. As in Barbie and Ken.

From her colleagues:
When Artemis really annoys me, I feed her plant orange juice. (Which is pretty much every day.) It was me who jammed the copier that time. In fact, all the times.

Secrets she wouldn’t share with anyone in the world:
My G-string is hurting me.
I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even what it is.

Until she spills them all to a handsome stranger on a plane. At least, she thought he was a stranger.

But come Monday morning, Emma’s office is abuzz about the arrival of Jack Harper, the company’s elusive CEO. Suddenly Emma is face-to-face with the stranger from
the plane, a man who knows every single humiliating detail about her. Things couldn’t possibly get worse—Until they do.

My lovely friend Catherine loaned me the book on cd when I complained that I had no idea what to read next. She's a good friend like that.

I LOVED the narrator. She had this lovely British accent that was a total pleasure to listen to. Except when she did the guy's voice. Then she reminded me of a zombie. But otherwise I loved her and the way she said Lizzy like Lissy which I found strangely appealing.

The book started off really strong. I laughed my behind off through discs one and two. Like snorting while cleaning my kitchen sort of laughing. It was hilarious and very Bridget Jones and Aaron kept looking at me funny because I would be like, *snort* "orange juice!"

I felt like it lost momentum and humour (British spelling in honor of the English setting) in the second half though. It was still a perfectly fine fluffy chick-lit type novel but after such a hysterical first half I was kind of disappointed when it didn't finish quite as strong.

Overall though, a perfectly lovely beach read which is totally worth reading if only for the scene in the plane with the confessing. Hilarious.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

From Goodreads:
In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them.

Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

In Unwind, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award winner Neal Shusterman challenges readers' ideas about life -- not just where life begins, and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.

Either I have a thing for futuristic dystopian novels or they're really common, because I've read a whole lot of them this year.

The concept of Unwind is absolutely horrifying. Unwanted teens are "retroactively aborted" and sent to "harvest camps" where they are dismantled and their pieces are farmed out to those who need them. It's organ donation on crack and there's a scene told from the point of view of a kid being unwound that's probably the most deeply unsettling thing I've read in a long time.

This book tackles some really heavy issues: pro life vs. pro choice, the power of propaganda (the government argues that unwinding isn't death, rather a chance to live on in a "divided state"), the existence of the soul and what happens to it when a body is divided, parental responsibility ("storking" is almost as horrifying as unwinding), and so much more. Shusterman even takes a jab at those obnoxious standardized state tests when a character mentions that his class never got around to learning about the Heartland War, something that fundamentally changed his country and affected his life since the "Bill of Life" that ended it legalized unwinding, because they had to do state testing.

Shusterman also preys on some deep seated fears. The teenage fear that adults don't actually see you as a person. The worry that, in receiving an organ or other tissue from a donor, you are accepting a foreign consciousness into yourself that could infringe on your autonomy. The terror brought on by suicide bombers. The fear that you might not own your own body and that some large nebulous governing entity could take it and your freedom from you at will.

There was just so much to think about in this one. I found myself wishing I had read it as part of a book club or something so we could discuss all this stuff.

I could barely put Unwind down while reading and, several days later, I haven't put it down mentally either. A good, strong read all around.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

From Goodreads:

Eoin Colfer describes his new book, Artemis Fowl, as "Die Hard with fairies." He's not far wrong.

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is the most ingenious criminal mastermind in history. With two trusty sidekicks in tow, he hatches a cunning plot to divest the fairyfolk of their pot of gold. Of course, he isn't foolish enough to believe in all that "gold at the end of the rainbow" nonsense. Rather, he knows that the only way to separate the little people from their stash is to kidnap one of them and wait for the ransom to arrive. But when the time comes to put his plan into action, he doesn't count on the appearance of the extrasmall, pointy-eared Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance) Unit--and her senior officer, Commander Root, a man (sorry, elf) who will stop at nothing to get her back.

It's pretty clear that I have a passion for reading and I've been worrying about how to share that passion with my children for years. Since my first (and thus far, only) baby is a boy, I've started to keep my eye open for books that might appeal to 8-18 year old boys since that seems to be the hardest age to find good books for. My little brother loved Harry Potter but pretty much lost interest in reading after the series ended because very little interested him after that and books sort of became lost to him. Sad.

He did mention liking Artemis Fowl when he was younger so I picked it up.

I was ridiculously and pleasantly surprised by Artemis Fowl. I was expecting a main character much more like Harry Potter in temperament so I was pretty surprised that Artemis is a rather cold, calculating, nerdy, unsentimental criminal mastermind. It says something about the author, Eoin Colfer, that despite these rather unfuzzy personality traits, I still loved Artemis and wanted him to succeed.

The story is a great combination of fairy folklore (fairies! Leprechauns! Trolls!), modern technology (command centers! Night vision goggles! tracking devices!), and general good old fashioned evil genius. I started this book with an 11 year old boy in mind and ended up losing myself in it and just enjoying it without sparing another thought for whether or not a 6th grade Wes would enjoy it.

It's definitely going on my "Boy List" and I'm excited to see if the rest of the series measures up!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sorcery & Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

The Goodreads description of this book sucks so I'll just tell you a bit about it myself.

The two authors started writing letters to one another in character without any design beyond their own entertainment. They did not discuss the plot outside of their letters. They simply wrote to each other as two cousins, Kate and Cecelia (Cecy), who lived in England in a slightly alternate universe soon after the Napoleonic Wars. After the letters got more and more awesome and finally came to a lovely conclusion they looked at what they had done and said, "hey..this is kind of like a book."

I have been really lucky this week because this was yet another really really awesome book that I can unashamedly recommend to people.

I am indebted to Katy for recommending this book on her own book blog because I spent an incredibly pleasant evening on the couch ignoring my family while totally absorbed. It's just so lovely and charming and wonderful and I was totally grinning like an idiot most of the time. It felt a bit like a Jane Austen novel in a world where magic exists and what could be better than that?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

From the book flap:
This is the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in darkness but covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl with a simple, impossible wish. These characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and ultimately, into each other's lives. And what happens then? Reader, it is your destiny to find out.

I was prepared to love The Tale of Despereaux. I finally got around to picking it up because the author, Kate DiCamillo is going to be at the National Book Festival in September but I was looking forward to it because I saw a little blurb about the book on tv once right before the movie came out and it sounded so wonderful.

And then, for me, the book fell totally flat.

It felt a lot like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, actually. Sparse, with two-dimensional characters that left me bored and just chugging through to get to the end. Except I felt like the ending of TBitSP redeemed it a bit while the ending to The Tale of Despereaux just felt really abrupt and unsatisfying.

Plus, the book would be all charming and then there would be random bits of darkness and violence. I don't mind dark fairy tales, but this one felt a little uneven and I wasn't expecting it at all. Most dark fairy tales thoroughly acknowledge they're dark, but this one still sort of tries to pass itself off as a shiny happily-ever-after type story, even when the ending isn't actually all that happy.

The illustrations were gorgeous though.

I'd still like to see the movie...maybe it will play out better for me on screen than on the page.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

From Goodreads:
Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn't like Holling—he's sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

I was worried about choosing my first post Catching Fire book. After you read something that really absorbs you and is just really well done it's hard to go on and read something fluffy or mediocre. You want something just as awesome.

It's a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but The Wednesday Wars is just as awesome. I'd heard lots of good things about it but still had to make myself pick it up. For some reason, the blurb just didn't capture me and I wasn't excited about reading it. But so many glowing reviews couldn't be wrong and by ten pages in I was hooked and I couldn't put it down.

The story has a perfect mix of silly 7th grade antics and touching coming-of-age type experiences mixed with all the wonderful volatility of the 60s. There's Shakespeare and Vietnam and escaped classroom pets and Bobby Kennedy and first love and the falling of heroes and Martin Luther King Jr. and the horror of being seen by the whole school while wearing yellow tights with feathers on the bum. There is so so much good stuff in this book and I laughed and cried and laughed and cried some more.

The Wednesday Wars just easily marched itself into a well deserved spot in my top 10 favorite books.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

From Goodreads, as per usual:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

I don't even know what to say about this book. If you read Hunger Games then you already know what Suzanne Collins is capable of and this was every bit as good as its predecessor. It's 400 pages and I sat down and read straight through it in an evening (I'll admit to taking a doughnut break in the middle, but I was totally pondering the latest development over my chocolate raised).

The hardest part is, I can't talk much about it without giving stuff away. But there was this like..devastating development that caused me to frantically text Janssen (again with the secret ninja channels. She got her hands on an ARC and is passing it around to those she loves most) like, "CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING" and there would be a flurry of texting book discussion.

And um..that's all I can really say because I try to be spoiler free so, go forth! Read this book when it comes out on September 1! And then we shall discuss! But rest assured that the story is strong and totally absorbing and it's a worthy addition (HA I typed addiction first and it kind of still fits) to the Hunger Games series. Speaking of which, does anyone know how many books there are supposed to be? And has anyone read her Underland Chronicles books? Are they any good?

Oh, and remember how the last book dropped off at the end and you were like, 'BUT WHAT HAPPENS???' Ya. It's like that again.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

From Goodreads:

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

I've heard very mixed reviews on this one. Some people loved it. Some hated it. But most people argue that the whole premise of the book was totally implausible.

I disagree with the people who thought so many things about this story were so unlikely. Very few people knew about the concentration camps until they were liberated, plus it was a time of greater innocence for children in particular and people in general, so it's entirely possible for Bruno to have no clue what was going on right outside his front door. I don't know if you've ever met a 9 year old boy, but they're kind of clueless about a lot of things and that kind of horror was likely beyond his wildest imaginings. It's also possible that the Commandant would not have placed his children in Hitler Youth. Eva Braun was never an actual member of the Nazi party and she was sleeping with Hitler himself, so it kind of seems like sometimes those who are closest to the action were the ones who were most shielded.

Also, the use of "Out-with" and "the Fury" are literary devices. Get over it.

I thought the ending was perfect. The book needed some kind of redemption and that was the only way to get it.

Now, having defended it, I will tell you that I thought The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was kind of boring.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

According to the back cover:
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

I got an ARC of this one from the publisher (thanks to Janssen's secret ninja channels, once again) and I was really really excited when it showed up and then it sat. And sat. and sat. on my bedside table for like 2 weeks. Because I have a huge stack of library books with a time limit and I had to work through some of them first.

I FINALLY got around the reading it over the past couple days and, despite the fact that it has a ridiculously high rating on Goodreads, I just felt kind of meh about it. But since pretty much everyone else who has read it seems to disagree with me, take my opinions with a grain of salt. You may love it, who knows?

Pros: I really loved the setting and the Southern gothic touches. It made it different from anything else I've read lately and I could totally smell the damp and see the swampiness and the busted down old graveyards and houses and whatnot. The story itself is fine. The supporting characters were really enjoyable...I loved Macon and Link in particular, but even the nasty kids at school and Lena's family members who showed up in small scenes were fun. I loved that I couldn't figure Amma out..she was this God-fearing crazy voodoo person and I loved her. Plus the cover is really pretty.

Cons: It was about 200 pages too long. 626 pages is a long freaking book and I'm really not sure how those pages were filled. It's Twilight length but lacks the Twilight relationship development. Granted, Twilight was ridiculously heavy-handed, but you GOT the relationship. I didn't GET Lena and Ethan. A little more development there would have gone a long way in helping me love the main characters together. Also, I felt like there were several rather big questions left unanswered but the ending implies that this might be the first in a series? So maybe those will get answered later? I don't know, but these were things I waited like 550 pages to find out and then there was no satisfactory explanation. Which was annoying.

If you really like YA fantasy, this is probably worth a read. If not, don't bother. It won't convert you to the genre or teach you any grand life lessons or anything.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Again deferring to Goodreads:
Enna and Princess Isi became fast friends in The Goose Girl, but after Isi married Prince Geric, Enna returned to the forest. Enna's simple life changes forever when she learns to wield fire and burn anything at will. Enna is convinced that she can use her ability for good--to fight Tira, the kingdom threatening the Bayern borders--and goes on secret raids to set fire to the Tiran camps and villages. But as the power of the fire grows stronger, she is less able to control her need to burn. In her recklessness she is captured by the Tiran army and held captive by a handsome, manipulative young captain who drugs her to keep her under his influence. Can Isi and her old friends Finn and Razo rescue her without sacrificing themselves? And with the fire still consuming her, will Enna find a way to manage the gift that threatens to destroy her?

Here's the thing with me and fantasy:

I like fantasy but I need a lot in the story that I can relate to. Like little bits of fantasy in a larger story that contains lots of normalcy. Which is why I really enjoyed Goose Girl...sure, there was that wind talking thing, but it felt like such a small footnote in the overall story. In Enna Burning, the fantasy is a much larger part and I just felt overwhelmed by it. I still enjoyed the story and think Shannon Hale is pretty much awesome, but I didn't enjoy Enna Burning as much as its predecessor.

That's totally personal preference though because some people like large doses of fantasy. Plus, even though it's not much of a love story, there's this scene in a tent where Finn thinks Enna is sleeping and he kind of declares his love for her and it melted my stone cold heart. So there's always that.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

I'm not super great at writing summaries so I'm going to defer to Goodreads:

Fire, Graceling's prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells.

Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans.

Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story.

Wondering what makes it a companion book/prequel? Fire takes place 30-some years before Graceling and has one cross-over character with Graceling, a small boy with strange two-colored eyes who comes from no-one-knows-where, and who has a peculiar ability that Graceling readers will find familiar and disturbing...

Janssen got an ARC of Fire because she has secret ninja channels that allow her to get the year's most anticipated books early and then she shares them. Because she's awesome like that.

This book was 461 pages and I finished it in well under 24 hours. It was just. that. good. I really enjoyed Graceling but you could kind of tell it was a freshman effort. The story was great but had a few pacing problems and I had a couple nitpicky issues with the writing. And then Kristin Cashore all went and grew up on us and that stuff was remedied in Fire and the whole thing just flowed so much better.

Also, a lot of people have mentioned this, but this book is just so pretty. I read an interview with the author somewhere and she gave mad props to her cover person because, seriously. PRETTY.

Also, fair warning: everyone in this book is having sex (in an "off screen" sort of way) and the relationships are all crazy and you will need a flow chart to figure out who is related to who in name and who is related to who by blood because those things are frequently different.

Overall, I give it an AWESOME.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

I picked up The Lightning Thief on Playaway at the library because I liked the cover and the really really short blurb on the back sounded fun.

It totally sucked me in. It was greatly helped by the fact that I loved the narrator, but it was just fun. It didn't expect to be taken seriously. All the characters, especially the minor ones, are realistic and worth caring about. I just loved it.

I was totally shocked to see a preview for a Percy Jackson & the Olympians MOVIE when we went to see HP. Turns out there's like a whole series and it's been out for a while and they've been best sellers? I pretty much live in a cave.

So then I got The Sea of Monsters. It's another short, fun story with wonderful characters you just want to be BFF with. I've already put books 3 and 4 on my library queue and I'm really looking forward to hanging out with the characters a little while longer.

They're not The Great American Novel but Rick Riordan knows that. These books are often laugh-out-loud funny and I love the blending of Greek mythology with modern day situations. Great reading for a Summer afternoon.

Summaries on Goodreads here and here

Monday, July 27, 2009


2009 has been the Year of Trying to Read More Than Janssen. Who is a librarian. With no children. So I've been reading a lot. A LOT. To the point of absurdity.

I think a lot of readers on my regular blog wouldn't care much for regular book reviews and discussion, so I'm doing them here. Welcome! Comments, discussion and recommendations are all appreciated.